The Plastic Ono Band took part in a benefit concert on this day for the charity Unicef, at the Lyceum Ballroom in central London.
In November 1969 Unicef had announced that the group would perform at the event. This, however, was news to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, although they agreed to take part after recognising it would be a useful opportunity to highlight their peace and political campaigning.
The event was titled Peace For Christmas. Also appearing were several other acts: the Young Rascals, Desmond Dekker and the Aces, Blue Mink and Black Velvet, and Emperor Rosko was the disc jockey between the performances.
With just 48 hours’ notice, the other members of the Plastic Ono Band’s first show at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival also agreed to play: Eric Clapton on guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, and Alan White on drums, plus Billy Preston on keyboards.
On the night, however, Clapton arrived with almost all of Delaney & Bonnie’s touring band, which at the time included George Harrison. This, therefore, was the first time Lennon and Harrison had performed at a scheduled concert since The Beatles’ last show on 29 August 1966. It was also the Plastic Ono Band’s only European concert.
I thought it was fantastic. I was really into it. We were doing the show and George and Bonnie and Delaney, Billy Preston and all that crowd turned up. They’d just come back from Sweden and George had been playing invisible man in Bonnie and Delaney’s band, which Eric Clapton had been doing, to get the pressure off being the famous Eric and the famous George. They became the guitarists in this and they all turned up, and it was again like the concert in Toronto. I said, ‘Will you come on?’ They said, ‘Well, what are you going to play?’ I said, ‘Listen, we’re going to do probably a blues… or Cold Turkey, which is three chords, and Eric knew that.’ And Don’t Worry Kyoko, which was Yoko’s, which has three chords and a riff. I said, ‘Once we get on to Yoko’s riff, just keep hitting it.’
The full line-up, playing before a huge “War is over” backdrop, was: Lennon, Harrison, Clapton and Delaney Bramlett (guitars, with Clapton playing Rocky, Harrison’s psychedelic Fender Stratocaster); Ono (vocals); Bonnie Bramlett (tambourine); Alan White and Jim Gordon (drums); Billy Preston (organ); Klaus Voormann (bass guitar); Bobby Keys (saxophone); Jim Price (trumpet). Lennon later referred to it as the Plastic Ono Supergroup.
Keith Moon took to the stage to hit White’s floor tom tom, and also present but not performing were the Bonzo Dog Band’s drummer Larry ‘Legs’ Smith and The Rascals’ drummer Dino Danelli.
I went down there in my Mini and went on stage at the Lyceum. Just prior to the Plastic Ono Band going on, Eric Clapton turns up with the whole Delaney & Bonnie band, so we had to hustle another couple of drum kits. Then, Keith Moon joins me on stage, playing my 16-inch tom-toms. It was a thing where somebody would hit one chord and it was a jam.
The Plastic Ono Band’s performance was recorded on four-track tape by Geoff Emerick, with Peter Bown and John Kurlander engineering. It was mixed two days later, but remained unreleased until included on a bonus disc with the 1972 album Some Time In New York City.
The Plastic Ono Band performed just two songs: current single ‘Cold Turkey’ and its b-side Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow). The first song lasted for nearly seven minutes, and was introduced by Lennon with the words: “We’d like to do a number. This song’s about pain.”
After the song Ono, in a white back at Lennon’s feet, shouted “John! I love you! Britain! You killed Hanratty, you murderer!”
Don’t Worry Kyoko lasted for around 40 minutes, though it was trimmed to 15 minutes for the album release. Emerick was forced to change tape reels midway through, and at least three edits are evident in the released version. It featured the guitarists and horns locked in various grooves and riffs as Ono wailed over the top.
Lennon later described the performance of Don’t Worry Kyoko as “the most fantastic music I’ve ever heard … 20 years ahead of its time”.
A lot of the audience walked out, but the ones that stayed, they were in a trance. They just all came to the front, because it was one of the first real heavy rock shows… It’s only to be expected that some people were disappointed in that we only did two long numbers, but we play 1984 music! I don’t know what they want. I’m trying to get it across that the Plastic Ono Band plays the unexpected. It could be anything. It could be ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ or it could be Beethoven’s 9th. People should expect something from The Beatles or The Stones, but with the Plastic Ono Band anything goes. I don’t do variety anymore. I stopped that when I was with The Beatles.
The performance came to an eventual end after drummer Alan White took the decision to play increasingly faster, until the band could go on no more.
While I thought Cold Turkey was good, the other number went on far too long and it began to sag. Jimmy Gordon, the other drummer from Delaney & Bonnie, and me began to speed up to bring it to an end. But we just got faster and faster and nobody wanted to stop. It was so fast that our muscles were aching. I was just about thinking, ‘For Christ’s sake, stop it,’ when it just sort of finished.
Also on this day...
- 1969: Mixing, editing: Get Back album
- 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘War Is Over’ poster campaign is launched
- 1969: Ringo Starr records a charity appeal for BBC radio
- 1966: Recording, mixing: Strawberry Fields Forever
- 1964: US album release: Beatles ’65
- 1963: Television: Thank Your Lucky Stars
- 1962: Live: Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead
- 1961: Live: Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, Wallasey
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.