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Glen Matlock talks to Phil Singleton about his new album, forthcoming tour and life with the Sex Pistols.

Interview conducted by Phil on 7th August 2000

Phil: 'Open Mind'. It's been a while in coming. Rather than having a leisurely feel to it, it has an air of excitement and urgency about it. Were you fired up when it came to recording it?

Glen: Yeah, but I was also worried about how much the studio time was costing! I'm fortunate in that if  I pick up a guitar and and go 'bam',  it's got an intensity to it, which some people struggle to get. It's a legacy of the punk thing.

So it's not just the studio clock ticking! You think the urgency is there anyway?

Yeah, I think it's there anyway. I'm an urgent kind of guy! I like stuff with a bit of spirit. The slow song 'Ambition' is not that slow really, it's quite fast. All the guys were going, 'let's go a bit slower',  and I said let's play faster. Just because the song's in a slow idiom, it doesn't mean it has to be played too slow.

It's quite a powerful track.

I don't want to end up with anything too turgid.

It's great to hear the studio versions of tracks you've been perfoming live for the past 18 months.

What you have in the back of your mind - it's not a deliberate thing it's just the way it works out -  if you're going to put a record out is; 'who's going to play on it?' and 'have you got enough songs?'. Or if  you're doing a gig and you've got a new song you might as well try it out. That's how bands always do their first album. A band's first album is always so much better than their second one, normally. Cos the first album is what they got the deal on, what they've gigged all around the country. It's what they've managed to get right.... 'let's try this and change that around a bit'. When they do a second album they're sitting there, they've got loads of money and are going in a studio to do it with some high-falutin producer. It just hasn't been tried out. So I always like to try songs out live, cos that's what music is; it's supposed to be a one-on-one thing, you're playing something in front of someone else and getting a reaction back on  it.

So you think it's important to perform songs live before taking them into the studio?

I think it helps because you find out what's going right and what's going wrong .

That's what's gone wrong with a lot of the stuff around at the moment, it's by bands that don't tend to gig anymore.

Yeah, it's all right if you're Pink Floyd or someone like that, that's if you like that kind of thing. I don't like Pink Floyd, but I like their first album, it's like a punk album. I can imagine it in all those swinging Sixties clubs. 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', it's great, it's the first punk rock record ever. There's a spirit and intensity there. It was only recorded in an afternoon, but it's great.

There's an element of self depreciating humour on your album.

Yeah that's me, y'know?

Is that part of the Glen Matlock psyche do you think?

There are two schools of thought in this world about me; that I'm a complete idiot or I'm a real cool kind of bloke, and the truth is somewhere between the two.  I don't like to get too big for my boots, I like going out and having a laugh about myself.

A lot of the lyrical stuff on the album is to do with my background, where I come from and where I am now and things that are going on around me in my age group, and my set of influences. A song like 'Idiot' is me talking to myself really, although it's an Everyman kind of song. Who's never done anything and made a complete pig's ear of something and called yourself a f**king idiot? It's very tongue-in-cheek.

There's a strong London feel and that is what I like, because a lot of people tend to go for a fake LA pose, and you tend to sing about where you're from.

Yeah... 'Ducking and Diving' is a total London expression. I was talking to Chris Musto who plays drums with me, he does art work, works at the Fuji Festival, he designs album covers for other people, and  is always running around doing this, that and the other. We've both got kids, and there's not enough hours in the day to get done what you wanna get done. You're trying to keep everybody happy and you are trying to create a little bit of space for yourself, and trying to remain true to your beliefs or your creed or your way of going about things, and  it's treading that line all the time. I don't think someone from Manchester would have come up with a lyric like that. There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm quite proud of my London-ness. It's not the best verse in the world, but I think there's a bit of personality in it.

It's got a good singalong chorus though,  hasn't it?

Yeah, well the idea is that when you write a song, if you're crafty and if it's catchy enough, that it seeps into people's subconscious, and then they're singing along to your words. It's like a subliminal kind of advertising almost.  Here we always have a joke about the blokes that drive the white vans... if anyone's ever going to carve you up while you're driving,  it's always these blokes driving these white vans, and if you're walking down the street they'll stop you and go 'do you wanna buy some speakers'! I can imagine people in that kind of van singing that song.

You put a lot of thought into the lyrics on the album, 'Sad Meal For One' is an example of that. You obviously attach a great deal of importance to this aspect of your songwriting.

Well it doesn't sound musically anything like it to the layman I wouldn't have thought,  but I've listened to a lot of people like Jacques Brel , Scott Walker, Ian Dury, Ray Davis. Their lyrics are very picturesque, they tell a story. They're like little vignettes of life. Y'know that Jacques Brel song 'The Port of Amsterdam', it really sets the scene, and I'd been trying to pick up on that kind of angle but also use it to my set of experiences.

Which do you start with first, the lyrics or the tune?

An event. That song  'Sad Meal For One ', began in my local Marks and Spencers. Where I live it's kind of rough but quite swanky at the same time, and at 6.30 at night - you're not allowed to park round there - there's always blokes going in there with Armani suits on, they got the BMW double-parked outside, Rolex stand behind them in the queue and they've got an individual shepherd's pie for one to take home with them! I just feel it's a mark of modern society. The joke was, I was actually standing behind doing the same thing, minus the Rolex and the BMW double parked! It's the breakdown of the family unit and it's kind of sad y'know. There's a funny side to it and there's a wry side to it all.

It's even a Shakespearean thing, Henry IV or one of those kind of  plays. All the Lords and all that can only say certain things to each other because they're above the salt and can't insult the King, but the joker Falstaff he can say what ever the f**k he likes because he's just the joker, but all the truth in Shakespeare comes out of the comedy side of things. The joker doesn't speak in prose he doesn't speak in verse, all the high-falutin people speak in verse, but he speaks in blank ordinary language and he's the bloke who's allowed to say all the things that really hit home.

He's the one who's actually reflecting the truth of what's going on.

I've tried to pick up on that idea somehow. It sounds a bit high-falutin but it's not. And also on the album as a whole.... when I was a kid and you hear Pirate radio doing all the songs like 'Happy Jack' and 'Itchycoo Park', there was always a song I thought 'What the f**k is this all about....? It was 'Excerpt from a teenage Opera' by Keith West. I always had it in the back of my mind 'what happened to him when he grew up?'... just a silly little idea!

Wasn't that the opera that was never made?

Having said that, since I've written that song, I did see the album about six months ago. I'm sure it was tripe!

Are you happier with 'Open Mind' than your debut solo album?

Yeah. I've got my singing together a bit more. I think I've picked the keys of the songs a bit better. I've been working on my singing,  I've got a little studio at home and I work on things. My singing is almost passable now!

The vocals were alright on the last album, but they were lower in the mix.

And that's another thing, I was bit annoyed with (Alan) McGee actually. I mentioned it to Joe Foster (who co-mixed the album) and McGee had said 'Oh, bury the vocals '.

It was as though you were shouting from the back of the room.

This album is a little less frantic. On the last album there was a lot of songs I had had knocking around from ages ago and there was some new ones, and I wanted to use up all these songs I had going around my head. I think there are some good songs on that album, but I didn't quite have the confidence in doing it. I made the mistake on the last album of doing some of it at home with the vocals and I don't think I used the right room. This time I did it in the studio with a mate of mine who's an engineer and we spent a long time trying to get the vocal sound right, and once I had a good vocal sound I had a lot more confidence in my singing.

It comes across well, your vocals are handled very well on the album.

The thing I was chuffed about was that review in Mojo, he said I was sort of like a Cockney Bob Dylan.

That was quite a compliment.

I just wanna get across... there is a tongue-in-cheek side to it... everything is so po-faced these days y'know?

And very serious.

Yeah, but serious about nothing that's worth being serious about.

It's mainly about the look and the pose rather than the content.

Yeah. I wouldn't mind, I get knocked from the NME and people like that. 'He's not a rebel' and all that lark... but when you've done the Pistols thing, I can't think of anything more rebellious than that.

It's quite hard to follow in terms of outrage.

It is. And that was John's thing as well. I had my moments y'know, 'Pretty Vacant' is my lyric. That's more of an apolitical lyric, it's not a vote Tory or be a socialist or be a born again new Scientologist. When you've been involved with something like that anything else is really second best, so don't even go there. If you can't compete with that don't bother. These identikit rebellious people that are championed by the music papers don't understand, they're just too thick to realise, they don't cut it.

The thing is with the Pistols, it was hard after them for anybody to be outrageous, and I think all the other groups that come along and try to be outrageous are wasting their time, it's all been done before. Nothing will have that same sort of impact.

Yeah.... I was driving earlier on and that Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey record came on, 'History Repeating'. The lyrics are quite on the ball.

You couldn't go and insult the Queen now and expect to get a lot of coverage. I think the Pistols almost put an end to being outrageous.

We might think that. Perhaps younger kids don't because they haven't been there and done that. Everything is so MTV and lilywhite really and I'm not interested.

I've done that, I wanna go somewhere else. I'm carving out a little niche for myself. If I sell enough records to make another one I'll be happy, and if I sell more than that I'll be over the f**king Moon!

'Mugs Game' is superb, it's the highlight for me. How do you feel about that song or do you have another particular favourite?

I think they're all great! It all depends what mood you're in. We were thinking of pulling a single off, and nobody could really make their mind up which one was the right one to go for. I don't know if it's because there isn't a single, or cos they're all singles! 'Mugs Game' is about what I've just been talking about... you get shunted into playing this game and it's nobody's fault but your own really. Everybody's like sheep these days.

What determined the running order on the album? Obviously I'm pleased that 'Rattle Your Cage' finishes the album, cos I love that song!

Well, it's a rocker isn't it?

Did you spend a lot of time deciding on the running order?

Yeah. A lot of it's to do with what sounds good next to each other. You don't want one song finishing and the next one starting in the same key. So when it comes in it catches your ear a bit better. On the other hand I did want to start off the album with some of the more 'songy' songs, like 'Open Mind', just to get away from 'heads down see-you-at-the-end' kind of rock'n'roll. I've done that, and I can do that...I just wanted to show off my capacity as a musician.

In the first half of the album you're showing off your repertoire, which works quite well and is quite a good showcase. It picks up speed a little bit for the latter half of the CD.

Yeah, or it's like 'hurry up, let's get down the pub!'

I like 'Open Mind' just as a kind of statement. Everything so f**king straight these days.

You can either do an album that is different and people will say 'what happened to the Sex Pistols?' or you can copy the Sex Pistols and they will say 'what's he doing copying what he was doing 25 years ago?'

I was talking to Mick Jones about that, and he said exactly the same thing. You can never win. It's the same with him and The Clash.

You said in your review of 'Open Mind' (see reviews section) that it was me asking for an open mind from people listening to my stuff. Well yeah, a little bit, but the song's not only about that. It's about little things, like those two gay guys who adopted that kid in LA and brought it back, and I thought 'hang on, maybe that's not quite right.' but my missus said 'yeah, but there are so many people who have kids who knock them around, torture them, and don't look after them, and neglect them, and those blokes are more likely to make a good job of it'. You've got to keep an open mind about these things, you've got to read between the lines, all the time. 'From Dallas to St Petersburg it's theatre of the absurd', cos every day there is a story in the paper that really tests your sense of disbelief.

Were you pleased with the sound from the Mellotron, cos to me it colours the songs but it isn't intrusive?

I'd have loved to have had the proper string section in, but how much is that going to cost? And what do you do on the road? I thought I'd get the old Mellotron out. They're en vogue a little bit, and it's quite a nice vowel sound. They're always breaking down and they're quite funky! I thought it'd give me a Moody Blues kind of edge! I thought I'd try and be Mike Pinder out of the Moody Blues just for a laugh!

Are there any musicians living or dead you would like to have had make a contribution to 'Open Mind', and if so what would they have added?

Although Nick Plytas does really well keyboard wise, I'd  liked to have had Ian McLagan from The Faces playing on it, who's a mate of mine and lives in Texas. I found out afterwards that what he actually does now is, you can send him a tape over and he'll stick all the keyboards on and he'll send it back to you. I should have done that but didn't think of it at the time.

No heroes that have passed away, that you would have liked to have contributed, if they were here... Ian Dury perhaps?

Yeah, but what would he have done? Played the spoons?! A couple of times I was speaking to people about getting a record out they said to me you should have all sorts of big-names on it... 'we'll do a relaunch' etc... that's f**ing bollocks! It's an industry thing. I like playing with my mates, having a laugh. They all play as good as each other, just slightly different. That's why I've got different people playing on different tracks to give it a slightly different flavour.

Have you finalised the line-up for the live shows?

Yeah, me on bass, Chris Musto on drums, James Stevenson on guitar, and Terry Edwards playing keyboards.

Whose idea was it to do the acoustic shows?

Mine really... don't know why, I wish I hadn't now! I'm a bit nervous about it to be honest. I was talking to Pete Wylie and he said he'd been doing some and said it doesn't half put hairs on your chest! And I thought I could do with some hairs on my chest! It's a good way of keeping your face around. When you haven't got a big record company behind you... I just want to keep my face around and try and sell some records, but if I take the band out it costs a fortune.

Do you approach the acoustic shows in the same manner as you would performing in front of 30,000 at Finsbury Park?

Yeah... I think I'll be more nervous to be honest. Finsbury Park was a sea of heads, you don't really see any faces. When you're sitting there with people in front of you, when you can see their face a couple of feet away... I wear a clean shirt whether playing in front of 30,000 or three!

Standards have to be maintained!

Standards have to be maintained... hygienic standards.

You branched out into radio recently with the BBC Radio 2 'Anarchy In The UK' documentary. How did this come about?

I was walking down the street, and the old mobile rang, and it was Stewart Cruickshank. He said 'you don't know me but I'm a friend of Joe Foster's who worked at Creation Records". He said "we're doing this programme on punk and would you be interested?" I said "I didn't know if I really wanted to talk about that". He said "we don't want to interview you we want you to present it". I thought well, I've not done that before, it's the BBC and they might have some money as well! The gas bill! So I thought yeah I'll have a go at doing that, and coupled with the fact that it coincided with the Pistols movie, which I thought was bollocks. I thought I could have my say as well. It was another string to my bow. It was telling my side of the story. It was something I hadn't done before. It was getting paid.

It was good for you to get the chance to state how pro-active you were in the formation of the Pistols.

Yeah, I'm not bragging, it's just the way it was. It annoys me when people tell porky pies, because it wasn't quite like that y'know?

Are you hoping  to do more radio work ?

Yeah, if the right thing comes along. Quite what it would be I don't know. I'd like to do...

The Glen Matlock show?

... the football results on a Saturday afternoon. You get good holidays! The summer!

Mind you, the football season goes on longer and longer now.

I'd have to have a word with them about that!

To many people 'The Filth and the Fury' movie is the story according to Johnny Rotten.

I think that is what it is. It's not the story of the Sex Pistols, it's the Johnny Rotten story. John came on board a good year or more after we had started putting the band together. He just doesn't know about stuff that happened before then. Obviously it's not that important to him, and he could argue that it wasn't the Sex Pistols until John came along, but I think it was. I think the whole spirit of the Sex Pistols stemmed from Steve. What sums up the Sex Pistols for me is Steve in the 'Pretty Vacant' video with an 'Anarchy' hanky knotted up. That is the Sex Pistols.

It's been said before that the only person in the Sex Pistols that really didn't care, was Steve.

Yeah. Well... he cared, he cared about getting his knob sucked!

Julien Temple seemed as keen to please Johnny in 'The Filth and the Fury' as he did to please Malcolm in  'The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle'.

I think that's another mistake they made, using Julien. It might sound like sour grapes from me but Julien is either too much of a McLaren groupie or he's too much of a Johnny Rotten groupie to be truly objective about it all.

Do you think the film was the final end for the Pistols or do you envisage working again with them? You did of course perform 'Anarchy' with Steve at the 3 Colours Red concert last year.

Who knows? It looks very unlikely, but you never know. Never say never. I'll tell you what's a f**king piss-off though, having a great band like that, not doing anything, when you know you could go out for like half a million pounds a gig. It's a bit f**king annoying, when all these other half-baked groups who are cobblers at the end of the day, earn a fortune.

(Re: Pistols) A) what harm does it do? B) what good does it do? It does a lot of good. It underlines if something is really good, just how good it can be. The only people who moaned about any of those gigs we did were the jaded music press who knocked us the first time around anyway. When you go to South America or Eastern Europe, those people have never seen anything like that. They are so pleased... you've done something for their lives. It's not a big deal, it's not the invention of penicillin or anything, but you touch a chord with people when they've got so little. I think that's why it could possibly happen again. Who knows?

Going to South America, places like Santiago, it must be weird playing to these kids so far away from home, who actually know the stuff?

It's great. That's why you're in a band in the first place. That's why you put all that effort in getting a band together.

What about your autobiography 'I was a Teenage Sex Pistol'? Is it likely to be reprinted do you think?

I'm talking to a couple of people at the moment actually. So you never know. It will still be in the shops when I do these Borders Bookshop shows.

You prefer the green (reprint) cover rather than the original, don't you?

I'd like to do a black one next!

My book's the story as I see it. If you want the whole Sex Pistols story, each of the people involved has got another tale to tell and the truth is somewhere between the lot of them. At least in my book you are not told that this is the truth, it's one aspect of it.

Iggy Pop's 'Soldier' album has just been remastered and re-released.

Yeah, someone has just mentioned that to me.

They have added two tracks to it. 'Low-life', and an instrumental called 'Drop the Hook'.

Don't know those. I know what they should have put on it, but I don't think it ever got finished, was 'Sacred Cow'. (Singing) 'Here she comes again, a stranger to me now, it's hard to think that she was once my sacred cow, she's all dressed up in boots... !'  Iggy did it live a couple of times about 1981.

You co-wrote three tracks on the 'Soldier' album with Iggy.

And he did one of my songs ('Ambition'). I don't think he's ever done anybody else's lyrics, before or since. I had some tunes, there was one 'Forget Me Not' and he said 'I wanna do that one' and I said 'only if you change the lyrics' and he said 'No I like 'em man'.  I said 'You've got to change them or you can't do it'. That became 'Take Care of Me'. The lyrics to that are great. (Singing) 'I need somebody to pull me out, I'm sinking like crazy in my sauerkraut.' He was living in Germany and getting a bit fed up with it.

There's quite a humourous track on there called 'Dog Food'.

It's not humourous that actually. Iggy was away and I did some backing vocals on that and I got everybody going  'yum yum'. He came in and said what's all this 'yum yum'? I said I thought it was quite good with dog food. He said 'it's not funny, I used to live on dog food'. In the States, in the Projects, which is their version of council flats, where people are not allowed to have pets they have the highest sales of pet food.

So he was making a statement?

A culinary statement!

The bass was very prominent on 'Soldier'. Were you pleased with the mix on that?

Yeah. On 'Loco Mosquito' - Bowie actually mixed that, for a single, I don't know if it's the same mix - he stuck the bass right up.

I believe the production was hampered a bit by friction between Iggy and Steve New.

The friction was between Iggy and James Williamson (producer). Bowie turned up and stuck his spanner in, pissed off Williamson and cleared off after Steve hammered him (Bowie). Steve then did Iggy's American tour at the last minute, cos Steve was a bit under the weather at the time. Then Iggy mixed out all Steve's guitar parts. He did it to f**k Steve off. That annoyed me because it spoiled my songs as far as I was concerned. I thought he was cutting off his nose to spite his face.

On the upside, he's left your bass more prominent.

Maybe. Steve does play on some of it, and Ivan Kral did some great stuff. He turned up at the last minute.

Did you redo 'Ambition' because it was a particular favourite or did you feel that it had not been done justice?

It's never been released by me. I realised after we did it with Iggy, that it should actually be in 6/8. A waltz time kind of thing. On the Iggy album, it's a totally different time signature.

What can we expect from your website

There will be a lot of rare Filthy Lucre pictures from around the world. On a periodic basis I will be changing them. I'm doing a video with Mick Jones for 'Swinging London', and might stick a bit of that on.

Is that likely to be shown on MTV or VH- 1?

What do you think?

Good point!

But you never know!

Glen, thank you very much.

God Save the Sex Pistols

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