On the 13th September 1969, John Lennon & the Plastic Ono band made their debut live appearance at the Toronto Rock 'N' Roll revival concert. Beatles roadie Mal Evans talked to Beatle book magazine Editor Johnny Dean for the article below that was first published in the November 1969 issue.
I hadn't heard anything at all about the concert until the day before, Friday, September 12. As everyone is always reminding me, the Beatles hadn't appeared on stage for over three years and, personally, I missed all the excitement of their tours tremendously. Just how much I was due to find out in the next 48 hours. I had decided to drive up to Oxford to see the Iveys in action. Apple had signed them up for records and publishing and Paul is producing the recordings which they are going to make for the "Magic Christian" film in which Ringo has an important part. Then I overheard John saying that he had been asked to appear in a Rock & Roll show in Toronto. Pausing only to grab a handful of leads in one hand and a couple of dozen plectrums in the other, I already had one foot out of the door waiting to go when John pointed out that he hadn't got anyone to go with him yet. So the mad scramble started to get hold of the boys that John and Yoko had chosen to make up The Plastic Ono Band. It didn't take long to get hold of Klaus Voorman, ex-Manfred Mann bass guitarist, and Alan White, ex-Alan Price drummer, and they both agreed immediately to join.
John particularly wanted Eric Clapton to make up the five-some. But we couldn't get hold of him. George's personal assistant, Terry Doran, had already tried Eric Clapton at home many times and got no answer, so, thinking that he must be either with friends or in one of the London clubs, he started telephoning every place and person who might be able to help him trace Eric. He worked right through the night until, finally, at 5.30 in the morning, he gave up and went to bed. Our plane was due to take off at 10 am. and by 9.30 most of John's party had arrived at the Airport and clocked in. Then John and Yoko phoned to tell us that it was all off because they hadn't been able to reach Eric. Right then Terry rushed up and told us that Eric had finally surfaced and said that he would be able to make the trip. Apparently, he had been in his house all the time. He had gone to bed at 11 o'clock the previous night and just hadn't heard the telephone. Fortunately, just before he gave up the search, Terry Doran had sent a telegram to his house, which had been opened by Eric's gardener, who woke him up to tell him about the concert.
Eric couldn't make the airport for the earlier plane so we cancelled our flight and re-booked on the 3.15 p.m. Good job we did too because Terry Doran found out that he had left his passport at home.
Everyone turned up on time for the 3.15 p.m. flight. Everyone being John and Yoko, Eric Clapton, Alan White, Klaus Voorman, John and Yoko's assistant, Anthony Fawcett, Terry Doran and Jill and Dan Richter, who have been busy putting all John and Yoko's recent activities on to film. They were due to make a permanent record of the Toronto concert.
We had all asked for first class seats but there were only three available in the first class compartment so John, Yoko and Eric sat up front and the rest of us settled in right at the back of the plane in seven seats which had been saved for us by the stewardesses - a couple of really nice dollies. That's when it hit me. None of the people who were due to make the concert that night had ever played together before. How on earth were they going to get a show lined up before they went on stage that same night. John had obviously thought about it too because as soon as he and Eric had eaten a quick snack they walked down the aisle to the back of the plane to have their first rehearsal. I don't know if you have ever tried rehearsing in the back seats of a Boeing 707 but it's quite a job. The five people who were actually going to appear on stage-that's John, Yoko, Eric, Allan and Klaus, had to work out all the songs that they were going to perform and also run through them together.
A big bundle of sheet music had been delivered to London Airport in the morning, in time for the first flight, and everyone played through all the numbers, pointing out the ones which they knew pretty well. Despite the tremendous difficulties, they did eventually manage to settle on eight numbers which would probably be okay- provided that they got some more time to rehearse before they actually went on stage. I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would be possible. John and the others who were going to do all the work didn't seem very worried. And on top of everything, of course, John, as I said before, hadn't appeared on stage for three long years, except for a live show at Cambridge with Yoko, a performance which was recorded as one of the highlights on their album "Life with the Lions". With Yoko, John has a freedom and a means to expand in many different directions, the Plastic Ono Band providing the perfect outlet for their individual and combined talents, and releasing a blend of sound from stage or record player to suit everyone's aural or visual palate.
The show was billed as the Toronto Rock & Revival Show. It was being put on by two Canadian promoters who had lined up as many of the top Rock & Roll stars of the 'sixties that they could find, including Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Unfortunately, Jerry had to pull out at the last minute. I personally was very sorry about his cancellation because he had stayed at the President Hotel with me in London during a tour he had in England and we had become good friends. We had a bit of difficulty getting through Customs because Yoko hadn't been vaccinated but, finally, the Immigration boys let us through.
The show was taking place in the Varcity Stadium. The stage was a 12 foot dais in the middle of the pitch facing half of the arena where the audience would sit: Immediately we arrived at the stadium I began to feel all the tremendous excitement of the old touring days. I don't know what it is but whenever the Beatles used to near a theatre or stadium, you could feel the tension and when the 20,000 audience in Toronto sensed that John was there, there was an incredible feeling of excitement in the air. It was absolutely marvellous. John felt it too, I'm sure.
But he and the others had other problems to worry about, and they quickly gathered together back-stage and plugged all their guitars into one small amp and started running through the numbers they were going to perform. Just imagine, that's John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman all plugged into one small amp. Some amp ! Actually, John was not feeling very well during these rehearsals. He had been chasing around half the night and then there was the problem of whether Eric would be able to make it or not, and the plane trip and the difference in hours and also the excite- ment of the whole thing. But he was determined to put on a good show.
LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF THE WORK
I was really enjoying myself. It was the first show I had roadied for three years and I was really loving every minute of plugging the amps in and setting them up on stage, making sure that everything was right. Everyone wanted the show to go particularly well because Allan Klein, who had flown over, had organised for the whole of John's performance to be filmed. This was on top of it being video-taped by Dan Richter.
Finally, at midnight, the compare, Kim Fowley, who is a well-known singer, producer and songwriter in his own right, went on stage to announce the Plastic Ono Band. He did a really great thing. He had all the lights in the stadium turned right down and then asked everyone to strike a match. It was a really unbelievable sight when thousands of little flickering lights suddenly shone all over the huge arena. Then John, Yoko Eric, Allan and Klaus were on stage, and lined up just like the old Beatles set-up. Bass on the left, lead guitar next, then John on the right with the drummer behind. Each guitarist had two big speakers, one on either side of the stage, and the sound was really fantastic right from the moment they began. But just before they launched into their first number, John said quickly into the mike "We're just goiní to do numbers we know, as we've never played together before". That was all. Just a brief word to put everyone in the picture.
HOW WERE THEY GOING TO MAKE OUT?
And that's when it really hit me. How were they going to make out? I knew they were all great performers in their own right, but with only the two brief rehearsals they had during the earlier part of the day in ridiculous surroundings like the back of a plane and the dressing-room, what would the performance be like? But if I had any doubts, I was wrong. wrong, wrong. It was a fantastic show right from the first number, Blue Suede Shoes which took me straight back six years after Shoes they roared into Money, Dizzy Miss Lizzie and Yer Blues. All the vocals, of course, were handled by John and when Yer Blues faded away he stuck his face close to the mike again and said before they began their next number "Never done this number before-best of luck" and then they launched into Cold Turkey.
It's a number which John has only written recently. It's never been played in public before and it hasn't been properly recorded yet, so that's one for the future. He does fantastic things with it. It's a great song. But, finally, came John's last number Give Peace A Chance. Before he sang it, John said: "This is what we came for really, so sing along" and the audience did. I think every one of the 20,000 people there must have joined in. It was a wonderful sight because they all thrust their arms above their heads and swayed in time to the music.
Then John said "Now Yoko is going to do her thing all over you". Yoko had been inside a bag howling away during John's numbers. She sang two songs Don't Worry Kyoko and Oh John (Let's Hope For Peace). Oh John is a longish number and it's all feed-back from guitars. Just in case you don't know how it's done, if a guitar is placed near to the speaker of an amplifier so that the sound from the speaker makes the strings of the guitar vibrate, the vibration of the guitar strings then goes along through the circuit to the amp, which then makes the strings vibrate so creating a continuous circle of sound. At the end of Oh John all the boys placed their guitars against the speakers of their amps and walked to the back of the stage. Because they had already started the feed-back process, the sound continued while John, Klaus, Allan and Eric grouped together and lit ciggies. Then I went on and led them off-stage. Finally I walked on again and switched off their amps one by one.
The whole show was recorded for a special album which should be out pretty soon and you will hear all this on the LP . After that, the boys gave a ten minute Press conference. When it was over we all piled into four big cars and drove for two hours to a huge estate owned by a Mr. Eaton, who is one of the richest men in Canada. His son had actually picked us up after the show so that we could stay overnight at his house.
The next day we got into golf-carts and went all over the estate. It really is a wonderful country. Miles and miles of trees, hills, lakes and green frogs. We got the plane back the next day. No trouble at all for us at Customs with the exception of Eric Clapton who had to pay duty on a guitar. Everyone else was so tired that we just wanted to sleep, but John is incredible sometimes and this was one of them. He stayed up for the rest of the day doing Press interviews. I think the whole show was really remarkable, particularly as I said before, because the boys had never played together before. I loved every minute of it. I always remember turning round during the band's performance on stage and finding Gene Vincent next to me with tears rolling down his cheeks. He was saying, "It's marvellous; It's fantastic, man."
It's odd the things that stand out in your mind after a show like this. I remember Little Richard standing back-stage in a big cloak which I thought must be his stage gear. But when he went out on stage to do his thing, he threw off the cloak and we all saw that his vest underneath was covered with little mirrors. It was great to be back with a live audience. Although at one point I thought that I must be losing my touch because when I left the dressing-room behind the stadium to get something from the cars, I was stopped by the security police who had thrown a cordon right around the big stage area. They absolutely refused to let me back until I ended up shouting and insisting that if I didn't get back to put everything up on stage, the show couldn't take place. Finally, they let me in saying okay but I wasn't going to be let out again.
My main thought while I was watching the show was that although Klaus, Allan and Eric were marvellous and the Plastic Ono Band really did get it together, everything would have been absolutely right for me if the line-up could have been Paul, George and Ringo with John!
(C)1969 Beat Publications Ltd. Photo by Mal Evans