Is there be a way to say something about that late, lamented ultimate rock star Lemmy and still make it relevant to a blog about Irish rock music? Well it’s a bit of a stretch, but let’s try it anyway! In 1965/1966 those sadly under-appreciated Belfast R’n’B dynamos The Wheels were playing a residency in Blackpool, as part of which arrangement they shared a farm house at Garstang, Lancashire, with struggling local group The Rockin’ Vickers. And just as The Wheels guitarist Rod Demick was from North Wales, so too was The Rockin’ Vickers guitarist Ian Willis (whose father had in fact been a vicar).
The Rockin’ Vickers, as the name might imply, had a typically ’60s gimmick of dressing in a bizarre mixture of religious garb and – as they were very successful in Finland – the Finnish national costume. Demick remembers Them and many other touring bands visiting the farm to party. The time the two groups spent together evidently went harmoniously as, in a newspaper interview from late 1965, the various Wheels were sure, when asked their favourite musical artists, to name-check their little known housemates.
Both bands would ultimately break up without breaking through, with some members achieving modest success during the ’70s. Willis, of course, would undergo an unlikely transformation to Hendrix roadie, hippie singer with Sam Gopal‘s group, sonic adventurer with Hawkwind and finally, as Lemmy, rock’n’roll legend with Motörhead. Lemmy’s life reads like the evolution of rock music itself, from 1950s skiffle fan all the way to metal aristocracy. He never hid his unhip origins, acknowledging that he had been inspired first by Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele, and he was part of a generation for whom rock’n’roll was more than just disposable entertainment, it was the white-hot essence of youth culture. His macho persona was genuine rather than the stage routine of so many of his contemporaries, and he refused to follow the well-worn path of reformation followed by sobriety and smugness, but what was most remarkable about the man was his sincerity, humility and his sharp humour, in spite of all his success. Music will continue be made and may be vibrant and exciting, but it is unlikely to ever have such cultural significance again, and Lemmy’s passing seems to herald the final closing of that chapter. But we are blessed to have so much fantastic music from that time preserved for us to relive as often as we want and, as someone very cool once said, the only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud!