INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY BOB GRUEN
When you just feel it, trust it, and go with it, things happen, and more. Influence from others…then you pass it on, without even knowing it…Never even trying to… Just doing it, and living it and being it. A craftsman, songwriter, and musician changing the world of Rock n Roll with songs crafted from the soul. Glen Matlock is, and always will be part of the reason why, some of us choose to follow a movement, that changed lives around the world… I thank you, for being you…
Hello, Steve, but it is afternoon isn’t it? The sun is over the yardarm.
[Laughs] The sun is always shining. Tell me, what is your name?
It’s Glen Matlock from London, England, sitting in your Mercedes here.
Were you always from London?
Yes. I’m born and bred in London. I’m one of the few Londoners I know. Most people in London don’t come from there. Christmas is great because everyone fucks off back home and we get clawback time.
[Laughs] Tell me what it was like growing up as a kid in London?
It was very frugal where we lived. My dad was a manual semi-skilled worker. Although he did work for Rolls Royce building Rolls Royce’s, but he stopped doing that because he found he got more money repairing London buses, believe it or not. We lived in one of those little two-up, two-down houses. You might call it a shotgun shack. We lived on the top floor and we didn’t have a bathroom, so we just had a tin bath once a week. There was no central heat, so we had a paraffin stove. We played football a lot. We had good neighbors that were just a few doors away, so we were quite a little tight knit family. We were all struggling to get by, which I didn’t realize at the time. Looking back, I do. Where I lived was not far away from this place called Portobello Road, which is like the Melrose of London, where all the trendy types go. At a young age, I was in the middle of a real overspill from Portobello Road. It was just around the hill from Notting Hill where, in the ‘50s, the first West Indian immigrants had come over. There was a landlord called Rachman and he used to set fire to people’s places that weren’t paying rent. He was charging exorbitant rents and some of them were living there illegally, so they couldn’t do anything about it. He was a real piece of work. Some of the people moved out of there and moved into our area, which wasn’t far away, so there was quite a lot of West Indian people around there. In the summer, everyone had their windows open, and there was all of this Blue Beat coming out of the windows. It was great. They were like the first hippies in London. There was a bloke up the street that had hipster trousers and bellbottoms. It was all too old for me to indulge in, but I was hip to that. We never had a radio station in England until the late ‘60s.
“We were originally called The Swankers. They were also called The Strand. When I joined, it wasn’t really called anything for a bit, and then it became QT Jones and his Sex Pistols. Malcolm had changed the name of his shop from Let It Rock to Sex, so, basically, we were the Pistols from the Sex Shop.”
Well, there were radio stations but nothing where you could hear pop music. All of a sudden, all these pirate radio stations popped up. They were being broadcast from boats outside British Territory waters. They were playing the Kinks, the Who, the Small Faces, the Yardbirds and the Stones, and it coincided with transistor radio coming out, so every kid had a little transistor radio. They’d go to bed at night and, under the covers, they would listen to all of this music. That’s exactly what I did and that was a big influence on me musically.
The music was new and exciting.
Yes. It was very new and exciting and fresh.
How old were you then?
I was 11. It was a perfect time for music.
There was some powerful music in that era.
Yeah. It was exciting. There was an illicitness to it too. You weren’t really supposed to listen to it. There was a movie that came out about the pirate radio stations that was called The Boat That Rocked. It was a semi-comedy thing, but there was a lot of truth in it. The actor, Bill Nighy, a mate of mine, was in it. We had an English version of Wolfman Jack and his name was Emperor Rosko, and Philip Seymour Hoffman played Emperor Rosko’s character. The DJs had weird names like that. One of the guys was named Tony Prince. It was like, “This is your royal ruler, Tony Prince, broadcasting live from Radio Caroline in the North Sea.” They developed their own thing. They must have had a right fucking laugh. Girls would go out in little boats to shag them and stuff.
[Laughs] They were just outside English waters, so no one could stop them.
There was a 12-mile limit and they were like 12 1/2 miles outside.
[Laughs] How did you get into music?
Around the same time, my uncle was a ducker and diver and he came home with a Fender bass guitar. He opened up this case and this thing was amazing. It had the sunburst, and it even had the chrome tower piece on it, which everyone takes off. I was nine years old and it just set something off for me. A few years later, there was a kid in school that was selling a cheaper version of that bass. I got that for 25 pounds and started learning it. I also had an acoustic guitar when I was a kid that I struggled with because it was a plank.
So you liked the bass just because it was available?
Well, it was a happenstance thing. It was because it was available but, after the pirate radio thing, there was a TV show in England, called Ready, Steady, Go! It was the best pop show ever. They would have Smokey Robinson, and all this amazing music. Dusty Springfield was on it quite a lot. Dusty would come to America after she found out about the Motown thing and she’d get the Supremes playing live on TV. There was the band Small Faces, which I dug, and a guy named Ronnie Lane was their bass player. The bass came up and it all kind of melded in my head.
Ronnie Lane was a great bass player.
He was a great bass player and he was a character. Small Faces were different. Somehow he was kind of different than them as well and I picked up on that. I soon realized that playing bass is a bit of a lonely show. You have to play with other people, so I was on the look out for people to jam with. I didn’t even have an amp, and then I figured out that I could make a jacked rig if I connected to the wires on the stylus of the record player. We had a big Radiogram in the cabinet, and there was something wrong with the volume control, so it was either too quiet or screeching loud. I spent my whole life on low volume, trying to learn and not annoy all the neighbors. It was fun. Pretty soon, I was in some little band with some guys at school, but it wasn’t much. Then I got a job working for Malcolm McLaren, who went on to manage the Sex Pistols. He had this weird shop called Let It Rock, which was initially a Teddy Boy shop. Then Steve [Jones] and Paul [Cook] started coming in.
“When you’re doing a gig and a fight breaks out, no one watches the gig, they watch the fight, so we were trying to stop it. Someone took a picture and it looked like we were fighting with the audience, and it was on the cover. Our whole early career was peppered with bodies in a happenstance kind of thing, but it somehow swayed in our favor.”
How was the Teddy Boy scene then?
It was the same. I suppose it was an alternative to all the b.s. like Genesis and the progressive rock thing that was going on.
Yeah, but it seemed as though America forgot about rock n’ roll, and was all about whatever it was that was newest.
The only thing that was coming out of America that I knew about when I was 13, 14 and 15 was soft rock, like the Eagles and Poco.
It was easy listening.
“Ventura Highway” didn’t make any sense to me, but I still preferred that to Genesis.
This I understand. Did the Teddy Boy thing introduce you to early rock n’ roll?
It kind of did, but I was hip to it because my uncle was a bit of a duck and diver.
What do you mean by a duck and diver?
He was a wheeler and dealer. He’d get things that he shouldn’t have and pass it along to somebody else, not in a big way, but he had his way. He was a bit of a Lad and stuff, but he had been a bit of a Teddy Boy, and then he decided he wasn’t going to be a Teddy Boy. He was only ten years older than me. The mod thing came in the ‘60s, and he looked like that with the skinny tie and tight fitting suit. Anyway, he gave me all his old records when I was six years old. I got Little Richard, the killer, Jerry Lee, Elvis, and a lot of 78’s that I would play on the Radiogram. When I was six years old, I was playing these records, so I was already hip to that, and then I got involved with Malcolm’s shop. I was just working there and all these Teds would come in. I knew about that kind of rock n’ roll and they had this great jukebox with all that stuff on it.
Did you dress up like a Teddy Boy?
No, not really. You could pick and choose a little bit, so I wasn’t an out and out Teddy Boy. If anything, I was a bit of a skinhead. I had the Sta-Prest trousers, but Steve and Paul were the top skinhead types. They came in and seemed like they wanted to nick things and it was my job to thwart them. They came in regularly, and Steve was trying to get Malcolm involved somehow. I overheard Malcolm saying, “How is the band going?” He was sort of laughing about it. I heard Steve say, “It’s okay, except our bass player never turns up. He’s Paul’s sister’s fiancé or something and he’s not taking it seriously.” I said, “I can play the bass.” They both said, “Really?” Then Steve asked me who my favorite band was and I said the Faces. That’s when that progressive rock thing was going on and that was the one thing that I dug because they seemed to always have a laugh about everything. They’d come on stage kicking footballs around. I went to see them at the Rainbow in London. Instead of going out for a drink during the drum solo, they stayed on stage. They also had a bar with a bartender on stage. They would order a round of drinks, and Kenney Jones would do a drum solo, and then they’d come back and order another round of drinks. [Laughs]
Keep it going. We’re thirsty.
Yeah. It was fun. They opened the door to me to bands like the Temptations and Bobby Womack. They did covers of that stuff, so I got into all of that through the Faces. They were quite an influential band. I was really pleased because over the last few years, I’ve done couple of gigs with them since Ronnie Lane passed away.
You hopped in as the bass player?
I was the bass player.
How great is that?
Did you ever think that you’d be playing bass with the Faces when you were a kid?
Well, when I was a kid and I was learning, I used to stand in front of the mirror pretending that I was Ronnie Lane, and there I was. It just felt kind of right somehow. Ronnie Wood did it and Kenney Jones played drums. Mick Hucknall, from that band Simply Red, stood in on vocals. I’m not a big fan of them, but he’s a fantastic soul singer. He’s got a great voice. The last gig I did with him in Japan was in front of 150,000 people. Hopefully, something like that will come up again. Last year, the Primal Scream bass player ducked out and I played with them.
How was Primal Scream to play with?
They’re great. They’re mates of mine. The bass player’s mom died, and he had already arranged to come to L.A., and then they got this gig at Brixton Academy, which had something to do with that Japanese Tsunami, so they asked me to stand in, which I did. I just did one show with them. I like things like that. It makes life a little easier. It wasn’t even a paying gig. It was just interesting. There are two parts to my career. There’s what I try to do as a songwriter and then I happen to be not a bad bass player. This might not sound very rock n’ roll, but it’s a bit like being a plumber or a carpenter. It’s like, “Yeah, I’ll come and do that for you. How much?” [Laughs]
That’s so questionable. Did you see the Dolls when they came through?
I actually went to see the Faces at Wembley Arena. I didn’t have the faintest who was playing on the show. I just wanted to get my money’s worth for the ticket. It was more money than I’d earned and I had to take my girlfriend too, so I wanted to see every last minute of it. There was this band called the Pink Fairies who were an alternative rock hippy band from Portobello Road, and they weren’t very good. We timed our arrival properly and got there for the middle band, which was the Dolls. The Faces were headlining, but I didn’t even know the Dolls were going to be on. They were great. They had Billy Murcia playing with them, so I actually saw the original Dolls.
Were they good?
They were good. The thing I remember most about it was that two or three numbers in, Thunders broke a guitar string and he didn’t have any spare strings, so the roadie had to go off and bum a string off somebody. Five minutes later, we’re all waiting and they’re standing up there dressed like women, but they didn’t seem to care. They were like, “Fuck you!” Then the roadie comes back with a string, and Thunders put the string on, and he didn’t even turn his amp down and he’s tuning his guitar through the PA system, super loud. Finally, they started the song again, and got halfway through, and he broke it again, so they had to go through the whole thing all over again. They had quite a lot of attitude. [Laughs] That was quite a scene changing moment. I had heard about them because Malcolm McLaren was mates with this other guy in London called Tommy Roberts, who went on to manage a band called Kilburn & the High Roads, which was Ian Dury’s band before the Blockheads. This guy had the first sort of boutique in London, and he always did things before they caught on. There was this whole big area called Covent Garden, and he had the first shop there before anyone else was there and nobody went there.
“Malcolm always encouraged us to write our own stuff. When I was just learning guitar, I had a short attention span, and when you try and learn a song, you do the first few chords and it’s easy and then it gets complicated and you say, “Fuck that,” and you end up doing your own version. Pretty soon, you’re doing your own song, so it’s easy.”
He was a little ahead of his time.
He was too far ahead of his time for his own good. I overheard Tommy and Malcolm talking about this band the Dolls. They went to see them at a place called Biba, which was quite a trendy store. It was a big department store in Kensington like Macy’s. It only lasted a year because they didn’t have anything to fill it up with. They had a cabaret room at the top called the Rainbow Room and the Dolls had played there. I had heard about them and then I saw them at the Faces gig and things started connecting.
How did you get the Sex Pistols going?
I played a Faces song and I got the gig. I played the only song I knew how to play for them and they said, “Okay, you’ve got the gig, but there’s one thing. That bass you’ve got is not a bass.” Then from under the bed, Steve pulled out a Fender bass just like the one my uncle had. He said, “You’ve got to play this one.” I said, “Where did you get that?” He said, “Don’t ask.” So there was all of that going on. Steve was the singer and there was another guy named Wally in the band. We just worked it. Then Wally got ousted and Steve kept learning on guitar and he was getting better on it, but we realized that Steve wasn’t a singer either, so we started looking for singers.
Was the band originally called the Sex Pistols?
No. We were originally called The Swankers. They were also called The Strand. When I joined, it wasn’t really called anything for a bit, and then it became QT Jones and his Sex Pistols. Malcolm had changed the name of his shop from Let It Rock to Sex, so, basically, we were the Pistols from the Sex Shop. Then Wally and I said, “Why don’t we just drop the QT Jones bit?” I’m sure Malcolm got the idea because in Shepherd’s Bush, we don’t have zip codes, we have post codes, and the post code in Shepherd’s Bush was something, something, QT. We wanted to be a band. We didn’t want to be somebody and the band, so we became the Sex Pistols. This was before we even got Rotten in the band, and then we were looking out for people and then John came along.
Where would you rehearse when you first started? Did you have a place?
It’s a long convoluted story, but Wally’s dad was an electrician and he got a contract from Hammersmith Council, which is the local authority, to clear out Riverside Studios, which had been a big film studio in the ‘30s. It supposedly had the best sound dubbing room in Europe with great acoustics. Somehow we got a set of keys to the studio, even though we weren’t supposed to be in there. Paul was always working at the Watney’s Brewery, so we had a bar set up. We couldn’t fucking play, but we had a place to do it. When Wally went, that place went, and then I found this place in London’s Tin Pan Alley on Denmark Street. There was a little advert in the Melody Maker and I showed it to Malcolm, and we went down to meet them. It transpires that it used to belong to Bad Finger. Two of them had died, and their manager, Bill Collins, took us under his wing. I don’t think he ever got paid, but we always had our own place to work out our ideas.
And you had gear?
Well, we took the gear. We had enough gear. Don’t worry. [Laughs]
So you could go and jam whenever you wanted, which is convenient.
That was always convenient, so we’d leave our gear set up. We would go and find out if anyone had an idea and if they had an idea that was rubbish, at least we knew. We didn’t have to talk about it for a week. Then we kind of got this band spurt together. Then I booked some shows because I was in art college by then.
How did you get into art college?
I applied. I did some drawing and stuff.
Wait. Is art college like art college here where you have to pay?
No. You used to get a grant, but I never got a grant because I was three days too young. I was always the youngest in my year. I was always in the year above where I should have been because when I was little, my mom wanted to go back to work and all my mates were older and they were starting school, and I would have had nobody to play with in the streets, so she got me into school. I was always the youngest one in my school. There was some cut off date to get a grant, so I was out. I had to bunk the tube every day for the year I was there.
You had to sneak on every day you were there?
Basically. It was great. My art college was Saint Martins, which was a pretty good one. It was right in the heart of Soho. I had just turned 17 and I’m in Soho in London. It was a real happening place to be, so I made some good contacts there. There were always shows going on and there was a good disco on Friday nights. There started to be other people that you’d see at the art college gigs, and you started making connections. There were a lot of people looking for something different. You had the glam rock thing, but that had been and gone, and then you had bands like Yes and Genesis, which nobody was interested in. Everyone was looking for something new to sink their teeth into. We were like a year ahead of everyone else. The Damned started up not long after us. The Stranglers were around, but they were older, and they were a bit of a pub rock band. That was the only other thing that was going on. Dr. Feelgood and Kilburn & High Roads were pub rock bands. The Stranglers were not as old as most of the pub rockers, so they were young enough to get in on the tail end of punk. They were kind of punky, but they weren’t really a punk band.
“Then we did this mad big primetime TV show, which went out live. Steve got loaded on a bottle of Blue Nun wine and swore his head off. The next day, instead of just being in the music papers, it was on the front page of all the national newspapers and it just became a totally different thing.”
But they could play.
They could play. They had good tunes. They were always called the Stranglers so that fit in.
So you started playing gigs. How did it feel to be playing in a band on a stage as a kid?
Well, the first gig we ever did was at my art college. We opened up for this band called Bazooka Joe. They were a rockabilly band and we were supposed to use their equipment, and then they decided that they weren’t going to let us, so we had to go and get our gear. We had no van, but our rehearsal space was around the corner, so we had to trundle all our equipment in rush hour in the pissing rain and get out six flights of stairs, so we weren’t too happy. They felt usurped by us because we had something going and they were just old rockabillies. We set up and played five songs and they pulled the plug on us and we got in a fight. It was funny because before I booked that gig, I booked another gig at another art college called Central School of Art, but then I got us this gig at Saint Martins, and it came before the other gig I’d booked. I’d invited a guy, the college social secretary, down to watch us, and this fight is going on, and I was thinking, “Oh, no. We’ve blown this gig that we have in a few days time.” The guy was just standing there laughing. His name was Alex McDowell. I always knew him as Al. He lives in Hollywood now and he did the set design for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Terminal. He was the first guy to actually book the Sex Pistols. He was there and I was going, “Oh shit, Al. I’m sorry.” He said, “No. I thought it was really funny.” He had this big raccoon coat on and a straw boater with the front turned up, like some character from the book, Babbit.
I know the book Babbit. There was also a show in the ‘60s called F Troop. That guy had a straw hat too.
Yeah. Babbit was like The Great Gatsby with the fur coats and straw boaters turned up.
Were there a lot of people in the art scene?
Well, I wanted to go to art college because I had read that all the rock n’ roll bands in England had been art students. People used to go to art college because you could get a grant and it was a way of buying a bit of breathing space for yourself to figure it out. I did happen to like to do a bit of painting and drawing.
Do you still draw?
No. I haven’t done any for ages, but I keep threatening to go back. I bought an easel, but I haven’t done anything yet.
How did you attack writing songs?
Malcolm always encouraged us to write our own stuff. When I was just learning guitar, I had a short attention span, and when you try and learn a song, you do the first few chords and it’s easy and then it gets more complicated and you say, “Fuck that,” and you end up doing your own version. Pretty soon, you’re doing your own song, so it’s easy.
“He dragged me out and threw me in this limo that the record company had rented for us. As we drove away, this big police van turned up with all these policemen running out with all their truncheons out. We were just waving at them. They looked like the keystone cops.”
[Laughs] It’s easy.
You always say, “Oh, I’ll get back to that bit later on,” but you never do. That’s my simple version of it. If I ever buy sheet music, I always buy the Buskers cheating versions of the classic chords. I didn’t even learn the proper chords. I’d learn just enough to get by. That was the real birth of punk. It was brought on by my short attention span and not wanting to learn to play music properly. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Were you aware that you guys were onto something or were you just doing it because it felt right?
Well, it was both. I have to tell you. Malcolm’s shop was at the wrong end of King’s Road in London and there was a shop down the road called Granny Takes A Trip, which was quite famous. You had Dandie Fashions where the Rolling Stones got their clothes. Around the corner was another shop called Alkasura where Gary Glitter and all the glam rockers got their stuff. There was Chelsea’s and you’d see Brian Ferry going down the road with Anthony Price, his designer. Malcolm laughed at them, so we did too because he was our older brother. All these people were multi-millionaires, or so we thought. We thought they had lots of money, so we called them wankers, and that gave us a good common ground for having some sort of cock-assured arrogance. [Laughs] We always had that even before we had written a song. It was a good discipline.
[Laughs] That’s great. Did you think it was going to be what it was?
No. I never look past the end of the week, and I still don’t. It was all a gut feeling kind of thing. As soon as we started sticking our head above the parapet and doing little gigs, people started running around us quite quickly. The people around us were Billy Idol, Siouxsie from the Banshees, Tony James and Mick Jones. They were all people that went on to do something. They weren’t only musicians. They were big fashion designers and models. Most of those people that came to our first gigs all went on to do something of consequence, so I’m really quite proud to be one of the people that fathered that.
I was going to say that you godfathered it. You were a forerunner.
[Laughs] I was a forerunner. I was a scout.
All of a sudden, it starts happening. What was it like when it started to snowball?
Well, it kind of ticked over for a bit as people started coming around. In ‘76, we really started getting our act together and we were doing gigs and we got a little residence at this place called the 100 Club, which is still going. It’s like the CBGB’s of London. We played there once a month and then it was really taking off. By that time, Malcolm had been talking to record companies. Then we got the front cover of the Melody Maker because we did a gig and a fight broke out in the front row. It was to do with Vivienne Westwood. Somebody stole her seat while she was at the bar. Vivienne’s friends were picking on this bloke and it got a bit nasty. The thing is that when you’re doing a gig and a fight breaks out, no one watches the gig, they watch the fight, so we were trying to stop it. Someone took a picture and it looked like we were fighting with the audience, and it was on the cover. Our whole early career was peppered with bodies in a happenstance kind of thing, but it somehow swayed in our favor. It worked for us somehow and we just rolled with it. Then we got the record deal and we did a record and the record came out. Then we did this mad big primetime TV show, which went out live. Steve got loaded on a bottle of Blue Nun wine and swore his head off. The next day, instead of just being in the music papers, it was on the front page of all the national newspapers and it just became a totally different thing. It was all because we swore on live TV.