Glen Matlock, bassist and founder of the Sex Pistols. | Teresa Ayuga
I have to admit that I never expected to see a founding member of the Sex Pistols, not to mention the musician credited as the songwriter on 10 of the 12 songs on the band’s only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, perform God Save The Queen live, never mind in Palma.
But Glen Matlock performed live with a stellar band, including Clem Burke the founder of Blondie on drums, last weekend as part of the ContrastMallorca festival, and spent a few days enjoying the island he has come to love and visit regularly of late - he may even move here he told me.
Glen’s song set also included Pretty Vacant, the song he says he is most proud to have written and a host of cover versions of rock and roll, country and punk classics. It was a loud and glorious tribute to the great sound of rock.
However, the interview was a surreal experience. We sat on a Palma hotel terrace, Glen nursing a sparkling water and his Silk Cut dressed in jeans, a white shirt and a smart jacket. But I just could not get the image of him in the Sex Pistols - the first official punk band and the group of musicians who changed a nation’s way of dressing and thinking and went on to be copied by bands around the world - out of my mind.
Glen has spent much of the last year on tour with Blondie and is now about to release a new album of songs he has written and composed over the past year in January.
“That’s what I have been concentrating on of late - songwriting.
“I like to consider myself a serious songwriter. I look to the likes of Paul Weller, for example, but I guess I have a lot to say and have plenty to write about. A host of things in life inspire me, plus my two sons are both in bands.
"They are not scared to have a say, say boo to a goose, so I get to see and hear what’s new and what the younger generations are up to. But we’ve had Brexit, which for me was and is a total disaster, especially for musicians and the industry as a whole in the UK, and lockdown gave me time to process all that was going on and some of that obviously influenced my songs.
“With regard to Pretty Vacant, you have to put the songs in the context of what was going on for a bloke like me in mid-70s London, with the three-day week and the IRA bombings and power cuts, against the fact I was a young man who met some interesting people and was trying to form a rock’n’roll band.
“Pretty Vacant is a primal scream kind of thing: we don’t know what we’re gonna do, but we’re gonna do it anyway and, to be honest, I think it is quite apt to what is going on in the UK at the moment. Many people, especially the politicians, seem pretty vacant. Everyone is going on strike, no one seems to be very happy and, thanks to Brexit, no one appears to know in what direction the UK is going.
“Now we’re being told if there was another referendum on Brexit, most people would opt to go back into the EU; I don’t know. What I do know is that things like the 90-day rule have made life for musicians extremely difficult, not to mention business as a whole.
“As far as I’m concerned Brexit was all about wealth and power. At the time, the EU was starting to sniff around offshore back accounts, not only in the UK but the EU as a whole, and a group of very wealthy Brits decided that they were not going to have their offshore stashes of cash messed about with by Brussels; that was what Brexit was all about for me.
“Yes, it’s done wonders for the super wealthy and powerful but not much for the rest of the country,” Glen said.
Having originally wanted to be an artist, he was an extremely gifted painter who attended Saint Martin’s School of Art, which is now the University of the Arts London, he was awarded with an Honorary Fellowship last year.
“I could have been the first Damien Hirst,” he claimed, had he not gone involved with Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols.
However, he began the interview by drawing me a diagram of how the Conservative Party has gradually spiralled away and lost itself down a small hole, which is going to be very difficult for the party to dig its way out of.
“The only way I can see Sunak saving himself and the party is by cutting his loses and taking the UK back into Europe in one form of another. That said, Starmer has got to get his finger out at some point soon if Labour is serious about winning the next election.
“But to be honest, I’m not a political beast. I’ve seen enough during my life. I know the Sex Pistols stirred things up and gave a voice to a lost generation, but we just got caught up with the whole thing.
“It was all going on in London at the time.
“We used to hang out at Malcolm’s fashion shop, which was the hippest place in London, and it all kicked off at the same time - the fashion, the arts, photography, graphic design, plus there was a lot of other great music being played.
“It was a raucous period in the history of Britain and we ended up being in the middle of it.
“For many of us we had no future or couldn’t see one. We lived in a kind of suspended animation, people still used brooms (he joked), so I was feeling pretty vacant, that’s what inspired the song.
“In England in the ‘50s we were born that way, but it was different in other places.
“It used to be easier because now everybody is doing everything everywhere.
“Before, if you wanted to start something, you just did it. Also, if you wanted to be part of a band you had to be there physically, rehearse and interact with people. There are solutions, like getting together when it’s impossible during the pandemic or having a portable recording studio, but that chemistry you get from getting people together in a room is more than the sum of its parts.
“People have started asking me if I am going to change the lyrics to God Save The Queen. But apart from the fact that not much rhymes with king, the song was written when we had a queen on the throne. It would make no sense to remaster and rewrite it. What’s the point?
“Plus, John (Lydon aka Rotten) had a big say on the lyrics and I think he had a chip on his shoulder about being second generation Irish and living in a council flat and being told what to do by the high class.
“To be honest, I think Charles will do all right. I’d give him about eight years on the throne. He’s had plenty of time to get ready and think about what he’s going to do as king and he’s got some very interesting ideas, some of which will clash with the current government’s line on certain issues, so good luck to him.
“And if the UK scrapped the monarchy, what would they have, President Boris Johnson? Then there would be a bloody revolution,” Glen said.
“I still think the Sex Pistols are relevant today, especially at the moment, and I hope somewhere out there is a new Sex Pistols; we need one that’s for sure,” he added.
“I’m really quite pleased to be out of England at the moment. The terrible, turgid Tories have just been getting on top of me.
“So to be touring, as I have been, I got asked at the very last minute to play with Blondie. We’ve been touring in the United States and Mexico. It’s been really quite refreshing to do something different and step outside and see how other people see us.
“And now I’m getting ready to release a new album in the New Year. It’s called Consequence is Coming and, yes, I feel the same way as I did back in the ‘70s.
“On my new album there’s a song called S.O.S. You know what that means? Same old sh*t. Well, seriously, I do what I do and it’s the people you play with that affect what comes out.
“During lockdown I had plenty of time on my hands to write the new songs and some are a comment on Brexit and life during the very worst of the pandemic, when we couldn’t go out and all that. But like I said, when it comes to politics, I simply want to see people doing the right thing for the best interests of the people.
“During Brexit people tried to persuade me to vote in favour, claiming that the right was the new left. What a load of rubbish, it was a load of rubbish. Remember the title of our album, well we could do with some of that attitude right now.
“If Labour does win the next election, the first thing I would like to see the government do is bring in legislation banning anyone who is not domiciled in the UK to own a newspaper or media outlet.
“We’ve got all these non-doms who own the highly toxic Tory press, winding everybody up, but they never pay the consequences like the rest of the country. They don’t pay the consequences of all their dangerous political propaganda and that has got to be brought to a stop. I like to think that we’re not stupid and we’re capable of making up our own minds, but when all these people get involved we end up with disasters like Brexit,” Glenn said.
“I like to think that the Sex Pistols were like the Blues Brothers when they were released from jail and got the band back together. They were on a mission from God and so were the Sex Pistols (he laughs). We wanted to do something, we had to make a living, we were all looking for change and we arrived at just the right time and it all snowballed.
“Now, I’m very focused on my songwriting but I love being asked to perform with fellow contemporaries or even some of the new bands, although to be honest there aren’t too many around which grab me. It’s all X Factor, which is fine, it’s nothing new, we used to have the Generation Game, it’s always been about, but we could do with some more vocal bands which have something to say. But I will carry on along my journey and that could bring me out here. I’ve been coming a lot to the island lately. I love exploring the little villages like Soller. Plus you can buy Silk Cut here, unlike most other European countries, and they are much cheaper than back home. I reckon if everyone in the UK smoked Silk Cut, they wouldn’t have voted for Brexit (he joked). But everything will work out and be all right in the end, that’s how I like to look at things,” he added. “Look on the bright side.”