International Swingers: "Punk Rock Was More About Conformity and Nonconformity Than Protest"

Categories: Q&A

international_swingers.jpg
Dawn Laureen
The International Swingers: Clem Burke, Gary Twinn, James Stevenson, and Glen Matlock.

Last night, the International Swingers rolled into 910 Live in Tempe and blasted out some big hits from rock 'n' roll lore, which is apropos, considering the punk supergroup's stature and history. Sex Pistols/Iggy Pop alumni and bassist Glen Matlock, guitarist/vocalist Gary Twinn of Supernaut fame, and onetime Generation X/Gene Loves Jezebel member James Stevenson took the crowd on a time warp into rock yesteryear on Wednesday night with covers of their former bands' hits, including "God Save the Queen" and "No Fun."

They also performed a number of International Swingers originals, like the politically motivated "Gun Control," perfectly illustrating how the band goes betwixt polemic and entertainment, pop overtones and punk rancor. The bandmates discussed whether the music they'd created with their most famous bands was about politics and protest or just plain old rock 'n' roll during a sitdown interview with Up on the Sun at English pub George and Dragon on Tuesday, the night before their concert. Matlock, for instance, told us, "It depends on how serious you take [the music]," since "at the end of the day, I'm an entertainer."

The role of a their previous hits as potential protest songs of the late '70s and early '80s were just one of the more cerebral (and poltical-oriented) topics covered during our lengthy chat with the International Swingers. It isn't every day that you get to hangout with members of rock 'n' roll royalty, which caused us to feel more than a little bit intimidated going into the interview.

Nevertheless, we took the opportunity to three of the bandmates that hail from countries in the British Empire ask what their feelings were about the passing of infamous former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and their answers were a bit surprising, to say the least, including Stevenson stating, "I just wish everyone would fuckin' leave it alone."

Other contentious topics discussed, which are covered in the second of our two-part interview with the Swingers, include Matlock's feelings about being called "a bit of a wanker" by his former Sex Pistols bandmate Steve Jones and how Bob Dylan is perhaps the punkest non-punk of them all.

A while ago Steve Jones called you a bit of a wanker and a mommy's boy. What was your reaction to that?

Glen: Nobody would've heard of Steve Jones if I hadn't done what I'd done.

Clem: You know, Steve Jones is basically kinda full of shit. I had a band with him in 1984 called Checkered Past; we made one record for EMI America, and we were all -- we just liked rock and roll music. There was no pretense about who was a punk and who was this or that. I think he's gone on record that there's tons of stuff he likes that wouldn't be considered punk.

I think a lot of people ply their reputation, and they kind of have to say things a certain way in order for them to sound "punk"; let's put it that way.

Steve is a friend of mine, but he's a very . . . sort of complicated young man.

James: Steve accused Glen of being in this band with us, and doing the same old thing all the time, and I want to say that if anybody knows about doing the same old thing all the time it's Jonesy, so . . . you know, leave my mate alone.

Glen: [Laughs] He's a professional Englishman.

Clem: But we love Steve Jones!

This question's for the members of the empire -- what was your reaction when you heard Margaret Thatcher had passed

James: You know what -- for everyone it was a very divisive thing, but for me it was so long ago that she was in power in the UK . . . I just wish everyone would fuckin' leave it alone. It doesn't matter. She was in power 30 years ago, she was a divisive figure.

A lot of the stuff that I thought at the time that she did was really, really terrible, but as I got older I realized that maybe she had to do it. Like, if you want to get political we can get into a whole thing there, which I don't really want to do in this interview.

But one example I'll give you is that when the miners' union, when her and Arthur Scargill were at loggerheads, you had secondary picketing where the miners were picketing hospitals, deciding which ambulances could get through to the emergency room. And you cannot have that -- she had to smash that, which is what she did. But then a lot of other stuff she did was really, you know . . . people say she decimated communities, but do you really think the British mining industry would've survived if she hadn't -- it wouldn't've survived anyway.

Glen: It's a really tough call. I hated her, obviously, at the time...

James: I have a vintage-guitar store in London, and my partner, his wife is Scottish, and she has had a bottle of champagne in the freezer in her fridge for 20 years, waiting for Maggie to die. And she opened it, you know, a few weeks ago. So that's the kind of figure she was.

The reason I bring it up is that you guys are identified with -- as cliché as this sounds --

Glen: They were tough days you know, hard days.

You were identified with the youth movement, with some degree of protest music from that era...

Glen: But one thing people always forget is when punk came out, Thatcher wasn't in government.

After the jump: "I think that punk rock wasn't about protest -- it was more about conformity and nonconformity than protest."

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2 comments
Up On The Sun
Up On The Sun

there are so many fascinating dictators out there that I always thought it was a minor shame that Mussolini got all the joke-credit. I mean, where's Ceaucescu's parade?

Troy Farah
Troy Farah

Mussolini also got the trains to run on time.

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