A Brief History Of The Unreleased ‘Kenwood Tapes’
Recorded By John Lennon In His Attic Home Studio, Weybridge, Surrey, 1967
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THE ATTIC STUDIO ‘KENWOOD’
Beatle John Lennon bought his home ‘Kenwood’ on July 15, 1964, on the advice of The Beatles’ accountants, Dr. Walter Strach, and James Isherwood. Cliff Richard and Tom Jones had earlier bought homes on the St. George’s Hill estate. Though reportedly not liking Kenwood (describing it as a “stopover” on the way to something better) Lennon spent twice the original £20,000 ($40,588) (£257,200 today) purchase price on renovations, reducing its 22 rooms to 17, landscaping the grounds and building an outdoor swimming pool. Much of the initial decoration was left to interior designer Kenneth Partridge, whom Lennon employed after being impressed by his design work at a lavish party held by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein to celebrate the Beatles’ departure for their first tour of the USA. However, when Partridge had completed his work, Lennon and then-wife Cynthia immediately made a number of further alterations which better reflected their taste. Cynthia’s mother was given an allowance to fill the shelves of the house with antiques and antiquarian books, and a heavy sliding wooden door was installed at the gate entrance to keep out fans.
Kenwood has 3 floors: on the ground floor during the Lennon period the front door opened onto an entrance hall, where
Lennon placed a suit of armor and a gorilla suit. Across the hall was a large living room, which had black carpets, two 18-foot sofas and a marble fireplace. To the left of the hall was a toilet, and through the living room was a dining room, where purple, velvet wallpaper was put up. Adjacent to the dining room, at the back of the house, was a small sunroom. This was decorated with various pictures, caricatures and stickers, such as the one from the Safe as Milk debut album (1967) by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, and one advertising the Monterey Pop Festival. Photos published by The Beatles Book Monthly show the shelves of the sunroom filled with articles such as a large, ornate cross, a Mickey Mouse doll and a mortar and pestle, reportedly used by Lennon to mix various combinations of cocaine, amphetamine, barbiturates and LSD There was also a yellow sofa or chaise-longue upon which Lennon would spend much of his time. It was a present from his aunt, Elizabeth Sutherland (née Stanley) also known as Mater. Behind the sunroom was the split-level kitchen where state-of-the-art appliances were installed, so complex that a tutor had to come and give the Lennon’s lessons in their use.
Completing the ground floor was a smaller lounge, and a games room. The main staircase to the upper floors was situated in the entrance hall. The house had 6 bedrooms, with 5 on the first floor. The giant master bedroom featured a huge double bed, white carpets and an en-suite bathroom complete with sunken bathtub, shower, Jacuzzi and ‘his and hers’ wash basins. Lennon wanted the guest bedrooms to contain works of art by students of the Liverpool Art College. In particular, two drawings by former Beatles’ bassist Stuart Sutcliffe were hung, for what Lennon described as “sentimental reasons”. The first floor also had a study. On the top floor was the attic, which Lennon claimed as his own, painting the ceiling one bright color, then changing to another when the paint ran out, and installing most of his musical equipment there. John originally used the space as a painter’s studio but then reinvented it as his home recording studio. For as a time Lennon’s errant father Fred and his young wife Pauline occupied the guest room.
Lennon did much of his now iconic songwriting in the attic, where he had several German Studer tape recorders. Little was done with them until Paul McCartney and an engineer from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios came over and helped re-install them in sequence, sooverdubs could be made. Lennon could thus record his own double tracked song demos. The attic also contained a mellotron, anelectric organ, a piano, a Vox AC30 and several guitars, all of which were used when songwriting. Aside from the mini-studio, the attic contained 2 other rooms – a small guest bedroom and a games room used for recreation. Lennon filled it with three full sets of the model car racing game, Scalextric.
The mellotron is an electronic synthesizer than was a forerunner to the famous Moog synthesizer of the late 1960’s (developed in Lockport, New York by one Mr. Moog). John had one of the first made installed in his attic music room in Kenwood, along with multiple reel-to-reel tape machines and other state-of-the-art gadgetry that allowed him to doodle for hours, making up various pieces. Many ideas and techniques first experimented with in John’s home studio ended up on finished Beatles recordings most notably, early “Strawberry Fields Forever” home demos. Some of the incidental music heard in the Magical Mystery Tour film were recorded there, too.
THE ‘KENWOOD’ ‘MIND MOVIE’ TAPES
The tapes currently on offer are some of the many private home recordings John Lennon made here during his extended LSD period between 1966 and 1969. These particular recordings were made in late 1966. Along with the occasional collaboration of friends Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Star and, most notably, Beatles aid Terry Doran, Lennon made these long lost, unreleased historic tapes for his own private use and experimentation. In early 1969 Lennon gave the one and only master to his close friend and Apple promotional manager Derek Wyn Taylor. In these extraordinary tapes we see Lennon the actor, comedian, alchemist, eccentric composer, LSD disciple and unabashed loon. Here he unwinds his mind to become a host of strange characters with the obvious goal of pleasing only himself. A kind of fractured audio diary of the man behind the Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Lennon reveals himself and his private passion for characterization, improvisational comedy and acting as never before. We see Lennon now the quirky avantgardest and psychedelic humorist spewing forth numerous characters inspired, one suspects, by a potent mix of various drugs including, LSD, hashish, mescaline and god knows what else. Many of John’s ‘comic kits’ often featured tape loops and synthesized sounds these tapes however, for the most part do not. Commercially much of the spirit of the inspired lunacy of Lennon’s secret spoken word tapes eventually made their way on to such Beatles songs as ‘You Know My Name Look Up The Number’,‘Revolution #9’, ‘What A Shame Maryjane’, The Beatles Christmas LP, among others. Examples of solo Lennon releases which drew from this well spring of animated characters created by the pop genius are ‘Once upon a Pool Table’ and ‘Serve Yourself’ (recorded near the end of John’s life). Lennon later named the tapes he made in this offbeat style ‘mind movies’. Derek Taylor has stated that for a time Lennon considered editing these tapes together (see handwritten song list included in this lot) for possible release in conjunction with ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. The idea was to re-record them at EMI Studios and mix them together with sound effects to enlarge the Sgt. Pepper ‘live show’ concept to include Lennon’s semi-vaudevillian comedy act. Plans were quickly scrapped and the tapes lay forgotten for decades. One can draw parallels from Lennon’s wild Weybridge recordings to Lewis Carrol, Dylan Thomas, the Goon Show, Vivian Stanshall and the anarchic Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and others of a similar mindset. Although John drew from the same well as his historical peers, whatever he took he magically transformed and forever made his own. Lennon’s great time tested music was but the tip of the iceberg of this certified genius. If you really want to understand this singular, complex soul then you must also look to his only rarely heard comedic/avantgarde/poetic/mad home recordings in order to enter into the vast sphere of the man’s almost Shakespearian manipulation of words.
ENTER YOKO ONO
In was in this attic studio space that Lennon made his first recording with his future second wife Japanese composer and conceptual artist Yoko Ono in May 1968.. John’s wife Cynthia had gone on vacation to Greece, leaving Lennon at Kenwood with his boyhood friend Pete Shotton. After several days of taking LSD and smoking marijuana, Lennon convened a meeting at the Beatles’ business HQ to inform the others that he felt he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Later that day he phoned Ono, whose own husband Tony (Anthony Cox) was in Paris on business, and invited her to Kenwood. Shotton left the two alone, whereupon Lennon invited Ono (who had also taken LSD) up to the attic to hear his experimental recordings (including the ‘Kenwood’ tapes). For the rest of the night, the two collaborated on what became the Two Virgins album, and then “made love at dawn”, according to Lennon. Cynthia returned early from her vacation, and discovered Lennon and Ono sitting cross-legged on the floor and staring intently into each other’s eyes (Ono was wearing one of Cynthia’s bathrobes). In a state of shock, Cynthia then left to stay with friends for a few days, although John and Cynthia were reconciled for a time upon her return to Kenwood. It was during Cynthia’s next holiday in Italy that Lennon and Ono finally entered into a permanent relationship, and John asked for a divorce. Cynthia, together with Julian and her mother, moved back into Kenwood for the summer, where Paul McCartney visited her to offer his support. On the journey to Kenwood he composed the song, ‘Hey Jude’, which eventually became The Beatles’ biggest selling single. Lennon and Ono, meanwhile, were without a permanent address for a time. They stayed with McCartney at his house in Cavendish Avenue (where it is alleged that a further breach occurred in the Lennon/McCartney relationship when Lennon discovered a derogatory note written by McCartney) and withPeter Brown, and then Neil Aspinall, before moving into an apartment leased by Starr at Montagu Square in London. They were evicted from this flat by the owner following a raid by the drug squad on 18 October 1968, and subsequent November trial, and so moved back into Kenwood for a short time, which had been vacated by Cynthia. In the new year the Ono/Lennon moved into the Dorchester Hotel in London, leaving Kenwood for the last time.
THE TAPES MOVE ON
In the early 1980’s Derek Taylor quietly passed on several items from his mountain of precious Beatles memorabilia to friends. One prominent Beatles related personality purchased ‘the Kenwood Tapes’ from Taylor in Henley–On-Thames, Oxfordshire for an undisclosed, but hefty sum. Derek made this individual promise to never reveal their sale or release them until well after his death. That promise has been well kept as Taylor died from cancer on September 8, 1997. Unreleased in any part or form from the time they were made by Lennon decades ago the sole and only copy remarkable tapes are not up for commercial sale.
TRACK LISTING FROM ORGINAL LENNON TAPE LOG
• Trousers Off (Harris Tweed)
• Stoned Ringo In The Parlor (with Ringo Starr)
• Don’t Be Stupid Mam, I’m A Christian
• Radio Oxfam (with Terry Doran)
• Morning Shave, Weybridge, Surrey
• A Nice Little Trick
• Here’s The Harp (Inlay Of The Room)
• Lord & Lady Pimple & The Saga Of Sir Starchy (with Ringo Starr)
• An Abbey Road Slash (with The Beatles)
• A Slight Interjection
• When Dimlery Was King (The Running Doctor with Arnold of Eden)
• A Faint Resemblance
• The Shipping Strike (with Ringo Starr)
• Radio Play #2 (The Not So Amazing Mr. Williamson)
Date Of Recording: Late 1966 and possibly early 1967
Lot: The Tape, History, COA
Background & History Of Original Audio Recording
CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY
December 12, 2008
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
Re: John Lennon / Mind Movies (The Kenwood Tapes) Circa 1967
This is to certify and formally attest that the audio recording known as ‘JOHN LENNON / MIND MOVIES (THE KENWOD TAPES)’ is a wholly unreleased late 1966 recording project by the renowned artist. I further warrant that this is the original and only copy in existence (with the exception of the enclosed CDR listening copy). No copies whatsoever have been retained and the only digital copy created to make the CDR was personally deleted by myself following burning the aforementioned CDR.
This original, unreleased recording was created by John Lennon in Weybridge, Surey at his ‘Kenwood home. The recording of these tapes were produced by, engineered and feature John Lennon (and also the other Beatles). He recorded them in the third floor attic art studio he had constructed in his suburban estate. He did so after engaging audio professionals from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios to hook up several German made two track reel- to- reel tape recorders so he could work on private recording projects such as this. He later recorded the infamous ‘Two Virgins’ LP with Yoko Ono in the same studio. This tape comes from the private collection of the late Beatles Apple Corps Press Officer, Derek W. Taylor. Taylor told the original buyer that Lennon meant to record and release this as a companion piece to the seminal ‘Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band’ LP but the idea was scraped. The Beatle also admitted that both he and Ringo Starr were under the influence of LSD and Mescaline during the projects extended sessions.
I hereby declare that all of the above is true and correct in every regard and detail.
Susanna Rachel Nunn Esq.
Audio Archivist & Curator