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

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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