For the last few months, we here at Camden Live have been focusing our efforts on keeping the momentum of the music scene rolling with the Camden Live Stream. Now finally, with the relaxing of lockdown measures we’re seeing live music make a slow return to the venues which are the lifeblood of the Borough.
This Thursday sees Glen Matlock, the original (and most current) bassist of punk legends, Sex Pistols, heading back to Camden to wake up the neighbours with a socially distanced live show at The Electric Ballroom. Co-author of the classic album, Never Mind the Bollocks, since his original departure from the Pistols in ’77 Glen, not content to remain ‘that guy from the Sex Pistols’, went on to diversify significantly and carve himself an enviable niche in the world of rock and pop music. After forming a new wave, power pop band, Rich Kids with Midge Ure (yes, that Midge Ure of Ultravox), Glen went on to play all over the world sharing a stage with everyone from Iggy Pop to Primal Scream and sporting several of his own exciting line-ups along the way including The Philistines, Spectres and even a band with his Pistol’s successor, Sid Vicious called the Vicious White Kids.
In 2018, he released his first solo album ‘Good To Go’ and was expected to release a follow-up this year, until that dastardly virus scuppered all our plans. I caught up with him on a sunny Tuesday morning to chat about the upcoming gig, his new, unreleased album and punk Brexiteers…
Glen Matlock at the Electric Ballroom 10 September 2020. Photo Jeff Moh
Hi Glen, thanks for taking the time to chat. How are you doing this morning?
Very good, you caught me at a good time. I’m sat outside my local coffee place and my cappuccino is about to be delivered, so I’m all yours.
I saw you had a few dates scheduled back in March, did they go ahead?
No, I was wiped out, gigwise. I’m supposed to be in America for a big show with the Dropkick Murphys in Boston for St. Patrick’s day and doing a few solo shows around Canada and the States. Also, some UK shows which had been booked and were being added to. Then I was supposed to finish off mixing the new album I’ve made but that all bit the dust.
Have to you managed to get out and perform at all since then?
I’ve just got back from Italy. I was in Sicily on Friday night at an outdoor amphitheater on the slopes of Mount Etna, which was quite fantastic actually. It went down well, just me and my acoustic guitar. Then we’re doing this gig on Thursday, so these are my two gigs this year apart from the tour I did earlier on, sort-of end of February when we did about 10 dates around the UK.
How did this date come about?
The real bottom line is I’m mates with this guy called Chris McCormack, who’s in The Professionals. They’d been asked to do it because The Electric Ballroom have a new PA and they wanted a band to test it out. The Professionals couldn’t play for one reason or another and they asked “Do you want to do it?”. So, we’re doing it. It’s a bit of a shot in the dark really.
What are some of your memories of Camden?
Its funny, the very last time I played at The Electric Ballroom was the one-off gig I did with Sid Vicious (To have been at that gig!) and the Vicious White Kids. My mate lives in Camden and I always say to him that Camden always reminds me of that scene from Star Wars. You know, where they’re at the far end of the universe and there’s all these different kinds of creatures letting off steam. *laughs*
I do remember before The Stables was The Stables it was the classic rehearsal room, called ‘Rehearsal Rehearsals’. I practiced there with the Rich Kids. I remember I was sitting outside, nobody was there. I was waiting for somebody to turn up and it started raining. I was sitting in my old banger, playing guitar and Joe Strummer turned up, but I was working on some lyrics and I didn’t want him to see them. He looked at me and I looked at the rain, and he looked at the rain and he said to me through the window, “Glen, I don’t want to read your dopey lyrics” and I said “Alright, get in”. Ha ha!
You’ve played your fair share of gigs in sweaty, packed basement clubs. How does the idea of a “socially distanced” gig strike you?
I’m into experimentation, so we’ll see. I’ve got no idea how it’s gonna go. They’re only selling a hundred tickets and it holds about a thousand, so should be interesting. When the lights go down you can’t see how many people are there! But you gotta do something, I think. Nobody’s gonna be running around kissing everyone on the lips! You know, we’re all aware of what’s going on. And my band, we’re all getting on a little bit by now, so we’re being careful. We’ll see, really. On top of that, it’s a chance to have a play. You know, I like playing. If you’re a journalist… or whatever you call yourself and you don’t do any interviews or whatever, you’re full of shit basically. It’s the same for being a musician; if you don’t play music it’s just all talk, you know? It’s also trying to find a little bit of a way of earning a living.
Your last album was released as a solo album? How did that come about?
Well, it’s just whenever I come up with a name for a band everybody always says “Oh, it’s Glen Matlock, ex-Sex Pistols” and stick it all over it. I could never really be in a band that no one’s gonna notice, so I thought I might as well just call it Glen Matlock, really. There’s not much I can do about it. So it’s just going with the flow as far as that’s concerned. Also, you know, at my age there’s not always the same musicians around all the time, so when it’s not a band called, John, Paul, George and Ringo you can change people according to their availability. You know, like Earl’s (Earl Slick – Guitarist who’s credits include David Bowie, John Lennon, Robert Smith) is not doing this show with us, he’s back in America. But Neil X is a mate and equally as good in a different way, he’s doing the show with us this time.
So did it feel more like a solo venture than when you’re playing with The Philistines, for example?
Well they’re always my songs and I tend to call the shots. I’ll say “The songs sort of go like this and there’s bits you’ve gotta play, and there’s some other bits I’m welcome to ideas on”. I’m not too much of a little Hitler in the studio. So yeah, you invite people to play with you because you respect what they do, so you’ve also got to respect what they come up with. It’s soon become very apparent if something’s not working, but everyone tends to be on the same page. You know, I’m not playing with people where one’s a hip-hop artist and ones a french chanteur!
Has life in Lockdown been any different for you?
No, not really, it’s exactly the same. Sit outside the coffee shop, bump into people on the corner. I still keep myself to myself a little. The only difference is I’m not out playing gigs.
Have you been writing at all?
No, that’s the one thing. I was writing really heavily to get the album done which I recorded just before Christmas and until that’s out I can’t really concentrate on writing new stuff. It’s a bit of a frustration, having a body of work that nobody’s heard yet. It’s unfinished business. But you know, normally what I do, you have a load of different little experiences in life and you park them in the back of your mind. You don’t maybe write a song then but when you do pick up the guitar and start writing again, hopefully, the ideas come back to you and you can put them in some kind of context.
When do you expect the new album to be out?
The thing with putting a new album out, you’ve got to be able to tour to promote it. So this all a bit of a Catch 22 really. But you know, I’m thinking of trying to investigate some online ways of doing things. Earl stayed with me through lockdown, he got stuck over here and we did a few Facebook live things. We had quite a good reaction, just me and him. There was one of us just sitting around with a couple of acoustic guitars in the living room, and a full band thing, that’s a bit more complicated. But through doing this I might be able to find a way of doing an online thing.
How would you say the new album compares to Good to Go?
Just as good if not better! It’s a bit more rocky actually. On the last album, I went a little bit more rockabillyish because Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats) was playing drums. On this album, I’ve got a guy called Chris Musto who’s playing drums with me, an old chum who I’ve played with on and off over the years. He’s got a different way of playing and the music sort of reflects that a little bit. I’m also quite pleased that I bumped into Norman Watt-Roy from the Blockheads and I’ve got him playing on the album. I think I’m not a bad bass player, but he’s a bass player and a half! I said “You wanna come and play bass with me?”, he said “Alright then” so he did!
Was Bass your first instrument?
No, guitar was. Every song I’ve ever written, I’ve written on an acoustic guitar. I don’t claim to be a great lead guitarist, I’m not even interested in being one, but I’m not a bad rhythm guitarist and if you’re singing you can put on a better show basically. I know I’m pretty good on the bass and I’m quite happy to pick up the bass and play if somebody else is singing, if they ask me nicely. But, I can do that and I’d rather do something that’s a bit more of a challenge. But the bottom line is being able to put on a show I think, and when it goes down to bass and drums and you’re trying to get everyone to join in singing and clapping along, you can’t do that if you’re the bass player because you’ve still got to keep playing. With guitar you can just do that big crash chord and let it ring and wave your hands about and point in a rock and roll fashion. It sounds silly, but its important.
Your influences and back catalogue are a bit more diverse than your infamous punk beginning might indicate. Did I detect a little country influence on ‘Good to Go’?
Yeah, in the fact that I played acoustic as rhythm guitar on most of it, but I did that because I always liked Spiders From Mars and the rhythm guitar on that is David Bowie playing acoustic. That’s kind of where I was coming from on that.
Do you consider yourself to be a punk?
In, kind of, attitude, but I try and read between the lines. Don’t let the buggers grind you down, yes, but I’m not a carbon copy punk with a mohawk and bondage trousers, I never have been. I played music because there was lots of music that I did like. And I know punk was supposed to be a kind of clean sheet, something totally different, but there were certain things I did like and there were elements of that in the music I came up with. But when you’re playing with different people, that all changes, you know. One of the biggest things I ever did was I got to play with one of my all-time favourite bands, on the bass, The Faces. I mean, that was ten years ago now. I loved The Faces, Steve and Paul did as well, if it weren’t for them there wouldn’t have been no Sex Pistols. It’s hard to maybe make that connection if you listen to the music but it’s in there, I can see it. Steve Jones used to have Borstal Boys as his ringtone, so there you go.
You carved yourself a career in music pretty early on. What would you have done if you hadn’t picked music?
Well I was actually at St. Martin’s Art School doing a foundation course and then I got accepted to do a degree in Fine Art Painting, but in the summer holidays we decided to take the Sex Pistols seriously, so I didn’t actually go. I went in on the first day, booked a gig, which was our first Pistols gig and didn’t go. I could have been not the new Damien Hirst, I could have been the first Damien Hirst! Ha! I don’t know really, life takes you where life takes you. It’s like a summation of all the people you meet at different times. But one thing I have found in life; it’s quite good to say yes to things and put yourself in positions that are a bit outside your comfort zone.
On that note, I know you’ve played everywhere…
I haven’t actually, There’s been a great series of programs on the TV over the past few weeks, a guy called Ade Adepitan, who’s a wheelchair basketball player, a black African guy, born in London who’s been going round Africa. I’ve been to Morocco, Marakesh and Muscat but I’ve always wanted to go to Africa proper.
There’s another program on Monday nights on BBC 4, this BBC journalist who’s into art. She was doing a show about the arts in connection to politics in different places. She went to Senegal and it was very interesting. There’s a thriving music scene there and I thought “Oo, I’d like to go there.” When I went to Italy, the promoter there had not long moved back from Senegal. They have a haulage firm and they put on concerts there. So he’s invited me to go to Senegal. Things like that only happen because I took the risk of getting on the plane to go to Sicily. Whether that was a wise move we’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.
All you can do is be careful and not be stupid, but not be frightened either… maybe. Its all a calculated risk.
You also played the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea right?
Yeah, that was a couple of years back now. That was a blast. Yeah again, I bumped into someone, they sat me down and said, “We’re doing this show, would you like to come?” I said, “I’d love to”. They flew us over there and looked after us well and I met some great musicians.
In fact I met this guy called Chatar (Couldn’t find this chap, hope we spelled it right) who’s like the Paul Weller of Seoul, a kind of ‘moddy’ looking kinda bloke and he came to play guitar with me. When we started rehearsing, there was a song I wanted to do which was off the last album, called ‘Speak Too Soon’. It’s got a particular guitar part and he said ‘Glen, I’ve been thinking about this guitar. I think it needs sixties surf-punk guitar sound”. I went, “Alright, then” and he got it, he did great. It was cool.
Another time I went to something a bit like Camden Rocks Festival live in Seoul and this guy was DJing in like the Soho of Seoul and he played this record, it went “BAH BAH BAH BAH BAH BUP, BAH BAH BAH BUP BAH BUP” I went “I know that. What’s that?”, and the guitar goes “DA, dadow, dadow, dadown” and it was “Hold Tight” by Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. This is in the middle of Seoul, you know? And I thought “What the fucks going on here?” but it’s great! Just things like that are interesting.
Also about a year ago I went to Palestine…
I heard you were going to do that, I didn’t know if that had happened yet…
Yeah, I was the Guest of Honor at this showcase thing for Palestinian artists. I got up and did a few numbers with one of the bands and we had to rehearse. We went to their rehearsal place which was in a music college where kids were learning the recorder and the cello, which was above the Western Bridalwear shop in the middle of Ramallah. We had to go up the stairs and move all the gear around *chuckles* It was great, the people were lovely, but the way they get treated by the Israelis… I came back thinking that if you put people in cages you shouldn’t be surprised that they want to rattle it every now and then. It’s a very complicated issue. But I found that out by going. If you saw what goes down, its just not reported yet.
You know, at this stage in my life, maybe I don’t have a career in a burgeoning modern rock and roll band, although I think my band is quite capable of that, I get to do all these other choice things and I say yes to them.
Do you think punk, if not the music then the attitude is having a bit of a resurgence at the moment?
All round the world it’s never gone away. I get to go around all the world and there’s a small coterie of people in every country, in every town who think its the bees knees. It’s a sort of catch-all phrase for sort of slightly leftfield looking stuff. The only thing that disappoints me about punk at the moment, is that I think Brexit is a load of old nonsense but when I’ve put stuff up online, there’s a lot of old punks who come out as firmly, sort-of ‘Brexiteers’. I was gobsmacked. I don’t think it’s everybody, but it was quite a few people.
Lyrically, do you think the things you’re writing about have changed over the years?
Not really. It’s the same old shit really. Like most people, you write about things which affect you. I don’t think I’ve ever been out and out political. My most well-known song is ‘Pretty Vacant’ but it’s not really a political thing, it’s more like a primal scream. It’s born of frustration that the world around you doesn’t let you do what you want to do but you’re going to do it anyway.
Do you still feel that kind of frustration now?
Yeah, but its sort of tempered by being older and having a slightly different slant on things. There’s lots of things to rail against these days, but when you’re writing songs like “Man the barricades” and “Smash the fascists” we all know that, you know? You’ve got to be a bit clever. There’s a couple of songs on the new album, one’s called ‘Consequence is Coming’ which I see as what’s going to happen, and the other one is called ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, which I suppose is to do with Brexit. It’s like we’re being wooshed on this magic carpet ride to who-knows-where for and who-knows-why?
If you’d like to check out Glen Matlock burning in the new sound system at the Electric Ballroom, tickets are available over at electricballroom.co.uk. If you’d like to hear what Glen Matlock is up to these days and check out the best of his back catalogue, I highly recommend taking a trip over to glenmatlock.co.uk