Glen Matlock, English musician and former bassist with the Sex Pistols, chats with Kevin Cooper about his relationship with John Lydon, performing at the Peace Train Music Festival on the border of South and North Korea, his residency at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf and his latest album Good To Go.

Glen Matlock is an English musician best known for being the bass guitarist in the original line-up of the punk rock band the Sex Pistols. He is officially credited as being a co-author on ten of the twelve songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, although this has always been a contentious issue.

He left the band in February 1977, before the album was released; citing the reason for doing so was that he was “sick of all the bullshit”. In the 2000 documentary The Filth And The Fury, the band members generally agreed that there was tension between Matlock and Rotten, which Matlock suggests was exacerbated by Malcolm McLaren’s attempts to pit the two men against each other. Matlock was replaced by Sid Vicious, and went on to form Rich Kids, a new wave power pop band, with himself as bass guitarist and singer, Midge Ure (guitarist, singer and keyboard player), Steve New (guitarist and singer) and Rusty Egan (drummer).

After the Rich Kids he formed the Spectres with Tom Robinson Band guitarist Danny Kustow, and subsequently Mick Hanson, and then Hot Club in 1982 with guitarist James Stevenson and singer Steve Allen.

Matlock rejoined the original Sex Pistols members for reunion tours in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008. He played bass guitar and sang for a time in the bands The Philistines and The Flying Padovanis. He toured with a loose collective of punk and post-punk stars, Dead Men Walking, which included Mike Peters of The Alarm, Kirk Brandon of Theatre Of Hate and Spear Of Destiny, and Pete Wylie of Wah! He is now a member of Slinky Vagabond with Earl Slick, Clem Burke, and Keanan Duffty.

Whilst busy preparing for his residency at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf and the release of his latest album, he took some time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Glen how are you?

Hello Kevin I’m doing okay thanks, how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure as always.

And just how is life treating you?

Life at the moment I have to say is pretty good. I am pretty busy gearing up to getting the record out finally. It has taken me quite a while but it’s all good to go finally. I have been doing loads of press and interviews relating to that. I have been travelling and gigging and so yes, everything is great at this moment in time. And now here I am drinking cappuccino and talking to you so things couldn’t really be any better.

You and I last spoke in July 2016 when you were about to embark on your acoustic tour together with readings from your book I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. I have to ask you did you enjoy the experience?

Yes I did. In fact I have been doing it on and off for quite a while now and I really do like it. I have found that the audiences like it too because they get to see the bare infancy of what I used to get up to with the Sex Pistols. I really did enjoy it. I’m not the only person who does it, I mean Ray Davies of The Kinks has been doing it for years. It’s not like I invented strumming the acoustic guitar (laughter). Like I say to people I do lots of things but at the end of the day all that I really do is play music in some shape or form.

I have to tell you that I recently interviewed John (Lydon) and I asked him if he had any regrets, to which he replied that he wished that he had treated you better and had tried harder to get along with you.

Well there you go. What can I say to that (laughter)? I don’t dislike John but what I will say is that he can be a very prickly character. The persona that you see on stage isn’t necessarily the same guy that you want to sit next to in the back of a transit van full of equipment. It has taken them a hell of a lot of time to realise that everyone in the band played an equal part in getting them to where they got. I personally feel that they shot themselves in the foot and my position simply became untenable. To be honest with you I like to live in the present, keep an eye on the future with a nod to the past.

Before we move on I have to ask you about the Rich Kids reunion for the one-off gig which finally took place at the O2 in Islington. How did it go?

I have to say that it really was a great night. As you say we finally ended up playing at the O2 in Islington simply because the roof had fallen in at the Shepherds Bush Empire and was taking ages to fix. It was a great night but the saddest thing was that poor old Steve New had passed away back in 2010. The good thing was that Gary Kemp took over Steve’s duties and I have to say that he did a bloody good job. I really do like Gary, he is an accomplished guitar player. During the course of the evening Gary came over to me and said “do you know what Glen, me doing this must be what it was like when you played with The Faces”. Gary is a big Sex Pistols fan and it was a buzz for him to do it.

Coming right up to date, did I read that you have recently been performing on a train between North and South Korea?

Yes that’s right. Last week I went over to Korea and I played at the Peace Train Music Festival right below the border of North Korea. The festival had been organised by Glastonbury Festival promoter Martin Elbourne in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. I have to say that Korea is a fantastic place, the people are fantastic and I saw a great punk band called Crying Nut from South Korea. They played a few of my songs and I played a few of theirs. It is all about keeping up the pressure and world awareness of the dire straits that they have found themselves in recently. There was also a proper festival around fifteen minutes drive further South in a fantastic location on the banks of the Han Han river.

I saw people on there white water rafting, and to be honest I found the whole experience surreal. It was a new festival which they are trying really hard to make into a yearly event. They are trying to build up an awareness to the current situation in Korea through their music. When I arrived I was met at the station by the Mayor of Seoul who is hotly tipped to be the next President of South Korea. He greeted me with “welcome to Seoul station which hopefully in a few years’ time will be an international station” and I sat there thinking ‘how’s that going to work’ (laughter). Then he explained to me how the existing train line which is currently broken because the border between North and South Korea is in the way, originally went all the way to Moscow and then over to Berlin.

So one day soon they are hoping that it will go directly to London. I thought ‘not at the moment with Brexit mate’ but I thought that it best if I kept that to myself (laughter). It won’t work at the moment because North Korea is in the way. Bringing down the borders would be a very symbolic thing but it would also link South Korea by train to the rest of the world which can only be a good thing for humanity and the people who collect train miles rather than air miles (laughter). It was all light hearted and we went to a massive bombed out building on the boarder which was the headquarters of the Communist / Labour Party in North Korea. It was hard to believe that tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed within those walls. There was a very moving dance troupe performing there. It was very well done and it was very moving but I don’t agree with things like that. It’s not for me.

Directly opposite is a car park and in there is the road that goes through the barbed wire and the gates which takes you up to the demilitarised zone, which takes you to the border. There you have to show your passport and get searched, even though you are still in South Korea. But what I found slightly amusing was that directly opposite that there was a really good farmers market. It was all a bit bizarre really (laughter). But I have to say that I like things like that because until you go and see it you just don’t know. There is a really good spirit about the people and they all seem to have an upbeat approach to things. I saw a lot of things that I would not normally see when I am picked up at the airport and whisked away to do my gig. I like understanding what is going on.

And didn’t you have Newton Faulkner for company on the train?

Yes that’s right, Newton was there at the same time as me, and he played on the train too. He seems like a nice enough bloke, and he played a quite interesting version of Bohemian Rhapsody and if you like that kind of thing you could say that it’s brilliant (laughter). However, to me Bohemian Rhapsody is one down from Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) by Benny Hill (laughter). Let’s just say that he is a lovely bloke and he did it very well.

Right let’s talk about your new album Good To Go.

Please do because it’s about time that it was good to go because it has been hanging around for a very long time (laughter). It’s finally coming out and it’s like me, I’m always good to go; I don’t even bother unpacking my suitcase these days. I’ve got my suitcase, I’ve got my guitar and there you go, I’m good to go (laughter).

Well I have been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a great piece of work.

Ah that’s great, what have you heard, have you managed to hear the whole album?

Yes I have, I got a copy of the whole album.

Okay that’s good.

Now that it is finally set for release, are you happy with it?

I think so (laughter) I bloody well should be by now (laughter). What I did because it has taken a while to come out, I replaced a couple of the songs on it which I thought didn’t quite cut it as much as some of the newer songs on there. You always think that the later songs are the best thing since sliced bread. I had a couple of old mates playing on the album with me; Chris Spedding plays the guitar on a track, and he really is fantastic, Earl Slick who is best known for his work with David Bowie, and Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats are on there too. I think that this album fits together quite well and is quite a big departure for me especially the cover of the Scott Walker song Montague Terrace which features Slim Jim on kettle drums which we found hidden away in the studio (laughter).

Jim had just broken one of his drumsticks and right at that very moment I started to play Montague Terrace to fill in whilst he got himself some new sticks. Earl said “what on earth is that” and I said “it’s a Scott Walker song” and he said “we should do that man” (laughter). I could see that the studio was pretty well equipped with old amplifiers together with lots of other bits and pieces lying around plus Jim had found the kettle drums. So I just looked at them and said “come on then” (laughter). Kettle drums are not the sort of thing that you have lying around even if you have got the biggest house in the world. You don’t tend to have a pair of Timpani knocking around.

As I was listening to the album I wrote Skiffle meets Rockabilly. Would you agree with that?

I’m glad you said that because I would say that it is Loud Skiffle. What the younger audience will call it I simply don’t know. To me the best music is a simple song played well with the right trousers, the right attitude together with the right amount of grease in your hair.

At the moment I have got four go to tracks on the album. They are Won’t Put The Brakes On Me, Speak Too Soon, Montague Terrace and Couldn’t Give A Damn. I think they are fantastic.

That’s cool. I am so pleased that you have said that. I have to be honest with you and say that at this moment in time I really don’t know which tracks will make it as singles. A lot of people are telling me that they like Sexy Beast which is a foreign kind of track and is my Shakin’ Stevens side coming out I suppose (laughter). Earls playing on that track is fantastic; he just peeled it off. He said “shall I do it again” and I said “no, that will do” (laughter). It was that good. It’s great for me to be able to play with somebody like him because when I play the guitar I tend to play over everything but when Earl plays he automatically tends to fill in the gaps between the singing, which really is so important. He really is a magician to watch.

Please don’t take this the wrong way but whenever I listen to Speak Too Soon it automatically conjures up thoughts of a Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack.

Okay, that’s kind of fine. To be honest with you Speak Too Soon is one of my favourite songs on the album so I can take that. I wrote and recorded that track whilst I was over in Korea because I thought that lyrically things were changing but let’s not speak to soon. It’s an upbeat kind of song and to me, it has got a bit of Spanish Harlem going on. But the guy who played the guitar on that track said exactly that, he said “I can hear a kind of Surf’s Up guitar sound in that song” which is exactly what you said about the Quentin Tarantino Movie soundtrack thing so yes, it’s cool. I love Earl’s playing on that particular song, it really is a nice tune.

You are reported as saying that the album was finished two years ago. If that is the case then why has it taken so long to get it released?

It has taken so long because I will be sixty-two this year and I used to be a Punk Rocker who is no longer playing Punk Rock plus all the shit that is currently going on in the record business. Put all of those things together and suddenly everything conspires against you. But I’m going to do it anyway, so it is finally coming out. I think that people will either love it or they will hate it. Let’s just hope that more people love it than hate it. It’s hard nowadays to get everything together when you haven’t got a massive record company behind you which we haven’t. But you just have to get your head down and get all of your ducks in a row.

The last album that I made was called Born Running and I honestly thought that it was a really good record and I was really proud of it. It was a bit more of a Punky album, and I believe that if Green Day had come out with it then it would have been acclaimed everywhere but it simply got lost. It’s one thing people knowing about something then hearing it and they don’t like it but it’s another thing when people don’t hear about it, don’t hear it and don’t know that you have had it out. About six months ago I did a gig somewhere and this bloke came up to me and said “I’ve got your last album, it’s really great. Why didn’t it do anything” and you just have to take that on the chin.

He said “I’ve got it in my cab and I play it every day”. So I said to him “you must be a cab driver then” and he said “no I’m a lorry driver and I have got a fleet of half a dozen lorries and I have bought one copy of your album to put into each cab for each of my drivers because I think that it’s great driving music” (laughter). Don’t get me wrong it was nice but I would much rather have had a million drivers doing that (laughter).

Once the album is out there, will you undertake a UK tour to promote it?

I want to. However, it is down to the amount of people who actually go out and buy the album, just because they have played it once doesn’t mean that they will play it twice. I’m proud of the record, I think that it is interesting, especially interesting to come out with an album like that from a bloke like me so yes, I would love to tour with it.

After all of this time in the record business, does touring still excite you?

To be honest with you, I don’t know anymore. Last November I went down to Australia for the first time ever, then over to New Zealand, and then back up to America where I did something with Clem which was with The Heartbreakers as a tribute to their 1977 L.A.M.F. album. After that I came back home and then I realised that I had actually circumnavigated the world. When I landed at Heathrow I felt like Sir Francis Drake (laughter). I remember landing in Hong Kong at six o’clock in the morning, and I had five hours to wait for my onward flight to Adelaide. And I just stood there and thought ‘why on earth am I doing this at sixty-one’.

It was winter in England and when I finally landed in Adelaide it was thirty degrees and I suddenly thought ‘oh yes I remember’ (laughter). The gigs are not that massive but they are fun things and I get to see how the other half of the world lives. I feel very privileged to be in a position to do that.

I honestly think that the England to Australia direct flight does take quite a lot out of you.

It does but it all depends upon where you are sitting.

Well I am usually right at the back in Cattle Class (laughter).

(Laughter) well let’s just say that I’m not at the very front and I am not at the very back.

A lot of people are finally waking up to the fact of just how important Skiffle was in the development of music. An interesting read on the subject is Billy Bragg’s book Roots, Radicals And Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World. He even points out that Lonnie Donegan was the first UK artist to have a number one record featuring an electric guitar.

Okay well there you go. I know that Lonnie is very well respected and people like Van Morrison are still singing his praises. Good old Lonnie Donegan. It’s all down to Lonnie that we all know where our Tigers head is. Do you know where that is?

Four feet from its tail (laughter).

There you go (laughter). You didn’t even have to think about that did you (laughter).

I was fortunate to interview Lonnie’s son Peter last year and I asked him if Lonnie ever regretted recording the likes of Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?) or My Old Man’s A Dustman, his comedy songs let’s say. He told me that yes, Lonnie regretted it right up to the day that he passed away simply because people never took him seriously after that.

Yes that’s right, and being honest I suppose that I wouldn’t have heard of him if it hadn’t have been for those songs. So now you know how I feel being a Sex Pistol (laughter). It’s funny that just what brings you to people’s attention, isn’t necessarily your best work. I love the quote by John Lennon when he said “life is what happens whilst you are busy making other plans”. I personally like all kinds of music, and I like anything that is done really well. Whenever you are touring and you turn up at a gig and you have to set up your gear, you have to do the sound check and then you find that the bass player’s amplifier doesn’t work and so you just have to sit there.

However, whenever I play an acoustic show, I just turn up with my guitar, take it out of the case, make sure that the tuning pegs are facing in the same direction, and off you go (laughter). It’s immediate, just like that. Don’t get me wrong I really do like playing with a band. Variety is the spice of life as they say (laughter).

On the subject of playing with a full band, I understand that you have got a five night residency coming up at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf starting on Monday 30th July. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes I am, I really am. Boisdale is a pretty cool club and I would liken it to an old American Blues kind of club. They have had the likes of Jools Holland and His Big Band playing there. Driving in London, as I’m sure that you know, is a right pain in the arse so what I am going to do is drive down there the first night, drop my gear off at the club, then the following night I am going to go in on the tube. Plus now that I am over sixty I have got a free Oyster card (laughter). So I will be making money hand over fist (laughter). It should be really good. I will have my old mate Chris Musto on the drums and Chris has now been a permanent member of The Philistines for the past six years or so.

I’ve got Jim Lowe playing bass and let me tell you Jim is a very good bass player. He is also a producer in his own right and he producers all of the Stereophonics stuff. And Earl Slick is coming over from the States. So all in all it should be really good.

You have mentioned Earl, is it good fun when Slim Jim, Earl and yourself get together?

Yes it is. I’ve not known Earl for that long but I have done a few things with him and Clem (Burke). We always used to use the same recording studios, Upstate Studios in New York which is a residential studio situated in the Hudson Valley and is about an hour and a quarter from New York by train. Slim Jim lives in Los Angeles, I live in London, and so we tried to find somewhere that was an equal distant between the two of us and Earl lives just around the corner so he suggested the place. When we were setting up in the studio Earl said “what key is this song in” and I said “I think this one is in B” and he got his Cacko guitar tuner out of his pocket. I looked at him and said “oi hang on a minute, that’s cheating” and Earl just smiled at me and said “okay wise guy” (laughter). We gee each other up when we have to.

I so pleased that you have mentioned Clem (Burke) because whilst I have no intention of embarrassing you I would just like to read you a quote from a recent interview that I had with Clem. This is what he had to say about you when I told him that I was going to be interviewing you. He said “playing with Glen really does bring you back to the reason why you became a musician and why you started a band. It brings home the comradery, the friendship, the creative give and take, the spontaneity of performance; it all comes into play and solidifies your relationship and friendship. Glen is a great guy and he is a great songwriter.”

What can I say; I’ve gone all soft inside now. He must be after something (laughter). I bet he’s coming over here soon and wants me to put him up again. In my flat in Maida Vale in London there is a spare room which is home to two American Rock and Roll drummers. Either Slim is staying there or Clem is staying there.

Are there any thoughts on a follow up album?

Not directly but I have always got a few song ideas on the go let’s say. At the moment I have got seven or eight things that I think are pretty good. It’s just down to me making the choice of which direction I go in next but your direction normally comes from who you end up playing with. To me there is nothing like a deadline, you tend to have all of these song ideas but you don’t necessarily finish them until you have done the take and then you need the lyrics for half of the second verse and the third verse which sums it all up. It’s at that point you think ’bugger, I’ve got to get all of this done now’ (laughter). At least that is how it tends to work with me (laughter).

So yes, I have always got a few half ideas knocking around. I always record more tracks than I need and then listen to see which sound the most cohesive and the best. The last time that we were in the studio we recorded a cover version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy which is my take on The Pretty Things recording it (laughter). That all came about when I played at the Rebellion Festival a couple of years ago now and I thought ‘how can I wind the Punks up’ and that song had been released around that time so we opened the set with it. The look on the Punk’s faces was absolutely fantastic. However, they were all singing it by the time that we got to the last chorus (laughter).

I personally think that it’s a great interpretation and it just rocks the boat slightly.

Yes it does, just enough to keep people guessing, which is always my yardstick. We also perform a great version of David Bowie’s John I’m Only Dancing so I hope that will get the same reaction as Happy did whenever we play it live in the coming months (laughter).

In September 2017 you were presented with the Legendary Songwriter Award by Jools Holland at the Boisdale Music Awards. How did that make you feel?

That was quite nice if I am being honest with you. What was nice about it was that they asked me to get up and play a song so I did Pretty Vacant. What I didn’t know was that I would be playing with the house band, Jools Holland and Paul Jones from Manfred Mann who I think is fantastic. He is a great Blues harmonica player. It’s Paul playing on the old Manfred Mann hit which was, as I am sure that you will know, the theme tune to Ready Steady Go! Back in the day as they say (laughter). So everyone is taking a solo spot and Paul looks at me and told me that it was my turn to do a guitar solo. Well I can’t play a guitar solo to save my life so I shouted out “I’m a bleeding bass player” and he just laughed and played another harmonica solo.

He used to have a really good radio show on BBC Radio 2; The Blues Show With Paul Jones, until they decided to kick him off the radio for being too old. Paul had been hosting that show for thirty-two years until the BBC in their infinite wisdom replaced him with Cerys Matthew the singer from the Welsh band Catatonia. She hasn’t got a clue about the Blues, not like Paul had. That’s why I like playing in the States and around the world really, they like what it is that you are doing now as opposed to what you did years ago. The UK has always been ageist towards people in the music business but in the words of the Sex Pistols, they can all go and bollocks because I am going to do it anyway (laughter).

Glen on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been great. Take care and I will see you at one of the gigs.

Thanks Kevin, I am so glad that you like the record and as I say, keep playing it. Please do make sure that you come and say hi whenever you get to one of the shows. You take care and bye for now.