A historic concert that, surprisingly, sometimes goes under the radar in the history of some British rock royalty took place at London’s Lyceum Theatre on December 15, 1969.
It was a charity event for UNICEF, the United Nations’ international fund, called Peace and Love for Christmas. The concert marked the live debut of the extended Plastic Ono Band, on this occasion featuring the incredible line-up of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, Billy Preston, and various other Beatles and Clapton alumni, with a brief appearance by Keith Moon. It came in the week of release of the Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace In Toronto.
Lennon’s last live UK appearance
The concert turned out to be Lennon’s last live appearance in his home country. It’s also the answer to what could be a memorable trivia question, about the night Lennon and Harrison were on a bill that also featured Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, the Young Rascals, and UK hitmakers Blue Mink. Tickets cost £1 each, and others joining the stellar cast included Klaus Voorman, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, and Alan White, all regular collaborators to this extended family. BBC Radio1 DJ Emperor Rosko MCd the evening.
This was Lennon and Harrison’s first scheduled live performance since The Beatles’ famous final concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. It took place during a period when Harrison and Clapton were touring as part of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, as they were billed. The Lyceum stage was adorned with a giant “War is over” message banner, previewing the sentiment of John and Yoko’s subsequent Christmas single.
This supergroup performed Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s then-current single “Cold Turkey” and its B-side “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow),” both in extended versions. The recordings, mixed by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, were included as the second disc, titled Live Jam, on the original release of the 1972 album credited to Lennon, Ono and Elephant’s Memory, Some Time In New York City. John introduces “Cold Turkey” (which was in the UK chart at the time of the event, having peaked at No.14) by saying “This is a song about pain.”
Lennon is quoted, by The Beatles Bible and elsewhere, expressing his enthusiasm for the night. “I thought it was fantastic,” he said. “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.’”