I was a teenage Sex Pistol
Glen Matlock – who got punted from the Pistols for Sid Vicious – tells about the benefits of touring solo and how he deserves the credit for
Strip away the swearing and the puking, the spitting and the sneering, the safety pins and the shredded clothes, and the Sex Pistols were just another great pop band.
They were The Monkees with a migraine, The Beatles with buggered amps, The Kinks marinated in bile and cheap lager.
Colourful, compelling, winningly ridiculous, The Sex Pistols followed in a long line of impudent singles bands – The Who, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, Small Faces – who were embraced by spotty teen miscreants around the globe while alienating their parents.
Their first three singles were, quite literally, a blast.
Anarchy in The UK, God Save The Queen and Pretty Vacant were cultural hand-grenades: detonations of gleeful din, bright flashes of melody and energy and noise, lobbed across enemy lines to rain shock and awe upon a slumbering population whose pop charts had gotten slick, safe and stale.
Pretty Vacant in particular still sounds as raw and audacious as the day it was made. It’s brash, thrilling, a joyous outrage.
And no wonder. Original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock nicked the main riff from Swedish chart-pop titans, Abba.
‘‘I didn’t really nick it!’’ protests Matlock, who has lived in LA for many years now but retains the ‘‘gorblimey’’ accent of an East End London cabbie. ‘‘No, no, no. Who told you that!’’ Actually, you did, via numerous interviews with other people.
‘‘Nah, well, it’s not quite the whole story, though, is it?’’ Matlock pauses, heaves a mighty sigh, and prepares to set the record straight.
‘‘Look, there’s three types of songs for me. There’s songs with a great riff, like Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love. There’s songs with amazing chord changes, like Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks. And then there’s songs that have both, and those are the ones I try to write.’’
With Pretty Vacant, Matlock already had the ripper chord changes; it just needed a little extra riff for liftoff.
‘‘I was in this pub near where I went to art college and Abba’s S.O.S came on the radio. All the pieces suddenly came together, you know? I didn’t pinch it note for note, but the structure of that song gave me the idea for the Pretty Vacant bass riff. And the rest, as they say, is history.’’
Yes, indeed, but it is history that often overlooks Matlock, about which he is far from chuffed. Though the rest of the band dispute his version of events, Matlock claims he wrote most of the music on their 1977 debut album Never Mind The Bollocks; Here’s the Sex Pistols, while John ‘‘Johnny Rotten’’ Lydon supplied the lyrics.
But Matlock and Lydon argued constantly, and he bailed before the band became famous. He was replaced by a photogenic heroin addict, the late Sid Vicious, who could barely play a note, and the Sex Pistols selfdestructed in less than a year. It still rankles.
‘‘I had been good mates with the other two, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, and had a big hand in all three of our singles. It really gets on my nerves when the others debate that, but I get the last laugh, because I’ve always been paid for those songs, as a cosongwriter. I left in early 77, but I got publishing credits. If you come and see my live show, my contribution to that band becomes very obvious.’’
Ah, yes – the live shows. Matlock’s on his way down here – a solitary Sex Pistol, playing his most famous songs on an acoustic guitar. An alarming image arises of a gnarled folkie in tweed jacket and flat cap, strumming Anarchy in the UK all on his tod.
‘‘I do have a flat cap, but you can rest assured, I’m not gonna bring it. And you don’t need to worry that it’s all namby-pamby sounding with the acoustic guitar. People say it almost sounds like I’ve got a full band with me.’’
His past with the Pistols is only part of the deal, too. Matlock went on to have all sorts of other sonic adventures.
He formed his own band, the Rich Kids, alongside future members of Ultravox, Misfits and The Skids.
He toured and recorded with rock’n’roll wild man Iggy Pop, original punk reprobates The Damned and drug-hoovering Scottish dance-rock pioneers Primal Scream. Paul Weller once invited him to join The Jam.
Matlock even found himself playing in a reformed version of his favourite British R&B band, The Faces.
Glen Matlock claims responsibility for writing the music for many of the Sex Pistols’ hits. They dispute his version but it hasn’t stopped them from inviting him on reunion tours.