Last week Japanorama’s Alfie Goodrich received a call from the BBC, to shoot some stills for a story they were doing about Yoko Ono’s annual ‘Dream Power’ fund-raising concert. The job took Alfie on a trip down Beatles memory-lane, from a Beatles tribute band in Roppongi, via Yoko’s hotel room to the John Lennon Museum in Saitama.
Life as a freelance photographer has its ups and downs. There are the weeks when nothing much seems to be happening; the weeks where lots of little jobs are happening when it can be difficult to get one’s teeth into any one thing. Then there are the weeks when that dream job drops out of the blue and when you suddenly find yourself in places and with people you just couldn’t have imagined would be in front of your camera. Last week was one such week and ‘imagine’ is a very appropriate word for the whole episode, seeing as the person at the centre of the BBC story I was to be helping with was none other than Yoko Ono-Lennon.
In Japan for one month, partly to promote and appear at the annual ‘Dream Power’ fund-raising concert that she started eight years ago, Yoko Ono was to be featured by the BBC in a story that was to take a look at how the memory of The Beatles and John Lennon in particular was being kept very much alive in Japan.
My job for the BBC started with a gig by Beatles tribute band, ‘Shirokuma Company’ who are one of the regular bands at The Cavern Club in Roppongi, a splendid little club just five minutes walk from Roppongi Crossing. The band were superb; four Beatles fanatics who, if you were to speak with them, couldn’t string more than a few words together in English but who sang – spread over four sets – more than twenty Beatles classics [and a few obscure tunes] so well and with immense feeling. It’s always great to see a band who are enjoying themselves on stage like these guys were. I would fully recommend a visit to The Cavern in Roppongi and be sure to make it along when Shirokuma Company are playing.
The following lunchtime was the main event; Meeting Yoko Ono at her hotel. The BBC film crew were filming an interview with her for about 15-20 minutes, to be used for TV and for the BBC News website. We arrived early and lighting-cameraman, Jeff, got busy setting up his lights. Half an hour or so later Yoko came in and I was able to sit through the interview in the same room, waiting for my turn to shoot the stills.
The BBC’s Duncan Bartlett was keen to tease out of Yoko memories that she had of trips to Japan that she and John Lennon had made together, which he did to wonderful effect; Ono-san offered up some lovely pictures of the two of them here in Japan, of happy times down on the coast, of the surprise John Lennon had at the enthusiastic but very polite response of the crowd at the end of The Beatle’s 1966 Budokan gig and – something I had never known – of John’s eagerness to learn Japanese. All in all a superb interview which, if you go to the BBC website, you will be able to watch. Links at the bottom of this page.
So, my turn! I once had the priviledge of taking a photograph of Joe Strummer backstage at Glastonbury, at which time he had said to me: “Right mate, you got 60 seconds to take this shot as I’ve gotta be somewhere else….”. This shot of Yoko was to be much the same.
I said hello, introduced myself, she asked what I wanted her to do and where I wanted her to look. The setup was really simple as all the lights were already in place for the TV interview.
“No need to move anywhere,’ I said, ‘just stay there on the sofa, you look nice and comfortable and all I would like you to do, please, is to look up at me so I can get the light over the top of your sunglasses and nicely into your eyes.”
Snap, snap, twenty frames and that was it: job done. Sixty more seconds with another legend of the music world. But, boy, what a moment. Not one I will ever forget…. and I have the ‘Imagine Peace’ badge she gave me [along with the photos, of course] to prove it was real!
After we left Yoko’s hotel, we trained it out to Saitama to shoot pictures in the John Lennon Museum, a place I had heard of but never visited. Just next to Omiya station, in the Saitama Arena, the Museum is not enormous but beautifully arranged inside and by the time you have walked through, you really feel like you have made a journey through Lennon and Ono’s lives. I have heard some criticism of the place; it’s expensive, one person said, with others saying that it was small and unimpressive. I must admit I didn’t pay to go in, so I can’t comment on the cost or value for money. But it has an impressive collection of Lennon’s belongings – lots of absolutely classic pieces amongst them – and I found the way that they had put it together very refreshing. Well worth a visit I would say. For Lennon fans, it’s on the ‘must-visit’ list.
As we left the museum there were people quietly standing by the memorial set up each year around the anniversary of John’s assasination in New York. A couple were quietly looking at the tributes; a young lady gently laid flowers on the memorial; two high-school children were looking at the photo-wall. It was peaceful and respectful and made me think that for many people in Japan, Lennon was regarded – especially because of his marriage to Yoko – as their most special English friend. A friend they still truly miss.
As for my part in it all? The BBC didnt construct the planned gallery of photos, which was a shame. They did use three in the news article they made though. But, you can see all the other images I shot in the gallery below. Enjoy. I did.
Photos of Yoko Ono in Japan, Tokyo’s John Lennon Museum & Beatles Tribute Band, The Cavern Club Roppongi: all photos copyright Alfie Goodrich. These shots are all available for sale via Nippon News.