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As the godfathers of British punk, The Sex Pistols started a musical revolution – outraging a whole generation while they were at it. The four young Londoners, who formed the band under their Svengali-like manager Malcolm McLaren, looked genuinely shocking: their outfits held together by safety pins and singer Johnny Rotten’s spiky hair a sickly orange colour.
With a confrontational sneer rarely off their faces, Rotten, bassist/songwriter Glen Matlock, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook caused headlines every day, whether for blurting out the F-word to presenter Bill Grundy on early evening ITV in 1976 or for their concerts being cancelled by promoters fearful of rioting fans.
Yet beneath all the hysteria, The Sex Pistols created memorable, anti-Establishment anthems such as Pretty Vacant, Anarchy In The UK and – released to coincide with the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977 – the insurrectionary God Save The Queen.
They lasted for just one album, the chart-topping Never Mind The Bollocks. Bassist Matlock didn’t even make it to the end of that album, leaving during its recording, to be replaced by the doomed Sid Vicious.
Nearly 50 years on, The Sex Pistols’ name can still cause tremors of disturbance and anger. Since their split, they have reformed for three lucrative greatest hits tours, most recently in 2007.
While Rotten now outrages social media with vocal support for Donald Trump and Brexit, former bandmate Matlock has stayed a Left-winger, a passionate Remainer who continues to confront those in power.
Matlock even faced up to Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove recently, when he spotted the former Brexit Minister at a Millwall game. The bassist, who was supporting his beloved Queens Park Rangers with his son Louis, tells the Daily Express: “Two rows below me, I saw Michael Gove. I don’t know how he dares leave the house.
“Louis told me ‘I’ve got to say something’. We went down the steps, and Louis had a right go at Gove, saying he was a disgrace.”
Matlock senior explains how the politician then looked towards him, hoping he might offer “some sort of moral back-up”.
He continues: “But I told him: ‘You’ve picked on the wrong guy. I’m that lad’s father, and your stupid Brexit has queered the pitch for the music industry.
“What are you going to do about it?’ Gove claimed, ‘It’s being sorted out for musicians, you’ll find out on Monday.’
“Of course, that Monday there was an announcement that meant nothing.”
Perhaps it is no surprise Matlock’s infectious new single is called Head On A Stick, with a solo album following in April called Consequences Coming.
However, he insists both titles are metaphorical.
Yet a difference of opinion when it comes to politics is one reason Matlock and Rotten – who reverted to his real name, John Lydon, when The Sex Pistols split in 1978 – have remained estranged since the Pistols’ last tour. They haven’t spoken since the band’s final concert, at Spanish festival Azkena in September 2008.
Matlock reveals: “That’s probably the last gig The Sex Pistols will ever do.”
Asked how he feels about Lydon’s politics, Matlock smiles: “I’m underwhelmed. But it maybe explains what I felt about John a long time ago. I’ve never found him that sincere.”
Matlock, 66, is still in touch with his other two bandmates, Jones and Cook, and made a guest appearance with the drummer’s new outfit, The Professionals, at a London show last December.
Asked whether The Sex Pistols might have remained together longer, he responds: “I’m not a violent man, but maybe a right hook at the right time isn’t the wrong thing.
“But I think we could behave in a more grown-up way now. We all used to tap-dance around each other a bit. We wouldn’t say what was on our mind, and resentments festered.”
The bassist is conciliatory when the subject of Lydon’s wife Nora, who has Alzheimer’s disease, is raised. Her condition is addressed in new single Hawaii by Lydon’s current band, Public Image Ltd, with which they attempted to represent Ireland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Matlock himself helped care for his father, Stan, before he died from the same condition.
“What Nora is going through is very sad,” reflects Matlock. “She’s a lovely woman. My dad died of late-onset Alzheimer’s and depression. That’s a sobering thing to have to put on the death certificate. It’s a nasty, insidious disease, which takes away people’s souls. Trying to cope with somebody who doesn’t know what’s going on is horrible.”
Matlock’s father, a car factory worker, helped instil his son’s interest in politics when the family lived in a two-up, two-down home in Kensal Green, west London.
Matlock recalls: “John has said my family was middle-class, but that’s just b******s. When I was 11, Dad came home in a bad mood, telling me he’d just been made a shop steward. I thought that sounded great and must mean Dad was popular, but he said: ‘No, it’s trouble. You’ll see.’
“A month later, there were compulsory redundancies and the shop stewards were all first to be laid off. Dad was out of work for ages, then he had two menial jobs on the go, working such long hours that I didn’t see him for a year and a half.
“That sowed the seeds of my politics. I believe in share and share alike.”
The young Matlock started The Sex Pistols when he worked at McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood’s influential punk clothes boutique, SEX, at 430 King’s Road, Chelsea.
He remembers the band’s early days being the most fun: “It was hilarious when we were on the front of Melody Maker magazine for supposedly fighting with the audience. In reality, we were trying to break fights up, because there’s nothing worse for a band than fights, as nobody watches the stage.
“The Anarchy tour, when shows were getting cancelled, was an interesting experience, but it was like we were living in a goldfish bowl by then. It’s when we started rubbing up against each other. Steve says that’s when it went wrong. Maybe he’s right.”
Matlock plays down the Pistols’ influence on music, reasoning: “People tell me The Sex Pistols changed everything overnight, but it wasn’t like that. Music is a baton race. You take things from the people before you, and hand the baton over to the people who are coming behind you.”
After leaving The Sex Pistols, Matlock formed Rich Kids with future Ultravox singer Midge Ure. Since then, he has played with everyone from hip rockers Primal Scream to reunion shows with his own particular heroes, The Faces. As soon as his new solo album Consequences Coming is released, he will tour with the Pistols’ US contemporaries, Blondie.
He initially joined the New York band last year after bassist Leigh Foxx suffered a back injury. Matlock is good friends with Blondie’s drummer, Clem Burke, and he first met the lead singer Debbie Harry in 1979, in New York.
“I was playing with Iggy Pop’s band at a show on Halloween, back when Halloween didn’t mean anything in Britain,” he remembers. “I was amazed that all 4,000 people in the crowd were dressed in Halloween gear. Then I went backstage, where Debbie was dressed as a witch and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. She’s lovely, Debbie, and Blondie are a class act.”
Burke plays on Consequences Coming, alongside David Bowie’s guitarist Earl Slick. And Matlock is confident consequences are coming for the current Government, saying: “People are beginning to wise up to what’s been done to them. There was a soft Right-wing coup by a bunch of people at Eton, who decided to take over the country for a jolly wheeze.”
It’s a statement typical of a musician who still has the passion that originally got The Sex Pistols into so much trouble. If it’s a different viewpoint to their lead singer, Matlock insists he and Lydon aren’t total opposites.
“You can’t be involved in something like The Sex Pistols and not have some common ground,” he adds. “If we ever did anything again, we’d have something in common that nobody else in the world has. We’d plug in, start playing, and we’d still be The Sex Pistols.
“John has said: ‘Glen and I might not be the best of friends, but we’re not the worst of enemies.’ That’s fair. Me and John can agree on that.”
- Glen Matlock’s new single Head On A Stick is out now, followed by his album Consequences Coming on April 28
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