Strawberry Field celebrates 50th anniversary of ‘Imagine’
John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ piano is played by a student from Paul McCartney’s LIPA alongside the Liverpool Signing Choir and Julia Baird
2021 marks 50 years since the writing, recording and release of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, perhaps the greatest peace anthem of the 20th century. Strawberry Field, the latest addition to Beatles tourism and now open to the public, have commenced celebrations by inviting a student from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts to play the very piano on which John Lennon composed and recorded ‘Imagine’. The Liverpool Signing Choir, joined by Julia Baird, John Lennon’s sister and Major Kathy Versfeld, Mission Director of Strawberry Field accompanied the piano, signing the words to the inspirational song.
‘Imagine’ recording began at John Lennon’s home studio at Tittenhurst Park in Berkshire on 27th May 1971. Archive film footage from 1971 shows a relaxed John at the piano composing ‘Imagine’ before he turns to his keyboard player to remark: “That’s the one I like best.” The world-famous piano was toured by George Michael as a symbol of peace in the early 2000s and hasn’t been played in a performance since 2007. It is now on loan to the Strawberry Field exhibition, courtesy of the estate of the late George Michael.
Major Kathy Versfeld, Mission Director of Strawberry Field says:
“In October 2020 as we welcomed the piano into its new home here, we saw the impact that this fabulous piano had, not just on visitors to our exhibition but even further afield, across the entire city of Liverpool. At a time when there was so much fear and uncertainty around Covid-19, it was a beacon of hope, light at a dark time. As the country emerges from another lockdown, I hope people will be inspired by this performance to reimagine a better world in the here and now, where we are not divided by what we believe, or how we look, or where we live. One people, one planet, all of God’s creatures working together out of mutual respect and compassion. We live in hope!”
Joe Worthington, a student from Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) was invited to play the piano for this momentous occasion. He says:
“Being a student in Liverpool and at LIPA, The Beatles, their music, influence and legacy is ingrained in me. Playing Imagine, such an anthem of peace, on the piano that John Lennon wrote and recorded it on was brilliant. When I was asked to do it, I did a double take, I couldn’t process it. Still can’t! To sit where he once sat is quite emotional. It feels like I’m touching a piece of history, it’s like I’m a part of it.”
Alongside Joe, The Liverpool Signing Choir were asked to sign the lyrics to the song. A unique, city wide and inclusively diverse choir based in Liverpool, they have performed at events across Europe, notably, performing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Catherine Hegarty, leader of The Liverpool Signing Choir says:
“The Liverpool Signing Choir were honoured to be asked to take part in the 50th anniversary of Imagine. Strawberry Field is working hard to open people’s eyes, share understanding and break down barriers.”
John Lennon’s sister Julia Baird, who is Honorary President of Strawberry Field, was present with the choir and signed alongside them. She says:
“It was an honour and a privilege to sign this wonderful peace anthem with the Liverpool Signing Choir. We were accompanied by a LIPA musician, on John’s iconic Imagine piano, inside the Exhibition at Strawberry Field. A five star treat all round.”
The piano was delivered to Strawberry Field on 9th October 2020 to mark what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday. It was always George’s intention that the iconic musical instrument should be enjoyed by the people of John’s home city. “It’s not the type of thing that should be in storage somewhere or being protected, it should be seen by people,” said George to journalists at time of purchase. The upright Steinway piano, purchased by the singer-songwriter in 2000, is now one of the most valuable musical instruments in rock ’n’ roll history.
The ‘Imagine’ piano
· 27th May 2021 marks 50 years since Imagine recording started using this very piano.
· George Michael composed and recorded using this piano, which can be heard on the title song of his Patience album.
· This is an extremely rare occurrence – the piano was toured globally by George Michael as a symbol of peace in the early 2000s and it has not been played in a performance since 2007.
· it’s fitting that the piano should now take centre-stage at Strawberry Field where all funds raised by paying visitors to the exhibition will be used to help change the lives of those with learning difficulties.
· The piano has never before been placed in a location so steeped in John Lennon history.