By Sam Lawson
I first discovered punk music when I was a child, a very young child. The music is one thing to digest and wrap your head around but the attitude, lifestyle, culture and ethos of punk is a totally different thing. I took me many years to develop any form of understanding or interpretation that I saw as sensible and that worked for me. In the ever changing world of “who’s this?” and “who’s that?” some things can get lost in translation. Glen Matlock however, is still the essence of the ideology behind punk.
Glen is currently doing a solo tour around the UK, and will eventually be reaching the local lands of Falmouth, Cornwall. We got to speak over the phone just before he went for his pre-gig meal about a manner of subjects. Ranging from his time with the iconic punk founding fathers The Sex Pistols, through to his work with the Rich Kids and Iggy Pop, his time at Creation Records and his thoughts on the BritPop explosion as well as what his solo shows are really all about.
I asked Glen about his views on the often controversial stigma surrounding punk music which questions whether it is a fashion statement or a genre of music, or both. He gave me some interesting interpretations of what it meant to him. With Glen being recognised by many as the tunesmith of the Pistols, I wanted to know whether the clothing and the hype ever got in the way –
“Everybody had a different idea of what looking the part was. I used to dye my hair but I didn’t dye it black because I thought that was a bit too kind of obviously rock n’ roll, so I used to dye it aubergine! So y’know, I had my moments too, don’t you worry.”
We also discussed the ‘Classic Albums’ documentary made some years ago about the group’s first and last record ‘Never Mind the Bollocks.. Here’s the Sex Pistols!”. Most specifically I wanted to know what the different approaches in the band were when it came to writing those punk anthems –
“Steve was a later-comer to the guitar than I was, I wasn’t that fantastic on the guitar. I’m always a believer in a simple thing going well, it’s kind of funny cause I’m out just playing acoustic guitar at the moment. I like those big open chords on the acoustic guitar that fill the sound out and that’s how I used to write back then. When I’m writing a song and I’m stuck sometimes, it’s good to get a chord book out and you sort of play something, then you pick the notes out in an arpeggio and it can lead you into uncharted waters of a tune maybe you had thought about. I like keeping it simple, I’m not a technician at all.”
My last question about the Sex Pistols era of Glen’s life was regarding how punk as a culture, image and sound is being interpreted in 2016 and whether he preferred how it was back in the day or what it has turned into –
“Back then it was so much easier, you can’t divorce the look of the Pistols from what was going on at the time. Everyone back then had long-ish hair and flairs, even the milkman and the bank manager! We looked different because we had straight trousers on and short-ish hair. It was much easier, now so many things have been done the look seems to include a bit of everything. I don’t think there’s really a look. It’s harder for kids now to be different in the way that we were just because lots of stuff has been done.
“People thought we were an overnight sensation but we had been gigging about for a year and a bit, really getting our act together. Now, bands write half a song and put it on Facebook. The real test is playing it live! “
I like to live in the present, if you see my set I do some punk things and I do things from now. If bands want to say they’re punk well good luck to them, it means that they’re trying to not be too straight and to be a bit different. The Pistols were four really strong characters, John (Lydon) particularly so. I think there’s a lack of rude-ish punk frontmen in this day and age, I don’t know why that is. It doesn’t mean people aren’t giving it a go!
People thought we were an overnight sensation but we had been gigging about for a year and a bit, really getting our act together. Now, bands write half a song and put it on Facebook. The real test is playing it live!
I wanted to know how Glen’s songwriting approach changed when he moved onto working with the Rich Kids. The band’s debut album was a popular record for it’s time and featured lots of things that hadn’t been heard on a punk record, including keyboards and sound effects. I was also intrigued to know, given his and the Pistols checkered past with record label EMI, why ‘Ghosts of Princes in Towers’ came out on the label after all –
“I don’t know if my writing was different. It would have been so easy for me to be a second division Sex Pistol and that was the last thing I wanted to do. Getting Midge Ure in the band said something different, he had a good look and a very distinctive voice, it immediately says something different. Steve New was a fantastic and inventive guitar player, there was a virtuosity involved that still rocked out that I kind of liked a little bit. I worked with Mick Ronson, he produced the album. One of the things we listened to all the time, constantly, were Bowie and Iggy Pop albums. There’s loads of things in there, punk became very narrow, regimented and black and white and I like a bit of colour in things.
When my time in the Pistols was coming to an end, I got approached by the junior A&R guy who had signed us. He called me up one day and asked if he could take me for a curry and I asked ‘Who’s paying?’ and he said ‘Well.. EMI are!’. He went on to say ‘We know at EMI, that there’s a problem with you and John (Lydon), we see you as the main tunesmith in the band and would be more than interested in anything you come up with. I had just turned 20, I was getting loads of shit from Rotten and Malcolm (McLaren) and I didn’t think I was being backed up by Steve (Jones) and Paul (Cook) and I’d had a big hand in writing those first three singles and I thought ‘If they can’t back me up, fuck ‘em!”. I put the cat amongst the pigeons and signed with EMI, it’s the punk attitude in a way.
“For all of his wildman ways he was really professional, it was quite an eye opener”
When I was playing with Iggy Pop after the Rich Kids, we were in Paris and Malcolm McLaren turned up, I didn’t really want him to be there but I’d had a bit of a drink and he was saying: ‘The thing with the Rich Kids thing is it’s all well and good to do that in London where people move on to the next thing quicker but as soon as you start playing out of town people who are only just getting into punk thought you were taking it away from them before they’d even got it and that was quite an interesting thing which I hadn’t thought of. He was quite a lateral thinker about those kind of things’
I was glad that Glen had brought up his time with Iggy Pop, another iconic figure in the world of punk rock. After the Rich Kids had gone separate ways, Glen went onto play bass with Iggy and his band. I was curios to know more about how it happened. –
“Well both just got horrible drunk together at the Athena Hotel in Piccadilly! I was sitting at home and the phone rang, this bloke said ‘You don’t know me but my name is Peter Davis and I manage Iggy Pop and he’d like a word with you’. They were looking for bass player, I went and had a drink and we got on well. Next thing I know I was touring around Europe. Iggy had been touring a lot, everything I had done up until that was all done on a bit of a wing and a prayer. Never had proper roadies, or leads that worked properly or spare guitars but Iggy had been touring, for all of his wildman ways he was really professional, it was quite an eye opener.
First time I ever went to America I was playing with Iggy Pop. One of the best gigs I ever played was at the Palladium in New York on Halloween, back then in England nobody celebrated Halloween. The whole audience was dressed in Halloween gear, backstage was Debbie Harry dressed as a Witch! I feel fortunate to get around doing all of those things. What I’ve learned in life is you only get to do these things by saying ‘yes’. A body at rest stays at rest, a body in motion stays in motion.”
“For me Oasis are a bit like Status Quo, when you go in the pub and the records playing aren’t very good and one of their songs comes on it’s cool. I don’t want to listen to Status Quo all night long though!”
I wanted to discuss whether Glen was aware of his influence on British songwriters and whether during the 90’s he could hear it scattered around the BritPop movement and whatnot, specifically with his at-the-time label mates, Oasis –
“I can’t knock the fact that they’ve had loads of success, I thought Liam was really good. Alan McGee even asked me to play bass for them for a few shows one time but they decided they wanted somebody who would stand still. For me Oasis are a bit like Status Quo, when you go in the pub and the records playing aren’t very good and one of their songs comes on it’s cool. I don’t want to listen to Status Quo all night long though!
Well I think they copied what we had done, it’s no secret that they were Pistols and Beatles fans. I see Liam every now and then, we would always say hi and I think he’s funny, he’s got a sharp tongue.”
At this point, we managed to start talking about Pink Floyd somehow, I wasn’t complaining –
“I love early Pink Floyd. Also I’m quite matey with Dave Gilmour, he used to live near me. Here’s a funny story; On my birthday a couple of years ago, at the stroke of midnight I had a surprise cake brought out and somebody went off to get a knife to cut the cake with and Dave Gilmour was stood behind me and he said ‘How old are you now then, Glen?’ and I said ‘Well now I’m 58’ and he went ‘I thought you were older than that!’. He told me ‘It’s just, when you turn 60 you get a free travel card for the buses’ and we started having this whole conversation about it until I said ‘Dave hang on a minute, you’re supposed to be one of the leading man in psychedelia and me one of the top ones in punk rock, if anybody heard this conversation nobody would believe it! I think we should leave it there” and he laughed and said “I know what you’re saying”. But now I’ve got my free Oyster card, i’m a free man! It’s a badge of honour!”.
I had seen that Glen played at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which as a jazz fan, intrigued me greatly. I wanted to find out more –
“The thing I played at was more of an ‘All that Jazz’ type of thing. I like jazz, I’m not an expert on jazz. I got a record player for my birthday last year and I went down to HMV and the bloke there was a punk rock fan and he was most surprised when I had picked up ‘Time Out’ and ‘Kind Of Blue’.
Lastly, I wanted Glen to discuss the tour he was currently on and what it meant to him to be performing as a solo artist across the world as well as what the plans were for the shows each night and what he thought of Cornwall generally. –
“With my gigs, I don’t write a setlist out. I know there are a few choice songs that people want to hear, if I went to see Bowie and he didn’t do ‘Heroes’ I’d be disappointed. I’m playing songs throughout my career that I’ve wrote on my acoustic guitar. I always manage to get everybody singing along and hopefully turning them onto some stuff. It’s fun, I’m a miserable sod with an English sense of humour and I can strum pretty good. There’s always a story behind the songs and the people I wrote them with or worked on them with, it’s a good night.
I’m not that fussed about being punk or not, I’m Glen Matlock. I’m a character in my own right. The Sex Pistols weren’t punks, the people that came after us were punks. I want to do a show for all sorts of people, people that like song writing. I played in Penzance with the Rich Kids many, many years ago. I’ve recorded in Sawmills Studio in Fowey as well. I play some songs that people want to hear, I also have the chance to play some newer stuff from my album coming up in the New Year. I’m really proud of it! I’m going to put an EP out, the song is called ‘Sexy Beast’, it’s got a rockabilly flavour and it swings a bit more. I’m fed up of guitars that just chug 8th notes all the time, I don’t even really play bass any more. I fiddle around with a keyboard at home and I can program some drums. I like playing bass when someone else is singing but I like singing when i’m playing the guitar.”
“I’m not that fussed about being punk or not, I’m Glen Matlock. I’m a character in my own right”
Well there you have it, an experience I certainly won’t forget for a long time. Just to summarise and address my earlier comments about Glen and his attitude very much still being a firm example of the punk spirit, there’s nothing quite as rock n’ roll as getting on the road with an acoustic guitar and telling some stories and jamming out some tunes. An illustrious career throughout the world of alternative music and a widespread influence that has affected a lot of what we understand about British music specifically, massively.
I know that Falmouth especially has a rising scene of punk musician and bands. Groups like Tinnedfruit are a good example of the punk spirit still existing in young people today, despite kicking of almost 40 odd years ago now. If you consider yourself to be a fan of punk rock, The Sex Pistols, The Rich Kids, Iggy Pop, rock n’ roll in general or songwrtiing on the whole then DON’T miss this rare opportunity to be up close and personal with one of the most important songwriters of the last century.
Glen will be performing at the Princess Pavilions in Falmouth on the 23rd of November. Tickets are available here, for not much extra than a standard ticket price you can get VIP meet & greet tickets, after my conversation with Glen, I think it’s evident that there’s a lot to talk about so, perhaps that’s a good choice if you’re interested in learning even more about his career.
Buy your ticket here: