Star Scene: Glen Matlock

A key figure in the evolution of punk, Glen Matlock’s name has been indelibly printed in the annals of rock history. A founding member of the Sex Pistols and the man who was replaced by Sid Vicious, as well as one of the main songwriters on their one and only album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, Matlock rejoined the band for the Filthy Lucre reunion tour in 1996 and subsequent reunion shows in the years since then. It’s interesting that his two year stint with the Sex Pistols occupies only a small period on his musical timeline; in fact he has been the only member of the original band that has sustained a continuous career. As a session player and as a solo artist in addition to being in a multitude of bands, Matlock has never stopped to rest on his laurels.

Speaking to me down the phone line from his home in London, England, Glen is one step ahead despite being nine hours behind me – he actually asked me what myscene was, pre-empting my first question of him!

“What’s your scene today? Calling me I s’pose!” said Glen, answering his own question. When I told him I was calling him from Melbourne and it was 8pm he joked “Well they say the early bird catches the worm but I haven’t seen any worms yet. Melbourne – it’s a very nice town, looking forward to coming over in about 6 weeks or so I think I’m gonna be there.”

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A known serial collaborator, Matlock is going to be a solo flyer this Antipodean trek but his upcoming shows will be a band affair he assures us. “I’m not bringing anybody with me. I’m going to be playing with some Aussie guys – there’s a guy called Dizzy Davidson. I was there about a year ago or maybe getting onto 18 months ago now, I came over with Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats). We did a dual thing with some mates that he’d played with before and I got on really well with them. There’s a guy called Jake (Schembri) on bass, I’m playing rhythm guitar, Dizzy’s playing lead guitar and a drummer I haven’t met yet but he plays with them all the time. I trust them implicitly. You’ve probably seen I’ve played with loads of different people over the years. When you get to a certain stage and level of playing, people’s personalities transcends how well they can get ’round the guitar because that’s kind of second nature. They all play according to what they’re like as people. They all bring something different to the table and yes it keeps it fresh.”

Speaking of collaborations, I recently saw a clip of Matlock playing with a 3 piece rock and roll band called Mother’s Little Helpers, a side project of guitarist about town James Walbourne who not only is the lead guitarist in the Pretenders but is also one half of The Rails who have just put out their second album. It seems when it comes to the London music scene Glen Matlock is still very much a man about town. Thanks to the wonders of technology and social media, these impromptu collaborations are no longer confined to the patrons at the corner pub.

“Oh in that little place in Highgate?” He asks. “Yeah that was fun! Those guys – I didn’t even realize it was called that! The guys from the Pretenders right? James is a great guitarist and they all play really well. They did a little thing on a Sunday afternoon. Since they know everybody they invited people along and if you’re sitting there watching they say ‘Come and do one’ so that’s what I did. That was just for fun but the fact that you’re in Melbourne and you’ve seen it has surprised me because I didn’t know anybody filmed it. The upside and the downside of Facebook and stuff like that. That’s amazing – you can run but you can’t hide!”

London really is a small town when it comes to music and musicians. “They’re (The Pretenders) going to be in Australia pretty much the same time as I am. On Sunday I had was driving somewhere and I just happened to drive past this rehearsal place and an old mate of mine, he’s the drummer in the Pretenders, Martin Chambers was standing outside so I stopped and we compared dates and I said I’ll see you there!”

Matlock has also more recently been playing with The International Swingers, a rock outfit comprised of Clem Burke from Blondie on drums, James Stevenson (The Alarm, The Cult) on lead guitar and Gary Twinn (Supernaut) on lead vocals and guitar. “It’s something I’m not really doing. I made an album with some mates in Los Angeles maybe 2 years or more ago now. It was a little project and I played bass on it cos they were mates and that was it. It’s not really an ongoing concern for me although the record came out earlier this year. It’s pretty good but it’s not really what I’m doing. I’ve actually got a new album in the can, which is going to be coming out at the start of next year. I recorded it with Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats on drums and it’s got Earl slick on it and it’s more my kind of stuff. It’s more in keeping with what I’m going to be doing when I come to Australia.”

Matlock has played with many and varied people through the years but he always has had a distinctive style and puts his own stamp stylistically on whatever he is doing. “I’d like to think so and it’s great that you think so as well.” Responds Glen. “All the stuff that I do from whatever aspect of my checkered career, the common element to it all is that they are all pretty much songs written by me on my acoustic guitar in my living room. It’s not always been the same living room nor the same guitar but I’m on it. I think a good song can be played in many different idioms. A song is about communication and that’s the buzz for me still after all these years. Wherever you are in the world, if you play a song that you wrote last week or 40 years ago, when you see people in the audience picking up on your way of thinking and singing along and appreciating what the words are about and hopefully it kind of touches them somehow and you get some feedback from them, that’s a real buzz and that’s what keeps me going more than anything else. It’s about communication. Playing an acoustic guitar which is what I’m going to be doing at the shows, although we’ll probably do some loud ones and the band will go off and I’ll play some songs and then the band will come back on and we’ll rock it out at the end.

“You show up at a show with an acoustic, all you got to do is take it out of the case, tune it up a tiny little bit – not too much because I am supposed to be a punk rocker – and start playing and it’s very immediate. That’s why I’m not into kind of electronic music – it’s such a flaff! It takes ages and then there’s a power cut or there’s a spike in the electricity supply or the computer goes down. I’ve seen it at gigs and people are standing around looking like nitwits because they can’t do anything. Acoustic you go ‘Right come on then!’ and you get on with it. It’s all very much take your jacket off, roll your sleeves up and here we go. The more I do that, the more I kind of appreciate people like Dylan and The Boss – that kind of approach. It’s where I’m at and where I’m heading towards these days.

“When I’ve done acoustic shows more recently, my mates have come and seen me and they say ‘You know when you do this acoustic thing it’s a bit quieter and you can hear the words much better and there’s some good stuff there!’. I’ve always aspired to be somebody – not just a punk rocker, that’s kind of what I got caught up in and I’m proud that I did – but I’ve always dug people like Ray Davies and Ronnie Lane as songwriters and that’s kind of where I’m at really.”

Although most famously remembered as a bass player, bass wasn’t Matlock’s original vocation he explains. “Guitar was my first instrument. I wasn’t very good at it (bass) and I ended up playing bass just because when I was at school, somebody had a cheap one for sale and I thought I’d get it and I got it and I learnt my way around it. As soon as you’re sitting around playing bass guitar by yourself, and it was a good thing that I did, you realize that it’s a bit of a pointless exercise playing by yourself and you need to play bass with somebody else. I was on the lookout to get involved with a band and I bumped into Steve and Paul from the Pistols when I worked in Malcolm McLaren’s shop and off we jolly well went. It was just out of realizing that you can’t play bass by yourself. Immediately you’ve got some kind of social thing going on.”

Music is social and it’s about making a connection with people as both a player and a listener. “You write a song and then you play it to someone and they go ‘Oh that’s not very good!’ and you go ‘No you’re wrong it is good!’ and then you’re on a quest to convince everybody that you’ve got something worthwhile. There’s some bloody mindedness involved in that as well. I think I am on a bit of a quest. Whatever I’m known and famous for what I’ve done in the past I think what I’m doing now is a pretty good consequence and I just want to make people realize that I’m as contemporary as a lot of people who are doing something contemporary but I don’t think are quite as good. I believe in myself. So come on down and see if I’m right!”

Musically, Matlock is not one to dine out on past glories and being a singer songwriter is something that defines him just as much as being a former Sex Pistol. “It’s what I do and it’s what defines you” he explains. “I think if you’re a journalist and you don’t write anything and I think if you’re a fisherman and you don’t go fishing and I think if you’re an astronaut and you don’t go into space or you’re a musician – if you don’t do what you’re supposed to be doing then you’re full of pooh, you know?” While he’s always got new songs on the go and has just finished recording a new solo album, Matlock knows that people who come to the shows will want to hear some of the songs he wrote during the Sex Pistols era. “Sometimes I think ‘Oh do I have to play this old chestnut again?’ but when I’m doing it I’m really into it. It hopefully comes across as fresh as when it was a brand new thing.”

Thinking about the brand new, Matlock is still very much focused on forward motion and has plenty on the horizon after his upcoming Australian tour.

“I’m doing some band stuff in Australia and then I’ve got a couple of shows in New Zealand I’m looking forward to going to – I’m doing a couple of solo acoustic shows in Dunedin and then I’m going straight to New York after that. There’s a band called The Heartbreakers who made quite a seminal album called LAMF and every year they do a celebration concert. Clem Burke from Blondie is going to be the drummer and he’s asked me to go and play bass with him so I’m going to do that. There’s Walter Lure from the original band and they’ve also got a guy called Mike Ness from Social Distortion and he’ll be playing guitar so that’ll be fun.”

We both agree that Clem Burke is a great drummer. Having seen him play a few months ago here in Australia with Blondie, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down either. “He’s a good friend of mine as well. It was really funny actually, I knew he was in town but I hadn’t seen him and I was busy doing stuff and he was busy and Blondie played in Hyde Park. I though should I call him up? I thought oh it’s really late now and it will be a hassle for him and then it rained so I didn’t bother going. The next day, I went out for a walk and I was having a coffee and I had to kill a bit of time before I met somebody down at the Portobello Road. I started walking down and it was really nice then all of a sudden the heavens opened up and it was terrible rain! So I ran under an awning to get some cover and there was one other person there and it was Clem!” More proof that London really is just a small town.

Tour Dates

Friday 10th November 2017
Prince of Wales Hotel, Brisbane QLD
Saturday 11th November 2017
Airlie Beach Festival of Music, Airlie Beach QLD
Sunday 12th November 2017
Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast QLD
Wednesday 15th November 2017
Lizotte’s, Newcastle NSW


Thursday 16th November 2017
Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney NSW
Friday 17th November 2017
Enigma Bar, Adelaide SA
Saturday 18th November 2017
Yarraville Club, Melbourne VIC
Sunday 19th November 2017
Republic Bar, Hobart TAS
Friday 24th November 2017
The Tuning Fork, Auckland NZ
Saturday 25th November 2017
Valhalla Tavern, Wellington NZ

About Maryanne Window 47 Articles
Maryanne is a writer and bass player. You can find her onstage with Monique Brumby.