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Greek Riot - Graham Lee
Your Contribution - You
Greek Riot: Graham Lee
It was a cut above our usual hotel, which may explain my uncustomary appearance
in bathers. We had flown in from miserable London to a rooftop pool from which
I could see the Acropolis while floating on my back. It looked surreal from
this vantage point and was made made even more so by the inclusion, in the
foreground, of the entire band and crew showing off bodies whiter than its
columns. Esa and Dennis broke the spell when they arrived, brown of body and
altogether much better attuned to the surroundings, with a seventeen seat bus,
to drive us to our date with destiny.
Buoyed by the success of their night-club in the city; they had been asked,
by no less than the incumbent mayor of Athens, to organise a series of free
concerts in a park in the centre of Athens. The shows were meant to placate
a student body that had not been allowed an outdoor concert in years. Mayoral
elections were in the wind. We couldn't care less - we had left London behind
and were being treated like stars.
A caffeine-like sense of excitement and elation buzzed around my brain as I
strolled out to the mixing desk under its canopy and surveyed the site. It
was a leafy park with a two story restaurant on one of its perimeters. The
well kept lawns soon to be trodden by twenty thousand pairs of feet had already
been defiled by a huge stage mounted on scaffolding at least five metres high.
I must admit to a certain sense of pride in its monstrosity. We had really
made it if such a stage had to be constructed for us. OK, OK - and for The
Gun Club, Public Image Limited, the Jesus And Mary Chain and Aswad. Security
was impressive. A huge crowd barrier of (ahem) chip-board, stretched from the
grass to the lip of the stage; and twenty or so burly and not so burly friends
of the promoters stood around, ready to enforce good behaviour should the need
arise. I noted that they wore no recognizable uniforms.
Sally Collins, our manager, called us all into the back stage area shortly
after a local band had begun making music from on high. We had to do a photo
shoot for a magazine. We dutifully lined up to get it over with. A couple of
shots had been taken when something strange happened directly behind the photographer.
Our fixed smiles became even more so as one boot, then another appeared through
the stage barrier. The cameraman was about to ask us to loosen up when he turned
around at the growing noise to see the only thing between us, in the cloistered
back stage area, and twenty thousand students out front, kicked into tiny pieces
in the space of a minute.
Strangely enough there was no sense of immediate danger and security didn't
switch into overdrive. There was no attempt made to stop people wandering underneath
the folly of a stage or climbing the lighting towers and we were assured by
Dennis and Esa that the overall mood was friendly and the show should go on.
Darkness was falling as the local band came off unscathed, and we helped our
small crew move the gear onto the stage. As I sat behind my pedal steel guitar
trying to get the ridiculous beast in tune I looked across at our roadie, a
lovely Londoner called Dugald Guthrie, as he strode across the stage carrying
guitars and whatnot. Then I saw it - arcing through the spotlights towards
him came a can of beer that had been launched from a long way back. I called
out to warn him, only succeeding in putting him in perfect position for the
half full projectile to smack into the back of his head. Sorry Dougie. I then
felt a pain in my shoulder and noticed the stage was being peppered with coins.
Throughout the set they bounced off the cymbals and our good selves in an unwanted
torrent of audience-interactive percussion. A surreal aspect was lent by the
fact that those launching the assault were hugely outnumbered by people who'd
come to enjoy themselves. The protagonists were hidden among fans waving cigarette
I'm not sure exactly why, but the show did indeed go on. And it was OK too.
Personally I found it a little difficult to play at my peak while dodging and
weaving to avoid coins and cans but the cigarette lighters only stopped waving
when we made an ill advised attempt at Get Into The Groove. A song or two from
the end, just when I thought we might actually get away with this, I saw Sally
signaling me from the side of stage. PIL had come down, took one look at the
farcical security arrangements and would not play. Oh dear. We were instructed
to get our gear off stage as quickly as possible after the show. To tell the
truth we hadn't been planning a long encore.
Sally managed to negotiate enough time to put our instruments into as safe
a spot as we could find before the announcement was made that the evening's
entertainment was going to be severely curtailed. We were told to sit in a
caravan. We would be safe in there. Everything would be OK. Promoters Dennis
and Esa were very nice, left leaning folk and perhaps they really believed
it would all blow over, and everyone would go home in an orderly fashion. The
food in the caravan was good, there were some beers. Hey, it wasn't so bad.
A booming voice with a distinct edge to it of something resembling panic, began
addressing the crowd. Bottles and cans started to rain on the roof of the caravan.
Then our safety zone shook violently. We grabbed beers and stuffed vine-leaves
in our pockets (we were very much in tour mode) and got out of there.
And then it really did seem like a dream. Figures masked with bandanas strode
about carrying out various acts of mayhem. Some swung lengths of scaffolding,
others were pushing the PA off the stage and setting fire to the backdrop, and
a whole horde of them who seemed to take a bit longer to fire up were stampeding
the backstage area out of which there was but one exit. Or maybe they were trying
to get away. Dave, Alsy and myself followed the general direction of traffic
and found ourselves being squeezed out the single exit, like peak hour Tokyo
train passengers in reverse. People were running everywhere, dull thuds, screams
and explosions could be heard in the direction from whence we had come.
We had no idea where the others were. Not too far away we spotted the bus
that had brought us down to the gig. Thank God for that. I stepped up the
hoping to find familiar faces. The interior was in darkness and, from the
I heard a voice recognisable from old Sex Pistols songs. "Helloooo Trrriiiffids!" it
leered. I don't know what was going through my mind but my instant reaction was
to yell back "Get fucked!" and step off the bus which could have
driven us back to five star safety. Maybe I blamed John Lydon for the destruction
on at the moment though it wasn't really his fault, maybe the retsina was
sending me insane, maybe I thought he'd stolen our bus, maybe I harboured
a deep seated
desire to tell him to get fucked; whatever the reason we were off the bus
and had no idea where our colleagues were so we decided to go back to the
Easier said than done. Eventually we managed to find a taxi (don't ask me how,
maybe the drivers were in league with the rioters)to take us back to the hotel.
Not quite sure what to expect but hoping to find the rest of the band and crew,
we wandered into the lobby. The Gun Club were there, looking slightly stunned
as they had witnessed the whole thing from the nearby restaurant before the rioters
noticed them and began lobbing things burning and/or sharp and jagged at them,
whereupon they beat a hasty retreat. No Sally, no band , no crew.
Cut to the park, where everyone else was trapped in a sea of scaffold pipe wielding,
politically motivated maniacs out for a really good time. In the midst of this
almost all the friendly festivalgoers had disappeared and the rioters were left
to inflict the absolute maximum damage they could. A small band of Triffids fans
tried to hide the band from the rioters and the gear was moved to a portable
cabin. Sally had enlisted the services of a local to guard the temporary equipment
room. He did his best but, on Sally's return, she found him covered in blood
with a huge gash on his leg where he'd been attacked with a piece of scaffolding.
Sound engineer Victor Van Vugt was in the cabin when the window was smashed by
a length of pipe and a match was applied to the curtains by a masked marauder.
In the manner of a Road Runner vs Wil E Coyote confrontation Vic blew out the
match. In the manner of something altogether more real and menacing the match
was replaced by a fist and a lighter. The caravan went up in flames and our gear
had to be ferried out by as many hands as could be mustered. A kind of wagon
train was formed in an effort to protect gear and people, as all around them
the mayhem continued. The owner of the (uninsured) PA system had his own mixing
desk dropped on top of him causing serious injuries. He was one of scores of
people taken to the hospital that night. Several vehicles including the OB van
that had recorded our performance were blown up with molotov cocktails, the flames
shooting hundreds of meters in the air. Everything that could be smashed was
pulverised, everything that could be burned was turned to cinders.
The rioting had all but subsided when the riot police finally made it to the
scene, standard procedure for this crack unit we were told. They turned off all
the lights and locked the gates before letting off tear gas canisters much to
the even tardier fire brigade's annoyance as they had to don breathing apparatus
to quell the flames.
In the meantime we had hailed another cab from the hotel and headed back in the
direction of the park to find our friends. We could get no closer than a kilometer
or so because the tear gas, drifting with the prevailing winds in our direction,
forced us back to the hotel. Sally was at this stage, above and beyond the call
of duty, on the back of a moped driven by the local with the gashed leg searching
for us. She wandered into five star hotel after five star hotel covered in soot
and dirt looking for PIL and ourselves and got nothing but some very strange
looks. She went back to the fag end of the riot to find all of the band and crew,
apart from the three of us, shattered but safe. Our gear was also safe, except
for Rob McComb's beloved Telecaster Slimline, as was PIL's. Dugald had rescued
their equipment along with ours. A fruitless expedition was made at 3am to the
central police station to report the loss of the guitar. Crossing international
boundaries as we were, we carried a customs carnet which was incomplete without
the missing Telecaster. A police report would be needed to get out of the country
tomorrow without complications. Nobody at Athens Central even knew there had
been a disturbance. Sally and Rob were told to return in the morning.
There was relief all round and a few tears as we were reunited back at the hotel.
We really felt like we had been through a major battle and it was probably the
closest we had ever felt as a band. We had a couple of drinks and -exhausted
- went to bed to catch what sleep we could before our mid-morning flight back
Just a couple of surrealities to deal with before dreary old London welcomed
us back to her pasty grey bosom. Dugald and I found ourselves sitting in
an office on the sixth floor of Athens Central Police Station looking distractedly
heat haze rising from the roofs as an interpreter tried to explain our
request for some written confirmation of our lost guitar. The news of the
had not filtered through to the constabulary so we lethargically showed
them the morning newspapers, pictures of masked men and flaming vehicles
front pages of all of them. Reluctantly they filled out forms we could
and we set off at high speed for the airport as we were running very late.
On arrival we found Sally deep in a heated argument with customs officials
threatening to fine us £1000 for every minute the plane had to be
delayed. You rock'n'rollers are all the same, they seemed to be trying
to say. How
did you manage to lose that guitar again? The scratchings we had extracted
Athens Central seemed to help a little and finally we were able to relax
into our seats
and let the first Bloody Mary perform its' familiar magic as the plane
banked around Athens. There, if you knew where to peer through the haze,
was a faint
smudge of green marking the scene of the biggest rock riot in European
Post script: Dennis and Esa were held responsible by the authorities and were
lucky to avoid jail terms. We were unable to ever discover the real cause of
the trouble. Most likely a combination of poor security, inexperience, a crowd
barrier that was too high (causing obstructed viewing at the front) and too flimsy
(allowing easy demolition) and the presence of a hard-core band of trouble makers
determined to embarrass the mayor. Not to mention incendiary music from the Triffids.
John Lydon, of course, was awarded responsibility by the British tabloids. His
management tried to buy footage of the flames our lighting operator Peter Mackay
had sneakily shot to use in a PIL music video. They were most annoyed at us for
saving their gear, as they had hoped it would be torched so they could make a
claim on their insurance policy.
Here's a translation sent to me of a Greek report on the riot. I'm a bit upset
that it seems to insinuate that we started it by being really bad and doing
a Madonna song. I must thank Green Cookie who wrote and translated the article.
He apologised for his English but I say no apology needed.
From the Vault
Title: Rock Festival '88 Date: 4-5-6 September 1988
Place: Athens Entrance: Free
Day First: Pavlo Sidiropoulos, Tripes, Triffids, P.I.L
Day Second: Lefki Sympfonia, Last Drive, Gun Club, Jesus + Mary Chain
Day Third: Lakis Papadopoulos, Nits, Aswad
For April, I 've got for you a historical live, that almost to be done in 1988.
It was then when Evert was elected for Mayor of Athens, and he was trying to
do various openings to “the youth”, as far as his mind could go.
Some people advised the township to organize a 3-days, free entrance festival.
Names plenty and good. Place of transaction: Pedion tou Areos. Organized
The whole story goes like this: At the first day would perform Sidiropoulos,
Tripes from Greece and Triffids, Johnny Lydon from abroad. People started forgathering
from very early on the grasses; the situation was cool. Pavlo played, Aggelakas,
everything nice. When Triffids came out most people didn’t like (there
was some outing when they covered Madona), but the night has began to fall,
more people coming, the recumbent to arise so to watch better, the erected
to move closer, also to watch better, more closer they that was all day lying
down and had arise so to be able to watch, and so on, until, for not saying
to much, some unpicked the funny guardrails the coordinators had put and docked
themselves on the stage, or hanging from it. (the stage should be, if I do
remember right, and judging by my height, about 2,5 m. above) Come on my dear
- Lydon didn’t accept to play under these circumstances. And it was making
sense, because if someone would seen himself as Sid Vicious there would be
a drama. Alright, but who will remove them now, that the club has no security?
Only cops they had, but can you make a job with them? (It was making sense
although! Since private coordinators hires private security companies, me as
a public, municipality of Athens said, why not to bring public security so
to pay nothing?) So the fans didn’t left the stage. And certainly Lydon
didn’t come out. And certainly the fans, which were too much "rock",
take it ill and started beating…the amplifiers! A skinhead set the plates
on fire, but his lighter was a chip plastic bic, not zippo, I swear it. Eh,
in general it happened the otherworldly. Fires, fighting, tear gas, the evil
The next day “Elefthrotypia” released with first page title: “WILD
ROCK BATTLES – all night” and also hosted comments of illustrious
radio dj Yiannis Petridis who expressed the certainty that the case would have
negative rap for live concerts in Greece for a long time.
Until November Paul Roland, Mekons, Lydia Lunch, Sonic Youth, Steppes have
performed in Athens, Patra & Thessaloniki, but that’s another story.