Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’

Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’

Sometimes one person’s death brings memories flooding back of a whole era. If you came of age musically in the fifties or sixties, it was if Chuck Berry’s songs held up a mirror in which you saw your generation reflected and given mythic stature. Particularly if you were British, the insouciant swagger of his lyrics, the guitar just like a ringing bell, cruisin’ in your car and playin’ the radio, the lure of the juke joint after the school bell has rung, the cats who want to dance with sweet little sixteen – all of it sounded highly desirable and pretty mythic.

Same thing every day – gettin’ up, goin’ to school.
No need for me to complain – my objection’s overruled, ahh!

John Lennon got it right: ‘If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.’ Continue reading “Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’”

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Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life

<em>Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year</em> Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life

I had already read Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Years the Decade Exploded and seen the V&A exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 when, just before Christmas, Steve Turner’s book, Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year, fell into my hands. Would I be up for a return trip to the year now regarded as a turning point, not only in music but more widely in culture and politics? Could Turner turn a chronicle of the Beatles’ day-to-day activities that year into a readable and engrossing narrative? The answer was resoundingly affirmative. Continue reading Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life”

Something happened on the day he died

Something happened on the day he died

Something happened on the day he died
– David Bowie, ‘Blackstar’

Three things we learned this past week connect in my mind. First came the news that Bowie had died, followed by a huge national outpouring of sorrow and loss. A day later it was revealed that the number of people attending Church of England services each week has dropped below 1 million – less than 2% of the population – for the first time, with Sunday attendances even lower at 760,000. Finally, amidst widespread condemnation, leaders of the Anglican communion meeting in Canterbury agree – in the words of Giles Fraser – ‘to punish its American franchise for the temerity of marrying gay people, sending out the message to the LGBT community: you are a problem, and we will establish our unity on the basis of your exclusion’.

The meaning of these stories, it seems to me, is that they reveal how British society has changed in the decades since Bowie first stunned viewers tuning in to watch Top of the Pops on 6 July 1972 to see him in the persona of Ziggy Stardust performing ‘Starman’, arm draped around Mick Ronson’s shoulders, pointing a finger at us all and singing, ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-oo’. Continue reading “Something happened on the day he died”

The Beatles Tune In: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years

<em>The Beatles Tune In</em>: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years

For days after Christmas I didn’t leave the sofa, enthralled by The Beatles Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages, ending as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but is also an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s. After this, all future accounts of the lives of the Beatles will be redundant. Continue reading The Beatles Tune In: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years”

New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s

New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s

Since Christmas Day I’ve been reading Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages and ends just as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s.

As the year turned, I found myself coincidentally reading Lewisohn’s evocative descriptions of two New Year’s Eves in Liverpool at the close of the 1950s. I thought I’d share them. Continue reading “New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s”

‘In My Life’: the song from Rubber Soul I grew to love the most

‘In My Life’: the song from <em>Rubber Soul</em> I grew to love the most

35 years after John Lennon’s death, and 50 years since the release of Rubber Soul, here’s one of his best songs: ‘In My Life’. Half a century has passed since The Beatles’ Rubber Soul was released on 3 December 1965, and as the years have passed the song that I have come to love most off that album is Lennon’s ‘In My Life’. Continue reading “‘In My Life’: the song from Rubber Soul I grew to love the most”

Along the Cast Iron Shore

Along the Cast Iron Shore
Mother and Child, Moreton Shore by Ken Grant from series ‘No Pain Whatsoever’

Is there more than one Cast Iron Shore?  The question arises after reading a feature in today’s Guardian – Ken Grant’s best photograph: a child on the Merseyside coast – in which the Grant talks about photographs taken as he walked between his home in New Brighton to ‘a place known as the Cast Iron Shore, because there was an iron foundry there’.

The place that Grant remembers as the Cast Iron Shore is the stretch of the Mersey shore between Leasowe and Meols (which I have described here).  But I think he must have mis-remembered: I can find no reference in Wirral histories to the term being used for this location, or of there being an iron foundry.  If the place deserves any name, it would be the Concrete Shore since the shoreline is firmly encased in a concrete embankment, first constructed by the Corporation of Liverpool in 1829.  It was needed as much of the ground on the landward side is below sea level and would be submerged by high spring tides.  The original embankment has been extended and strengthened several times since 1829.

Despite the concrete, this can be an exhilarating place to walk, with fantastic estuary views and dazzling displays of aerobatics by flocks of seabirds rising from the sandbanks offshore.  I photographed it in pretty dismal conditions last December.

Leasowe embankment
Leasowe embankment on a wet December day

Ken Grant’s photos were taken in the 1980s and 1990s and document, as Brian Viner expresses it in an appreciation in the Independent, ‘the humdrum realities of everyday working-class – or more accurately, unemployed – existence’. Grant was born in Liverpool and raised on the Wirral. Viner explains:

He worked as a labourer after leaving school, and knew intimately the world he was capturing, which perhaps explains why he did it so brilliantly, with such empathy. As he says now, there were plenty of pictures of vessels being grandly launched from the Cammell Laird shipyard, but his instinct was to chronicle the workers on their tea breaks, or clocking off. ‘I like photographing people’s circumstances,’ he says. ‘Not the celebratory stuff, but the quieter times.’ It is the instinct of the social documentarian, and Grant deserves to rank alongside the better-known Martin Parr as one of the best.

Ken Grant: Family on the Merseyside coast

This is the picture featured in The Guardian, taken in the summer of 1996.  It’s one from a brilliant series, ‘No pain whatsoever’ which can be seen here on Ken Grant’s website.  Grant explains:

I’ve photographed in and around Liverpool since I was a teenager, rarely moving more than a few miles from the Mersey. I tend to go back over familiar ground and photograph the same places repeatedly. Sometimes, I walk all day and find very little; other days, everything falls at your feet. It’s rarely straightforward, but then good photographs don’t come easily.

The family in this picture are out for the day, using a breakwater to shelter from the wind: even in the summer, it can blow in from the Irish Sea with some force. Away from the city, the winds keep the coast a little cooler, and I’d go there to photograph those people – like me – who were drawn to the sea for a few hours’ respite.

Grant, who now teaches in South Wales, has published a collection of his Merseyside photos in The Close Season, which features text by writer James Kelman.

Dingle Point c1890
Dingle Point photographed c1890

In Liverpool, the Cast Iron Shore (more commonly ‘The Cazzy’) is known as the stretch of the Mersey shore from the Dingle to Otterspool in south Liverpool.  It gained its name from an iron foundry – the Mersey Foundry – that operated throughout the 19th century on a vast site near Grafton Street in the Dingle. The shoreline was stained red from the ferric oxide left in the sand.  There’s a church at St. Michael’s constructed from iron forged at the Mersey Foundry.

St Michaels
St Michaels church

The Cast-Iron Shore is referenced in John Lennon’s lyric for the Beatles’ Glass Onion and recalled in ‘Norra Lorra Otters’, by local poet Justine Tennant:

I’ve never seen a otter
Down at Otterspool
I’ve rode me bike
An flown me kite
An even bunked off school
Burrive never seen a otter
On the banks of Liverpool
I’ve never seen a otter
Down on the Cast Iron Shore
Me ma’s seen one around der
but long before the war
No, I’ve never seen a otter
Cos, ders none der any more!

Cast Iron shore
The Cast Iron shore today

Pre-war when I was a kid, The cazzy was a great day out.There were steps going down to the shore, at the end of the steps was sewer outlet (not very nice). To the left of the steps was a high sandstone wall about 100 metres long. At the centre of the wall there were two old large gates set into the wall; my theory is they would be a place to store fish during the 18th and 19th century as there were no freezers back then in the old days. The wall ran on towards Otterspool; at the end of the wall the beach widened to Jericho Lane, where there were the old fisherman’s cottages. Before the war, at the back of the cazzy, was a nine-hole golf course, in which they sunk large holes to allow large oil tanks to be place at ground level. This was to camouflage the tanks during hostilities. “O happy days they were”.
– Jack Stamper on Liverpool History Society forum

A local group has uploaded this video, inspired, they say, by a song about another Cast Iron Shore in Vancouver.  The video is shot a bit further up-river, at Cressington Park.

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Love Me Do: first faint chime of a revolutionary bell

According to Robert McCrum, writing in The Observer last week, ‘the 60s arrived with the sound of a bluesy ‘dockside harmonica’: the launch of ‘Love Me Do’ on Friday 5 October. The Beatles’ raw working-class candour, mixed with Lennon’s riff, went into the nation’s teenage bloodstream like a drug. Well, we do love our anniversaries, and journalists love a neat turning point.

But it didn’t seem like that at the time – and anyway ‘Love Me Do’ didn’t enter the charts until 15 December, rose only to number 17 and remained in the Top 20 for only two weeks.  I had turned 14 that year, addicted to Radio Luxembourg and the pop charts.  My memory – for what it’s worth – is that ‘Love Me Do’, while interesting and catchy, didn’t stand out that much from a lot of the other stuff in the charts at the time.  It was to be another five years before I came to Liverpool as an undergraduate, but for older teenagers already familiar with the Beatles’ shows at the Cavern, ‘Love Me Do’ was a pale shadow of what they sounded like live.

In fact, the week that ‘Love Me Do’ was released the nation’s teenagers were getting high on the space-age sound of ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados, the record named after the Telstar, the first communications satellite, which had been launched into orbit on 10 July that year. Written and produced by Joe Meek, the effects were created in Meek’s recording studio in a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London.  Coincidentally, Our World, the first live, international television broadcast to be relayed by satellite, which was broadcast on 25 June 1967 to what was the largest worldwide TVaudience ever at the time, featured The Beatles performing ‘All You Need Is Love’.

Back in December 1962 when ‘Love Me Do’ entered the charts, the big hits were ‘Lovesick Blues’ by Frank Ifield, ‘Swiss Maid’ by Del Shannon and Elvis’s ‘Return To Sender’ – The Beatles first single sounded fresher than that lot. John Lennon’s wailing harmonica, the first sound we heard on ‘Love Me Do’, was unusual but not unprecedented – it sounded a lot like the one on Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’ that had risen to number 2 back in April. The harmonica on that record had been played by Delbert McClinton; the Beatles shared a bill with Channel and McClinton at the Tower Ballroom in Wallasey on 21 June 1962.

What I’m getting at here is that, unless you had seen The Beatles live, at the end of 1962 they sounded good – but not that good.  All that changed in March 1963 when ‘Please Please Me’ roared up the charts.  What I really remember, in the months of Beatlemania that followed, is the truly shocking, raw sound of ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ blasting from the radiogram as we listened to Two-Way Family Favourites on the Light Programme. That’s when the sixties began.

According to Ian Macdonald’s brilliant and vital Revolution In The Head, ‘Love Me Do’ was made up by McCartney while sagging off from the Liverpool Institute four years earlier.  He wasn’t sure how to finish it and showed it to Lennon, who may have contributed the ‘rudimentary middle eight’.  The song was recorded – along with awful Mitch Murray song, ‘How Do You Do It’ (eventually palmed off on Gerry Marsden’s outfit) – in EMI’s Abbey Road studios on 4 September 1962.

George Martin was producing, and liked the sound – apart from Ringo’s drumming, the problem being that his drumming was actually looser than was considered acceptable at the time.  So it was re-recorded a week later with an EMI session musician on drums.

Despite what I’ve said about my memory of hearing ‘Love Me Do’ at the time, Ian Macdonald averred that it sounded ‘the first faint chime of a revolutionary bell. A new spirit was abroad: artless yet unabashed – and awed by nothing’.  I’ve come across no better description of the spirit of the sixties.

Lennon’s on sale again

Lennon’s on sale again

Lennon at 70 Albert Dock

Above us only sky

Today would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday and here in Liverpool the John Lennon Tribute Season, a two-month programme of events celebrating his life is in full swing – concerts, guided walks, exhibitions, a re-creation of the famous Bed-In, and today’s unveiling of a peace monument (below).  Tonight, the Albert Dock was illuminated with an image of John Lennon, taken by photographer Bill Zygmant (above).  In the wider world, a flood of merchandise and remastered albums has been released.

But, argues Neil McCormick in The Telegraph, Lennon would have been appalled at the tat surrounding his 70th birthday and tacky souvenirs and adverts insult his memory.  It’s a good argument, made by someone who has high regard, as do I, for ‘the raw life in Lennon’s music’.  McCormick writes:

‘You get the biggest prize when you die, a really big one for dying in public,” John Lennon said in one of his final interviews, in 1980. “I don’t appreciate the worship of dead Sid Vicious, or dead James Dean. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? It’s garbage, you know. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

When do the dead stop having birthdays? If John Lennon had lived, he would have turned 70 next Saturday, an imaginary anniversary being commemorated with the rerelease of remastered versions of his solo recorded output. These can be bought separately, or alongside a hardback book of Lennon’s artwork as part of a handsome, LP-sized John Lennon “Box Of Vision” (“the exact same John Lennon Box of Vision that will be stored inside the John Lennon Time Capsule”). Can you hear a faint voice, twisting in the wind: “It’s money for dope, money for rope…”?

This is the latest offering from a posthumous, multi-million-dollar Lennon industry, partly fuelled by his widow’s sometimes suspect desire to keep the flame burning. It has led to such dubious tributes as a TV commercial for the Citroën DS3, a Mont Blanc fountain pen retailing at $27,000, a limited edition Gibson Imagine guitar ($10,748), alongside the usual array of Lennon-branded mugs, clothing, books, calendars, prints and even an Imagine brand of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

And that’s just the official merchandise. Last month, the lavatory from Lennon’s home in England was auctioned for £9,500. The last album he ever autographed, for his assassin Mark Chapman, went for $525,000 in 2003. In 2009, his bloodstained clothes and glasses were part of an exhibition in New York.

Yet the worship of Lennon – his transformation into a brand immediately identifiable by a scrawled cartoon of a Jesus rocker in spectacles – only serves to obscure the raw life in his music. Lennon’s brutal slaying robbed him of his raging complexity, turning tragedy into martyrdom. Looking back through blood-tinted National Health spectacles, we see only St John, thin face reposed and angelic. And the quest to know more about this icon takes us into some pretty strange places. In its current issue, Vanity Fair has had the temerity to publish an “interview” with a 70-year-old Lennon, imagining (with a banality that insults its subject) what might have been had he survived.

But Lennon doesn’t need to be rekindled through speculation. As he said a few weeks before his death: “I’ve done more in my life than most people would do in 10… even if I never did another damn thing.” The progression of Lennon’s songwriting is the story of popular music in our time: the joyous sexuality of the early Beatles; the explosion of colour and complexity as pop became art, fully embracing the pretentiousness of the avant garde; the shedding of such pretensions in pursuit of truth and beauty, in a spirit of sometimes brutal, sometimes tender candour.

“There is nothing conceptually better than rock ‘n’ roll,” Lennon said in 1970. That was the mine he was digging into from the days of his skiffle group, the Quarrymen (school motto, “Out of this rock you will find truth”). It was there at the very end, snaking through the grooves of Double Fantasy, his final album. On a new, “stripped-down” version released on Monday (the only genuinely worthwhile addition to the Lennon canon among the latest remasterings, offering something closer to the essence of his performance), Lennon kicks off a lean, rocking (Just Like) Starting Over with a whispered “This one’s for Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy!” But we can add another name to that litany: “It’s all about me,” as Lennon explained when he released his first solo masterpiece, Plastic Ono Band, in 1970. “I don’t know about anything else, really.”

Plastic Ono Band is a sparse, uncomfortable, utterly magnificent attempt to blow through the obfuscation and myth making, in order to not just reveal himself but actually discover himself. It is an album that gave birth to the confessional singer-songwriting genre, which reverberated throughout pop culture, from punk to hip hop. After Plastic Ono Band, nothing less than the truth would do.

And it is that truth which keeps Lennon’s solo work so fresh. It certainly wasn’t always great. Imagine is superb, described by Lennon as “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating”. Walls And Bridges (1974), which documents a fleeting break-up with Yoko, is tender yet funky, with some real gems. The lovingly crafted Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975) is brilliant, suffused with joy and purpose, even though Lennon wrote none of the songs.

But even on his misguided political rant Some Time In New York City (1972), the creatively exhausted Mind Games (1973) and the mostly self-satisfied Double Fantasy, there is a visceral, emotional intensity in Lennon’s need to express himself that remains utterly of the moment.

“If I’m singing, ‘a wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom’, I mean it,” he once said. In the end, that’s all that really matters. Why worship the dead Lennon, when you can still listen to the live one?

Back in Liverpool, the White Feather exhibition is certainly worth visiting for a balanced portrait of Lennon through the mementoes and memories of his first son, Julian, and first wife, Cynthia.  It is they who have gifted to the city the peace monument, unveiled  by them today in a gala ceremony in Chevasse Park.

Peace monument

The monument was commissioned by the Global Peace Initiative, an American arts organization dedicated to creating peace monuments around the world to promote global peace, and was created by 19-year old American artist Lauren Voiers.  Tonight, crews were dismantling the stage and moving out equipment.  Liverpool One security wouldn’t allow anyone into the area where the monument is located, so I was only able to grab the shot, above, from a distance.  For pictures and a report of today’s unveiling, go to the Liverpool Art & Culture Blog.

Liverpool’s Seven Streets blog is not impressed:

The memorial itself, being dedicated to a dead legend and a memorial to peace, is kind of fire-proofed from any criticism. But having said that it’s not exactly subtle.  Designed by American artists Lauren Voiers, it comprises a huge globe wrapped in a guitar, saxophone, keyboard and stave. Above it are a pair of hands releasing doves into the sky, one of which has a white feather in its beak.  It is, in my opinion, quite hideous; a kind of ‘throw everything at the wall’ effort that doesn’t really say anything about Lennon or peace except in the most literal way imaginable. A kind of Wal-Mart, MacDonalds or X-Factor kind of monument. But, there you go, art is nothing is not subjective; no doubt many will love it. And Julian and Cynthia Lennon, who always seem to conduct themselves with dignity, seemed to approve. For his part Pete Best – one of about 20 different ‘fifth Beatles’ – reckoned Lennon would be ‘bemused’ by it.

Footnote: I’ve just come across this article by Jon Wiener in The Nation, Bob Dylan’s Defense of John Lennon, in which Wiener tells the story of the letter (above) that Bob Dylan sent to the US immigration service in defence of Lennon when he was threatened with deportation  in 1972: “John and Yoko,” Dylan wrote, “inspire and transcend and stimulate,” and thereby “help put an end to this mild dull taste of petty commercialism which is being passed off as artist art by the overpowering mass media.” Then he added, “Let John and Yoko stay!”

The Lennon deportation proceedings dragged on under Nixon. After Watergate, Nixon left the White House, and Lennon and Ono stayed in the USA, living in the Dakota in New York until 8 December 1980 when Lennon was murdered at the entrance to the building.

John Lennon: In My Life

John Lennon: In My Life

Mark McGann In My Life

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.

Went to the Phil with S to see Mark McGann’s In My Life: A celebration of the music of John Lennon. Backed by Swedish band Pepperland, McGann reprised the role he first performed in Ken Cambell’s 1981 Everyman production, Lennon. The show told John’s story deftly, with McGann utilising apt Lennon quotations in his narration and he and the band performing equally well-chosen songs very professionally.

That said, there were some downsides to the evening. There was a terrible, unexpected support act – some guy doing karaoke to George Harrison songs. It was truly awful,  like being dragged kicking and screaming into the X-Factor. The slideshow during In My Life was amateurish and throughout both sets the sound was bad.  I think Pepperland brought along rather substandard speakers that were pushed beyond their limit, especially on the high notes. A bit like shards of glass being hurled into the audience.

It was in Liverpool in 1981 that Mark started his career, aged 20, in the Everyman’s original production Lennon. Last night I misinformed S that it was in the 1974 Everyman production John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert that I had first seen him play Lennon. Googling today, I realised I was quite wrong – McGann would only have been 13 at the time.

In fact, the play, which was Willy Russell’s first success, it was Bernard Hill who played John (while Paul was played by Trevor Eve and Ringo by Antony Sher!) Commissioned and directed by Alan Dosser for the Everyman Theatre where it opened in May 1974,  the production transferred to the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue in August.  The show was a major box office success for the Everyman Theatre. Nearly fifteen thousand people attended during its eight week run – record at the time.  The show also starred also starred Barbara Dickson just starting out as a singer.

The Liverpool Everyman was a creative powerhouse in the 1970s:

‘Even at the time and without the benefit of hindsight one knew just what an extraordinary company of actors Alan Dossor had assembled. As well as Bernard Hill and Tony Sher there was Johnathan Price, Alison Steadman, George Costigan, Trevor Eve, Liz Estensen, Philip Joseph, Matthew Kelly, Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Walters, Bill Nighy ….. awesome really’ – Willy Russell.

I thought I’d round off this post with two classic photos – bookends to John Lennon’s career. The first is the wonderful one of  The Quarry Men on 6 July 1957 performing at St. Peter’s Parish Church Fete, Woolton. This was, of course, the day that Paul met John. After this afternoon show, as The Quarry Men were setting up for an evening performance inside the church hall, John was introduced to Paul by mutual friend, Ivan Vaughn (leaning in towards John in the photo). Paul played Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock for John and he knew the words to Be-Bop-A-Lula. John was impressed and a friendship began. On 18 October 1957, Paul made his debut with The Quarry Men at New Clubmoor Hall.

The other night I was watching the Imagine documentary on photographer Annie Leibovitz, in which the story of this – just about the last photo of John – was told:

The session took place in a bright, sunny room overlooking the park,” says Yoko Ono of her and John Lennon’s photo shoot at the Dakota, their New York apartment building, on December 8th, 1980. “We were feeling comfortable because it was Annie [Leibovitz], whom we respected and trusted, so John seemed not to have any problem taking off his clothes. John and I were hugging each other, feeling a bit giggly and up.”

“I was thinking that they had never been embarrassed to take their clothes off, that they could do a nude embrace,” says Leibovitz, who was photographing them for a Rolling Stone cover to mark the release of Double Fantasy, their first album in five years. “John took his clothes off in a few seconds, but Yoko was very reluctant. She said, ‘I’ll take my shirt off but not my pants.’ I was kinda disappointed, and I said, ‘Just leave everything on.’ We took one Polaroid, and the three of us knew it was profound right away.”

Yoko Ono & John Lennon Annie Leibovitz

That evening, returning to the Dakota on his way home from the recording studio, Lennon was shot and killed by a deranged fan. The photo would become the cover of Rolling Stone’s commemorative issue – no additional text was felt necessary.

Paul McCartney: bad boy!

Here’s a great photo of Paul McCartney as a schoolboy, pointedly having nothing to do with the ritual of the taking of the school photograph.  He’s the bad boy at the back, head in a comic, surrounded by classmates from Joseph Williams School in Belle Vale , taken in 1952.

Below: what Joseph Williams School would have looked like in McCartney’s time. THe building was demolished in 2006.

Maybe Paul wasn’t such a bad boy after all: another photo in the auction shows him as a boy scout in 1952 when he was a member of the 16th Allerton Group St Aiden Troop. And he looks quite angelic in another photo of him at a schoolfriend’s birthday party in 1952.

Another photo that’s turned up is this one of an eight year old Richard Starkey aka Ringo Starr taken sometime in 1948/49 for a St Silas Church of England school photograph. He was ill a lot as a child and missed a lot of school, making a photograph of him with his classmates quite a rarity.

And to complete the collection, here’s John Lennon in part of a panoramic photograph from Quarry Bank School in 1957.

These previously unseen photos will be auctioned later this week  in the Paul McCartney Auditorium at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (Lipa). It’s amazing that unseen photos like this still turn up!

Finally, for no particular reason, my favourite photo by Linda McCartney of Paul and the kids.

A schoolboy Paul is seen engrossed in a comic surrounded by classmates from Joseph Williams School, Liverpool, in the picture, taken in 1952.

White Feather: the Spirit of Lennon

White Feather: the Spirit of Lennon

The Beatles Story

While we were down on the waterfront today, Sarah and I went to see White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon, an exhibition at the new branch of  the Beatles Story museum located in the new ferry terminal building at Pier Head.

The exhibition was launched in June by John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, and their son, Julian and features possessions and images of the Lennons’ family life. It’s an honest and intimate account of their life together, revealing their experience of John as less than perfect husband and father.

“Growing up as John Lennon’s son has been a rocky path. He was a great talent, a remarkable man who stood for love and peace in the world, but to me he was the father I loved and longed for in his many absences. Mum was his first love, she was the one who held us together through it all”.

From the outset it feels as if Julian and Cynthia are talking directly to you and the sense of being invited to explore their personal possessions and experiences is heightened by the short video clips at the beginning (in which Julian expalins the significance of the white feather)and at the end of the exhibition, when Julian and Cynthia thank you for visiting the exhibition and sharing their story, Cynthia warns us to ‘behave’ and Julian reminds us to ‘love your mum’.

“For ten years I shared my life with a man who became a legend in his lifetime. When the Beatles formed and went on to delight and astound the world, I was at John’s side, sharing the highs and lows of his public and private lives. It was a time when he was at his creative best, a time when he loved his family and The Beatles.

John was an extraordinary man – infuriating, lovable, sometimes cruel, witty, talented and needy. I have always loved him and never stopped grieving for him. That’s why I want to tell the story of the John I knew. He believed in the truth and would want nothing less.”

The memorabilia on display includes childhood drawings by Julian (though not the one that inspired Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), postcards sent by John to Cynthia or Julian and the guitars that John gave to Julian.

Paul McCartney with a young Julian Lennon

The central section of the exhibition tells the story of how Paul McCartney came to write Hey Jude for Julian. Originally titled ‘Hey Jules’, McCartney wrote the song in 1968 in an attempt to comfort Julian, during John and Cynthia’s divorce, following John’s affair with Yoko Ono. Cynthia recalled, “I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare…. On the journey down he composed ‘Hey Jude’ in the car. I will never forget Paul’s gesture of care and concern in coming to see us.”

About the original title of the song, Paul McCartney said, “I started with the idea ‘Hey Jules’, which was Julian, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces … I had the idea [for the song] by the time I got there. I changed it to ‘Jude’ because I thought that sounded a bit better.”

It would be almost twenty years after McCartney wrote the song that Julian would discover that it had been written for him. He remembered being closer to McCartney than to his own father: “Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit—more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad.”

Julian and Cynthia Lennon open White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon

Julian explains the meaning of the white feather:

“One thing Dad said to me should he pass away, if there was any way of letting me know he was going to be ok the message would come to me in the form of a white feather. Then something happened to me about ten years ago when I was on tour in Australia. I was presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, which definitely took my breath away. One thing for sure is that the white feather always represented peace to me.”

The White Feather Foundation is the name of a charity currently being set up by the pair, focusing on environmental and humanitarian issues. The closing video provides details of projects funded by the Foundation, including support for indigenous groups whose traditional culture and way of life is threatened with extinction.

White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon

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