There was a global outpouring of affection for Lemmy Kilmister in the wake of his passing last week at the age of 70. But while many were quick to show their respect in eulogizing the Motörhead frontman, few knew him, personally, on a deeper level. That wasn’t the case with UK-based radio personality Ian Camfield, who hosts London Calling on our very own VanyaRadio, and who struck up a friendship with the music legend years ago.
Vanyaland sat down with Camfield ahead of tomorrow’s public memorial for Lemmy at the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Los Angeles which will be streamed live at this location. The DJ shared some of his favorite memories of hanging with Lemmy, why the singer was so iconic, and how they became such good friends in the first place.
Michael Christopher: How did you come to be acquainted with Lemmy?
Ian Camfield: He was actually the first rock star that I ever met when I started on XFM which was back in the late-’90s. I think I was 19 at the time — it was the first gig I ever went backstage to, and at that point I wasn’t used to being on guestlists and getting free tickets and going backstage and doing interviews and stuff like that. It was at Brixton Academy, and I got to meet him before Motörhead played the show and do an interview. And then, I guess, over time we did more interviews and we just became friends. We’d start doing interviews and then go out for drinks afterwards and it got to the point where if I was in L.A., I’d go around his apartment, we’d have a drink there and then walk up to the Rainbow. So that initial meeting, with him being the first ever rock star that I actually met properly, it kind of turned into a near-20-year friendship.
One of the things that struck me about Lemmy is how he’s put up on this pedestal, but he was such a down to earth, cool guy, and you don’t get that with a lot of people of his stature.
Lemmy never forgot where he came from. Although in more recent times he achieved a status of “legend,” I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, but over time, Motörhead weren’t always in fashion. There was a point in the ’90s where they couldn’t even get a promoter to put on a UK tour — and they’re a UK band. Having had jobs when he was young, working in factories, and not having a perfect ascent to success, he never forgot those blue collar roots. And also, he always put a lot of credit to the upbringing [from] his mother, because his dad left when Lemmy was very young. I think his mother was very gracious and taught him very good manners. He always used to say to me, “Good manners don’t cost nothing.” He had an almost old-fashioned British gentlemanly quality about him.
Since his passing, there was such an outpouring on social media from a lot of his peers, and I would say even more so than when Dio passed. And you could tell some of these musicians had only met Lemmy once or twice in passing, but they were so affected by him. What do you think it was about him that left such an indelible impression on people?
I think he was a very unique character. He epitomized rock and roll from the sound of his band to his uncompromising attitude through to the way that he looked. And he did that for 50 years. Because he was so individual and because Motörhead had such a unique sound and stuck to it, that’s why so many people looked up to him. He was iconic in every sense.
I see that a lot of people were influenced not necessarily by the music, but by that uncompromising attitude.
He spent 50 years not compromising in any way. I think fellow musicians looked up to that. And also, to be fair, he was uncompromising in his lifestyle as well; he had a lot of bad habits, but were probably very fun to do over a long period of time. I’m sure people like Tom Morello — or even Belinda Carlisle — would identify with that, even if they didn’t make music that was obviously influenced by the Motörhead sound.
How shocked were you at his passing?
I wasn’t shocked. I’d seen him quite a few times over the last couple of years and he was never in the best of health. Each time I would notice that he was getting weaker or slower. He sat with me a number of times over the last couple of years and we talked about his health and he was saying how he wanted to get better so he could carry on being in Motörhead and he’d say to me, “I’m paying for the good times because I never thought I’d get this far.” There was a period of time where Motörhead had to cancel whole tours or would have to walk off mid-show which happened a few times on this most recent tour. There was a determination that he wanted to do more. I think it was news that we were all expecting, but when you’re close to anyone and they pass away it’s always very upsetting.
Lemmy’s affinity for World War II memorabilia was well-known, so how fitting was it the last Motörhead show took place in Germany?[laughs] I hadn’t really thought about that to be quite honest. I guess that is kind of fitting. Aside from his collection of World War II memorabilia, he was almost indebted to Germany, because he often said that during that period in the ’90s, Germany basically kept [Motörhead] alive. People in Germany never saw them as uncool and always wanted to see them. He often said that if it wasn’t for Germany, the band probably would have stopped.
What are some of your favorite times spent with Lemmy?
There are so many. I used to like going to see him at his apartment; often when I was in L.A. I’d text him to tell him I was in town and he’d text me, “Come around tomorrow at, like, nine, we’ll have a drink at the apartment then we’ll walk up to the Rainbow.” And the thing I liked about going to his apartment, is you were seeing Lemmy at home. It was always funny seeing how he behaved and with his neighbors and stuff like that. I remember being around the apartment one day and the doorbell went and there was this really sweet old lady who was one of his neighbors in the building. And [Lemmy] had been in Vegas for a weekend, because he used to love going there to gamble, and she’d given him a shopping list of stuff that she wanted him to get in Vegas and he’d gone and gotten it for her and handed it to her in a carrier bag [laughs]. Here’s this woman who looks like someone’s sweet grandma and you might think someone like that would cross the road not to have to walk past someone who looked like Lemmy, but he’s bringing her back gifts from his weekend in Vegas.
Another time I went to his apartment, and this was quite awhile ago, it was right around the time he got diagnosed with diabetes and was taking diabetes pills. He poured me out a pint of Jack Daniel’s, because he used to like drinking it out of pint glasses, and then I went to the fridge to get some Coke to mix it with, and there were all these bottles of red wine in there, and he’d always just drank bourbon. I said, “Well, what you doing with all the red wine?” and he said, “Oh, they told me I’ve got to cut down the drinking, so I’m going to drink that during the day and drink bourbon during the evening.”
Oh, and when we’d go out around the time he got diabetes, he’d say, “Oh Ian, remind me when it’s 10 o’clock because I’ve got to take my knick-knack pills.” The knick-knack pills were diabetes pills. It comes 10 o’clock and he’d be smoking a Marlboro red and he’d get the pills out and knock them back with some Jack and Coke and I’d just say, “Are they having any effect with everything else that is currently in your system?”
There was also another time that I remember off the top of my head when Motörhead played in London and a bunch of us went back to his hotel and we’d basically stayed up all night drinking. I don’t know how this happened, but at about five o’clock in the morning, someone decided that they’d get out a game of Trivial Pursuit that happened to be at the hotel bar. So after staying up all night we’re now playing Trivial Pursuit and drinking more Jack and Coke in the hotel bar. It got to about 7:30 in the morning, and then he said [in imitation of Lemmy], “Right…we’re playing in a few hours, so give me one more question and I’ve got to go to bed” [laughs]. And I went home, and [it] got to be about nine o’clock that morning and remember waking up later thinking, “Oh my god, I feel absolutely shocking,” and Lem’s going back onstage in about two hours!
It was incredible, but that was just his life every day. I’m just glad that I got to spend as much time with him as I did. He was a very fun person to be around, and he didn’t have many people in his inner-circle because he was very much a loner. I don’t know how we really became friends, but I enjoyed all of those times. His whole life, really, was the pursuit of fun; it was fun being in Motörhead, it was fun drinking, it was fun going to (strip bars) Crazy Girls in L.A. or Stringfellows in London or whatever it was. He did whatever he wanted on his own terms everyday.