Monday 24 April 2017

Pistols drawn for punk's glory days

John Meagher

John Meagher

He may have co-written virtually every song on it, but Glen Matlock reckons he has never listened to Never Mind the Bollocks from start to finish. It is one of the most significant albums of the 1970s and a milestone of post-war British culture, but the bassist, who quit the Sex Pistols in acrimonious circumstances just before it was recorded, has no desire to listen to it whole.

"I remember saying to Chris Spedding [producer of the Pistols' first demos], 'I can't wait to get this music home,' and he said, 'You know what, Glen - by the time we've written the song, and done the demo and played it to all your mates, and then done a recording in studio, and then recorded it again and listened to it again, and then you go in to record it properly, you'll be so sick of it, you'll never want to hear it again. And it's so true."

Matlock is in Dublin's Liberties to give a talk to students at the BIMM rock school. As an art-school alumnus, he applauds such educational institutions, not least because "they give a really good grounding in the business - and help to ensure you don't get screwed over by record companies and others, as so many have been in the past". He jokes that he could have done with such a place when he was making those first tentative steps.

The 60-year-old is engaging company and seems to enjoy talking about the Sex Pistols, despite half-hearted protestations. "For me, the music we and some others were making in the 1970s really felt revolutionary," he says. "There wasn't much happening for kids in London then and, through some extraordinary quirk of fate, we all came together through Malcolm McLaren's shop on the King's Road [soon to be renamed Sex].

"I started working there while I was still at school. I was about 16 - it was on a Saturday, beer money. It was the antithesis of everything that was supposedly going on in London: the glam rock, the hippies... Every weirdo used to come through its doors and they were all people, to a man and woman, who went on to do something - you had Siouxsie from the Banshees, Billy Idol, guys from The Clash."

Matlock would soon fall out with McLaren - music history's ultimate svengali - but there's little rancour there today. "Nah, no point in looking back and wishing you could change anything - what would that serve?" Matlock quit the band this month 40 years ago after a tumultuous year that culminated in an infamous expletive-strewn appearance on Bill Grundy's early-evening TV show. McLaren, tongue forever in cheek, suggested he had been fired because he admitted to being a fan of The Beatles; Matlock's biography, I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol, claimed he "was sick of all the bullshit", and he admitted to having had a testy relationship with Johnny Rotten.

He was replaced by the troubled Sid Vicious, but Matlock's fingerprints are all over Bollocks. And his bass playing was all over Spunk, the bootleg album that came out on the same month and is regarded by some as a superior document of the band at their peak. Not that Matlock listens to either.

"Pistols songs come on the radio and sound pretty good," he says, with a shrug of the shoulders. "To some, it's all-important and to others - well, it depends on what kind of music they're into. But it is a benchmark. Whether you like it or not, it's very accomplished. All the sounds and ideas and songwriting - it's a very strong piece of work. But it's very much of its time. Nobody would write an album like that now. We wouldn't record an album like that now."

The album was released in October 1977 and Matlock senses he will have to get used to fielding questions, on this 40th anniversary year, about his time in one of the most notorious of all punk bands. "The Pistols were such an important sociological thing that I've never been allowed to forget about," he says with a wry grin.

"It's very much a double-edge thing. I've always, first and foremost, seen myself as a musician and I've done things that have nothing to do with the Pistols. I love the Pistols and it's great when the four of us get together and play - I don't know if we'll do it again, though; it's looking unlikely. But when I'm playing with someone else, I don't want to sound like the Sex Pistols - it's not fair on the other artist. People say, 'Your work now sounds nothing like the Pistols, mate'. Um, it's not supposed to."

Matlock has had an ­eclectic ­career. He formed the power-pop, new-wave band Rich Kids with Midge Ure immediately after quitting the Pistols - they released one album, produced by ex-Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, before Ure would go on to form Ultravox. Then there was time on the road with Iggy Pop and a fruitful collaboration on his 1980 album, Soldier. "With Iggy," he recalls, "I saw a level of professionalism I'd never noticed before, especially when touring. Everything was planned out, he had a lot of roadies - nothing was left to chance."

Of late, Matlock has been part of the Heaven 17 touring band. Often, in deference to him, they play 'Pretty Vacant' and he takes the Johnny Rotten part. Few Pistols fans back in the day realised that the distinctive riff Matlock created had been inspired by Abba's 'SOS'.

Spend even a short time in Matlock's company, and his sense of modesty is apparent. "I've been lucky to work with a lot of people," he says. "People are interested in what I've done. I'm not a bad bass player. I'm reasonable on the guitar and as a songwriter.

"Bands that come afterwards look up to the Pistols. There's a sense that if you do something with them, some of it will rub off on them - but, equally, bands that went before that I was influenced by, they've asked me to do things."

He speaks like a true fan when he recalls being asked to join The Faces - "my all-time favourite group" - for a reunion tour in 2010. Most of the original members were in situ, except for Rod Stewart (Mick Hucknall took his part) and Matlock stood in for the original bassist, Ronnie Lane, who died in 1997. "That was one of the happiest times I've ever had in music."

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