Lennon fans come together
By Margaret Chrystall
22 September, 2007
http://www.highland-news.co.uk/news/ful ... ether.html
YOU can't hear Julia Baird talking for long before you imagine the voice of her half-brother John Lennon in your head.
But for a long time after the former Beatle's death, Julia couldn't bear to listen to his music.
Even now, she finds it hard to hear recordings of him speaking: "Well-meaning people would give me tapes of interviews and things all the time out of kindness, but I still can't listen to his voice."
But next weekend, Julia will travel to the croft where John spent happy childhood summer holidays in Durness, to read both from his writing and also from the book she has written about her experience of growing up with John as her older brother back in Liverpool.
She is pleased to have been asked to do the readings as part of the first John Lennon Northern Lights Festival, along with her cousin Stan Parkes who lived in the family croft house for 11 years.
And though Julia made her own life, working as a special needs teacher until she retired back in 2004 to give herself the chance to write the book about John she had wanted to write for years.
These days, Julia is happy to attend a lot of events connected with The Beatles and her native Liverpool. She has just been taking part in Beatles Week in the city and is an ambassador for Liverpool in the year of culture that begins next year.
But she stands by the controversial statement she made years ago, that she wished John had never picked up a guitar and had never become a Beatle.
"I'd rather have John," she says, simply.
When John moved to America, most of his family back in Liverpool lost touch with him. None of them were invited to his funeral after the horrifically sudden shooting outside his home in New York.
"We lost touch. He lived in Liverpool till he was 23 and was still in and out of our lives and we were invited down to London to see him. But when he disappeared across the pond, he disappeared from all of us."
Julia has clear memories of John, though seven years older than her, he was always the big brother up to exciting things. None more so than when their mum, also Julia, took Julia and her sister Jackie to see their first Quarry Men gig.
"It was on the back of a coal lorry on Roseberry Street in Liverpool," recalled Julia.
The gig was part of a street party celebration for the 450th anniversary of the city receiving its Royal Charter.
The celebrations included a special trip for the Sunday school which Julia and sister Jackie attended.
"I remember we had been to the Sunday School outing and usually after things like that, we just went home and had a bath and went to bed. But my mother was there to pick us up. We thought we were just going home to go to bed, but instead we went back into town on the bus. When we got off, my mother said 'We'll just walk up this street till we find Roseberry Street'. And it was only years later that it occurred to me that she knew perfectly well where the street was, but she waited and let us go 'There it is!'.
"The band didn't perform for long, but I think John – who was well known for scrapping – got into a fight or something. Someone had called out 'Get Lennon!', but I know he had to come home with us on the bus, escorted by a policeman to the bus stop!"
Though Julia lost touch with John in the years before he died, he had begun to speak to her on the phone to get news of his relatives and Julia's own family.
In a letter to his cousin Liela, he had told her that he preferred Scotland to England and that he'd like to come home from America.
But his murder on December 8, 1980 meant he never did.
John's cousin Stan Parkes – who is hoping to attend the festival next week – remembers John talking about buying a Scottish country estate to renew his love of the Scottish Highlands.
"We spent 30 years growing up together," said Stan this week, from his home in Largs.
Stan's stepfather Robert Sutherland had inherited the family croft at Sango Bay near Durness, where Stan and his wife Jan went to live for 11 years before moving south to Largs.
"My mother and John's were two of the five Stanley sisters and we all spent our school holidays going around each of the sister's houses. I came up to Scotland with my mother and then they all began to come up to Scotland. It was a long journey. From Edinburgh to Durness then took about 10 hours.
"Me and John were very close and we had some wonderful times. He was always drawing and painting and trying out new ideas. On the album Walls And Bridges, there are drawings of horses that he did when he stayed with us in Edinburgh, where my stepfather had pictures of horses from his time breeding horses in South Africa.
"But I would stand up to him and I would say to him 'I remember you, holding your hand when you were walking around in short trousers!' But John was very down-to-earth."
When John became famous, Stan was included in the excitement in the early years.
"I remember when The Beatles were recording at Abbey Road, if we were staying with John we would go there with the other Beatles and John would get us to bang drums or clap. I'd joke 'I hope we are going to get royalties for this' and John would reply 'You'll be bloody lucky!'. He had an amazing sense of humour and loved to take the mickey out of people.
"But the recording was fascinating, to see how it was done. But because it is all done out of sequence, we never knew what songs 'our' bits ended up on!"
And Stan was privy to bits of information the Beatles' adoring public would have loved to know.
"I remember John saying to me that they had made a film, but they had changed the name to Help! and he had to write a new title song.
"'This is the demo disc – what do you think?' he asked me," said Stan. "I thought 'Fabulous!' and I remember listening to it driving all the way back from Edinburgh."
Stan was invited to the band's concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow and to events like the premiere of movie A Hard Day's Night.
Stan is looking forward to seeing John's original band The Quarry Men playing and to hearing a classical orchestra playing Beatles' music.
But he laughed: "My favourite music is the Glenn Miller band and I used to wind John up about Elvis Presley and say to him 'He's not a real musician, he's just a spiv. Glenn Miller is a great musician!'.
"John asked me to keep a record of what they were doing and asked me if I would start a scrapbook.
"I think they thought it would last about six months, but here I am 40 years later, still putting it together," laughed Stan and now there are films and videos and goodness knows what. A lot of the information out there is completely untrue and off the wall. A lot of it you just have to laugh at. My wife and I did an in-depth family research project, going to all the family places and taking photographs."
Now Stan has put together a series of pictures of the family which will go on show at next weekend's festival. He as invited to open a garden in Durness in 2002 in memory of John and his holidays there, and he is looking forward to taking part in the festival remembering his cousin.
"Me and Julia are going to be going to the old family croft to tell stories," revealed Stan.
* For more details about the first John Lennon Northern Lights Festival in Durness, from September 28 to 30, go to http://www.northhighlandscotland.com/festival or phone the festival office on 07740 067042.
* Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon by Julia Baird (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)