THE ROCKING VICKARS,
SAM GOPAL AND OPAL BUTTERFLY:
THE EARLY YEARS AND RECORDINGS
OF MOTORHEADS LEMMY
ALAN BURRIDGE OF THE
MOTORHEADBANGERS FAN CLUB
There is no doubt that every reader will know that the name Lemmy and Motorhead are synonymous. Most will know that he spent four years with space-rockers, Hawkwind. But many, except perhaps the most devout of fans, will know that he also made some excellent and very collectable records between 1965 and 1969. If anyone has been through the rock ‘n’ roll apprenticeship, then it is Lemmy. Here, we look back at three of the bands who saw the same spirit and vision in the man whilst he went through their ranks to eventually climb the ladder of success with Motorhead.
Ian Fraser Kilmister, later to become affectionately known to us all as Lemmy of Motorhead, was born in Stoke – On – Trent on December 24th, 1945. When he was nine years old, his family moved to Almwych in North Wales, where the young rebel became expelled from school for hitting the headmaster across the face with his own cane. But a few years later, he discovered his talent for music after the end of term exams when, instead of sitting around doing nothing, he joined some friends in getting out the guitars and washboard to play Skiffle.
The first music to catch Lemmy’s attention was Bill Haley and the Comets, but the first record to ever give him the spinal shiver was Little Richard’s Lucille, and together with Jerry Lee Lewis, the two artistes became the heroes of this impressionable teenage rocker.
The youthful Lemmy started playing guitar for the simple reason he noticed that if you were in a band there were always plenty of girls around you. Back in the 1960’s and aware of his non-film star looks, he saw a bunch of kids who were showing off with their guitars. Even though they only knew a couple of chords, as soon as they hit the strings females surrounded them. From Lemmy’s point of view this looked the business, and he knew then that he wanted to be out there at the front rather than being a bystander.
Other members of his family were also musically adept. His mother had played Hawaiian guitar in her younger day, and an uncle played the banjo. The Hawaiian guitar had been hanging around the house for years, so when rock ‘n’ roll came in, Lemmy picked it up and began playing. A friend showed him a few chords, and from there, with a little family help, he went straight into it; playing in the toilet, the bathroom, anywhere that he could just sit and play. As a career there was no holding him, and as soon as he realised he could strum a few tunes he was away. Later, as he found that his confidence had built up enough to get up there and actually play a song, he found that friends looked upon him in a completely different light. For Lemmy, this was it; this was the way that his life was meant to go.
As far as being in an actual band went, Lemmy’s first public appearance was with another guitarist and a bass player at a café in Wales where he sung Rick Nelson’s Travelling Man. A couple of gigs later, the trio were joined by a drummer who played with Gigster kit brushes which was, no doubt, the ‘In thing’ for drummers of that period.
A while later, Lemmy joined Manchester band, The Rainmakers, who were never much of a big deal for him and they didn’t make any records. A further step forward to The Motown Sect was similarly dismal recording wise, but the band used to get plenty of gigs on the strength of their name as there were a lot of Mod’s around. This was kind of obscure, especially as The Motown Sect used to play R ‘n’ B, mainly with cover versions of songs by The Pretty Things; but they threw in a few soul classics to keep the punters happy even though Lemmy and the band didn’t enjoy playing them.
Lemmy’s first band of any consequence, recording wise, was The Rocking Vickars between 1965 and 1967. He had seen the band at The Oasis in Manchester and thought they were brilliant, mainly because they brought out the rebel out in him. It was a very strong time for the Mod era, but in complete contrast, The Rocking Vickars were extremely scruffy and had hair down to their armpits. They had released one single, a cover of Neil Sedaka’s I Go Ape, in Decca Records, which sold in moderate quantities at the time, and even ‘A’ label promo copies are known to exist.
The band’s correct working title was always Reverend Black and the Rocking Vickars; and they would wear dog collars of the clergy on stage to clarify the image. However, the record company tended to disagree and took the view that the name and this additional attire could offend the Church and the public alike. As the record label illustrations show in most cases, the band had to suffer the fate of being billed as The Rocking Vickers to appease the bosses.
The band at the time consisted of Lemmy on lead guitar, Harry Feeney on vocals, Ciggy Shaw on drums and Steve Morris on bass. Together, they successfully toured Lapland, and upon returning home they were wheeled into the studios for publicity photos wearing the Finnish National costume which they had acquired during the tour.
The band also had the dubious distinction of being one of the first Western rock bands to play behind the Iron Curtain in Yugoslavia as part of a cultural exchange for the Red Army Youth Orchestra. Which country did best out of the deal is for the reader to figure out!
The band’s next single was only released in Finland and Ireland. Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart was an odd choice for a song, possibly a further attempt by the band to achieve chart success.
Following on from this, the band found a new deal with CBS and went straight into the studio with Who producer, Glyn Johns, (the Vickar’s were very Who sound orientated and were also friends with them, even down to Keith Moon making a guest appearance at the odd gig), who took charge of a session resulting in the It’s All Right single; a Pete Townshend composition.
The band’s next CBS release was a cover version of The Kinks song, Dandy, which came close to scoring them a minor chart hit. But they were beaten by a short nose to a Top of the Pops appearance by Clinton Ford, who had also covered the song, along with Herman’s Hermits and The Kinks themselves.
One or two American promo 45’s of the Dandy single exists. Obviously the American side of CBS had the faith in the band to gamble a release, and it reached #93 in the US Billboard Charts. It proved beyond all doubt, though, that the rib-tickling rumour that the Vickar’s were only famous around the Manchester area must have been a complete myth.
Investigation into the band’s murky past has also unearthed the news that they broadcast two or three tracks for the pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. Also, a fairly good quality tape exists which highlights The Rocking Vickar’s as they truly were; thrashing, heavy and feedback laden. Basically, if The Who hadn’t made it, The Rocking Vickar’s would have – wonderful stuff!
60’s supremo, Shel Talmy, who also had The Creation and The Birds, (two of Lemmy’s favourite bands), under his wing, produced the Dandy single. The Vickar’s themselves were managed, firstly by Jack Venet, (a Manchester crockery salesman), and later by Gail Colson.
By the time the band split up they had been banned by more venues than those who would employ them. Their stage show consisted of the band shaking their heads whilst bashing out songs like I Can Tell, Skinnie Minnie and I’m A Hog For You, Baby. The act would climax with Harry Feeney and maybe one of the guitarists stripping down to their soiled underwear and making obscene gestures to the girls in the crowd – needless to say, they always pulled.
Bassist, Steve Morris, was interviewed by fan, Adrian Lee, back in August 1984 for the 10th edition of the Motorheadbangers Fanzine, in which he said: “The Rocking Vickars were always out-and-out rock ‘n’ roll, which is where Lemmy’s bit comes from. The numbers we played at gigs weren’t necessarily those we recorded like Dandy and I Don’t Need Your Kind. Actually, the bottleneck guitar on I Don’t Need Your Kind was Lemmy! He always gave out this heavy influence; we changed our material to compensate when he joined the band. Our version of Dandy got a lot of airplay on Radio Caroline for fun. DJ, John Peel, was working for the station at the time It’s All Right came out, and his comment was that the number had the worst guitar solo of all time!”
Adrian Lee’s contact with Steve Morris brought about a small-scale Rocking Vickar’s re-union during Motorhead’s UK tour in November 1984, when Steve and Harry Feeney met up with Lemmy during the band’s Keep Death Off The Road Tour, at the King George’s Hall, Blackburn, which all concerned thoroughly enjoyed. These days, Harry breeds poodles and Steve is a taxi driver. The re-union also lead to Ciggy Shaw making contact with Lemmy who, at the time, lived on a houseboat; to which he invited Ciggy for a fortnight, where the two had a whale of a time catching up on the old days.
During September 1967, Lemmy moved down to London. It was the place to be, not only musically, but also for the Hippie / Flower Power scene.
Lemmy found himself looking for a place to stay, and was offered accommodation by an old friend, Neville Chesters, who was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix; he also shared the flat with Hendrix bassist, Noel Redding. From there, as he had little else to do at the time and was as awe-struck by the Hendrix phenomenon as everyone else, Lemmy accepted the offer of being a roadie on the second GB tour by the Experience. This turned out to be one of the biggest rock package tours of the 60’s, featuring Jimi, top of the bill, along with The Move, Pink Floyd, Amen Corner, The Nice, Eire Apparent and Outer Limits. The tour moved through the country between mid-November and early December, and Lemmy felt more than happy to hump the gear, then sit in the wings watching the maestro perform twice a night and also get £10 wages for the pleasure.
Then, Lemmy helped get another band together, The Sam Gopal Dream, also known as plain Sam Gopal during Lemmy’s time with them. Personnel for this outing was: Lemmy on lead and rhythm guitars, Sam Gopal, Tablas and percussion, Roger D’Elia on backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, and Phil Duke on bass.
On December 22, 1967, the Hendrix connection came into play once more when Jimi topped the bill at the Christmas on Earth Continued festival at Olympia in London. An extraordinary support bill consisting of The Who, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Move, Pink Floyd, Keith West and Tomorrow, Soft Machine, Paper Blitz Tissue, Traffic, The Graham Bond Organisation, and, last but by no means least, Sam Gopal. From this, we can presume that Jimi Hendrix was considerably impressed as he went along to the Sam Gopal gig at the Speakeasy a couple of nights later to jam with them on stage.
The band continued picking up gigs and found themselves snapped up by Stable Records. During October and November 1968, they went into De Lane Lea and Morgan Sound studios to record an album, which led to the release of Escalator on the label during March 1969. Besides Donovan’s Season of the Witch and Angry Faces written by Davidson, all the other songs were written by Lemmy in one night, though he credited some to Group to give everyone a share in the royalties.
Escalator was by no means a major hit album, but it did pull nine original songs from Lemmy. Since that time, two acetate pressings have emerged, both containing the same songs: Horse and Back Door Man, but were different takes and had not appeared on the album. Mainly due to Lemmy’s input and fame, the Escalator album has frequently been bootlegged and pirated on vinyl and CD over the past few years.
A very rare four track EP seems to have been pressed in minor quantities, too. This is somewhat of an odd item to say the least, as it shares the same catalogue number as the original album (SLE 8001). The EP is in fact a white label test pressing with a Stable Records label glued over the top. However, this was a fair move by Stable, as it offered a far more professional looking sampler for the DJ’s, rather than a white label with hand-written titles.
The Horse and Back Door Man tracks have cropped up, (being re-recorded from an acetate original, we must presume?), on two bootleg psychedelic 60’s compilation albums. Craftily, one track has been pressed on each to ensure the purchase of both by Gopal / Lemmy fans.
Many fans are confused by the fact that the Gopal album bills Lemmy as Ian Lemmy Willis. The reason behind this is that after his father, a Church of England vicar, left him and his mother when Lemmy was very young, he preferred to ignore the surname in favour of his mother’s later re-married name of Willis. But when it came to travelling with bands and passport paraphernalia, Lemmy found it less hassle to revert to his birth certificate surname, which he has used ever since.
Lemmy has always, quite rightly, borne a huge grudge towards his father for what he did. So much so, he wrote exactly what he thought of his actions in the final verse of the Motorhead song, Poison.
In essence, the Sam Gopal band was rather difficult to bring over to an audience in a live situation. However, they played around Great Britain and visited, among other venues, The Ritz, which was an amazing rock club on the Bournemouth sea front, in 1968. Fellow Stable artistes, The Deviants, (who had sci-fi author, Mick Farren, as their lead vocalist at the time), were good friends of the band, and Mick Farren recalled his memories of the Sam Gopal band in a Motorheadbangers Fan Club interview. “There was always a problem because they didn’t have regular drums. They had Tablas, which required every microphone in the house, as the PA systems were very primitive in those days. There would be howling, screaming feedback, and we’d be waiting to go on or something, and they’d be hauling all of those Tablas off and putting the regular stuff back on. Raga rock was a strange concept.”
After Sam Gopal had finally ended their days, Lemmy rehearsed and auditioned with countless bands, including the strangely named Follow The Buffalo. It was a dismal time and nothing fruitful happened.
But during 1970, for a brief 4 months, Lemmy joined Opal Butterfly. This band came into being in 1967 by founder member, Allan Love (vocals), who recruited Tom Doherty (guitar / vocals), Robbie Milne (guitar), Richard Bardey (bass and vocals) and Simon King (drums), via an advertisement in Melody Maker.
The band rehearsed for several months before embarking on local dates and then auditioning for CBS Records. The band signed for CBS in February 1968 and released their debut single, Beautiful Beige.
After several tours which included support slots to acts such as Argent, Graham Bond, The Bonzo Dog Band, Fat Mattress and The Move, Opal Butterfly released their second single, Mary Ann With The Shaky Hand, a cover version of a Pete Townshend song from The Who Sell Out album.
By this time, the band had gone through several line-up changes. Allan Love had left, and it was decided they would remain as a four piece. Tom Doherty and Richard Bardey shared vocals, and Ray Majors replaced Robbie Milne on lead guitar. Further tours and support slots followed with bands such as Deep Purple, Steamhammer and Atomic Rooster, and by that time, Opal Butterfly had built themselves a very strong college and university following; many people commented on the band sounding like a British version of Leslie West’s Mountain.
Also during this period, Tom Doherty and Simon King had a brief flirtation with the movie world when they were asked to act as two band members in the film Groupie Girl. This also resulted in Opal Butterfly writing and playing on two of the tracks for the film which also appeared on the soundtrack album.
Just after this, Lemmy joined the Opal Butterfly ranks in the role of sharing bass / vocals and guitar duties with Tom Doherty who, by this time, had taken over playing bass after the departure of Richard Bardey. To this day, Lemmy still owes the band, (if they were still around), £20 for bailing him out of Chelsea police station.
By late 1971, Opal Butterfly had split. By this time, Lemmy had joined Hawkwind along with Simon King. Ray Majors went on to join Mott The Hoople, and Tom Doherty left England to join the Chicago based band, Shakey Jake. At this point in time, Simon King deals in antiques, Ray Majors is a session musician, Tom Doherty runs his own record company, (Communiqué Records, home of Girlschool), and Lemmy, well, you already know. For further details of Hawkwind, see Record Collector issues #70 and #157.
In essence, Lemmy is and always has been one of the great characters of the rock ‘n’ roll scene. His recorded output from the Rocking Vickar’s to the present day is quite something for the collector to track down, but rest assured, when you do find them it will bring a warm glow which only the true record collector knows, and it makes everything so worthwhile.
Lemmy was born of the rock ‘n’ roll era. Here, we have reflected his roots in the genre. Since the inception of Motorhead he has maintained 100 percent tunnel vision that they are no more than a rock ‘n’ roll band. His definition of rock ‘n’ roll is “Music your parents don’t like you listening to.” All of Lemmy’s bands have definitely been in that category and he has always lived by those words.
Alan Burridge would like to acknowledge, with thanks, the help of Lemmy, Mick Stevenson, Tom Doherty, Steve Morris, Adrian Lee and Mick Farren. Also, Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek for the clarification of dates in the ‘Chronology’ section of their book, ‘Jimi Hendrix – Electric Gypsy,’ published by Heinemann.
THE ROCKING VICKERS DISCOGRAPHY
Decca F.11993. I Go Ape / Someone Like Me. October 2nd, 1964.
Decca SD 5662. Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart / Stella – 1965.
CBS 202151. It’s All Right / Stay By Me – March 1966.
CBS 202241. Dandy / I Don’t Need Your Kind – June 1966.
Columbia 4.43818. Dandy / I Don’t Need Your Kind – USA release.
RPM Records RPM 196. The Rockin’ Vickers – The Complete: It’s Alright.
CD released in 1995 with 14 tracks by the band, including some
SAM GOPAL DISCOGRAPHY
(All recordings featuring Lemmy).
Stable SLE 8001. Escalator – March 1969.
Stable SLE 8001. Escalator 4 track DJ promo EP – March 1969.
Stable SLE 8001. Escalator – pirate vinyl pressing – Germany.
TNT Records TTE 004LP. Escalator – Pirate pressing vinyl – Germany.
TNT Records TTE 004CD. Escalator – Pirate pressing CD –Germany.
Emidisc acetate. Horse / Back Door Man.
Emidisc acetate. Horse / Back Door Man (different takes to the above).
The ‘Escalator’ album has been released on CD complete with Horse and Back Door Man in recent years.
OPAL BUTTERFLY DISCOGRAPHY
(Lemmy did not record with the band).
CBS 3576. Beautiful Beige / Speak Up – 1968.
CBS 3921. Mary Ann With The Shaky Hand / My Gration Or? – 1968.
Polydor 2384-021. Groupie Girl soundtrack LP – 1970.
Two tracks, ‘Groupie Girl’ and ‘Giggin’ Song.’