25 Years Ago: Sex Pistols Announce Their Unlikely Reunion
On March 16, 1996, a mass of reporters crammed into the dark, dimly lit 100 Club in London to witness something they’d been told would never happen: the return of Sex Pistols.
Eighteen years earlier, the band had exploded in spectacular fashion. A doomed 1978 U.S. tour had proven disastrous. Band manager Malcolm McLaren purposely scheduled most of the shows throughout the South in an effort to play to hostile crowds. Bassist Sid Vicious, then at the height of his heroin addiction, was constantly high or in the process of scoring his next fix. Brawls with audience members, security and photographers were the norm. Infighting within the band was a daily occurrence, too. The group’s final show - Jan. 14, 1978, in San Francisco - saw singer John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, delivering an infamous closing remark: “Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?”
The band officially broke up days later. Vicious would die of an overdose in February 1979. Lydon would go on to found Public Image Ltd. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook cofounded the Professionals, before each later served as guest musicians with various other artists. None of the former bandmates seemed interested in a Sex Pistols reunion.
But one thing changed that: the almighty dollar.
“We’ve found a common cause, and that’s your money,” Lydon proclaimed at the press conference on March 16. The singer, seemingly eager to prove that years away from Sex Pistols hadn’t dampened his abrasive personality, dominated the conversation, swilling beer while chastising the assembled media.
“Not much has changed,” Lydon pontificated regarding the band’s long layoff. “Through the years, we’ve all gone off and done different things. Left it up to others to go make waves. Nobody out there has done bollocks all to change this world. So, hello, here it is, part two. And quite frankly the Sex Pistols never really finished properly. And that’s what this is about.”
Watch Sex Pistols' 1996 Reunion Press Conference
Nothing was off-limits during the media onslaught. Lydon joked about vacuuming Vicious’ ashes, while Glen Matlock - the band’s original bassist and chief songwriter who returned for the reunion tour - admitted the band still “hate each other with a vengeance.”
When one reporter suggested the reunion, dubbed the Filthy Lucre tour, was an “about-face” from the band’s ethos, Lydon fired back, “We invented punk. We write the rules, and you follow. Not the other way around.”
The band wasn't shy about their cash grab, instead admitting to their financial motivations while throwing up yet another middle finger to music fans everywhere. “I changed my mind" about a reunion, Lydon admitted. "And money has a lot to do with that, I have to be honest. But it’s not the be all and end all. I’m also incredibly spiteful. And anytime anybody thinks something is so sacrosanct that it should never be touched, I want to touch it.”
“I think we was all quite full of ourselves as the Pistols,” Matlock admitted years later. “We made our own rules, and we was gonna do what we wanted to do.”
Still, though they’d never outwardly show it, the band was nervous about a reunion trek. “None of us were 100 percent it was the right thing to be doing,” Matlock confessed. “But we was gonna do it anyway. And that press conference was the first thing we actually did. We hadn’t done any gigs by then. I don’t even think we’d started rehearsing at that stage. ... The only egg that would be on our face [would be] if nobody turned up. But they turned out in droves. So we was right, and they was wrong.”
Indeed, fans all over the world flocked to see the revived Sex Pistols across 78 dates that year. But the success didn’t do anything to quell continued turmoil within the group. During the Filthy Lucre trek, the group utilized two tour buses for ground travel, bandmates took different flights and everyone routinely stayed in different hotels, all in an effort to avoid confrontation.
“We wanted to kill ourselves at the end,” Jones declared years later to the New York Daily News.
Despite the dramatics, the tour was a rousing success, reportedly taking in more than $20 million.
The band reunited for further performances, notably in 2002 and 2007, but the former bandmates have shot down suggestions that they could revive the group again.
"I can’t see it happening again for the Pistols," Cook declared to NME in 2020. His statements echoed a similar claim from Jones three years earlier. "Our marriage went wrong and we got divorced," the guitarist explained to Rolling Stone in 2017, remarking specifically about his disintegrated relationship with Lydon. Still, Jones did say the group could consider another reunion "if we were making Rolling Stones money."