Motorhead: "There are mistakes on No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith. Life ain't perfect"

Motorhead live in 1981
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #165.

No Sleep ‘Til Hammermith was a double-edged sword for Motörhead. Hitting No.1 in its first week of release, the band would never be able to follow it up adequately. Lemmy came to regard it as an albatross around his neck. Which is a pity, because it’s a landmark album.

Recorded in March 1981, it arrived at the height of the NWOBHM movement yet it had just as much in common with the punk scene. It made friends wherever people snorted speed or liked to smash things up; more importantly, it summed up a moment in time, an attitude – you didn’t have to be a Motörhead fan, or even a rock fan, to connect with. All of which made No Sleep more than just a great live album; it made it a cultural high-water mark – even for those who have never heard it.

What are your memories of the shows that became No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith?

It was recorded at Leeds and Newcastle, as I remember. There was one show at Hull, which was the best, but it wasn’t recorded very well. How did I choose the venues? I like anywhere where they go “Hooray!” I don’t give a fuck what the accent’s like. I’m shallow like that.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Where were you when you heard that the album had gone to No.1 in the UK?

I was asleep in New York when it all went down. Our manager rang me up, and I said: “Fuck it. I’m asleep. Call me later.” A couple of minutes later it registered and I was bolt upright. We were doing well. Little did we know that the fucking damaged floorboard was just around the corner.

How wild was it backstage?

The things that were going on, you wouldn’t be able to print, and I don’t have the photographs to prove it.

How do you feel about it 30 years on?

It still sounds good to me. I played it about three weeks ago, actually. I’d never heard it through good-quality headphones before and it was very good, I thought. We were in the middle of a 53-show tour, so by that time we were on automatic. We were tight, and you can hear that on the record. I thought we were an excellent band, especially for the time. I mean, there are mistakes on there. There are always mistakes on a live album. What the fuck do you want, man? That’s life. Life ain’t perfect, and I’m no different. I think I overdubbed a couple of lines of vocals on Hammersmith, but there’s no false songs.

Mick Wall

Mick Wall is the UK's best-known rock writer, author and TV and radio programme maker, and is the author of numerous critically-acclaimed books, including definitive, bestselling titles on Led Zeppelin (When Giants Walked the Earth), Metallica (Enter Night), AC/DC (Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be), Black Sabbath (Symptom of the Universe), Lou Reed, The Doors (Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre), Guns N' Roses and Lemmy. He lives in England.