Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones: ‘The monarchy means nothing to me’

I was living in Denmark Street in 1977 – that’s where we used to rehearse. Glen [Matlock] was still in the band, and he came up with the riff for “God Save the Queen”. John wrote the lyrics. Me, Paul Cook and Glen would jam around in there, and John would basically sit in the corner, scribbling words down. That’s how it came about. When we recorded it, with Chris Thomas and Bill Price, it was different. Glen had left at this point – the only song he played on was “Anarchy in the UK”. And so I ended up playing the bass on “God Save the Queen”. I played the bass on most of the album, actually. Sid [Vicious] played on a couple of songs, but I just remember, they had a completely different sound than “Anarchy”.

“Anarchy” was very big and there were some interesting guitar sounds, and “God Save the Queen” was kind of a dry sound. But it was great. It was very powerful. I had to give Sid a crash course in how to play the bass, which was pretty tough. He looked great though – it was a shame, he had that dark cloud over him. I couldn’t see him getting old. We had a couple of years where it was magic – it really was. I didn’t particularly like hanging out with John… Cookie was my mate. And I actually liked hanging out with [Sex Pistols manager Malcolm] McLaren. I like John, but he can turn on you quickly. I’ve only got respect for him, though. And of course, the statement was… you know.

I’ve never had any connection to the monarchy, to be honest. It meant nothing to me, still doesn’t. So to me it was just a laugh, it was a giggle. I didn’t realise it would offend a lot of English people. They took it personally. It was a stab against the Queen. I think John got [attacked], we used to just walk around – we didn’t have bodyguards or cars or anything, so we were just a target, John more than the rest of us. Cookie got beat up by a couple of Teddy boys. It was a great time to be a young man, you know? We were kids, really. There was a naivety, but also we were very ready to get up and go. That’s what you do when you’re young, 19, 20 years old.

Times have changed. I’m 65 years old, I’m like a monk now. But also, things are still the same. That’s the way it’s designed. I guess you could say it’s getting a little tougher – the world in general is just not in a good place, and I don’t know how you could turn this mess around.

I have no idea if we have a shot at No 1. It’d be funny if we did. Maybe Rod Stewart will come out with a quick single and beat us [like he did in 1977 with “Sailing”]. I’ve got other things going on: I’ve started a new podcast, Jones’s Jukebox. We’ve had a few old ones out, there’s one where I interviewed McLaren. I spoke with Danny Boyle [director of new series Pistol] last week and some of the cast members. Danny’s great, he really is something else. He was passionate about the project, he wanted to do it more than anyone else. I think he’s great. He’s really did his homework, Danny Boyle. Yeah. Nailed it.

As told to Roisin O’Connor. The special reissue of ‘God Save the Queen’ is out now. ‘Pistol’, based on Jones’s memoir ‘Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol’, is on Disney+

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