The Sex Pistols band member Glen Matlock deliberates on punk rock and swearing on telly, over lunch at Boisdale of Belgravia with Harry Owen.
Glen arrives on a beautiful, crisp winter’s morning and he’s looking dapper. Its word I don’t often use but in the circumstances it couldn’t have been more apt – he is impeccably dressed and has a certain swagger, not pretentious, but there is something in his confidence of movement as he glides towards a discreet corner table in Boisdale of Belgravia. He’s earnt that assurance, being of course part of the very fabric of music history, as a member of the Sex Pistols. The band made history in many ways, beyond the punk subculture. On the December 1, 1976, the Sex Pistols were interviewed by Bill Grundy for Thames Television. The interview caused national outrage, not least because Steve Jones became the third person to ever say ‘fuck’ on British TV. The first person was Kenneth Tynan in 1965, followed by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne in 1973, but to date the Sex Pistols uttering of expletives remains the most famous contribution.
I ask Glen if he’s aware of this infamous fact, “Funnily enough someone on twitter the other day was saying that I got the bronze medal – but it weren’t me – it was Steve what did it, on account of the Blue Nun. He snuck off to some other room somewhere, drunk the lot and then we were on the telly and halfway through the interview, the wine kicked in and all hell broke loose.”
So you weren’t in third place, but the Sex Pistols did have a reputation for swearing, amongst other things, as anarchy was sweeping late-70’s London?
“Here’s a funny one, Harry. A few years back, somebody asked me what I thought about swearing on telly. Basically I said, half-jokingly, that I didn’t think it was big or clever. The reason I said that was: A) I had kids who were still at school and; B) my local pub in Maida Vale, a nice old fashioned gin palace, was being taken over by Gordon Ramsey. It was really nice upstairs, with a great Thai restaurant and as soon as he took over, he closed them down, slung them out and put one of his own, expensive restaurants – which nobody went to. He’s renowned for swearing on the telly and when somebody asked me what I thought about it, I was really railing against him taking over my local pub! Of course it comes out as, ‘Sex Pistols don’t like swearing.’ Johnny Rotten then thought I was having a go at him. I got embroiled in this whole thing… but it was mainly because of Gordon fucking Ramsay.”
Forty years after the Bill Grundy interview and in the same week I’m meeting Glen for lunch, Joe Corré (son of Vivienne Westwood and the late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren) has set fire to an estimated £5m worth of punk memorabilia on a boat, on the river Thames. Consensus is the collection was nowhere near that value. His motivation was in part, ‘To highlight the hypocrisy at the core of this hijacking of 40 years of Anarchy in the UK.’ Seems a shame to me – but then again, I’m in my thirties: whatdo I know about Punk? However, I do know that setting fire to effigies on the Thames these days barely registers in the popular consciousness. Chances are #burnpunklondon entirely passed you by – Joe himself posted a picture on the day of the event that garnered only 19 retweets. I ask Glen what he made of all the punk-burning shenanigans? “Well what was Joe trying to do? He’s trying to draw attention to some global warming issue that him and his mum, were concerned about. How the all the countries around the Equator are going to dry up and there’s going to be mass migration from the equatorial zones to the northern climes. But he thought the best way to do it was to burn these punk collections. I did say my dad used to work at Hanwell bus garage, but because he did that, it doesn’t give me a divine right to come out on the thickness of replacement aluminium panels for buses. Neither does it give Joe, because his dad was Malcolm McLaren, the right to comment on the state of punk rock.”
Do people constantly ask him about the Sex Pistols? “I’ve been trying to duck it for 40 years now and it never changes, so you might as well just go with it.” I endeavour to not ask too many more questions on the topic, but can’t resist wondering if Malcolm McLaren had been a good manager?
“He was good at certain things, bad at others. Malcolm was very good at stirring things up, but he was a useless manager in a traditional sense, you know, the money. Some of those other bands, I think they kind of got it together. The Punks had Malcolm and Bernie Rhodes who managed The Clash and it was always about keeping everything in the state of calamity all the time. Malcolm McLaren always said this though, ‘You know when you’ve got Anarchy – because people went and bought it, they had to save up their money and actually go somewhere, it’s a physical thing – it’s like a vote for you.’ It’s funny with us all, because we’ve got something in common that only four people in the whole world have. No matter what way you cut it, if we get in a room, we’re the Sex Pistols and nobody else can say that.”
As our lunch arrives, I turn the conversation towards food. To date, almost everyone we have interviewed has been on celebrity Masterchef, you’ve never been tempted by any of that? “Having a punk background you have to be a little bit careful what you’re associated with but I like cooking, maybe down the line. My mate who’s
an agent, called me once and said how do you fancy going to South Africa? I thought, oh great. Well I said to him, how do I get there? He went, business class flights. I said, where do I stay when I get there? Into a 5 star hotel. How long for? 10 days. Yeah great. I said, what do I do when I get there? He said, you learn to scuba dive. Great, never done that. How much? He told me. I said, what’s the catch? And he said, well at the end of the week you have to go and get in a cage with a Great White Shark… basically it was celebrity shark bait.”
As he has worked as a professional musician for close to 40 years (including the bands the Rich Kids, the Faces, the Spectres and the London Cowboys), I’m curious about the plans for the rest of this year? “I’ve put a blues band together, I’ve got a record in the can that is coming out, I’m doing a pledge music campaign, the record industry doesn’t exist like the way it did for blokes my age, but I feel quite ok about that.” What about the festival scene? “I actually did the festivals two summers ago now. I found I was sort of telling the story behind the songs, I’d never done that before and it went down really well, I’ve always done the acoustic shows and it’s going from strength to strength, we did Glastonbury this year.”
What music are you currently listening to? “Well I was quite saddened that Mose Allison passed away recently, so I’ve been listening to him a lot. He was like a beatnik kind of jazz but he wrote really good songs. In fact the Yardbirds did one of his songs, I’m Not Talking and The Who covered Young Man Blues which he wrote and also My Generation. He’s got this way of playing, it’s all a funny groove, it’s almost like… (Glen begins banging out the beat on the table, much to the restaurants amusement)… one, two, three, four, most rock bands are like that … but it’s more like this… (cue more loud beating on table), it’s almost like… (Glen now breaks into song to accompany the beating). I’m not jazz at all, apart from I’ve worn a beret a couple of times in my life, you know. I just like any kind of music as long as it’s well done.”
I end our interview wondering if Glen ever reflected on the idea he had been part of a moment in history that would last forever. “Well it almost has, I turned 60 this year. It’s funny though, I’m still always looking to what song I write next and what record I will release.” And beyond that anti-establishment rhetoric, there was a definite sense of anger in the music? “Yes, we wanted to shake things up. You can’t take it out of context, in the early to mid-70s, there was a real air of despondency. Everything was on strike, there was power cuts, there was rubbish piled high in the streets and totally ineffectual government and it wasn’t even the Tories, it was bloody James Callaghan. It just seemed like there was no future and we wrote a song about it, it was called No Future but then that got changed to God Save the Queen.”
As we are drinking our coffee, Glen nonchalantly asks, “Have you got the gist of it then? Are you ready to do the interview now?” I explained my two hour recording of the lunch we had just enjoyed, was in fact ‘the interview’. Glen took this all in his stride, “OK then… great.” And just like that, he’s gliding onto the next appointment, the next lunch, the next recording, the next acoustic performance and no doubt, another 20 fucking questions about the Sex Pistols.