Live Peace in Toronto 1969
‘The rehearsal for the record was on the plane!’
– John Lennon, 1980
The Plastic Ono Band
Produced by John and Yoko (Bag Productions)
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About the LIVE PEACE IN TORONTO 1969 album
Live Peace in Toronto 1969 was recorded at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival held at Varsity Stadium, at the University of Toronto on 13 September 1969. John & Yoko were invited by promoters John Brower and Kenny Walker, and hastily assembled the Plastic Ono Band (Eric Clapton: guitar, Klaus Voormann: bass, and Alan White: drums) in time to play at the festival the following day. The band’s rehearsals took place entirely acoustically on the flight to Toronto from London.
The Plastic Ono Band played eight songs to the 25,000 strong crowd. They were introduced by Kim Fowley, and John said to the crowd that the group were going to play only songs that they knew. John’s then latest song, ‘Cold Turkey’, and Yoko’s ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)’ had their first public outings at the festival. The band closed with an extended experimental jam, ‘John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)’ the end of which saw the band leaving their instruments onstage to feedback until turned off by the Lennons’ personal assistant, Mal Evans.
LIVE PEACE IN TORONTO / VARSITY STADIUM, TORONTO
From the book JOHN & YOKO/PLASTIC ONO BAND – Available here.
John: We got this phone call from Toronto on a Friday night that there was a Rock ’n’ Roll Revival show, with a hundred thousand audience and that Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, all the great rockers, were going to be there – and The Doors were top of the bill.
Kim Fowley (MC, Rock ’n’ Roll Revival show): We had a problem. We only sold 2,000 tickets and no one was interested in coming to Canada from America via Detroit and the other cities. Halfway through the week I met with the promoters – John Brower, Ken Walker and Thor Eaton of Eaton’s Department Store who financed the thing. It was my idea to bring John Lennon over and act as an MC. So John Brower called Apple Records. John Lennon got on the phone and heard the pitch in two minutes. And he replied he would rather join in and be a part of it and didn’t require any money. But Lennon did require film rights and recording rights. John Lennon was in the music business. He was in show business. Allen Klein showed up and D. A. Pennebaker showed up with the film unit and this whole thing was recorded and a gold album came out of it.
John: 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.
Eric Clapton: When John phoned, I was really excited and very pleased. It sounded like such a good idea, even though none of us had played together on a stage before.
Klaus Voormann: John said, ‘Klaus, I want to put a band together, called the Plastic Ono Band. Do you want to play the bass?’ I didn’t know Yoko and I had no idea what they were going to do. Were they going to be in underpants on stage? What were we going to do? I had no idea. Maybe no pants at all! And he said, ‘No, no, no! I want to have a band that tours and records. Eric Clapton already said yes and now I’m asking you.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, OK, let’s do it. Who’s the drummer?’ ‘No idea, no drummer yet.’ And he called Alan White.
Alan White: I said, ‘Absolutely!’ The limo came in the morning, and there I was in the VIP lounge at London Airport and there was John & Yoko and Klaus Voormann and I sat down and introduced myself and John said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, Eric Clapton’s playing!’ He walked out of the bathroom right then. And I went ‘Oh my god, this is incredible!’ I was only twenty.
John: We didn’t know what to play – we’d never played together before. And on the airplane we were running through these oldies with electric guitars, so you couldn’t hear… saying, ’Are we doing the Elvis version of “Blue Suede Shoes”, or the Carl Perkins with the different break at the beginning, “ta-jing-jing” instead of “De…”’ whatever.
Alan White: I remember John being really adamant that we were going to play the Carl Perkins version of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ because it had an extra beat in it and he was really worried somebody was going to make a mistake. We eventually got it right and that was my first introduction to working with him – going through the songs in the back of an aircraft!
John: I hadn’t got the words to any of the songs. I knew ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, ’Blue Suede Shoes’ and a couple I hadn’t done since The Cavern, and that’s all we could do.
Klaus Voormann: The flight was over in no time and then we were at the airport. There were these big limousines standing there picking us up and it was all new to me. It was just incredible. When we hit the highway, in came all these great people on motorbikes, escorting us down to the stadium.
Mal Evans: 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.
Eric Clapton: John stood in the dressing room, which was admittedly rather tatty, beforehand saying, ‘What am I doing here? I could have gone to Brighton!’ After all, it was a long way to go for just one concert.
Mal Evans: They quickly gathered together backstage and plugged all their guitars into one small amp and started running through the numbers they were going to perform. Finally, at midnight, the compère Kim Fowley went onstage 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.
Kim Fowley: Get your matches ready. Ladies and gentlemen, the Plastic Ono Band! Toronto welcomes the Plastic Ono Band! Toronto! Brower and Walker present the Plastic Ono Band! Give Peace A Chance! Give Peace A Chance!
John: I’d never seen it anywhere else. I think it was the first time it happened. The sun was just going down and all these candles lit up and it was really beautiful.
Alan White: I remember walking out into the middle of the stage and there was a drum riser there and I went and sat on the stool. I had no drums and I was going, ‘Excuse me guys, there’s no drums here!’ John and Eric were tuning their guitars and doing all that kind of stuff and then finally a whole bunch of guys came out of nowhere with one drum each and they put a drum kit together in two minutes, thrust a pair of sticks in my hand and then John went ‘one, two, three, four’ and that was it!
John: Hello and good evening! OK, we’re just gonna do numbers that we know, you know, because we’ve never played together before.
John: The buzz was incredible. I never felt so good in my life. Everybody was with us and leaping up and down doing the peace sign, because they knew most of the numbers anyway. When we did ‘Money’ and ‘Dizzy’ I just made up the words as I went along. The band was bashing it out like hell behind me. Then after ‘Money’ there was a stop, and I turned to Eric and said ‘What’s next?’ He just shrugged, so I screamed ‘C’mon!’ and started into something else (‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’). We did ‘Yer Blues’ because I’ve done that with Eric before. It blew our minds. And we did a number called ‘Cold Turkey’ we’d never done before and they dug it like mad.
Eric Clapton: It was really refreshing to do these songs because they are very simple and uncomplicated. John and I really love that music. That’s the kind of music that turned John on initially and it’s the same for me. In fact, I could go on playing ‘Money’ and ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ for the rest of my life.
Mal Evans: 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 ‘John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)’.
Alan White: I had my monitors on stage and I thought the monitors were feeding back and Klaus said ‘No it’s Yoko! Look!’ and I looked over the drums and there was a white bag writhing around there on the floor. And I went, ‘Oh, OK!’
Klaus Voormann: We never rehearsed for Yoko. We had no idea what was going to come out of her throat, not the faintest idea. John just said, ‘Oh, play this Bo Diddley riff, just on E and open tuning and you just play along.’ And then suddenly Yoko came out of this bag and she started screaming. ‘Christ! What is it?’ And this went on for a while and then this amazing feeling came across me that soldiers were lying dead next to you, tanks were rolling across…. Yoko was screaming these things and the shivers went down my back. I felt so much for Yoko. I thought, ‘What a great thing to do. To go out there and just do this.’ I couldn’t believe it. I really warmed towards her so much. I was standing behind her. I saw her from the back. She was screaming like mad. Everybody can hear the record. She’s really just screaming. It was incredible.
John: I said, ‘Look, at the end of the show, when she’s finished doing whatever she’s doing, just lean your guitars on the amps and let it keep howling and we can get off like that.’ Because you can’t very well go ‘ji-jing!’ like the Beatles and bow at the end of screaming and fifty watts of feedback. So we all left our amps on, going like the clappers and had a smoke on the stage. Then, when they stopped, the whole crowd was chanting ‘Give Peace A Chance’. We didn’t know what the reaction would be. Something magical happened that night and it affected Eric and Klaus and Alan. They really got turned on by that night’s experience, so that of course turned us on even more!
Mal Evans: 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. The whole show was recorded for a special album which should be out pretty soon and you will hear all this on the LP.
From the book JOHN & YOKO/PLASTIC ONO BAND – Available here.
Recorded: 13 September 1969, Varsity Stadium, Toronto, Canada
Mixed: Abbey Road Studios, London, UK: 25th September 1969, 20th October 1969.
Released UK: 12 Dec 1969
Released USA: 12 Dec 1969
The Plastic Ono Band:
John Lennon: guitars, vocals
Yoko Ono: vocals
Eric Clapton: guitar (by courtesy of Atlantic Records)
Klaus Voorman: bass
Alan White: drums
Produced by John and Yoko (Bag Productions)
‘Being born in Scotland carries with it certain responsibilities’ – Derek Taylor
Blue Suede Shoes (C.L. Perkins)
Dizzy Miss Lizzie (Williams)
Yer Blues (Lennon-McCartney)
Cold Turkey (J. Lennon)
Give Peace A Chance (Lennon-McCartney)
Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow) (Yoko Ono)
John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace) (Yoko Ono)
1969 – Original release on LP, 4 Track, 8 Track and Cassette
1995 – Digital Remix on CD
1995 Digital Remix:
Re-Mixed from the original 8 track tapes by Rob Stevens at Quad Recording
Digitally Re-Mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound
Digital Sequencing: Paul Goodrich
Additional Engineering: Wes Naprstek
Assistant Engineer: Chris Habaek