“I did an interview with Bob Geldof a few weeks ago,” says singer-songwriter Glen Matlock. “I like Bob a lot, he’s a good bloke, but it’s hard to get a word in edgeways. There are these pregnant pauses, where you think you can get some words in, but you don’t. Talking’s like playing lead guitar or being an Olympic athlete, there’s an aptitude to it, and some people have the gift of the gab. But if it happened to me, then it probably happened to Midge.”
Matlock’s referring, of course, to the Band Aid fracas, where Geldof walked off with Midge Ure’s thunder. As bassist and chief songwriter for The Sex Pistols, Matlock can likely relate to this predicament, especially since the band’s lead singer has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. “They’re saying we should get The Sex Pistols back together, but I’m like, ‘Do I really wanna share a stage with someone championing [Nigel] Farage ?’ I’m guessing the Guinness and Beamish have influenced some of John’s choices.”
Matlock is ringing from England and quickly gauges that I’m Irish. Inevitably, we turn to the dreaded “B” word, still making headlines more than half a decade after it was voted on. I tell him how ironic it is for John Lydon to espouse the virtues of Brexit. Does Matlock have Irish blood? “John’s the only Pad [Irishman] in the band,” he sighs. “I’m about as English as you get, which I’m not very happy about right now.” He clearly doesn’t share Lydon’s views and laments how much harder it is to travel across Europe.
“There’s about a hundred million, billion, pounds in the music industry here, and they’re stopping gigs in Europe. I’d love to travel there, bring back some money, and pay tax on it, but they’re making it much harder. I got into a rut with a builder recently. He voted for Brexit, and I asked him about traveling abroad. ‘I’ve never been abroad,’ he said!”
We’re talking over the phone, but I can clearly imagine the songwriting bassist is shaking his head and hints that his new album will have a more polemical slant to it. “It’s a jolly good album,” he chuckles. “The last one had a bit of rockabilly to it, but on this one, I’m going for more of an ‘English Bruce Springsteen’, if you like. There’s a song called ‘Consequences Coming’, and another called ‘Head On A Stick’. I think that’s what is going to happen in [Britain]. We also have a wacky cover – it’s a K.D.Lang song – and it sounds a bit like a cross between ‘Harlem Shuffle’ by The Rolling Stones and David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’.”
Guitarist Earl Slick (Young Americans) contributes to the album (“We play together, but he lives in America, so it’s difficult right now,”) as does Norman Watt Roy. “Whenever I get a photo with Norman, for a laugh I say, ‘I’m a bass player, and he’s a bass player and a half,’” Matlock cackles. He seems happy to let other people play bass when he’s singing his own material. “That comes about, because when you’re on stage, you’re doing a lot of pointing, and it’s hard to jump around and point when you’re playing bass.”
He confirms that he wrote “Anarchy In The UK” on an acoustic guitar, but feels he’s a rhythm player at best – he leaves lead guitar to those more qualified to fulfill the role. As it happens, he’s preparing for a gig in London (“I’m playing tonight, actually,”) and says he’ll do an acoustic tour once he’s finished with the upcoming gigs. “I won’t be playing ‘Ghosts of Princes in Towers’ tonight, but I do play that one on my own,” he confirms. “There’s only so many songs I can expect the band to play, but when I’m doing my own thing, I play all the songs I wrote.”
“I like the acoustic guitar,” he continues. “I like the sound from The Spiders from Mars. I’m playing electric guitar tonight, but I do like the sound of the acoustic guitar. With an electric, you have to plug it into the correct amp, and maybe this one’s not right. You have all of that to consider.”
Neal X, Matlock tells me, will be playing the lead guitar licks tonight at the 100 Club, and keyboardist James Hallawell, Matlock says, holds an Irish connection; “James plays for The Waterboys. I know Mike Scott isn’t Irish, but he lives in Ireland.” Eager to perform in Dublin again, Matlock informs me that he’s never been to Cork, but I’m also anxious to hear if he’s interested in performing to an American audience. “The thing is, before the lockdown, I was meant to play there. I was going to do a St.Patrick’s show with the Dropkick Murphys, who are friends of mine. I was going to do some shows there, hoping to pick more up and travel on. I was going to do some shows in Canada. But then lockdown happened, and I didn’t get to do it. My work permit has run out, so I have to get a new one, so I’d like to go, but only if there’s work to be found there.”
He realizes that he isn’t “top of everyone’s charts”, but he does hold status in the field of rock, not least because of his connection to punk’s greatest export. I want to hear about interviewer Bill Grundy: was he as unprofessionally drunk as he appeared on camera? “I don’t think he was steaming, but he was comfortably sloshed,” Matlock giggles. “A liquid lunch, or something. He was of that generation. In his defense, Steve Jones was also plastered, so it was like two trains colliding.”
In the end, epithets were thrown by both sides, and although the word “shit’” is comparatively tame to hear these days, it was deeply unacceptable in 1976. It only helped to cement the band’s status, and Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols helped typify the next generation of rock. Put it simply, no Sex Pistols, no Nirvana or Oasis.
But there’s more to Matlock’s bow than a conglomerate Malcolm McLaren designed from a London street, and we move on to his band, Rich Kids. “I’m glad you mentioned that song, ‘Ghosts of Princes in Towers’ because I think it’s one of the best songs I have ever written. It should have been more of a hit, and I think it’s a bit of injustice that it wasn’t. Midge did a great job at singing it, and I don’t think I could have done it back then. My singing has come in leaps and bounds since then. It’s a bit high, but I can get there.”
Where did he come across Midge Ure in the late seventies? “I selected him to sing for the band. I mean, I tried auditioning every punk singer in London, and they all sounded like ‘Johnny Rotten’. I met Midge in a record store. I liked Midge’s voice, and my manager found a number for him. He needed persuading, but he joined. The band broke up because of Midge and Rusty working together on other things, but I think Midge respects that I helped him with his career. It was better for him to come down here than it was to stay in Glasgow. He did have some success with Slik, but I think that had come to an end when he joined Rich Kids. A great singer.”
While Ure sang, Matlock focused on his bass playing. He gives the usual spiel (“McCartney was an influence, Entwistle, Ronnie Lane”), but I’m more surprised to hear that Klaus Voorman proved a formative inspiration. Matlock certainly plays bass with an imagination that flits between Voorman and Entwistle. “I worked with Ian Hunter. I met him through Mick Ronson who produced Rich Kids. And while I was touring with Iggy Pop, I met Bowie. Iggy popped along to a rehearsal with David, and we got to play with him. I liked David a lot. He always made it seem like he was genuinely interested in one of your ideas. He wasn’t one of those people looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone more important to talk to. Then again, David might just have done that to nick your idea for himself [laughs uproariously].”
He enjoys Bowie’s style of guitar playing, particularly The Spiders from Mars, and got to know Ronson’s family quite well. “I got to know Maggie Ronson. Ian and Mick were a bit older, and then there was Maggie, who was younger. I was playing in the area shortly after Mick had died, and Maggie and her mum invited me round for tea. While I was there, they had a videotape which was one of the last things Mick had done. So, we all sat around to watch it. Great honor to do that.”
This interview took place on November 12th, 2021. He will be continuing to tour across Britain for the rest of the year, with an album to follow.
Photo: Glen Matlock and the Sex Pistols, 1977 (Wikimedia Commons)