From teenage Sex Pistol to folk troubadour

Glen Matlock in the Royal City

 

Former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock (Courtesy image)

(Courtesy)

Approaching the Guelph Youth Music Centre (GYMC) on Feb. 5, considerable mystery surrounded what the evening’s events would entail. Advertising for the show could have been described as minimal at best (consisting mostly of a few flyers in Downtown Guelph shop windows), and the GYMC – in all the glory of its theater-like seating – isn’t exactly the quintessential punk haunt.  Smokers aired their own concerns and gave their forecasts as they shuffled cold feet in the snow outside the entrance, chewing over whether there would be a bar.

“There’s gotta be.  It’s Glen Matlock.  He’s a Sex Pistol fer chrissake!”

Glen Matlock has a special place in Sex Pistols history.  As the bassist for London’s seminal punk band, Matlock wrote most of the songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, but punklore has it that he was excommunicated from the Pistols in 1977 for liking The Beatles too much.

The truth, as Matlock tells it in his autobiographical I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol, is that he left because he was “sick of all the bullshit.”  Whether or not that “bullshit” had anything to do with guitarist Steve Jones’s frustration over Matlock’s insistence that he learn Beatles chords for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols will be debated for as long as the Sex Pistols remain punk canon.

Making his way up to the same kitchenette counter open to everyone else in the GYMC lobby, no one recognized Matlock as the mere footnote in punk rock history that he has been reduced to by some storytellers.  All were aware that Matlock is the man who begat a new sound, and the bassist who could actually play it.

With psychedelic country rock band The Sadies opening, there was not an electric bass in the building.  Sadies bassist Sean Dean plays an upright acoustic, but that dids more than keep the beat; it served as a subtle but downright reminder that this is not 1976, and that this would not be the same act as could be expected at an early Sex Pistols gig.  No one was dressed in robes straight out of anywhere like Malcolm McLaren’s clothing boutique; there were no ragged fishnet shirts, no bondage belts jingling among the mass, and leather – if present – was brown and well kept, not tattered and black with haphazard stud jobs.  Perhaps this was a crowd that grew up and beyond the unforgiving nature of Johnny Rotten, much like the man they had come to see.

When Matlock was done his sound check, a lone bagpiper blasted into the room erupting into a rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”  Fusing folk method with a classic rock anthem, it was the perfect harbinger for what was about to come.

Matlock’s acoustic show proved that music doesn’t have to be vicious to be punk.    Making a point about punk aesthetic in an interview with Max Chambers, he pointed out that, “People talk about punk as a musical style, but also there’s a spirit involved in it.”

He cranked out Sex Pistols songs like “Pretty Vacant,” “God Save the Queen” and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” – a cover that every Sex Pistol (even Matlock’s bass incompetent-yet crowd pleasing Sex Pistols successor Sid Vicious covered it during his brief solo career) can say they’ve spent some time with – to an accepting crowd that sang along, and he had no problem disciplining the audience for their lack of familiarity with the chorus to Small Faces’s “All or Nothing,” looping the chords ad nauseam and saying “I can do this all night,” sitting back on the Sadies’s bass drum to further his point until he got the response he wanted.

Despite the demanding nature he took on during “All or Nothing,” Matlock was anything but arrogant; he was cheeky, but humble.

Matlock’s proved he’s above his Sex Pistols celebrity even when he’s not playing the role of traveling troubadour.  In response to Haiti’s earthquake in January he teamed up with Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Mick Jones (The Clash), and Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) to cover Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell On You,” which is set for release later this month.

(Originally published Feb. 11, 2010 in The Ontarion)

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