published: 9 /
Glen Matlock speaks to Andrew Twambley about the Sex Pistols, the Rich Kids, his solo career and his forthcoming UK tour with David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick.
The word 'legend' is one of the most abused and over-used words in the English language, especially in the age of social media. However, I have recently spoken to a true legend: a man, who whilst still in his teens, wrote some of the greatest and most groundbreaking songs of all time, and was part of a musical movement that changed the lives of a generation, me included.
Glen Matlock was a Sex Pistol and a revolutionary, but he is not a guy who sits on his laurels. He appreciates the long shadow he leaves, but wants to be admired for his next song and his next tour. After leaving the Pistols he formed The Rich Kids, then joined Iggy Pop and several other bands including The Faces, and is currently recording and touring with David Bowie’s guitarist, the mighty Earl Slick. But apart from having a musical history seemingly written by the gods, he is a top geezer. I spoke to him during lockdown and came to the conclusion that if I was asked, “Who in the world would you most like to go for five pints and a curry with?”, it would be Glen Matlock.
PB: So everything okay with you, Glen? Are you fully fit?
GLEN MATLOCK: Yeah, well, I just had to have a routine examination at my doctor's.
I’m actually quite shocked, I said to the nurse, “While I’m here, any chance of getting an antibody check for Covid? To see if I’ve had it.” And she said, “You must be kidding. We haven’t been able to give one test in the whole lockdown period. We haven’t seen one test and none of the staff have been able to get tested”, that’s outrageous. I’m in the centre of London; I’m livid!
PB: I bet! I know over the years you must have done millions of interviews, so I’m going to try and make this as painless and stress-free as possible. Especially after a doctor's appointment. First of all, what are you doing in lockdown? How are you filling your time with no live shows?
GM: Well just before lockdown started, I bought a ton of white emulsion paint for my flat. It’s still sitting there… because there’s always tomorrow. But what I did do was jet-wash the back garden and the next day I jet-washed the front one and then I noticed I’d missed some bits in the back, so I went and did that bit again and the next day I saw I’d missed some bits on the front so I went and did that. But I only really went and did it because I know it annoys the neighbours and they annoy me! So that was about a week.
Then I pottered a bit, and then I ordered a push bike and I’ve been nipping around on that and then I got stuck over here, especially with what’s going on in the States. I should have been in America with Earl Slick. We had a tour to do and that had to be pulled, and then I was supposed to sit in on the mix of the new album we made. I’ve got to go back there somehow and sit with the guy. So I don’t know how I’m going to do that. I’ve been trying to do a bit of business. I uploaded some merch onto Facebook that was just sitting there so thought I’d clear it out. I got loads and loads of orders, so had to take them down to the local post office and I chatted up the Indian lady and bought her a box of chocolates while she filled out all the forms for me and I had a coffee outside. So that took a few weeks.
PB: Jet washing your path sounds really Rock n Roll, I’m glad you told me that. What are you doing about getting a haircut?
GM: I’m not. Well I don’t know if I am actually, because I might just have a bit of long hair for a while. A mate of mine is a hairdresser and he said, “Come along and I will give you a private one and nobody will know”, but I’m just growing it.
Also I’ve been doing a few online shows (including)a Facebook one and they’ve been going down pretty well, sort of 18,25 thousand people, so we’ll see.
PB: I saw you and Earl Slick last summer in a small club in Manchester which was absolutely brilliant. How did you two get together in the first place?
GM: Yeah, we are like The Odd Couple! I did a session with him with a mate of mine and Clem Burke about ten years ago in The States and we really got on. Then when I made my last album I asked Slim Jim Phantom to play on it, he’s an old mate of mine and I said “Have you got any ideas for a guitarist?” and he said “What about Earl?” I didn’t know he knew him, then I found out that they were in a band together in the 80s. It all just fell into place really, we all got along quite well.
PB: Neal X from Sigue Sigue Sputnik came on the last half hour or so.
GM: Yeah well, Neal plays with me sometimes. I just like to keep everybody involved and he happened to be doing a gig down the road.
PB: There seemed like there was obvious chemistry between you guys. It looked like mates jamming and having a good time. How long have you known him?
GM: I have known Neal since the punk days and his Sigue Sigue Sputnik days.
PB: So what are your future plans when we come out of the dark side?
GM: Well we will get this new album out, I’m talking to some people about that, but everything’s really slow at the moment; then we are going to tour that. I had quite a few gigs, but people keep saying "Oh we’re not doing it this year now." Gigs that were supposed to be in May were moved to June/ July, then they became August/ September and then they became October, and now they are saying what you doing the same time in 2021? I don’t fuckin’ know what I’m doing. Who knows at the moment? But to be honest I haven’t been that fed-up about the lockdown thing, because I’ve been so busy over the last few years going here and there and enjoying it, so maybe it’s a bit of time to take stock and think about what I really wanna do artistically, although I am really pleased with this album.
PB: When do you think it will be released?
GM: Well I don’t know, six weeks ago I was hoping that it was going to be out in the Autumn, but unless you can go on tour and promote it, there’s not much point.
PB: Talking about the 'Good to Go' album, I’ve been a fan of Scott Walker forever so how come 'Montague Terrace' appeared on it? It was a brave move to take on such a classic.
GM: I like to keep people guessing. I’ve always liked Jacques Brel, and I was a big fan of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band who called their 'Next' album after one of his songs. I never knew how people knew his songs were any good because he wrote them all in French. Then I found 'Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel', all in English obviously and I thought “Oh”. I knew Scott Walker from the Walker Brothers and I thought I would investigate them a bit more and I found 'Montague Terrace'. I had been doing it acoustically for a while and I was messing with it in a session when Slim Jim heard it and said “ Can we have a go at that?” and it came out well. So I think on every album from now on, I will pick a song that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with me and put our own stamp on it.
PB: Going right back in time, how come you chose the bass guitar in the first place?
GM: It chose me. Somebody at school had a bass, and I was learning the guitar and I thought I’d get a bass. I was trying to learn it, but it’s kind of just as well that I did because when I got it home, you couldn’t hear it unless you’ve got an amp, but what you can do is jam it against a wardrobe, take the top of the lead where the jack plug goes and attach two wires to the stylus of the radiogram. It sounded fucking great, the best sound I’ve ever had. Very soon you realise playing bass guitar by yourself is a bit likehaving a wank and you need to play with other people (laughs). But around about that time I was working for Malcolm McLlaren for a Saturday job and I met Steve and Paul and they were looking for a bass player. So I said, “I can play bass”, and that was it really.
PB: And the rest is history.
GM: Every song that I have ever written, I’ve written on an acoustic guitar, you know, so I’ve always kept that up. People say how come you’re a bass player and you play guitar? I say I do because it’s easier to put a show on. But I’ve always done it, I like playing bass but I like playing bass when someone else is singing.
PB: Let me take you back to June 4th 1976: an event took place at The Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, which has become known as The Gig That Changed The World. It’s the one where thousands said they went to The Pistols first trip up north and only eighteen people actually turned up. Can you remember anything about that night?
GM: Well what I can remember more than anything else is that when we were diving there I was in the front navigating and on the map I noticed there was a town called Matlock which I’ve never been to, and distancewise whether we went up the motorway or the other roads it was the same so I said, “Let's go this way” which we did, but it took fucking ages and when we got there Malcolm was really annoyed because he’d set up this radio interview which he hadn’t told us about. These were the days before mobile phones and we missed it because we were too late so I was in the doghouse.
I remember doing the soundcheck and then going to get something to eat at the fish and chip shop round the corner, on top of Oxford Road by the library. We got to the front of the queue and I asked what kind of fish it was and he said “Fish” and I said, “Yeah, but what kind of fish?” He said, “Fish fish….” “Yeah, but is it like cod, haddock?” and he said, “Are you trying to be funny?” (Laughs) That’s what I remember about the gig, and there not being many people there, that’s all I remember about it. Was that the one where Buzzcocks supported us?
PB: It’s the one where they didn’t play, they just ran it.
GM: Yeah, because they weren’t ready and stuff. I remember Pete Shelley only had half a guitar and I said, “Why’d you cut the top half off it?” and he said, “I didn’t”. I said, “Well it’s only half a guitar” and he said, “It fell off”. (Laughs.)
It’s funny when you do gigs, you just remember the silly things. I remember when I was playing with the Faces a few years back. I used to go to St Martins Arts College and now it’s University of the Arts. Anyway I got invited to some event and they talked about Factory Records and there’s Paul Morley, Pete Saville and Kevin Cummins, and they were chatting about their album sleeves for Factory Records. Then there was "Any questions?" and somebody at the back said "Who was there at the first Sex Pistols gig?" They had a little conflab on-stage and this was funny, 'cos nobody in the room knew that I was there. The only person they agreed that was definitely there was Mick Hucknall, because he went to the opening of an envelope back then, which was kind of funny.
PB: I was looking through my diary in preparation for this, and specifically at 4th February 1978 when I saw The Rich Kids at Eric's Liverpool, which my diary tells me was a brilliant gig although I can’t remember much about it. Do you recall anything about Eric's, apart from the stinking drains?!
GM: I can remember the stinking drains and it being quite busy. But I remember sitting in the hotel after the show, the hotel was near Lime Street Station which is quite hilly round there, and while we all were having a drink after the show, somebody just said, “ Isn’t that our truck that just went past?” The bloke hadn’t put the handbrake on properly and it had just sort of slithered down the street (laughs).
I also remember meeting people like Jane Casey and Holly Johnson and sitting in The Grapes. I also remember going into Probe Records, round the corner from Eric's, who were selling the 'Indecent Exposure' bootleg by The Pistols, and the bloke wouldn’t let me have it. I had to buy it and I thought that was a bit cheeky, and then I thought: that’s Liverpool for you!
PB: Tell us about your association with Iggy Pop, where does he fit into your career?
GM: After The Rich Kids I basically broke the band up because Steve New wanted us to be New Romantics and I didn’t, and I was sitting at home thinking what am I going to do now? No idea, and then two minutes later the phone rang and the bloke said "Is Glen Matlock there?" and I said, "Yeah who’s that?" and he said "You don’t know me, my name's Peter Davis and I’m managing Iggy Pop. We're here in London and we’d like to have a word with you. I spoke with Iggy and I said "What’s up?" He said "Well we’re in town, do you fancy a drink?" and I said "Who’s buying?" and he said "We are." I said "Right," so I went to meet them at a pub in Piccadilly. We got horribly drunk, and next thing I am on tour with Iggy Pop.
They had just made the 'New Values' album and there was a guy who was going to play second guitar on the tour who couldn’t make it. My agent was John Giddings, and he was also Iggy's agent, and he suggested me I think, and that was that.
PB: Did I hear that you ran into Bowie at some point during that couple of years?
GM: Yeah, at rehearsals, there was a track on 'New Values'called 'Billy Is A Runaway' and it’s got all sorts of slap bass playing, which I'd never done before.
Everybody broke for lunch and I was just practicing it, and then they came back and I’d just got this bit together, and Iggy walks in followed by David Bowie. My bass playing just went kaput. All my notes fell off the neck but it was fine, he played a few things and he sang with us. Not that song, another one. 'Don’t Look Down', I think the song was called.
We’d run into him a few times and he'd hang around with the band. There was one time he came to see us in New York and we all went to this place called the Mudd Club.
Afterwards we all piled in his limo and went down Madison Avenue to downtown. The limo was the same car and the same driver that he had in 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' movie. It was a bit of a squeeze and I ended up sitting on David Bowie’s knee all the way down Madison Avenue.
PB: That must have been very exciting.
GM: Yeah, I really like Bowie, I met him a few times. He was genuinely kind of interested in what you thought. Mainly what you thought about him, a little bit, (laughs), but he was an enthusiast about things and he said I was a good songwriter.
PB: What’s all this about you DJing in Brazil and South Korea?
GM: No, I played in South Korea. There is a guy called Stephen Budd who manages, well he managed, Franz Ferdinand for a bit, and he was involved in a festival called the DMZ Peace Train Festival which is actually on the North/ South Korea border. I was chatting to him and I said, “Well that sounds like a laugh, doesn’t it?” and he said, “Do you fancy going?” I said “Yeah”. He said “There’s no money in it, but we’ll push the boat out to get you over”, so I went and played.
I played with a local band there, they’re a punk band but they are more like the New York Dolls, and there was this other guy called Chacha. He was like the Paul Weller of Seoul, and he became my mate. We did a couple of things together and I played on his last single. And then I did another thing with the same people who organise all these festivals, about this time last year I played in India. It’s all part of life’s rich pageant.
PB: When you write songs, do you lock yourself in a room or do they just come to you while you are on the way to watch QPR?
GM: I come up with my ideas on the way to QPR or in the supermarket. When you get an idea that doesn’t go away, that’s the time you pick up the guitar and write a bit more.
PB: Which brings me onto something more specific. One of the greatest intros/songs of all time is 'Pretty Vacant'. Where did the inspiration for that come from?
GM: The idea was suggested to me from an Abba song, but the riff isn’t in that song, it’s just something that happened on the bass that gave me the idea and then inspired me to pick up the guitar, but I was actually looking for a riff. There are three types of songs: ones like 'A Whole Lotta Love' that are a riff, songs like 'Montague Terrace' with a good set of chord changes and songs that have both. With 'Pretty Vacant', I had the whole song apart from the riff, so I was looking for something and I had this idea and I thought "Oh, that could be really moronic". And then I went back to the studio and worked it out, the guys sort of filtered in later and I was like, “Here you go, I’ve got you a song” and that was one of our earlier songs.
PB: You had a major part in most of the Pistols' songs and the album, and that is an immense legacy for a young guy still in his teens. Do you ever stop to think about the importance of that time of your life?
GM: No not really, only when blokes like you ask me. It happens quite a lot (laughs). I’m always more interested in the next song really. Yeah, I realise it has affected me, but that’s kind of cool.
PB: I’m dreaming of gigs coming back now. What’s the most memorable concert you have ever been to?
GM: What I’ve seen? Selfridges, maybe eight years ago now. This lady friend of mine said, “What you doing tonight?” and I said, “I don’t know, why?” She said, “There’s something going on at Selfridges”. Now I was intrigued, because Selfridges, the bit on the left-hand corner, from when you look at it on Oxford Street, had been shut and that bit was where they sell men’s socks and underpants, and now it was opening up.
So we went down and the shop was shut. There was a bit of a do on and it was the opening night of the store which had brands like Louis Vuitton. There was like champagne and canapés and all the beautiful people were there, and after about twenty minutes the bloke said “Right everybody, thank you for coming down, we’ve done up this part of the store and called it The Wonder Room”. He was standing in front of the curtain and he said, “I won’t say too much, but we’ve got a very special surprise for you" and he pulled the cord, the curtain opened and there’s Stevie Wonder there in the Wonder Room.
PB: Stevie Wonder…. no way!
GM: Yeah, Stevie Wonder. He did a 45-minute solo set on the piano and I was about six feet from him. Behind me I had two women dancing and singing along, and I turned around to look who it was and it was Cilla Black and Joan Collins, right behind me having a girls' night out.
PB: Singing with Cilla Black and Joan Collins is definitely Rock and Roll, so on that note, thanks Glen, you are a true legend.
GM : No problem, thanks.
Photos by Andrew Twambley
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