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Earlier this year I was rummaging round my sister’s attic in Chichester when I came across an A4 ring-bound notebook. On turning the cover, I realised it was the long-forgotten transcript of an interview I’d recorded with Glen Matlock, the year after he’d quit The Sex Pistols. I’d met Glen on August 11th 1978, along with Midge Ure, Rusty Egan and Steve New at the house of photographer Sheila Rock. Things were looking good for The Rich Kids, Glen’s new band. Not only had they released their first single ‘Rich Kids’, but they had also recorded sessions for John Peel’s BBC1 radio show and appeared on Top of the Pops. Among her many achievements Sheila Rock is widely known for her unique photos recording the earliest days of the punk scene.
To go straight to Part One the interview click here
Introduction – Leaving The Sex Pistols
By the time The Sex Pistols released their first single in November 1976 they’d already achieved a media reputation for inciting antisocial behaviour. The title of the single Anarchy in the UK did nothing to alleviate that impression. Anxious to cash in on the Pistols’ notoriety, the tabloid headlines that followed the record’s release had more to do with the art of self-fulfilling prophecy than news. Scarcely able to disguise their unstinting glee, the British press reported that spitting and pogo dancing at the band’s gigs were encouraging acts of violence and self-mutilation among the nation’s young. If nothing else, the stories amounted to over- simplification. The Pistols were as much a symptom of the social malaise infecting the UK, as the cause.
Throughout the early 1970s, discontent and disillusion among young Britons had been growing exponentially. Unemployment figures were careering uncontrollably towards the 1978 post-war high of one and a half million, hitting the young hardest. In 1976, at the end of one of the hottest summers since records began, the discontent reached boiling point. On August 30th Notting Hill Carnival broke out into a mass riot. In direct contradiction to the story that it was punk ‘wot did it’, it is far more likely that institutionalised racism coupled with deliberate heavy-handed policing helped morph underlying frustration into the fury that sparked the riot. The dissatisfaction that manifested itself on the streets of Notting Hill wasn’t caused by songs like Anarchy in the UK, quite the opposite, it inspired them. It could even be argued the punk movement helped channel anger that could’ve resulted in something far worse.
But despite the media-generated hysteria, there was more to England’s Pistols than gobbing, swearing and pogo. The release of Anarchy would finally bury the lie they had no talent. Though crude and raw the band’s creativity was palpable and undeniable. The era of stagnation super groups had brought was over at last. With punk the power of rock ‘n’ roll was reborn. To be given back to the youth from out of which it had sprung, and to which it always belongs. Rock was never about anything at all if it wasn’t about youthful rebellion. Lest we forgot, the Pistols reminded us of that.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a shock, when in early 1977 rumours abounded that Glen Matlock had been kicked out of the Pistols. After all, to almost anyone over the age of twenty-five, the band had become known for its explosive volatility more than anything. Yet to many fans, Matlock was regarded as one of the main creative forces behind it. Some still see him as being responsible for giving Anarchy the musical edge that defined British punk.
On February 17th of that same year, it was announced Matlock had left the band of his own accord. But there are good reasons for thinking manager Malcolm McLaren could’ve been plotting to get rid of the bass player/songwriter for some time. Not least, that the manipulative Pistols’ Svengali thought his appearance too nice and clean for his tastes. McLaren wanted to replace him with someone nastier, more befitting the Pistols’ notoriety.
Despite all the spitting and foul language The Sex Pistols had become renowned for, Glen Matlock still possessed something of the sort of boy most Mums would love to have round for tea. With his cheeky chappie looks, the youthful-looking musician bore a striking resemblance Jack Wild, Lionel Bart’s Artful Dodger in Oliver!. The fact he also could’ve been mistaken for Monkees teenage heartthrob, Davy Jones, was a detail that would never have escaped McLaren’s keen eye. The fashion designer was as much a stylist as anything, and it is highly likely Matlock didn’t fit the Pistol image for which he was aiming. From a strictly commercial point of view McLaren’s Svengalian instinct for publicity proved right.
The shopkeeper turned impresario was once reported as saying had he seen Vicious before he saw Johnny Rotten he would’ve chosen him to front the band. That made any comparisons betweem him and Matlock a no-brainer. Vicious was the perfect example of the youth every parent dreaded their child would one day bring home. Just the job to win even more of the negative headlines the publicity-addicted McLaren craved.
In retrospect, there was always something Dickensian about the Pistols. They might’ve jumped out the screen of a modern day version of Oliver Twist directed by QuentinTarantino. McLaren would’ve made a brilliant younger version of Fagin. The fact his foppishness displayed tones of ‘flash’ Toby Crackit would’ve made that character redundant. And, though there might’ve been some discussion over whether John Lydon or Glen Matlock was most suitable for the role of Artful Dodger, there definitely could’ve been no argument as who should play a teenage version of Bill Sikes. John Ritchie’s tragic and unstable upbringing could have come straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. The name Bill Psyches springs to mind. As with Mclaren’s Pistols, reality is there would have probably been no room for Glen Matlock in Tarantino’s Oliver Twist. There probably wouldn’t have been any room for the angelic Oliver Twist in it either. I suppose a film a bit like that could be called The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and be directed by Julian Temple.
With the aura of ill-will that hung about him, Sid Vicious fitted into the Pistols as neatly as a razor fits into a slash. He gave off the distinct feeling that things were never going to end well. Sure enough, his time with the band lasted just two weeks short of two years. In the final chapter of a life that was Dickens to the hilt, Vicious’ girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, was found dead in the bathroom of their room in the Chelsea Hotel in New York on October 12th 1978. She had died of a single stab wound. Sid Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. Domestic abuse and violence had played their parts in a turbulent relationship. Four months later, February 2nd 1979 Vicious – on bail awaiting trial – was also found dead. Though still a subject of controversy, he is believed to his taken his own life with a fatal heroin overdose. The investigation into Nancy’s murder was never resolved satisfactorily, and both deaths remain hot topics for discussion. To all intents and purposes, The Sex Pistols died along with Sid Vicious.
I once spotted Vicious in the wee hours in The Speakeasy. The West End club was a London hangout for rock stars to relax in after gigs. He was sitting on a bench at a table alongside the other Pistols. The Who’s Pete Townsend sat on a chair facing them. Townsend seemed very drunk, burbling non-stop to a row of stone-faces. Suddenly, it looked as if something Towsend had burbled stirred Vicious into full consciouness. Without so much as a word, the punk of punks smashed his beer glass onto the table. A shocked Townsend rose immediately and stumbled off, almost straight into me. Vicious just stared blankly in front of himself, as though nothing had happened.
Eighteen months after the Pistols and Glen had gone their separate ways we sat down in Sheila Rock’s living room on the first floor of the house she once owned on London’s Portland Road. The previous Friday I’d watched The Rich Kids perform at one of punk’s premier venues, Camden’s Music Machine.
Glen turned out to be very nice indeed. Sitting with us were Midge Ure, Rusty Egan and Steve New, the rest of The Rich Kids. Having released two singles, the band’s debut album Ghosts of Princes in Towers – produced by the legendary Mick Ronson, was about to be released the following week. The future seemed bright and full of promise.
Copyright © 2017 Bryan Hemming
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