piers hemmingsen

The Power Of Ritchie Yorke’s Pen – A Fan Writes A Review Of His New Book “Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy; John And Yoko’s Battle For Peace” (Ritchie Yorke Publishing, 2015)

On a cold Saturday morning in the late November of 1969, I was shopping for records on the Sparks Street Mall in Ottawa. There on the sale racks at the front of the Sherman’s Music shop, I spotted a brand new Beatles album on Polydor called Very Together. It’s release was news to me.

On the back of the album was an interview with George Harrison. The interview had been tape recorded at Apple’s office  in London by Ritchie Yorke just two months before and the entire interview had appeared in the Globe And Mail’s “Globe Magazine” (September 1969). The endorsement by George Harrison sold me there and then and I bought the album. Voila, Ritchie Yorke was on, from that moment on, this teenaged Beatles fan radar screen.

Ritchie Yorke, along with John and Yoko and Ronnie Hawkins, would be in Ottawa just a couple of weeks later to bring a message of Peace to our Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. A way to end the Vietnam war. They would stay at the Chateau Laurier Hotel just a short distance from the record shop. How cool was that ?

Fast forward to 2015 and Ritchie Yorke is still writing, and he is still speaking for US and telling our stories. But why is he speaking now, and what is his new book about anyway ?

This new book titled Christ You Know It Aint’ Easy chronicles an insider’s view of the incredible events that took place during the Peace campaign that was waged by John and Yoko from early 1969 onwards. And many of those events took place right here in Canada. The book takes the Peace message and updates the story so far.

Why does Ritchie Yorke matter to us now ? Because for Canadian underground Rock and Pop fans, he became our voice in the late 1960s. He met the Beatles. He met Yoko. And The Beatles and Yoko trusted him with their messages, or at least John and George and Yoko did. Because of that, he was our friend and we trusted the words he wrote for us. On our behalf, if you will.

Through the kindness of a very good friend, I was passed along an invitation to attend Ritchie’s book launch on John Lennons’ 75th. birthday where I could mingle with, and speak to, the book’s central characters Ritchie Yorke and Ronnie Hawkins. As it turns out, I am so glad I was there with many others to pay tribute to the two people that John and Yoko trusted to take their message of Peace to so many countries and cities around the world. We also sang Happy Birthday to John and a nice round of Give Peace A Chance. Nice.

The stories in the new book chronicle an important period that begins in early 1969 when The Beatles were still the most popular active Rock group in the world. The entire story presented in these new pages is both an essential part of The Beatles’ history as well as the corner-stone story of John Lennon’s incredible partnership with the gifted artist Yoko Ono.

As a pioneering Rock journalist from  Australia, who began working for the Spencer Davis Group in England in 1966, Ritchie brought his Pop journalism skills from Swinging London to Canada in 1967 and created the first such journalistic role for our national newspaper The Globe And Mail. For a brief time, he also wrote for the Toronto Telegram’s weekly After Four section. Later on he would write articles from Toronto for Rolling Stone.

For young Pop and Rock fans of the day, Ritchie was one of a handful of pioneering Rock journalists in Canada who really mattered. He wrote it the way he saw it. In this book, Ritchie writes about his experiences interviewing The Beatles in London. He records what he witnessed in the room as John and Yoko agreed to appear at John Brower’s Rock & Roll Revival at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium on Saturday, September 13, 1969. He hung around to meet them again upon their return from Toronto. Ritchie recounts how he left his job at the Globe And Mail to work on John and Yoko’s War Is Over campaign along with Ronnie Hawkins and others. Ritchie was not just a fly on the wall in these historic times … he contributed to the plot as it unfolded. He became a trusted advisor to two of the most famous Peace makers of the 20th Century.

Yorke was with John and Yoko non-stop during their visits to Canada in 1969. He and Ronnie Hawkins were drafted into John and Yoko’s Peace army. His accounts of their War Is Over campaign, the rise and collapse of the Toronto (Mosport) “free” Peace Festival of 1970, and the ongoing attempts by John and Yoko to deal with the harsh criticism afforded them by the Press at the time, are totally captivating for the reader. The account of Ritchie and Ronnie’s Peace trip to the Far East shows us just how different things were in the world back then.

This book will appeal to all fans of John and Yoko and The Beatles. But the primary intent of the book is to celebrate the message of Peace as delivered by the beleaguered duo, and by their Canadian disciples (well an Australian fellow and a Rockabilly artist from Arkansas). This was a Peace message that they managed to deliver in one way or another to Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, The Peoples Republic Of (Communist) China, Denmark, Rome, Paris, London, Montreal, Toronto and eventually (by Yoko) … to Iceland.

Because he was both a successful Rock journalist and a hand-picked Ambassador of Peace, Ritchie was and is the perfect person to tell the true story of the Montreal Bed-In and War Is Over campaign, in his own unique “warts and all” style. Ritchie was instrumental in moving the Bed In event from Toronto’s King Edward Hotel to Montreal, for example. Toronto was “Toronto The Good” in those days and was just too far from New York City. Perhaps Montreal was a hipper city for such a Bed-In.

Each chapter deals with a separate and interesting aspect in the John and Yoko battle for Peace.

Readers can decide for themselves whether John and Yoko’s Peace campaign was a success. Those who were around during the 1969-1970 period can tell you it was. But Ritchie is careful to be balanced in his views. His narrative on what happened when he visited John and Yoko in Denmark in early 1970 fully describes what has to be the pivotal moment of the book. Just a few weeks later Ritchie was a lone witness to a key moment between Paul and Ringo that laid bare the end of the world’s most successful Rock and Pop group. He was there … and thankfully he has been able to share the true account.

For me, the book is essential reading. Firstly, it allows us to see and understand exactly what took place to end The Beatles story. Secondly, we get a firsthand account of how John and Yoko seized the moment to launch a Peace campaign into a world dominated by nuclear weapons and mutual hatred between Capitalists and Communists.

Some stories are far better than others, but I enjoyed them all. Especially the ones that took place here in Canada during that special time. Tops for me were the recollections of the encounters with Marshall McCluhan, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Ronnie Hawkins, and the promoters John Brower and Kenny Walker.

I learned about the things that did not go well for John and Yoko and about the various people who befriended them and then mistreated them. The pair suffered from miscarriages, from the racist attitudes and views of the Press towards Yoko, from the incredible greed of business manager Alan Klein, and from the ongoing battle to gain access to Yoko’s daughter Kyoko. Ritchie could only deal with so much detail so there is no extra room in this book for narratives on the brilliant music and art that the two created during this time. Other writers have covered that anyway.

The collapse of the Toronto Peace Festival is finally explained in detail and many fascinating angles of the story are brought into focus. But all these years later, could Canada have really hosted something bigger than Woodstock just miles from the US border ? Yorke claims that President Nixon and the FBI were all over the RCMP with “dirt” at the ready to thwart the organizers of a Peace festival for millions of hippies that was being planned in the wake of the Peace dialogue that took place between John and Yoko and our “hip” Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

The book was a wonderful read for me and includes very special words from Yoko who clearly endorses the book (which is a very powerful statement on its own). While it would have been nice to see some pictures, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book with all of the pictures in my own mind anyway.

Thanks Ritchie for being able to share all of these incredible stories with us. And for setting the record straight with your mighty pen. It is as exciting now as it was then.


Piers Hemmingsen, Toronto, October 2015

 (Author of “The Beatles In Canada – The Origins Of Beatlemania !”)