music

Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock: A simple thing done well is my yardstick for making music

The British bassist, who is currently in India, talks about his influences, his upcoming album, and what makes a song endure.

The name Glen Matlock would carry lots of points in a pub quiz. The question, of course, would be: which member of the Sex Pistols co-wrote and recorded much of their classic (and only studio) album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, but left the band before it was released? The British bassist rejoined the band in the 1990s for a series of reunion tours after having played in other groups, including the Rich Kids with Midge Ure and a reunited version of The Faces, and with other punk rock legends such as Iggy Pop and the Damned. Matlock, who is currently in Mumbai for a concert with UK-based singer-songwriter Alluri, spoke to Scroll.in about the relevance of punk today, his favourite band and how he picks collaborators. Edited excerpts from the interview:

You’re the second punk rock legend we’re getting to see in India in a matter of months. Marky Ramone performed at the NH7 Weekender festival in Pune in December…
I like Marky as a guy very much. He’s a good drummer. I liked him when he was the drummer in Richard Hell and the Voidoids and I did play with him once. I think they made the most important punk record ever [Blank Generation] because it influenced me to write Pretty Vacant, but I don’t know that going out pretending you’re the Ramones is quite where I’m at. I’ve always tried to steer clear of going out and pretending that I’m the Sex Pistols. I know people want to hear certain songs but I’ve written many more since then. So there’s a balance that you can strike.

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Do you think the fact that you’re playing in India after all these years is a sign that punk now connects with a whole new generation?
It seems to be a thing that just won’t lay down. I’m fortunate that I get to travel all around the world. Recently I played at the DMZ Peace Train concert in Korea at the North-South Korea border. Whether it’s going to change the leader of North Korea’s idea about his weapons programme, I doubt it, but it’s keeping up a little bit of pressure. It’s given a little bit of solidarity to the Korean people. But I went there and played with some Korean guys and they wanted to do a couple of Pistols songs and they played them pretty much just as well as we did. It seems to be a common currency around the world and I was part of that, cool.

My yardstick for doing the music for the Pistols was, and it still is, a simple thing done well. And if you get it right, that’s something that stands the test of time. And I think that people can pick up a guitar and most people seem to identify with not just us but also The Clash and the Buzzcocks and the Ramones.

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Is there a sense of irony that you’re going to be playing this revolutionary music in a venue like Hard Rock Café?
I like a hamburger every now and then and when you play at the Hard Rock, you normally get a free one. You know, the purists go “You shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that”, but [these are] the kind of things that make it work and enable it. If the Hard Rock didn’t put it on, it wouldn’t happen. I recently read an interview with Lou Reed [in which] he said he used to share a loft in New York way back when with this guy who was the original guitarist in the Velvet Underground. He came back one night and he said [to him] “We got a gig, our first gig”. And this guy said, “You mean we have to get there and be there at a certain time and play for people at a certain time?” Lou Reed said, “Yes.” He said, “Man, I’m not doing that.” He was so hardcore that nobody’s heard of him. And Lou Reed got somebody else.

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Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is one of the most influential records of all time. What was the music that shaped you while growing up?
The first records that I ever listened to, that I actually physically put on the record player myself…[was] when I was about six years old [and] my uncle who was ten years older than me – he’d been a bit of a Teddy Boy – gave me his old 78 (RPM) records. They were Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, that’s what I put on. Then time went on a little bit and we had these fantastic radio stations that were pirate radio on ships outside of Britain and that coincided with the Kinks and The Who and The Yardbirds and the Stones and the Small Faces coming through it. That’s what got me going. They were like little three-minute slices of life with a great hook and a great vocal delivery. It was exciting.

You’ve been in a lot of bands. Which has been the most fun?
When I got to play with the Faces, my all-time favourite band that I used to stand in front of the mirror when I was 14 and pretend I was in. We didn’t do that many shows, but we headlined the Fuji festival in Japan (in 2011) in front of 50,000 people. That was the most fun thing ever. Through their music, they opened the door to the blues, Staple Singers, Bobby Womack, made me take The Temptations more seriously…that’s all in their music somehow.

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What makes you collaborate with somebody, like Alluri for instance?
If somebody knows what they’re doing, they have some drive, and they’ve got a certain degree of accomplishment on their instrument, they kind of look alright. I think he’s got all of that. I find him interesting. The way I was approached, somebody sent me a video of him doing a version of Anarchy in the UK, which he explained to me he only did to keep his nephew quiet [but his nephew] liked it and was dancing to it.

What’s your new solo material like?
The new album Good To Go is about to come out in the beginning of September. The drummer on most of the songs is a guy called Slim Jim Phantom, who’s from the Stray Cats [and is] an old friend of mine. It’s got a little more of a swing to the rhythm. The guitarist is Earl Slick, who played with [David] Bowie and [John] Lennon. My last album Born Running was a bit more punky. This one, I don’t even play bass on it, I play acoustic guitar. I’m proud of it. There’s even a cover of a Scott Walker ballad called Montague Terrace. It’s funny talking about music because the reason you make music is you do things you can’t necessarily explain in words.

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The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and English National Opera recently released an album of cover versions of punk classics that you were associated with. Do projects like that prove that the song, more than everything else around it, is ultimately what matters?
I suppose you can’t really divorce one from another but I think any good song can be done in any idiom. One of the best things I ever heard was a ska band with a big brass section doing Black Night by Deep Purple. It was wacky but it worked.

Glen Matlock is performing with Alluri at Hard Rock Café in Worli, Mumbai, on August 10.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.