Lennon on Toronto: ‘Bloody Marvelous’

Lennon on Toronto: ‘Bloody Marvelous’

 LONDON — John Lennon and Yoko Ono were beaming when they arrived at their plush white office in Apple’s Savile Row headquarters in London on Tuesday afternoon. They had spent the previous day resting after returning from the hectic and historic 36-hour visit to Toronto for the weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. It was Lennon’s first public, pre-announced appearance in four years.

Lennon ordered a lunch of apples, oranges, toast and tea before gleefully recalling his weekend in Canada. “It gave me a great feeling; a feeling I haven’t had for a long time. It convinced me to do more appearances, either with or without the rest of the Beatles. Everything went down so well.

“We only had time to run through the numbers on the plane coming over, but the band was so funky I couldn’t believe it. We did all the old things like ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’ Things from the Cavern days in Liverpool. Gene Vincent was standing on the side of the stage crying when we did our number. Backstage he came up to me and whispered: ‘John, remember Hamburg. Remember all that scene.'”

“The ridiculous thing was that I didn’t know any of the lyrics,” continued John. “When we did ‘Money’ and ‘Dizzy,’ I just made up the words as I went along. The band was bashing it out like hell behind me. Yoko came up on stage with us, but she wasn’t going to do her bit until we’d done our five songs. Then after ‘Money’ there was a stop, and I turned to Eric and said, ‘What’s next?’ He just shrugged, so I screamed out ‘C’Mon’ and started into something else.

“We did ‘Yer Blues’ because I’ve done that with Eric before. It blew our minds. Meanwhile, Yoko had whipped off stage to get some lyrics out of her white bag. Then we went into ‘Give Peace a Chance’ which was just unbelievable. I was making up the words as we went along, I didn’t have a clue. After that, we just wandered off to the back of the stage, and we lit up and let go.

“Yoko’s first number had a bit of rhythm [Yoko laughed, ‘It was a bit of rock’] but the second was completely freaky. It was the sort of thing she did at Cambridge ’69, but it was more like Toronto 1984.

“Yoko just stopped when she’d had enough, walked off and we left all the amps on, going like the clappers. Wow-ow-ow-ow. It went on for another five minutes, just flat. Then Mai Evans [the Beatles’ road manager] went out and turned them off.

“All the people were singing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and it was fantastic. I didn’t know anything about that booing bit [the Toronto press had reported that Yoko was nearly booed off the stage]. Mai said there were 15 or 20 people booing in a corner, but we didn’t even know.

“It was bloody marvellous. The Doors took another hour to come on. They weren’t going on after that, so they waited 60 minutes before going out.” Added Yoko: “It was one of those things where nobody could come on afterwards.”

Yoko’s set seemed to go over the heads of some members of the audience. According to the Revival promoter, John Brower, “It was clear what was going down. Firstly John did ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ then ‘Money,’ ‘Dizzy,’ ‘Yer Blues.’ ‘Cold Turkey’ (an original), ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ and then two unnamed numbers by Yoko. It was simply a chronological progression of music and I don’t think too many people were ready for it.”

John and Yoko’s Toronto visit was, in fact, on official invitation from Canada’s Immigration Department, which rubber-stamped a welcome to the couple into the country for the weekend. The clearance was obtained by John Brower and Ken Walker, the producers of the Revival and the earlier Toronto Pop Festival. Finally, after going through a whole network of flacks and various assistants, their invitation got through to John at his office at Apple.

His first reaction was “But we can’t do that; Yoko and I sitting in the audience would be like a King and Queen number.” Then the idea to perform there flashed, and Lennon leapt up from behind his desk to call George Harrison, who would help get a band together.

When Harrison called Eric Clapton, Lennon was becoming aware of the possibilities of playing an old-fashioned rock and roll show. He burst into the first verse of “Blue Suede Shoes,” which brought a hearty cheer from the six people present and an embarrassed grin from John. “We’ll go,” he said. “We’ll go if we can get the band together.” Lennon talked to Brower about the arrangements. and then sat back to await official confirmation from the Canadian Immigration Department about his admissibility.

Through the night, Harrison and Lennon’s assistant, Anthony Fawcett, worked on organizing a band. Clapton couldn’t be reached until about lunch time Saturday, and at one point, the trip was cancelled. Then, at last, Clapton was found, agreed to go, and the trip was on.

John was ill most of the way across the Atlantic, the result of nerves. “My God, I haven’t performed before a large audience for four years. I mean, I did the Rolling Stones’ Circus film with a small audience and I did the Cambridge ’69 gig, but they didn’t even know I was coming. There were only 200 people there, and they only expected Yoko to arrive anyway.” When news of Lennon’s trip reached North America (14 hours before the Revival was to commence at 1 PM Saturday) the Detroit to Windsor auto tunnel was jammed with traffic from hip Michigan people anxious to see Lennon perform.

There was no doubt later that Lennon had really enjoyed himself. “We took our cameraman with us, and our business manager, Allan Klein, flew up and made a few quick deals. I understand there’s going to be a film of the Revival, done by Richard Pennebaker, who did Dylan’s Don’t Look Back. The whole thing was just fantastic, I’m really glad we went. And because of it, we’re going to be doing more things like it soon. You get such a great feeling from a gig like that.”