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Interview originally appeared in “Record Collector” No. 104. April 1988.

Original Pistols Bassist Glen Matlock talks to Mark Paytress about the formation of the band, their recording career and the split.

“Too Posh For The Pistols!”, wrote Fred and Judy Vermorel. “He wanted to turn us into the Beatles”, said Johnny Rotten.

Glen Mattock has had a bit of a rough ride since departing from the Sex Pistols fold back in February 1977. Yet many believe the bassist was the real musical force behind the band, who created such a sensation when they arrived on the scene in 1976. By the time of his departure, all of the group’s classic songs - “God Save The Queen”, “Anarchy In The U.K.” and “I Wanna Be Me”, to name but three - had been written.

When “Never Mind The Bollocks” was finally released, it had already been preceded by the “Spunk” album consisting of outtakes from 1976; early recordings which capture the band sounding fresh and recorded with a raw edge. For many fans, this early period leading up to the big break on the Bill Grundy Show and the subsequent sacking from EMI is the most interesting part of the band’s career, and we thought that, in the wake of the recent conventions commemorating ten years since the band’s demise, it would be a good time to ask Glen to sort out a few incon­sistencies relating to the band’s early record­ings and to give us his version of the Sex Pistols’ story.

We found him happy to oblige, if a little hampered by the fact that almost fifteen years had passed since the time he first set foot into Malcolm McLaren’s clothes shop along the Kings Road.

Sex Pistols’ memorabilia spotters may be dismayed to learn that Glen’s West London flat contains few clues as to his past membership of one of Britain’s most notorious cultural phenomena; in fact, a glance at his bookshelf reveals an interest in 20th century art movements rather than rock music — which is represented solely by Chris Welch’s biography of Jimi Hendrix!

Record Collector: What did you make of the recent Sex Pistols Convention, held at the 100 Club?

Glen Matlock: Not a lot.

RC: Why did you go along?

GM: Just out of curiosity; and being a bit of an easy touch, I suppose.

RC: Did you meet many old faces there?

GM: Yeah. I mean, I enjoyed it because there were a load of people there who I hadn’t seen for ages. And there were a load of herberts too!

RC: Taking you back same 15 years, I believe you met Steve Jones and Paul Cook through Malcolm McLaren’s shop, didn’t you?

GM: Right. Well, I used to know Paul even before that. Not very well, but I used to play football against him — West London Five-a­-Side — in fact, I scored two goals against his team! Then I was working at Malcolm’s as a Saturday lad and they both used to come in, try and nick things, and generally hang out.

RC: Had they begun playing music at all by this time?

GM: Well, they were thinking about it. Steve was a bit of a renowned burglar and he ‘acquired’ all this equipment which was too hot to sell. Then somebody came up with the bright idea of why didn’t they learn how to play it. So they did, under a few various guises, before I was involved. They had a bass player who was Paul’s brother-in-law but he wasn’t into it. At that time, I was learning bass so I mentioned that to Malcolm; Steve and Paul had also mentioned that they were looking for a bass player and so we got together.

RC: What sort of music were you listening to around this time?

GM: The reason that we all got on was basically because we all were into the Faces. In fact the first thing I played at a sort of audition round at Wally’s house (Wally Night­ingale was the band’s original guitarist, Steve Jones sang, Paul Cook had already settled for the drums) was a song called “Three Button Hand Me Down” from the Faces’ first album. It had a really flash bass part, though I only found out afterwards that it was all double-tracked. I’d learnt it off as my party piece and could play it straight off!

RC: Can you remember any of the songs you were playing at this early stage?

GM: Some Small Faces numbers…”A Day Without Love” by Steve Ellis’ Love Affair.

RC: Where did all this take place?

GM: What happened was that Wally’s dad was an electrician and he had a contract to strip out this studio which Hammersmith Council had just bought off the BBC-it turned out to be Hammersmith Studios. His job was to decide what stuff was going to be useful and what should be scrapped before they would start doing it all up. Because of this connection, we managed to have a set of keys cut and had a real Aladdin’s Cave there with all the guitars and equipment. As an added bonus, Paul worked for Watney’s brewery at the time, so we had a bar set up too!

RC: Did you think in terms of playing gigs?

GM: Well, we thought about it, but we knew we weren’t ready. It was more of a party on a Friday night, have a few beers, play a few songs, have a few more beers, end up playing worse and worse!

RC: So no major musical ambitions?

GM: Oh yeah. We knew there was something doing there. But, you know, with your first band you don’t really know any different.

RC: Where did Malcolm come into it, in terms of the music?

GM: He didn’t come into it at all. The only thing was was that he’d been involved with the New York Dolls

and he had certain records around that we liked. Everybody liked the same kind of thing, like the Stooges, and

then ‘NME’ journalist Nick Kent (who used to hang out there as well) had a pre-issue tape of the Modern

Lovers. We started doing “Road Runner” for a laugh. It was all pretty loose; there was no kind of plan.

RC: But knowing of McLaren’s involvement with the Dolls, he must have struck you as a pretty useful contact?

GM: Well, no, this was even before he got involved with them. It was only later that he started going back and forth to New York. In actual fact, ideas were coming from all directions.

RC: You mentioned Nick Kent. Did he actually play with the band at all?

GM: He used to come down to this place and hang out and jam, but he wasn’t in the band. He thought he was but he wasn’t.

RC: And what about Steve New?

GM: Yes. Steve New was in the band for about a month, Paul didn’t think Steve Jones’ guitar playing was good enough (after Wally left, Jones took over guitar duties) so we aud­itioned for another guitarist. We ended up with Steve New for a little bit but he wouldn’t get his hair cut, so that was that.

RC: This was still while you were rehearsing at Hammersmith?

GM: Well, around this time we were slung out; then we got Johnny Rotten after that. We then rehearsed in some place near Rotherhithe a couple of times. Then I saw this advert in ‘Melody Maker’ — ‘Tin Pan Alley rehearsal room for sale’. I showed that to Malcolm because we were looking for a rehearsal place and he said “Call ‘em up and offer them £1000 without seeing it.” So I called ‘em up and I said, “Well I think my mate’s mad but he’s offering you £1000 without seeing the place.” The bloke on the other end said “Oh, I think we can do business.” Malcolm got on the phone and started chatting and the other guy turned out to be Bill Collins — the father of Lewis Collins from “The Professionals”. He used to manage the Mojos and Badfinger. It was actually Badfinger’s rehearsal place, but they were selling everything off. He turned out to be a real good help to us, and we ended up getting it for next to nothing. We had to pay rent of course, but it was good having our own place.

RC: McLaren must have seen some future for the band by then, if he was shelling out that sort of money?

GM: Well, yeah. It was starting to look a bit more promising.

RC: Why? Did it all start to fall into place when Rotten joined the band?

GM: Even a bit before that. We’d chat about various ideas , . . Bernie Rhodes was around quite a lot then.

RC: When McLaren began to take things ser­iously, he began to build this image around the band.

GM: For a start, the word ‘punk’ never ex­isted, not until two years after we started. That was invented by Caroline Coon and Jonh Ingham — not the one in “Are You Being Served?”! — and they championed our cause and tried to make it look like a movement. However, a lot of bands were getting wind of what was going on and started to copy us. There were some pretty dire bands around then, and I suppose they needed some kind of word to sum it up and make it look like a cause. Which was good in a way. It worked ‘cos it made it look like there was a movement but there wasn’t one really.

RC: What did you think of the hype along the lines of ’The Pistols Can’t Play’?

GM: It was just totally different from the over-produced music of the time like Genesis and Queen. It was a loud racket, but a good loud racket. I mean, we could play by then. You only have to listen to some of the boot­legs that are around. The sound quality isn’t good but the actual playing of the band was pretty tight.

RC: The Burton-on-Trent album for example.

GM: Yeah. That was a bloody good gig and that was pretty early on (September 1976). There’s a few tuning things, but you hear the Rolling Stones live — they’re atrocious and they’ve been at it for donkey’s years!

RC: The stance of the Pistols was obviously a threat to the established bands of the time.

GM: It was, but I think it was definitely part of a long tradition, though. It’s quite easy to trace the lineage back to bands like the Kinks and the Who.

RC: If we can move on now to the Sex Pistols’ own compositions: when did the band begin to write its own songs?

GM: Right from scratch, really. Somebody would always have an idea for a song; a riff or an idea for a lyric, a bit of a tune or a chorus. Malcolm always encouraged us to do that.

RC: But what about the pre-Malcolm days?

GM: Yeah. We were doing it then, even when Wally was around. In fact. Wally’s got the hump about that song “Did You No Wrong”, which was basically his riff. But he didn’t get a credit for it.

RC: What were the earliest band composit­ions?

GM: “Problems” was reasonably early. “Did You No Wrong” and “Feelings” (later “No Feelings”) were also among the earliest ones.

RC: How were they written? Did someone come along with a riff or did you jam and hope for the best?

GM: Well, with “Problems”, we were trying to write a song and nothing was happening and I said, ‘Okay, I’ve got a riff’ and just played something. If you do something like that pos­itively enough, it works. And then Steve had a bit of an idea for another song so we stuck that bit in; then John came up with some lyrics and that was it.

RC: I presume he wrote all the lyrics?

GM: No, not all of them. The majority, yeah. Songs like “Pretty Vacant”, that was totally my song. And “Submission” we co-wrote. That was quite funny. Malcolm came up with the title for that ‘cos his shop had evolved into ‘Sex’, selling leather and bondage and all that. So he wanted us to write a song called “Submission”. We were rehearsing at the Roundhouse at that time — this is before we got our own rehearsal place in Denmark Street — and Steve and Paul hadn’t turned up. So me and John just sloped off to the pub over the road and Malcolm made his suggest­ion. And we said, “Oh no, not all that bondage shit again”, or something like that. Then John said, “How about a submarine mission?” It was more about taking the piss out of Malcolm!

RC: At the Convention, there was an ac­oustic guitar.

GM: It’s behind you. Somebody offered me £250 for it. It’s in a right state as well!

RC: That’s the one “God Save The Queen” was written on?

GM: “Anarchy”. Actually, a few songs were written on it.

RC: It seems that most of the band’s own compositions were written within the space of about a year, because after you went, there were just three more songs, “Bodies” , "Hol­idays ln The Sun” and “EMI”.

GM: I was around when we did “EMI”. That was mainly Steve’s. I can’t remember if we played it in Amsterdam, which were the last gigs I did with them. Yeah. I think we did it then, though I’m not exactly sure.

RC: I’ve got a tape of a Birmingham gig from December 1976 when Rotten introduces a song as “Flowers”. It’s actually about a min­utes worth of noise. Was that the mythical “Flowers Of Romance”?

GM: He might have had that idea at the back of his mind. No, we did that just to get every­body to come away from the bar to see what the horrible racket was.

RC: I’d like to ask you a few details about the Sex Pistols’ recording sessions. The first was apparently at Majestic Studios in May 1976 with Chris Spedding at the controls. Or was he there to play too?

GM: He didn’t play on them. We used his amp, that’s all. In fact, as far as I know, Mickie Most paid for that session. Malcolm made out he paid, but talking to Mickie long after the event, it seems he paid.

RC: Perhaps he had his eye on the band for RAK Records!

GM: Actually, I think he was very interested, but Malcolm wasn’t impressed. I dunno, Malcolm was doing things even then, and not telling us what was going on,

RC: The next sessions date from August 1976.

GM: Yeah. We did those down in our reh­earsal place in Denmark Street, recorded on Dave Goodman’s 2-track: then we took them to a studio called Riverside in Hammersmith and mixed them onto 16-track.

RC: And this is what makes up a good portion of the “Spunk” bootleg?

GM: Yes. Along with stuff we recorded later at Goosebury Studios.

(It is likely that “Pretty Vacant”, “Problems”, “No Fun", “I Wanna Be Me", “Seventeen”, “No Feelings", “New York", “Submission” and “Satellite” were recorded with Dave Goodman in August 1976.)

RC: In my notes, I have a reference to a session dating from September where the band recorded “Pretty Vacant", “Satellite” and "I'm A Believer"; Can you tell me about that?

GM: The session you’re referring to could have been the one we recorded at EMI’s 16-track studios in Manchester Square with Mike Thorne. We recorded about six songs:

“Pretty Vacant”, “Satellite”, “God Save The Queen” (although it was called “No Future” at that time), maybe “Problems”. But definit­ely not “I’m A Believer”!

RC: Chris Spedding had nothing to do with the EMI sessions?

GM: Nothing at all.

RC: Apparently, Polydor paid for some sessions. -

GM: Yeah. I think they paid for one at Kingsway Studios. But we didn’t do a lot there.

RC: Now what about the two “Anarchy In The U.K. “sessions?

GM: Well, what happened was we started rec­ording it at Lansdowne Studios but it didn’t work out there, so we went to Wessex Studios.

RC: With the same backing track?

GM: No, we totally re-recorded it. At Wessex, we recorded the stuff which ended up on “The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle” album with Dave Goodman, but we weren’t happy with it. Those songs like “Johnny B Goode”; as far as the band were concerned, we weren’t record­ing them. We were mucking about because we got fed up with going over “Anarchy” again and again. But we got a great version of “No Fun” out of it.

RC: And that’s the one which ended up on the B-side of “Pretty Vacant”?

GM: Yeah. And Dave Goodman was credited. But, because “Anarchy” still didn’t work, we got Chris Thomas in and recorded it again at Wessex; and that’s the one which finally came out as a single. By that time, we’d been doing the song for three or four weeks and we were getting sick to death of it. So we had a break, then went in with Chris Thomas and recorded it in about four takes. The finished version was in fact two different takes, spliced tog­ether. And Rotten came along and said, “I expect you haven’t even done the backing track yet,” cos he was getting fed up of hanging around. And we said, “No, it’s all done.” So he was on the spot and had to do his vocals.

RC: So there was no attempt to sing it ‘live’ in the studio?

GM: We were going to do it like that, but you can only sing the same song a certain number of times without your voice getting shot.

RC: I think I prefer the heavier version rec­orded with Dave Goodman which appeared on the “Swindle” album.

GM: Well, you can say what you like but I think that sounds more like a punk band, and I think we had a bit more class than just being a punk band. We gave Dave Goodman a fair crack of the whip and of course, some of his stuff was released, like “No Fun”.

RC: And “I Wanna Be Me”.

GM: Yeah. That was actually done in the reh­earsal studios. Malcolm said, “It sounds pretty good,” which it did. Well, the quality of the sound wasn’t up to much but the spirit’s there.

RC: I’ve seen a reference that the band were doing backing tracks in the studio on Decemb­er 27th.

GM: That’s right. We went to Goosebury Studios, Gerrard Street. I don’t know if EMI paid for that or whether we paid. That was in the middle of the “Anarchy” tour and some of the tracks made up the rest of the “Spunk” bootleg.

RC: So those were your last recordings with the band?

GM: Yes. The Goosebury stuff, which I think was early ‘77. Yes, definitely early 1977.

RC: You mentioned earlier about sitting in the pub with John. Yet by the time you left the band, it seems to me that the two of you were locked in some kind of ego battle.

GM: Not an ego battle. I just found him a bit unneccesary. I think things went to his head quite a lot and, as happened later with the Rich Kids, if you’re with the same people for most of the time — especially on tour — it can get on top of you

RC: He was quoted as saying that your idea of a band was a nice pop group with innocent songs, that you hated the words of “Anarchy” and that you wouldn’t play “God Save The Queen” live.

GM: I might not have played “God Save The Queen” live once, at the last gig I did with the band at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, when I walked offstage. I got fed up with Rotten. I’d just had enough. It was nothing to do with the song or I wouldn’t have written the music would I?

RC: But don’t you regret not seeing the thing through?

GM: Well, I’m sad about Sid, but I think the band became a bit of a cartoon strip; I think I left at quite a good time. Take the Rolling Stones (not that we tried to copy them). I could never see the Pistols continuing, even if I stayed in the band. There’s no way we would have been a more melodic band because, basically, Rotten can’t sing. I mean, he can sing in his manner, but that’s it. So it’s a very narrow direction to be limited to if you consider yourself to be a songwriter, which I do. It’s the same with Steve’s guitar playing. I mean, he’s a very good rock guitarist, but only in one particular style. I could never see the Pistols being around now, back then. I always thought in the back of my mind, “Well, what’s the next step?" My other problem is that I always tend to get fed up with things a little bit too early.

RC: So you could never envisage Rotten staying in the business?

GM: Yeah, I thought he would ..- I think he’s getting his stuff together now that he’s got some decent players with him. The thing with John is that he always surrounds himself with ‘yes-men’. A lot of PiL has sounded like sloppy musicianship, sloppy thinking really, though I did like the first thing they did “Public Image”, and the “Flowers Of Romance” single.

RC: When you left, you said that being in the Sex Pistols was a bit like being in the Monkees,

GM: It was getting to be like that, particularly after the Bill Grundy show. And on top of that, I didn’t like being used by the gutter press. I mean, it was great being in the papers and all that, but really you’re just a pawn in their game. Take “The Sun”. It purports to be a working class paper but all it does is keep people in their place.

RC: But McLaren’s strategy was to use that platform and benefit from it.

GM: Yeah, I enjoyed it as well to a certain extent. But, ultimately, looking back on it you start to think “Who’s using who?”

RC: Were you disillusioned by the fact that the music swiftly became a secondary concern?

GM: After the “Anarchy” tour, it was Malcolm’s idea that we were not allowed to play anywhere. Though there were lots of places where we couldn’t, there still were places who would have us. If you wanna be in a band and you wanna go out and play some rock’n’roll music and you’re not allowed to play, there’s no point in being in the band. It’s defeating the object. And so for Rotten to say I just wanted to be in some pop group —that’s bollocks. I wanted to play loud rock music; that’s all I play anyway. And when we couldn’t do that, it took away the reason for being in the band. It did become the Monkees as far as I can see. The whole thing in the States was just a debacle. Nothing much happened after. The album came out, but there was nothing new about it. All the work had been done, bar recording it.

RC: It seems to me that the versions on “Never Mind The Bollocks” were straight copies of the original demos.

GM: Yeah, that’s all they are. They’re just done in a decent studio with a decent prod­ucer.

RC: Do you prefer the finished version?

GM: My ideal record would be the “Spunk” album with the production and the sound of “Bollocks”. I think “Spunk” is more inventive but “Never Mind The Bollocks” has better sound quality.

RC: Who played bass on the finished album?

GM: I think Steve did most of it. Colin Allen, who ended up in the Professionals with Steve and Paul, may have done a little bit.

RC: What have you been up to more recently?

GM: I’ve been working with Johnny Thunders all last year, touring Australia, Spain and Japan. And I did some work for that “Sid And Nancy” movie.

RC: I was going to ask you about that. I haven’t seen it, but it seemed to get slated in the press.

GM: That’s weird, I’ve seen some good press for it. I think it’s quite good, actually. People say it’s not exactly right, but I don’t think that matters. There’s a bit of artistic licence and, after all, it’s not supposed to be a docum­entary anyway. It’s a very good tragic love story/anti drugs film.

RC: Rotten seems to disagree with you!

GM: Well, I was talking to Debbie, who used to work with Malcolm — she’s that girl dressed up in bandages in one of those adverts for “Satellite Kid” or something. Anyway, she was researching for the film and I was chatting to her about it and she said, “Oh, Rotten’s got the hump about it.” I asked why and she said, “Well, to be honest, I think he’s just got the hump because the film’s not about him.” That sort of hit the nail upon the head!

RC: You actually arranged the songs for the film, as well as played on them?

GM: We just redid all the Pistols’ stuff. Me on bass, Dave McIntosh on drums and guit­arist James Stevenson. He used to play with Chelsea and is now with Gene Loves Jezebel. It was quite a laugh; when there was a bad gig we had to play badly. But a couple of times we sounded too good and so had to swap instruments.

RC: So what are you up to at the moment?

GM: I’ve recorded a single with some friends including three ex-Doll By Doll members, Jackie Leven, Joe Shaw and Dave McIntosh. (‘Big Tears”/ “Braid On My Shoulder”! “Good Thing”, 12”-only / Radio Active Records HORN 31). The grouping is known as Concrete Bulletproof Invisible (CBI), and Dave Goodman and I produced it.

RC: Are you going to be doing any gigs?

GM: We might do. But it’s really a case of a group of mates from the pub more than anything else. We did a few gigs a year or so ago, then when we were offered some record­ing time, we thought we’d do this. It’s got quite a bit of interest; in fact, someone wants us to do an album, but that’s just a sideline really. I’ve also got a new band together called the Gang Show, that’s the working title, with me on bass, James Halliwell (keyboards), Dave McIntosh and Tracy Eves on guitar. We’ve just been doing some demos and sorting out a management deal.

RC: Its all a long way from the “Anarchy” tour and “getting up the old farts noses”!

GM: Yeah. I suppose it is. The funny thing is I wouldn’t think about it at all, but since the tenth anniversary, people have been calling me up all the time! But now the record business is back to where it was before. In fact, I think it’s even worse. I mean, there’s hardly any live gigs. It’s a sign of the times we live in. Everyone’s got their videos; you can even do your shopping from your living room. So much for the new technology making people freer to do what they want. They don’t do anything at all; the technology uses them.

RC: And once there was this dream of erad­icating apathy!

GM: I didn’t say it was our fault. What would it be like if we hadn’t come along, and nothing happened at all?

RC: Punk obviously ushered in a surfeit of musical ideas and a new set of attitudes.

GM: I think a lot of the people who came out of the 1976-77 thing have done some good stuff. I mean, bands like XTC, they weren’t a punk band but they were part of that creative atmosphere. Even Dire Straits; they were around then. I don’t think they would have done anything if the Sex Pistols hadn’t created an atmosphere where record companies wanted to sign up new bands. They’d still be playing in pubs. Same with the Police. It’s just these horrible Rick Astley types now.

God Save the Sex Pistols

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