Journalist John McCarthy documents our Lennon story
By Scott Neil
Well-known journalist and former Lebanon hostage John McCarthy is visiting Bermuda this week to record a BBC Radio programme about the Island’s link with John Lennon.
Mr McCarthy and producer John Sugar are tracing the journey Mr Lennon took in 1980 when he sailed to the Island in a 43ft boat — encountering a powerful storm en route — and stayed for two months, working on and refining what became his final songs.
The half-hour programme will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four in the UK and worldwide on the BBC World Service later in November.
The sailing aspect of the story particularly interested Mr McCarthy, who also sails. In 1986, on his first foreign assignment as a broadcast journalist, he was kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists during the Lebanon hostage crises. During his five years in captivity he fantasised about escaping and sailing to freedom.
“I’ve always been fascinated by what it would be like to be out on the ocean in a huge storm,” he said.
He was therefore intrigued when he heard the story of Mr Lennon learning to sail and his subsequent encounter with a fierce Atlantic storm while journeying from Newport to Bermuda. He was also fascinated to hear of Mr Lennon’s Bermuda vacation and has visited locations where the musician spent time during the summer of 1980, including Undercliff, the house he rented in Fairylands.
“It has been wonderful to see the Botanical Gardens [where Mr Lennon often strolled] and to sit on the dock at Undercliff.”
Mr McCarthy and Mr Sugar have interviewed people who met Mr Lennon during his stay in Bermuda. Later this week they are travelling to the US to interview members of the crew who sailed to Bermuda with Mr Lennon and artist Nancy Gosnell who painted his portrait in Fairylands.
The idea for the radio documentary came when producer Mr Sugar ducked into a shop in Charing Cross, London, to escape the rain and saw a copy of the book ‘Lennon Bermuda’.
“I thought I knew everything about John Lennon, but I didn’t know about this story,” he said. He took the idea to the BBC and was given the green light to make the programme. He arrived on the Island in time to watch last Saturday’s Lennon Bermuda concert in the Botanical Gardens.
Mr Sugar and Mr McCarthy have collaborated on previous radio programmes. “John is an excellent travel writer and journalist and I needed someone who understands sailing [for the sailing part of the story],” he said.
Mr Sugar said it was a significant story that the late musician stayed in Bermuda for two months working on songs for ‘Double Fantasy’- the final album released during his lifetime — and the posthumous ‘Milk and Honey’.
The programme ‘Imagine John Lennon’s Bermuda Adventure’ will air on BBC Radio 4 in the UK on November 4, and on the BBC World Service early the same month.
* Demo recordings made by Mr Lennon in Bermuda will feature in a new interactive app to be released through the iTunes App Store on November 5.
Filmmaker Michael Epstein has chronicled the musician’s journey to Bermuda and time on the Island for the interactive album app ‘John Lennon: The Bermuda Tapes’.
Users will be able to navigate a stormy ocean to reach Bermuda and see places Mr Lennon visited while on the Island, including a disco, and also hear demos of songs he recorded in Bermuda, such as ‘Woman’, ‘Nobody Told Me’ and ‘I’m Losing You’.
Revenue from the app will go towards WhyHunger’s ‘Imagine There’s No Hunger’ campaign. The campaign, in partnership with Mr Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono and Hard Rock International, has helped communities grow enough food to provide over 7.2 million meals for children in 22 countries.
During regular phone calls from Mr Lennon in Bermuda to Ms Ono in New York, the couple collaborated musically to create the ‘Double Fantasy’ album. In a statement reported by the US-based Billboard music publication, Ms Ono said:
“Writing Double Fantasy was a very exciting time creatively for both John and me. I think the album app captures the sense of discovery and the artistic dialogue that John and I shared at that time and provides a new way to help us imagine a world without hunger.”
James King (1938-2019)
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