22nd Sep, 2019

MUSIC MATTERS: 50 years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono visited Coventry

Editorial Correspondent 23rd Jun, 2018 Updated: 19th Nov, 2018

Last Friday (June 15) marked a special moment for Coventry music.

50 years ago, in 1968, John Lennon and his new girlfriend, Japanese artist Yoko Ono, came to the Coventry Cathedral to take part in a sculpture exhibition.

The couple wanted to provide a ‘living sculpture’ consisting of a round bench that one sat on, contemplating the growing of two acorns underneath.

A simple task of course, but at the time this was the first outing for the couple and the head of the Cathedral at the time, Canon Verney, objected to the sculpture – and he also objected to the couple being married to ‘other’ people.

If the dramatic re-enactment in the TV film John & Yoko, A Love Story is to be believed, Yoko the conceptual artist blew her top when the Canon suggested that their ‘living

sculpture’ was not art!

Eventually the planting went ahead at a small ceremony in Unity Gardens, one acorn facing the East for Yoko, one for John facing West.

On planting the acorns in plastic cups, John said the words: “We are planting these

acorns as a symbol of the east and the west coming together, this is what happens

when two clouds meet.”

Then it was all over, the couple got back into their stretched white Rolls Royce, and the previously quiet Lennon let rip, angry at what he felt was the church’s harsh treatment of them.

That was far from the end of it, as days later the acorns were inexplicably moved over to the Cathedral Garden, and eventually stolen.

The bench was retrieved, and the couple used the acorn as a peace symbol, sending them to world leaders – they even get name-checked in the Beatles song The Ballad of John and Yoko, when John sings about “Fifty acorns tied in a sack”.

Yoko, of course, returned to the Cathedral in 2005, and planted two oak trees that are still there.

Indeed there was talk of Yoko returning to unveil a plaque – it would be wonderful to see her again in Coventry. The Coventry Music Museum has a permanent display dedicated to the

Acorn Event, and has the very seat that Yoko sat on in 2005 (thank to Chris & Julia at The Shopfront Theatre).

Last week, the museum hosted a day to commemorate the event. Our Poet in Residence Nick Nibb gave us a wonderful new poem about the stealing of the acorns.

Then our John (played by local musician Chris Sidwell) and Yoko (played

by Coventry Ambassador Marie Allen) made an entry as the famous couple, acorns in hand.

They sang Norwegian Wood, Imagine and Chris’s own song Yoko – coincidentally written months before I asked him to be part of this.

Then everyone joined in to sing a rousing version of Give Peace a Chance with the children

of Grangehurst School as our amazing choir for the day.

Actor Mark McGann who played John in that TV film said: “In 1984 I had the absolute privilege of playing John for the TV movie John & Yoko: A Love Story which included the extraordinary pleasure of recreating the momentous occasion when John and Yoko planted acorns for peace at St Michael’s Cathedral. “We used the opportunity of the drive

from London to Coventry on the day to

shoot sequences in the famous white/psychedelic Rolls Royce once owned by the famous couple, and Kim Miyori (who played Yoko) and I enjoyed more than a glimpse of what it must have felt like to be those two uniquely revered spokespeople-for-peace.”

I will leave the final words to The Very Rev John Witcombe MA MPhil, Dean of Coventry: “The visit of John and Yoko to the grounds of the Cathedral in 1968 is one of the iconic moments in the city’s history.

“Let’s keep planting those acorns – who knows, one might just grow into a huge oak tree.”

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