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

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.

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.

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.

An interesting musical cocktail: Shriram Alluri

When indie singer, songwriter and composer Shriram Alluri played the guitar to entertain his two-year-old nephew in November last year, little did he know that one thing would lead to another and he would land a gig with Glen Matlock, the bassist and member from the original line-up of the UK punk rock band the Sex Pistols, who’s now a singer songwriter. Alluri tells us, “I was practising for my show at the Transmusicales in France and my sister asked me to play for her son. I was tired and not too keen, so I played an acoustic version of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK to scare him away.” On the contrary, the tot started dancing. This encouraged Alluri to cover the song in Telugu and English. “It was received well and my then manager Stephen Budd tweeted a link to Glen, who shared the song,” he adds. Thereafter, the Pistols’ bassist produced a demo Alluri wrote. That resulted in their collaborative single Don’t Lose Touch. “It was natural for me to ask him to come play with me in India. Glen hasn’t performed here before and was keen to do so,” the musician says about the impending gig.

Alluri is performing in Mumbai for the first time along with his band that comprises international artistes such as saxophonist Domenico Mamone (who has played with Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Tom Jones), bassist Roberto Dragonetti (for Nic Cester of Jet), drummer Davide Arzuffi and keyboardist Pietro Ubaldi. The show is also his maiden gig with Glen. “So, it will make for an interesting musical cocktail,” says the artiste. The set will have a mix of his Telugu and English tracks with his Italian band, followed by the Brit rockstar’s brief solo set and finally all the musician taking the stage. “We finish with playing Don’t Lose Touch, which was recorded with Muse’s Producer Tommaso Colliva. There will be a few covers to make sure everyone is zoned in with what is happening on stage,” Alluri says.

Alluri, who splits his time between India, the UK and Italy, started as an English artiste but moved on to writing in Telugu and had a digital release of his second album, Tales of This Telugu Man, on August 3. Three tracks on this record are in his mother tongue. “The album was a natural process in my songwriting. Only after I released some of these Telugu songs did I get more opportunities to play abroad,” he says when asked if he had apprehensions about works in his native language being received well internationally. “Going to gigs is part of the weekly culture in the West, so the experience of listening to Rock N’ Roll in a different language is familiar enough and yet different for them. And, rhythm and melody take over at a certain point and language isn’t all that important,” he explains.
As the musician has started work on his third album, he has also written and recorded demos for nine songs, some of which he will play at the gig on August 10 at Hard Rock Cafe in Worli.

Quick Five with the Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock

1972, London saw the formation of a band which would change Rock and Roll for ever. The Sex Pistols, as they called themselves, ignited a Punk Rock revolution throughout the UK which later capsized the world. Among the founding members of the band was bassist, Glen Matlock, who would go on to become a pioneer. He is credited as the co-author of 10 of the 12 songs on ‘Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols’ album.

Ever since leaving the band in early 1977, Glen went on to collaborate with heavyweights like Iggy Pop and Vicious White Kids and London Cowboys among others. Later he formed the band Glen Matlock and the Mavericks before rejoining the Sex Pistols for their reunion tours post 1996.

Currently in Mumbai, for a gig at the Hard Rock Café on the 10th August where he has collaborated with the amazing Telegu rock star Alluri, Glen spoke to Music Plus about his new album ‘Good to Go’ and more.

Tell us about your new album ‘Good to Go’.
It’s a collection of songs over the past few years. It’s got a fantastic selection of artists. The main drummer is Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats. The main guitarist is Earl Slick, it’s got Chris Bedding on one track and Neil Axe on the others. It’s got a slightly different swing to it than Punk Rock music.

Which tracks should the fans look forward to in particular?
There is one track ‘Keep on Pushing’ and also there is one big blues style track called ‘Cooking You’. Then there is ‘Sexy Beast’ where Earl has played a sexy solo.

How was it collaborating with Earl Slick?
When you get to a certain age and are around for long you tend to meet certain people. I have done a few things with Earl quite a long time back. We had a common guy called Jim, who got us together in a way for this album. We decided to record it in America.

How did Sex Pistols change you?
It was the first thing any of us had done properly and it kind of formed us. Its hard to say how it changed us because its all we had ever done. Individually all our lives, no matter what we do, we still are the Sex Pistols.

How was the experience of collaborating with Alluri and what kind of a set can we expect at this Mumbai show of yours?
Its been fun. I haven’t know him for long. Recording with him in Telegu with Italian musicians in Milan was a different experience.
I don’t know yet! I got a sack full of songs, so mostly some solo stuff and then the songs which Alluri, the band and me have worked on. Well, its gonna be Rock Music in the end!

Punk is still a force to be reckoned with: Glen Matlock

Anarchy In The UK should tell you that punk rock band the Sex Pistols were up to no good as far as the establishment was concerned in the mid ’70s in the Queen’s land. They were the curious, scandalous and shocking band that initiated a punk rock revolution in the country and was hailed as one of the most influential groups. Now, one of the original members, bassist Glen Matlock, is all set for his maiden gig in Mumbai today. The artiste quit the band and later featured in bands such as Dead Men Walking, The Face and Rich Kids. Glen, who is the frontman of his project, The Philistines, is collaborating with Indian artiste Shriram Alluri for his show in the city.

About the gig in Mumbai
Impressed by Alluri’s cover of the Sex Pistols’ iconic song Anarchy In The UK, Glen was on board to produce the former’s single Don’t Lose Touch when his manager approached him. “Alluri and I hit it off and established an immediate rapport, so it was a no-brainer to say ‘yes’ when he invited me to perform in Mumbai this month,” Glen says about taking the gig up.

About the pertinence of punk rock today, he says, “It was the voice of dissatisfaction that’s still relevant,” adding that it’s debatable whether it should still subscribe to the same dress code and set of chord changes, which he never particularly subscribed to. “But punk has its merits and coupled with a top tune and a Rock and Roll spirit, is still a force to be reckoned with when it involves a set of lyrics of some consequence,” he explains.

Changing gears
The musician has said that he now sees himself as a singer-songwriter more than being a bassist. About the transition, he says, “Well, I have always composed on a six-string acoustic guitar and traditionally played bass (which I still enjoy) when somebody else is singing. To me, it is always about making the song work, so whatever instrument I play, it is geared to that. Since I’ve always played both (not at the same time), there was no need of a transition, really — just in the public’s perception perhaps.”

Album’s good to go
After he heads back home, Glen has a new album, Good To Go (GTG), coming up. “It features Earl Slick from David Bowie and John Lennon fame on lead guitar. We are currently setting up shows for the fall to promote the record,” he says. GTG has a plethora of influences from the time he started listening to music to now. What’s the one thing that ties it all together? Glen avers, “I think basically most writers borrow or pay homage to stuff they have dug, and guess I am the same. What ties it together is my gift of constructing songs.”

Pistols reunion? Sure
Glen has handled the bass duties for the Sex Pistols on several occasions after his replacement, Sid Vicious, died. The last one was in 2007-8 for the UK and Europe Combine Harvester Tour. The artiste says that he would consider the idea of reuniting with the band for gigs but “it’s all quite long in the tooth now, so don’t lose any sleep worrying whether it will happen or not,” he signs off.

Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock: A simple thing done well is my yardstick for making music

The British bassist, who is currently in India, talks about his influences, his upcoming album, and what makes a song endure.

The name Glen Matlock would carry lots of points in a pub quiz. The question, of course, would be: which member of the Sex Pistols co-wrote and recorded much of their classic (and only studio) album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, but left the band before it was released? The British bassist rejoined the band in the 1990s for a series of reunion tours after having played in other groups, including the Rich Kids with Midge Ure and a reunited version of The Faces, and with other punk rock legends such as Iggy Pop and the Damned. Matlock, who is currently in Mumbai for a concert with UK-based singer-songwriter Alluri, spoke to about the relevance of punk today, his favourite band and how he picks collaborators. Edited excerpts from the interview:

You’re the second punk rock legend we’re getting to see in India in a matter of months. Marky Ramone performed at the NH7 Weekender festival in Pune in December…

I like Marky as a guy very much. He’s a good drummer. I liked him when he was the drummer in Richard Hell and the Voidoids and I did play with him once. I think they made the most important punk record ever [Blank Generation] because it influenced me to write Pretty Vacant, but I don’t know that going out pretending you’re the Ramones is quite where I’m at. I’ve always tried to steer clear of going out and pretending that I’m the Sex Pistols. I know people want to hear certain songs but I’ve written many more since then. So there’s a balance that you can strike.

Do you think the fact that you’re playing in India after all these years is a sign that punk now connects with a whole new generation?
It seems to be a thing that just won’t lay down. I’m fortunate that I get to travel all around the world. Recently I played at the DMZ Peace Train concert in Korea at the North-South Korea border. Whether it’s going to change the leader of North Korea’s idea about his weapons programme, I doubt it, but it’s keeping up a little bit of pressure. It’s given a little bit of solidarity to the Korean people. But I went there and played with some Korean guys and they wanted to do a couple of Pistols songs and they played them pretty much just as well as we did. It seems to be a common currency around the world and I was part of that, cool.

My yardstick for doing the music for the Pistols was, and it still is, a simple thing done well. And if you get it right, that’s something that stands the test of time. And I think that people can pick up a guitar and most people seem to identify with not just us but also The Clash and the Buzzcocks and the Ramones.

Is there a sense of irony that you’re going to be playing this revolutionary music in a venue like Hard Rock Café?
I like a hamburger every now and then and when you play at the Hard Rock, you normally get a free one. You know, the purists go “You shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that”, but [these are] the kind of things that make it work and enable it. If the Hard Rock didn’t put it on, it wouldn’t happen. I recently read an interview with Lou Reed [in which] he said he used to share a loft in New York way back when with this guy who was the original guitarist in the Velvet Underground. He came back one night and he said [to him] “We got a gig, our first gig”. And this guy said, “You mean we have to get there and be there at a certain time and play for people at a certain time?” Lou Reed said, “Yes.” He said, “Man, I’m not doing that.” He was so hardcore that nobody’s heard of him. And Lou Reed got somebody else.

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is one of the most influential records of all time. What was the music that shaped you while growing up?
The first records that I ever listened to, that I actually physically put on the record player myself…[was] when I was about six years old [and] my uncle who was ten years older than me – he’d been a bit of a Teddy Boy – gave me his old 78 (RPM) records. They were Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, that’s what I put on. Then time went on a little bit and we had these fantastic radio stations that were pirate radio on ships outside of Britain and that coincided with the Kinks and The Who and The Yardbirds and the Stones and the Small Faces coming through it. That’s what got me going. They were like little three-minute slices of life with a great hook and a great vocal delivery. It was exciting.

You’ve been in a lot of bands. Which has been the most fun?
When I got to play with the Faces, my all-time favourite band that I used to stand in front of the mirror when I was 14 and pretend I was in. We didn’t do that many shows, but we headlined the Fuji festival in Japan (in 2011) in front of 50,000 people. That was the most fun thing ever. Through their music, they opened the door to the blues, Staple Singers, Bobby Womack, made me take The Temptations more seriously…that’s all in their music somehow.

What makes you collaborate with somebody, like Alluri for instance?
If somebody knows what they’re doing, they have some drive, and they’ve got a certain degree of accomplishment on their instrument, they kind of look alright. I think he’s got all of that. I find him interesting. The way I was approached, somebody sent me a video of him doing a version of Anarchy in the UK, which he explained to me he only did to keep his nephew quiet [but his nephew] liked it and was dancing to it.

What’s your new solo material like?
The new album Good To Go is about to come out in the beginning of September. The drummer on most of the songs is a guy called Slim Jim Phantom, who’s from the Stray Cats [and is] an old friend of mine. It’s got a little more of a swing to the rhythm. The guitarist is Earl Slick, who played with [David] Bowie and [John] Lennon. My last album Born Running was a bit more punky. This one, I don’t even play bass on it, I play acoustic guitar. I’m proud of it. There’s even a cover of a Scott Walker ballad called Montague Terrace. It’s funny talking about music because the reason you make music is you do things you can’t necessarily explain in words.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and English National Opera recently released an album of cover versions of punk classics that you were associated with. Do projects like that prove that the song, more than everything else around it, is ultimately what matters?
I suppose you can’t really divorce one from another but I think any good song can be done in any idiom. One of the best things I ever heard was a ska band with a big brass section doing Black Night by Deep Purple. It was wacky but it worked.