The world of cricket has not so far come together to mourn the death of Lemmy. How can this be?
Granted, as the one-time publisher of Thinking Out LOUD, a small volume collecting the great man’s assorted philosophical wisdom, I cannot recall a single pronouncement that even came close to cricket. As you would rather imagine. When I think of a summer’s day at Arundel, Steve Magoffin loping in from the castle end, the susurrus of applause rippling round the crowd up on the bank, I cannot think of anywhere further away from the speed-and-Jack Daniel’s-fuelled onslaught of “Killed by Death”.
Presumably, of course, that, and a game that can be played with such decorous, precise craft, is what attracts people like Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Joe Perry of Aerosmith (sighted in a Test match hospitality box a year or two back) to cricket on their day off. Indeed, one of the most disagreeable things about the modern limited-overs game is how it’s been “rocked up”: you have to have your Big Bash in a cavernous stadium where AC-DC probably played the night before; everything, from a batsman’s entrance to a six-hit and probably the replacement of a bail, has to be choreographed to cacophonous hair-band muzak, and the atmosphere cranked up to a delirious, frenzied fever pitch. It’s not a game of cricket: it’s a Blast.
But the news of Lemmy’s death just after Christmas came soon after I’d been reading about another rock ’n’ roll hero – at least of mine – who also wasn’t the slightest bit interested in cricket, and in thinking about them both I asked myself why they did seem to belong to the same world I lived in as cricket. Lee Brilleaux was the frontman with Dr Feelgood, the 70s blues band from Canvey Island whose fearsome live shows on London’s pub rock circuit catalysed punk and the New Wave, and who have been mythicised in recent years through Julien Temple’s wonderful documentary Oil City Confidential. And last autumn a rather good biography of him appeared. Having seen the band a dozen times, and the film several, I knew most of the story of his life told in Lee Brilleaux: Rock ’n’ Roll Gentleman (Polygon, 2015), but not all.
I knew how, even in front of a couple of hundred people at the Half Moon in Herne Hill or the Red Lion in Brentford, he would explode off the front of the stage from the first note, microphone clenched like a hand grenade, gale-force vocals growling and snapping out the blues to the whites of his eyes in a performance of pure kinesis – understood that live music is live, when played like that, in the way that an electricity cable is live, and it’s called rock music because, if you do it right, it rocks you back on your heels; rocks a place to its roots. I knew he died at the age of 41. What I didn’t know was that until a year or two before his death the Feelgoods were doing two hundred and eighty of those gigs a year, all over the world. Then they cut down to a mere 220. I also didn’t know that on top of this he managed at least once to drink a whole bottle of gin during a single show… “He dug deep and he never short-changed anybody”, says his last bass player mildly.
After Lemmy died I went on YouTube to recall numbers like “Motorhead” and “Orgasmatron”, and found a video of the band’s last-ever gig, in Berlin only a fortnight before Christmas. In front of the requisite rampart of Marshall cabinets, under a huge hat, on stick-thin legs, a distant figure at the microphone was thanking the crowd for coming, and the trademark rheumy rasp had become an old man’s slurred, deep-under-water mush. Jesus. But then - it was as though a switch had been flicked - the arena, and even my iPad, was suddenly inflated with that thunderous, laughably excessive, afterburner roar! Why did he always give it so much? Lee Brilleaux’s mum asks in the book in sad bafflement; he didn’t have to…
What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?
A few days after Christmas, it was the Cape Town Test match, and Ben Stokes hit 258 in the fastest England double century of all time. I listened to it on TMS: even without pictures you could see these massive shots sailing high over the boundary. It was such an improbable innings: it didn’t have to be that good; it wasn’t necessary to score that fast, to be that belligerent. But just like the first time I ever saw him play, for Durham at Hove in an end-of-season county game, when he came out and cleanly tonked 40-odd in no time before holing out on the extra-cover boundary, he went for broke.
So did the father of Stokes’s partner out in the middle at Newlands, David Bairstow, whom I remember once seeing in the little John Player League on the TV one Sunday afternoon, coming in to bat when all seemed lost and, carving at everything and running like stink, shirt-tail flapping, eyes wide as white in a face red as a beetroot, gasping for breath at the end of an over, got Yorkshire home as though it was the Gillette Cup Final.
And so did Richard Hadlee in the 1987 Natwest Cup Final: someone who always rose to the occasion – who, when a rain-affected Saturday finished with Notts facing defeat and their star all-rounder, in his last season with the county, sunk in gloom, then went out on the Monday and didn’t just win the trophy for his side with a man-of-the-match innings of 70 off only 61 balls, but went out on a limb and smashed them to it, with a series of calm, imperious, conclusive drives. “You know, if ever I feel a bit down,” said Lee Brilleaux once, “Or, ‘Oh, I don’t really fancy playing tonight’, I think, well, that’s not how the Wolf would have handled it.” The Wolf was Howlin’ Wolf, the huge bluesman from the South with a voice, it was once said, “like a hurricane trying to squeeze through a letterbox”, who was still touring the UK and (when Brilleaux saw him) playing little pubs well into his sixties. “The Wolf’s a big man, he’d have gone out and done it. “
1991, and David Lawrence of Gloucestershire is walking back to his mark at the Radcliffe Road end at Trent Bridge against the West Indies. Built like a tank, not a fast bowler, which didn’t stop him hurtling in off a run that started almost back on the boundary rope and culminated in a torso-twisting delivery that seemed to almost snap him in two. Eventually, it appears, such a physique brought to bear on such hell-for-leather fast bowling resulted in a serious knee injury and the end of his career. But I can still hear the elated roar of the crowd that day when, late in the afternoon, he came steaming in for England, and got Phil Simmons caught behind for 1. His name for it was “rockin’ and rollin’.”