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 Scroll.in 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.