Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister on 'No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith': Interview - Rolling Stone
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Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister on ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’: The Lost Interview

Ahead of a deluxe reissue, an almost forgotten chat with the singer and bassist from 1981 reveals the meaning behind the iconic live album’s title, his thoughts on opening for Ozzy Osbourne, and what his hopes for the future were at the time

Motorhead

"We pride ourselves on just how fucking good we are onstage," Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister said in 1981.

Rick Saunders

A deluxe reissue of Motörhead’s career-defining No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith live album will come out on June 25th. The collection features the original masterpiece (one of Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums), songs from the soundchecks, and full recordings of the three gigs that the band recorded for the live album. It also contains rare photos, replicas of memorabilia from the era of the recording, and in-depth liner notes chronicling the time surrounding Hammersmith with quotes from previously unpublished interviews with the band. One such Q&A, which music journalist Malcolm Dome conducted with frontman Lemmy Kilmister — who died in 2015, a month after the record came out — makes its debut here.

When Motörhead released their first live album, No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, in June 1981, few people expected it to debut at the top of the British chart. The band — bassist-vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke, and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor — had been steadily building up steam by the time they played five dates in the U.K. in March and April of that year. The trio recorded the shows at the Queens Hall in Leeds (March 28th) and the City Hall in Newcastle (the following night) for the live album, although the Newcastle gig made up most of the album.

When Hammersmith came out, it was a runaway hit and after claiming the Number One spot for a week, it stayed in the Top 10 for the next month and a half. At the time, the band was on tour in America, opening for Ozzy Osbourne’s new band, which was initially known as Blizzard of Ozz. They returned in June, ready to headline the Heavy Metal Holocaust at Port Vale F.C. Stadium on August 1st. Ironically, the live album’s popularity pushed them up the bill and they were headlining over Osbourne at the gig.

A couple of days before this festival, I interviewed Kilmister at the offices of Motörhead’s label, Bronze Records, in Chalk Farm Road, London, for the Irish magazine Hot Press. The man himself, who was now much in demand with the media, was in a relaxed and cheerful mood. I only had 30 minutes allotted to speak with him, but he did have some interesting things to say. The feature didn’t run in the magazine, for reasons never explained to me, and it has remained unpublished until now. I recently came across the handwritten transcript by accident. So 40 years on, here is a missing presumed lost gospel according to Lemmy.

Why did you decide to do a live album now?
Something to do! No, we have been thinking for a while about doing a live album. We’re at our best in front of a crowd. That’s where we shine. And fans have been asking when we were gonna do one. So we decided to record shows on our March tour. They came out well, and we took it from there.

You recorded a few gigs. How did you choose what to use?
We left a lot of that to Vic Maile. He’s our producer, so we made him do some work for his money. He went through all the tapes and chose what he felt to be the best versions of each track. And then we listened to what he’d put together and mostly agreed with him. Vic did a great job. Not only in the selections, but also in the way he’s mixed everything. It could have come out very sloppily and sounded like it didn’t flow, but he made sure what you hear comes over as if everything is from one night.

Why didn’t you just record one performance?
Because you don’t know what will go wrong on any night. It would have been a big risk just to have the one date recorded. We had the equipment available, so thought it best to have some backup. Just in case.

But one show would surely have been more authentic. That way you get the feel of what happened on that night.
You’re right. But how many live albums are about just one show? You’ve gotta be pragmatic. It’s not that our quality dropped from night to night. However, things can go wrong with recording equipment. And that’s out of a band’s control.

Speaking of sound quality, did you do any studio overdubs to patch up mistakes?
No. Well, neither myself nor Eddie did anyway. Philthy did go in to fix a little bit on the drums. But he hardly did anything, and it wasn’t as if what he’d done originally was bad. More that when Vic chose what he thought was the best performance of a song, on one or two occasions the drums didn’t quite come through properly. But we pride ourselves on just how fucking good we are onstage, so there was no need to do what other bands I know have done and redo everything in the studio. That’s cheating.

Why didn’t you do a double-live album, as others have?
That was the plan. But then we realized our set wasn’t long enough. We could have done three sides of a double LP, so what would we have done on the fourth side? I suppose the three of us could have just told a few jokes to fill up the time or done some crooning. But who’d want that?!

Surely you could have made your live set longer?
That was never an option. For Motörhead, our set length is exactly right. Not just for us, but also for the fans. If we did any longer, then you’d find that the energy levels would drop off all ’round. Can you imagine how that would sound on a live album?  For three-quarters of the time, we’d come across really powerfully, and then sound like a folk band for the last bit. Ha!

How did you choose which tracks to omit?
It was a case of us telling Vic what we wanted. Then Vic listened to everything and told us what in his opinion worked and what didn’t. But in the main, our original song choices are what ended up on the album. I’m sure the other tracks will somehow get out on a bootleg. That always happens, doesn’t it?

The U.K. tour was called Short, Sharp Pain in the Neck. Did you think about calling the album that?
No. It sounded OK for a tour because that summed up the fact we were only doing a few shows. But it would have been wrong to use this on an album. So we came up with No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith.

Why did you settle on this title? You didn’t play a show at that venue on the tour.
I know. But it’s a phrase we’ve used before when talking among ourselves on the road. It’s become something of an in-joke. And we thought it worked well when it was put on an album cover. It also gives you journalists something to think about and ask us in interviews. Just in case you can’t think of anything better.

That’s very thoughtful of you!
I’m like that. I always want to help out magazines!

You’ve just finished a big U.S. tour opening for Blizzard of Ozz. How did that go?
Better than we expected. It was fun being out there with Ozzy. Such a character and we get along fine. He’s starting out all over again. Obviously, people know him from Sabbath, but this is a new band, and they have to build from the bottom. But the venues were a decent size, and the crowds were good. And they seemed to warm to us. We’re not that well known in the States, but that means there’s little pressure. We were treated well, and it was a worthwhile trip.

Are you starting to think about a new studio album?
There are some song ideas being knocked about. But we are a long way off being ready to get into the studio and record. We may do something different next time. How about a country & western album? It’s the sort of thing I might tell our manager Doug Smith, just so he can go and wind up Bronze. That’ll worry them!

Do you suddenly feel under pressure because you’ve had a Number One album?
Definitely. Now we’ve had a chart-topping record and proved it was possible for a band like us, everyone will expect us to repeat the trick. That’s the way these things are viewed by the music business. Will it affect what we do? No. Nobody knows Motörhead better than me, Eddie, and Philthy. But I expect all those around us will now demand an album that can do what No Sleep… did in the chart. Oh, and also hit singles. Maybe we need to get Sheena Easton to guest on a song? Only kidding.

You had success collaborating with Girlschool on the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP. Will Motörhead do something like that again with another band?
If the opportunity comes along with the right band, then of course we’ll consider it. Why not? We know Girlschool very well. We’ve toured with them, get on with them and have a similar sense of humor. That’s why the hook-up worked. But we won’t do it with just anyone for the sake of it.

Has the emergence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal helped the band’s career?
We’re not part of that movement. Just like we weren’t punk. We seem to have fans from everywhere. We have bikers, punks, and metal fans. I’m sure we have picked up some from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal — what a silly phrase, eh? — and we have taken out bands such as Saxon and Vardis as support on our tours. And they’re NWOBHM, aren’t they? I like those two bands and also Tank. They’re a young band started by Algy Ward, who was in the Damned. People compare them to us, and I can understand why. Make a note of that name. You’ll be hearing a lot from them in the next couple of years.

You also had a few NWOBHM bands on the bill when you headlined Stafford Bingley Hall last year (July 26, 1980).
Yeah, remind me again what we called that gig?

The Heavy Metal Barn Dance.
Of course. That’s because Bingley Hall is such a big barn. I remember we had Saxon and Girlschool with us. Who else was there?

Angel Witch, Vardis, Mythra, and White Spirit. Basically, Motörhead were headlining a NWOBHM festival!
Is that right? I don’t remember any of those other bands. But that’s probably because we never had the chance to watch any of them. I’m sure I must have met them backstage. Probably only to say hello, though. That’s the trouble with such one-off bills. You don’t have the opportunity to have a few drinks or do drugs with other bands!

Motörhead have come a long way since you were voted “The Best Worst Band in the World” by NME readers in 1976. Did you really think about giving up when that happened?
We did. Nothing was happening for us. We’d done an album for United Artists that they refused to release [On Parole, finally issued in 1979]. It seems they expected us to do a pop album or something. What’s more, the company wouldn’t let us out of the contract with them. We’d done a single for Stiff, “Leaving Here,” and UA blocked its release. Twats. So we felt there was nowhere to go.

We even booked a farewell show at the Marquee in London, and I asked Ted Carroll, who owns Chiswick Records and was a mate of mine, if he’d record this. Luck was on our side because he couldn’t get the equipment to the club, and to make up for it offered us two days in the studio. We recorded the whole of the Motörhead album. That came out in ’77, because by then the contract with United Artists had run out, and suddenly we were on our way.

How do I feel about that NME poll? At least they admitted we were the best at something.

Do you have a vision for where you want the band to be by the time you reach your 10th anniversary in 1985?
I have a vision for what I want to do after this interview, that’s head to the pub, get on the fruit machine, and drink some Jack and Coke. That’s about as far ahead as I dare think. Live for the moment and stop making big plans. If our manager or record label want to think so far into the future, then that’s up to them. The three of us will carry on as we’ve always done. The only thing I’ll change in the coming days will be my underwear!

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