In 1969, John Lennon had fallen out of love with The Beatles and he needed a way to reignite his passion for music. So when he got invited to appear at Toronto’s Concert for Peace he agreed on one condition — he would get to perform with a brand new supergroup, which delighted the organisers.
Eric Clapton was a close ally of The Beatles and, somewhat remarkably, once nearly joined the band following George Harrison momentarily quitting the Liverpudlian group. Lennon was a huge fan of his and it was a no-brainer for him to recruit him for the first edition of The Plastic Ono Band in Toronto and, of course, Clapton was not going to say no to this exhilarating opportunity.
The event, which is known widely as Concert for Peace was officially titled the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, was a one-day, twelve-hour music festival held in Toronto, on September 13, 1969, and it featured a number of popular musical acts from the 1950s and 1960s. Acts who were announced on the bill to appear included the likes of Bo Diddley, Little Richard and The Doors but The Plastic Ono Band’s show-stealing appearance would be one that was kept under wraps until the day of the performance.
“We got this call on a Friday that there was a rock ‘n’ roll revival show in Toronto with a 100,000 audience, or whatever it was,” Lennon later recalled in Anthology. “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.”
On the morning of the scheduled flight, the day before the concert, on 12 September, Lennon, Ono, and Clapton didn’t make it to the airport and Clapton remained unaware of the concert or about Lennon attempting to contact him. Thankfully, festival co-organiser John Brower had managed to get through to Clapton and told him to contact Lennon and Ono, who was still in bed, as you would expect from the couple.
Clapton has said that he got “a phone call on the day we were to leave and he said that someone had asked him to do that concert and it was that night! So I had to make the airport in an hour”. The group managed to squeeze in two rehearsals, somehow, with one coming during the transatlantic flight from London to Toronto and then one more backstage just before they went under the lights.
“The buzz was incredible,” Lennon added in Anthology. “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, and we did a number called ‘Cold Turkey’ we’d never done before and they dug it like mad.”
The show cemented Lennon’s fate, as well as the fate of The Beatles which would have no doubt, have ended shortly anyway but this was a decisive moment in John’s mind that taught him there was no turning back from this decision. He told Clapton about his epiphany on the flight home who was instructed to not tell anyone about the secret John had trusted in him.
Check out the moment that John fell back in love with playing live again, below.