A chat with Glen Matlock, Glen Matlock interview, Born Running, The Sex Pistols, The Rich Kids
Glen Matlock

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Although he wrote the music for 10 out of the 12 songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Glen Matlock has been forced to spend a great deal of his career as the answer to the trivia question, “Who played bass for the Sex Pistols prior to Sid Vicious joining to the band?” It’s a bit ridiculous, really…but, then, so is the story that Matlock was kicked out of the band because he liked the Beatles. In the end, at least the man’s got his Bollocks royalties to keep him warm at night, but for those who aren’t aware of his further contributions to music, now’s the perfect time to start your education. In addition to his work with the Sex Pistols, Matlock also spent time as a member of The Rich Kids (along with Midge Ure and Rusty Egan of Visage) and wrote and played with Iggy Pop, but he’s had a bit of a solo career going as well. Though you might find it fair to say that Matlock isn’t necessarily the most prolific songwriter – he started releasing albums under his own name in 1994, and he’s only just put out his fourth, Born Running – but he’s still got a hell of a way with a hook.

Glen Matlock: Where are you calling from?

Bullz-Eye: Norfolk, VA.

GM: Oh, okay. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Virginia.

BE: I don’t know that you have. I know the Pistols played in Maryland during a reunion tour, but I don’t know that they’ve ever played in Virginia.

GM: Well, I’ve played around with lots of different people, but…I don’t know. Well, anyway, cool! (Laughs)

BE: It’s a pleasure to speak with you. As I mentioned to you in our E-mails, I’ve been following your solo career ever since I picked up Who’s He Think He Is When He’s At Home? Now, obviously, it’s the new album that’s brought us together, but I’m just curious what led you to kick off a solo career in the first place.

"When I was with the Rich Kids, there were loads of bands that came after us. We saw Duran Duran in the front row when we was in Birmingham, checking us out. I think we were the bridgehead between punk and what came after it. That’s our claim to fame: that we got Duran Duran going!"

GM: Well, I’ve actually been doing it for awhile, to be honest. Not with a great deal of success, I must admit… (Laughs) …but I write songs all the time, and you’ve got to have some kind of outlet. Once you’ve got more than an album’s worth of songs floating around in your head, unfinished or unreleased or what have you, your psyche becomes unmanageable, you know? And you just have to clear everything out…and, hopefully, by clearing everything out, you make a good record at the same time. That’s the idea, anyway. Whether or not it works quite like that, I don’t know, but that’s normally what I try and do. As you go through life, things affect you in different ways, and you pick up on this and you pick up on that, and sometimes you get a song out of it. But it’s no different now than how it always used to be years ago. It’s the same kind of process. And, hopefully, the more living you do, the more you’ve got to talk about. Or that’s what I’m banking on, anyway!

BE: That first solo album came out on Creation Records. How did you end up on that label? Did Alan McGee just approach you one day and pitch the idea?

GM: He did! He said, “What are you up to?” I said, “I’ve got a bunch of songs and I want to do something with them.” And he said, “Well, we’ll put that out.” So I thought, “Oh, great!” That was in ’95, and, really, the record should’ve come out in late ’95 or the beginning of ’96, but then it got held up a bit. And then the Pistols tour sort of came about, and everybody thought it would be a good idea to put it out as the Pistols tour. So when that overlapped, it looked like I was just trying to cash in. But when I made that record, I hadn’t even met up with Paul and Steve and John. We hadn’t spoken for, like, 20 years. So it just kind of happened, and…it was a drag, because I thought that record could have stood on its own a lot more.

BE: I loved the single, “My Little Philistine.” As a result of that track, I was literally hooked from the moment I put on the record.

Glen MatlockGM: Well, good! And it’s where I got the name of the band: the Philistines. See, all I’ve ever wanted was to be in a band called the Philistines, but if you’ve been in the Sex Pistols, everybody wants to put your name on it, and to get some sort of a record out at my stage in the game… (Trails off) But I don’t want to be the main guy in the band. I just want to be a guy in the band. And the word “philistine” has a slightly different connotation over here. It’s somebody who’s got no saving graces whatsoever. And I thought, “If I call my band the Philistines, and if we have, like, three or four albums that do alright, then I can do a best-of album and call it The Complete and Utter Philistines.” (Laughs)

BE: You were talking about putting your name out in front, but the copy of On Something that I’ve got is only credited to the Philistines.

GM: In the States, it was, yeah. I managed to get around it that time. But… (Sighs) …I dunno, it’s just that getting records out in this day and age is hard work. I’m just trying to keep the other guys in the band happy, and I thought maybe we could evolve into a band, but…some people were available and some people weren’t. But, yeah, over here it was released as Glen Matlock and the Philistines, and this new one is Glen Matlock and the Philistines, even though it’s different people playing on it. If you’re in a band at my kind of age, everybody’s kind of doing stuff. I’ve got the drummer out of the Stereophonics. Now, the way he makes his money is that he plays with the Stereophonics, and he does my thing for a laugh, and he does other things for a laugh. I’ve got James Stevenson, who’s going to be playing guitar, and who also plays for the Alarm. People kind of multi-task. It’s just complicated. It’s like trying to organize a cricket team…and I guess it must be the same trying to organize an American football team, basically. (Laughs) Strength through adversity, that’s the name of the game.

BE: I know that Steve New has appeared on your previous albums. Does he appear in the new record as well?

GM: Well, Steve New, sadly, passed away ‘round about Easter time.

BE: Oh, my, I didn’t even know that. I’m so sorry!

GM: Yeah, he’d been suffering from cancer. Last January, we actually did… (Hesitates) He’d been suffering from cancer for about 18 months to two years, and it was looking good, then it wasn’t looking good, then it was looking good, then it was looking bad, and then it was looking good, and… (Takes a deep breath) We actually got together at the beginning of the year and did sort of a one-off reformed Rich Kids show, which if you look on the Sex Pistols website, there’s quite a lot of footage from that. Mick Jones played, and Steve actually played at that, and we sort of raised some money for his family. And then he started getting ill pretty quickly after that, and he died three weeks after his 50th birthday…which was not good, really. (Sighs) So it was all very sad, but he does play on the album. We recorded him at the tail end of last year, and I was just kind of pleased that he managed to play on it. It was quite humbling, because he was battling against his illness. I think I got the last three tracks out of him that he ever played on. So it’s a bit of a bittersweet thing, and as you’ll see with the actual hard copy of the album, I put a bit of a dedication to Steve in it. Steve was a fantastic, inventive guitarist. No one could play like Steve. I think that, of all the punk guitarist, Steve was really the pick of the bunch.

BE: Thanks to the wonder of iTunes, as an American, I was finally able to get a copy of the Rich Kids album this year, and I love it.

GM: Cool! Yeah, I mean, it never got a proper release over there, to be honest.

BE: Yeah, I’d read about it for years, but since then, it had never been readily available, so it was fantastic to finally get the chance to hear it.

GM: Yeah. It’s cool. I think that was some good stuff. I think it was quite forward looking, because, you know, at the height of punk, we did something different. I’ve always been a bit…what’s the word? Obtuse or something. (Laughs) How about perverse?

BE: I’ve seen some people refer to the album as power pop, others as new wave. What were your thoughts as you were recording it?

On the Sex Pistols documentaries: "I tend to think that 'The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle' was Malcolm McClaren’s take on it, and that movie, 'The Filth and the Fury,' was John’s take on it. But there’s another thing called 'The Making of Never Mind the Bollocks,' a 'Classic Albums' thing, and I think that’s the most even-handed appraisal of the situation, really. That’s the one that gets my money. You want the story to be straight. But there’s never one story in the band. There’s loads of different ones.."

GM: I was just thinking of it as the Rich Kids, really. I’m not really one to pigeonhole things. Nah, I think that, in any movement, there are the forerunners, but…the Pistols, we never saw ourselves as a punk band. We just thought we were the Sex Pistols. It was all the other bands that came afterwards that were, y’know, the punk bands. It’s not always for the artist to hold forth on that subject. Like, when I was with the Rich Kids, there were loads of bands that came after us. We saw Duran Duran in the front row when we was in Birmingham, checking us out. Things like that. I think we were the bridgehead between punk and what came after it. That’s our claim to fame: that we got Duran Duran going! (Laughs) And when we played at the Rich Kids show earlier this year, Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet got up there with us. So there you go!

BE: Who would you say is the most unlikely person to come up to you and tell you that your music has been an influence on them?

GM: Well, Duran Duran was quite a surprise. (Laughs) That was a big thing. But people from all walks of life come up to you and say that.

BE: So how would you describe your solo work to someone who isn’t really familiar with it?

GM: Fantastic. (Laughs) I dunno, really. I’ve always had an ear for a catchy tune, I think. I like to think I recognize when one’s going ‘round. I was born in the ‘50s, started listening to music in England in the early ‘60s, when we didn’t have a national radio station. We had all these pirate radio ships that were broadcasting illicitly from the North Sea and the English Channel, just outside territorial waters, and, y’know, you had the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds the Rolling Stones, and the Small Faces coming through. Even the Dave Clark Five. You couldn’t hear them on national radio. And it was a real exciting time, and all those little slices of three minutes, three and a half minutes of pure rocking pop music, it just got to me. That’s always been my yardstick, whether it was the Pistols or what I’m doing now, really. But, hopefully, the songs are about something that’s worthwhile. That’s the main thing. There’s got to be some content in there. My all time favorite songwriter is Ray Davies, and my all time favorite band is the Small Faces, but I don’t want to sound like them. But that’s the starting point, y’know?

BE: I know that you contributed to the documentary “Who Killed Nancy?”

GM: Did I?

BE: (Laughs) Didn’t you?

GM: I do lots of things, but you don’t necessarily know what it’s going to end up in. Do you mean the Alex Cox one?

BE: No, actually, there was a documentary very recently that was investigating the case of Nancy Spungen’s death.

GM: Oh, okay, yeah. Well, I rarely think about that time. It’s just so far gone in the mists of time. It was sad, but it was also a slow train coming. Well, it was slow, but it ultimately came quite quickly, really. (Pauses) I don’t really want to get into that, though.

BE: No, I wasn’t bringing it up because I wasn’t to talk about that time period. I was just curious about how you came to be involved in the documentary.

GM: I suppose it’s because I’m one of the people who’s still around, one of the few left who knows about those things. You’ve got information, but you don’t necessarily…you kind of wish you didn’t. You start to get a bit Donald Rumsfeld: there’s that what we know, there’s that what we don’t know, there’s that what we know we don’t know, but there’s also that what we don’t know we don’t know. (Laughs) It’s somewhere in there somehow.

BE: You were talking about how, prior to your first solo album coming out, you hadn’t really talked to the guys from the Pistols in ages.

Glen MatlockGM: Well, I hadn’t done, no. I didn’t really see that it was down to me to mend bridges, because some pretty shitty things had been said over the years. But I was actually in Los Angeles at the time, working on a project that weren’t really happening, and somebody said, “Why don’t you look up Steve Jones?” And someone said, “Well, actually, I’ve got a number…” So I did call Steve, and we met up, and we got on all right. Steve was more keen than anybody to reform the Pistols. And then we went to meet John, and we got on all right. Then we called up Paul in England, but he was out. So we left a message on his answer phone, then he called us up when we was out, and... (Laughs) …it was just kind of funny, really. I’ll tell you what stirs me on more than anything is the state of the music scene. Over here in England, anyway. You turn on Radio One, which is the national station, and everything’s, like, real sub-“X Factor.” It sounds like it, it’s mixed like it, it’s all got Auto-Tune all over it. It’s dreadful. I just want to kind of make real music for real people. I’m keeping my feet on the ground with what I did in the past, but I do what takes my fancy. I also do other different things. This summer, I was lucky enough to get to play with my all-time favorite band, The Faces. We did some shows. Ron Wood, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan. Funnily, Rod Stewart’s not doing it, but Mick Hucknall’s filled in, and he’s a fantastic soul singer. I think they’re going to be going out in the new year doing that as well. I did some stuff with a couple of guys from Primal Scream, with Zak Starkey on drums. I just want to do different things. There’s never that much good on the TV, anyway.

BE: I know John had mentioned offhandedly at some point about the possibility of another Sex Pistols album. It didn’t sound realistic, but has it ever been realistically discussed?

GM: I think if that was ever going to happen, that was going to happen in ’96. And it didn’t happen. And I really can’t see it happening now. Not that I wouldn’t give it a go, but…I just can’t see it happening, really. But I think some of the songs on my new album and some of the songs on the other albums, if the Pistols were playing on it and John had a look at the lyrics, some of them would be quite good as Pistols songs.

BE: I’d agree with that. The punk-pop effect, I guess you’d call it, is very much there in the new material.

GM: Yeah, I think so. It’s certainly not something I shirk from. It’s just me. It’s not me copying somebody else. It’s me. And back then, a lot of that was me, anyway. It wasn’t all me, but a lot of it was.

BE: I know the stock answer is that all your songs are like your children, but do you have any particular favorites on the new record?

GM: Yeah, I’m really quite pleased with the actual title song, “Born Running.”

BE: Right, I’ve seen the video for that.

GM: Yeah, I think that’s going places. There’s also one called “Rock Chick,” which has its tongue placed firmly in its cheek. Did I send you an MP3 of that one? I can’t remember.

BE: You did, yes.

GM: There’s also one called “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.,” which rocks a bit, and there’s some slower songs on it. There’s one called “Somewhere Somehow.” But, you know, I think my all-time favorite song I’ve written is called “On Something,” which is on…is that the album you just got?

BE: It is. And I’ve been enjoying it.

GM: Yeah, that’s me doing my kind of Small Faces kind of thing. I’m proud of the lyrics on that one. I don’t know if you know what “on something” means, but in England, it was something you’d mumble if…well, you know, in the swinging ‘60s, if someone got busted in a boutique for being out of it, you’d be, like, “Oh, look at that guy, look at his eyes, I reckon he’s on something.” (Laughs) So it’s kind of a euphemism for being out of it. But I’m not out of it these days. Sometimes, when life gets you down, you wish you was on something, and that’s the sense of the song. I think a lot of people can understand that. But, you know, I think my mission is…I’ve written some pretty good songs over the last 10 or 12 years, and my mission is to kind of not let them be the ones that got away. Not too much, anyway. So I’m trying to do a bit more with this album, then maybe revisit some of the other stuff. Maybe early in the new year, I’m going to be putting out a best-of album. It’s not going to be The Complete and Utter Philistines… (Laughs) …but it’s going to be my favorite three or four songs from all the albums that I’ve made over the past several years. So look out for that one as well!

BE: I’ll go ahead and start wrapping up, but I do have a few more. First off, I was wondering how you found your way into the mix for the cover of “I Put a Spell on You” that came out earlier this year, the one that was credited to Shane MacGowan and Friends.

GM: There’s this photographer called Danny Clifford who’s really got his finger on the pulse of what’s supposed to be happening, though whether or not he does I don’t know… (Laughs) …but he’s a mate, he was involved in doing it and got a bunch of people, and he said, “Well, pop down!” So I popped down, and it was for a worthy cause, but…I didn’t know what I was going to do. They’d already done the bass. I wouldn’t have minded having a go on the bass. But all the singers hadn’t turned up, so they said, “Would you have a go at singing?” So I said, “Yeah, I’ll have a go at singing it.” And I was quite pleased, really. It was quite good, I think.

Glen Matlock

BE: What was it like working with Iggy Pop on the Soldier album.

GM: Uh, chaotic. (Laughs) Yeah, we was holed up in the studio in Wales, and Iggy fell out with James Williamson at the time. James Williamson walked out in the middle of the sessions…and walked out on the music business! He didn’t pick up a guitar again until he just picked it up recently with the Stooges reunion. So it was a wacky time, I can tell you. But it was great working with Iggy. I don’t know if it’s one of his best albums, but there are some great lyrics on that album. I like…oh, what’s it called? “Take Care of Me.” I co-wrote that song with him, but just the music. He wrote the lyrics. He was living in Germany, and there’s one line that goes, “International garbage man / I’ve decided that’s what I am / I need somebody to pull me out / ‘Cause I’m sinking like crazy in my sauerkraut.” (Sings) “Take care of me!” (Laughs) That might be a bit off. But if you knew what he was going through at the time, being stuck living in Berlin…? But, yeah, if you’ve never heard it, check it out. There’s another song called “Loco Mosquito,” I think. I like that one. The lyrics have got a lot of sort of pep to them. It’s not Raw Power, but it’s still interesting.

BE: Do you have a favorite cover that someone’s done of one of your compositions?

GM: Well, you know, I haven’t dared listen to it yet, but someone’s sent me a cassette of P.J. Proby doing “Anarchy in the U.K.” And I think it’s either going to be great or so cheesy that it’s terrible, but I’m frightened to put it on, in case it doesn’t live up to my expectations. (Laughs) I mean, years ago, Paul Jones…you know, from Manfred Mann…and Tim Rice did a version of “Pretty Vacant” with an orchestra, and I couldn’t wait to hear it, but when I got it, I was so pissed off, ‘cause they’d left the riff out! I was thinking, “Yeah! The London Symphonic Orchestra going…” (Does the riff) But it’s not in it! So, y’know, things like that are just…they can be disappointing. But I’ve got a big stack of ‘em, and when I’m 98, I’m going to sit back and go, “Oh, I remember that!” (Laughs) But I don’t listen to them now. I like to try and live in the moment.

BE: Just a quick “Filth and the Fury” story for you to end things. I did an advance review of the film before it came to play in my area, and when it did play, they’d posted my review. In the midst of a theater full of aging, slightly menacing-looking punks, my wife suddenly says, “Look, honeybunny, there’s your review!”

GM: (Laughs) Well, they’ve all got mums, you know. They’ve probably heard worse.

BE: Did you enjoy the experience of working with Julien Temple on that film?

GM: Uh, kind of. I mean, it’s still not my favorite movie. I tend to think that “The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle” was Malcolm McClaren’s take on it, and that movie, “The Filth and the Fury,” was John’s take on it. There’s another thing called “The Making of NeverMind the Bollocks,” a “Classic Albums” thing, and I think that’s the most even-handed appraisal of the situation, really. That’s the one that gets my money. You want the story to be straight. But there’s never one story in the band. There’s loads of different ones.

BE: Lord knows I’ve read a bunch of them: I’ve got your book (“I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol”), I’ve got John’s book (“Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”), I’ve got Noel Monk’s (“12 Days on the Road”)…

GM: And have you got a favorite one of those, or do you read between the lines of all of them?

BE: I like to think all of them have an aspect of truth to them.

GM: Yeah, okay…but some have more truth than others. (Laughs)

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