Amy Haben sits down with Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistols’ original bassist, to discuss the band’s early days, and his post-Pistols life playing with Iggy Pop, Johnny Thunders, Clem Burke, Zak Starkey and many more!
I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Glen Matlock numerous times now and he’s such a solid guy. The first time I met him, he was making me Christmas dinner in his London home and was a gracious and entertaining host. As I stared at the gold record hanging on his wall of Never Mind The Bollocks, I thought about how that record has influenced other bands on both sides of the Atlantic – including the Clash, Social Distortion, The Germs, Circle Jerks, Nirvana, Suede and Green Day, to name a few. The Sex Pistols were the first band that really excited me as a freshman in high school. They also opened the door for me to The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, and many more.
I sat down with Glen in late May to discuss his past and future musical endeavors along with some of the characters he’s met over the years.
PKM: When did you start playing music?
Glen: I was ten and I was given a guitar for Christmas.
PKM: And you taught yourself?
Glen: I tried and wasn’t very successful. It wasn’t a very good guitar. It’s up in the Hard Rock of London. You can go and see it. They’ve got Jimmy Page’s Les Paul guitar and they’ve got John Entwhistle’s bass, they’ve got Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, they’ve even got Les Paul’s Les Paul! They’re all around this safe that looks like the door’s been blown off. Inside the safe is this cheap, acoustic guitar that my mom bought me. I was chatting to the girl who works there and she said that it’s the most popular thing in there. The young kids can relate to it. I used to go to my Nan’s who had a piano and I would tune it up against that. I met a guy at school who was learning guitar and funny enough his name was Steve Jones, but it was a totally different Steve Jones.
PKM: What was the first song you learned?
Glen: There was a book that everybody learned from. People like Eric Clapton learned from it. The very first song in there was, “Bobby Shafto.” You know that one? (sings) “Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea, silver buckles on his knees.” It’s a bit weird for blokes because then it goes, “He’ll come back and marry me, Bonny Bobby Shafto!” It’s only got three chords.
PKM: Haha! Right.
Glen: Then I started seeing bands in the mid to late ‘60s. The bands were pretty cool then. We had TV Playground in ‘67, which I think was the best pop program ever until Ready Steady Go, which had The Yardbirds and The Animals, The Kinks, The Stones. I don’t think the Beatles ever did it. My favorite band was The Small Faces. They were a real London kind of band. Mod. Then I liked Motown and a girl called Dusty Springfield. Smokey Robinson and Little Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, stuff like that. Then the bands started changing. The Small Faces became The Faces. That’s what really got me going. Around that time, someone at school had a bass guitar, so I got one and played at home by myself, but soon realized that having a bass guitar by yourself is like the sound of one hand clapping. You need to play with other people. So I started looking for people to play with at school. Right around the same time, when I was fifteen or sixteen, I got a job working down on Kings Road at Malcolm McLaren’s teddy boy shop, Let It Rock. That’s where I met Steve Jones and Paul Cook. They were always trying to get Malcolm to get them in a band for some reason. This was a long time before John was in the band. Then I overheard them trying to take it seriously but their bass player never turned up and I said, “Well I play bass.” They said, “You do? What bands do you like?” I said, “The Faces.” They said, “That’s our favorite band too.” Then I was in the band. It was as simple as that.
PKM: Were they called the Sex Pistols then?
Glen: No. They didn’t even have a name. They were called Strand. After Roxy Music. That name had gone bad and then they were called The Swankers.
PKM: I like that one.
Glen: Yeah, swanky… Then someone came up with QT Jones and the Sex Pistols. Originally, Steve Jones was the singer. Then there was a guitarist named Wally Nightingale who was in the band for a minute but he didn’t last. Steve started getting good at the guitar and he didn’t work out as a singer, so we started looking for a singer and then we found John.
PKM: Was John even trying to be a singer or did Malcolm just think he had an interesting look?
Glen: Everyone was on the look out at Malcolm’s shop for our singer and many people talked about this kid with short hair that might work. There was a guy who went on to manage the Clash who said to look out for a guy named John that walked up and down King’s Road. So we got Johnny Rotten. Later on, he said, “I said to look out for a guy named John.” I said, “Yeah, we’ve got a John.” He says,“Nah, not that one. The other one.” He meant John Simon Richie (Sid Vicious.) Funny isn’t it? How everyone knew each other.
PKM: Yeah. Out of curiosity, what did you sell at Malcolm’s shop?
Glen: Originally, it was a teddy boy shop. It was mainly kind of older guys who were hanging on to the 50’s, but this was the 70’s. Then Malcolm got a bit sick of it and it became a shop called Sex. We started selling rubber ware and then we were called Sedition. I was there through that whole period. I helped make the sign. It was a big, pink sign. Like a Rauschenberg, kind of sculpture kind of thing. That’s why we were called the Sex Pistols, we were the Pistols from the Sex shop.
PKM: How well did you guys get along in the beginning?
Glen: Great! I still get on with Steve and Paul. John’s a very tricky customer, but we all got on fine at first. We wrote all the songs in a nine month period for Never Mind The Bollocks. We were gigging at these tiny, gigs around England.
PKM: Who did you play with at first?
Glen: It was just us. I booked our first couple gigs. I went to St. Martin’s art school and I booked us a show there. Central School of Art. Chelsea School of Art. We didn’t want to do the normal gigs that the pub rock bands were doing. We played on Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World party. We did really weird things. We would also do gigs out of town. Like this conservative gig up in North Swindon. The bloke kept asking us to turn down. Then he came at 11:00 pm and said, “I’m sorry lads, we’ll pay you but you have to go because I’ve got Bingo being called in the other room.”
PKM: Haha! At least he paid you.
Glen: We started playing around London. We started getting a following. We did a residency at a place called the 100 Club. People were looking for change. We were gigging more than any other punk band. You don’t know what you want until you see it and I think that’s what we were to the kids.
PKM: Was there anyone you wanted to emulate as a guitar player?
Glen: A few people. Mainly, Ronnie Lane from the Faces.
PKM: What year did you leave the band?
Glen: Early 1977. Started in 1974 and by 1976 we were really up and running. We got a record deal and then went on the Anarchy In The U.K. tour, where we weren’t allowed to play anywhere. Then we did this TV show that Steve Jones swore on. It was the scandal around all of England. We ended up on the front page of the newspaper.
PKM: That was an iconic moment. With Siouxsie Sioux there, everyone looked so cool. What a great moment with the suit hitting on all the girls.
Glen: That guy worked for the Manchester Guardian and was a really respected journalist. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, if they were to do one interview, they would give it to him. The producer told him if he didn’t interview us, because he didn’t want to interview us, he was out.
PKM: What did you do after the Sex Pistols?
Glen: Well John and I really weren’t getting along after the Anarchy tour. I thought he had become very conceited and I felt like he became exactly the type of person we were rallying against. I thought he had become dishonest. We were still signed to EMI at this point so I remember going there and meeting Mike Thorn, who was a record producer, he did Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” He called me up and said, “Let’s go for a curry.” He said, “You know, there’s a problem in the band and we hope you sort that out, but if you don’t, we see you as the main tunes man from the group and we’d be more than interested in anything you came up with.” I was twenty years old and at that point I was getting so much shit from John, so I walked. I started a band called The Rich Kids. We had an album and put out a single and it was great. It would’ve been so easy to have been just another punk band but I wanted to do something different. With the Rich Kids, the singer went on to play in Ultravox and the drummer was a guy called Rusty Egan. He was a DJ but then went off to create the New Romantic thing with Steve Strange. So our band was somewhere between Punk and New Romantic. It was kind of cool but they wanted to become electronic and I didn’t. Then I got a phone call from Iggy Pop, he was looking for a bass player. It was 1979 by then. Next thing I know, I’m touring with Iggy Pop, which was the first time I went to the States.
PKM: That wasn’t the tour with Blondie was it?
Glen: No. The first time we played New York, we played at the Palladium. The Cramps supported us. It was on Halloween and the whole audience was dressed in costumes. In England, we didn’t really celebrate Halloween.
PKM: I didn’t know you guys didn’t celebrate Halloween.
Glen: We do a lot more now, but this was thirty-five years ago. Backstage, Debbie Harry was dressed as a witch and she gave me a peck on the cheek. That was my first time in New York. I remember walking through SoHo and there were some musicians in an exhibition. Commander Cody was there, Ronnie Wood, who came up in a big, yellow taxi. Joni Mitchell, who accidentally stood on my foot with her stiletto. I said, “You silly cow!”
PKM: You said that to Joni Mitchell?
Glen: Yeah, I did. Then some kid stuck his tongue out at me through a window and it was Commander Cody. It was funny, ya know? This is New York! Then it was time to split and I was walking down the road and about a block away this man comes up and says, (imitates NY accent) “Hey! I know you guy!” It was David Johansen. I had never met him before.
PKM: So did you hang out with David that night?
Glen: No. I went to a restaurant that was famous for being opposite the place where some Mafia bloke was shot. In the restaurant, they played the Hammond organ. Da-da-da-da-da… So we went there to see the organ player and Sylvain was sitting there who I never met. So it was a cool experience.
PKM: Did you see New York as being gritty and scary?
PKM: Was that exciting to you or unappealing?
PKM: New York is so different now. It’s one of the safest places to live. Yet I feel like it makes London seem way too clean.
Glen: Well it depends on what bits you go to. I remember walking down Fifth Avenue near the New York Public Library, right below forty-second street and seeing this Superfly guy going, “Uppers, downers, cocaine, heroin…” And you just say, “No mate, I’m alright.” Then he’d follow you down the street, wanting to know why you didn’t want to buy any stuff in the middle of the day. I don’t miss that at all.
PKM: Tell me about Iggy. Did you guys get along? Were there any crazy moments on that tour?
Glen: Yeah. It’s a bit of a blur to be honest. I remember Iggy getting his willy out and showing it to me. I’ve probably seen it more than any man in history.
PKM: He was doing it just to be obnoxious? Showing it to you?
Glen: Oh no. He was doing it onstage but before he showed it to the audience, he’d have his back to them and be showing it to me while he was getting it out. What was nice about Iggy is that anything I’d done up until then was completely unorganized. With Iggy, he had already been touring a lot, so everything was professional. What was quite funny, was when we were rehearsing for the tour there was always someone missing from the band because they wanted a drink. So Iggy sent the roadie out to get a trash can full of ice and vodka and Jack Daniels and beer, just to keep everyone in the room together. I thought “How professional.” I toured with him around America and Europe and could have kept going I suppose, but I want to form this band the Spectres that didn’t quite work out. I was touring with Iggy for the New Values album. Iggy had come saw the Rich Kids perform, so I had met him before I played with him.
PKM: The Rich Kids are defiantly a well-known band.
Glen: Really? Well we lasted a year and never made it to the States. I played with Johnny Thunders for a bit after the Iggy thing. As of late I’ve been doing my own stuff with Glen Matlock and The Philistines. Touring loads. I was doing a double header with Sylvain Sylvain for awhile on tour. An acoustic thing, all around the world. Now I’ve got an album that is finally coming out this September. Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats is the drummer and Earl Slick on guitar. We did that in upstate New York. The guy who engineered Bowie’s album for awhile, so it’s got an American feel to it. I don’t play bass on it though, I play rhythm and acoustic guitar. It’s got a rockabilly swing to it. Some wacky angular guitars. Ballads and rockabilly songs. We even do a cover of, “Montague Terrace,” a ballad by Scott Walker. It’s different and cool.
PKM: Are you singing?
Glen: Yes, not that successfully, but I do it anyway.
Glen: I just got back from Japan. I have some friends over there. I’m going back to do the Fuji festival in late July. I have a tour in Australia in October. Japan is really modern and really old at the same time and it all works. I tour with different people than I record with. I also have the International Swingers band. It was Gary Twin’s project really, the singer and James Stevenson on guitar, with Clem Burke on drums.
PKM: What are you listening to these days?
Glen: My kids bought me a portable record player and I’ve been listening to a lot of modern jazz like Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Mose Allison. Check out Mose Allison, he’s quite accessible and is a great songwriter. He has this great song called, “Your Molecular Structure.” (sings song) ”Your molecular structure is really mighty fine. You’re a mighty fine example of functional design..”
PKM: Haha! Great lyrics. I listen to jazz on New York radio sometimes.
Glen: Yeah. We don’t have that here. It’s a shame, The radio here is good for talking but not for listening.
PKM: What song would you have played at your funeral?
Glen: I would have them play Anthony Newley, “What Kind Of Fool Am I?”
PKM: Every time I see you on stage, you have this suave, gentlemanly kind of look to you. Like the Dos Equis guy, “the most interesting man in the world.”
Glen: Well when I played with Zak Starkey and Sharna Liguz in their band, Sshh …I had a black jacket and quite a snazzy shirt on and I turned it inside out so it didn’t get caught on the guitar strap. I had these Ray-Ban glasses on that were Fifties looking. Then Paul Cook says, “You look like a Miami drug dealer.” I said, “Somebody’s got to.”
Glen: I definitely try not to look like an old punk though.
PKM: It’s good to evolve. Some older punk musicians stay in character and makeup all the time so people recognize them.
Glen: I saw Iggy at the Odeon here a few years back and some guy came chatting me up at the bar and people were asking me for autographs and the guy got really annoyed. I said, “What’s up with you?” He said, “I don’t know. Good luck to you Glen, but I’m probably more famous than you at the moment and nobody is asking for my autograph.” He said, “I’m the drummer in the Gorillaz but we have to play behind a curtain so nobody knows who we are.” “Haha!” I said, “You should’ve thought that one through, mate.”