Good to Go: An Interview with Former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock
The Sex Pistols' Glen Matlock talks about that famous punk band he was in, his new project Good to Go, a little football, and David Bowie.
Good to Go
When PopMatters spoke with Glen Matlock, Glen Matlock was having a very Glen Matlock kind of day. Coffee with Paul Weller in the morning, then working on a song idea that's he's had rattling in his head for a few weeks, all topped off with a trip to see his beloved Queens Park Rangers. "Last couple of games we've had a stinker but we're getting there," he says, rather hopefully (they lost, I'm afraid to say), about the team that he's supported since he was a boy.
"Me dad and both me granddads went, and I started supporting them in 1967 when we were in the old third division, and then we won and went up to the old second division and the old first division in successful seasons all because I started going. I kind of missed them for a bit because it was rock 'n' roll or football for a bit, but now I've regularly been going for the past 15 years."
So did he have dreams about becoming a footballer himself? "Nah not really. I used to play for me school. Played a lot of five a side. Got a medal in the league for playing in the league down Fulham Palace Road. Paul Cook played for another team and Paul was a good player. I remember scoring two goals against his team and knocking him out of the cup. He feigns that he doesn't remember."
Considering Matlock is known as the member of one of the most important British groups of all time, he is a very easy and open interviewee, betraying no obvious signs of interviewer fatigue. In his deep, London accent, he is more than happy to bring up the Sex Pistols with no prompting. It's not a subject he wants or needs to shy away from. From the band's inception in 1975 to his departure in 1977, his work with the band has left an indelible print on British culture that stands to this day. However, what becomes more and more apparent as we speak is that his passion for music burns as brightly as it ever has. Whether it's playing it, writing it or listening to it, music is why we are talking on a chilly February day and music has been his number one love since the beginning.
"I was always really into music when I was a young kid," he says, clearly enthused by the memory. "My uncle, who was about ten years older than me, was really into music and gave me his old 78s when I was five or six. The first things I remember putting on were Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and Jean Vincent. You had to run to the other side of the room because they would spin so fast that you'd be worried that they'd take your head off. Then I became aware of pop music, and then the pirate radio started and then bands like the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and the Faces, so that was pretty exciting."
It turns out that, that same Uncle was also responsible for his choice of instrument that would later make his name. "My Uncle was a bit of a boy. He came round me Nan's once with a big long case. I said 'What's in that?' and he opened it up, and it was this big shiny, fantastic looking Fender Jazz bass. Sunburst with all the chrome bits. I went, 'wow, where did you get that?' and he said, 'don't ask' and I didn't see it again but I think it sowed the seeds."
After buying his first guitar ("a plank really") and being shown some chords by a classmate, Matlock gravitated to the sound of the bass. "I quite liked the bass because when I started going to clubs and all that your hearing goes a little bit and all you can really hear is the bass which coincided with all the Motown records I was listening to so I just picked up the bass. Someone at school had a cheap one for sale, so I just copied the basslines of the records I had."
From there it wasn't long before he met the people who would change his life. Like all of the stories of great bands forming from chance encounters, the story of the formation of the Sex Pistols is a common and simple one. Even if you know the story, the way Matlock tells it, the most striking thing is how so straightforward and inevitable it all seems. "We did a bit of playing at school and that pretty much coincided with me getting a Saturday job with Malcolm Mclaren and getting together with Steve and Paul who were putting a band together. So it was all within a short space of time. Nobody knew what it was going to be at first. It was just us learning to play." He Pauses before adding, "They thought I was a better musician but I was just a week ahead of them really. Don't tell them that!"
You are probably well aware of the rest of the story. The songs that soundtracked a generation. The media incited moral panics. The filth, the fury and the way the band spluttered to a stop sans Matlock in 1978. There are literally hundreds of books, articles and documentaries written about the Pistols that keep the band very much in the popular consciousness. However, consider, for a moment, what it means to have been a member of one of the most important and iconic bands in music history. Consider the mythology and the iconography that comes with the Sex Pistols. Consider the stereotypes and cliches that still endure about punk and the band. Now, just take a minute to consider the sheer weight of that legacy on the members themselves. The long shadow cast by something that happened to you before you were out of your teens. Naturally, Matlock has had the best part of four decades to to find his own perspective on being a Sex Pistol. It's the one absolute. The ever-present fact that he can't be separated from and which he succinctly summarizes by pragmatically stating, "I've known no different. I've been an ex-Sex Pistol most of my life."
Similarly, he has successfully reconciled the Glen Matlock who was in the Sex Pistols and the artist he is now. Afterall, being an ex-Sex Pistol has had plenty of positives. "It's good to be known for something. I think all the time when I'm writing I'm just the bloke who used to be in the Pistols and although I don't deny that, and I do 'God Save the Queen' a few songs in because if I'd gone to see Bowie and he didn't play 'Heroes' I would have gone home disappointed. I try and do it differently. It's got rockabilly acoustic guitar on it. Which lends itself to the song. People are getting my take on it. Not living in the past too much but keeping them happy at the same time. I do those songs for the people there. I do those songs for the people there. Why I do shows, I'm pleased that the new stuff goes down as well as the old stuff."
Photo courtesy of Yellowbrick Music Entertainment
That said, the association with the Pistols has been the cause of one frustration in his career. "I'd have loved to be in a band. The last band I had was the Philistines. However, when someone finds out I'm in the band, they want to put x this and x that all over it. There's no real getting away from it." The Sex Pistols might have granted Matlock fame, wealth and musical cache and, indeed, many artists have retired on less, however, Matlock is still playing shows, still drawing in the crowds and, most importantly still making music, which brings us to his work as a solo artist.
A few years ago Matlock came to the realisation that he'd be better served just releasing music under his own name."I don't want to just play the bass. I like playing the bass when someone else is singing." He explains. "I've finally worked out. All the songs I've ever written, I've written on an acoustic guitar so I just want a chance to sing them and put a record out. Whether people like it or don't like it, at least they get to hear it and decide. That's my main frustration. Hopefully, then people start seeing you as an artist in your own right and not just a side man."
His latest work to bear his name is the fantastic Good to Go album, the recording of which saw him keen to experiment and not to repeat the past. "We deliberately recorded it (the album) in America, and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats plays on it. The thing I try and do is try not to sound anything like the Sex Pistols. That would be the really easy thing to do, but that's why I roped in Slim Jim because it pushed things in a really different direction. His style of drumming swings which really suits my style of strumming which I do because I really loved the Spiders from Mars and on a lot of that, Bowie plays a lot of acoustic guitar, and when it locks in with all the hi-hats, it's kind of cool."
That's not the only nod to David Bowie on the album, as it also sees him team up with Earl Slick, the guitarist renowned for playing with Bowie throughout the mid to late 1970s and again in the 1980s and 2000s. Listening to the album, you can hear Slick's Americana and blues licks weaving between Matlock's acoustic strumming. It would appear that Slick also appreciates the personal and musical connection that he and Matlock have developed.
"Using Earl, he's got a real Americana feel, and now he's become a friend. We're like the Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau of rock. We've done a good few shows together, and he was really matey with Bowie. He sees a similar thing in me, not that I'm Bowie, but I am a Londoner, Bowie was a Londoner, and I've met him a few times he could be a bit 'gaw blimey' at times. I think Earl appreciates that and we have a good rapport."
One of the standout songs on Good to Go is the driving new single "Keep on Pushing", a song that saw Matlock call up on the help of another old friend. "'Keep on Pushing' came after we'd finished the main bulk of the album. I put something down with the drummer and I thought, 'it needs something. It needs more of a riff', and it reminded me of something. It was "The Price of Love" by the Everly Brothers which I knew from Bryan Ferry. So I looked it up on YouTube and Chris Spedding was playing guitar on it. So I called him up and he came down the next day and played on it. I've known Chris off and on for years. So I asked him what he wanted for it and he said 'ah you played bass on my album so call it quits.'"
Photo courtesy of Yellowbrick Music Entertainment
Inevitably, every tour poster, every publicity release, and every interview will mention the past glories that made Matlock's name. Nevertheless, the offers to tour and play shows are regular, and 2019 stands to be one of his busiest to date. Matlock is steadily making a name for himself as a solo artist in his own right.
"I see my career as a series of busman's holidays so I'm trying to join them up a bit and I'm pretty close. Last year I went to Korea, played Japan a couple of times. In fact we've just been offered to do a reasonable slot at the Fuji festival at the end of July. I've been offered some solo dates in June in America and then dates with the band in September. But when you're not gigging it gives you more time to write songs."
Finally, I ask him whether, in a career that has lasted for over 40 years, he has any regrets, in terms of playing with the Pistols, the Rich Kids, Iggy Pop... he interrupts me at the mention of the godfather of punk.
"Maybe that's my one regret. When I played with Iggy he wanted me to keep playing with him but someone suggested I do my own thing which wasn't quite as successful. I would have like to do some more work him. He was very professional. Everything I'd done up til then like the Pistols were start-out bands. You had your mates as roadies and it wasn't that well organised. Asked to work with Iggy, he'd been touring for a long time. I stepped into a 30-date tour with proper roadies and equipment. When you're rehearsing he had a dustbin of Jack Daniels and vodka and wine and beer just so no one would slope off out of the rehearsal room and get a drink. How professional I thought!"
He pauses before recalling one of his favorite memories of that period. "When I was playing with Iggy one day, we were rehearsing, and we broke for lunch and Iggy came back with his mate, it was David Bowie, and he sang with us." Before adding, "That was quite cool" as the very definition of understatement.
With that, we finish the way we started, reflecting on the music he is currently writing. Matlock is clearly excited about what comes next. "I've got a load of rough ideas knocking around in my head. One that doesn't go away is one to sit down and work on. I think I'm pretty close to having enough songs for the next record."