Courtesy of The Toronto Star

April 4, 2000

Toronto gig spelled the end for the magical mystery tour

Surviving Beatles say concert led Lennon to quit.

By Mitch Potter and Peter Goddard

Toronto Star Entertainment Reporters


John Lennon appeared at Varsity Stadium in 1969. Never mind Yoko Ono. It was Toronto that broke up the Beatles. So says a candid ``ensemble autobiography'' in which the three surviving members of the Fab Four - Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison - break 30 years of silence on intimate details of their time together. Among the revelations in the forthcoming Beatles Anthology, which hits bookstores this fall, is that the band's 1970 breakup was triggered by John Lennon, even though it was McCartney who wound up taking the blame simply because he broke the news. According to Starr, it was Lennon's first-ever solo performance - the famed Plastic Ono Band concert at Toronto's Varsity Stadium in September, 1969 - that proved the turning point. After the concert Lennon returned to London with his mind made up to quit, Starr is quoted as saying in The Sunday Telegraph, which published excerpts of the book last weekend. ``After (John Lennon's) Plastic Ono Band's debut in Toronto we had a meeting in Savile Row where John finally brought it to a head,'' Starr writes. ``He said: `Well, that's it lads, let's end it'.'' The beginning of the end came after Toronto promoters invited the Fab Four to appear at the Rock 'N' Roll Revival festival at Varsity Stadium. They already had The Doors, with charismatic singer Jim Morrison, on the bill. Otherwise the lineup for what would become a 14-hour blast was mostly old-timers: Screaming Lord Sutch, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. The promoters called Apple Corps in London and asked for The Beatles. They got Lennon instead. Unable to round up the rest of the Beatles for the last-minute gig - they couldn't be reached - Lennon could have backed out. He didn't. Or he could have come just to watch his idol, Chuck Berry, on stage. He couldn't. ``Come on, John,'' urged Ono back in London, according to another book on the band, The Beatles: An Oral History. ``You can do it.'' Lennon threw together his own group, including Eric Clapton, Alan White and Klaus Voorman, and called it the Plastic Ono Band. The group was so last-minute that they had to rehearse on the plane from London, a flight Lennon found nerve-wracking. The others on the Varsity bill didn't seem to mind. Clapton already knew one tune, ``Yer Blues,'' from having worked on it for the Beatles' White Album. He and Voorman had recorded ``Cold Turkey'' for the Plastic Ono Band single, which came out in October, 1969. And everyone knew the chord changes to ``Blue Suede Shoes'' and ``Money.'' Besides, why worry? They knew they were in John Lennon's band. As Voorman says, ``It didn't matter whether we were good or bad.'' But when Lennon made it on stage to play in front of some 20,000 fans, the panic on his face was clear. He knew he was on his own from then on. Of course, Ono was there, too, mostly hidden while on stage, shrouded by what appeared to be a giant, white pillow. Yet for all its impact on pop history, the day - ending at 1:45 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 14 - felt sullen. Rock revival shows had come and gone before. The novelty of seeing the veterans had worn thin. Around midnight, Morrison did his Lizard King sex-seduction number, practically slithering through ``Light My Fire'' with a mike in his hand. Speaking of snakes, Alice Cooper put in an appearance, too. But Lennon's presence - known quickly throughout the city - had injected a heavier meaning into what should have been one grand day of goofing off. He clearly was not Beatle John on stage, but a messianic bearded figure who was barely in charge of the chaos, as Ono would pop out from under her sheet to wail along beside him. When he got back to London, Lennon told the rest of The Beatles he wanted out. In the new Beatles Anthology, McCartney claims to have urged Lennon to consider giving the band one more try. ``I'd said, `I think we should go back to little gigs - I really think we're a great little band, we should find our basic roots, and then who knows what will happen. We may want to fold after that, or we may really think we've still got it.' ``John looked at me in the eye and said: `Well, I think you're daft. I wasn't going to tell you until we signed the Capitol deal, but I'm leaving the group.' We paled visibly and our jaws slackened a bit.'' The rest of the group waited several months, hoping Lennon might have a change of heart. Then, on April 10, 1970, McCartney made the split official by reading a statement to reporters. The following day, headlines around the world read: ``Paul quits Beatles.'' Six years in the making, the Beatles Anthology is touted as an ``ensemble autobiography'' designed to set the record straight on everything from internal tensions to drug taking. It is expected to puncture myths fostered by many of the nearly 400 Beatles titles already on the market. It will contain 1,200 mostly unpublished photographs, many from the personal collections of McCartney, Starr and Harrison, and it will retail for $115 Cdn. Ono, though not closely involved in the process, will share equally in the profits, the newspaper said.