GLEN MATLOCK – CONSEQUENCES COMING
The former Sex Pistol turned solo artist releases his new album five years on from his last output, ‘Good To Go’. This time he focuses his energy on the political protest song, awakening the scandals of our time, such as Brexit lies and Tory sleaze, with the album’s title ominously beckoning that ‘Consequences Coming’, and his whirlwind single, ‘Head On A Stick’, calling for all politicians’ heads to be metaphorically spiked. Around his live shows, I spoke to Glen about the political and musical influences in the album, performing ‘God Save The King’ for one night only on the Coronation, touring with Blondie and why he gave up on the synthesiser.
You were at Vivienne Westwood’s memorial. How did her artwork impact your songwriting?
I hadn’t really done much artwork when I started and went to art college, but as a young man you’re into ideas and discovering the world. It was good working for them. Looking back, they were finding their feet at the time but they’d had a lot of experiences; Malcolm [McClaren] was 10 years older than me and Vivienne looked a little bit older than me and they’d seen quite a lot of stuff – you pick up on it.
With the new album, how long had you been playing around with the ideas that you’ve got now?
I recorded the bulk of the album just before lockdown. I was annoyed when lockdown came because that would have been a good time to sit and write songs for an album, but I’d already done it. But then I sat on it for a bit and I relooked at some of the material, did some singing at home and then wrote a couple of new songs which topped and tailed the album. It just qualified my whole thinking on the songs that had been coming to me. Songs just kind of come to you somehow or the ideas for them do and when they don’t go away, that’s when you’ve got to sit down and work it out. Otherwise they drive you mad.
How did they build from the last album? Were you looking back at that when you did this one?
The last album I did was ‘Good To Go’; it was deliberately an Americana and rockabilly-ish kind of album because I had Slim Jim Phantom playing drums and he makes it swing. He suggested we go elsewhere so it was along those lines. I’ve done that; I want to move on from it a bit. Probably musically, [‘Consequences Coming’] is a bit of an amalgamation of the last album and the album before then. Plus, maybe I’m finding my voice a little bit more for what I want to sing about.
Your musical influences – which ones have you been channelling in this album, such as in ‘Face In A Crowd’ and ‘Tried To Tell You’?
‘Face In A Crowd’ is actually an older song: I co-wrote it with a girl called Patti Palladian who used to work with Johnny Thunders. Originally, we pitched it a long time ago to the girl from The Ronettes, Ronnie Spector. She was looking for something, it didn’t happen; then I thought it was a bit Blondish and I pitched it to Blondie, but I thought it sounded too much like Blondie! And then I thought I’ll just do it myself. I like it. It’s got lots of connections in New York and there’s a whole bit about walking down Bleecker Street, which is one of the streets you bump into somebody that you didn’t think you were going to. Yeah, that’s not a particularly heavy, political song.
I’m a big fan of the band called The Flamingos who did ‘A Thousand Stars in The Sky’. [‘Tried To Tell You’] is really slow like a doo-wop. In lockdown, I didn’t have much to do and I thought I could try some backing vocals; I went “bub-shee-wop” – it sounded good. So just track myself up – I’m doing all the backing vocals on it – and it’s copped that groove. It’s [about] when you wait to be taken two ways; when you fall out with somebody because they’re not listening to what you’re saying or the whole Brexit thing: ‘Well I tried to tell you.’ I like that thing in ‘The Fast Show’ when the two blokes are sitting on the balcony and Harry and Phil go, “That’s what’s gonna happen! I tried to tell you.”
What was The Teardrop Explodes reference you were talking about when you went on the news?
I said, “Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news”, which is the first line from the song ‘Reward’. I’m friends with Clive Langer and he produced that with Alan Winstanley a long time ago. I said, “What have you been up to?” [Clive] had just got a new car and he said, “I’ve just finished mixing this yesterday,” and put it on. I said, “This is absolutely great.” He said, “I’m not sure about the first line.” I said, “The first line is the best bit about it – it’s fantastic. Keep it in.” He said, “Do you think so?” And I said, “Yeah.” So that was it.
What was it like recording your single ‘Consequences Coming’ with Earl Slick? Is he coming back?
We recorded that before lockdown, but then I worked on the words afterwards during lockdown. We’d been touring; lockdown was coming. He ended up staying with me for three months – he drove me fucking mad! It was kinda funny. We’ve got a Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau relationship. I’m Jack Lemmon; he’s Walter Matthau – ‘The Odd Couple’. Yeah, we had a laugh – he’s a good lad. The thing is with Earl is that he lives in upstate New York; if he happens to be here we do something, but I can’t afford to keep flying him over from America just for a few little gigs. It’s a drag, because when we was doing stuff we was beginning to get ahead of steam. We went to Japan, we did the Preview festival, a load of club shows, improv several times. It’s like the carpet was pulled from under your feet, but it happens to every band so it’s a level playing field. But I like playing with Neal [X]. When it gets to a certain level of playing there’s no such thing as one guy’s better than the other, it’s just whoever’s right for that moment in time and people tend to play like their personality a little bit.
The single ‘Head on a Stick’ – why were you politely saying “metaphorically speaking”, because Ruts DC said there are people whose heads they would like to see on poles in the Tower of London?
I think if you went and did Breakfast TV and wheeled in a guillotine behind you, I don’t think you’d last on the telly very long. You have to be a little bit crafty sometimes. People say, “Why didn’t you swear on the telly?” Because they cut you off and then you don’t get to say your peace. If it’s something you can get on the radio, it’s obvious what it means to people without saying it. It was a bit of a ‘saying’ round my way: my dad used to say, “That bleeding manager we’ve got at Queens Park Rangers – he wants his head on a stick.” It’s a saying. All people should be held to account: Brexit, not looking after people…I’m socialist basically but there’s degrees of it and neither am I Lenin; I’m a bit more of a middle-ground kind of guy.
Do you still believe in the power of the protest song, even when it doesn’t make a difference?
I really like Steve Bray – I don’t think he is a politician or anything like that. But I like the way he’s like a little gnat or a mosquito; he keeps sniping away at them all the time. I think the more people who do that, that’s when they get the message a little bit. You just gotta pester them, so that’s why I’m writing songs. I think I’m not the only person doing it.
They played it at a protest…
We did actually send it to them. Before I wrote the song, I went on one of the last ‘Brexit is stupid’ – it should be called ‘Brexit is dopey’ – marches, I bumped into Kevin Brennan [MP] and I’m walking down Piccadilly in the march. There’s a guy just behind us on a big tricycle with a trailer on it with a big portable ghetto blaster and he was playing ‘Let’s Stick Together’ by Bryan Ferry. Now there were nearly a million people on that march with the song ‘Let’s Stick Together’ and I thought what a great place to have your song played. So in the back of my mind, it would be in that kind of scenario.
You’ve been quite outspoken with your views on Brexit. How is it affecting musicians?
It’s really affecting musicians with freedom of movement with the 90-day rule. The EU offers our government a way for people, not just musicians but all glitterati, to travel for their work but that had to be reciprocated. I’m mates with Kevin Brennan who’s the Labour MP for Cardiff West; he’s been standing up in Parliament in the select committees and he’s got good praise that he’s been canvassing [for musicians] loads.
You mentioned that Brexit is a move towards the right. Do you agree that there’s a right-wing movement in Europe as well?
Yeah, I’m not saying that Europe is perfect but I just think that its infrastructure is a little bit more geared to looking after people. The gas bills and all that; stitching people up. I’m not Che Guevara; I’m not Tariq Ali, but I think it’s gone too far that way. The whole thing with Brexit to me, it’s enabled the right-wing tossers like [Boris] Johnson and [Michael] Gove and [Jacob] Rees-fucking-Mogg – they’re taking the piss out of us! But Brexit enabled them and that’s why I’m against it. And on top of that, I think it’s a daft idea in the first place: I think all the countries should be separate but they should rub along nicely. They stopped us from doing that.
John Lydon’s (PiL) Eurovision entry – part of Ireland is in the EU, so that was a bit weird for him to do that. I think he saw it as an Irish thing rather than European?
Yeah, he was pro-Brexit. I might be wrong but this is my take on it: John was very pro-Brexit because he thought it would get him in with the working class for some reason. But then I remember what Barack Obama was saying before the election when Trump did get in. He said, ‘All you working class people: you think this guy is gonna look out for you? Come on!’ So for the same reason, certain elements of the working classes think that Brexit is getting rid of the foreigners and [they’ll] have more money to go around, blah blah blah. But then, you know what happened? When it dawned on people like Roger Daltrey and [John] there was a petition that went round about musicians being affected – John fucking signed it and suddenly Roger Daltrey…crazy! And I don’t know, but John’s second-generation Irish and he’s probably thought, “Perhaps I can claim my Irish passport?” for Brexit. I don’t know if he’s got it or not – this is my assumption – but I reckon he’s parped his Irish passport would arrive and thought, ‘Ooh, ooh! What a laugh, I’ll be able to sing for Ireland in Eurovision!’ I bet it’s something like that. I haven’t even heard the song.
What was the song ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ about?
That’s a Brexit thing. Originally I was gonna make an EP with ‘Head on A Stick’, ‘Consequences Coming’, ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ and ‘The Ship’. ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ is all the people like [Nigel] Farage who have put us on this magic carpet ride to who knows where, who knows when and who knows for what purpose? We’re on the road to nowhere, it seems like to me.
People say, “Why didn’t you swear on the telly?” Because they cut you off and then you don’t get to say your peace…it’s obvious what it means without saying it. It was a bit of a ‘saying’ round my way: my dad used to say, “That bleeding manager we’ve got at Queens Park Rangers – he wants his head on a stick.”
You also did a KD Lang cover. Why did you choose that specific song to cover? How does it fit in with the rest of the album?
Well, I’ve always loved the song and sometimes you like a song and it’s a bit complicated; you don’t quite get it and it’s like everybody plays their different chords. So it becomes a little bit of a quest to find out how it goes. Then you’re singing it and you’re in a rehearsal room and start playing something and someone goes, “What’s that?”. And then the guitarist joins in. I always loved the song; I found a way of singing it and I like the lyric: it’s a quest for something better. There’s a great yearning in the lyric.
Richard Hell’s ‘Blank Generation’ – has that song still got a message for you?
Well when he wrote that song and when I first heard it, I got the wrong end of the stick. It spurred me to write ‘Pretty Vacant’ but I thought it was supposed to be a bit moronic: we’re a moronic generation, we don’t care; we’re pretty vacant, we don’t care. But it actually meant we’re an open book and we can do what we like. I just like the song and the guitar playing on that. Robert Quine is fantastic – really angular and dissonant [imitates guitar sound]. It’s a punk rock stalwart song that gets everybody singing along.
How did your gig at The 100 Club get listed as an official London coronation event?
I have no idea how that happened – it just came up. At The mayoral office, there must be a punk rocker working and thought it was a good bit of sport to put my gig in there – it was nothing to do with me. And then I just saw it and went with it a bit, because I thought it’s funny and ironic. But let’s not forget that we’ve got a Labour mayor and a Tory right-wing monarchy and establishment so perhaps somebody thought it was a nice little thing to put me in doing that. It was just happenstance.
You were using the occasion when you’re promoting your new album, which is actually very political. But I understand when you’re doing the media coverage you did, you can’t really say everything that you really feel.
The thing is you have to be careful what you say. I’ve done away with saying quite a lot, especially when I did that BBC thing a couple of months ago. Because if you just go full till, you’ll never get back onto the telly again and then you lose the platform. So you’ve got to be a bit crafty with it and that’s what I’m trying to do. Ths mayoral thing: if people think somehow from everything I’ve said in the past and the record that I’ve put out that I’m a raving monarchist then they’re nitwits, ‘cause I’m not. Sometimes things are ironically funny, so I just thought I’d roll with it. Life can’t be too po-faced all the time or we’d all be miserable gits. If anybody thinks I was singing ‘God Save The King’ because I’m a staunchly supporter, they’ve got another thing coming.
So are you saying you’re anti-monarchist or you’re apathetic?
Apathetic leaning to the anti-monarchist. If you go somewhere like Norway, it’s a very small operation and it’s totally different from the people that we’ve got which is these big, fat, bloated iron grabbers. If our people were more like the people in Norway that wouldn’t be so bad; but they’re not, that’s the problem.
You can’t elect a king. And we’re a long, long, long way away from getting rid of them so I’m a realist about it as well. All we can do is swipe and whittle away. I think a lot more people in this country, especially the younger generation, are hip to the fact that the whole thing in 2023 is an anachronism. But the people who propagate that, they’ve had hundreds and hundreds of years keeping everyone in their place and their whole scam, and you’re up against that. So I say my peace when I can, I go on a march when I can – although the right to do that is being whittled away – and I write songs about it. There’s that [Rolling Stones] song, ‘Street Fighting Man’:
Well, now what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock and roll band?
‘Cause in sleepy London Town
There’s just no place for street fighting
[Mick] Jagger wrote about the blues in 1968, so I subscribe to that but it doesn’t stop me saying my peace, which people pick up on. But you can’t pigeonhole me from one thing or the other because there’s a whole grey area between the two.
What were the verses in ‘God Save The King’?
God save the King
More of the same old thing
He made you a moron
God save the King
He’s only there to reign you in…
It was a bit of a stork; trying to remember all the words to the other songs you haven’t played in ages. I’ve been touring with Blondie and we’d had one rehearsal – it was remembering it basically! And the other side of the coin, people were writing to me on Facebook, big Johnny Rotten fans, going, ‘How dare you change the lyrics to the song – it’s John song!’ And I wrote back and said, “No it’s OUR song.” He might have wrote the lyrics but I wrote the music to it.
What’s it like working with Blondie?
It’s great. They’re a big act and I enjoy playing massive stages. Sometimes we do the best part of a two-hour show. They’ve got a fantastic body of work; their songs are interesting – quite political, left-field arty. They’re all good musicians. Debbie [Harry]’s lovely. She’s 78 this year and she sings like a bird. When we was rehearsing, I said to the sound guy, “Can you turn Debbie up in my monitor? And he said, “Well, it’s pretty loud.” And I said, “No, I like hearing her. Turn it up a bit more!” I’m a good bass player and I play very well with Clem [Burke].
It’s interesting doing other people’s materials: you get inside the head of the people who wrote them. Also in the past two months I’ve been to both coasts of the States, Mexico City, Bogotá in Columbia…I get to see the world and get paid for it – it’s fantastic. When we played Coachella we played a couple of numbers with Nile Rodgers. There’s nothing not to like about it other than fucking jet-lag kills you when you get home.
“People were writing to me going, ‘How dare you change the lyrics to the song – it’s John’s song!’ And I wrote back and said, “No it’s OUR song.” He might have wrote the lyrics but I wrote the music.””
The Sex Pistols mini-series – what was your reaction to how you were portrayed in that?
I was very disappointed. Especially after I had several discussions with Danny Boyle before they made it and I was assured I would be portrayed accurately. Because I left the band – me and John were chalk and cheese; I left. But then it’s all about me being sacked and it’s just bullshit.
It’s also the way you were portrayed as ‘soft’…
Yeah and that’s not true. I wasn’t John and I wasn’t Steve Jones but I was me. And I stood my ground. I don’t think Steve distorted the narrative but whoever wrote the script did. It was real hackneyed and clichéd – the same guy who wrote the Elvis movie, which I quite enjoyed. But there’s a bit in it: “Have you heard about this new singer, Elvis?” One person says, “Yeah, black R ‘n’ B,” and the other person says, “Oooh, sings with white Country and Western.” It’s such an obvious, clichéd device. You can see things coming.
Did you agree with John with what he said about it?
Well, no. The big difference is, I thought it was important to run with it. Because if John had made the movie, nobody else would have got a look in at all and Steve started the band; he should be allowed to tell the story. To be honest, I think John comes out how he wrote it.
Do you think you might be getting too old to do this, because it’s exhausting isn’t it?
Yeah, it is hard work. Do you know what? I bumped into Nick Lowe several years ago round Portobello Road and I said, “How you doing, I see you’re doing a tour.” And he said, “I’m not sure if I’m gonna do it. At our age, it’s not the hour you spend on stage it’s the 23 hours you spend getting there.” And there’s a truth in that. But as long as I can physically keep doing it, I will do. But this year I’ve been busier than I ever have been for several years.
Do you think it’s important to have the punk rock message in your work?
Well, that’s what I do, in my own way. There’s not many who put out a song called ‘Head on a Stick’ – I think that’s pretty punk rock, don’t you think? I like good, well-crafted pop songs with a message and I think that’s what I’ve done. Some of the old punk rockers – I’m not naming any names – have come out as right-wing and establishment backing; Brexiteers, which I find astonishing. I’m certainly not like that, so please don’t accuse me of that because I’m not.
One random last question about Rich Kids – what have you got against the synthesiser?
Nothing against the synthesiser. There was this synthesiser clan but I was for doing a rock and roll band. There was a synthesiser in the rehearsal room one day that had actually come out of my publisher money and I hadn’t been asked, right. I kind of went with it a bit and Ian McLagan from The Faces had done a tour with us; he’s as good as Booker T. Jones; ‘Green Onions’ and all that – he’s a fantastic keyboard player, sadly no longer with us. Anyway, he was gonna do some more stuff with us, but then The Rolling Stones called him up to do ‘Miss You’. He sent me a message – he saw us on ‘Rock Goes To College’ – and said, “Glen, it’s all very well having a keyboard but you need somebody who knows how to play it.”
Glen Matlock’s new studio album, ‘Consequences Coming’, is out now. He plays with Blondie at ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ supporting Iggy Pop on 1st July at Crystal Palace Park.
Photos © Danny Clifford.
© Ayisha Khan.