Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Another 90 Minutes of Astral Projection in Honour of John

The 3rd Annual Dear John Concert in support of War Child took place on Saturday 9th October 2021. A memorial event for John Lennon, Dear John was founded by Sepp Osley – co-founder of Blurred Vision – in 2019, on Lennon’s 79th birthday.

After a nail-biting 5-minute countdown with stadium crowd noises against a beautiful kaleidoscopic montage of John’s face and musical paraphernalia courtesy of Ophelia Ray, “Whispering Bob” Harris greeted the global livestream at 2005 BST. Last year’s event was livestreamed on YouTube, but this year it was ticketed through Veeps at £5 a pop in support of War Child.


The 90-minute concert opened with a stunning rendition of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by Blurred Vision. Stone-core vocals together with technically dynamic drums starting in the pocket and becoming Ringo-er than Ringo would have been enough to make this cover memorable, but then we get a layer of beautiful backing vocals followed by a striking liquid guitar slide over “Let me take you down ‘cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.” Oh my. Just a glimpse of the intimate live audience in London, bopping in the smoky stage light beams and nursing plastic half pints of lager, experiencing the full intensity of this homage to high Beatles psychedelia.


Laura Evans then joined Blurred Vision on stage to R&B her way through ‘Come Together’ before the first celebrity talking head of the event, courtesy of Irvine Welsh. The Trainspotting author shared what John Lennon meant to him, picking out ‘Jealous Guy’ as particularly impactful for him. Welsh also emphasized Lennon’s commitment to peace, mentioning his own experience visiting Afghanistan, and reminded us that this event is in support of War Child.


Right on cue, Jo Harman provided a soulful solo vocal for the first John Lennon solo track of the evening, ‘Jealous Guy’, backed up by Blurred Vision – Sepp Osley staying out of Jo’s way apart from a smooth yet not-at-all-Roxy-Music lead break in the middle.


Then to a pre-recorded black and white vocal booth version of ‘Across The Universe’ by Gwen Sebastian, accompanied by piano and beautiful strings from off screen. What a song. The immense songwriting chops of the Beatles suddenly seemed to burst from the screen; plasma from the unbounded ocean of consciousness interpenetrating everyone of us in a global web of oneness. Thank you, Gwen! (A glance at the chat window in the live feed suggested that others around the globe had been similarly affected: “I’ve been in tears – so beautiful – I’m in Tennessee – Gwen Sebastian is my daughter in law”, said helen98321. “What a beautiful rendition of Across the Universe. Really moving”, gushed paul.57163. This was one of the standout moments in an impressive set of beloved pop standards.


Cut to a talking head from actor and screenwriter Mark Williams (of The Fast Show fame), movingly and bluntly observing the tragedy that the War Child charity needs to exist at all. Jasmine Rodgers sang ‘Love Me Do’ next, with a country twang, and a bright back beat. Sepp joined in, reconfiguring John’s and Paul’s vocal lines between them.


Bob Harris came back in to marvel at the international appeal of the Beatles, particularly in Asia. Which contextualized the next artist, from Vietnam, Minh, who sang ‘The Long And Winding Road’. This was the first track in the evening penned by Paul, and Minh’s earnest and emotional solo vocal, headphones on and Shure mic in hand, surrounded by metal tanks – a dairy? A distillery? Hard to say, but great acoustics! – took the evening into a sad and pensive cosmic tangent.


Back down to earth with the Estuary octogenarian ukulelist Joe Brown, on a couch with Sepp Osley, reminiscing about his encounters with the Beatles. John, George and Ringo had a more mischievous and sharp humour than Paul, noted Joe; Paul was a bit kinder to interviewers. But Jo recalled George phoning him up when he moved to Henley and humbly asking Joe if he remembered him. Joe also touchingly recalled the shock of his John’s murder. To lead into the next song, Joe pointed out the intense truth of both George’s song (and the title track on his first solo triple album), ‘All Things Must Pass’, and John’s ‘All You need is love’.


Cue Hedara and Tom Speight to sing the very same peace anthem, ‘All You Need Is Love’, accompanied just by the alternating arpeggios and strumming of Tom’s acoustic guitar, with a distinctive bass riff arrangement in the chorus, followed by a talking head from Kylie Olsson in a futuristic cool grey room with only a waxy green plant and a rack of electric guitars for furniture.


Elles Bailey with a feather in a fedora, and some subtle wah-wah from Sepp, all backed up with bass mixed high like the original Beatles version, and an innovative cymbal game from Blurred Vision drummer, Jake Bradford-Sharp, added up to an arresting rendition of ‘Lady Madonna’.


The randomest intervention of the evening came courtesy of fashion designer Pam Hogg, joining the stream in the very largest size of sunglasses possible with current technology, and karaoke singing ‘Nowhere Man’: “Thank you for this song, John.”


Now, Dan Patlansky in a black acoustically insulated room upholstered into something between a leather couch and an S&M dungeon. Patlansky ground out the first verses of ‘Taxman’ before absolutely wailing on a threadbare cream Fender Stratocaster. Patlansky is a virtuoso blues player, and he treated us to a second gorgeously lengthy solo in the latter half of the song too.


Bob Harris returned at this point, wielding a framed, signed doodle by John from when the then ex-Beatle guested on the Bob’s BBC2 show, The Old Grey Whistle Test. Bob poignantly recalled how deeply affected he was by meeting John, who lived up to his every expectation.


“Let us pray”, quipped Miss Baby Sol, before she began literally radiating “Imagine”. Maybe it wasn’t a quip – this secular anthem is a monument to humanity and what we could be if we just... were. “It’s easy if you try.” And that’s the tragedy of it; it’s right there if you want it. Singer-songwriter Sam Brown spoke next about War Child and the power of music, followed immediately by The Quarreymen – John’s band which he left to join the Beatles, and which still play together.


Chloe Foy sand “I’m Only Sleeping” next, backed by the “oohs” and “sleeping”s of Blurred Vision, and accompanied by Sepp playing George’s backwards guitar parts forwards. Chloe flipped from her soft tenor into falsetto in the bridge, adding a melancholy fragility to a song that can seem playful, but which refers to the disrupted circadian rhythms of John’s mid-60s lifestyle.


Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses made an appeal for donations to War Child next. Seated in front of some particularly handsome cactuses in the yard of his desert compound, Matt said he was inspired by watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show when he was 5.



Gavin Conder, in a green military shirt with epaulets, and a be-trilby’d Scott McKeon joined Blurred Vision on stage next to crank out ‘Revolution’, Conder on vocals, McKeon on electric guitar.


Next up, an earnest Fearne Cotton recalling how affecting the Beatles were for her in her childhood – listening to Sgt Pepper and Beatles for Sale – the great melodies and the memorable lyrics – and, of course, John’s solo work – his big brain and the political power of it.


‘Beautiful Boy’ came next, performed by Scott Matthews on a 12-string acoustic that was either slightly chorused or slightly detuned, giving a lo-fi trippy sadness to this song written for John’s son Sean. Scott slowed down minutely to emphasize the more existential lines: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”


“Whispering” Bob compered us on next with a comment about John’s artistic collaboration with Yoko. And thus, Judie Tzuke took to the stage to sing a rather Bowie-esque version of “Love is real / real is love”: the song ‘Love’, credited to John Lennon / Plastic Yoko Band, whose original acoustic performance softened its jarring chords and felt more ethereal. Bailey Tzuke joined her mother to supply backing vocals, and Sepp transcended us to the beyond place again with more mind-warping electric riffification.


Matt Lucas punctuated the set then with a one-minute talking head, saying he heard Beatles in the womb. That’s an impressive memory, Matt. Luke Friend was up next to sing one of the early ones with the marginally problematic lyrics: ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, and then another actor, the very Martin Freeman, reminded us that this is all in support of War Child.


Jack Savoretti then played and sang ‘Watching The Wheels’, apparently from an upright piano in his front room. Lovely wood burner, Jack. Maybe clear the coffee table next time though, yeah? But what a vocal! Beautiful reverb, unifying the array of techniques across the two-octave range of the song: vibrato, a little hint of gravel, then up to the falsetto of the chorus before a full Joe Cocker power gospel melisma over “I just had to let it go.” Dang. Another stand-out moment.


Blurred Vision were then back at centre stage for ‘Dear John’, a powerful song that incorporates references to half a dozen Lennon songs, as well as a simple and moving refrain: “Oh my, oh my, so many years have gone by”. Peter Frampton turns in a couple of gnarly rock licks on his Gibson sunburst, shown behind the band via pre-recorded footage that also features in this 2019 single’s video. The finale of this live version notched up by semi-tones, intensity rising, lights flashing ­– is it gonna go into the middle eight of ‘A Day In The Life?’ No. It’s not. As you were.


Another talking head – this time from Yola. Please donate. By the way, reader, you can still donate to War Child any time. Then, back on stage and revving up for some kind of blues song but we don’t know what... then a familiar drum and bass shuffle starts to come through and – ta-da! – the mixolydian reveal as suddenly Mollie Marriott starts singing ‘Get Back’.


All the friends returned to the stage, clapping hands, stamping feet and singing a stirring version of “All we are saying / is give peace a chance”. “Whispering” Bob did a very DJ interruption about a minute and half in in order to thank the lovely audience – you’re such a lovely audience we’d like to take you home with us – he didn’t say that. Missed a trick there.


“See you all in 2022!!!”


Watch it again here until 17 October (email sign-up required).



John Weston


Image: Official Event Artwork by Ophelia Ray

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Here;