- 15 Jul 21
Live And Lethal
There’s one of those ridiculous “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” stickers – how can you be offended by language, the magical sound of expression that separates us from the animals in the forest? - on the front of this magnificent boxset, this ark of testimony, this ark of God, this ark de fuckin’ triomphe that all should bow before. That sticker should really warn those who dare to enter that their lives might be forever altered. Put this on in the office and it won’t take long before you pick up the nearest chair and throw it thorough the boss's window, flick them a ceremonial two fingers, and kick your way out through the door to the better life that awaits you. They should count themselves lucky if you refrain from torching the building.
A man who wouldn’t exactly be renowned for his wisdom, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, once said, “There are no words.” Always the opening gambit of the terminally bewildered, but he went on. “He’s just Lemmy. It should be a verb.” He’s right. Let us coin the verb ‘To Lemmy’ to indicate the way that any right thinking person should react to this music. “I hear you lost the job?” “Yeah, someone put on No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith and I lemmied that chair right through the window. That’s the end of that chapter, and fuck ‘em.”
Motörhead – as recorded here over two nights in Leeds and Newcastle on their Short Sharp Pain In The Neck Tour in February 1981 – didn’t sound so much like three men playing musical instruments as they did a herd of elephants, fucking furious elephants out for blood after taking a lot of speed who suspect you spilt their pint. ‘Ace Of Spades’ is, needless to say, the greatest couple of minutes in the history of everything, no matter what form it’s in. Westlife could probably record it, drench it in their saccharine ‘style’ and it would still, somehow, retain a faint patina of rock n’ roll that might inspire at least one person in the audience to have a moment of clarity and leave, wowing to never again have anything to do with a bunch of jumped up cruise singers. Maybe. Here it explodes out of Morricone’s ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’ driven by bass and drums that sound like the pistons on some gargantuan, infernal, world-eating machine with its snake eyes watching you.
The smart money at the time might have been to recreate all or most of the Ace Of Spades album which had hit the UK top five but the band and producer Vic Malle had different ideas, deciding to use the live album as an opportunity to present a Motörhead best of. Accordingly, we get only three tracks from their ‘big’ album. Alongside the title track, ‘The Hammer’ is a song to which headbanging is the only possible reaction – “I’m in your life, just might be in your wife” – and “dedicated to a fine body of men” ‘(We Are) The Roadcrew’, which might have been written to show what life was really like on the road but it only succeeds in making it even more appealing. “Another beer is what I need. Another gig, my ears bleed.” Seriously, take your media studies or I.T. course and put it in your arse. There is another way.
The rest of the set draws from the first three albums. There’s only ‘Bomber’ from that album, but it’s enough, Lemmy sounding even more furious than usual as he screams over ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke’s perfect guitar riff, the riff that other riffs show to their personal trainers in the vain hope that they’ll be honed down to something similar. There’s six songs from 1979’s Overkill and all are as mighty as each other but listen and gape in wonder at the sound Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor gets out of the double bass drums at the start of the title song before Clarke’s guitar screeches in like a car going off a motorway. The set finishes, as it always did in those days, with ‘Motörhead’ from the first album. The bass is like being hit in the face repeatedly by a mountain but Clarke and Taylor are well able for it. The precision and speed of these musicians is nothing short of phenomenal.
If you were being unkind, and rather foolhardy, you might say there was something cartoonish about Lemmy – the long hair, the warts, the penchant for Nazi gear – but he was a lot more than that, and No Sleep records one of rock’s great bass players. People, quite rightly, go on about McCartney’s melodicism or Entwistle’s dexterity but the power Lemmy brought to the instrument was unprecedented. When you get to see bands again and are faced with some jazzer noddling away on a five string or - God bless us and save us – a six-string bass, shake your head sadly, finish your drink, and leave. Go to the nearest bar, put a tenner in the Jukebox, and remember Lemmy. If the bass is supposed to be buried down the back, then no one ever had the balls to tell Mr Kilmister. In his hands it’s a weapon, aimed at the pretentious, at those who dared to dilute his precious rock n’ roll. Here was a purist worth listening to. In his excellent sleeve notes, Kris Needs – not some blow-in like me but a man who was actually there – remembers Lemmy laying out his philosophy.
“The best rock n’ roll is three chords. Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, all the best stuff was three chords and excitement with a hoarse voice shouting it. That’s rock n’ roll. All these media hounds. I don’t know what they think it should be. They think it should be meaningful and deep and artistic, all that bollocks. Good rock n’ roll has never been artistic. You don’t even have to think about being an artist. You don’t go onstage with a battered guitar and borrowed amplifier thinking, ‘I’m going to be an artist’. You go out there to make a fucking racket and get the crowd going. That’s what it’s all about. That’s rock n’ roll.”
If this isn’t written on a sign, hanging over the door in “Rock Schools” around the world then it bloody should be. One look at it and any hopeful worth his or her salt will turn on heel and go back to the garage where the real learning is done.
I’m all for sending billionaires into space – as long as it’s a one-way ticket – but perhaps we should rethink things. I’ve seen enough movies to know it’s inevitable that one day some space gang will arrive here with far from peaceful intentions. In order that we might prevent this, let me suggest that we blast copies of No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith out into the cosmos, in all directions. This new boxset, which is a substantial artefact, including as it does two further records with the complete Newcastle gig, would represent a fair weight/payload investment but I think it’s in the human race’s interest to do so. “Did you hear that yoke we picked up from planet XG-27?” googly-eyed space heads might say to each other in bars near the local hypergate. “If that’s what those bastards listen to for fun, do not even think about fucking with them!”
Let’s remember too that No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith went to number one when it was released in June of ’81 and the single ‘Motörhead’ hit number six. Why? Because things were better back before the internet turned everyone into mewling whiners with a platform to the world in their kitchens. This record is right up there with the great live rock n’ roll albums – The Stones’ The Brussels Affair, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live at The Star Club, Hamburg, The Who’s Live At Leeds, Lizzy's Live And Dangerous, and few others - but Motörhead were in a class of their own, a class of one. “We shoot to kill and we always will.” Lethal.