I WAS A TEENAGE SEX PISTOL: Q&A With Sex Pistols Bassist & Principal Songwriter Glen Matlock


BY JONATHAN VALANIA Glen Matlock was the original bass player in the Sex Pistols, and he was also one the band’s principal songwriters — all the classic Pistols tunes (“Anarchy In The UK,” “God Save The Queen” “Pretty Vacant”) bear his imprimatur. So why haven’t you heard of him? Because he left the band — whether he quit or was fired depends on who you ask — just before the Pistols went supernova and was replaced by human car wreck Sid Vicious whose onstage self-mutilation, epic dope appetite and ignominious demise (dead from a heroin overdose while being jailed for the murder of his girlfriend/Courtney-Love-role-model Nancy Spungen) rendered him iconic. Matlock plays on the first three Pistols singles, and shares songwriting credits for all but on track on Never Mind The Bollocks — with Steve Jones playing his bass parts on the recording. After the Pistols, he formed the New Wave power pop band The Rich Kids and various other side projects and tours with fellow veterans of the great punk wars of the 70s and 80s. By the mid-90s, Matlock was back in the saddle for an intermittent series of Pistols reunion concerts that continued well into the last decade. In 2007 he penned his tell-all memoir, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. Phawker spoke with him back in 2012 when the book was reissued. 

PHAWKER: Can you please identify yourself so I can get a [recording] level…

GLEN MATLOCK: Hello I am Glen Matlock, I am from England but I am temporarily in New York in my friend’s apartment looking out the window at the Empire State building and it’s very cool!

PHAWKER: I would like to talk about some ancient history as far as the Pistols go, I hope you’re cool with that.

GLEN MATLOCK: Well, there ya go. I can’t do much better than that can I?

PHAWKER: Let’s start at the very beginning. How do you meet those guys? How did the Sex Pistols come together? How does Glen Matlock become part of the Pistols?

GLEN MATLOCK: Well, basically I ended up working for a guy called Malcolm McLaren, who is quite renowned – our manager at the time. He used to runGlen_Sex_Pistols_3_CROPPED.jpg a Teddy Boy clothes shop in London. I got a job working there. Every oddball and weirdo used to come in on a Saturday afternoon because all the bathtubs and bars were closed from three o’clock til about five thirty, which encouraged people to go shopping down at King’s Road, which is where the store was. His place was kind of weird, his place would attract the weirdest people. That’s how we all met. [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve [Jones] and [Sex Pistols drummer] Paul [Cook] would come in and try to steal things, basically. I kind of got matey with them. I overheard that they were putting a band together and the bass play never used to turn up. I happened to be learning the bass guitar – well, I had a bass guitar at the moment, it didn’t mean I could particularly play. I just said, “Well, I’ll play bass,” and they were like, “Oh, man, great. What bands do you like?” The only band that was really worthwhile listening to at the time was The Faces. I said, “Well, I dig The Faces.” So that became our common ground. We started rehearsing away, you know, mainly playing covers and things. We really had a kind of a spirit, but we didn’t necessarily have somebody to encapsulate that and put that into words. Steve was the singer at the time originally – it soon became quite clear wasn’t going to cut it as our singer. We were on the lookout for a singer among all the other weirdos and oddballs that hung out at the store was Johnny Rotten. So we called him in. Basically that was it, that’s how the band started.

PHAWKER: You’re credited with the music for nearly all the songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, correct?

GLEN MATLOCK: All the ones worthwhile listening to, yes. It was agreed, not necessarily by me, that we would all share songwriting credit for the songs — I was not particularly happy about that, but it was three against one. But there you go, I mean, a song like “Anarchy In The U.K.,” as far as I’m concerned that’s my music and John [Lydon]’s lyrics, “God Save The Queen,” that’s my music and John’s lyrics. “Pretty Vacant,” that’s my song, I wrote the lyrics to that as well.

PHAWKER: So it’s mostly you and Steve Jones? What was Johnny Lydon’s contribution to the songwriting?

GLEN MATLOCK: He wrote the lyrics. Me and Steve contributed the music for most of the songs, but the first three singles is my music. “Pretty Vacant” is my lyric, all the other lyrics are John’ s — apart from a song called “Submission,” which was me and John working together, actually. It was probably the one song we actually sat down together and did it. All of the other times we just rehearsed and John pulled out a plastic bag full of bits and pieces for lyrics. But the PA system we had wasn’t very good, we couldn’t necessarily hear what he was singing at the time. And he couldn’t really hear himself either, which probably contributed to his vocal style.

Glen_Sex_Pistols_Siouxsie.jpgPHAWKER: You were on board for the first recording session for Never Mind the Bollocks?

GLEN MATLOCK: The only song I played on the album was “Anarchy” — but they’re my songs, that’s my kind of claim to fame. I did all the gigs that got us up and running. We did this big TV show in England which propelled us to notoriety, called The Bill Grundy Show, on which Steve Jones famously swore his head off [live on national television]. That’s when we went from just being on the front page of the music papers to being declared the delinquent brats of Britain by Fleet Street, which is what we call the national press.

PHAWKER: Explain the circumstances of your departure from the band.

GLEN MATLOCK: Well, me and John were really chalk and cheese, we were just different kinds of people. On the Anarchy Tour, where we were banned everywhere and just being hounded by the press — it got to me after a while. It was time to move on and I think it was the best decision of my life. Circumstances dear boy, circumstances. It was fine, years went by and in ’95 I was in Los Angeles and I hadn’t spoke to Steve in a long time, and I looked him up and he was desperate to reform the band. We did a massive big world tour in ’96 and we’ve done some subsequent tours after that. I kind of felt vindicated because of all the bass players there are in the world, they asked me to do it.

PHAWKER: Well, it makes sense. I saw you guys in 2003 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

GLEN MATLOCK: Oh, ok. Yeah.

PHAWKER: It was great. It was fucking great. [see concert review below]

GLEN MATLOCK: It was a casino, I seem to remember.

PHAWKER: It was a casino, correct.

GLEN MATLOCK: It was a funny old place, I remember coming back and there was a nasty little rush.

PHAWKER: What was this thing about you liking the Beatles was why you got kicked out of the Sex Pistols?

GLEN MATLOCK: It was just rubbish really.

PHAWKER: What was this thing about you washing your feet all the time?

GLEN MATLOCK: I do like to be clean, and that’s about it. I wouldn’t exactly say I was in Howard Hughes’ league of cleanliness. Everybody in the band would come up with little nicknames about what people do and that’s the one that Steve came up with. Me and him used to share this apartment above our rehearsal space. Steve always happened to come in when I was washing my feet. But luckily for him, he’d hadn’t seen what I washed just before then, so I think we should leave it.

PHAWKER: When you were washing your feet, were you putting your feet in the sink, or did you have a bowl of water?

GLEN MATLOCK: A little plastic bowl of water.

PHAWKER: I’m curious, do you still receive royalties from sales?

GLEN MATLOCK: Yeah I do. I’m not a multi-millionaire, but life’s pretty good. It leaves me room to do other projects, like what I’m doing now. I’m over here doing some gigs with my band The Philistines, did a few shows in and around New York, now we’re coming down to Philadelphia and Baltimore tomorrow and the day after. It’s kind of funny I mentioned The Faces earlier on, which me and Paul and Steve adored, but John absolutely hated them. That’s what kind of got the rhythm section of the Pistols together. I’ve actually been doing some shows with The Faces this summer.

PHAWKER: I was gonna ask you about this, you have to be the only person on Earth who has been in both the Sex Pistols and The Faces.

GLEN MATLOCK: Yeah, yeah it’s a pretty good place to be, really. The drag is, we don’t have as many shows as we’d like. We’re waiting for that big offer from America to come over. But to playing with Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones, and Ian McLagan. Fantastic, you know. There’s a lot of history there, involved. Rod Stewart is not actually doing it, which is a shame, but that’s kind of between them and nothing to do with me. We have a guy, Mick Hucknall, who was in a band in England called Simply Red, they were really big. He’s a fantastic soul singer. To me, The Faces were always a great rock band with a great soul singer, and they still are. And they’ve got a great bass player, as well.

PHAWKER: I was not aware that you had briefly formed a band with Sid called Vicious White Kids.

GLEN MATLOCK: Yeah, we did that for a laugh. It was called Vicious White Kids because it was Sid Vicious, me on the guitar – and I was in a band called Rich Kids at the time, so that’s the “Kids” part of it. The guy who played drums was Rat Scabies of The Damned, but he actually had a band called White Kids at the time, so it was kind of a contraction of all the names in the band.

Glen_Sex_Pistols.jpgPHAWKER: Were you both playing bass?

GLEN MATLOCK: No, it was kind of funny because, the reason we did it was to show we weren’t the enemies that everybody supposedly thought we were. We used to live around the corner from each other in London, we were sitting in the local bar, Sid said, “How can we prove to people that we get on. He said, “Wait one minute, I’m a bass player and you’re a bass player,” and I said, “Listen, I’m certainly not gonna sing.” And he said “Oh, who’s gonna sing then?” I said, “You can sing.” He went, “Oh. Who’s gonna play bass then?” [chuckles] He’s not the brightest bloke. I said, “How about if I play bass and you sing?” And he said, “Oh alright then.” We just did it for a laugh really more than anything else, but it was pretty damn good. In fact, in fact I was talking to a guy who used to be head of Warner Brothers in England. And I was telling him about some hare-brained pop project a few years back, and he said, “You know what the best band you ever had was?” I said, “Well, The Sex Pistols.” He said, “No, the Vicious White Kids.” I said, “Well, why didn’t you sign us?” He said, “You were all too out of it.”

PHAWKER: One last question about Sid, do you think he killed Nancy Spungen?

GLEN MATLOCK: No, I don’t think he did actually. I wasn’t there at the time, but I know somebody who was there and – I’m not gonna go into it, but it was all kind of a bit of horseplay that went badly wrong and I think somebody else did it but it happened to be the knife that Sid bought earlier that day and it had his finger prints on it. He was out of it at the time. When he came to, he woke up and found Nancy with his knife and had no idea what to think. But no, I don’t think he did it. At all.