TORONTO VARSITY STADIUM
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 goin’ 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."
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
TORONTO VARSITY STADIUM
Sunday, September 13, 2009
That's right! Today is the day that we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Toronto Rock n' Roll Revival.
Tune in to our special commemorative live broadcast on CIUT 89.5 FM today from 2-6pm (EST) and hear some amazing recollections from the people that were there: musicians, promoters, audience members, journalists, and more!
You can listen online at www.ciut.fm
or Rogers Digital Cable Channel 946
or Star Choice Satellite Service Channel 826
Or you can come down to our live broadcast site on Devonshire Pl, it is east of St. George Street and south of Bloor. Right across from Varsity Stadium!
Don't forget to come down to Hart House Theatre later on tonight at 9pm to check out a special screening of selected clips from the documentary "Sweet Toronto" which was filmed at the Toronto Rock n' Roll Revival. Admission is free but tickets are going fast!
"An epochal concert at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium
Last updated on Friday, Sep. 11, 2009 05:05PM EDT
It was a pleasantly warm September afternoon in London, circa 1969, when I dropped into the Apple Corps offices on Savile Row. I was holidaying in England with my wife and I had no idea that music history was about to unfold – or that I was going to be part of an event that Rolling Stone magazine is reported to have described as the second most important event in rock history.
I’d come in to The Beatles’ office to confirm an interview with George Harrison that had been scheduled the following Monday to discuss the forthcoming Abbey Road album. But hearing my voice in the corridor outside his Bag One offices, John Lennon called me in for “some advice.” Can you imagine? The honor of being asked by a sage such as John for any kind of advice. About anything at all.
I quickly picked up the drift. Turned out that a Toronto promoter named John Brower was on the phone, trying to convince John and Yoko that they should attend an historic musical event featuring a host of ‘50s rock `n’ roll legends in Canada the following weekend . Maybe, suggested the ever-keen and eager Brower, they might even consider a performance piece at the show? Perhaps sing a couple of numbers. Maybe some rock `n’ roll oldies, to fit with the mood of the show, aptly named the Toronto Rock `n’ Roll Revival.
Jeeeees! Now THAT was a big and threatening suggestion! But I knew Brower and his partner, Ken Walker, and I instinctively was aware that they would aim to do the right thing by an inquisitive and frustrated John. I pushed the `yes’ button. ``Do it John!’’, I urged. Even though you haven’t played a public performance in over three years, this is the re-entry point, the chance to get back on the live flight deck, even (dread the thought!) step out beyond the old boys, your mates in the Beatles. Find out what life is like without Paul, George and Ringo.
Move forward brother! The timing could not have been better for John who had recently realized that in order to produce songs like Cold Turkey, he had to recruit musicians who were in tune with his trip. He did seize the opportunity. And it changed musical history.
Two days later, the Lennons had gathered at Heathrow Airport with guitarist Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann (bass player with Manfred Mann), Alan White (drummer with Alan Price), Beatles’ manager Allen Klein and roadie Mal Evans for the flight to Toronto and a show later that evening. Voorman and White were fairly easy to track down but Eric Clapton was slightly less accessible. The guitar god failed to answer his home telephone and it wasn’t until a telegram (remember them!) was received by the estate gardener, that Clapton was alerted to the looming Canadian gig. He quickly packed and rushed out to the airport. Only three first class tickets were available so the newly-formed Plastic Ono Band gathered in the rear of the 707 jet, vamping their acoustic way through a cluster of classic rock `n’ roll favorites. Songs that the principal players worshipped.
Perhaps this inspired the bout of intense honesty which unfolded on the wings of the flight. Later it came out that John had informed both Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman that he was fed up with being in the Beatles and was thinking about starting a new group. He went as far as to enquire about their interest in joining him in this new enterprise. He also told Allen Klein of his plans but the ever-cunning manager – trying to re-negotiate existing Beatles’ contracts and deal with a huge offer to get the band touring again – persuaded him against going public with these insights right away.
Considering the enormous cultural implications of the gig – and John’s stepping away from the Beatles, hitherto the only band in his life – the payment received by John and Yoko boggles the mind. According to the promoter, John Brower, a long-time associate, the Lennons were in fact paid union scale. There are documents in the possession of the AFM Toronto office stating that John and Yoko received union scale – a grand total of $265.
Plus, as Brower quickly reminds us, ``the cost of airline tickets for the party, which ended up being around ten thousand bucks!” Film rights, as detailed in due course, were a different story. Still you hardly deny it was a bargain by any definition.
At Varsity Stadium, the jet-lagged John was extremely nervous. Stage nerves and the odd illegal substance had him throwing up before the show. With abundant reason. ``Imagine if you were in the Beatles from the beginning and you were never in any other band?,” he postulated. ``Then all of a sudden you’re going on stage with this group who’ve never played live together, anywhere. We formed on the plane coming over here and now we’re gonna play in front of 20,000 people.”
A quick backstage rehearsal and guest emcee Kim Fowley urged the audience to fire up their lighters and matches – and in the process light their communal fire, the early uprising of a collective consciousness – to welcome on stage the Plastic Ono Band, in their debut performance. Kim, of all people – the step-grandson of Rudolf Friml who penned the immortal Hollywood classics Rose Marie and Indian Love Call – recognized history when it was happening. I’d known Kim since 1966 and I could vouch for his sense of rock history, and his perceptive sniffing out of what mattered.
``It was just getting dark and the lights were just going down. This was the first time I’d ever seen an audience light candles or lights all together…it was incredible!’’, John would comment.
What a night it was! All faithfully and creatively recorded on camera by award-winning film maker``D E” Pennebaker, to follow his Monterey Pop and Don’t Look Back triumphs.
An eager John bounced out on stage, bedecked in a black shirt underneath a white tropical suit, and was bedeviling with his new band.
The Toronto audience was equally uplifted. After whipping through three rock `n’ roll chestnuts, Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis and Carl Perkins), Money (Barrett Strong) and Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Larry Williams), John plunged into Yer Blues from the White album. And then to take proceedings to another level, the debut of a new single which would be released five weeks hence, the hard-edged classic Cold Turkey.
And this was followed by a centerpiece selection which John graphically set up as: ``This is what we really came here for – Ev’rybody’s talkin’ `bout Bagism…’’ And plunging into the tune which he and Yoko – and assorted luminaries – had recorded in a Montreal hotel room some four months earlier – the appeal for non-violence: Give Peace a Chance.
Rolling Stone’s reviewer Stephen Holden would later note: ``Lennon delivered blistering versions of Blue Suede Shoes, Money and Dizzy Miss Lizzie as well as powerful versions of of two singles – Cold Turkey, a bleak, scary evocation of heroin addiction, and Give Peace a Chance, his first and most stirring piece of street music.’’ And Yoko added to the street-theatre vibe by performing two tunes in a bag! Back in London after the momentous 36 hours on Canadian soil, John was extraordinarily grateful to yours truly for having played a role in getting him off his bum and across the Atlantic (and out of the Beatles).
``I can’t remember when I had such a good time. We did all the old things from the Cavern days in Liverpool. Gene Vincent was standing on 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. When we did Money and Dizzy, I just made up the words as I went along. Yoko, who you could say was playing `bag’, was holding a piece of paper with the words to the songs, in front of me. But then she suddenly disappeared into her bag in the middle of the performance and I had to make (the words) up because it’s so long since I sang them that I’ve forgotten most of them. But it didn’t seem to matter.
``Yoko’s first number had a bit of rhythm but the second one was completely freaky. It was the sort of thing she did at Cambridge ‘69 but it was more like Toronto l984… Yoko just stopped when she’d had enough, walked off and we left all the amps on, going like clappers. It went on for another five minutes, just flat. Then Mal Evens, our roadie, just went out and turned them off!’’ History has shown that it was this concert that finally convinced John there was indeed another life beyond the Beatles.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Author Ritchie Yorke has been writing about rock and roll since 1962.
ROCK `N’ ROLL REVIVAL BREAKOUT – Radio station CIUT 89.5 FM, the University of Toronto’s community radio station, is hosting a four hour broadcast on Sunday Sept. 13 (2-6p.m.). Hart House Theatre is hosting a screening on Sunday night at 9 p.m. of the Canadian premiere of Sweet Toronto, the two-hour documentary that features selective performances by John and Yoko with the Plastic Ono Band, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and the late Bo Diddley. Free tickets are available from Wed. Sept. 2 through UofTtix Box Office (www.uofttix.ca ) Phone 416 978-8849."
"Bigger than Woodstock
40 years ago tomorrow, a concert in Toronto brought together a mind-bending array of rock greats. So why is it all but forgotten today?
Sep 12, 2009 04:30 AM
Special to the Star
Tell me if you've heard this one before.
Forty years ago this summer, thousands of longhairs, pot-smokers, acid-trippers and all-round rock freaks, some wearing Day-Glo face paint and little else, jammed together hip to haunch, day and night – all part of the greatest rock concert ever.
Woodstock? Wrong. The right answer – in my opinion at least – is the Toronto Rock `n' Roll Revival Concert at Varsity Stadium, Sept. 13, 1969, less than a month after the last mud-caked hippy staggered out of Max Yasgur's farm, Woodstock's site in Bethel, N.Y.
The Toronto show barely figures as a tiny blip in even this city's collective memory. Yet seen from a 2009 vantage point, Varsity had the musical heft Woodstock couldn't match. Woodstock was about the '60s. Varsity was about the entire early history of rock 'n' roll. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis appeared on the same stage with Jim Morrison, who turned in a classic performance after a disastrous, drunken year that saw him busted in Miami for allegedly exposing himself at the Dinner Key Auditorium.
Oh, yes – and there was John Lennon and his hastily assembled Plastic Ono Band, featuring Eric Clapton, fresh from Blind Faith, and Ono herself befuddling the crowd with her stratospheric ululations.
Lennon knew the importance of the musical company he was keeping that day. He was flabbergasted when informed by Thor Eaton, one of the concert promoters, that Little Richard wanted to meet the famous Beatle.
"Is he really here?" Lennon asked Eaton. "Is he real?"
In short, Varsity was one of those remarkable moments in the history of a particular art form when many of the major players were together, met, talked and, in some cases, collaborated. It was a real-time version of a time capsule. One is reminded of a similar meeting of seminal figures: Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso inventing cubism as they painted side by side in Paris at the turn of the last century; or Miles Davis and John Coltrane sharing the music stand and the birth of the cool '50s.
Varsity's historical importance was instantly understood by Jim Morrison, who felt the concert represented "the end of rock 'n' roll."
Okay, so Woodstock has hogged the media spotlight in recent months, in part because bigger still does mean better press. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people were at the New York festival over three days. About 20,000 people were at Varsity Stadium. But something other than numbers is at work here. Something more than memory is involved. What matters most is how memory is packaged for contemporary consumption. Woodstock, once the symbol of everything anti-American, has subsequently been polished and preened as one of the great star-studded Yankee moments, right up there with any Super Bowl. The Varsity concert isn't even remembered in its own city. Sweet Toronto is the absurd title for the little-viewed concert film shot by famous American documentarian D.A.Pennebaker.
Jon Pareles, the astute veteran American pop critic, recently described Woodstock as "one of the few defining events of the late 1960s that had a clear happy ending." And he's right, but mainly in the sense that Woodstock's memory has been endlessly repackaged as a feel-good moment, a concept we Canadians seemingly reject unless it comes with a six-pack of beer.
Woodstock was, in fact, a vast muddy misery for tens of thousands.
(Full disclosure: I was offered a private plane ride to go to Woodstock but didn't take it. I could smell the mud from this side of Lake Ontario.) The Varsity Stadium concert was not a particularly happy event either. Lennon was ill. Berry only worried about getting paid in cash.
Indeed, in those rare moments when the Varsity show is discussed, it's generally given a negative spin as "the concert that broke up the Beatles," which is true to a point and certainly true to the spirit of the times. It was the time of revolution in France, Chicago cops whacking protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention, and Richard Nixon's morose presidency. It was a time rightly described as The Age of Paranoia, the title of a collection of Rolling Stone pieces on "how the '60s ended."
John Lennon – then in the throes of an increasingly bilious feud with Paul McCartney – accepted the invitation from John Brower, another of the Varsity concert's promoter, to play the gig on his own. Any Toronto bar band could have outplayed the Plastic Onos that day. Nevertheless, the experience was exhilarating for Lennon, who felt "I could do it on my own," as he later told me.
Yet while memories of Woodstock are being rekindled this summer by lots of new product, from the release of a six-CD set to a super-group tour called Heroes of Woodstock, the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival has attracted zero media anticipation or attention.
This is worrisome and regrettable. Yet perhaps there's a moral to be found in the ease with which the Varsity Stadium concert has slipped from our memory.
It suggests that Canadians who happily ignore their history will find that Americans are only too willing to fill it in with a version of their own.
Peter Goddard, the Star's former rock critic, covered the Rock `n' Roll Revival for the Toronto Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com"
Friday, September 11, 2009
Look out for a special article on the 40th Anniversary of the Toronto Rock n' Roll Revival in tomorrow's Toronto Sun (Sept. 12), written by Peter Goddard and Ritchie Yorke.
Only 2 days left until the special Commemorative Broadcast!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Only 3 days left until CIUT's commemorative broadcast for the Toronto Rock n' Roll Revival!!!
You may be asking: what is going to happen during this special live broadcast?
Although I can't reveal everything that will air this Sunday September 13 between 2-6pm EST, what I can tell you is this:
Our guests during the commemorative broadcast will include journalists
who covered the event, musicians who played on stage that day, and
Some guests already confirmed are as follows:
John Brower, one of the promoters of the Toronto Rock n' Roll Revival
Ritchie Yorke, Australian/Canadian Author/Journalist/Broadcaster
Larry LeBlanc, Canadian Journalist,Broadcaster, Researcher
Godfrey Jordan, Toronto Photojournalist
Hugh Leggat, musician (Nucleus)
Keith Mckie, musician (Kensington Market)
Luke Gibson, musician (Kensington Market, Luke & The Apostles)
Cathy Young, vocalist
Nik Beat, Toronto poet & musician
Linda Mercer, Toronto poet
You can tune in live on your FM dial at 89.5 or listen online at www.ciut.fm. We are also accessible through Rogers Digital Cable, channel 946, and StarChoice Satellite Service, channel 826.
Please send your questions, comments, suggestions, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org
More updates coming soon!!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009