“People just think I’m the bloke from the Sex Pistols donkey’s years ago but I gig a lot,” says Glen Matlock, amid preparations for a UK winter tour.
“I’ve toured America doing a one-man show. I did a double-header a few years ago with Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls – he did his set, I did mine then we did a couple of numbers together at the end. But I’m quite accustomed to doing acoustic shows – in fact I did the acoustic stage at Glastonbury this year, a couple of thousand people turned up and I managed to get them all singing along to just me and my acoustic guitar and after I did the Montreux Jazz Festival, I had a really good crowd there.”
Tomorrow Matlock brings his show ‘An Evening With...’ to Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. The show began life at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago and he’s continued to revive it. “I’d do an acoustic set and tell the stories behind the song, I’d go off at a tangent with funny tales about the people I recorded the songs with, ‘Oh, that reminds me of that’. They seem to go down really well.”
Inevitably there will be “a few Pistols’ songs”, he says, referring to the notorious punk band whom he was a member of between 1974 and 1977. “I can’t do them all and I don’t really want to do them all – some work on an acoustic guitar and some don’t. If I had been to see Bowie and he hadn’t done ‘Heroes’ I’d have gone home disappointed, but he always did it so I know you’ve got to do certain songs.
“I’ve written loads of songs over the years. I’ve done some good ones I wrote with Rich Kids and stuff I did with Iggy Pop. I’ve done some good stuff on my last few solo albums and I also do a few cover versions that were big influences on me and it all sits together quite well somehow.”
Forty years on from the explosion of punk rock, he views the Sex Pistols’ legacy with mixed feelings. “It’s kind of different for me. It’s a bit of a double edged sword. I’m proud of doing it but it’s hard to move on from that. I wouldn’t mind if we were constantly putting out new records like U2 or something like that. I’ve tried to do loads of things since but I don’t think anybody in the Pistols – even John [Lydon] and his Public Image Ltd – has ever eclipsed what the Pistols’ thing was all about because it was part and parcel of the time it came in and it’s perceived as being more than just a band, it’s partly a sociological thing now.
“I’m proud of my contribution to it. It’s great that people still want to talk about it, but that was then and this is now. I’ve always tried to see myself as a songwriter more than anything else.
“It’s a hump in the road that I try to straddle somehow, sometimes I pull it off and sometimes I don’t. Punk for me is like a sleeping policeman.”
The Pistols’ appearance on the Bill Grundy Show on TV was certainly life-changing. The day after guitarist Steve Jones was goaded into swearing, punk became headline news. “It kind of got us going and also it was the beginning of the end of the original band,” Matlock notes now. “It was such an intense period that cracks appeared.
“I really felt John changed once he got his face on the front of the newspapers and he was very hard to work with so my tenure didn’t last that long.”
I’ve been fortunate in what I’ve done, I’ve got to meet and work with my heroes that came just before the Pistols thing and then people who proceeded the Pistols, like Primal Scream.Glen Matlock
Matlock co-wrote the Pistols’ first three singles before quitting the band in February 1977. The impact of Anarchy in the UK, God Save The Queen and Pretty Vacant however remained lasting.
“We all knew we had something different,” says Matlock. “We were hanging out in Malcolm [McLaren]’s shop [Let It Rock] and down the road was Granny Takes a Trip where the Stones and the Faces and people like that got their clothes from. At one end of the road you would see Bryan Ferry and Anthony Price trolling along the street and Malcolm thought they were all t*****s so we did too. They were all multi-millionaires and we didn’t have a pot to p*** in but he gave us a cocksure arrogance which you need in a rock’n’roll band.
“There was a real dearth of something going on at that time. The glam rock thing had been and gone and there was a pub rock thing but that was for older people, there were a couple of good bands – Dr Feelgood and Kilburn and the High Roads, which was Ian Dury’s band – but it just seemed a bit too old for us so we tried to carve our own thing out. We didn’t want to play pubs, I got the first few gigs because I was at art school so we did that and we got not a trendy crowd but people who were looking for something and then people from the shop started coming and hanging out and following us. They were people like William Broad who became Billy Idol and Siouxsie and her acolytes, and it snowballed.
“It was a bit like buying a pair of trousers, to be honest. You know what you don’t want but you don’t know what you do want until you see them in front of you, and everybody was looking for change. When we stuck our heads above the parapet people thought ‘Yeah, we’ll have a bit of this and they started forming bands.’”
When relations with the Pistols soured Matlock left to form Rich Kids with Midge Ure, Rusty Egan and Steve New. He reveals the seeds of his next band had already been sown when he was approached by Mike Thorne, later to be a producer for Soft Cell and The Communards, who was then working for EMI. Matlock says they went for a curry “and he said to me, ‘Look, we know there’s a problem between you and John. We and I hope that you sort it out but if you don’t we see you as the main tunesmith in the band and if you don’t sort it out we’d be more than interested in anything you come up with’. I’m thinking, ‘Well, that’s quite interesting’. I wasn’t in any rush to do something with EMI but I thought ‘If they think that other record companies will think that [too].’
“For me at that stage I’d just turned 20, it was beginning to be more trouble than it was worth so I started getting the Rich Kids together. I didn’t walk into a void, I knew that people would be interested and yes, we did sign up to EMI but that was after I’d put up with so much from everybody that I thought ‘I might as well do what I want to do’ but we were courted by every record company in London.”
The Rich Kids spawned three singles and a memorable album, Ghosts of Princes in Towers, before splitting. Matlock remembers: “When the Rich Kids folded Midge and Rusty wanted to go off and become New Romantics which I thought was a silly act too far. I wanted to rock out.”
A phone call from Iggy Pop led to him working with the Stooges singer. “He was in town and they were staying at the Athenaeum Hotel in Piccadilly so I went and had a good old drink with him and the next thing I was on tour with him. We went around Europe and went to America and made an album [Soldier]. It was just luck, really.”
The following decades saw release a handful of albums on his own and with his band The Philistines. In 2012 he joined The Faces on tour. The shows, which saw Mick Hucknall of Simply Red replacing Rod Stewart, brought him full circle musically – they’d been his heroes in his youth and he’d played their song Three Button Hand Me Down at his audition for the Pistols.
“Hucknall was great, he’s a really good singer,” Matlock says. “I did feel like I’d come full circle. I’m not big mates with Ronnie Wood but we do get on when we see each other. I’d heard him say ‘When I joined the Stones it just seemed natural’ and I it just felt right to me [to join The Faces], I thought I did bring something to the table. I was just sad it wasn’t more but they were in direct competition with Rod Stewart doing Wembley and all over the world and Ronnie Wood having to go on tour with the Rolling Stones. But do you know what – they’re my favourite musicians, there’s so much feeling in their playing. Kenney Jones was a great drummer, Ronnie was my favourite guitarist and it was a privilege to be in rehearsal with him and then Ian McLagan who I think was the best white Hammond organ player, he was up there with Booker T. Sadly he’s passed away. He worked with the Rich Kids, he toured with us and played on a track on the album.
“I’ve been fortunate in what I’ve done, I’ve got to meet and work with my heroes that came just before the Pistols thing and then people who proceeded the Pistols, like Primal Scream, which I’m glad to because they’re good.”
Next year he’d due to release a new solo album. “It’s going to be out early next year and it’s my preferred band – I’ve got Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats playing drums, I play acoustic guitar and I’ve got whoever’s around to play bass – I’ve done some shows with Mark Halligan who’s a stand-up bass player – and Earl Slick guitar on most of it. On one track Chris Spedding makes a guest appearance. All good players. I’m really looking forward to getting that out.
“I’ve done that because two or three years ago I saw Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall and now while I’m not the biggest fan of Bob Dylan I can appreciate him, but his band were fantastic and I thought ‘If I can do a bit more punky version of that’ so that’s what I’ve tried to do with this album.”
An Evening With Glen Matlock is at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Friday November 11. www.facebook.com/GlenMatlockOfficial