By Gordon Smart, The Sun
THE Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge is a popular spot with A-list divas passing through London. Whitney Houston launched her comeback there while Britney Spears loves the opulence of the five figure- a-night suites. Another female solo artist – who has generated more albums than the two put together and far more controversy than all the other famous guests combined – barely turns a head when she books in for a few days. Yoko Ono is a fascinating creature. At 76 years young, she looks remarkably sprightly and fit when we meet. Her loyal assistant has left Yoko alone to entertain me. And that she did. As the 5ft singer beckons me over to join her on a huge coach, she slips off her shoes, crosses her legs and turns to face me. She is keen to talk about Oasis, who have just announced their split. She recalls how she invited Liam and Noel Gallagher to The Dakota mansion in New York where she lived with her late husband, Beatles star John Lennon. She says: “I really liked the fact that they were doing music that was positive. At the time there was a lot of grunge and they had a more positive outlook. We can’t have enough positivity.”It was a fitting introduction to her new album Between My Head And The Sky, released this week. A typically avant-garde collection, it was recorded in less than a week with her new Plastic Ono Band, based on the conceptual supergroup she formed with John in 1969. This time she teamed up with an eclectic band of musicians led by son Sean, pictured with her and John above. Here, Yoko explains how working with Sean keeps her creative hunger alive.
How would you describe this album?
It is like giving the map of my brain at this point.
You recorded the album so quickly, 16 songs in six days.. Was that an interesting way to work?
I wasn’t counting and I have a very relaxed attitude about it. People try to make an album of, say, rock or blues, and they cut a lot of things out and edit it but if you hear classical music you hear jingles, and that’s real life. I didn’t want to create an album less exciting than life itself.
Tell us about the new Plastic Ono Band
Sean asked me to do something at one of his shows in Tokyo. I got on the stage without rehearsing. My work is very difficult to play but I realised these musicians were following it so well and they were just smiling, rather than being intense. I thought, ‘These people are something else.’ Then I found out one of them, Cornelius, is actually a very famous Japanese artist and producer.
Was the album Sean’s Idea?
Yes, Sean said, ‘It’s about time you did an album, Mum.’ So I invited Cornelius and everyone to New York to record it at Sear Sound, the studio that used to be the old Hit Factory.
You and John recorded your album Double Fantasy there In 1980. What was it like to return there?
When I go into the studio to record, I’m just totally into the state of mind of music. I don’t care about sentimental nostalgia. I’m a very focused person.
You’ve won many awards, Including the Mojo Lifetime Achievement and Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion. What do they mean to you?
With Mojo I was very proud as they go for cutting edge. I don’t have another 50 years, so I’m getting more focused, because I really want to hammer it in.
How did you feel when I’m Not GettIng Enough gave you your fifth Billboard No1 this summer?
It was June that I got the two lifetime achievement awards, and I’m Not Getting Enough was No 1. I thought, ‘What’s going on?’
Will you keep performing live?
I would love to. When I did Meltdown this summer [London’s Southbank Centre festival], I was thinking we should have another night. The excitement is the same as in 1969 when I was trying to break the sound barrier for the music world’s benefit, because it was kind of asleep. I still really want to do it so maybe next year.
Where do you get all your energy?
I think it’s my love for it. I have so much love for what I do.
Explain the title Between My Head And The Sky?
Isn’t it great? Sean just said this was going to be the cover, so I said OK. And he said ‘Do you know what’s between your head and the sky?’ I said, ‘A hat.’ It was so funny.
What inspires you today?
Me and all the stuff I’ve experienced. Since I turned 70, each day I learn something, and then I think if I’d died ten years ago, I’d have died dumb, isn’t it amazing?
Did you feel like you hadn’t done enough ten years ago?
I haven’t done enough now. I like the idea of having a few more decades to really work on my creative work and understand about the world a bit more. It’s going to be fantastic. When John was trying to put the group together, only a few people could play guitar. Now there’s not one boy who can’t play guitar. The first revolution was started with John and it really spread. with the help of his three friends. They spread this music around the world, and now the next one is going to be covering the planet with music and art.
You went into the studio without having written anything, which takes confidence. Sean describes you as a tornado of inspiration.
Yes, I think most creative people and artists are narcissistic. Why would you put out something you don’t believe in? With this album, Sean and I started to get to know each other. I knew he was a good musician, but I didn’t know he was capable of being a music director and producer.
Did you ever disagree with Sean?
I try not to, as I don’t want to intimidate him, but we were on the same page. One of the things I’ve learned was he knows my work, I didn’t know that he did. I didn’t have that kind of motherly emotion at that point.