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Travel Report: Double Fantasy Exhibition, Liverpool.

Double Fantasy John and Yoko Exhibition Museum of Liverpool.

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

May 2019. No matter what time of year you come to Liverpool there’s virtually always a Beatles exhibition or three to compliment the city’s established Fab Four sites.

During my stay in the city, The Museum of Liverpool was hosting the outstanding Double Fantasy – John and Yoko Exhibition. It was the world’s first art space dedicated to the story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their own words, music, art and film.

Exterior Museum of Liverpool.

A sunny day in Liverpool.

The exhibition took up a whopping three quarters of the museum’s second floor. Having entered the building’s cavernous main hall, my friend Steppers and I took the stairs up to level two, full of anticipation. After all, we were both lifelong Beatles fans, while John had always been my favourite of the four. 

Welcome to the Museum of Liverpool.

Looking for John And Yoko.

At the entrance arch to the exhibition itself, we stopped for a moment to take in a collection of Yoko Ono’s Wish Trees, an art installation she began back in 1981. The idea is simple: make a wish, write it down on a piece of paper and tie it to a branch of the wish tree.

Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Wish Trees

Yoko’s trees.

These simple but pretty trees have travelled all over the world, from London, Dublin and Paris, to New York, San Francisco, Venice, Tokyo and Buenos Aires. According to Yoko, she’s never actually read any of the wishes. It’s a sign of respect, she says, for those who dare to bare their souls on her trees.

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

Wish trees Yoko Ono.

Make a wish.

I on the other hand certainly had no such qualms. In fact, I found it quite moving to leaf through the various messages. It was a gentle reminder that everyone has their troubles, hopes, wishes, dreams and regrets.

Double Fantasy Exhibition John and Yoko Liverpool

The Museum of Liverpool.

The Double Fantasy – John And Yoko Exhibition takes visitors through a chronological journey of their story. The narrative plays out in a beautifully presented space of archive photos, paintings, handwritten notes, sketches, video, replica rooms and personal items.

Double Fantasy Exhibition Liverpool.

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono met at London’s Indica Gallery on the 7th of November 1966. One of the first things we saw was a mockup of how it looked when John, the world famous rock star, came to see Unfinished Paintings and Objects, an exhibition by Yoko, a little known avant-garde artist.

Faced with a series of abstract (and very expensive) conceptual items, such as a ladder, some apples and a bag of nails, Lennon was initially unimpressed. So much so that he was heard whispering to a friend that the whole thing was “a con”.

Museum of Liverpool.

Yoko Ono 1966.

Yoko Ono with one of her conceptual apples, 1966.

However, John’s mood greatly improved when he climbed a ladder to read a tiny message that simply said “yes”. Lennon found this uplifting and felt moved to approach Yoko directly.

After a brief chat she offered him the opportunity to hammer a nail into her interactive piece, Painting to Hammer a Nail. It was an act that would cost The Beatle five shillings. But John wasn’t carrying cash, hence the two eventually agreed that he could “pay imaginary money to hammer an imaginary nail” into the painting.

The Indica Gallery in London.

When John met Yoko: The Indica Gallery in London.

“And that’s when we locked eyes. And she got it and I got it, and that was it” explained Lennon, speaking to Rolling Stone Magazine.

Two Virgins John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

Although they had kept in touch, it wasn’t until May 1968 that Lennon and Ono’s relationship deepened. With John’s wife Cynthia out of town, Yoko visited John’s Kenwood mansion in Surrey. Fuelled by a mutual fascination and (cough) certain stimulants, the two worked feverishly through the night to create their first album of music together.

The result was the highly experimental soundscapes of Unfinished Music Number 1: Two Virgins. After completing the recording, John and Yoko made love at dawn, cementing the relationship that would soon lead to Lennon’s divorce from his wife.

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

Unfinished Music No. 1 Two Virgins John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Two Virgins.

Even as huge of a Lennon fan, I have to admit that Two Virgins is a really tough listen. A thirty-minute onslaught of whistling, fragmented conversations and out-of-tune-piano bashing. Furthermore, Lennon screams on and off and Yoko throws in some of her trademark howling.

Standing there in the Double Fantasy Exhibition that day and for some reason I found myself remembering Cynthia Lennon’s account of walking in on her husband and Yoko the next morning. Detailed in her engaging autobiography John, she said she knew her marriage was over when she returned home to find them sitting on the floor wearing nothing but dressing gowns.

Original wedding outfits Double Fantasy John and Yoko Exhibition Liverpool

The wedding outfits.

After their Two Virgins night, Lennon and Ono became inseparable. A year later, on the 20th of March 1969, they tied the knot at The British Consulate in Gibraltar. Much to my delight, the exhibition showcases their original wedding outfits.

Pictured above is Yoko’s white crepe skirt, along with John’s creamy suit jacket. Unfortunately, the pair had a terrible time trying to arrange their wedding on British soil. John ended up writing a song about the ordeal, called The Ballad of John and Yoko.

Museum of Liverpool.

The Rock Hotel in Gibraltar.

The Rock Hotel in Liverpool.

In what felt like a huge revelation, I was looking through the accompanying wedding photos when I suddenly realised that I’d once walked past the hotel John and Yoko stayed in on their wedding night. They bedded down at The Rock Hotel, which I’d photographed as I strolled through Alameda Botanic Gardens during my visit to Gibraltar in 2017.

Bed Peace Double Fantasy John and Yoko Exhibition in Liverpool

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

John and Yoko followed up their low key wedding with an insanely high profile honeymoon period. Centre stage was their famous Bed-Ins for world peace, intended as non-violent protests against The Vietnam War. The first of these televised events took place at The Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, between the 25th and 31st of March 1969.

Montreal Bed-In bedspread Double Fantasy John and Yoko Exhibition Liverpool

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

The second bed-in played out in Montreal at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel between May the 26th and the 1st of June 1969. The exhibition displays the actual bedspread used during their stay. It also features John’s Gibson 1160-E acoustic guitar.

The duvet was specially designed for the occasion by the artist Christine Kemp. “There were we like two angels in bed, with flowers all around us. And peace and love in our heads. We were fully clothed, the bed was just an accessory”, said Lennon.

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

John Lennon's Green Card Double Fantasy Exhibition Liverpool

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

Next, I came across a corner dealing with Lennon’s well-documented US green card struggles. It focuses on his work as a political activist and the era of bitterness and paranoia that set in under the Nixon administration.

There was also an entire section dedicated to the negative media coverage on the couple. In addition to newspaper clippings and press quotes, there’s archive video footage of John and Yoko’s 1971 interview with Michael Parkinson. The segment clearly shows Lennon’s disgust at his wife’s treatment from fans and journalists.

May Pang American Music Executive.

May Pang.

There’s even a part on John’s infamous Lost Weekend, a period of personal crisis. On the verge of splitting up, Yoko suggested that John take some time away. Bizarrely, she even insisted he have an affair with their personal assistant, May Pang. The results were disastrous, with John slipping into a prolonged period of depression and alcoholism.

John Lennon's Lost Weekend Double Fantasy Exhibition in Liverpool

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

He partied with L.A. musicians and movie stars. One evening, John found himself ejected from The Troubadour nightclub after an altercation in March 1974. Ultimately, it was a lifestyle Lennon couldn’t sustain and eighteen months later he was back with Yoko.

Museum of Liverpool.

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to Woman

‘Woman’ by John Lennon.

Another highlight was the exhibition’s collection of handwritten lyrics. Yoko donated most of them personally, including the original scribblings for John’s 1980 hit single Woman.

Walking on Thin Ice handwritten lyrics Yoko Ono

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

I’ve never understood the hatred for Yoko. Not to mention the downright derision that most of her music receives. I’ve actually enjoyed several of Ono’s albums and thought she more than held her own on the duo’s final record, Double Fantasy. Of her songs from that album, my favourite has always been  Walking on Thin Ice. Thus it was cool to see those lyrics on display too.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono Rolling Stone Magazine cover

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

The late 1970s were the happiest years of John’s life. For the first time in decades he took an extended break from music and stepped out of the limelight. For a while life was about nothing more than domestic bliss with Yoko and their son Sean. Indeed some of the home video footage of the Lennons from this period shows just how content he was.

I liked the way the exhibition didn’t cover the events of the 8th of December 1980. Rather, you’re left with an image of a naked John wrapped around Yoko on his final morning. Annie Leibovitz took the shot for Rolling Stone Magazine. Later that day, Dave Sholin from RKO Radio came to conduct what turned out to be John Lennon’s final interview.

Double Fantasy – John & Yoko Exhibition, Liverpool.

Double Fantasy Exhibition Liverpool

John And Yoko.

The Double Fantasy – John And Yoko Exhibition ran at The Museum of Liverpool from the 18th of May 2018 to the 3rd of November 2019. It recently showed in Tokyo from October 2020 to January 2021.

Double Fantasy Exhibition Liverpool

For more on the greatest rock band in history, check out my other articles from The Beatles In Liverpool. Alternatively, have a read about my visit to Abbey Road in London. Maybe even check out my review of The White Album.

Like this? Check out more of my pieces from around Liverpool.

Or maybe search further afield with my articles from all around England.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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21 Comments

  • Little Miss Traveller

    How fortunate that you timed your Liverpool visit whilst the John and Yoko exhibition was taking place. Fascinating to learn about their life together and great to see your photo of the Rock Hotel where we spent the most wonderful week just before Christmas. Do look in next time you are in Gibraltar as the staff are very welcoming. Another excellent post Leighton. Hope you have a good day. Marion

    June 3, 2021 - 9:49 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, I do feel lucky to have seen this exhibition because, as far as I can tell, it has only had two limited runs: in Liverpool and Tokyo. Have a great week!

      June 3, 2021 - 11:58 am Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    What a great site to see. I would love to see that Exhibition John and Yoko.

    June 3, 2021 - 12:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully it will pop up in a third location sometime soon. Thanks for reading!

      June 3, 2021 - 12:26 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Wow Leighton, this is such a captivating story that unfolds in your post … you must have been extremely happy to see this exhibition.

    June 3, 2021 - 1:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, it was an exceptional exhibition on two fascinating characters. Yoko isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but she’s certainly a one-off. Thanks for reading as always!

      June 3, 2021 - 1:27 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    John and Yoko had a special relationship for sure, most unfortunate for Cynthia. The Wish tree is a very Japanese thing. Shinto temples have a similar tree where you can write down bad luck items, tie them to a pine tree and the tree negates the bad luck. John was always an explorer, so I am sure Yoko held great fascination for him. As to Yoko, people have blamed her for everything including splitting up the Beatles. I agree that much of her emusic is an acquired taste. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    June 3, 2021 - 2:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, I saw loads of wish trees in Japan, and plenty in China and Korea too. You do have to feel sorry for Cynthia, her autobiography is an interesting read. Indeed Yoko had very little to do with the Beatles splitting. Totally understand people not liking her music. I think some of it is great, particularly Walking on Thin Ice. Thanks for your thoughts Allan.

      June 3, 2021 - 3:03 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    So interesting to learn more about this dynamic duo and their life, love, and art that they created together. I also really appreciated how you included some of Cynthia and her story. My heart hurts for her and how she must of felt walking in and seeing them. Her autobiography I think would be really interesting to read.

    June 3, 2021 - 4:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Meg! Yes Cynthia and indeed their son Julia had a tough time of it. Sadly she passed away a few years back.

      June 3, 2021 - 4:42 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    What a fascinating exhibition! Although I’m not necessarily a massive fan of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (i.e. I’m indifferent), I can acknowledge their famous relationship and impact they’ve made on the world with their experimentation of music, art, and everything in between. Truly a unique display that I hope will return someday, if possible!

    June 4, 2021 - 5:26 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Rebecca. Hopefully it will return someday, somewhere… though I’m guessing this is at the whim of Ms. Ono. Who, I see, is now 88 years old!

      June 4, 2021 - 8:55 am Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative post. It would be fascinating to see this exhibit. I wonder if the relationship with Yoko was somehow related to John’s separation from his mother at an early age (if I have that right). At any rate, it is wonderful that he found happiness in his final years.

    June 4, 2021 - 9:35 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      There is most definitely a link between John’s relationship with Yoko and Julia’s premature death. In fact, he used to call Yoko “mother” in jest. Thanks for reading John!

      June 5, 2021 - 12:04 am Reply
  • Alison

    Interesting post. We did pop in briefly to this museum on our whistle stop tour of Liverpool but missed this section.

    June 5, 2021 - 4:28 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hopefully they’ll bring it back for a second run someday. Thanks for reading!

      June 5, 2021 - 8:57 am Reply
  • Memo

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post but you didn’t unbefuddle me completely about John and Yoko. The best I can come up with is that she was a muse who made John into her greatest work of conceptual art by helping him to become a conceptual musician instead of a Beatle – a great symbiotic relationship which is a fantastic way to describe marriage. Love how your pieces are so thought provoking.

    June 5, 2021 - 3:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Many thanks Memo.

      June 5, 2021 - 6:24 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    I saw many wish trees in Japan and left a few wishes of my own. Whether you like Yoko’s music and art or not, it’s undeniable that they had an intimate relationship that inspired many in the days of “peace and love” and that her creativity had a strong influence on his after-Beatles music. Thanks for sharing one more piece to the Beatles puzzle.

    June 6, 2021 - 6:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Couldn’t agree more Ruth, appreciate you taking the time to catch up with these pieces.

      June 6, 2021 - 6:58 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        My pleasure!

        June 6, 2021 - 7:24 pm

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