It’s not the easiest sell in 2014: solo acoustic versions of God Save the Queen and Pretty Vacant sung by any Sex Pistol, let alone one who is not named Johnny Rotten.
Glen Matlock wasn’t even around for the recording of Never Mind the Bullocks, having been replaced in early 1977 by Sid Vicious, but the bassist was with the Pistols in the band’s formative years and played a big role in writing the songs on that one and only album.
He’s on a Punk Goes Acoustic Tour with Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, making that a double bill of un-frontmen.
“We have been mates for some time,” Matlock says.
“This is the second time we’ve done a tour like this together. We’re in similar boats: known to be sidemen a little bit, but we’re also songwriters, and it’s a good way of getting our stuff across.”
Matlock was an art student who worked at Malcolm McLaren’s London store Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die (later named Sex) when he was recruited to play in the Strand with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook. With the addition of snarling frontman John Lydon (Rotten) in 1975 and the rebranding as the Sex Pistols, McLaren’s creation became the trailblazers of British punk – a scene heavily influenced by bands such as the Dolls and the Stooges.
“I think Steve Jones was the one who was more influenced by (Johnny) Thunders and stuff,” the bassist says.
“My thing that got me going was all the early rock bands in the early to mid-’60s – the Kinks and the Who and the Small Faces. That was my yardstick. But I remember going to see the Faces (in 1972) and I didn’t really know or care who was on the bill. The New York Dolls were supporting, and that was fantastic, a real watershed moment.
“The Pistols were hip to the Dolls and the Stooges and things like that, and the New York punk scene, although we hadn’t heard it at the time because no one had made any records. It seemed to be filling both sides of the Atlantic at the same time.”
It was a step away from the Pink Floyds and Led Zeppelins of the world, back to the raw sound of early rock ‘n’ roll.
“There’s a lot of Eddie Cochran in the Pistols’ stuff and the Dolls’ stuff and the Ramones’ stuff,” he says.
“It’s that little three-minute-30-second vignette of what’s going on in teenage life with a good beat and a good riff and a good tune.”
The Pistols debuted in February 1976 and by July were joined by The Clash and The Damned. The Pistols’ revolutionary first single Anarchy in the UK dropped in late November, followed in December by the riotous Anarchy Tour. Matlock says they were just reacting to rancid conditions around them,
“London was a complete dump in the mid-’70s and (workers) were on strike all the time, there was rubbish piled high in the streets. There was a real air of despondency, and the song God Save the Queen, although the words were never changed, originally was called No Future. And it really seemed like there was no future.”
In February ’77, Matlock was replaced by Vicious, who couldn’t really play but looked more the part of an evil twin for Rotten.
Matlock, who says the band’s dealings then were “so intense” that he was glad to leave, went on to form the Rich Kids (1977-79) with Midge Ure, among other bands, along with being a hired gun for Vicious White Kids (led by Vicious for all of one show) and the Faces reunion (2010).
Matlock has been back as the Pistols bassist for reunion tours between 1996 and 2008.
“Of all the bass players in the world they could roust about, they asked me, so I feel I had the last laugh.”
His most recent album was 2010’s “Born Running” with the Philistines, but he has been doing these acoustic shows for about 15 years.
“A Pistols song against a Rich Kids song against something I’m doing now – they all hang together because it was written on an acoustic guitar and they have my same kind of sensibility all the way through. The main thing that does kind of change is the lyrical content.”
What does Rotten have to say about the Pistols bassist out playing acoustic versions?
“You know, I haven’t spoken to Johnny for years and I’m not that interested what he thinks, to be honest,” Matlock says. “Good luck to him in what he does and hope he thinks the same of me. He’ll probably moan, because he’s a moaning kind of bloke, but I’m not really interested in what he has to say.”
As for the Sex Pistols’ decision to shun its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006, he wasn’t on board.
“I think it was a unilateral decision by Johnny Rotten, and I don’t agree with it. So there you go. I would have done it.
“What got me is, we turned that one down and then about two weeks later there was an English one that he went and accepted, so draw your own conclusions from that.”