Statue planned to remember John Lennon
Thirty-one years ago a British musician was touring the Botanical Gardens when he came upon a particularly beautiful freesia. He was so inspired by the beauty of the flower he named an album after it.
The album was called ‘Double Fantasy’, and the songwriter was the legendary John Lennon of The Beatles fame.
Next year, the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary by erecting a statue honouring Mr Lennon on their premises at the Botanical Gardens.
The statue is being designed by local artist Graham Foster and has been approved by John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and his son, Julian.
Tom Butterfield and Elise Outerbridge of Masterworks are working in conjunction with musician Tony Brannon, who spotted Mr Lennon in a nightclub in Bermuda when he visited in 1980.
“We are all thrilled with the nature of the project,” said Mr Butterfield. “The outcome of this will be big. As I envision it, in some small way, it will reinvigorate tourism and Bermuda’s image.
“It is going to help big time. We are delighted that Yoko Ono has taken an interest in this. Tony Brannon’s energy has just hit a high gear like you can’t believe and made it all happen.”
Ms Outerbridge said bringing John Lennon to Masterworks involved a three-pronged process.
“The first part is the statue which will be in front of Masterworks,” said Ms Outerbridge. “It will be cut steel. The second prong is that Tom has been in touch with the lady who sells the John Lennon lithographs.
“Those will be on sale in the Rick Faries gallery during the time. The third prong is that Michael Freisenbruch and Tony Brannon are putting together a cover CD of songs by John Lennon done by local musicians.”
Mr Brannon said the CD should hold worldwide appeal.
“I hope to take this to the next level,” said Mr Brannon. “This should have a wider sale value than just Bermuda. We should be able to market the CD internationally.”
Masterworks hopes to unveil the statue at a special ceremony on June 21 as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. They are hoping to hold a concert on that day, but they have not yet fully worked out the details.
“It is very appropriate because John Lennon was inspired by Bermuda,” said Mr Brannon. “Yoko and her lawyer thought June would also be appropriate because he wrote the songs in June when he was in Bermuda. That would be the time that would make sense.”
Mr Brannon said Mr Lennon sailed to Bermuda in 1980 on a chartered yacht The Megan Jaye with five other people.
His youngest son, Sean, then a small child, flew here with Mr Lennon’s personal assistant Frederic Seaman. Mr Lennon rented a house in Fairylands, Pembroke called ‘Undercliff’, and stayed for a number of weeks.
Mr Brannon’s near brush with Mr Lennon happened one night at the now defunct Forty Thieves Night Club in Hamilton.
“I saw him that night, but no-one knew he was on the Island, so I thought it was probably someone else,” said Mr Brannon. “But The Royal Gazette and Mid-Ocean News journalists Gerry Hunt and Mark Graham spotted him. Mr Hunt was chief reporter at The Royal Gazette at one time and later deputy foreign editor at The Daily Mail for years.
“They cornered him in the bar and chatted with him for over an hour. They were saying things to him like ‘what have you been up to? You haven’t been making any money. You’ve been lazy and people want to hear from you’, because John Lennon hadn’t produced any songs for a long time.
“As all this conversation and chat was going on, the spinning lights or ‘wheels’ in Disco Forty were spinning. He went home and wrote his first song that night that started 25 other songs.
“It was called ‘Watching the Wheels’. The words were: ‘People think I’m crazy, dreaming my life away, they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me’. That was all inspired by Gerry Hunt and Mark Graham.”
Mr Brannon later befriended Mr Lennon’s assistant, Mr Seaman, who returned to Disco Forty many times.
Mr Brannon kept telling Mr Seaman that Mr Lennon needed to come back to Disco Forty, but Mr Lennon was too busy writing songs.
He released his album ‘Double Fantasy’ in November, 1980. Andy Newmark, who had a Bermudian mother, was the sole drummer on the album. Mr Lennon was killed on December 8, 1980.
Mr Butterfield said they had been thinking about doing a tribute to Mr Lennon since before the Masterworks Museum was even built at the Botanical Gardens.
“I think sometimes the stars realign themselves,” said Mr Butterfield. “Making a tribute to Mr Lennon was probably in Tony’s mind for some time, and it has certainly been on our minds.
“When we moved on to the property, Elise and I were pinching ourselves talking about it. We went to the Mid-Ocean News and drummed up a press release saying we’d like to do something in his memory.
“At that time we got pushed back because Lennon wasn’t a Bermudian singer. So we decided to build a museum first and then come back to this.”
They first considered a bronze statue of John Lennon, but the idea was vetoed by Mr Lennon’s son, Julian, and Yoko Ono.
“I put the idea to him, and he came back to me and said the last thing he wanted to see was another bronze statue of his dad,” said Mr Brannon. “He said ‘I haven’t seen a decent one yet. Plant a tree, do whatever you want to do, but don’t put up another bronze statue of my father’.
“A similar answer came back from Yoko Ono, who oversees the John Lennon estate. We could have put up whatever we wanted, but the whole point is to really take it to the best level you can get it.”
Mr Foster is a painter and sculpture who won the Masterworks Charman prize a few years ago. He has also done album covers for artists in England. “He is a fitting choice,” said Mr Brannon.
The proposed statue is round and includes icons of the freesias that inspired Mr Lennon’s album, and his profile.
Masterworks is still seeking funding for the statue, but Mr Butterfield said the cost of it will be a “manageable amount”.