From Lou Reed to Lenny Kravitz: Remembering the John Lennon tribute concert on the banks of the Mersey
John Lennon will forever be immortalised thanks to his almost faultless repertoire of music that he left behind prior to the moment he was tragically murdered in 1980, a legacy that runs alongside his ever-present message of love and positivity that he spread during his time on earth. Lennon, truly is one of Liverpool’s favourite sons, was honoured by the city when their airport was renamed in his honour. Today marks 30 years since Merseyside put on a concert in tribute to the great man which featured some of music’s finest names coming together to celebrate Lennon.
The show, which took place on the banks of the Mersey, was met by a portion of amusement by a contingent of Beatles fans because it was orchestrated in a bid to celebrate what should have been John Lennon’s 50th birthday—an occasion which wasn’t actually due to take place until on the official date later in the year. To add another sense of confusion, the tribute event was also bizarrely hosted by Superman actor Christopher Reeve.
Yoko Ono sanctioned the celebration and all the profits from the event were to be passed on to Lennon’s Spirit Foundation. However, the high ticket price meant that many fans were put off and led to only a reported 15,000 people attending an outdoor venue holds up to 45,000. Ono also failed to secure performances from the three remaining members of The Beatles with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr instead sending video messages which played on the big screen. George Harrison opted to stay away from the concert altogether.
Despite being tinged with an air of disappointment, the event did still host a series of standout moments including Lou Reed playing ‘Jealous Guy’, Al Green singing ‘Power to the People’, Randy Travis with ‘Nowhere Man’, Lenny Kravitz performing ‘Cold Turkey’ and Terence Trent D’Arby giving his version of ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”.
Other artists who took to the stage Kylie Minogue provided a disco version of ‘Help’, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Cyndi Lauper, Joe Cocker and Wet Wet Wet all performed versions of Beatles and Lennon classics, as well as some others.
Yoko probably didn’t set out to have artists like Wet Wet Wet perform at the concert who, in truth, had no real affiliations with Lennon. Ono did, however, reportedly set out to secure some of the biggest names in music who all declined such as Elton John and David Bowie, both good friends of Lennon, as well as Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Michael Jackson.
McCartney was not too pleased with a comment made by Ono during the concert where she said: “John would be happy,” which led to McCartney saying to The Sunday Times: “I can’t help thinking, ‘Would John have liked it? Is this the kind of thing he liked?’”
At the end of the concert, the catalogue of artists who came together to perform along with Yoko Ono and her son, Sean, who entered the stage to appropriately sing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ which they sang in unison with the audience before the PA played Lennon’s original of ‘Imagine’ as the crowds began to pile out.
The concert may not have been the perfect tribute for Lennon due to some of the questionable bookings and the lack of his three bandmates missing out, but that memory at the end for Yoko and Sean was a poignant one as they celebrated their lost loved one and saw how much he meant to those who had lined the banks of the Mersey.