John Lennon

This month, a new book com­mem­o­rates the mak­ing of John Lennon’s al­bum, imag­ine. In this ex­clu­sive ex­tract, we go be­hind the scenes of those record­ing ses­sions to bring you rev­e­la­tory pho­tos and eye­wit­ness ac­counts of Lennon — ac­com­pa­nied by some old frien

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Reve­la­tory pho­tos and eye­wit­ness ac­counts – an ex­clu­sive ex­tract from a new book com­mem­o­rat­ing the mak­ing of Imag­ine

On June 23, 1971, John Lennon en­tered As­cot Park Stu­dios – in the grounds of his home at Tit­ten­hurst Park – to be­gin record­ing a new al­bum.

ex­ploratory ses­sions had taken place in New York and also at Abbey Road, but in his own stu­dio at tit­ten­hurst the work as­sumed shape, struc­ture and sig­nif­i­cance. Lennon and Yoko Ono en­listed the help of old friends Ge­orge Har­ri­son and Klaus Voormann, as well as pi­anist Nicky Hop­kins and drum­mers Jim Kelt­ner and Alan White, who had played with Lennon and Voormann in the Plas­tic Ono Band, plus as­sorted mem­bers of Ap­ple sign­ings Badfin­ger. to pro­duce the al­bum, he brought back Phil Spec­tor, who’d over­seen the John Lennon/Plas­tic Ono Band al­bum the pre­vi­ous year. the al­bum they made to­gether, Imag­ine, was re­leased in the UK that Oc­to­ber. this month, this fa­bled al­bum is cel­e­brated with a new six-disc boxset, Imag­ine –

The Ul­ti­mate Col­lec­tion, re­stored ver­sions of the ac­com­pa­ny­ing Imag­ine and Gimme Some Truth films and a new photo book, Imag­ine John Yoko by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

In this ex­clu­sive ex­tract from the book, we find Lennon and his co-con­spir­a­tors at work in As­cot Park Stu­dios, while Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Jim Kelt­ner share their mem­o­ries of those le­gendary record­ing ses­sions…


“I met John for the first time in Ham­burg in 1960 and I was scared of him. I wasn’t sure if he was go­ing to hit me. I went into the Kais­erkeller Club and he was play­ing in a band called the Bea­tles. they were all rock­ers. I got all the peo­ple from my art col­lege down to the club. I said, ‘You have to see this band! You have to see this band!’

“We went night af­ter night and in the end they said, ‘Klaus, you have to talk to them, you can speak english.’ I walked up to John, showed him a record cover I had made and said, ‘Look at this! I did this cover for you. What do you think of it?’ And he said, ‘talk to Stu­art [Sut­cliffe] – he’s the arty one in the band.’ We all be­came great friends and some years later in 1966, I de­signed the cover for the Bea­tles’ Re­volver al­bum.

“Later, in 1969, I had just fin­ished tour­ing in a band called man­fred mann. John sud­denly called me and said, ‘Do you wanna join the Plas­tic Ono Band?’ It was per­fect tim­ing.

“On the Imag­ine al­bum, I played an old Fen­der Pre­ci­sion elec­tric bass and an Am­peg Portaflex B-15N valve am­pli­fier with a 15-inch speaker. It was one of the suit­case ones; when you travel, you take the whole top off, turn it round 180 de­grees and put it in the box.

“On ‘Crip­pled In­side’, John said he wanted an up­right bass. I had never played one be­fore, but he said, ‘No, you can play it!’ So John sent me to London with [Lennon’s as­sis­tant] mal evans and we rock­ers went into this clas­si­cal mu­sic store, full of very neat peo­ple wear­ing bow ties! mal bought a re­ally good, huge, full-size up­right bass. John re­alised he wanted it played like a slap bass, and I couldn’t do it so I played the notes on the bass with my left hand and Alan White played the strings like drums, with his sticks.

“When we were re­hears­ing, John would play the song on gui­tar or pi­ano, and then we would start con­tribut­ing what we thought was right. He was sing­ing all the time. It was a great help and re­ally made those songs work. If you pick the right peo­ple who can re­ally play, they find their own way through. there’s not that much said or ma­nip­u­lated. It’s in­stinc­tive. ev­ery­one is clever in his own way. You lis­ten to ev­ery­body. You lis­ten to the whole thing. And for me in par­tic­u­lar, I al­ways lis­tened to the song and the words. John had printed out the sheets with the lyrics on it re­ally big, so you knew what the song was about.

“When I think of those ses­sions, I al­ways think of ‘Jeal­ous Guy’. I’m sit­ting there. I don’t even know what key I’m in. I have no idea. I just play. It just goes like a dream, you know? It’s such a beau­ti­ful song and it just flows. I close my eyes and lis­ten to John, and just play. And then those notes come where there is space for them, or when I think they should be played at that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment.

“Phil Spec­tor was very thought­ful, pa­tient and sub­dued. He was giv­ing good com­ments. He was re­ally, re­ally right. He was not be­ing a pro­ducer who was push­ing any­thing on you. He let things go and happen, and was just per­fect. mostly I’d say, ‘Is that OK, what I’m lay­ing down?’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s fine.’ He never told me what to play. He and John com­mu­ni­cated well to­gether.

“When we played ‘Imag­ine’ and heard the lyrics, the pos­si­bil­ity that this was go­ing to be

“I am proud to have played on ‘Imag­ine’, be­cause its mes­sage is for the world” ALAN WHITE

such a big song was ap­par­ent. It def­i­nitely was. I even thought I didn’t want to play on it be­cause it was so amaz­ing with just John play­ing pi­ano. It was so true and hon­est. That would have been enough.”

ALAN WHITE (drums, Ti­betan cym­bals, good vibes)

“T he first time I spoke to John Lennon was in Septem­ber 1969. he called me on the phone and asked me to play drums with him at a live show in Toronto. I thought it was a friend play­ing a joke, so I hung up. Thank­fully, he called back a few min­utes later and con­vinced me it re­ally was John Lennon.

“John was a very nice, ac­com­mo­dat­ing guy. I al­ways felt he kind of took me un­der his wing. I was only 20 years old, a lit­tle bit naive, and jumped in the deep end. he made me feel very com­fort­able, and so did Yoko. She was ex­tremely nice. She spoke in a very quiet voice and adored John. You could tell they were madly in love. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Fol­low­ing Live Peace in Toronto, the first thing I was asked to record with John & Yoko was ‘In­stant Karma!’ Then along came Imag­ine and we went down to Tit­ten­hurst to re­hearse the mu­sic. ev­ery song we did on Imag­ine, John would make us read the lyrics and in­sist that we un­der­stood the mean­ing of the song be­fore we started play­ing it. That had quite an im­pact for me.

“John worked fast. he knew when some­thing was right and was def­i­nite about his ideas. he knew what he wanted – and he knew when he had it. I re­mem­ber him say­ing to me, ‘What­ever you’re doing, just keep doing it.’ he didn’t try to con­trol what I was play­ing; he seemed to trust my mu­si­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion and al­lowed me the free­dom to play what I felt. I got on with the job, lis­ten­ing to a song and then trans­lat­ing it into my style. Once we had a great take, it gave us all such a great feel­ing.

“Yoko was al­ways at John’s side, giv­ing him ad­vice and ideas to make it bet­ter. She was very much part of the whole thing. Phil Spec­tor was a bit of a strange guy. he seemed ex­tremely paranoid, but he was to­tally into the pro­ject. John would talk to him and, gain­ing con­fi­dence, say, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’

“I had never met Klaus Voormann be­fore we played Live Peace in Toronto, but we got to be re­ally good friends. While play­ing ‘Crip­pled In­side’, there was an un­usual sit­u­a­tion where Klaus was play­ing up­right bass and I sat on a chair be­side him and played the drum­sticks on his bass strings. It pro­duced the unique ‘slap’ sound ef­fect for the song.

“When we did ‘Jeal­ous Guy’, Jim Kelt­ner played the drums and I ended up play­ing vi­bra­phone in the toi­let in the corner of the stu­dio. It had a lit­tle door, with a four- or five-inch crack, and I could see ev­ery­body through there. It was, ‘One, two, three, four…’ and then we were play­ing. John gave me a great credit on the al­bum. On the sleeve notes in­side the record, he wrote, ‘Alan White:

Good Vibes’, which meant a lot to me. It was all good vibes when we were mak­ing Imag­ine. ev­ery­body was re­ally happy. And when ev­ery­body is happy in a stu­dio, the hap­pi­ness comes through the mu­sic – and there is a lot of great mu­sic on that al­bum.

“One of my favourite mo­ments was when we cut the track ‘Imag­ine’. There seemed to be a feel­ing in the room that the first recorded track was a good one. We didn’t need to do any more – that was as good as we were ever go­ing to play that song. It was a mu­tual feel­ing; some­thing I re­call and stood out in my mind.

“I am proud to have played on ‘Imag­ine’, be­cause its mes­sage is for the world, has been played world­wide and is well un­der­stood. It is a song of hope – for then, for now, for the fu­ture. The mes­sage is still so rel­e­vant. For me, it’s the most important piece of mu­sic I’ve ever recorded.”

JIM KELT­NER (drums, tabla)

“IFIrST met Yoko at Tit­ten­hurst on 16 Fe­bru­ary 1971. I was play­ing drums and tablas on a ses­sion for her Fly LP – with her, Klaus Voormann, Jim Gor­don and Bobby Keys. She was an avant-garde New York beat­nik, dressed in a black turtle­neck, and I was a bit of a beat­nik my­self. I wasn’t a rocker like the rest of John’s friends. I came from the jazz world, and I had known about Yoko’s New York days as an artist. She hung out with a lot of the great jazz guys. There we were at the As­cot man­sion and Yoko was de­scrib­ing to Bobby Keys the sound that she wanted him to play with his mouth­piece out of his sax­o­phone – which was ‘the sound of the wind rush­ing over the back of a frog sit­ting on top of the world’. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Wow. I know ex­actly what that sound is.’ I got on with Yoko re­ally well.

“Later that even­ing, I met John. he was record­ing ‘It’s So hard’ and an early ver­sion of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Sol­dier’, with Jim Gor­don on drums. Jim was strug­gling a bit, try­ing to find his way into the sug­ges­tions that John and Phil were giv­ing him. The fol­low­ing week, John in­vited me to come back to redo the track.

“John was so strong a per­son­al­ity and so charis­matic. I was floored to meet him. he was so smart, and al­ways so beau­ti­fully in charge, in a re­ally prac­tised way. his songs were al­ways so well writ­ten. You didn’t need a chart. There was al­ways a funny bar, like a lit­tle 5/4 bar. Great songs by great artists play them­selves. First, he would play you a new song on the gui­tar, or pi­ano. he would mostly work on telling the gui­tar play­ers what to do – play this here, play that there – but with the bass and the drums, he left us pretty much alone. I re­ally loved that he had that kind of faith in us.

“Play­ing on ‘Jeal­ous Guy’ was like be­ing in a dream. No­body in the world ever played pi­ano like Nicky hop­kins, and Klaus has such a tremen­dous deep feel on the bass. hav­ing John’s voice in your head­phones, glanc­ing up and see­ing him at the mi­cro­phone – 1971 – fresh from The Bea­tles and such a tremen­dous mu­si­cian and songwriter – sing­ing this beau­ti­ful, haunt­ing lit­tle song. You only have a few of those mo­ments in your life as a mu­si­cian and that was one of them.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved in the ge­nius of Phil Spec­tor. I got to see it first hand, in his prime, with John and Ge­orge; and also with Leonard Co­hen, the ramones and Ce­line Dion. I’ve done noth­ing but make records since I was a kid, and the pro­ducer and the ar­ranger are the most important peo­ple – other than the artists. I con­sider it one of the great good for­tunes of my life to have worked with Phil Spec­tor as a pro­ducer.

“I loved ‘Imag­ine’ from the mo­ment I heard it. But when I first heard John sing, ‘Imag­ine

there’s no heaven’ and ‘no hell’, it made me feel un­com­fort­able. Now I re­alise what he’s say­ing is the way mankind has put to­gether our con­scious­ness of God has be­come a ‘yours against mine’ sit­u­a­tion, like a big foot­bal match. I be­lieve John meant the words to ‘Imag­ine’ to be heal­ing words.” This is an edited ex­tract from Imag­ine John Yoko by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with con­tri­bu­tions from the peo­ple who were there, Thames & Hudson, £35


• UN­CUT • NOVEM­BER 2018 Ge­orge Har­ri­son tun­ing up be­fore record­ing “How Do You Sleep?” with Phil Spec­tor (co-pro­ducer). As­cot Sound Stu­dios, May 26, 1971

Lennon at the be­spoke As­cot Sound Stu­dios con­sole built by Ed­die Veale and David Dear­den, Au­gust 3, 1971 Photo by Tom Han­ley © Yoko Ono Lennon In­set left: Imag­ine master tape box. Photo by Sam Gan­non and Beth Walsh © Yoko Ono Lennon

Record­ing “How Do You Sleep?”: (l–r) Ge­orge Har­ri­son, Ted Turner, Rod Lyn­ton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White, John Lennon, Nicky Hop­kins and John Tout, May 26, 1971 • UN­CUT • NOVEM­BER 2018

(From left) Alan White, Klaus Voormann, Ge­orge Har­ri­son and John Lennon at the Tit­ten­hurst kitchen ta­ble, May 26, 1971 Photo by Kieron Mur­phy © Yoko Ono Lennon In­set left: brown card tape boxes Photo by Sam Gan­non © Yoko Ono Lennon

Film­ing the Imag­ine promo in the White Room at Tit­ten­hurst Park, July 21, 1971 Photo by Peter Ford­ham © Yoko Ono Lennon In­set right: “Imag­ine”, lyrics by John Lennon © Yoko Ono Lennon Record­ing the back­ing vo­cals for “Oh Yoko!”, May 29, 1971 Photo by Kieron Mur­phy © Yoko Ono Lennon

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