I know it looks like I'm slacking, but I'm not...honest! The radio station takes up several hours a day, I'm scanning ALL my photos and converting some of my vinyl to mp3s and I haven't even unpacked the lps or books yet...so by the time I get to focus on the writing, it's usually dinnertime and nothing gets done. Furthermore, once a piece is written, I usually have to rewrite it at least once, so we get to Friday and we're still looking at Sunday's chart. I really thought it would be easier than this. Anyway, bear with me. Tomorrow, after giving my new cd shelves - thanks, Danny - a second coat of stain, I'm driving into the city to hang with Lemmy and see Motörhead at Roseland. I feel like I need to hear Overkill on an endless loop right now. It's time for some noise. I discovered some old photos while unpacking a box and worked on this one a bit more. Sorry if you've already read most of it...
The first time I saw Motörhead was at Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Manticore complex, an old cinema they’d bought and converted to a rehearsal facility and recording studio. I had received an invitation to a showcase from their handler at the time, Frank Kennington, suggesting that Island Records might be interested in putting out their records. Since my job was to take a look at everything out there, I accepted. So I go on the appointed afternoon and, upon entering the building, encountered a deafening roar not unlike that of a low-flying airplane. When my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness (the only illumination was provided by the little red lights on the amplifiers and these fast moving bright white 'flashlights' flying about the place) it became apparent that while Motörhead were playing, a couple of Hells Angels were riding around the otherwise empty, seatless auditorium on their bikes. The din was staggering and it wasn’t long before the handful of us that had shown up promptly sought the peace and quiet of London's traffic outside on Fulham Broadway, where the fumes and stench were slightly more acceptable. Needless to say, the showcase didn’t exactly pan out the way they had hoped and it wasn’t until a couple of years later when (new manager) Douglas Smith called me at Bronze Records and asked if I would consider signing the band. By this time, they’d lost 3 record deals (an album ‘On Parole’ had been rejected by United Artists) and they’d just been dropped by Chiswick Records after their ‘Motörhead’ album had failed to light up the charts. Stiff Records had done a single with them too, but were prevented from releasing Leaving Here c/w White Line Fever by U/A who claimed the band were still under contract to them when the songs were recorded. At the time, Bronze’s biggest artists were Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Uriah Heep and Osibisa, so it wasn’t exactly the first label a manager would bring their clients. In fact, it was the last. Doug admitted to me that he’d been everywhere else and, unless Bronze signed the band, they would probably have to break up. I told him that I wasn't really interested, but he convinced me to come and see them one last time, this time at Dingwalls, a club in Camden Lock. I agreed, mainly because I had cut acetates and the lacquers for (his other client) Hawkwind’s ‘Urban Guerilla’ single when I was at Trident. I liked Douglas and I’d also quite liked Motörhead’s eponymous single, although I thought its production left a lot to be desired. The band now had 'Fast' Eddie Clarke on guitar and, this time, they were just awesome! Not only did they rock the packed house, but everybody in the room was wearing a Motörhead t-shirt and a 'bullet belt' (Lemmy's trademark) so clearly there was an audience for them. I was very excited by what I saw and told my boss, David Betteridge, we should agree to Doug's suggestion of a singles deal which, upon some degree of success, would convert to a multi-album deal. Their idea was to go into a studio and cut a version of ‘Louie Louie’, Motörhead-style.
To this point, I'd not actually met the group and now it was time to put that right. These guys had a pretty fearsome image. Apart from just looking like they'd eat babies for breakfast, they were friendly with the Hells Angels - Lemmy rode with president and founding member of the Oakland chapter, Sonny Barger, when he was in town - and their drug intake was legendary. Lemmy had been fired by Hawkwind for forcing them to cancel some Canadian shows due to some customs officials mistaking speed for coke and throwing him in jail. It's not like I hadn't been around musicians who took drugs - hey, I'd even tried a few myself - but these guys just seemed so hardcore. Doug (or Drug-less, as the band called him) suggested I drop by on the second day of recording so when that day came, I went to Wessex Studios and knock on the control room door. It opens, and there’s Lemmy, clad head-to-pointed-toe in black. He barks, “Yeah? Who are you?”
“Uh…Howard...from the record company”.
“Wait...” and he begins to unroll his shirtsleeve, extracting a polythene bag of a white-ish powder. He sticks a switchblade into the bag and draws out a blade-tip full of what I figure is amphetamine sulphate and holds it under my nose.
“Snort that”, he commands. This gets repeated for the other nostril and when that’s done, I make a move to step inside but
“Hold it”, he growls, and goes to fetch something from inside the room. He returns clutching a tall can of Carlsberg Special Brew, gives it to me, and orders,
“Drink that...all of it...now!” I comply, wondering what's coming next but, as soon as I’m finished, he steps aside, ushers me in, offers me a seat at the center of the mixing desk and tells producer Neil Richmond to "turn it up, and hit ‘play’". Both sides of the single thunder from the speakers and from that moment on, I become a huge admirer of Lemmy and the guys in Motörhead, particularly the 'Philthy' Animal Taylor and Fast Eddie version. ‘Tear Ya Down’ is the B-side to Louie Louie and remains, to this day, a favourite getting played regularly on North Fork Sound. That single did well enough to chart (#68) and the band clawed their way onto Top Of The Pops, thanks to some skillfull maneuverings by Bronze promo-dude, Roger Bolton. To get on TOTP, a record had to be in the top 30, but somehow Roger pulled it off. That was the start of the band's climb to fame and, by now (I hope), fortune. Jimmy Miller was brought in to produce the pioneering and utterly glorious ‘Overkill’ album and the rest is history. You can see Lemmy - The Movie, coming in 2009.
Those interested in seeing some rarely seen photos can go HERE and click on "slideshow"