If you know your heavy music, you will already know the sound of Phil ’Philthy Animal’ Taylor. That intro to Overkill. The sound of a herd of marauding buffalo stampeding through the speakers. The sound of thunder, amphetamines and no fucks given. The pummelling heartbeat of those first few classic Motörhead albums. The sound of rock ’n’ roll.
The passing of any legendary musician or architect of our sonic world will always be greeted with tributes and tears, but somehow the untimely death of Phil Taylor seems to have resonated a little deeper. The man that battered the living shitballs out of his kit on Ace Of Spades and No Class and Damage Case and Bomber and Iron Fist and… well, if you want to know why losing Philthy is a tough one to process, you only need to listen to Motörhead‘s early records. Although never a heavy metal band in the traditional sense, that classic trio of Lemmy, Fast Eddie Clarke and Phil Taylor were instantly and excitedly embraced by the then nascent heavy metal world. Significantly, the punks loved them too. Let’s face it, everyone with an ounce of taste loves Motörhead. There is no denying the monstrous power of a truly great three-piece band, and Philthy’s loose-limbed, heavy-handed drumming style was fundamental to Motörhead’s irresistible power.
Listen to the immortal No Sleep Till Hammersmith live album and witness the sound of the punk rock John Bonham at full tilt. Other drummers were and are undoubtedly more technical and precise, but Philthy was a force of nature and the perfect drummer for Motörhead’s rampaging, priapic sound. Even on later, less celebrated albums like Rock & Roll and 1916 – both of which are fucking great, incidentally – there is something special about his furious, runaway train approach. And if you’ve ever heard any of the countless cover versions of Motörhead classics from that era, you’ll know how incredibly hard it is to produce that same feel, that same sense of swing, permanently on the brink of chaos erupting, but never less than 100% groovy.
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But it was never just about music. Part of the unerring appeal of Motörhead has always been the sense that they are truly dedicated to living the rock ’n’ roll life and being as fucked up and crazy as they want to be. Can you imagine what it must have been like being in Motörhead in those early days? Watch any clip of the band from TV shows in the early ‘80s and it’s not hard to work out that, to put it mildly, everyone involved was aiming to have a very late night. And there, behind the kit, somehow even eclipsing the one-man charisma bomb of Lemmy Kilmister, was Philthy Animal Taylor; Animal from the Muppets in human form, but way, way more likely to chuck a chair through the window or down a pint of vodka in one. There’s a certain gentle irony to Motörhead’s appearance on British sitcom The Young Ones in 1984: as riotous and cartoonish as Ade Edmondson’s deranged headbanger Vyvyan always was, he was effortlessly outgunned by the wild eyes and even wilder hair of Phil Taylor, as the band – by then featuring Lemmy alongside guitarists Würzel and Phil Campbell – ripped through Ace Of Spades.
There are many, many great stories about Phil Taylor’s exploits while in Motörhead, but they don’t need repeating here. What does perhaps need restating is that we’ve lost one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll drummers of all time and a man that contributed a vast amount to the evolution of heavy music, not just through those pulverising double-kicks on Overkill, but by simply being the real fucking deal. Rest in peace, Philthy, and thank you for the thunder.