Saturday, 9 January 2016

R.I.P. Lemmy Kilmister

'Legend' is a much overused and abused word these days. 'Rock stars' who only seem to have been around for a couple of years are dubbed 'legends' by fans and media alike - because they feel the need to hype these people up to fill some sort of void. A void that used to be filled by genuine rock stars - but there are very few left now. They seem to be a dying breed - something that has sadly been made all too apparent recently... Most the current generation of 'rock stars' are lacking in real star quality or charisma - or any real personality of their own. Most of them are just dumbed down clones - and will anyone remember them in five years? Will they even still have a career in music in five years? Never mind forty or fifty years! Mediocrity seems to be 'the new rock 'n' roll'. Average at best. I don't buy it. On December 28th we lost a real legend - a unique character who battled and fought his way through with dogged determination. It was hard to believe - Lemmy had finally been 'Killed by Death'....

I'm not in the business of having 'heroes' but....

I think it was Lemmy who said "Don't have heroes - they will always let you down". Lemmy never let me down.

If you are reading this then Ian Lemmy Kilmister will need no introduction. A great deal has been said and written in the few days after his death - he even made the 6 O'Clock News on BBC1. Not many rock stars do that. I hardly know where to start. It's no secret that Lemmy had been suffering health problems for the last few years. Eventually he was diagnosed as diabetic. Once this was known and being treated things got a little better. Then he had a defibrillator fitted to stabilise an erratic heartbeat. Lemmy's health problems slowed down the work on Motörhead's 2013 album 'Aftershock'. As a result of the band taking more time over making this album the end result was their best album in many years - in fact I'd rate it as one of their best ever. With some improvement in Lemmy's health tours were booked to promote the album, but although things were looking up for Motörhead and their apparently indestructible leader all was not well. Some shows, and even whole tours had to be cancelled as Lemmy struggled again with his health. Time in hospital, a lung infection, and trouble performing at high altitude gigs did not bode well, but eventually Lemmy was well enough to tour again - I saw a noticeably slimmer Lemmy perform with Motörhead at Wembley Arena in November 2014. It was a good show and our hero seemed back on form. Since then Lemmy seems to have rallied with a very well received Motörhead set at Glastonbury in 2015, and the band have also managed to record and release a new album 'Bad Magic' in the same year. Lemmy didn't seem to plan stopping any time soon - retirement wasn't on his agenda.

Maybe he wanted to die out on the road - maybe even on stage. His dogged determination saw him out on tour in Europe towards the end of 2015 to promote Motörhead's latest album. Towards the end of the tour he stopped doing soundchecks and interviews. A few dates were cancelled on the final tour - ironically not because of Lemmy - guitarist Phil Campbell was hospitalised with an unspecified illness. There were even rumours of Phil's death! He bounced back and the tour continued. Lemmy must have been struggling more than people realised, but he finished the tour. He was a trooper. The last date of the tour was in Berlin on 11th December. Two days later Lemmy was at the Whiskey in his adopted hometown of L.A. for a party thrown to celebrate his forthcoming 70th birthday. It was hoped he might play a couple of songs with some of his many musician friends who were playing in his honour and his bass rig was pushed out onto the stage ready for him. Lemmy remained on the balcony talking with friends - a walking stick across his legs. A couple of days later his manager was concerned for his health and arranged a trip to hospital for tests and a scan. They got the results on Boxing Day - the scan had revealed previously unknown and very aggressive cancer in Lemmy's head and neck. He was given between two and six months to live. He was gone two days later. It was four days after his 70th birthday and just eighteen days since he completed Motörhead's 2015 European tour.

The news came as a massive body blow to the world of rock. Lemmy's health problems had been well known for several years, but he seemed to be doing OK. We thought he still had a few more years in him. Apparently so did Lemmy himself as he had said the band were booked on tour into next March, with festival dates to follow in the summer - he said the next Motörhead album should be out in two years time. Lemmy still had plans for the future... Less than three weeks after completing the last leg of the band's European tour he was gone. People close to Lemmy had noticed how thin and frail he had become in the last few months - the last part of that tour must have been a huge struggle for him. He had also been hit hard by the news of the death of Motörhead's old drummer 'Philthy Animal' Taylor in Novemeber - Phil Taylor was a vital part of the band's early classic lineup and a major contributor to their ferocious sound. Now only former guitarist 'Fast Eddie' Clarke remains alive from the 'classic' power trio that recorded the bands most successful albums.

Many bands cancelled their European tours in the wake of the terrible events in Paris when rock fans were massacred by terrorists at an Eagles Of Death Metal show. Promoters cancelled Motörhead's Paris show although Lemmy said they would have still played it if they were allowed to - the band continued their European tour... Lemmy must have known that he was becoming seriously ill towards the end of the tour - but he carried on to the end. That must have taken massive guts and determination - no one would have blamed him for stopping the tour early, but he hated letting people down. Maybe he already knew he was dying - but he went on and finished the tour. That must have been really tough. He was a true hero of rock 'n' roll.

Lemmy was not - no is not merely a legend - he stands head and shoulders above most rock stars. Even people who don't like rock music know who he is. They recognise him instantly when they see him on TV. Apart from maybe Ozzy Osbourne (who had his own TV series) what other 'rock star' can you say that about? Like the mighty band he created, he was about so much more than just the music they made - Lemmy and Motörhead stood for something. Their influence was far more than just musical - it was also an attitude. Like the Ramones (a band they had so much in common with) it was all about taking a stand. Standing up for what you believe in. Standing up for rock 'n' roll. Never compromising. Sticking to your guns. Motörhead were a statement in themselves - loud, fast, and in your face. They didn't care if you didn't like them - they were going to do it anyway. Whether he liked it or not, Lemmy became an icon. Not just of rock 'n' roll, but also a rebellious spirit - a refusal to conform. Motörhead had absolutely no regard for trends or fashion. Ever. They are just as unfashionable now as they were in 1977 - and that is part of the reason they lasted so long. If you are never in fashion then you can never go out of fashion either.

Motörhead have been a huge influence on so many bands - Metallica have said that if it wasn't for Motörhead their band wouldn't even exist. I'm sure the same can be said for countless bands - if it wasn't for Motörhead there would have been no thrash metal, or probably death or speed metal either. There is no doubt that they influenced many punk bands too - Lemmy liked the Sex Pistols and tried to teach Sid Vicious to play the bass. He failed. Motörhead later went on to cover the Pistols 'God Save The Queen' on their 'We Are Motörhead' album. Lemmy also loved the Ramones - he could tell they were kindred spirits. He even wrote a song about them - 'R.A.M.ON.E.S.' on the '1916' album. The Ramones liked the song so much they even covered it themselves! Lemmy also really liked The Damned - he was even in The Damned briefly - in fact Captain Sensible has said that Lemmy probably saved the band from splitting up when they were going through a difficult time. Motörhead may have had long hair, but the punks liked them too - they 'got' them because of their down to earth feel and their ferociously aggressive sound. They bridged the gap between punk and heavy metal and appealed to both crowds. Like The Ramones it's impossible to overstate how massively influential Motörhead have been over the years - they are not just a band and a T-shirt - they are a lifestyle. They were rock 'n' roll pirates - a law unto themselves. Motörhead took no prisoners. Hugely influential they might have been - and will remain, but no one sounds like Motörhead. No one ever can - they don't have Lemmy. There was only one Lemmy Kilmister - no one else looks like him or sounds like him. Not even close. Not ever. Lemmy was Motörhead, but as a figure he was a huge influence on his own. What he stood for was massively important. Lemmy was a statement in himself. That look, those clothes he wore, that attitude - it wasn't just for the stage and photos - that's how he actually was. All the time. He was unique, he was irreplaceable - there was no one like him, and there never will be again. But his legend will live on - his spirit will always be with us. And he has left us with all that great music and those memories - what a legacy. Priceless.

Lemmy lived life on his own terms - uncompromising, but honourable. Eventually his legendary hard living lifestyle caught up with him. He knew the risks, but he was determined to enjoy life and he did. He was well aware that there would be a price to pay eventually, but he was going to have a good time while he was here. He said gambling was for fools, but against all the odds he outlived two of his bandmates. He was determined to go on as long as he could, and that's exactly what he did - until just over two weeks before his death he was still out on tour. He will live on in our hearts, and the music he left behind will continue to inspire us and countless others. Thanks for everything Lemmy - we will never forget you.
It's over a week after we got the news that I am writing this, and I still haven't quite got my head around the fact that we are heading into a new year and Lemmy is now longer around to kick our arses. I was expecting to be seeing Lemmy fronting Motörhead again at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon (I refuse to recognise that 'Apollo' place) later this month - a show I'm sure Lemmy was looking forward to playing too. He wouldn't want us to be sad though - he'd want us to keep playing his music. LOUD. And we will.

Lemmy was probably the most misunderstood of rock stars. He got pissed off when people constantly referred to Motörhead as a 'heavy metal' band - "We are a rock 'n' roll band!" he would always say. Indeed, he would usually start a show by announcing "WE ARE MOTORHEAD - AND WE PLAY ROCK 'N' ROLL!". And then they would. Very loudly. With them you got exactly what it said on the tin - they looked like a bunch of dirty greasy rockers and that's just what they were. Not like the other bands on the scene - with Motörhead there was no bullshit, no pretense - they were real. It wasn't an act like it is with many bands. They sounded like they looked - only louder! Lemmy had a totally rock 'n' roll image and attitude, but those who met him invariably remarked on what a kind man he was underneath - he could be quiet and unassuming away from the stage - a bit of a loner. In spite of this he enjoyed meeting and talking to fans - he was always interested in what they thought of Motörhead and their music - looking for ways to make it better. Ladies say he was always charming and acted like a real gentlemen towards them. Lemmy loved women and knew how to treat them. He was intelligent, well read, and very knowledgeable - particularly about history. I was never lucky enough to meet him myself - thinking about it now I am surprised I never saw him around town when he lived in London as we often went to the same places like Dingwalls and the Marquee. Now I will never have the chance to meet him - I feel something is missing from my life now that chance has been taken away... Several of my friends did meet him - usually randomly around town and usually in a pub. They all say the same thing - he was friendly and happy to talk - sometimes for hours and would even buy them drinks. One of my friends even bumped into him in a local pub - the Bull & Butcher in Whetstone. Lemmy was happy to talk and buy drinks - they chatted for hours, but my mate never did find out why Lemmy was in a pub in Whetstone. There didn't seem to be any musical reason for him to be in the area, although oddly enough the photo for the iconic 'Ace Of Spades' album cover was taken locally.
This somewhat ZZ Top inspired (I suspect) picture was taken not in Texas but at a gravel pit in the Barnet area! Apparently the blue cloudy sky was added to the photo afterwards...

Something else often misunderstood about Lemmy was his sense of humour - he could be a very funny guy. Many people think Motörhead songs are all about death, sex, and war - mostly pretty grim stuff. And his complete contempt for politicians and organised religion is well known and frequently illustrated in his songs, but dig a little deeper and there is often humour in there too - sometimes subtle and knowing, sometimes very dark and sometimes very tongue-in-cheek. Even when the end was less than a month away he kept his sense of mischief - check out this Finnish milk commercial.
And don't forget the joker...

There are so many classic Lemmy quotes - there's even a book of them. I'll just quote a couple from memory - I hope I got them right:

"I gave everything to rock 'n' roll - and rock 'n' roll gave everything to me".

"I wanted to create an unforgettable rock 'n' roll band"

Job done Mr Kilmister, job done - I salute you.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

20/12/2015 The Darkness @ The Roundhouse

I'm glad to say that the last proper gig I went to in 2015 was also one of the best. It's surprising just how many people don't realise that The Darkness reformed several years ago and have released two more albums since then. However, the thousands of people in The Roundhouse tonight were obviously in on the secret - I think this is a sold out show.
I think the Roundhouse is one of the best music venues in London. It's far less of an ordeal going to a show here compared to most the bigger and more well known corporate venues - I think this is because it's independently owned and run. Even when full the venue doesn't seem uncomfortable and it's easy to move around. It's also easy to get a good view from almost anywhere. It's a pity all the other old railway loco shed roundhouses in London didn't get converted into music venues instead of being knocked down. I get the impression the management here are more interested in the arts than just in making as much profit as possible, although the pints at the bar are certainly on the pricey side - leading to the first deployment of my new hip flask.
There are a lot of people who don't 'get' The Darkness - their loss as this band are enormous fun - while not giving a shit what anyone else thinks of them. Wasn't rock 'n' roll meant to be fun? A lot of people seem to have forgotten that. Fortunately The Darkness haven't. And nor have their fans. Justin Hawkins still retains his (very) finely tuned sense of the ridiculous - at least I think that's what it is - or maybe he's just slightly mad? Possibly both. He seems more in control than last time I saw the band - that was several years ago, and although he performed well then he seemed a little unsure of exactly what was going on - as if he was teetering on the edge... He is totally in control tonight and looks like he is loving every moment of his time on stage. He hits the stage in a crazy black and white striped suit that reminds you of Beetlejuice - ridiculous but very effective! Shorter hair now and his extremely odd looking and mismatched 'tache has gone. Shame as I though that was funny - which may of may not have been his intention. But you never quite know where you are with Justin - you just have to assume he know's where he is....
As you'd expect, all the hits are rolled out. This means that most of the setlist is based around the band's first album. In fact they play virtually the entire 'Permission To Land' album - but who's complaining? But they still opt to open the show with a new song - the tongue-in-cheek Led Zeppelin influenced 'Barbarian' from the band's latest album. I love this song with it's finely tuned Spinal Tap-meets-Led Zep sense of the ridiculous. After 'Growing On Me' the band lurch back to classic rock with the highly AC/DC influenced 'Black Shuck - a song that's always enormously popular with the fans. Also popular with the fans - COWBELL!
Especially when deployed by a Thunderbird wielding bass player called Frankie Poullain.

The band's less well received second album 'One Way Ticket....' only get's one song aired tonight - 'English Country Garden' - a shame as I didn't think it was such a bad album even though it didn't have any classics on it. The 'comeback' album 'Hot Cakes' fared little better with only a couple of songs played tonight - not a bad album actually, but no one apart from Darkness fans seemed to know it was ever released....
Of course the new album 'Last Of Our Kind' had to be featured - well they had to really as the band's current road trip is called the 'Blast Of Our Kind Tour'. Oddly enough, the title track wasn't included in the three or four new songs played.

There have been some changes in the Darkness camp in 2015 - the revolving door for the drum stool has been spinning at high R.P.M. - original drummer Ed has gone (again) to be replaced by Emily Dolan Davies. For five minutes. Well, as long as it took to record the new album anyway. Now she has also been replaced - by Rufus Taylor - son of Queen drummer Roger Taylor. He seems to fit in well, although I feel he is playing just slightly behind the beat through tonight's show. But maybe that's just me? Drummers aside, the band is now back to the classic (but not original) lineup that recorded the debut album 'Permission To Land'.

The latest 'special edition' version of the new album contains some extra tracks - including a brand new Christmas song 'I Am Santa' - which bizarrely they decided not to play even though this show is only five days before Christmas!
A costume change for Justin later and the fun continues - guitar playing brother Dan Hawkins seems to be the rock that holds everything together in this band - rather like Malcolm Young used to in AC/DC. There are quite a few similarities between the two bands.

Naturally, one of the highlights of tonight's show is 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love' - then the band leave the stage before the inevitable encore.... Then we do finally get a seasonal song when they return with 'Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)' before launching into their rather good Radiohead cover 'Street Spirit'.
The show ends with a crushingly heavy 'Love On The Rocks With No Ice'.
I don't think anyone goes home disappointed after what is an enormously entertaining end of tour show by a band really at the top of their game. See you all again next year then?