Glen Matlock: Truth or Consequences

Talking with the original Sex Pistol about politics and punk rock

Glen Matlock (Image: Cooking Vinyl)

En route to my interview with Glen Matlock, I texted my college roommate to let him know what I was doing. 

Immediately, he texted me back four words: “The literate Sex Pistol.” Needless to say, he was right. Over lunch — and over what was my first in-person interview since COVID hit — Matlock read me the G.K. Chesterton poem “The Rolling English Road!” 

It’s no secret that Matlock — the Pistols’ original bassist and the guy who came up with most of their melodies in the beginning —  always stood somewhat apart from John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten), Steve Jones and Paul Cook. There were a number of reasons for this, but one was that he was more literate than his bandmates — or in Jones’ words, “he weren’t one of the lads.” Be that as it may, there are many who still think that Matlock was the best musician in the Pistols. Certainly, he was a better bassist than Sid Vicious. 

In the 45 years since the Sex Pistols self-destructed, Matlock has stayed busy. By 1978, he had already formed his own band, The Rich Kids. More pop-oriented than the Pistols, they also included the ubiquitous Midge Ure on lead vocals, Rusty Egan on drums and the late Steve New on guitar.  Their lone album, Ghosts of Princes in Towers, was not well-produced but the band’s talent came through nonetheless (notably on the great title track). Matlock has also been a prolific sideman over the years, working with everyone from Iggy Pop to The Faces to (most recently) Blondie. More recently, he has fronted The Philistines and released a series of solo albums. The latest, Consequences Coming, arrived in April.

Glen Matlock Consequences Coming, Cooking Vinyl 2023

Consequences was recorded piecemeal in London and finds Matlock playing guitar and taking lead vocals. 12 of its 13 songs are originals, the exception being a surprise cover of the k.d. lang classic “Constant Craving.” The album’s first few songs are more topical fare. “Head on a Stick” (which kicks things off) and the title track address the current political climate in both England and America and demand accountability. Deeper into the disc, there are more personal songs like “This Empty Heart,” the 50s-style ballad “Tried to Tell You” and the wonderful NYC ode “Face in the Crowd.”  Along the way, Matlock is assisted by guitarist Earl Slick and Blondie drummer Clem Burke (among others). All in all, Consequences is a solid effort and very much a rock and roll album.

In person, Matlock is intelligent, personable, stylish and refreshingly down-to-Earth — an excellent interview. He’s also quite honest about his strengths and weaknesses. To wit: “I don’t think I’m the great Caruso as a singer. But I’ve kind of learned to hone my particular style of singing. I’ve always written an alright song — and every now and then, I write a few good ones. And it’s all started coming together a bit later in life.”


I read that the new album was recorded over the course of 18 months.

It was [actually] recorded quite quickly. But I hadn’t finished all the lyrics and the singing. All the musical bits were done in the space of a couple of weeks, really. But that was just leading up to lockdown.  And I figured — because Earl Slick played a lot of the lead guitar on it [while] he was in England —  I had to kind of get on with it while he was available. Also [bassist] Norman Watt-Roy’s on it; he was available at a certain stage. I wanted to get somebody good playing bass. Norman is fantastic. 


VIDEO: Glen Matlock “Head On A Stick”

After all these years, I still think of you as a bassist.

Well, I’m not bad at the bass. But I started off on rhythm guitar. Every song I’ve ever written, I’ve pretty much written on acoustic guitar. And when I was touring, I was playing acoustic. I really like the guitar playing on David Bowie and The Spiders from Mars!


I remember you telling me that [last time].

Yeah! It makes it swing, you know?  I think on the album, it’s pretty much buried in the mix — but it is there. I play an acoustic guitar.

But then I sort of revisited it and I wrote a couple more songs. In fact, one is the first song on the album and one is the last song.  That’s “Head on a Stick” and “This Ship.”  So if you include all that — yeah. It probably was a period of 18 months or so. But not 18 months recording every day. 


Lockdown threw a monkeywrench into a lot of things, obviously.

Well, you know what the good thing about lockdown [was]? Especially for musicians. It became a level playing field. You know, there’s always gigs that are happening. There’s gigs that you wanna get but aren’t. And there’s gigs that you feel you should have been in on, but didn’t hear about. There’s gigs you didn’t even know you hadn’t heard about! There’s this whole thing of “What should I be doing?”  And everybody was [suddenly] in the same boat. It became a level playing field.


Interesting. One of the first people I talked to when COVID hit [was] Chrissie Hynde. She was in London, in her apartment. [It] was still very new [back then] but I remember her telling me she was actually enjoying the downtime.

Do you know what? Initially, I was like that, too. I’d been really busy doing this, that and the other. And it was like, “Whoa. Now I can sit and concentrate on what I’m [really] trying to do.” It was quite funny. Earl Slick got stuck with me and we did a couple of Facetime live things — just me and him playing.

What would have been good:  My apartment needed repainting and he offered to help me. So we kind of thought maybe instead of doing the gig, we should just put up a live feed of me and him painting the ceiling in overalls!  “Hey Earl, what’s that? You missed a bit!”  

But you mentioned Chrissie.Where I live [in London], Chrissie Hynde lives around the corner. Paul Weller lives around the corner. There’s [also] a DJ called Gary Crowley. [We met up] and all socially distanced. I quite enjoyed it!


VIDEO: Glen Matlock “Consequences Coming”

Can I ask you about a couple of [specific tracks]? Tell me about “Consequences Coming” — maybe why you chose it to be the title track.

Well, I think it sums up what I feel [about] what’s going on in the world at the moment. I thought I’d missed my moment. You know, I [wrote] that song a good few years back now. And we qualified it a bit. 

But what’s going on is untenable in the Western world. This kind of lurch to the right. In England, we’ve had Brexit, which [has] created so many problems. Not only is the problem physical and financial [but] it’s enabled the far right. They came up with that because they had nothing else to hang their politics on other than trying to blame all the woes on foreigners.


I feel that way about America, actually. It’s ironic that I’m interviewing you today because, not far from here, Donald Trump is getting arraigned!  (laughter)

Well, there you go! It’s kind of funny. In fact, I was just uptown and he was purportedly coming down from Trump Tower.  [So] I wrote the song “Consequences Coming!” I think there is a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. [There are] people in the UK now that realize how badly it’s affected them.  

I think these people should be brought to account for the damage that they’ve done, and they should suffer the consequences. I can see some consequences coming. So as we were saying, I’m sitting here in New York today and it’s the day that he gets arraigned!  HA-fucking-HA!

In England, what we’ve got [are] two home secretaries — Priti Patel and this other one Suella Braverman. They’re kind of second generation Asian immigrants — you know, Indian background. [Their] families got in because Britain was slightly more liberal. And they’re pulling up the ladder behind them and trying to blame all the Pakistanis [now]. It’s outrageous! You know, they’re barely British! 


I didn’t know that! There’s a [similar] woman in America. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Candace Owens. She’s a young Black woman, very well spoken. But she’s a total Trump supporter.  She’s married to some rich, conservative white guy who runs Newsmax.

I’ve heard the name.


You do a cover of “Constant Craving” by k.d. lang [on the new album].  What drew you to that song?

I had an album out [a few years ago] called Good To Go, which was a bit of an Americana kind of album. But on that, I did a cover of “Montague Terrace” by Scott Walker. I had to find a cover [for this album and] I’ve loved “Constant Craving” since I first heard it.  To me, it’s a song about some kind of yearning and longing for something better. Looking on the bright side, basically. It’s a great tune! 


VIDEO: k.d. lang “Constant Craving”

[Another] song that stuck out [is] “Face in the Crowd.” I don’t have the lyric sheet, but I noticed references to Bleecker Street. I might be partial to it because I live in New York.

That’s quite an old song. I wrote it a long time ago and I pitched it to Blondie back then. But I actually wrote it with a New York girl who lives in London — a friend of mine called Patti Palladin. [She] worked with Johnny Thunders [and] she was in a band called Snatch.

Sometimes you have half an idea for a song. And she’s a very good lyricist. We co-wrote the song and pitched it to Ronnie Spector a long time ago!  [But] she didn’t make the album she was gonna make. [So] I pitched it to Blondie, but they thought it was too much like Blondie! It’s got quite a New York vibe to it. You know, everybody does this — but you go to places over the years and you meet somebody. And something might go on, it might not go on or it could have gone on — and then you bump into them 20 years later. 

“You were always more than just another face in the crowd.”  I like the lyric. “Late night New York, Sunday morning/ Through the West side, Village, slowly crawling/ Walk down Bleecker, thought I’d grab a coffee/ Don’t know why something stopped me”  — and then Patti’s bit: “All at once it all went wide screen / Cinemascope technicolor daydream / Out of nowhere Lordy Lordy / There you were in all your glory.” 


You mentioned you pitched Blondie. You’ve been doing a lot of work with them [recently] — playing bass both on tour and in the studio. Tell me a little about that.

Well, I joined the band this time last year. There was no bass player. The one who’s been with them for a long time, Leigh Foxx, is a great bass player [and] a nice guy. But he couldn’t do the tour for whatever [reason]. Clem [Burke] said, “Look, we’re stuck. Can you come over?“ I said, “When?” He said, “Next week!” I went “Whooooa!”  You know, it took a bit of arranging. Came over here, looked at the stuff [and] went back.

The first gig I did with them was at the SEC in Glasgow, which is like 15 or 20 thousand people — and I’d just learned the songs! So I was in the deep end. But you know, I’ve known Blondie. I’ve been mates with Clem for a long time. He’s a great drummer; I’m not a bad bass player. We lock together quite well. And I’ve known Debbie a little bit over the years, to say hi to. I even knew the younger guys in the band because I met them when they reformed… I’ve probably seen Blondie [perform] more times than any other band, just from being mates with Clem.


When I interviewed you last, I asked you about [the Rich Kids song] “Ghosts of Princes in Towers.”

Well, that’s timely. ‘Cause it’s come out again for Record Store Day! We re-mastered it. The whole album — exactly the same but re-mastered. 

I’ve got quite a lot going on. You know, you can be doing nothing and you work on things and all the pieces start to fit and all this other stuff comes up.


Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

Well, it is. 


One last question. What did each of the four of you bring to the original Pistols that was unique?

Steve and Paul were kind of the musical sound, I think. I was the tunesmith. Came up with lots of riffs and some of the guitar parts that Steve plays. He interprets them very well but they’re my little ideas. And John was the nut case with the chip on the shoulder. But the real attitude for The Sex Pistols came from Steve Jones. He was what you call a bit of a Wide Boy, a likely lad. Like something out of a Jean Genet book. 

When I was in the [Pistols], there wasn’t four people in the band; it was like a triangle. It was John… me… and Steve and Paul. [But] you know what? If you put a four-legged table on rough ground, it’s wobbly. But if you put a three-legged one, it stays there. 




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Dave Steinfeld

Dave Steinfeld has been writing about music professionally since 1999. Since then, he has contributed to Bitch, BUST, Blurt, Classic Rock UK, Curve, Essence, No Depression, QueerForty, Spinner, Wide Open Country and all the major radio networks. Dave grew up in Connecticut and is currently based in New York City.

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