Inside Brian Jones’s tumultuous last days with the Rolling Stones
You can see the shock on their weary faces. It was 18 April 1967, and the Rolling Stones were sitting in Athens airport waiting for a flight home. The night before, they’d played the final show of a European tour to 40,000 fans at the city’s Panathinaikos football stadium. It hadn’t gone well.
Bass player Bill Wyman described the concert as “madness”. Heavy-handed Greek police had beaten attendees with batons, crazed fans had tried to rush the stage, and a member of the Stones’ entourage called Tom Keylock had lost five teeth in a fight as he tried to hand out red carnations to the crowd. The concert had been stopped multiple times.
These photographs were taken by Vasilios Karageorgios the morning after the night before. Guitarist Brian Jones looks exhausted and fed up, frontman Mick Jagger seems lost in thought, while drummer Charlie Watts is also clearly in pensive mode. The Stones wouldn’t tour again for over two years.
Recalling the concert, Wyman has said that three rows of police were sitting at the front of the show to prevent the rest of the crowd from leaving their seats. This never happened. Chaos ensued once the music started. “The police beat [audience members] with batons, really vicious. Tom Keylock was with us because he worked for Keith [Richards] and we had all these big bouquets of flowers that we were going to hand out to the public, but we couldn’t give them away. Tom then says, ‘I’ll do it’,” Wyman has said. “He then took the flowers, jumped off stage running, and got into a fight with the police who broke his nose or wrist.”
The problems didn’t end there. Just days after the concert there was a military coup in Greece. A dictatorship would govern the country until 1974. (It’s why Wyman isn’t in the airport photos: he stayed on in Greece for a holiday, unwittingly getting caught up in the coup).
The Stones’ gig at the Panathinaikos Stadium was significant for another reason: it was the last time that fans would see Jones play a full concert in the band he helped form five years earlier. Although the guitarist played two songs with the Stones in May 1968 when they made a surprise appearance at the NME Poll-Winners show in London – and he also took part in The Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus film that December – he would never play another Stones gig for paying fans. The airport photos therefore capture the end of an era for the band.
After a series of drug busts and estrangement from his bandmates, Jones was kicked out of the group in June 1969. He was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool in Sussex the following month, aged 27. The coroner ruled “death by misadventure”: Jones had well-documented substance abuse problems.
By the time of his death Jones had already been replaced in the Stones by Mick Taylor, and two days after he died the band played a (pre-arranged) concert in London’s Hyde Park. Roadies released hundreds of white butterflies in tribute to Jones. The Stones’ next full tour was their American tour of November 1969, by which time Taylor was an established member of the band.
The pictures are a precursor to one of the many forks in the road that the Stones have faced over their decades-long year career. Even when Watts died last year, the band carried on touring. This summer they will play a series of UK shows – as part of a European tour – to mark their sixtieth anniversary. “I miss Charlie as a player and a friend,” Jagger said in an interview over the weekend. “In the show, when we come to the front and bow at the end, there’s no Charlie.”
The band’s anniversary will also be marked by a series of films on the BBC. A four-part documentary called My Life as a Rolling Stone will view the band through the lens of members Jagger, Richards, Ronnie Wood and Watts. The individual episodes will include contributions from the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Radio 2 will also air a two-hour audio documentary called Rolling With The Stones.
The Rolling Stones play Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium on 9 June, and London’s Hyde Park on 25 June and 3 July