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Glen Matlock
in conversation with Phil Singleton

1st October 2006

October 2006 sees the publication of an updated edition of Glen's biography of his time as a Sex Pistol.
I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol was the first ever book to give a true insider's view of the rise of the Pistols. The new edition includes substantial additional material and insight covering the reformation in 1996, and the subsequent shows in 2002 and 2003. With such an essential publication back on the shelves, it seemed the ideal time to have a further chat with Glen.

Phil: If we start off by turning the clock back to when you first put the book out, what made you decide at that particular time to put pen to paper and tell your side of the story of the Sex Pistols?

Glen: It was suggested to me by somebody. I wasn't in a mad rush to do it at the time but when I started doing it I did find it rather cathartic. There was a lot of things in the back of my mind about the way it all split up, and at that time, it was prior to us reforming and building some bridges again, and I felt better for getting it out.

It was funny because I did it with Pete Silverton, who was an old friend of mine who used to be a journalist with Sounds, and he was on the Anarchy Tour. We did it as a series of interviews in a rose garden in Regents Park! He transcribed it all and we sat down and pieced together the bits we thought were good. Pete was good because he'd pick a subject and I'd answer it, and he'd say, "What did so and so think about that?", and then we'd start thinking about the stories behind the stories. We tried to keep it in some kind of chronological order. I was quite pleased with the book, because not only is it a potted history of my time in the Sex Pistols, it also shows what was going on in London at the time and what led to it. There was quite a sociological aspect to it, just growing up in London in the 60s, which hadn't really been touched upon in any other punk books I'd seen. These other punk books said it had been an overnight sensation, and it certainly wasn't like that.

When you originally wrote it, did you think that it would help mend fences, or did a part of you think "what the hell"?

Part of the reason for doing it was that I'd kind've been in an odd position all my career life, where no one had blown my trumpet for me, and I'd done so much for the Sex Pistols, which up until then had never been appreciated. I thought if no one's going to blow my trumpet I might as well do it myself. There had been so much bullshit written about the band, especially in the wake of movies like the Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, with McLaren saying this, that and the other, and even he didn't know what was going on all the time. He wasn't party to the whole song writing process.

When the book first came out it got a lot of good reviews. That must have been quite heartening, because up until then the press hadn't always been favourable.

At one stage I used to dread opening up music papers because someone was normally having a go at me. Maybe it was the frame of mind I was in at the time, but I knew I'd written the best part of those first three songs that had built the Sex Pistols career and kicked off the whole punk movement. To be then decried by all and sundry gets on your back a little bit. I'm not by nature a miserable sod but it can get you down. So, it was good to get all that out of the system and to give some of the background and how things were.

In some ways I wonder if the book was the cornerstone to what eventually led to the reformation. I'm thinking in the way in which you did begin to get back the rightful credit, which I think started with the book coming out.

Yeah, hopefully, but I don't think me writing the book led to us reforming at all…although maybe in a very roundabout way.

It was the point at which you began to be given your proper recognition, which although the band reforming was a long way off …

I think, as I go on to explain with the new stuff I've written in the book, maybe if I hadn't got it out of my system, then maybe when I went to America in '95 I wouldn't have bothered to take the trouble to look up Steve. So in a very spurious way, it probably did lead to it. Perhaps.

When you came to the new edition of the book, were you tempted to tinker with the original?

I was. In the foreward I write that I sat long and hard and made a decision not to. The original story was the story, and to change it would be disingenuous. But also, when I wrote it, it was a lot closer to 1977. I can't remember exactly when it did come out; the late 80s or early 90s?

It came out in 1990, I think.

1990 was 13 years after 1977 and now in 2006 it's 30 years, so just remembering it could put the truth in jeopardy, so I thought, "No, I'll leave it as it is." I think the book stands up. The one thing I got to do through the whole book was putting down the lie. I think most books, especially John's book, is very partisan. Not that I have read it from cover to cover, but I've flicked through it and from what I have read in it, it's quite lenient with the actualities.

When the book first came out I was expecting you to lambast the other parties at bit more that you did, but you still seemed to retain a fondness for your time in the Sex Pistols, and you finished the book by saying "we were a great band", or words to that effect. That surprised me a little, the fact you were positive.

For me the Sex Pistols were always a double-edged sword. You give with one hand and take away with the other, but you can't negate the importance of the band, so I don't. I've a fondness for that. But also I feel I've been ripped off and since the Filthy Lucre Tour I've been clawing it back in one way or the other.

In terms of new material in your new edition - I've done a word count - it comes in at over 17,000 words, which is one almighty chunk of material, and makes it vital even if you have the old one. Why release it now, at this stage?

When I do gigs around the country, I see so many people come up with dog-eared copies I thought they'd buy it again anyway (laughing). No, it's quite obvious really; it's 30 years of punk. I get cheesed off when I walk into a book store and I wonder if they've got my book and they haven't, but they've got all these other books on punk rock by people who had nothing to do with it ever, all these cash-in books, and it's quite galling to be honest. The only book they've got by any member of the band is John's, and I don't think it's very truthful, it's very one sided. And I'd just like to see my book on the shelves again.

There's a very good book by Ian Hunter, called Diary of A Rock 'n' Roll Star. It's a tale about what goes on, on the road, according to what the band is and the characters within it. I certainly took that as a kind of yardstick. And in more recent years, one of my all-time favourite rock books is Ian McLagan's book, All The Rage, which is very well written. That gave me more grist to the mill to sit down and write it myself this time. I think the reason I didn't do it first time around was due to confidence. I'm a different person than when I first wrote it.

It is also written with a confidence in saying what you feel you need to say.

Yes, confidence in two things. A confidence in both my ability to write and confidence in my ability to say the bass player of the Sex Pistols has had the last laugh.

We won't spoil if for people who are going to buy it, but in the section in which you go into considerable detail about the Filthy Lucre Tour, one of the most interesting parts is how it all came together. From the Filthy Lucre period can you pick out any particular memory that stands out?

The biggest thing about the Filthy Lucre was doing the Finsbury Park show. We'd done a couple of shows where it had been a bit hit or miss. We'd done a load of rehearsing, then we'd done the first gig in Finland where we might as well not have been there as everyone was off their face in the crowd, and we'd done this other gig in Munich, in a football stadium where it pissed down with rain. Both weren't exactly cooking shows. Then we had to do Finsbury Park. Not only did we have to do Finsbury Park, but we had to go out live on Radio One, we had to make a video and we had to record a live album; and burst through this bloody big paper screen in front of 30,000 people. It concentrated your mind a little bit! And we pulled it off. It was such a fantastic feeling.

Another thing was, going to the show I was the first to arrive. There were all these portacabins and dressing rooms behind the stage. I walked in there and that bloody herbert from Oasis, Liam Gallagher, was going through all our drinks! I said "Oi you, fuck off!" It was funny how the new rock aristocracy all turned out in force. There was a good mixture of old and new. I was talking to Iggy Pop who had just come off the stage all sweaty. I said "Hi", he turned around to me and said "What are you guys doing back stage... throwing up?" In other words, how nervous are we. That comment hit the nail on the head. But we pulled it off so that was great.

You could sense nervousness in the crowd, wanting the band to do well. One song in, there was this feeling of relief, the fact that it was going to be good. Did that come across to you on stage?

I can't remember, I just remember the general vibe of it. Another thing was, because I had a deal with Creation Records, and I'd been making a record the year before, I invited Alan McGee (Creation Records boss) to the show and he didn't come. He said he'd heard it was going to be a bit cabaret. I said, "Do you really think we would have all gone through all that to be left with egg on our face?" He said he hadn't looked at it that way. Then he came along to the Shepherd's Bush Empire show and wrote that piece for the NME, which was fantastic. He must have seen something there that turned his head around. He didn't just say it was alright, he paid 12 grand and bought the back page of the NME. Flash Harry!

Reading through the Filthy Lucre section you seemed to have a lot of fun in the far-flung corners of the globe, such as Japan and South America. You refer to the Chile date as the maddest night of the tour.

It was just mad! When they cut loose over there, they cut loose! At the end of the show there was a funny smell in the dressing room and they didn't want to let us out. I stuck my head around the door and there was all this tear gas. I thought it was dreadful, but the general consensus was that they always get tear gassed on a Friday night, and if they don't, they haven't had a very good gig! It was different, and it was the end of the tour.

We'd had practically nine months of it by then. I certainly wasn't fed up with playing with the Sex Pistols, but even though we'd travelled around the world together - sort of - the band has always been in certain camps, and there are different relationships with the three corners of the camp.

None of us in the band had ever done a big tour like that, whether with the Sex Pistols or with anybody else, maybe John had, but I don't think he'd done such a large tour. I'd done a lot of touring with Iggy Pop in the late 70s, but I don't think Steve had even done that many gigs on the trot.

Was it a big operation, logistically?

Well, it weren't Pink Floyd, but yeah, it was an adventure. It was a great way of travelling. Going around the world getting paid good money for it. Not only when you go to a town are you not a tourist - you're working there - but you're the thing that's happening. You get all the hip people hanging out with you and they know all the places to go afterwards. Even so, it's a grinding boredom being away from your family.

In the book you also give plenty of information about the reformation in 2002, which starts with you in a Channel Four studio with John Snow, and you cover the 2003 Piss Off Tour on a day-by-day basis. Was it fun to recall this because it's still relatively fresh?

It was a lot closer in my mind. It's not that far away in time. I was trying to interweave it with the Hall Of Fame thing.

Reading the book, you realise how close to the wire it went in getting you and Paul over to the US for the first show.

It was a complete and utter joke. It had been really badly handled on a management level. It's funny with the Sex Pistols, you never believe anything until you are sat in a plane and you're actually coming into land. I don't know why that is, but it kind of makes it interesting. On the other hand, I bet that happens to lots of bands. Unless you're touring the world non-stop, and you are Pink Floyd and there's this massive ongoing operation. We had a really good tour manager when we did the Filthy Lucre Tour, but he didn't want to do it the second time around; for various reasons he wasn't available. Then you start from scratch all over, and something that should be simple and straightforward in the organisation, doesn't get done. Even though it was a worry, I'm glad me and Paul were sitting in the queue at the American Embassy the day before the show in Boston. It was interesting in a way, although frustrating at the time. The end result was fine. We should call it Carry On Sex Pistols, because it was a right carry on.

What about the pictures you've chosen for the book. There's some that people won't be familiar with.

I did try a pick some different pictures. There are some I've used before, but I did try and dig a couple out. There's quite a good one of us at the sound check at Notre Dame Hall. Little old us in a big hall with nobody there. There are not masses and masses of pictures because it's a textural book, not a coffee table book.

With the book coming out again, I thought it would be an opportune time to revisit a couple of the older periods, such as the trip the Pistols' made to Paris in '76, which obviously was a big event for the band and the individuals. This was the first time the band had played outside the UK.

I'd not flown since I was eleven. I was quite surprised when I got on that plane, because on the plane I had flown on when I was eleven, all the seats faced backwards! I was surprised to see the seats facing forwards!

I've never known them face backwards!

Yes they did! The Whispering Giant it was known as. It had massive big windows, about three times bigger than they are now. The seats faced backward, I suppose, so if it crashed…. And the planes back then didn't fly so high so they didn't have such pressurisation worries. None of us had been globetrotters at that stage, so it was a bit of an adventure actually going somewhere as the Sex Pistols. I'd been to Paris before on a train and a boat, but it was a different world back then.

Were you nervous going to play in Paris?

Yeah, but we were genuinely looking forward to it. The little snowball that was the Sex Pistols was getting bigger and bigger and picking up speed. When did we go, was it early in summer of '76?


We'd already been on the front page of the Melody Maker, record deals had been mentioned, we'd done a bit of recording, the shows were getting fuller. When we got there, that first night we played at the Chalet Du Lac, it was rammed. There was a line outside. What we didn't know at the time was that it was free to get in. Nothing's free in Paris, so everyone turned up. When we did the sound check I remember they were still putting chairs out at the last minute that had just been painted, and they were still wet. Some bird came in with a really expensive haute couture dress on. She sat down, got up again and had a big imprint of the back of the chair on her!

Where we played in Paris was the equivalent of playing in Regents Park. A place called St Mande, which was in the south east of Paris where the zoo is. It's all rich people's houses. A bit like Regents Park or Hyde Park, playing in a café in the middle of that.

We played on the Friday night and then the Sunday afternoon, and there was hardly anybody there on Sunday. I asked some bloke how come there are not so many people here and he said "Friday night was free, today they pay."

Although Friday night was free, do you think people came along having heard a little bit about the band?

I think a bit of that, yeah.

You had some problems with the equipment arriving in Paris?

It got held up at customs. You're supposed to have a carnet, in the days before we were properly in the EEC. You had to have this piece of paper that said equipment belonged to you and you weren't going to sell it when you were abroad. You had to tick off exactly the same things to prove when you went back out of the country again, you hadn't sold it, and you hadn't paid any tax on it. There's no way of getting around that, but we didn't know it, we'd never been abroad before, so the carnet wasn't bought. What happened I can't remember, I think money changed hands.

Can you remember much about your day off in Paris, the Saturday?

We were hanging out, we met this bloke who was a friend of Malcolm's, who's a really big fashion designer now, I think he was back then, Charles le Duc de Castelbajac, he took us out. He took us to this place called Le Coupole, where Hemmingway, Picasso and Matisse used to eat, drink and be merry, but had no money so paid for their meal by giving them a painting or two. So Le Coupole had all these priceless works of art. So that had a bit of history. Then he took us to this place called Harry's Bar and then he took Steve off on his motorbike to Rue St Denis for Steve to get himself a hooker.

We had a few photo calls, there were loads of pictures that Ray Stevenson took, and the Bromley Contingent came over. One of the main things I remember was that Nils Stevenson was supposed to have some money for us and he'd sloped off somewhere. We were hanging around for an hour or two without enough money to buy a cup of coffee. We had a right go at him over that.

Did he come back with the money or had he spent it?

I think we caught up with him somewhere and got some money. That's the other thing with the Sex Pistols, we never had a pot to piss in.

Didn't Siouxsie Sioux get in a spot of bother?

She turned up in the cavalry outfit. I wasn't there when it happened, but these people that weren't punks or hipsters were just there wondering what was going on, and then when some bird walks past with her breasts out; "I wonder what they feel like?" She wasn't having any of that and tempers ran a bit high. But I didn't see any of that; I was doing the sound check.

There were certain people on the scene in Paris who would turn up for the shows, the same as people on the scene in London. So I think that gig has gone down in history as the same as the 100 Club shows, everyone reckons they were there.

The 30th anniversary of the 100 Club Punk Festival has recently passed, although everything is now passing the 30th anniversary.

I do like the 100 Club because it's never changed over the years. Most clubs come and go, they are hip then they ain't, they keep changing their colours and their tune to suit a trend, but the 100 Club has always been the 100 Club.

The 100 Club Punk Festival. Would you say that was the best Pistols' 100 Club gig, or maybe it's some of the earlier ones that stand out?

I can't remember that much about the 100 Club Punk Festival. We did a few 100 Club gigs and they all tend to blend into one. With the Festival I wasn't totally aware of what was going on. What happens is, you do your sound check, you've been rushing around getting your stuff together, by the time you've done the sound check you think "I'll go for a beer or a pie" or something, you hang around a bit there, then you come back in and it's almost time to go on. So I missed a lot of what was going on, and the night after we actually had a gig in Wales. So I didn't see any of that night.

How about choosing random memory from a gig in a provincial town.

One of the oddest things, we were playing a gig up north somewhere, it might have been Middlesbrough, it was a pub with a Conservative Club attached. We were in a room at the back. Some bloke came in and said, "Can you turn it down?" Then, "Can you turn it down a bit more?" There was hardly anybody there. Then this old boy came in at the end and said "Look, I've had a word with the committee. We'll pay you, but you'll have to go because we can't hear the bingo being called!"

To go from that… we never did that many shows, when I was in the band first time around we did about 50 or 60 shows, I've not counted them, maybe they did another 20 or 30 with Sid….so to go from that to Finsbury Park …

It's worlds apart…

It's worlds apart, and also from not having done the in-between steps, it's a hell of a jump. Few videos were made. A whole legend's grown up, rightly or wrongly, but it has.

It grew up when the band was dormant.

Yeah. Most bands, if they had any degree of success… let me think, what's the biggest show I did first time around with the Pistols, maybe the 100 Club or the Leeds Poly show on the Anarchy Tour, then you would have done Shepherd's Bush or the equivalent size, then you would have done a small stadium or Brixton Academy, then you might have done two or three nights, culminating five years down the line doing Finsbury Park, but we never did any of that.

Was that a good thing? Making that sudden leap?

It saves a lot of hanging around. The best thing I heard was on Radio 4, over 10 yeas ago, some girl in the studio said on their news programme, "Today Charlie Watts is celebrating 35 years of playing in the Rolling Stones." She's all gushing and introduces Charlie; "and so you're celebrating 30 years of playing in the Rolling Stones?" He said, "Nah, you're wrong there love. I might have been in the Rolling Stones for 35 years, but I've spent 5 years playing and 25 hanging about." I thought, how true.

Not that I've been hanging about, working with Iggy Pop, the Rich Kids had their moment in the sun, I did a whole tour of Australia, Europe and Japan with Johnny Thunders, and have done things with my own band and still do. I've done all those things. It's the equivalent with John, Steve, and Paul; everybody's done stuff, but none of us have done anything to eclipse being in the Sex Pistols, and it really doesn't look like anyone's going to. Because it's a hard act to follow.

You can't possibly be in anything that can top it. You can't top the top.

But what normally happens with a band is they realise their strengths and weaknesses and they tend to write a few more songs and have a career that way. Not that the Sex Pistols are about having a career, it's just an odd position to be in.

Is that something that could ever happen in the future with the band?

I can't see putting out any new material with the Sex Pistols. The time to do it was in '96, so it ain't going to happen now.

Do you see any future for the band in terms of live shows, or has the line been drawn under it?

Well, there's always offers with the Sex Pistols. I enjoy playing with the Sex Pistols. We've got something in common, the four of us, nobody else in the whole world has. When we get in a room and plug in, we're the Sex Pistols. No one comes close to that.

For me, as well it's been a nice little earner, and I relish that, because also being in the Sex Pistols I feel has stopped me earning. There have been times when I could have had gigs with other people and they didn't want to have me, not because they don't think I can play bass - I think I'm a damn fine bass player - but because they didn't want to be overshadowed by having a Sex Pistol in their band. I did some work with Ian Hunter in Scandinavia, and he got the hump because he was doing an interview and they were asking him about me.

So when there's a Sex Pistols event, I might as well capitalise on it, plus when we do a show, regardless of what the jaded journalists think, we always play our hearts out.

In some ways, from what you were saying before, it's almost like being overqualified.

Yeah, because I've seen my career as two things. Foremost I'm a songwriter and try and come up with new things as an artist, but I'm also a bass player. Being a bass player is a bit like being a plumber, it's a trade.

So you wouldn't say it was all over for the Pistols; the band may consider getting back together?

Never say never again. It's 30 years of the Sex Pistols next year. I wouldn't put it past us; I wouldn't put it past us….

Any last words about the book?

I notice on your website forum, there's people who have a particular view of what they consider the Sex Pistols to be, but there's another side to it as well. Before they are too judgemental they should check out what I have to say on the topic. They would do themselves a favour in the long run as well.

Well, it was a fine book when it originally came out, not to mention an amusing one in places, and it's a fine book now. I think people that have read it all come to the same conclusion, and it's important for anyone with an interest in the band to read it.

Another thing is I don't think it's ever been promoted that well. There's a whole bunch more people who would dig it if they only knew about it or could find it on the shelves. Now maybe they'll have a better chance of that. It's not a load of old tosh.

And it's got a very nice modern cover as well now.

It's nicely packaged. It'll grace anybody's bookshelf!

Text ©Phil Singleton 2006 /
Photographs ©Glen Matlock / Paul Gorman 2006 /
All rights reserved.

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