John v Glen: someone's talking bollocks

Rock: The Sex Pistols are back - but have they really made up their differences? Nicholas Barber casts a historical eye over punk's great debate
"John's said a lot of things about me over the years, and I've said a lot about him," reasoned Glen Matlock, at the already legendary Sex Pistols reunion launch in March. "But now here we are on the same stage together." True, they were on the same stage for the first time in 19 years, and today they will be on stage again, playing live in Finsbury Park. Or will they? Lydon said at the press conference that the band would probably fall out and break up two concerts into their reunion tour, and on the evidence of his and Matlock's autobiographies, he was being optimistic.

Matlock, who denies having read John Lydon's stinging tome, is famous as the bass player who was replaced by a man who couldn't play bass. For proof of his unpopularity within the Pistols' ranks, look no further than the fact that Lydon, Steve Jones and Paul Cook preferred to spend time with Sid Vicious. Matlock's I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol and Lydon's Rotten: No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs tell both sides of the story. The amazing thing about Matlock's book is how readily he portrays himself as a "twerp" and a "lemon", always taking the blame while others take the credit. The amazing thing about Lydon's book is how readily he portrays Matlock in exactly the same way. So at least they agree on something. But do the original punks agree on anything else?

WHEN JOHN MET GLEN

Glen Matlock, page 58: So what made us persist with John? It's difficult to say. Maybe that very quickly he started coming up with lyrics and that he and I got on well right from the off.

John Lydon, page 101: I must say this about Glen: he was the only one who attempted to kindle any kind of friendship with me, which is odd because I despised him so.

DROP DEAD

Glen, p101: ... he turned round to me and said, drop dead ... half an hour later, he turned round and said, you're still here. The look on his face told me that he really believed somehow that if he told me to drop dead, I would. Oh well, I thought, John really has gone a bit doolally now.

John, also on p101, strangely: In Glen's book, he claimed all I ever said to him was "Drop dead". That's right, Glen. Drop dead. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't seem to think I meant it. I f***ing well did. Continuously.

THE SUM OF THE PARTS

Glen, p169: The Pistols were ... Steve, Paul, Glen, John and then Malcolm [McLaren, manager]. In that order.

John, p184: Steve, Paul and I could have been a f***ing awesome threesome. We could have done without that bass nonsense.

WORDS ...

John, p101: ... I always wrote the lyrics and insisted on that right from the start, which infuriated the band no end.

Glen, p76: So I wrote the lyrics to "Pretty Vacant" - all of which are mine, apart from a couple of lines that John later changed in the second verse. I wrote something along the lines of "If you don't like this, up your bum, we're going down the pub." John changed it to, "Forget your cheap comments, we know we're for real." Which is a far, far better lyric.

Glen, p120: [Chris Thomas, producer] had heard ["Anarchy in the UK"] and liked the song. Great chord changes, he said, who wrote them? I had, of course.

John, p87: I know a lot has been said about Glen being the melodious one, and that without him we would never have had hit singles. For God's sake, who gave a damn about a hit single? Irrelevant and, apart from that, a lie. For all of Glen's melodiousness, he didn't exactly do very much when he left us, did he?

SPITTING IMAGE

Glen, p115: The Damned's drummer, Rat Scabies, started spitting at the audience. And they started spitting back. Thus was invented that grand tradition of gobbing.

John, p121, p134: I think the audiences gobbing on stage came from me. Because of my sinuses, I do gob a lot on stage ... Nobody realized they were imitating a physical illness, not a political stance.

GOODBYE GLEN

John, p162: I instigated Glen's leaving the band ... It was down to, quite frankly, either he goes or I go. I couldn't put up with him any longer.

Glen, p150: I said, Malcolm I'm just not interested any more. I can't be bothered with that bloke's attitude ... So let's leave it at that.

SID VICIOUS

John, p155: Sid was basically stupid.

Glen, p158: I could never work Sid out. A lot of people thought he was stupid, but he wasn't. He was very intelligent but talked like he wasn't.

GLEN'S SLIGHT RETURN

Glen, p150: [Malcolm] told me that they were going to do some recording [for Never Mind the Bollocks] ... and asked me if I would help out because Sid wasn't too good. I agreed.

John, p163: Sid wasn't very good at recording ... it was desperation time, so in came Glen. We literally hired Glen Matlock ... isn't that awful? That, more than anything tenfold, explains my contempt for him.

THE PISTOLS MINUS GLEN

Glen, p170: The only way they could have cut it live was with me in the band because I was the one who understood and saw the whole picture of what we could achieve musically.

John, p2: Things improved no end the minute he exited ... Glen wanted to turn the whole thing into a sort of a Bay City Rollers scene and for us to look like some Soho poofs.

JOHN: THE WHOLE TRUTH

Glen, p101: You just had to put up with a constant tirade of bullshit from John. Total lies and denial. He'd say something and two minutes later he'd completely deny he'd ever said it.

John, foreword: I have no time for lies or fantasy, and neither should you.

THE SEX PISTOLS

Glen, p166: The Sex Pistols were a total failure.

John, p141: The Sex Pistols was always disastrous.

Finsbury Park, N4 (0181 963 0940), today; support acts including Iggy Pop, Skunk Anansie and the Buzzcocks from 12noon, Sex Pistols at 8.45pm. Glen Matlock's 'I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol' is published by Virgin (paperback, pounds 9.99); John Lydon's 'Rotten: No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs' is published by Coronet (paperback, pounds 6.99). Malcolm McLaren interview: see today's Real Life section.

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