Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister was the main man in British rock band Motorhead, a group he formed after being fired from Hawkwind in 1975. He sadly died yesterday, at the age of 70, after a very brief fight with cancer.
Although well known and popular, Motorhead never hit the real big time, in the UK at least. Right up to the point Lemmy died they were still only playing theatres, as opposed to arenas or stadiums. In fact they were regulars at the LCR in Norwich which has a capacity of only about 2000, but as business owners I think there is a lot we can learn from his example.
Motorhead followed the strict pattern of album, tour, album, tour… releasing an album every few years and following it up with a multidate national and international tour. What does this tell us? It tells us that when you have a formula that works, stick to it. You could argue that Motorhead didn’t sustain the growth they probably deserved, but they were doing enough to keep doing what they wanted to do.
Lemmy never gave up. He stuck to his guns and did what he wanted to do, the way he wanted to do it. He was good at it. Even when his lifestyle started to affect his health, he kept going. I’m not suggesting it’s always a good idea to keep going no matter what, but you have to admire Lemmy’s single minded determination. In the end it was cancer that got Lemmy, not his lifestyle.
As Allan Kelly taught me a long time ago, it’s important to fail fast and fail cheap. Lemmy understood this too. In 2011 Motorhead headlined the Bloodstock festival and part way through the show Lemmy cut the set short, played Ace of Spades and left the stage. For whatever reason the band weren’t playing their best (the official reason was the band had come down with a virus). Lemmy realised this and called an end to it.
I’ve been a heavy metal fan ever since I discovered the Final Countdown by Europe and Poison by Alice Cooper. For me Motorhead were mostly there in the background. I saw them just once in Manchester on the Inferno tour (supported by Sepultura). They’ve got a lot of great songs, but my favorite was always Born to Raise Hell from the Bastards album.
Lemmy famously said “Born to Lose, Live to win.” As business owners we love to win and it so often feels like we’re going to lose, but if Lemmy is anything to go by, it’s the drive to keep going that’s important.