Reminiscing The Sex Pistols & punk rock with Glen Matlock

It doesn’t happen every day to meet iconic rock stars, so I felt properly star-struck this Valentine day when I interviewed Punk Legend Glen Matlock, the youngest member of The Sex Pistols at only 16 and co-author of many of their hits including God Save The Queen. Glen and his friends Jim and Slick are back on the road in the UK for another great rock ‘n’ roll tour. The band of long-time friends, love to play together as Glen’s solo outfit playing songs from Glen’s solo career and rock-a-billy versions of Sex Pistols classics, the tour always shows the good times and camaraderie of a jam session at its best. Tour Dates are here: http://www.glenmatlock.co.uk I personally cannot wait to see these guys at the London gig on 7th March.

Monica: What’s new in Glen Matlock’s world?

Glen Matlock (GM): I’m just in the middle of making a new album, which is the follow-up to Good To Go. I was touring last year, doing this, and doing a little bit of writing. I stopped and I looked at the ideas I had, and I thought I had quite a lot here. I finished them off and just before Christmas we went in the studio and recorded the music. That’s also what I’ve been working on, finishing the lyrics, and it’s taken up all my time since Christmas really. It’s a full-time thing, so I’ve been quite locked into that, but I’m coming out of that now because we’re starting a tour.

Monica: What kind of genre would you define your new album?

GM: It’s kind of a classic rock, whatever that is. I’ve always seen myself more as a songwriter. I love people like Ray Davis and that’s what I kind of aspire to, but my version of that. I also enjoy music by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. I am not a big fan, but I’m trying to pitch myself in that kind of way. I was a punk rocker a long time ago. I subscribed to all of that. The music that I made with the guys at the time was very important and I understand that, but it was a long time ago and I’m just trying to forge something for myself in this day and age that encompasses all of that, what I listen to now, what I see going on in the world around me.

I’m very fortunate that I can get great musicians playing with me on new album such as Earl Slick who plays on the last album. He not only played with Bowie for a long time, but he also played with John Lennon.

He’s a bit older than me, but he’s a fantastic guitarist to change things around a little bit on the album. I bumped into Norman Watt-Roy, who is the bass player from the Blockheads. I said, “What are you doing?,” and he said, “Not a lot at the moment.” I said, “Come and play some bass,” and he said, “I would love to,” so he’s playing bass right now.

Monica: During the tour will you play music from the new album?

GM: Probably one or two songs.

Now you play for about an hour and a half. When I finish this album, I’ll have six albums of my own stuff. There was a band called Rich Kids before all that, then I played with Iggy Pop, and then I played with The Faces, my all-time favourite band. I was lucky enough to do that, and then I was in the Sex Pistols and I’ve got all those songs to try and pick out. Not please everybody, but I don’t want people to go, “I’m disappointed.” It’s a juggling act. If I’d gone to see David Bowie and he didn’t play Heroes, I would have gone home disappointed. As soon as we finish this tour, I’m going straight to America and I’ve got some solo shows, just me. I’m supporting a big band called the Dropkick Murphys in Boston on their big St. Patrick’s Day week of shows, and then I’m doing some solo club shows in Canada.

The next few months are busy. Then a guy in America is going to be mixing the album, so I’m going to end up in New York where he’s based, and so I can go and approve the mixes.

Monica: In your concerts these days, right, how much do people ask for the Sex Pistols?

GM: I hear people shout out, so I give them a couple of songs. I never tell them what songs I’m going to be playing because it’s no surprise then. But I’m quite good at gauging when it’s time to put one in, maybe a big stepping stone or something like that, which is associated with the Pistols, but it’s not Pistols.

Monica: How are your fans today? Do still people look like punk?

GM: Some do, some don’t. Young kids and in-betweens. Some older punks playing their songs who are in their 20s and stuff now. It’s a varying bunch of people.

Monica: So mainly would you say people in their 50s and 60s or more like a varied audience?

GM: No, no, 20s through to 50s and 60s.

Monica: They recognise the beauty of the contemporary sort of spin in your music.

GM: Hopefully, but you never know until you get there who is going to be there.

Monica: I interviewed Midge Ure and I’ve asked him this question too: How has the music changed for you in the last 40 years? Are you nostalgic?

GM: No, I’m not nostalgic. I don’t think it’s changed that much for me, but it’s not because I keep on doing the same old thing. It’s just always when I write a song in the back of my head I’ve got this classic, timeless kind of thing going on. I’ve got lots of reference points, the things I listened to when I was a kid and things I’ve just picked up on now, maybe old things that I hadn’t heard back then. I write this jamboree bag. They had all little, different sweets in there. There are all these different ideas. You need to pull out ideas, but it’s just all mixed up in there somehow. Then also I play with different people who have got their own take on things. It just comes out differently. Within the confines of doing what you’re doing, you’re still trying to push it.

Monica: How do you find, for example, the way music is distributed these days, like streaming? It’s not like you buy your own record. I still play them all the time.

GM: I do still as well. I much prefer to do that.

I listen to things online if I want to check something out, but if I’m going to play a record for pleasure I’ll play my vinyl set. In the middle of the floor and leave all the records out. When you come down in the morning, you have to make sure you don’t tread on them. Then you get around to clearing it up.

Monica: I know the feeling. From your solo career what are your favourite songs? Is there any particular song that it’s close to your heart and why?

GM: There’s a song … I made an album called On Something and the title track was called On Something.

Which is a saying. When your parents would see some report on the TV and there was trouble, “Oh, they must have been on something.” You know, on drugs.

And it’s not that I am on something. I used to be, and it’s all about frustrations of life, but it’s quite a big epic. I wrote a song for Iggy Pop called Ambition, which is on the album. He did a very good version of it. There’s a song on my last album called Speak Too Soon, which I’m really proud of. It’s not necessarily like a big single, but some songs are just fun, throwaway things. That song means a lot to me. In fact, on the last album I did a cover version of a song by Scott Walker, which is a big ballad, called Montague Terrace (In Blue) and it’s almost like an orchestral kind of thing, but there’s no strings on it at all. He played guitar like he would have done when he was playing with Bowie. It was slick.

I always like the last song that I’ve written the most.

Monica: What’s the last song you’ve written?

GM: My last song is a song I was working on earlier, called Speaking In Tongues, which is just all about the politicians at the moment.

Monica: Oh, so a bit controversial, maybe.

GM: Maybe, but it’s just how you don’t get where they’re coming from and it’s like they’re talking this totally foreign language that’s maybe not even a language at all. It’s like they’re kidding themselves. I remember going to New York. There was a friend of mine, Chris, who was actually playing drums with me at this time. We got a cab from JFK into Manhattan and there was a guy from Africa in there. He was doing a CB radio thing, and he was talking in tongues. It really kind of freaked me out. We had to ask him to stop. He inspired me, but what inspired me or annoyed me was all the political nonsense, the nonsense that’s going on around here.

Monica: The writing music process is fascinating. I suppose your process would be you write the tunes first or the music and then you put the lyrics on.

GM: Sometimes, but not always.

Sometimes you’ve got a good idea for a lyric as you’re walking along the street and you’re chewing gum. When it doesn’t go away, it’s the time to sit down, and pick up your guitar, and work it out, but you don’t necessarily fill all the words in. It takes a while. You keep coming back to it.

You’re just looking for ideas all the time that will fit in. I’ve done loads of songs. I don’t really have a formula. The only formula is you just keep chipping away a little bit at a time and you get there.

You get there somehow. If there was a magic formula, everything would sound the same. I’m a big fan of a guy called Jacques Brel. He was Belgian really, but he was big in France. He wrote Ne Me Quitte Pas, a big ballad, but I read some interview with him and he said, “I must be mad.” They were asking him about his song-writing. They said, “Why are you mad?,” and he said, “Well, I have a tune and I have to write some words that mean something.” He said, “And each word has to have a particular note which goes to one particular … Not letter, syllable. He said, “Then you have to tell a story in three verses, and each verse only has time for four lines. You’ve got to tell a whole story in that. I must be mad,” he said, but it’s entirely true.

Monica: Out of the Sex Pistols, one of my favourites is Anarchy in the UK. It came out in 1977. It was just the right song at the right time…

GM: That was Johnny’s lyrics, but my music. In the back of my mind I thought we needed a theme tune. There used to be a TV show in England, a sort of family entertainment show called Sunday Night Along the Palladium and it started as a big overture. Somehow, I got it in the back of my mind, and then when the record came out there was a woman named Caroline Coone who was reviewing singles for the Melody Maker and she called me up. She said, “I’m doing a review. How would you describe the beginning?,” and I said, “It’s an overture.” She used it and opened with a punk overture, so I did that music.

Monica: Anti-government, anti-establishment I would say, right?

GM: I don’t think it’s particularly political, but anti-establishment.

Well, John is anti-everybody else, but my favourite song that I’m the proudest of with the Sex Pistols is Pretty Vacant. That’s my song. I wrote the lyrics and that’s not a political song. It’s like a primal scream. You’re frustrated and you don’t know quite what to do with it. You’re going to do it anyway really.

Monica: All the Sex Pistols songs are really, really revolutionary for the time and in general.

GM: Maybe, but it’s just when we came through. If you knew all the different elements that went into them and all the different things that we all individually liked as a band.

Monica: Do the audiences now like the rockabilly sort of spirit?

GM: Rockabillies do. It’s not totally rockabilly, like God Save the Queen. If I do that one, there’s even a little bit of rockabilly in the first place anyway. That was Eddie Cochran’s.

Monica: You worked with Johnny Rocket, you worked with Iggy Pop, and so many other iconic musicians. Do you have any anecdotes of good or bad relationship with them? Who was your favourite, or your least favourite, or whatever you want to say?

GM: I don’t know if I have a favourite or a least favourite. I found them all to be interesting. They’re all of a certain calibre and I felt privileged to have worked with them. On the other hand, they may have been pretty privileged to work with me. When I introduce Earl on stage, I always go, “He worked with John Lennon. Isn’t he lucky, he’s now playing with me?” (giggles) I know I’m not top of the charts or anything, but I don’t mind.

Monica: Would you like to be top of the chart?

GM: I wouldn’t mind. I wouldn’t mind selling out. I don’t mind selling out the O2, but only if it’s on my terms. If it isn’t, then I don’t do it.

Monica: Would it be on your terms? You’re like an old-school kind of musician. You wouldn’t really obey to the modern constraints of the music industry.

GM: I think anybody who has any success, real lasting success, don’t do it because they copied somebody else. They do it because they’ve just done what they’ve done and they’ve hit the right place at the right time. And people have caught up with them.

Monica: Tell me where the name Sex Pistols came from…

GM: The name, The Sex Pistols… There were a few things that came into play. Mainly, Malcolm came up with some ideas, one of them being The Damned, another one Kid Glad-Love for some reason, and Crème de la Crème, which Paul hated. The other one was QT Jones because Steve Jones was the singer originally, before we got John. QT Jones and his Sex Pistols. Now, the shop at the time was called Sex, so we were the Pistols from the shop called Sex, the Sex Pistols. There was also another guitarist originally called Wally whom everybody forgets. Wally and I said that we liked the Sex Pistols, but we didn’t like the QT Jones bit because we didn’t want to be ‘somebody and the’ band.

So, we said, “Let’s just call it The Sex Pistols,” and I booked the first shows myself when I was at art college. I actually went in and said, “Look, we’ve got a band. We want to play.” They said, “What are you called?,” and I said, “The Sex Pistols,” and they’d be like, “Wow, what a great name. We must have you.”

About Monica Costa

Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums

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