Everything measures up on Lennon Bermuda CD

  • The cover of the 32-track 'Lennon Bermuda' CD

    The cover of the 32-track 'Lennon Bermuda' CD

  • The front page of the UK's New Musical Express in January 1978, during the height of the punk rock movement, which used an early picture of John Lennon and asked 'Where the hell are you John Lennon?' Mr Lennon wrote songs that would have fitted into the punk scene seven or eight years earlier, including 'Working Class Hero' and 'Gimmie Some Truth', which are among the cover versions featured on the 'Lennon Bermuda' CD.

    The front page of the UK's New Musical Express in January 1978, during the height of the punk rock movement, which used an early picture of John Lennon and asked 'Where the hell are you John Lennon?' Mr Lennon wrote songs that would have fitted into the punk scene seven or eight years earlier, including 'Working Class Hero' and 'Gimmie Some Truth', which are among the cover versions featured on the 'Lennon Bermuda' CD.

A remarkable CD of cover versions of songs written by John Lennon as a solo artist, and in partnership with fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, was released during the explosion of activity surrounding the Lennon Bermuda tribute concert last month.

The 32-track collection is now widely available across the Island, and an international version of the of the CD, featuring additional contributions from Bryan Ferry and Roy Young, is currently being prepared for global release.

Music lovers will find much to like in the ‘Lennon Bermuda’ double CD, which captures the raw energy and passion of Mr Lennon’s canon of work.

Featuring predominantly Bermudian artists, and Bermuda-linked performers, the ‘Lennon Bermuda’ CD maintains impressively consistent quality throughout.

Standout tracks include Christina Frith singing ‘Julia’. The song was written by Mr Lennon about his mother who was killed in a road accident when he was a teenager. Of all the vocal performances on the CD, Ms Frith’s perhaps resonates the most with delightful multi-tracked harmonies and the way in which, with seeming effortlessness, she varies her vocal pitch mid-song.

There has always been a haunting beauty to the song, but it is even more striking, and heart-wrenching, in the hands of Ms Frith.

‘Lennon Bermuda’ encompasses the full spectrum and many faceted lyrical journey of Mr Lennon’s career, including some of the songs he wrote and worked on during his two-month summer vacation in Bermuda in 1980.

For something forceful and uncompromising, look no further than Horrendous Menez (aka Paul Muggleton) on ‘Gimmie Some Truth’. Mr Muggleton’s vocals capture Mr Lennon’s controlled anger and together with some overdrive guitar give the song an almost punk rock edge.

Ironically, when the anti-establishment, punk and New Wave scene was in full swing, Mr Lennon was midway through his self-imposed five-year hiatus from the music business. His absence was noted, with one of the UK’s biggest selling music papers The New Musical Express asking on its front page in 1978 ‘Where the hell are you John Lennon?’

The Horrendous Mendez track, together with a paired down version of ‘Working Class Hero’ by Bermuda’s Paper Cutouts, are reminders that Mr Lennon was realising songs in the early 1970s that could easily have held their own in the punk era at the end of that decade.

International stars Maxi Priest, Biggie Irie and Judie Tzuke all come up to scratch with their contributions to the CD.

There is a jaunty, reggae-pop feel to Mr Priest’s version of ‘All My Loving’, skilfully brought up to date by the combination of Mr Priest and the multi-talented musicianship of Livingston Brown and the signature saxophone flourishes of Fitzroy Minnott.

Mr Irie maintains the Caribbean flavour with a reggae-influenced ‘Woman’ one of Mr Lennon’s greatest love songs, which he composed while in Bermuda. During one of his final interviews, Mr Lennon spoke of his appreciation of reggae and the Caribbean musical influences he came across in his adopted hometown New York City. It would have been fascinating to know Mr Lennon’s reaction to Mr Irie’s soaring, and respectful interpretation of ‘Woman’.

Judie Tzuke, another famed songbird from the pop charts, delivers a charming version of an earlier love song by Mr Lennon, the plaintive ‘Love’. Adorned with piano accompaniment from producer Paul Mugglestobn and Tim Deal, the song soars thanks to Ms Tzuke’s graceful touch.

However, the CD is missing something ... dud tracks. Look as hard as you like, play it as many times as you like, you’ll be pushed to find anything that doesn’t measure up.

The pulsating, beating heart of the album is the locally recorded ‘All You Need is Love’. With a chorus of Island-based singers it has a number of featured singers that include Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert, Gita Blakeney, Ed Christopher, Francesca Dill and Will Black. The collective is called ‘The Love Singers’ and there is a tangible feeling of love and fun emanating from this track, which was skilfully produced by Felix Tod.

Top marks are equally due to Christina Frith’s brother Jonathan Frith, who tackled Mr Lennon’s ballad to son Sean, ‘Beautiful Boy’, and preserves the gentle mood of the original. The song was one those Mr Lennon wrote in Bermuda.

Spellbounding on ‘Norwegian Wood’ is a third member of Frith family, songbird Heather Nova. She honours the magic and mystery of the Beatles’ original, with an ethereal quality to her voice and some faultless, understated acoustic guitar work.

The CD’s opening track is ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ from Mr Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. The song was the track the couple were working on the fateful December 1980 night Mr Lennon was shot and killed outside their Manhattan apartment. Reworked and remixed by Tim Deal, the track defies its 32 years and seems as up-to-the-minute as anything to be found in present day clubland. There is a hint of the DNA pumping beat that served the remixed version of Suzanne Vega’s ‘Tom’s Diner’ so well in the 90s.

One of the collection’s most pleasant surprises is ‘Real Love’ by Bermuda’s Broadway star Rebecca Faulkenberry. This duet features Nic Christopher and compares favourable with the Beatles own version. The song was another of those Mr Lennon was working on while in Bermuda and, as a recording, did not get beyond being a rudimentary demo recording.

In 1995, with the blessing of Ms Ono, the surviving Beatles got together to finish the song, playing along to Mr Lennon’s home-recorded piano and singing. As good as the Beatles’ collaborative effort was (it reached the Top 5 in the UK pop charts), Ms Faulkenberry and Mr Christopher have benefited from starting from scratch and shaping the lyrics and music more wholesomingly than was possible for Messers Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1995.

Again, producer Mr Tod is to be commended for his influence on this track.

Uzimon’s ska/reggae delivery lifts ‘New York City’ and places it up among the best on the CD. He delivers the lyrics with great clarity and highlights the songs sense of fun and verve.

What to say about ‘I’m Losing You’ by K Gabrielle? It perfectly presents a moment of anguish from Mr Lennon’s heavily Bermuda-influenced ‘Double Fantasy’ album. Ms Gabrielle has a powerful singing style, but more than this, her interpretation of the song is spot on she feels the song’s genesis and she passes that on in no uncertain terms.

Joy T Barnum is one of Bermuda’s greatest present day voices. Take one listen to her version of ‘Mind Games’ and you will know why. Blessed with a great vocal range, Ms Barnum masterfully picks out the nuances of this classic track.

The harmonious Bailey and Tullula Tzuke wrap ‘Oh My Love’ in a heavenly aura, while McCartney K is equally enthralling on ‘Grow Old With Me’, a track that would surely have been among Mr Lennon’s greatest had he lived long enough to complete a final version.

Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist Nils Lofgren and Bermudian drummer Andy Newmark — who played on Mr Lennon’s final albums, combine to create one of the CD’s signature tracks ‘Any Time At All’. The 1960s pop varnish of the original is given a harder edge, with almost an industrial feel in places. In the hands of time-honoured veterans of Mr Lofgren and Mr Newmark’s class it works, and brings the Beatles’ classic right up to date.

The drumming of Mr Newmark can be found on many of the CD’s other tracks, including Paul Carrack’s lilting ‘Girl’.

Errol Reid gives just the right amount of bright swing to ‘Borrowed Time’, with Maxi Priest listed among the percussionists providing backing.

Rachel Brown is another standout artist, contributing a delightful version of ‘Watching the Wheels’.

Other highlights are Victor Chambray’s rendition of ‘Across the Universe’, Michael Cacy’s ‘Crippled Inside’, Chewstick’s ‘Power to the People’, and Bailey Outerbridge’s ‘Revolution’.

Listen out also for Rocky & The Natives ‘Tight As’, Soda’s ‘God’, Two Guitars ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’, Phil Morrison’s ‘Lucy in the Sky’, Robert ‘Sai’ Emery’s ‘Imagine’, Mia Chambray’s powerful version of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and Steve Easton’s ‘Bless You’.

The ‘Lennon Bermuda’ CD costs $20 and can be bought from a variety of retailers across the Island, including Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, Music Box, Gorhams and Freisenbruch-Myer.

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Published Oct 25, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm)

Everything measures up on Lennon Bermuda CD

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