A job at Vivienne Westwood’s shop made me a Sex Pistol | Glen Matlock

Glen Matlock went into the late fashion designer’s store looking for a pair of shoes and found a career in music and rebellion

I walked into Let It Rock, looking for a pair of brothel creepers. I’d been in there a bit too long and some guy says: “Can I help you?” I said I was looking for work. I’d been fired from my part-time job in the trouser department at Whiteley’s. He told me to call Malcolm and Vivienne. That’s how I started out in the shop. They probably thought I was just some straight kid, which I was.

A month or two later, I asked Vivienne to ask Malcolm if he’d give me a reference for art college. She said: “Really? I don’t think you’d want to ask Malcolm because he’s been thrown out of every college in London.” Straightaway I was more interested in them and they were more interested in me.

That summer, McLaren and Westwood turned the shop into Sex. They were fed up with the rightwing mentality of the teddy boys and I helped with the sign outside. I’d learned how to silk-screen, so they asked me to do two images: a big red baseball player with a massive dick and another of two cowboys with their willies touching. I said I’d give it a go. It took too long and Vivienne got all dogmatic, saying I was trying to censor her work when I wasn’t at all. If you got on her wrong side, she’d let you know.

About then, Steve (Jones) and Paul (Cook) started coming in. It was my job to keep an eye on them. They were trying to get a band together and I overheard them saying they needed a bass player. So that’s how it started.

A lot of people think Vivienne and Malcolm made all the clothes but they didn’t – they provided a base where we all met. The hippest place in London on a Saturday afternoon, where every oddball and weirdo congregated. We gravitated there for our own reasons, a mishmash of people who went on to do something. And Vivienne was like the madam of a belle epoque salon. I don’t think she did it deliberately. She picked up on things, such as when John [Lydon] came in with a safety pin through his ear.

Whatever she did, she did with real artisanship and craft. If something came back from Mr Green in the East End with a seam in the wrong place, Vivienne was on it. She used tailoring to get her ideas across, to turn what you were supposed to look like on its head. She was always at the V&A or the Wallace Collection. She was into the conflict of ideas and knew what she wanted to do.

She was one of the first vegetarians I met. Yet when I got chicken, she’d take the bones home to boil and sew on to T-shirts. They’d had the shop less than a year when I turned up and were still trying to work out what they wanted to do. It’s amazing now. There’s a Vivienne Westwood flagship store in Shanghai and go to Harajuku in Tokyo and the girls are dressed in Westwood. From chicken bones to head of a fashion empire: it’s only by sticking out that you get lasting acclaim and to have continual success is hard. She did it. I’m not sure we’ll see the likes of her again.

• Glen Matlock was the bass player for Sex Pistols

Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at observer.letters@observer.co.uk

Glen Matlock

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Saturday interview: Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood virtually invented punk and picked up her OBE from the Queen wearing no knickers. Now 70, she has no intention of slowing down. She spoke to Stuart Jeffries

Stuart Jeffries

03, Dec, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
Dame Vivienne Westwood: fashion designer dies aged 81
Iconoclastic British designer rose to prominence by outfitting the Sex Pistols as punk took off in the 1970s

Alyx Gorman and Sian Cain

30, Dec, 2022 @7:52 AM

Article image
Vivienne Westwood: her life and career – in pictures
A look at the famous fashion designer’s greatest moments after her death at the age of 81

Greg Whitmore

29, Dec, 2022 @9:39 PM

Article image
Remembering Vivienne Westwood: ‘The rebel who was never without a cause’
Jess Cartner-Morley recalls meeting the anti-establishment fashion designer and political activist who shaped punk culture and street style

Jess Cartner-Morley

30, Dec, 2022 @12:30 AM

Article image
Jordan, the face of punk: 'The things I wore made people apoplectic'
She was the rubber-knickered peroxide bombshell who put the sex into the Pistols. Now she’s written a memoir of her years causing outrage at the heart of punk

Paul Tierney

23, Apr, 2019 @1:12 PM

Article image
'Punk is a McDonald's brand': Malcolm McLaren's son on burning £5m of items
Joe Corré and his mother, Vivienne Westwood, to light a pyre of rare memorabilia on Saturday in protest over punk ‘conning the young’

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

24, Nov, 2016 @7:06 PM

Article image
Malcolm McLaren's son to burn £5m of punk memorabilia
Joe Corré will destroy clothes in response to Punk London, an event he claims is endorsed by the Queen

Tim Jonze

16, Mar, 2016 @2:28 PM

Article image
Anarchy! The McLaren Westwood Gang review – scrappy tribute to Sex Pistols mischief-maker
Phil Strongman uses archive interview footage to place McLaren and punk in the tradition of anarchism, situationalism and pop art

Peter Bradshaw

15, Sep, 2016 @9:35 PM

Article image
'I wanted to be a living work of art': why Jordan is the queen of punk rock style
Adam Ant claimed she invented punk, with a take on clothes that still shocks more than 40 years later. Now, as Maisie Williams plays her in Danny Boyle’s new series Pistol, Jordan’s story is finding a new audience

Lauren Cochrane

06, Apr, 2021 @7:11 AM

Article image
Joe Corré on burning his Sex Pistols collection: ‘It’s the ideas that are important, not the memorabilia’
The son of punk pioneers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood is threatening to incinerate his £5m collection of collectables in response to movement’s 40th anniversary celebrations

Mike Pattenden

20, Mar, 2016 @4:58 PM