Glen Matlock Remembers...

May 16, 2014
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From Dave Simpson at the theguardian.com
 
Hello Glen, how are you?
I'm good. Bright and early, in my local coffee shop in London. It's a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky.

You've just put out a book documenting the Sex Pistols' 1996 reunion tour, Filthy Lucre. Why now, after 18 years?

Well, that tour was in the days before iPhones and camera phones. I took loads of photos on a series of disposable cameras and threw them all in a box, where they've been sitting ever since. I got them out of my attic recently and one of my mates said, "Wow, these would make a great book." If I'd been wiser I'd have waited another two years for the 20th anniversary, but there's stuff that no one's ever seen before. The Sex Pistols at Osaka aquarium is a first, anyway.

They're surprisingly feel good photos, like Sex Pistols holiday snaps.

Yeah, I think so. It's been well documented that there was a lot of shit between me and John [Rotten] over the years but it was a good way of building some bridges, making some money and seeing the world. John, Steve [Jones], Paul [Cook] and myself have got something in common that no other four people in the world have. We're the Sex Pistols and that's something to be celebrated I think.

You were one of the first big bands to reform.
I like to think we always start a trend. I was hanging out in LA with time on my hands and I looked up Steve Jones. I hadn't seen him for 17 years. As soon as I saw him he said, "Let's go and see Rotten …"

Did it feel very different the second time around? You were a married man with kids.

It was kind of different. But it felt natural. No matter what we've all done individually, nothing is ever going to equate to the Sex Pistols. I think we collectively thought, "Well, that's what people want, let's give it to them." The biggest gig I did with the Pistols first time around was to 600 people. The second time round it was 125,000.

Was it a different dynamic between you as people?

I liked John's quote that we might not be the best of friends but we certainly aren't the best of enemies. Flying first-class around the world was a bit different to being stuck in the back of a Transit getting on each other's nerves.

Was the chemistry still there onstage?
The first gig it was pissing down in Germany. It was all right … then we did one in Helsinki at some place next to an ostrich farm. That wasn't so great. Then we had to come back and play in front of 30,000 people at Finsbury Park, and it all came together. All these people coming together to see a band that hadn't made a record in 20 years.

Was it nice to play gigs and not have people spitting and throwing bottles at you?
I saw it as a chance to play our music, which had been overshadowed. But they threw bottles at us in Roskilde [in Denmark]. We never got to finish the show because the promoter said it was too dangerous. Someone threw a flat beer can like a frisbee and nearly took Paul's eye out.

There are a few revelations in the book, for example the admission that in the 80s you had a drink problem. Was that brought on by the fallout of having been in such a high-profile, controversial band?
I think it might have happened anyway, but it was exacerbated by being in the Pistols. When you're busy it's fine, but suddenly you're not doing it anymore and you end up in the pub.

Your previous book was called I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol. People forget that you were very young and yet public enemy No 1, at the centre of incidents such as going on Bill Grundy's show and the police arriving with truncheons.
Steve downed a bottle of Blue Nun and it all went off. We were young. We'd all gravitated to Malcolm McLaren's shop and it became the epicentre of all that was weird and wonderful in London. Possibly nobody would have heard of us if it wasn't for him, but nobody would have heard of him if it wasn't for us! He was an exciting person. When I started work in his shop I was still at school.
 

Did punk rock have to happen?
I dunno, but music was in a trough. Glam rock had been and gone, the big gigs at Wembley with Yes and Genesis and Jethro Tull cost a lot of money to get into, unless you were like Steve and Paul and had ways of bunking in. But none of us could relate to that stuff anyway. We liked the Faces because they seemed like they just didn't care.

Do you remember much of the first Pistols gig at Saint Martins College?
I organised it: it was my college. I had a bottle of vodka before going on and they pulled the plugs on us. People were shoving each other around. Then it all descended into chaos. I think we played half a dozen numbers, mostly covers. Pretty Vacant and No Feelings were already in the set but I don't think we got to play them.

Did you really steal the riff for Pretty Vacant from ABBA?

Yeah, from SOS. Being at art school and being hip to the Dadaists and Marcel Duchamp, you'd nick something and make it your own. If I hadn't come clean no one would have ever spotted it.

You say in the book that the Pistols took the heat off the government, because people were blaming the band for everything that was going wrong.
It felt like that. There was always some story coming up and we'd be on the front pages to stop people talking about what they should be talking about. It didn't do us any harm. On the other hand, maybe it did.

It can't have been the easiest time, being in the Pistols back then? John got attacked in the street and you were banned from playing in virtually the entire country.
No, and there wasn't any preparation for it. Steve Jones reckons that's why I left. There was too much too soon. When I was in the band it was akin to the early Who and when Sid replaced me it was more a media exercise.

Your manager, Malcolm McLaren, said he sacked you for liking the Beatles.
I was pretty hurt by that. Me and John were chalk and cheese, so I left. I shook hands with Malcolm and then a day later he sent a telegram to NME saying I'd been sacked for liking the Beatles, which he never had the bottle to say to my face and wasn't true. Two weeks later he said, "It's not working out with Sid. Come back!" but I'd already started forming a new band, the Rich Kids. I said, "Malcolm, it's too late. You've played me the wrong way."

Another revelation in the book is that exiting cost you millions of pounds. Have you regretted it?
It is what it is. I couldn't see how it could have evolved.

Ironically, you later played in the Vicious White Kids with Sid Vicious.
Yeah, a one-off gig. I'm sitting opposite the pub where he had his last ever pint in England before going off to the States. My music publisher once told me, "The best band you ever had were the Vicious White Kids." I said, "Why didn't you say that at the time?!" He said we were all too out of it. Sid was actually a good singer and frontman, but didn't have the gift of the gab that John had.

Did you know Sid well?
He lived round the corner. One night we were sitting in the pub and we talked about doing the gig.

Was it a shock when he died?
Not really. Because it was a slow train coming that in the end came quite quickly. John was his big mate. The thing about John is that, he was the last to join. In my time in the band he always thought it was us vs him. It wasn't. It was Steve and Paul who were a double act, then me and then John. I think he thought he'd get Sid in and it would be them against those two. It didn't work out like that.

When did you last see John?
Five years ago at the last gig we did in Spain.

After the Pistols you played with Iggy Pop. Was that a very different experience?
That was my first proper tour. He had roadies that knew what they were doing! Very clever chap, Iggy. He'd worked out that there was always someone from the band missing at rehearsals, because they'd gone down the hall to get a beer. So he said, "I can't stand for this." Then he sent a roadie out to get a dustbin and a bin liner, several bags of ice and bottles of whiskey and stuck it in the rehearsal room to keep us in the same place. I liked that style. Very professional.

In 2010 you played in the reformed Faces ...

[Original singer] Rod Stewart didn't do it but Mick Hucknall did it, who's a fantastic soul singer. I was privileged because they hadn't played those songs in years. I knew them from my youth. They're talking about gigs with Rod Stewart but I dunno if I'll do it because I don't know if I'm in Rod Stewart's good books. But when I was a kid I was always jamming with my guitar against the radiogram and playing along with those records. That's how I learned.

You've been in loads of groups that seem to last two minutes.
I dunno if I'm always in a band so much as getting the chance to play bass with somebody. Then someone on the internet says we're in a band. But I aspire to be a working musician.

Whatever happened to the new song you wrote for the Pistols, which you said sounded like Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive"?

It's still around, unfinished. Then Paul had a good idea for a tune but John said it sounded too much like the Sex Pistols. You can't win with some people, can you?
 

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