Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Flashback: When Motorhead played Coventry Theatre

Flashback: When Motorhead played Coventry Theatre

Pete Clemons recalls legendary show in 1980, as part of Ace of Spades tour


Regardless of his uncompromising lifestyle it was still such a shock when, toward the end of 2015, the world of music lost on of its most charismatic figures in Ian Kilmister otherwise known as Lemmy.

In fact 2015 was not a good year for the band Motörhead, who Lemmy was figurehead for, as drummer from the classic line-up, Phil Taylor, had also passed away just a few weeks previous.

Admittedly Lemmy became renowned for his hard living but I personally will remember him more for his distinctive vocals, his style of bass playing and his song writing abilities – the serious and the not so. Even the way he held himself on stage just gave him that unexplainable aura.

The early days of Lemmy’s career saw him in a beat band called The Rockin’ Vicars who covered rhythm and blues. He joined them as a rhythm guitar player in 1965 and remained till the bands demise a couple of years later.

Lemmy then joined a band called Sam Gopal. For a while he worked as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I am guessing he got that gig as he shared a flat in London at some point with the Experience’s bass player Noel Redding for a while.

Rock band Hawkwind were artistically an innovative and a boundary pushing band. Despite their own modesty - synthesiser player Del Dettmar was quoted as saying that they were not trained musicians, just a jamming band - Hawkwind were one of the pioneers when it came to the audio, visual experience in live surroundings. They took their music very seriously. And they would go on to become an institution of the UK rock scene.

And fate played its part again during 1971 when Lemmy was invited to join the band. He joined as a guitar player but very quickly switched to bass guitar.

To quote Lemmy himself from that time ‘That was a great time, the summer of ’71. I can’t remember it, but I’ll never forget it’.

It is said that Lemmy had not played the bass guitar until he joined Hawkwind but he brought with him a very melodic style so maybe he must have drawn on his experience as a rhythm guitar player in order to develop that unique playing style.

Lemmy quite quickly became an integral band member providing lead vocals and writing the surprise hit single Silver Machine in June 1972.

The first Hawkwind album that Lemmy featured on was the bands third release ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ in 1972. In fact the rear of the LP sleeve mentions Lemmy as 6 string guitarist and bass player.

By the time Hawkwind recorded ‘Doremi’ the rhythm section of Dave Anderson and Terry Ollis, who had featured on the bands second release ‘In Search of Space’, had been replaced by Lemmy and drummer Simon King.

The supporting ‘Space Ritual’ tour was an ambitious multi-media project conceived party by sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock. It told the story of spaceship Hawkwind and its part in a great galactic war. The music was captured on tape and released as a double LP in 1973. The tour did not visit Coventry but it did call in at the now defunct Birmingham Odeon.

The next Hawkwind release was the wonderful ‘Hall of the Mountain Grill’ and this time Lemmy and the band did play Coventry Theatre in support of the album during February 1975.

Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind in 1975 after being arrested on drug charges while the band was on tour in Canada. He was released without a charge being made.

Soon after returning home Lemmy put together a band who would later become known as Motörhead. The band name coming from the last song he had written for Hawkwind.

Motörhead visited Mr George’s club early in 1977. And given the attendance, which was sparse at best, the word had not really got out about this band. That or, with punk rock beginning to take a hold, any music connected with the likes of Hawkwind suddenly found themselves cast aside. Either way, I guess it must have been a struggle for Motörhead during the first few years.

I then went to see Hawkwind perform at Birmingham Town Hall during June 1977. At that time they were touring the excellent ‘Quark, Strangeness and Charm’ album. I seem to remember hearing that the scheduled support band, for this tour, had pulled out and that another had been drafted in as a fairly late replacement.

The venue plunged into darkness and the support band shuffled on stage. The stalls area of the Town Hall was all standing for a lot of bands back in 1976 and I managed to get quite close to the front. Which wasn’t difficult really as this was just ‘the support band’. Thinking back to those days, only a diehard minority watched the support band while the rest would chose to do whatever they did, until the main event.

I probably should have picked up on the on-stage clue which was the angled microphone with the mouth piece pointing down.
But a few notes into the first song it soon became clear who this vocalist was and who this band were. Motörhead, in my opinion, were quite sensational that night.

Soon after this gig I was down at virgin records in the arcade buying Motörhead’s self-titled 12” single and then shortly after that their debut album both released on Chiswick records.

I later discovered that the band had actually recorded an album soon after getting together albeit with a slightly different line-up.

The album had been intended for release during 1976. But the bands record label United Artists were apparently unsure of the album's commercial potential. That album, ‘On Parole’, would remain unreleased until several years later.

It was almost 2 years later, during March 1979 when the next album, ‘Overkill’, followed. Motörhead were now on the Bronze record label. ‘Overkill’ seemed to attract instant interest and fared much better. Subsequent releases ‘Bomber’ and ‘Ace of Spades’ saw the band at the peak of their success.

Motörhead, supported by Weapon, performed at Coventry Theatre during November 1980 on the infamous Ace of Spades tour.

By now Motörhead were huge. A resulting live album ‘No Sleep till Hammersmith’ peaked at number one in the album chart during June 1981.

Lemmy relocated to Los Angeles during 1990 but he still continued to record and tour regularly with Motörhead until December 2015. Fittingly one of the bands last UK appearances was when they performed on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.

The line ‘We are Motorhead and we play rock and roll’ became the catch phrase Lemmy would use to introduce the band. He was always true to his word.

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