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Motorhead: Many Happy Returns To 'Ace Of Spades'

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 Written by Graeme Marsh

Months after World War II came to an end, late in the summer of 1945, thoughts turned to a peaceful Christmas as rebuilding began in earnest. The year had already seen the births of numerous future rock superstars - Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Ian Gillan, Van Morrison and Pete Townshend among them - but Christmas Eve would produce possibly the biggest legend of all: Ian Fraser Kilmister.

‘Lemmy’, as he would indelibly become known, went on to become a leading figure at the forefront of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, a phrase coined by journalist Geoff Barton in Sounds to describe the emergence of fresh heavy bands in the aftermath of punk.

As we now approach Lemmy’s 70th birthday, it’s the perfect time to acknowledge both the life of a true rock ‘n’ roll legend, in the classic, stereotypical mould, as well as his greatest achievement, Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’, an album that recently celebrated its 35th anniversary.

Born in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Lemmy would be raised by his mother alone from the age of three months after his father left home. She then married ex-footballer George Willis, when Lemmy was 10, and they moved to a farm on Anglesey in north Wales. It was not an easy experience, and perhaps wouldn’t have been for any young Englishman, but the move did eventually give him his nickname.

As Lemmy himself put it in his autobiography: “It was about this time that I began to be known as Lemmy – it was a Welsh thing, I believe. I was in a very bad school, being the only English kid among about 700 Welsh – that was made for fun and profit, right? So I’ve been known as Lemmy since I was around 10.”

Lemmy eventually began playing the guitar, inspired later by Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, but initially by something else. He first picked one up back in his school days after seeing a guitar-wielding school kid inundated with female attention.

“He couldn’t play it but he was surrounded by women immediately,” he wrote in his autobiography. Fortunately, his mother owned a Hawaiian guitar. “I dragged the fuckin’ thing into class,” he continued. “I couldn’t play it either, but sure enough I was surrounded by women straight away. It actually worked, instantly! That’s the only thing that ever worked so immediately in my life. And I never looked back.”

After relocating to Stockport, Lemmy joined (and left) local bands the Rainmakers, the Motown Sect and the Rockin’ Vickers. In the late '60s, a move to London resulted in things really starting to happen – firstly as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. Lemmy waded into his new role and continued to experiment with drugs after initially dabbling while still in north Wales. “I was driving a van carrying all Jimi’s gear while tripping on acid,” Lemmy told Wales Online in 2007. “I was wearing those stupid hippy prism sunglasses and I could see about 16 different roads in front of me.”

After a few other ventures, Lemmy joined space rock outfit Hawkwind in 1972. Just a few months later he found himself singing on their signature song, Silver Machine, a hit single in the UK, and developing his own unusual bass style. But three years later he was infamously fired after being arrested for drug possession at the Canadian border. Luckily for Lemmy he had been detained for carrying cocaine, when it had in fact been speed on his person. He was bailed and the case later dismissed due to the “wrongful charge”.

Speaking to Spin in 2012 Lemmy explained: “They bailed me. And then Hawkwind flew me to Toronto and we did the soundcheck, and everyone was clapping me on the back saying ‘welcome home’. We had a great show and then at four o’clock in the morning I was fired. I found out later they only got me out of jail because they couldn’t find my replacement fast enough. I learned I’d better form my own band because I got fired from every other fucking band I was in.”

So he formed a new one, Bastard, but would subsequently change their name to Motörhead - the title of the final song Lemmy had written for Hawkwind - after being advised by their manager that they would never get on Top Of The Pops. Original members Lucas Fox and Larry Wallis were soon replaced by the late, great Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, who sadly died earlier this month, and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and the first classic line-up was complete.

In 1979, Motörhead released two albums, ‘Overkill’ and ‘Bomber’, but in 1980 they penned their career-topping masterpiece, ‘Ace Of Spades’, which would also be their first US release. Lemmy would bemoan their heavy metal tag, stating instead that they were simply a rock ‘n’ roll band, but their vigorous punk-inspired style would help pave the way for a new sub-genre entirely – thrash metal. Underpinning the new style was Taylor’s feral, double bass drumming.

Their timing was, however, unfortunate. The US wouldn’t catch on for some time, even as the band’s stature in Europe grew. “In America nobody wanted to know us,” Lemmy told Revolver in 2014. “We sort of fit right in between the old surge of British heavy metal like Deep Purple and just before the new surge of heavy metal, which was Iron Maiden. We were fucked for a while.”

‘Ace Of Spades’ saw things begin to change, in particular due to the title track. A top 20 hit in the UK, it would become their most recognised and best loved song, despite Lemmy growing sick of it. “The fans want to hear it, so we still play it every night,” he wrote in his book. “For myself, I’ve had enough of that song.”

It is undeniably a classic metal track, though, and as the album’s opening salvo sets the pace early on for a rip-roaring trip through the heavier side of rock ‘n’ roll. In his autobiography, Lemmy explained the inspiration for the lyrics: “I used gambling metaphors, mostly cards and dice – when it comes to that sort of thing I’m more into the slot machines actually, but you can’t really sing about spinning fruit.”

British producer Vic Maile was the yin to Motörhead’s yang, a key figure in the success of the album from an altogether unlikely source. Speaking to Uncut, Clarke explained: “He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and he was delicate because he was diabetic. He had to have his Ryvita at six o’clock. We couldn’t get heavy with him, couldn’t fucking shake him, you know what I mean? He might die! So we had to listen to him. If it was anyone else we’d have told him to fuck off and die.”

Lemmy, however, continues to defy the odds in a similar manner to the Rolling Stones’ very own rock legend, Keith Richards. Until recently, after a warning from his GP, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack and a half of cigarettes were the daily norm. One of the last remaining true rock ‘n’ roll legends, Ian Fraser Kilmister deservedly leads his band Motörhead to a place among the hierarchy of classic albums with ‘Ace Of Spades’. Many Happy Returns – Lemmy is the man.

Motorhead Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat January 23 2016 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Newcastle City Hall
Sun January 24 2016 - GLASGOW Clyde Auditorium
Tue January 26 2016 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Wed January 27 2016 - SWINDON Oasis Leisure Centre Swindon

Click here to compare & buy Motorhead Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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