SEX PISTOLS THE INSIDE STORY
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.
Posh For The Pistols!, wrote Fred and Judy Vermorel. He wanted to
turn us into the Beatles, said Johnny Rotten.
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 groups classic songs - God
Save The Queen, Anarchy In The U.K. and I Wanna Be Me,
to name but three - had been written.
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 bands
career, and we thought that, in the wake of the recent conventions commemorating
ten years since the bands demise, it would be a good time to ask Glen to
sort out a few inconsistencies relating to the bands early recordings
and to give us his version of the Sex Pistols story.
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 McLarens
clothes shop along the Kings Road.
Pistols memorabilia spotters may be dismayed to learn that Glens West
London flat contains few clues as to his past membership of one of Britains
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 Welchs biography of Jimi Hendrix!
Record Collector: What
did you make of the recent Sex Pistols Convention, held at the 100 Club?
Matlock: Not a lot.
Why did you go along?
Just out of curiosity; and being a bit of an easy touch, I suppose.
Did you meet many old faces there?
Yeah. I mean, I enjoyed it because there were a load of people there who I hadnt
seen for ages. And there were a load of herberts too!
Taking you back same 15 years, I believe you met Steve Jones and Paul Cook through
Malcolm McLarens shop, didnt you?
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 Malcolms as a
Saturday lad and they both used to come in, try and nick things, and generally
Had they begun playing music at all by this time?
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 didnt 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 Pauls brother-in-law but he wasnt 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.
What sort of music were you listening to around this time?
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 Wallys house
(Wally Nightingale was the bands 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. Id
learnt it off as my party piece and could play it straight off!
Can you remember any of the songs you were playing at this early stage?
Some Small Faces numbers
A Day Without Love by Steve Ellis
Where did all this take place?
What happened was that Wallys 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 Aladdins Cave there with all the guitars and equipment. As an added
bonus, Paul worked for Watneys brewery at the time, so we had a bar set
you think in terms of playing gigs?
Well, we thought about it, but we knew we werent 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!
So no major musical ambitions?
Oh yeah. We knew there was something doing there. But, you know, with your first
band you dont really know any different.
Where did Malcolm come into it, in terms of the music?
He didnt come into it at all. The only thing was was that hed been
involved with the New York Dolls
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
We started doing Road Runner for a laugh. It was all pretty loose;
there was no kind of plan.
But knowing of McLarens involvement with the Dolls, he must have struck
you as a pretty useful contact?
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.
You mentioned Nick Kent. Did he actually play with the band at all?
He used to come down to this place and hang out and jam, but he wasnt in
the band. He thought he was but he wasnt.
And what about Steve New?
Yes. Steve New was in the band for about a month, Paul didnt 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 wouldnt get his hair cut, so that was that.
This was still while you were rehearsing at Hammersmith?
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 mates
mad but hes 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 Badfingers 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.
McLaren must have seen some future for the band by then, if he was shelling out
that sort of money?
Well, yeah. It was starting to look a bit more promising.
Why? Did it all start to fall into place when Rotten joined the band?
Even a bit before that. Wed chat about various ideas , . . Bernie Rhodes
was around quite a lot then.
When McLaren began to take things seriously, he began to build this image
around the band.
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 wasnt one really.
What did you think of the hype along the lines of The Pistols Cant
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 isnt good but the actual playing of the band was pretty
Burton-on-Trent album for example.
Yeah. That was a bloody good gig and that was pretty early on (September 1976).
Theres a few tuning things, but you hear the Rolling Stones live
theyre atrocious and theyve been at it for donkeys years!
The stance of the Pistols was obviously a threat to the established bands of the
GM: It was,
but I think it was definitely part of a long tradition, though. Its quite
easy to trace the lineage back to bands like the Kinks and the Who.
If we can move on now to the Sex Pistols own compositions: when did the
band begin to write its own songs?
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.
But what about the pre-Malcolm days?
Yeah. We were doing it then, even when Wally was around. In fact. Wallys
got the hump about that song Did You No Wrong, which was basically
his riff. But he didnt get a credit for it.
What were the earliest band compositions?
Problems was reasonably early. Did You No Wrong and Feelings
(later No Feelings) were also among the earliest ones.
How were they written? Did someone come along with a riff or did you jam and hope
for the best?
Well, with Problems, we were trying to write a song and nothing was
happening and I said, Okay, Ive 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.
I presume he wrote all the lyrics?
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 hadnt 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
At the Convention, there was an acoustic guitar.
Its behind you. Somebody offered me £250 for it. Its in a right
state as well!
Thats the one God Save The Queen was written on?
Anarchy. Actually, a few songs were written on it.
It seems that most of the bands 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.
I was around when we did EMI. That was mainly Steves. I cant
remember if we played it in Amsterdam, which were the last gigs I did with them.
Yeah. I think we did it then, though Im not exactly sure.
Ive got a tape of a Birmingham gig from December 1976 when Rotten introduces
a song as Flowers. Its actually about a minutes worth of
noise. Was that the mythical Flowers Of Romance?
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.
Id 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?
He didnt play on them. We used his amp, thats 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.
Perhaps he had his eye on the band for RAK Records!
Actually, I think he was very interested, but Malcolm wasnt impressed. I
dunno, Malcolm was doing things even then, and not telling us what was going on,
The next sessions date from August 1976.
Yeah. We did those down in our rehearsal place in Denmark Street, recorded
on Dave Goodmans 2-track: then we took them to a studio called Riverside
in Hammersmith and mixed them onto 16-track.
And this is what makes up a good portion of the Spunk bootleg?
Yes. Along with stuff we recorded later at Goosebury Studios.
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.)
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?
The session youre referring to could have been the one we recorded at EMIs
16-track studios in Manchester Square with Mike Thorne. We recorded about six
Vacant, Satellite, God Save The Queen (although
it was called No Future at that time), maybe Problems.
But definitely not Im A Believer!
Chris Spedding had nothing to do with the EMI sessions?
Nothing at all.
Apparently, Polydor paid for some sessions. -
Yeah. I think they paid for one at Kingsway Studios. But we didnt do a lot
what about the two Anarchy In The U.K. sessions?
Well, what happened was we started recording it at Lansdowne Studios but
it didnt work out there, so we went to Wessex Studios.
With the same backing track?
No, we totally re-recorded it. At Wessex, we recorded the stuff which ended up
on The Great RocknRoll Swindle album with Dave Goodman,
but we werent happy with it. Those songs like Johnny B Goode;
as far as the band were concerned, we werent 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.
And thats the one which ended up on the B-side of Pretty Vacant?
Yeah. And Dave Goodman was credited. But, because Anarchy still didnt
work, we got Chris Thomas in and recorded it again at Wessex; and thats
the one which finally came out as a single. By that time, wed 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 havent even done the backing
track yet, cos he was getting fed up of hanging around. And we said, No,
its all done. So he was on the spot and had to do his vocals.
So there was no attempt to sing it live in the studio?
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.
I think I prefer the heavier version recorded with Dave Goodman which appeared
on the Swindle album.
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.
And I Wanna Be Me.
Yeah. That was actually done in the rehearsal studios. Malcolm said, It
sounds pretty good, which it did. Well, the quality of the sound wasnt
up to much but the spirits there.
Ive seen a reference that the band were doing backing tracks in the studio
on December 27th.
Thats right. We went to Goosebury Studios, Gerrard Street. I dont
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.
So those were your last recordings with the band?
Yes. The Goosebury stuff, which I think was early 77. Yes, definitely early
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.
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 youre
with the same people for most of the time especially on tour it
can get on top of you
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 wouldnt
play God Save The Queen live.
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. Id just had enough. It was nothing to do with
the song or I wouldnt have written the music would I?
But dont you regret not seeing the thing through?
Well, Im 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. Theres no way we would have been a more melodic band because, basically,
Rotten cant sing. I mean, he can sing in his manner, but thats it.
So its a very narrow direction to be limited to if you consider yourself
to be a songwriter, which I do. Its the same with Steves guitar playing.
I mean, hes 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, whats the next step?" My other problem
is that I always tend to get fed up with things a little bit too early.
So you could never envisage Rotten staying in the business?
Yeah, I thought he would ..- I think hes getting his stuff together now
that hes 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.
When you left, you said that being in the Sex Pistols was a bit like being in
It was getting to be like that, particularly after the Bill Grundy show. And on
top of that, I didnt like being used by the gutter press. I mean, it was
great being in the papers and all that, but really youre 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.
But McLarens strategy was to use that platform and benefit from it.
Yeah, I enjoyed it as well to a certain extent. But, ultimately, looking back
on it you start to think Whos using who?
Were you disillusioned by the fact that the music swiftly became a secondary concern?
After the Anarchy tour, it was Malcolms idea that we were not
allowed to play anywhere. Though there were lots of places where we couldnt,
there still were places who would have us. If you wanna be in a band and you wanna
go out and play some rocknroll music and youre not allowed to
play, theres no point in being in the band. Its defeating the object.
And so for Rotten to say I just wanted to be in some pop group thats
bollocks. I wanted to play loud rock music; thats all I play anyway. And
when we couldnt 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.
It seems to me that the versions on Never Mind The Bollocks were straight
copies of the original demos.
Yeah, thats all they are. Theyre just done in a decent studio with
a decent producer.
Do you prefer the finished version?
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.
Who played bass on the finished album?
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.
What have you been up to more recently?
Ive been working with Johnny Thunders all last year, touring Australia,
Spain and Japan. And I did some work for that Sid And Nancy movie.
I was going to ask you about that. I havent seen it, but it seemed to get
slated in the press.
Thats weird, Ive seen some good press for it. I think its quite
good, actually. People say its not exactly right, but I dont think
that matters. Theres a bit of artistic licence and, after all, its
not supposed to be a documentary anyway. Its a very good tragic love
story/anti drugs film.
Rotten seems to disagree with you!
Well, I was talking to Debbie, who used to work with Malcolm shes
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, Rottens got the hump about it. I
asked why and she said, Well, to be honest, I think hes just got the
hump because the films not about him. That sort of hit the nail upon
You actually arranged the songs for the film, as well as played on them?
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.
So what are you up to at the moment?
Ive 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.
Are you going to be doing any gigs?
We might do. But its 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 wed do this. Its got quite a
bit of interest; in fact, someone wants us to do an album, but thats just
a sideline really. Ive also got a new band together called the Gang Show,
thats the working title, with me on bass, James Halliwell (keyboards), Dave
McIntosh and Tracy Eves on guitar. Weve just been doing some demos and sorting
out a management deal.
Its all a long way from the Anarchy tour and getting up the
old farts noses!
Yeah. I suppose it is. The funny thing is I wouldnt 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 its
even worse. I mean, theres hardly any live gigs. Its a sign of the
times we live in. Everyones 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 dont do anything at all; the technology uses them.
And once there was this dream of eradicating apathy!
I didnt say it was our fault. What would it be like if we hadnt come
along, and nothing happened at all?
Punk obviously ushered in a surfeit of musical ideas and a new set of attitudes.
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 werent a punk band but they were part
of that creative atmosphere. Even Dire Straits; they were around then. I dont
think they would have done anything if the Sex Pistols hadnt created an
atmosphere where record companies wanted to sign up new bands. Theyd still
be playing in pubs. Same with the Police. Its just these horrible Rick Astley