Glen Matlock: I’ll play rock-n-roll. Sex Pistols member about past and present

Glen Matlock and Sex Pistols photos

Glen Matlock is a true rock-n-roll star and a man who has played an important role in music over the last few decades. He is mostly known to the masses as one of the punk rock masterminds, the bass guitarist of the original Sex Pistols line-up and the co-author of their 10 most recognizable songs, including such punk classics such as “Anarchy in the UK”, “Pretty Vacant” and “God Save the Queen”.

The Sex Pistols were originally formed by Jonny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Paul Cook and Steve Jones. The guys were regular visitors of a store “Sex”, the epicenter of punk style that was led by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren – who later became the band’s manager. In the walls of this historical shop, the band was born.

Some personal and musical tensions with other bands members and manager Malcolm Maclaren was the reason for Glen leaving the Sex Pistols right before their one and only album “Never mind the bollocks, here is Sex Pistols” and moments before their highlights of international fame with a long-lasting taste of a scandalous reputation. Being replaced in the band by Sid Vicious, who lately became a kind of pop-cultural man and an example of a short and tragic life full of self-destruction, was not a big loss for Glen.

While Sid Vicious (who had become the visual symbol of punk) could be hardly called a bassist as he almost couldn’t play, Glen was the true musical force of the band and his passion for music led him to many other great musical affairs after the Sex Pistols.

His career was full of unforgettable moments like playing bass for Iggy Pop and for the main musical heroes of his youth, The Faces, as well as having his own successful project, The Rich Kids, right after the Sex Pistols and taking part in many other bands, for example, Flying Padavans, The Philistines and London Cowboys. Starting in 1996, Glen took part in 3 of the Sex Pistols’ reunion tours.

Being super active in music as always, Glen Matlock has just released a new rockabilly-influenced album Good to Go, which he worked on with many great musicians like Stray Cats drummer, Sim Jim Phanton, and guitarist Earl Slick, who worked for many years with David Bowie.  We found Glen in a nice mood and good shape in his home city London and he was up for finding time to talk about his new album and many other topics including his feelings about the Sex Pistols, his favorite collaborations, travels and views on coming to Andorra.

Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov

Hi Glen! Thank you for finding time to talk with us. So, you have a new album that just came out. Tell us more about this work.

Yes, it was released at the very end of September. I was working on it during the last two years and it took a while to come out because the music business now is different to the way it used to be. It all went digital and moved to the internet and for me, like many older artists, it takes time to learn this new way of doing things. But I took a decision to release it. I made a bunch of good songs that needed to be recorded and I worked on it in the studio with great musicians like Sim Jim Phanton from Stray Cats on drums, the guitarist of David Bowie – Earl Slick. And I’m really pleased with the result, the album sounds really fresh and straight-forward and it has a non-punk vibe that people are not used to hearing in my music, it’s more of a rockabilly sound.

Wow, it looks like a really promising collaboration.  Regarding your past, you were lucky to work with many legendary rock-stars and to collaborate with them. Is this something typical in your approach – to try to accumulate the greatest talents around to create the best result?

Yes, that could be it. I went to see Bob Dylan’s show in the Royal Albert Hall not so long ago. And the impression I had of this show was that Bob Dylan is one of the best songwriters in the world, but not the best performer. However, with his super band, especially the great drummer, Charlie Sexton and the guitar it all sounds fantastic. So, I thought I would try to do the same thing with my songs on the new album – leave it to the best band to perform them.

What have been the most memorable collaborations in your career?

For sure one of the things I liked most of all in the last 8 years is playing bass on a reunion tour for my all-time favorite band, Faces. This band had a heavy influence on me during my teenage years. I remember when we were just forming the Sex Pistols other band members Steve Jones and Paul Cook asked me who was my favorite band and when I said Faces they told that was actually their favorite band too.  And it was nice to know that we had a musical base in common. I believe The Faces had a big influence on punk rock.

Do you think they could be categorized as a proto-punk band – an English version of the New York Dolls?

Faces existed before the New York Dolls. I remember when I was around 16 I was on the show that they were headlining, it was really big – for 10 thousand people, and New York Dolls were supporting. I think their heavy influence on punk rock is not because they sounded like a punk band but because they had this attitude that they didn’t care about what other people thought about them and did what they wanted. This is a really English, London kind of approach that was shared among many punk bands.

Have you done a lot of shows with Faces?

We have done around 10 shows all over the world and were ready to do more, but the band’s guitarist, Ronie Wood, who is also a Rolling Stones member, received a call from Rolling Stones and was asked to join them on tour – as you understand it’s hard to say no to that kind of offer.

You had a few reunion shows with Rich Kids a few years ago. Do you plan to do it again?

Not really. The other band members Rusty Egan and Mid Urge are busy and our guitarist Steve New passed away. Actually, the last few shows we did were made to help Steve raise some money for battling cancer. He was not well at that moment, but he still played great and was very brave. And you know it’s always good to look at the past, but where there is too much of it, it doesn’t help you to move forward.

Do you have any plans for a Sex Pistols reunion tour in the near future?

I always hear talks about that from other people. I can say that would do it if it was a good offer, for a lot of money. The thing about the Sex Pistols is that all 4 band members have a lot of things going in their solo careers and when we start doing Sex Pistols reunion tours you have to forget about everything you were just doing before and after, so it’s kind of hard to start it all over again which is really frustrating. On the other hand, there is a special feeling when we reunite, when four people walk in the room and start to play you really understand that there is only one band in history that sounds like this. So the Sex Pistols always create a weird scenario.

 It’s interesting to know, after all these misunderstandings with other bands members, what are your feelings when you play on stage with the Sex Pistols? Is it just a commercial thing for you, a tour only, or you have some great flashbacks of your youth and this special chemistry that was among the band and made it so special?

When we did the first reunion tour in 1996 I wasn’t really that old, I was 40 and all the band members had successful solo careers at that moment. We thought that it would be good to give people what they want, and there was a big desire for a Sex Pistols show. The band ended up in a bad way falling apart because of the tensions between its members and traveling again together around the world really helped to re-establish our relationships. It was really interesting playing these old songs but not in the original situation, but when they became secondary, and you understand that they are still really good songs after all these years.  And I think we still have the same spirit, not maybe absolutely the same, but we never pretended that it is going to be.

How is your relationship with other the band members – Johny Lydon, Steve Jones and Paul Cook at the moment?

John lives in America, so I haven’t seen him for a long time. He is not my favorite person in the world, and as I believe I’m not his either.  Steve lives in America too, I talk with him once a month and I visited him last time I went there. I see Paul more. We even did some music together recently and it was good. We play together easily even though we actually learned to play together – Paul drums and I bass guitar, and it’s a kind of a fundamental thing between us.

Sid Vicious sex pistolsIt would be interesting to know what are your views on Sid Vicious after all these years?

I really don’t like to talk about him. He’s not my favorite person as he complicated my life. I think of him as a likeable idiot with a good haircut.

I understand your feelings, but it would be great to know your views as you knew him well – what kind of person was he, just an idiot or a lost soul?

He was a little bit of a lost soul and an idiot with a lot of potential. He always tried to bring attention by starting trouble, and when he started trouble he was the worst in the many fights we had, it was a real massacre.

Some rumors say that he almost couldn’t play bass guitar. Was that true or did he know a few chords which was sufficient?

I think he knew one note. But the problem is that even punk songs usually have more than one note, so it was hard for him to play them.

You had a kind of polished, teddy image compared to other members of the Sex Pistols that had more of this nihilist and angry appearance of working-class rebels. Does it have something to do with the differences in your cultural routes?

Now hang on a second, I’m a very working-class guy too. My dad worked in a factory and I grew up in a tiny flat without even a bathroom. But just different people have different characters and there you go. I think when I was in the band I was bringing the balance, I was balancing John and after I left and Sid took my place, who was almost like John but needed even more attention, the balance was gone, and the band soon after too. Maybe I was not the most flamboyant character from the Sex Pistols, we were all different, with different tastes and musical roots, and the differences made us a good band. It’s really boring when everybody is the same, and that’s what happened with many punk bands after us.

sex pistolsWhat are your feelings about Malcolm Mclaren now?

I think he was great at the beginning, he helped us a lot to create the band in his kind of sphere, in his and Vivene Westwood’s shop when we all met. But after Sex Pistols started he began to believe that he created us, and it’s not true, of course, he gave us a lot of ideas, but we were ourselves before we met Malcolm, even in the way we looked, especially Jonny.  It’s true that nobody would have heard about us if not for Malcolm, but all the same nobody would have heard about Malcolm if not for us.  And when I left the band he told the musical media that I was fired because I loved The Beatles. Even now, 40 years later, questions about this moment still annoy me, because that was not true. After they started to rehearse with Sid, Malcolm called me out for a meeting and asked me to rejoin the band, it was not working out with Sid because of his musical skills and liability. I had already started the band Rich Kids at that moment and was not interested. I said to Malcolm that I wasn’t going to do it after what he said about me in the papers and told him that he had played me.

Were you in touch with Malcolm Mclaren before his death?

Not really, I saw him briefly for the last time around 8 years ago in New York, half a year ago before he died, he looked well. It is really sad that he died and it’s really sad that we didn’t have a chance to say make peace with each other beforehand.

sex pistols

Do you see Viviene Westwood?

I don’t see her much. But I really like her as a person. The last time I saw her was at Malcolm Mclarens funeral and she was really pleased that I came.

What are future plans? Are you going to do a support tour for your new album?

We have had some offers for gigs in the USA and Australia and maybe will go there on tour at the beginning of next year. The problem is that everyone who took part in the new album is very busy and involved in other projects. But I still tour a lot alone, I do solo shows with just an acoustic guitar. And it’s hard to say what will be next. For sure my art is songwriting and all things I do in music are like a vehicle for getting my songs out. But also I have a reputation of being a good bass player, so I am often invited to play bass in other people projects and  if I like them I do it. It’s especially good to work with somebody who is very good, it’s a good opportunity to increase your knowledge. But one thing that for sure I will continue to do is to play rock-n-roll music. I play rock-n-roll music, that’s what I do, it is maybe just in different situations and with different people.

You have been touring all your life and have probably seen a lot of places and countries. Do you have some favorite spots to perform in?

It’s always a tricky question, every journalist wants to hear that their country is the best. Actually, I was lucky to see the world, I have been in many places and I figured out that the people who come to my shows are very similar everywhere. They share some common needs like a need for looking after their house, families, and the need to work and eat. And there are still a lot of places with a punk attitude and me and my friends and colleagues are usually bringing them a sound that is far from the boring multinational stuff of big record companies, and I’m really proud to be a part of it. But I really love to go to Japan – the food there is fantastic and love to go to Australia or South America in winter because it’s much warmer there than in England at this time of year.

Have you ever been to Andorra and would you like to perform here if there was ever the possibility?

I drove through Andorra once when I was on the way to Spain. I remember that it didn’t take  long and it was cold. I remember that I entered the country through the checkpoint, but there was no checkpoint on the way out. So people in Andorra might think that I’m still there and I’m a little bit worried about it. I’m up for performing there though, so if you have something in mind, please let me know.

Read more: The sound of music with Dmitry Tolkunov ...