John Lennon decides to leave The Beatles

Live music promotor John Brower telephoned the Apple office and spoke to John Lennon, inviting him and Yoko Ono to the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival taking place the following day.

Brower offered eight first class tickets for the couple and their friends. At the time sales for the festival were slow, and he needed some high profile guests to boost its appeal.

To his surprise, Lennon agreed on the condition that he could perform at the event. An astonished Brower accepted without hesitation.

We got this phone call on a Friday night that there was a rock’n’roll revival show in Toronto with a 100,000 audience, or whatever it was, and that Chuck was going to be there and Jerry Lee and all the great rockers that were still living, and Bo Diddley, and supposedly The Doors were top of the bill. They were inviting us as king and queen to preside over it, not play – but I didn’t hear that bit. I said, ‘Just give me time to get a band together,’ and we went the next morning.
John Lennon, 1969

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Since The Beatles hadn’t performed in concert since August 1966, and there was little enthusiasm within the group for a return to the stage, Lennon had to swiftly assemble a new group.

Lennon called Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Alan White, each of whom agreed to fly to Canada the next day. Clapton wasn’t Lennon’s first choice as guitarist, however.

When the Plastic Ono Band went to Toronto in September John actually asked me to be in the band, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t really want to be in an avant-garde band, and I knew that was what it was going to be.

He said he’d get Klaus Voormann, and Alan White as the drummer. During the last few years of The Beatles we were all producing other records anyway, so we had a nucleus of friends in the studios: drummers and bass players and other musicians. So it was relatively simple to knock together a band. He asked me if I’d play guitar, and then he got Eric Clapton to go – they just rehearsed on the plane over there.

Brower arranged their visas and immigration papers, and Mal Evans was instructed to sort out the musical equipment for the new group’s debut performance.

It was very, very quick. We didn’t have a band then – we didn’t even have a group that had played with us for more than half a minute. I called Eric and I got Klaus, and we got Alan White and they said, ‘OK.’ There was no big palaver – it wasn’t like this set-format show that I’d been doing with The Beatles where you go on and do the same numbers – I Want To Hold Your Head – and the show lasts twenty minutes and nobody’s listening, they’re just screaming and the amps are as big as a peanut and it’s more a spectacular rather than rock’n’roll.
John Lennon, 1969

The event was not just the live debut for the Plastic Ono Band; it also marked the point at which Lennon decided to leave The Beatles.

We were in Apple and I knew before I went to Toronto, I told Allen [Klein] I was leaving. I told Eric Clapton and Klaus that I was leaving and I’d like to probably use them as a group. I hadn’t decided how to do it, to have a permanent new group or what. And then later on I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m not going to get stuck with another set of people, whoever they are.’ So I announced it to myself and to the people around me on the way to Toronto the few days before. On the plane Allen came with me, and I told him, ‘It’s over.’
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
Last updated: 3 March 2023
John Lennon and Yoko Ono are interviewed for various publications
Plastic Ono Band live: the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival
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