Glen Matlock was present at the birth of British punk. More than four decades later, he’s still got his rock ‘n’ roll spunk.
That doesn’t mean he’s self-destructive.
“I’m not a gambling man,” he says, “and I’m on the wagon these days. I’m quite happy for both of those things.”
Famed as the Sex Pistol who parted ways with punk’s most inflammatory band — supposedly because of his too-affable persona — Matlock says he lives comfortably off the co-writing credits he earned for 10 of the 12 songs on the band’s only studio album, 1977’s “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”
“I’ve done OK out of it,” he says matter-of-factly. “I think I could have done better. I get paid.” Record companies, he notes, have been historically notorious for shielding accurate royalty figures from musicians, “unless you get paid enough to take ‘em to court.” That’s a gamble he has declined to take.
You wouldn’t have found Matlock at the roulette wheel before or after his scheduled gig Friday at Encore Boston Harbor, when he was to play solo as an opening act for the Dropkick Murphys. The show was postponed because of coronavirus fears just as this story was going to press.
Matlock, who formed the post-Sex Pistols band Rich Kids and has performed with Iggy Pop, the Damned, and his teenhood heroes the Faces, has released several albums with a group he calls the Philistines and, most recently, a solo album under his own name.
He first shared bills with the Dropkicks a couple of years ago, when they asked him to open a series of tour dates through Europe. Matlock brought a backing band. But he has spent years performing his songs unaccompanied, on acoustic guitar, he says, just as he writes them.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he says in his thick London accent. “I’m kind of like the punk rock Bob Dylan, as it were, kind of thing. . . . There’s more to me than just being a bass player from 45 years ago.”
On his 2018 album “Good to Go,” Matlock played a stripped-down, straight-ahead brand of rock ‘n’ roll that he took to calling “loud skiffle.” For the recording sessions, he recruited guitarist Earl Slick, who played with David Bowie and on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy,” and drummer Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats. With a little more snarl, some of the songs — “Couldn’t Give a Damn,” “Cloud Cuckoo Land” — could have been Sex Pistols outtakes. But Matlock also paid his respects to the arch ‘60s pop star Scott Walker with a cinematic cover of “Montague Terrace (In Blue).”
On the cover, he posed in a cropped gold jacket, running a comb through his salt-and-pepper hairdo “like Billy Fury,” the British rock ‘n’ roll star of the early 1960s. After someone broke into his car, making off with a couple of guitars and a favorite white corduroy jacket, Matlock needed something else to wear for the photo shoot. Walking past his son’s room, he spotted the gold jacket, which was once his. It still fits, he’s pleased to report.
Matlock, an art school student, first met the other members of the future Sex Pistols while working in Let It Rock, the London clothing boutique run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. He was there when they changed the name of the shop to SEX, shifting from selling Teddy Boy styles to the battle dress of punk rock.
“I helped make the sign,” he says, “the big pink sign outside. It was supposed to be a thick, padded Rauschenberg-sculpture kind of thing. But we ran out of foam padding, and it didn’t quite come out right. The X is a bit . . . flaccid, shall we say.”
The Sex Pistols released Matlock’s song “Pretty Vacant” as the band’s third single, after the first two — “Anarchy in the U.K.” and the deeply cynical “God Save the Queen” — had shaken proper old England to the core. According to Matlock, the band’s frontman, Johnny Rotten, ever willing to test boundaries, put particular emphasis on one of the syllables in the title phrase and said, “Glen, you’ve given me a way to swear on the radio.”
The B-side of the single was a cover of “No Fun” by the Stooges. A couple of years later, Matlock would be recording with the Stooges’ former singer, Iggy Pop.
He says it was his decision to leave the Sex Pistols, making way for the tragic figure of Sid Vicious to join the band as his replacement. The Rich Kids, Matlock’s band with Midge Ure, lasted just one album, highlighted by the title track, “Ghosts of Princes in Towers.”
When Ure started an electronic side project, the Rich Kids were finished.
“I already had my Kraftwerk collection,” Matlock says. “I wanted a rock ‘n’ roll band, like I’m doing now. Then I got a phone call from Iggy Pop, and that kind of sealed the fate of things.”
For years, fans have debated the circumstances surrounding Matlock’s departure from the Sex Pistols. McLaren, the band’s late manager, is said to have engineered his ouster as another of his publicity stunts, for the grievous transgression of being a Beatles fan. Much has been made of Matlock’s incompatibility with the abrasive Rotten (who now answers to his birth name, John Lydon).
But when the Sex Pistols reunited for their “Filthy Lucre” tour in 1996, and several more times in subsequent years, Matlock played bass.
“I was vindicated when we reformed,” he says. “They could’ve asked anybody else to play bass” — besides, that is, Vicious, who died of an overdose in 1979. “They asked me.”
In Lydon’s 2014 autobiography, “Anger Is an Energy,” he wrote of his belated appreciation for Matlock. Their personality clash created “a great driving force,” he explained.
“He could have said that to me 30 years ago,” Matlock says, dispassionately, when asked about the remark. “I never read his book.”
But friction can be a source of creativity, he agrees.
“In all kinds of music, you need the foil, the yin and the yang.” Though he’s “not the Beatles fan that I’m made out to be” — heaven forbid — he cites the duality from their song “Getting Better”: “It can’t get much worse.”
“You do need that,” Matlock says. “I can see both sides of the coin. Some people are so bloody-minded, they can’t.”
James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.