Born in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent on Christmas Eve, 1945, Ian Fraser Kilmister moved to North Wales at the age of 10 and attended Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones secondary school where his lifelong pact with rock ‘n’ roll began.
Having paid his dues with R&B act The Motown Sect, Kilmister (now going by the name ‘Lemmy’) joined Blackpool-based outfit The Rockin’ Vickers (pictured below with Lemmy second from the left). Eventually moving to London he worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and others before bluffing his way into Ladbroke Grove-based space rocking drug-monkeys Hawkwind.
After being released from five days in a Canadian jail on drugs charges in 1975, Lemmy discovered the band had sacked him. He immediately announced plans for a new band, which he formed with drummer Lucas Fox and Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis.
Originally called ‘Bastard’, Lemmy boasted they would be “the dirtiest rock and roll band in the world,” adding; “if we moved in next door your lawn would die”. Motörhead made their debut at London’s Roundhouse on 20 July 1975, and nobody who saw them would argue against that description!
Their loud and aggressive debut album was rejected by their record company as “unsaleable”, and Larry and Lucas were replaced by Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and “Fast” Eddie Clarke to comprise the definitive Motörhead line-up.
Motörhead’s music was in a class of its own; fast, heavy, riff-laden and incredibly loud – it has been described as “speed-marinated stinky biker-rock”.
The group became the very essence of the unwashed, unshaven, unpleasant heavy rock band but finally broke through the Top 40 barrier in 1979 with Overkill – a success which caused other British metal acts to also start achieving respectable UK chart positions.
Too fast for metal and too heavy for punk, Overkill influenced a generation of fans who failed to see any difference between the two genres and who were simply looking for the thrill of something hard, fast and nasty.
1980 and 1981 were the group’s classic years. They had Top 10 hits with The Golden Years EP and Motörhead (Live), and their live album, No Sleep Till Hammersmith, entered the UK charts straight at #1. It was the first heavy metal album ever to do so.
Recorded on-stage during their 1980 tour, the LP featured live versions of classic Motörhead tracks such as Ace Of Spades, Bomber and Overkill.
With a galloping beat, assaultive riffs, and loads of distortion on pretty much everything, Ace of Spades is a lynchpin moment in the evolution of English hard rock into a faster, harder, more brutish beast, adored by punks and metalheads alike.
The double-time, chunka-chunka percussion that kicks in at around 1:12 is a reverbed woodblock, a swinging flourish of detail amid the fury that was added at the suggestion of producer Vic Maile.
“I’m glad we got famous for that rather than for some turkey,” Lemmy said. “But I sang ‘the eight of spades’ for two years and nobody noticed.”
The music on the album is overwhelming, and delivered with hurricane-like power: bass with overdrive distortion that makes it sound like a lead guitar on drugs; mad thrilling riffs; piercing guitar solos, and a dense rhythm driven by a drum kit fitted with two bass drums (with the Ace of Spades displayed on both).
The album cover bore a dedication to “all the people who have travelled with, drunk with, fought with, and screwed with us on the roads of England and Europe for five years”.
Fast Eddie left the band in 1982, supposedly unhappy with the direction the band were taking – A decision finalised by Lemmy’s cover version of Stand By Your Man with singer Wendy O’Williams (of Plasmatics fame).
Clarke went on to form Fastaway, while his replacement Brian Robertson (ex-Thin Lizzy) stayed until 1984 when two unknown guitarists stepped into the breach.
Hindsight reveals that Robertson was perhaps too musicianly for the band and that during his tenure the qualities which had previously defined Motörhead all but disappeared. So enter Messrs Phil Campbell and Wurzel (born Michael Burston), aptly named after his scarecrow style haircut.
Phil Taylor also joined Robertson in departing the Motörhead camp and Pete Gill (ex-Saxon) occupied the drum stool for three years before Motörhead’s prodigal son Taylor returned.
By 2007 Lemmy was something of a national treasure, endorsing Kit Kats and insurance, but their 19th studio album, Motorizer – released in 2008 – showed that Motörhead had no intention of mellowing or growing old gracefully.
The album was recorded at Dave Grohl’s studio with nu-metal man Cameron Webb (Limp Bizkit, Social Distortion) at the controls.
Drummer Phil Taylor died in November 2015, following a period of illness.
Lemmy passed away on 28 December 2015 in Los Angeles, two days after learning he had cancer. He was 70.
Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister
Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor
‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke
Michael ‘Wurzel’ Burston