GLEN MATLOCK − READY STEADY GO
Glen Matlock recently released his latest studio album, ‘Good To Go’ − a work in progress now finished. The album touches on his old school rock ‘n’ roll heritage, personal journey through life and features a return to his roots, far flung from his brief stint in The Sex Pistols. I met Glen over a coffee near his home in west London to discuss his new album, discovering Scott Walker and reminisce about his part in one of countercultures’s most controversial movements.
The new album is true-to-its-roots rock ‘n’ roll. How does that reflect where you are as a recording artist at this stage in your life?
The album was made about two years ago. Now it’s finally come out, which is why I’ve called it ‘Good To Go’. It was where I was at the time, guess I am still now − simple songs.
I don’t really play bass on much of the album; I got someone else in to do it. Just to make it a bit different, I play acoustic guitar (not in a Julie Felix kind of way). I really like The Spiders From Mars where Bowie played rhythm acoustic guitar − it drove the song. It’s got a bit of a rockabilly influence because I roped in my mate Slim Jim Phantom to play drums and he doesn’t do straight punk rock. He plays on 10 out of 12 [tracks]. We actually recorded more but I picked those  because I thought they made it more of an album. Since we did the bulk of the stuff in America, I’ve written a couple more songs and I think they fit in with the sentiment of what I was trying to get across. The first two songs on the album are new ones and the last one, which Jim plays on, Chris Spedding plays guitar on.
What personal life experiences have contributed to the writing of the album?
Oh loads…I write personal songs because I think people have personal experiences and can relate to all the songs. When you do an album, you don’t write the songs there and then in the studio, it’s what you’ve been going through leading up to it.
There’s a song on the album called ‘Wanderlust’; an old song that had never been recorded properly. I’ve always liked it but it wasn’t quite right. I had a different look at how I was playing it and came up with a slightly more bluesy riff at the beginning. I thought, “This fits in, wack it down”. It’s not such a precious thing − people have all these ideas [about recording an album] but when you get into a studio with blokes you respect, [who] you’ve asked to do it because they’re very capable, it gave it its own direction. You can either battle it or go with it and I decided to go with it because it sounded pretty good.
What key musical influences did you want to bring across in the tracks? Are there any that you grew up with?
A few years back I’d been doing loads of [solo] acoustic shows round the world. I like doing them because you’re not at the mercy of the band; what songs they know, what they don’t know. Someone in the audience shouts out for something and, within reason, you tend to know or you can just play it…I enjoy doing that and it’s very spontaenous. So I wanted something that reflected that and that’s why I asked Slim Jim because he’s only got half a drumkit.
I’d seen Bob Dylan play at The [Royal] Albert Hall about three years ago and, although I can appreciate him, I’m not his biggest fan. He goes on stage, he looks really nitfy with his hair – really awkward. The songs he sings you barely recognise [mimics] and he still does 20 gigs a year. But the band he had was fantastic: Charlie Sexton on guitar, this double bass player called Tony Massey and the drummer played most of the set on brushes. Sneak that in with what I wanted to do and about that stage I had 15-16 songs kicking around my head…there ya go! So it kind of led to that.
What ’60s music influenced you?
Loads of stuff…I was born in the ’50s and started listening to the radio – people like Cliff Richard & The Shadows. American rock ‘n’ roll was coming through. The first records I ever put on my uncle gave to me. He gave me his old 78’s [RPM] but it was [musicians] like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis.
They say you were into The Beatles…
That’s not true, that’s not true. I was aware of The Beatles. I always liked the look of the bands that came from pirate radio like The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds…and The Small Faces, who I was lucky enough to play with. A few years back I played with two of The Small Faces.
That obviously influenced Rich Kids, do you think in your solo work it’s carried on as an influence?
Yeah, that’s what I grew up with, what I like. I like short, three-minute songs about some kind of consequence. But I love loads of other stuff. ‘Wanderlust’ is a hats off to a song called ‘Road Runner’. There’s ‘Roadrunner’ by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers but it’s not that that influenced it; it’s ‘Road Runner’ by Junior Walker and The All Stars [sings].
There’s this TV programme called ‘Ready Steady Go’, which was the best TV programme ever. Cathy McGowan was on it. Generation X wrote a song called ‘Ready Steady Go’ and it’s about the programme. [Keith Fordyce] had bands on, all the bands I’ve mentioned. Dusty Springfield used to be on it a lot and went to America in the middle of one of the series and discovered Motown and soul music. Junior Walker, Sam Cooke…it was really influential all that stuff; it’s all in my music somehow.
Why did you decide to cover Scott Walker on the album? Are you a big fan?
‘Ish…I didn’t know him that much. I knew his Walker brothers’ hits. I’m a big fan of Jacques Brel and he’s influential to me. Bands that I liked had done these weird songs in the early ’70s. Sensation ? did this song called ‘Next’ and it’s a Jacques Brel song. David Bowie did a couple of his songs. Also there was this great TV programme called ‘Sunday Night At The Palladium’. Someone would always do [sings] ‘If You Go Away’. There was a record come out just before punk by Charles Azanviour called ‘She’, which was a bit mawkish but there’s something about it that’s a bit more than cheesy. They were these French guys known as chansonniers. I looked into Brel and then I found an album by Scott Walker, ‘Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel’…all in English; I never knew how people knew his lyrics if he sung in French. I found this song ‘Montague Terrace In Blue’ that I really liked the lyrics of; it kinda affected me. ‘Montague Terrace’ is a place somewhere, but we’ve all got our ‘Montague Terrace’. It could be our road or 125th Street in New York. Then I started playing it at gigs. It’s quite funny: heeby jeeby punks go, “Ohhh…?!”
It sounded different when you played it live.
It always sounds different: everything sounds different when you play it live. Music’s a bit like jazz: when you’re doing a gig, if you got people who are pretty good, you get the way the song goes with the chords and the lyrics. People always play it differently every night and it’s gonna come out different.
It was a good contrast around the middle of the album.
Yeah a contrast: you build it up and bring it down a little bit and build it back up again.
What did working with Earl Slick again bring to the album?
Lots of arguments. A lot of backbiting…all funny. We’ve kind of got a relationship where we’re the Jack Lemmon and the Walter Mattau of rock ‘n’ roll − I’m Jack Lemmon, he’s Walter Matthau. I like playing with Earl. He brings our songs alive; he knows what to do. Lots of English guitarists do a little bit of lead in the verse and they’ll play exactly when the singing’s going on, which is what you don’t want. You do a bit of singing and he does an answer − he knows that implicitly. He gets it.
In terms of your live shows how are they different to your recorded music?
When you’re in the studio you do over dubs and things like that; maybe there’s three guitars on the track but you’ve only got one guitarist, so it’s always gonna sound different. I like to play live…you get to show off. It’s great!
What period defined you more as a musician − your past bands or your solo work?
I’d rather be known more for what I’m doing now. What I did in the past is fine, the vast majority of it, not all of it. It was a long time ago. It’s a double edged thing. I don’t really wanna have to do any [Sex] Pistols’ songs when I pay live.
With Rich Kids, do you think you weren’t appreciated?
Lots of people liked us, but we were ahead of our time. We came out when punk was still in its throws and I was trying to move onto the next thing. Although [Rich Kids] had more of a ’60s influence, all we listened to in the band was those four albums Bowie made: ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Lust For Life’ with Iggy [Pop] and ‘The Idiot’ with Iggy. In fact, it was the first band that ever harmonised on the snare drum outside of Iggy. But people paint a picture of you and it’s hard to shake off.
You weren’t that bothered about being called a one-hit wonder even though you were doing something more interesting than punk?
I’d done punk with the Pistols. I didn’t want to [move on] but it would be a bit lame to find another punk singer and out-punk The Sex Pistols. It would have just been a second Sex Pistols, and I wasn’t interested − I wanted to do something different. And although there were plenty of punk singers around I wanted someone who could carry a tune a bit more, that’s why I got Midge [Ure] in. And I knew it would upset the apple cart with everybody − that’s why I did it. He’s been in a big rock band with Slik; they had had a number one record but there were some production barriers to it which was again a little bit different somehow.
How did you end up working at SEX so early on?
I helped make the sign! It was school holidays, I was looking for a job and I heard about this place down the King’s Road that sold ‘brothel creeper’ shoes. I got off the bus into one shop − it had an American car sticking out of it. It had ’70s rockstar clothes – where The Rolling Stones and The Faces got their clothes from. And I thought, “This isn’t it,” so I went into the next clothes shop and it was a Teddy Boys’ shop. They had a radiogram; it was like my nan’s living room. I thought, “This is kinda cool.” I was being there a bit too long and the bloke said, “Can I help you?”. I said, “You don’t need someone working here do you?” and the guy said, “Do you know what…I’m leaving at the end of the week, they will need somebody. Call this guy up.” And he gave me Malcolm McClaren’s number. [Malcolm] said, “Alright, come in at the weekend” and that’s what I did and that’s where I met everybody.
I didn’t quite understand, but I feel it was some kind of gut feeling it was the right place to put me. I was 15 and a half – 16 [years old]. That’s where Steve [Jones] and Paul [Cook] used to come in and later John [Lydon] and his mates; Siouxie [Sioux], Billy Idol…loads of people. I was the first one.
I only found out recently that Malcolm’s shop hadn’t even been going that long; he didn’t know what he was doing. The Pistols − I didn’t think we even knew what we were doing. We knew that we wanted to be in a band, we knew what we didn’t like musically, but we felt we’d just do something anyway and that’s how it came out. It had high calibre people involved that all brought something special to the table.
What did the punk movement mean to you and what’s your best memory of it?
It’s self-evident. It’s reading between the lines; not taking no for an answer. It’s not knowing your place and standing up for yourself. But I don’t think punk was any different from the Hippie movement or the Beatnik thing…but everything moves on in degrees and becomes a bit heavier.
London at that time − totally different to it is now. Then we would have struggled to find somewhere to sit outside and have a coffee. I was a working class bloke and kinda had delusions of grandeur and went to art school. I went to art school because I read that every band that I liked had been to art school, so I went there to try and get in a band. And it was funny, I got in a band outside of art school and introduced them to art scool and actually booked the very first shows that we ended up doing at an art school. It was a different crowd of people: I think people there were a bit more open minded.
My best memory of it was when we reformed in ’96 and played Finsbury Park. We hadn’t put a record out in 20 odd years by that time; we hadn’t done any gigs in 20 odd years by that time and 36 000 people turned out, so we must have done something right.
I think all the fury that surrounded it after we did the Bill Grundy show − which again was a double edged thing as far as people’s relationships in the band were concerned – managed to stir things up quite considerably and at that time everyone was looking for something new; they didn’t know what it was and then “Plop!”. We landed infront of them, and they went, “Aha! Thats what we’re looking for!”.
You got to keep on your toes a little bit, not keep trying out the same old thing all the time, which is why I made my new album. It’s got loads of old influences but I think there’s great music out there. I’m not so enamoured on a lot of the music I hear these days: I thinks it’s all very wishy-washy and over produced. I think there’s a wealth of music from years ago that I still like and I think people miss and hopefully I’m trying to turn them onto that somehow. I’m at the stage now I don’t really care. I just wanna do what I wanna do.
Glen Matlock’s new studio album, ‘Good To Go’, is available now on CD, vinyl and as a digital download on Peppermint records.
Photos © Olly Andrews.
© Ayisha Khan.