The Beatles famously stopped performing in 1966 due to the adverse effect that their final tour had on each member of the group from a mental perspective and, of course, on their personal relationships. The Fab Four never intended to stop playing live for good, and their break was only supposed to be a hiatus, but, that desire to return to the road never came back — apart from one special last hurrah on December 15th, 1969.
While the official word hadn’t yet landed, all four members of The Beatles had already moved on to pastures new by this point in their career. Paul McCartney had put the final nail in the coffin by declaring “The Beatles thing is over” in October 1969. He had gone on to live out a peaceful existence in Scotland and fled the constant noise that was unavoidable in London. Thanks to their ongoing issues, the chances of McCartney and Lennon ever taking to the stage again together was a non-starter at this point in time. Meanwhile, George Harrison and Lennon’s relationship remained strong through the burdensome Let It Be/Get Back sessions, the duo hadn’t played together in three years, but this was about to change.
With his attention turning from The Beatles, Lennon had become the face of a better world and a brighter peaceful future in 1969, which is how The Plastic Ono Band made their debut appearance at Toronto’s Concert For Peace a few months earlier. UNICEF was hosting a concert entitled, Peace For Christmas, which was taking place at London’s Lyceum Hall on December 15th and stated that there would be a performance from The Plastic Ono Band despite not telling the band.
Once Lennon caught wind of the show, he immediately agreed to take part because of the gravity of the cause and thought his appearance would help raise more funds for charity. The show in Toronto had relit the fire inside of him, and he no longer loathed playing live, which made the London show a no-brainer. However, this would tragically be the final ever concert by Lennon on British soil.
Lennon gathered his all-star Plastic Ono Band at just 48 hours’ notice, lining up Eric Clapton on guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, and Alan White on drums, as well as Billy Preston making an appearance on keyboards. Clapton didn’t come empty-handed and arrived flanked by Delaney & Bonnie’s touring band, which included George Harrison, who had failed to let Lennon know beforehand that he would be joining him.
Lennon later noted: “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 ensemble cast of musicians that Lennon had scrambled together at a moment’s notice, only performed those two tracks mentioned above. There were only a couple thousand lucky people at the Lyceum that night who witnessed George Harrison and John Lennon taking to the stage again must have been a sight to behold. Additionally, the reunion also speaks volumes about the lack of hostility between the two men. The Beatles’ interpersonal relationships were at their lowest at this point. Yet, they could still perform on stage together when Lennon and McCartney couldn’t even stand being in the same country as one another.
Check out a short clip from that famous night, below.