Motorhead coming home to the Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday had been in doubt since Monday when Lemmy injured his hand. That night’s gig at Bristol had been cancelled. The cause of the injury to rock n roll’s ultimate anti-hero remains a mystery. I’m guessing it wasn’t a bizarre nail bar incident (“Would you like starburst pink cuticles with boar’s-head transfers, Mr Kilmister?”). But whatever its nature and extent, the outing in Norwich was also cancelled on Friday.
So as I was savouring an electrifying afternoon’s racing from Cheltenham, there was doubt about whether I’d get an electrifying evening to go with it. But not to fear. The Twitter-feed all clear came by mid-afternoon.
|The famous Odeon. Or Apollo, possibly.
Next crisis. What to wear? I had finally thrown away my vintage green collectors’ item Motorhead England t-shirt back in the Summer. The underarms, bleached and bobbly, hung down past my moobs; the fraying seams flapped past my nobbly knees. It was a touch on the large-ish side when I bought it back in the day. Now it looked like the threadbare nightie of a mad-house inmate. So I went incognito, sulkily wearing a shirt with a poppy in the button hole.
Nick and Doug were already in the pub, watching the England game. “What’s this attire?” exclaimed Nick. Clearly, I had fallen short of expected sartorial standards. Inevitably there was truckloads of Motorhead-ware on view, but also a surprising amount of UK Subs, Anti-Nowhere League and assorted punk clothing. Even Nick was bedecked in his best Clash t-shirt. I was shamefully underdressed.
Interesting choice of support bands. Arguably, there’s as much connection between Motorhead and punk as there is with thrash and speed metal or any of its successors. When Lemmy formed Mororhead back in 1975 he famously said that their music “will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die”. Love it.
Nick and I have experienced the ‘Head on a number of occasions over the years, but this was the first for his 16 year old son, Doug. Mind you, he had the right credentials – he’d already got Sum41 and Stiff Little Fingers on his r’n’r cv. And he’s taking guitar lessons. The future is safe.
We were in the stalls for the gig, where the seats had been ripped out to cram more punters in. Much better than the rows of cinema seats that were here when I was a more regular visitor in my 20’s. Nothing like the ebb and flow of a sweaty, cramped capacity crowd to keep alive that genuine rock n roll spirit. Particularly when it came to a bloke directly behind me, who had a seriously out of control beer gut jutting out at 45 degrees from his fat neck right into my back. He was trying to get a bit closer and every time he moved I could feel the sticky sweat from his solid belly permeate my shirt and push me further forward. As I say, nothing like it. In the end I manoeuvred my way out with a sneaky twist and jump that Beth Tweddle would have recognised. Not that I really want to be compared to Beth, but I don’t know any bloke gymnasts. He gave me an apologetic look and barrelled further into the crowd with his phone camera held high above his head.
|UK Subs: poor
I’m getting ahead of myself. First we had the support. The UK Subs thrashed out a right old mixed back of street punk, oi! and sub-metal. All played fast, aggressively and for the most part badly. To be fair they had crap sound, save for a bass drum that was so tight it felt like a kick in the stomach. And the performance was a big ten for effort and energy. I think I even recognised a few: Warhead, maybe and Down on the Farm, possibly? The one thing I do know about UK Subs is that all their album titles begin with successive letters of the alphabet. So 1979’s Another Kind of Blues kicked off a staggering run of studio albums that has rolled on to this year’s Work in Progress. Three to go and its job done!
In the bogs, I got talking to a bloke down from Hull for the gig. He was moaning about the price of a drink. At £4.55 for a tin of guinness he had a point. Interesting looking guy. To accompany various piercings he had a shaved head with a long tattoo about three inches wide that started just above his forehead and went over the crown of his head to the nape of his neck. It was quite impressively done, with red-rose heads intertwined with thorns and snakes. He said he was down for the gig and would go to the Cenotaph in the morning for the Remembrance Service. “Make a weekend of it”, he said.
|ANWL: jazz hands
Next up, Anti-Nowhere League. A league up from the UK Subs, I have to say. Lead singer, Animal has an amazing rumbling growl vocal delivery that would not be out of place in Paradise Lost, Cathedral or half a dozen other doom metal bands of the early 90’s. He had a commanding stage presence, all jazz hands, expansive gestures and open-arm embraces. A proper showman. They belted out a cracking version of their notorious standard bearer So What, a vile, profanity-laden track that appeared on the b-side of a their cover of Ralph MacTell’s Streets of London. Mrs A tells me that the EMI pressing plant refused to manufacture the record once they heard some of the lyrics. The good ladies of the Hayes factory simply downed tools, folded their arms and said a big no. They got their way, too. The record was pressed elsewhere. Metallica covered So What on Garage Days Revisited and it was a live favourite for a while. On one occasion, Animal was asked along by the metal megastars to guest on a live rendition with them. The story goes that he showed up at Wembley Arena and it wasn’t until he was in the wings that a reality check kicked in. “As I waited to go on it suddenly dawned on me I was just about to stand in front of 10,000 punters who didn’t know me from Adam and sing a song that I couldn’t fucking remember!” The set closer, inevitably, was a raucous and triumphant charge through Streets of London. Animal milked the applause like the true professional he is and they were gone.
|Show me some attitude
And so to the main event. Unlike a box of chocolates, you know exactly what you are going to get with Lemster and the boys. They did not disappoint. From the opening air raid sirens heralding a Bomber assault to the screeching feedback of Lemmy’s abandoned bass against his cranked-up amp at the end of Overkill, this was a trademark Motorstomp through a bludgeoning back catalogue. A barrage of classic metal came rampaging out of the banked up speakers as if bidding for freedom: Stay Clean, Iron Fist, Killed By Death, Metropolis, Going To Brazil…all just about as snarling, dirty and mean as ever. Only you have to worry about Lemmy’s vocals these days. He still looked the part: black shirt open to the navel, US Cavalry Stetson pulled tight on his bonce, monstrous Rickenbacker slung low over his shoulder. But the voice has properly gone now. It’s not even the characterful gravelly growl of yore. All that comes through is a distorted mush, an electronic fug. Mind you, that’s exactly what lifts the hypnotic Orgasmatron out of the ordinary. Lemmy lit green from beneath ala Blair Witch Project, looking and sounding possessed, spitting out lyrics like “I hold a banner drenched in blood, I urge you to be brave. I lead you to your destiny, I lead you to your grave”.
There was a bit of a lull in the middle. Mickey Dee’s drum solo and a couple of new tracks slackened the pace a little. Mickey has become the ringmaster of the band. A role he’s grown into: stood on his drum stool whipping up the crowd from behind his kit. He even straps on an acoustic guitar and strums along with Phil Campbell for the first encore, a plinky-plonky version of Whorehouse Blues. “You know how it works”, Lemmy had rasped at the end of the main set, “we play, you shout for more, we come back. See you in a minute”. Where’s the mystery, eh? He’ll be telling me Father Christmas is an illusion next.
|Ace of Base. No, sorry, Ace of Spades
So we ended with Ace of Spades and Overkill. It’s the only way to go out.
There was time for a beer in the pub next door to chew over the gig. The verdict is pretty positive all round the table. Doug enjoyed his first Motorhead experience, but inexplicably, he reckoned the UK Subs were the best in show tonight. I take back what I said about the future being safe….!