Glen Matlock can look back without anger on his most famous band, writes David Pollock
‘I was a teenage Sex Pistol,” says Glen Matlock, a note of unmistakable pride in his voice, “but it was a long time ago and there’s been a lot of other stuff since then.” It’s the blessing and the curse, you suspect, of a musician who becomes (in)famous in their youth and then finds the notoriety of their former band snowballing in the decades after – nobody wants to talk about everything else you’ve done. And Matlock has done a lot.
His past four decades in music will form the centrepiece of Matlock’s Edinburgh Fringe show, which will take the form of part spoken word retrospective, part acoustic revisitation of his greatest hits and influences. “My show’s like a wedding,” says the 57-year-old born-and-bred Londoner with a touch of sarcasm, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. I’d say it’s toe-tapping tunes to cater for all tastes.”
As far as the public are concerned, Matlock’s story began in 1974 at Malcolm McLaren’s clothing shop on the King’s Road, a “Teddy boy shop that became the epicentre of punk” when it was renamed Sex. “I ended up working there, John (Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten) would hang out, Steve (Jones) and Paul (Cook) would come in and nick stuff and it was my job to stop them,” he says. “We got talking and I found out they had a band. I happened to have a bass guitar so I told them I could play – I couldn’t, I was lying, but they gave me the gig. We all met through being in the right place at the right time.”
For many years the band’s late manager McLaren would declare that he engineered their entire career, although Lydon in particular refutes this. Matlock said it was a “symbiotic” relationship. “He was a hip guy,” he says. “I used to look up the number of the tailor in his address book and some of the names in there, editor of this, editor of that – The Rocky Horror Show, he was big mates with the guy who did that, (Richard) O’Brien. I was still at school, so it was a bit of an eye-opener. I thought, I’m in a good spot with him.”
Retrospectively he says the Pistols’ formation was like the beginning of the Blues Brothers, except they “were on a mission to stir things up a bit” rather than a mission from God. “We were in the hippest place in town and we knew what was and wasn’t going on. We knew what we didn’t want to do, we did something regardless, and it turned out to be what everyone else was looking for.”
As bassist and co-songwriter, Matlock sat at the eye of this particular storm through national notoriety until he was whisked away and replaced by Sid Vicious.
Reports vary on why this was. Matlock has said he left himself. An apocryphal story has it that he was sacked for “liking the Beatles”, but ask him the question and he discusses Lydon. It’s no secret the pair didn’t get on. “I thought John changed as soon as he got his boat race in the papers,” Matlock says now. “He became a bit of a pop star and that wasn’t what it was about, but he’s done some great stuff and good luck to him.”
The years since he left the Pistols in 1977 have hardly been a wilderness. He formed new wave group The Rich Kids with Midge Ure, played on records by The Damned and Iggy Pop, has fronted his own band The Philistines for a decade, played in punk supergroup Dead Men Walking and more recently has appeared live with Primal Scream and The Faces.
All this and more will come out at his show. “People paint me as a bass player and I’m not bad at it,” he says, “but I see it as being a bit like a plumber, it’s a trade. My art is being a songwriter. When you do a show and people connect with a song that was a figment of your imagination 35 years ago, it’s a real big buzz, you know? That’s what spurs me on.”
Glen Matlock: I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol, Assembly George Square Gardens, 7.30pm, Thursday until 6 August, more info
Originally published in Scotland on Sunday