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Punk Rock Legend Glen Matlock: ‘We Became Public Enemy Number One’

The former Sex Pistols bassist on causing chaos in the Seventies, his love for Pharrell Williams and his upcoming album

David Britto Aug 27, 2018

Former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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We caught up with punk rock royalty Glen Matlock recently and the experience was as memorable as it could get for a young music journalist. The British musician and founding member of the legendary group The Sex Pistols was in Mumbai to perform at Hard Rock Café, Worli alongside U.K.-based crossover artist Alluri. Matlock, who left the Pistols during the recording sessions of their much-acclaimed 1977 debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, went on to release a ton of solo material, perform in various other groups such as The Rich Kids, collaborate with American punk legend Iggy Pop and reunite with his Pistols band mates on multiple occasions.

In this interview with Rolling Stone India, Matlock takes us through his punk rock heyday and everything that he is looking forward to right now.

The Pistols were notorious for causing chaos wherever you’ll went – one of the most talked about instances was when you’ll appeared on the Bill Grundy Show in 1976, can you tell me what you recall from that event?

It was a program that was on right after the six o’clock news – millions of people watched it. We went on to plug our first single (“Anarchy in the U.K.”). We only got the gig at the last minute because Queen were supposed to do it but pulled out and when we got there Steve Jones (guitarist) got drunk and the guy interviewing us, Bill Grundy, for some reason didn’t like us and he tried to take his dislike on us live on TV. But he hadn’t counted the fact that Steve Jones was drunk and he tried to take it out on the wrong people and the rest is history. Overnight instead of being on the front page of the music press, we were on the front page of the tabloids and became public enemy number one.

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Plenty has been written about the Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and how he used inventive and provocative techniques in promoting the band. What was the relationship between the group and McLaren?

It was an interesting dynamic and it was complicated.  He was 10 years older than us and was a very interesting fellow. I used to work for him at his Teddy Boy shop. I used to actually measure the Teddy Boys up for their drape jackets and then would have to call the tailor who would make the suits and I would have to go through Malcolm’s address book. He wasn’t the kind of guy who had all the names alphabetically, some of the names he had in were Yoko Ono, the editor of the NME – all interesting people. I thought this was an interesting kind of guy. He always claimed that he had formed us and that’s not true, we formed ourselves in his shop which was the hippest place to be on a Saturday afternoon in mid-Seventies London.

Noel Gallagher recently said in his new Netflix special, Once In A Lifetime, that he would strum along to Pistols records when he started playing guitar, what got you going?

We all had our own influences in the band. Personally, what got me going is that we used to not have a national radio station in England. To get around that there was all these pirate radio stations that sprung up on boats just outside British territorial waters broadcasting music. That coincided with bands like the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds and my all time favorite band the Small Faces. Little kind of three minute vignettes of pop culture, great guitar sounds, fantastic vocal delivery, kind of got into my blood somehow – so that is what I brought to the Sex Pistols.

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Do you listen to modern punk rock and what do you make of it?

I don’t. The favorite record I like – and I’ve actually done a cover, the thing that has stuck out most is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. There is something in the song, it’s got this kind of jazzy chords on a keyboard – something about it doesn’t resolve. And I thought that’s wrong – so I picked up a guitar and tried to work it out and it ended up sounding like the Pretty Things from the Sixties doing Pharrell Williams.

Since you’ve been involved in so many different projects as a bassist, guitarist and vocalist, do you tailor your performance to suit each set-up?

I do kind of tend to hopefully pick some things that are kind of cool and interesting and I do learn with different things all the time. I mean, Alluri is no Johnny Rotten (vocalist of the Sex Pistols) but he is an interesting guy and he’s got quite an encyclopedic knowledge of British music which I appreciate – it seems to work.

Speaking of Alluri, how did your collaboration with him come about?

Earlier this year, a friend of mine sent me a video clip of Alluri doing a version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” in Telugu. I thought this was interesting and he’s got this other track called “Don’t Lose Touch,” he said “would you be interested in helping him produce it” and he said he’ll be doing it in Milan. It came out really well and I got on well with Alluri, I like his songwriting knack, his general demeanor, he sings well and he plays well.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming album, Good To Go.

It’s very good. It’s got a dozen tracks and it’s my sort of brand of writing about loads of different topics. You’ll have to listen to it to find out.

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