Music

Glen Matlock: 'I wish John Lydon stood by Anarchy In The UK's words'

Lonely child Glen Matlock was propelled headfirst into punk infamy with the Sex Pistols, but he wishes he’d stayed at art school

Glen Matlock

Glen Matlock. Image: Tina Korhonen

Glen Matlock was born in London in 1956. The grammar schoolboy eventually went to art college, but left after meeting his future Sex Pistols bandmates while working at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood‘s SEX boutique on the King’s Road.

The group, with Matlock on bass, quickly became notorious as the punk scene developed, leading to a controversial, sweary interview with Bill Grundy on ITV in late 1976 which brought headlines and infamy. Matlock quit the band in February 1977, but is co-writer of 10 of the 12 songs on the group’s acclaimed debut album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. He has subsequently joined them for a series of reunion tours since 1996.

Matlock later formed Rich Kids and has performed with the likes of Iggy Pop, The Faces and Blondie. He also has his own solo career, with a new album set for release in April.

In his Letter To My Younger Self, Glen Matlock looks back at a career that started in sensational circumstances, and has endured for nearly 50 years.

At 16 I was a bit lonely. I am an only child and my dad had aspirations for me, which was great. So instead of going to the local school with my mates I got sent to the grammar school. I was a fish out of water. And my birthday is at the end of August, so I was always younger than everybody else and maybe not quite as worldly wise. Growing up, I was a mix of things – playing football for my school, struggling with maths homework, and I did find from an early age you can only do so much homework. Even less if you’re trying to learn C minor seventh on your acoustic guitar.

I got a guitar for Christmas when I was 10 but it hurt my fingers. Me and my mate were trying to learn. We’d go to my nan’s to tune it up to the piano but her piano was out of tune so we’d spend an hour and a half trying to tune the guitar, get nowhere, then it was time for our tea. I was 13 before I picked it up with a vengeance.

Sex Pistols in 1976
1976: A press conference with fellow Sex Pistols John Lydon, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, the day after the Bill Grundy Show. Image: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

I was hip to pirate radio and got into The Kinks, The Who, Small Faces, The Dave Clark Five, The Yardbirds. But Israelites by Desmond Dekker was like nothing I’d heard before. We were in my dad’s Morris Minor. Every time we turned a corner, I had to move the radio on the parcel shelf to get reception. All of a sudden, that song came on. Radio 1 had not long started, we were listening to The Mike Raven Blues Show. I started listening regularly and the show after was John Peel’s Top Gear – that’s when I started getting hip to the fact that some music was worth more than Clodagh Rodgers on Top of the Pops

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The year I turned 16 I blagged a job in Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop on the King’s Road. It was the epicentre where every oddball, weirdo and ne’er do well popped in on a Saturday afternoon. It’s where I met Steve [Jones] and Paul [Cook], and later on John [Lydon]. I sold a pair of pink loafers to [guitarist] Mick Ronson, which he wore in the movie Renaldo and Clara. When I saw it at the Odeon in Camden I told the whole audience. They told me to sit down and shut up.

I don’t know that I found my people there, but the shop was a happening place. Everyone was older and trying to do something in graphic design, fashion, art, agitprop. It rubbed off on us. I started reading more diligently, picking up your Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kerouac. All those books involved yearning for something a bit more. I realised that there’s a big world out there and I’d rather be part of that than the little two-up two-down I was brought up in. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it didn’t seem a very wide horizon.

Not everybody in the punk scene went to art college, but that was what I brought to the table. I went to Central Saint Martins and there was a whole slew of people who went on to do things. At gigs you’d see Mick Jones or Viv Albertine and we’d congregate. It was a great time. More than the Sex Pistols, I’m proud and privileged to be part of a happening bunch of people. 

I’d tell my younger self to stay at art college. Maybe I could have been the first Damien Hirst – or he would have been the second Glen Matlock. I did a foundation course but over the summer decided to take the Sex Pistols seriously. I said, ‘you can give my place to somebody else. I’m joining a rock ’n’ roll band!’ I thought they were gonna say: “Oh no, we need you.” But they said, “All right then.” 

The Sex Pistols song that summed up how I was feeling in mid-’70s London was Pretty Vacant. I wrote the music and lyrics, which are a primal scream – when you are frustrated by circumstances but are still going to try and do something anyway. It is akin to where we are now. 

I’ve never not been politically turned on. My dad was a worker for this firm that made fibreglass milk floats. When I was 12, he came home with the hump. They’d had a vote and made him shop steward. I thought that was great, but he told me it means trouble. And he was right. A couple of months later there were industrial disputes and the first people sacked were the shop stewards. 

Me and my dad fell out after the Bill Grundy Show [the infamous TV appearance that caused a scandal]. My mum worked at the gas board. After the show, they started calling her Mrs Sex Pistol, which didn’t go down too well. She took it out on my dad so he was annoyed with me; not for swearing on the telly, but for my mum being upset. So there is always a knock-on effect for these things – my dad wasn’t anti-what I was doing. He was just anti-getting grief from my mum. We didn’t speak for a year.

I get fed up with talk of who did what in the Sex Pistols. But Anarchy In The UK is my musical contribution and John’s lyric – I just wish he still stood by the words. Same with God Save The Queen. My role in life has been as a tunesmith. I enabled John to say what he wanted by having a catchy tune. Now I’ve got a bit to say myself on my new record. The first single is called Head on a Stick. And that’s what I’d like to see, metaphorically, for the people who’ve led us up the garden path so openly and brazenly – Gove, Johnson, Sunak, Iain Duncan Smith. Personally, I think a lot of people should be done for treason. People are furious and quite rightly so. I have been for a while.

Glen Matlock in 1979
1979: After leaving the Pistols and performing in the Rich Kids, Matlock worked with Iggy Pop. Image: by Harry Goodwin/Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images

I was only 20 when I left the Pistols. Maybe I should have stood my ground more, but I was young and I’d already been approached by record companies saying we’d be interested in what you come up with. So I formed Rich Kids with Steve New, a fantastic guitarist who’s sadly no longer around, and Rusty Egan, who was a great drummer. I wish he’d kept drumming instead of talking about it. Every singer wanted to sound like Johnny Rotten and I’d already done that. But Midge Ure, who had a very distinctive voice, ended up joining. We signed to EMI and had our time in the sun but Midge and Rusty did a side project with Steve Strange, Visage, which really took off. 

Who’s that Irish bloke who sang that song [sings Life is a Rollercoaster], Ronan Keating? I don’t know much about his band but he was right about that. I’ve been fortunate that my career-ish path has careered the way it has. After the Rich Kids, I was at home thinking, what am I gonna do now? I’m not kidding, two minutes later, I got a call from Iggy Pop asking if I wanted to play with him. We met at the Athenaeum Hotel, got slaughtered, then went off around Europe. The first time I went to New York was with him on Halloween in 1979, supported by The Cramps. The whole crowd were in fancy dress. Backstage Debbie Harry was dressed as a witch and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Then, last year, the phone rang and it was Clem Burke saying Blondie were stuck for a bass player – next thing I knew, I’m rehearsing in New York and playing [the OVO Hydro] in Glasgow in front of 13,000 people.

I’d like to have done more with my dad. My life has been up and down financially, but when I was more comfortable and had more time on my hands, he came down with Alzheimer’s and he just wasn’t the guy I’d hoped he was going to be. I did what I could. But it was the time I could have said, I’m  playing America, I’ll get you a hotel room, just come over. I couldn’t do it. That felt sad, because if we’d done those things, we’d have had more of a bond.

Glen Matlock in Hyde Park in 2018
2018: Performing at a TUC rally in London’s Hyde Park. Image: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Shutterstock

I’m not an expert on relationships, but I’d tell my younger self you can’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. You have to be true to yourself. If they like it, great, if they don’t, you’ve got to lump it. That doesn’t mean you can be nasty about it, though. I have lived and loved and have ended up where I am – I’ve got lots of friends all around the world and have two fantastic sons. I’m not the family man I was hoping to be at this stage of life, but I’m not unhappy about it. 

I’ve ended up on the wagon. So I’d tell my younger self a LITTLE bit of what you fancy does you good but maybe if you don’t have those three extra drinks it might stand you in better stead. 

I wasn’t happy with the Danny Boyle Sex Pistols TV series. I’m portrayed as being a bit wet, but you don’t get involved with that scene at such a tender age if you’re wet behind the ears. When I was in LA, I went to a red carpet thing to back Steve up and Danny was there. He now knows full well I am not how he portrayed me.

If the Sex Pistols ever play together again, which looks very unlikely, it will be like riding a bike. We all like playing with each other. We keep in contact. I saw Steve in LA when I was there with Blondie, Paul invited me to do a few numbers with The Professionals before Christmas. And I did like when John said: “While we may not be the best of friends, we are certainly not the worst of enemies.” Now, whether that is still the case… but I like to think so. 

Matlock’s new album Consequences Coming is out on April 23. The single Head on a Stick is out now. He plays at Nell’s in London on February 17. glenmatlock.co.uk

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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