Recorded at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival, Live Peace In Toronto 1969 marked the public debut of the hastily-assembled Plastic Ono Band.
Lennon had been invited to the festival on 12 September 1969 by promoter John Brower. To Brower’s surprise Lennon accepted the offer, on the condition that he be allowed to perform at the event. Sales for the festival had proved sluggish, and Brower naturally 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.
The Beatles had little enthusiasm for performing live at that point, so Lennon was forced to hastily assemble a live band. His invitation to George Harrison was turned down, but Eric Clapton accepted, as did bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White.
On the morning of 13 September Voormann, White, Allen Klein, Mal Evans and Lennon’s assistant Anthony Fawcett all convened at London Airport, but Lennon, Ono and Clapton were nowhere to be seen. It transpired Lennon and Ono had elected to stay in bed, and that Clapton was unaware of the plans.
The guitarist was called by John Brower, who told him: “Eric, you may not remember me, but I’m the promoter who lost $20,000 on your Blind Faith show last month. Please call John Lennon, and tell him he must do this or I will get on a plane, come to his house, and live with him, because I will be ruined.”
Brower’s plea worked, and Lennon reluctantly agreed to join Clapton. The party left for Toronto on Air Canada flight 124, with Lennon, Ono and Clapton in first class while the rest flew in economy.
During the flight the Plastic Ono Band eventually convened and assembled a set, although the musicians had trouble hearing their guitars above the noise of the engines.
Now we didn’t know what to play, because we’d never played together before, the band. And on the aeroplane we’re running through these oldies, so the rehearsal for the record, which turned into not a bad record, was on the plane, with electric guitars – not even acoustic, you couldn’t hear.
During the flight Lennon also revealed his decision 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.’
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
Upon their arrival in Toronto, the group was driven to Varsity Stadium. They arrived at the backstage area at approximately 10pm, escorted by 80 motorcycles from the Toronto Vagabonds, and remained in their dressing room until they were announced by compère Kim Fowley at around midnight.
John Lennon led the group through six songs: ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, ‘Yer Blues’, ‘Cold Turkey’, and ‘Give Peace A Chance’. He later revealed that he was addicted to heroin at the time.
We were full of junk too. I just threw up for hours till I went on. I nearly threw up in Cold Turkey – I had a review in Rolling Stone about the film of it – which I haven’t seen yet, and they’re saying, ‘I was this and that.’ And I was throwing up nearly in the number. I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner