I said the last extract would be the last but I changed my mind, after too many emails telling me too keep going. So anyway, this is from my book Lemmy: The Definitive Biography, out now. This is from Chapter Seven: Nobody’s Perfect
Robbo, as he came to be known, was a 26-year-old firebrand who’d grown up in Glasgow, where belying his tough guy image he’d spent eight years studying cello and classical piano before switching in his teens to guitar and drums, gigging around town with local Dream Police, who later evolved into the Average White Band. Robbo was 18 when he caught the train to London to audition as a one of two new guitarists in Irish rock band Thin Lizzy. Over the next four years Robbo’s brilliantly swaggering lead guitar helped transform Thin Lizzy from a one-hit-wonder novelty act (their only hit previously had been an electric of an old Irish folk tune, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’) into one of the coolest, most successful rock bands of the seventies with a string of hits like ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ and ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’.
Alongside singer and bassist Phil Lynott, Robbo was the star of the show in Lizzy. He was also, as Lynott once out it to me, “a right fucking pain in the arse, with his fighting and his big fucking mouth.” The former had cost Robbo his job in Lizzy – an nearly his career as a musician – when a brawl involving Frankie Miller at the Speakeasy in 1976 resulted in Robbo blocking a broken glass to Miller’s face, severing a tendon in his left hand. But Robbo taught himself to play again and was back in the band six months later. It was the latter that finally got him kicked out for good a year after that.
Forming a new band, Wild Horses, with former Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain on lead vocals I had come to know Robbo when the PR firm I then worked for were hired to promote them. Robbo was a brilliant player, far smarter than your average bear when it came to performing and recording, but as Thin Lizzy could attest, he could also be his own worse enemy. He was charismatic, but almost always either drunk or coked out when you saw him. Usually both. He also dabbled in smack. But then he also dabbled in quadruple tequilas, Mandrax, strong black hash and staying up for days at a time. Everybody loved Robbo, until you hated him. Or more likely simply grew bored with his constant growling, his endlessly confrontational conversation. Nobody knew more about music, or indeed anything, than Robbo. In that respect, he reminded me a lot of Lemmy. Except Lemmy was genuinely funnier. When he was in the mood, anyway.
When after two albums that barely scratched the UK charts Wild Horses turned into a power struggle between him and Bain, Robbo walked out. Having sunk all his earnings from Thin Lizzy into the band he was broke and, by his own admission, “pretty desperate for a gig,” when he got the call from Doug inviting him to join up with Motörhead.
Speaking now from the small apartment he lives in alone, above a pub in Essex, Robbo, who still calls Phil Taylor “one of my best friends ever,” says he first met Lemmy when he was in Lizzy. “We all used to go to the same clubs, drinking together and taking drugs together, whatever. Him and Philthy were close to me way before I joined. They were big fans of Lizzy.”
Yet when he was first approached to join Motörhead, he says, “I told them to fuck off.” Because, “I was totally ill. I’d just split up from my wife. I was seven-and-a-half stone. I had double pneumonia and pleurisy. I was a fucking mess. I thought, naw. Physically, I can’t do this. I was a skinny little shit. But I was desperate for a gig. I wanted to go back on the road.”
So he flew out to New York. Where Lemmy was shocked to discover that the long brown hair Robbo had worn in Thin Lizzy was now a short, curly orange mop. Says Doug, “The first day in New York I said, ‘Look, here’s a hundred bucks. Can you please go and buy some like black jeans and black T-shirts, and a black leather jacket. Cos a hundred bucks would do that in those days. ‘Ah, fuck that!’ Robbo says. ‘I’m not doing what I’m told! I don’t wear those clothes.’ I said, ‘This is Motörhead, man. You’ve just got to be part of the image.’ But he wouldn’t do it.”
It was a harbinger for things to come. The first time he got up and played with them though, any doubts Lemmy and Phil had vanished. “He was fucking great for those first few shows,” recalled Lemmy. “It was only later, once he go comfortable about his place in the band, the trouble started.”
At their first gig was in Calgary, says Robbo, “I jumped on that stage. I thought, I’ve had 16 hours of rehearsals. I’ve had speed stuck up my nose. I haven’t a fucking clue what the hell’s going on. What am I gonna do? Just jump on the stage and play E. They didn’t tell me about the fucking lighting rig coming down! And the flash bombs! So I got my bollocks burned off. Then the Bomber came down and I’m going, ‘Oh shit!’ I had to keep moving back until I was at my stacks, and I’m thinking, fuck me!” When someone in the crowd began heckling, shouting for Eddie, Robbo jumped off the stage and went for him. “I took off my guitar, gave it to the roadie, then jumped over the monitors and just nutted him. Then the roadies grabbed me by the arms and brought me back up. Lemmy was still singing and playing so there was no interruption…”
Suddenly there was a whole new dynamic to the band. As a player, technically Robbo was on another level to Eddie. Phil Taylor, in particular, became extremely excited over what he saw as a new, much better phase for the band. For all their success and notoriety over the past few years, Motörhead had never been taken very seriously as musicians. For all their dark, biker glamour, they were still seen as the runt of the litter compared to bands like… well, Thin Lizzy. Even Lemmy became sold on the idea. Robbo was a handful all right, but his energy was bringing new life to old material and suddenly things were becoming fun again. Returning to London to start making their first album together, at the start of 1983, hopes were high that something very new and very exciting was about to happen for Motörhead.