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December 9th, actually

...and not 30 years, but 29. Angie Sammons on Liverpool and the rites-of-passage day we discovered Lennon had died

Written by . Published on December 7th 2010.

December 9th, actually

THE last thing I remember hearing on the night of December 8, 1980, was John Lennon's voice.

The moderately selling 1975 single, Imagine, became a multi-million selling global anthem, unpopular wife Yoko became an honorary scouser and Mathew Street became a festival

It was jumping and juddering. I was playing the new album, Double Fantasy, for the first time, having just bought it for my friend on her birthday. But there it was, a deep cut in the vinyl, right on the outer edge of the grooves, blighting the opening, optimistic track, (Just Like) Starting Over.

Never mind, it would go back to WH Smith's tomorrow, after school.

The next thing I remember hearing was my mother telling me that John Lennon was dead. It was the first light of a dark, freezing day.

Now there she was, my mother, the messenger, standing over me and nervously delivering the blow that would break my heart.

I didn't go to school. Nobody would have expected me to.

I took the 10 bus straight back into town to exchange my record. More optimism. “We'll be selling a lot of them now,” chirped the girl in the then well-stocked record department of the Church St store.

"Every cloud!" I might have quipped back on another day.

Instead, I wondered “How could she?”, as the weak winter sunshine emerged and I walked around, in a daze, to Mathew Street, an ignored, dusty alley of fruit warehouses punctuated only by a splodge of tarmac that had spread itself thickly, like treacle, over the forgotten cellar that had been, before I was born, “the place where it all began”.

With the Liverpool School of Language Music, Dream and Pun at one end and a wine merchants flanking the other, there was little clue that this was, in some way, hallowed ground. The old red and yellow Cavern Club sign hung perilously from an empty building opposite, and an Arthur Dooley sculpture “Four lads who shook the world” resided high above the door of Eric's: land of the living and teenage kicking where The Clash would turn up and sing about phoney Beatlemania that had bitten the dust.

Another sculpture, further down the road, was way more relevant to the Zeitgeist of the minute. A bust of Carl Jung. Liverpool was the pool of life, it said. Only then, nobody knew it.

It was about four in the afternoon, and dark, before slumbering Liverpool woke up to the fact that one of its most famous exports had today stopped the world. There would be no texts or tweets to alert them. No media analysis. There was only one shock therapy: wall to wall Beatles on the radio and the prospect of Tony Wilson being vaguely sarcastic about the events of the day on Granada Reports.

Meanwhile, the forgotten Mathew Street was flashing on the world's analogue news radar, rammed, by now, with TV crews. I watched as another of my 14-year-old mates earned her place in Beatles history by being interviewed for and quoted in the splash on the broadsheet Echo. It would become its most famous Page One, framed and hanging in the editor's office to this day.

Embarrassingly, I ended up blubbing and chain-smoking in the Kensington family home of another school friend whose big brother, Mark McGann, would go on to become an actor and play Lennon, at the Everyman, to great acclaim, and all in the space of the next 12 months. An unthinkable premise at the time. The Beatles, until this point, were so yesterday, in every sense.

There was the grim and strange vigil at St George's Plateau the following Sunday (the feeling was “somebody has to do something”), the pounding drums of Give Peace A Chance bouncing off the North Western Hotel and William Brown St. Then slowly, out of death, the Beatles were reborn and here was a tourist purpose for Liverpool.

The moderately selling 1975 single, Imagine, became a multi-million selling global anthem, unpopular wife Yoko became an honorary scouser and Mathew Street became a festival.

Fifteen years after the day, I reported on the annual New York Central Park vigil, for the Daily Post, before largely putting away the Beatles forever.

I mention all of this because people are asking one another 29 years on, What were you doing when Lennon died? The way a previous generation venerated Dallas, 1963.

There are enough neat endings in the story of Lennon's death. Why wait for next December 8 and a nice round 30th anniversary to get the memory box out? That would be so yesterday.

*Note: The above feature was in fact written and published on Dec 7, 2009, not 2010 as stated.

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22 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ApfelbaumDecember 9th 2009.

Truculent of Toxteth: I was 17, my Dad shouted upstairs that John Lennon had been shot. A wave of panic ran through my head. I shouted back in a voice cracked with emotion "is he dead?" "My dad replied. "I don't know." I turned on RADIO 4, and they were playing "All You Need is Love". I knew at that moment he must be dead. I've been a Radio 4 man ever since too.

Voice of experienceDecember 9th 2009.

fidel and keith clearly enjoy each other's company

The AA ManDecember 9th 2009.

December 8th actually.Lennon was shot on December 8th at about 10:50pm and was pronounced dead at 11:15pm. When the news broke here it was (and had been for a few hours) December 9th, but for everyone in New York, it was still December 8th.

Andy MeliaDecember 9th 2009.

Imagine was not released as a single in 1971 when it first appeared on the album Imagine. Why? Cos guess what, in those days 'celebs' (i.e. when the word meant people who had talent), considered issuing a single that was already on an album track as ripping off their fans. Then Thatcher was elected...

AdminsDecember 9th 2009.

Dammit Beatles Guru. Please post again. Tekkie was messing about.

FidelDecember 9th 2009.

Cool and explanatory

Vi NylbotherDecember 9th 2009.

At least W.H. Smith's exchanged faulty records. I had a real run-in with that miserable old scrote at Penny Lane Records who refused to change a record I'd bought there and told me to increase the tracking weight of my stylus.

Toxteth TerrorDecember 9th 2009.

Well pointed out that Imagine wasn't that big a record till then. He hadn't actually made a decent record for years (or barely released any) till Double Fantasy which was a terrible MOR record by his standard.

KeithDecember 9th 2009.


Dave CandlerDecember 9th 2009.

Great observations and analysis, Angie. (That your Echo? In good nick, innit?)

AppalledDecember 9th 2009.

Angie. Truanting and smoking at 14.

R. E. PorterDecember 9th 2009.

Yes it was terribly sad what happened to The Echo.

Truculent of ToxtethDecember 9th 2009.

I was rudely awoken that morning by loads of awful records on Radio Merseyside instead of the news and current affairs of ‘Morning Merseyside’. Some old millionaire who collected fur coats was shot in a foreign country or something.I was cured. I barely tuned to Radio Merseyside again. I’ve been a Radio Four man ever since but the way things are going at the BBC Radio Three’s getting more of a look-in as Radio Four is more and more lowered into the Cockney gutter.

I. M. White-ChappleDecember 9th 2009.

Such a pity that we can't read the advert in the corner. It's a closing down sale I think. Is it 'Jack Sharp's' the famous sports outfitters?

Truculent of ToxtethDecember 9th 2009.

Well that Radio Merseyside is just rubbish! Whenever you tune in it’s either (a) blokes talking about football out of the sides of their mouths like they’ve had strokes, (b) the flipping Beatles, some pop group from the olden days.

AnonymousDecember 9th 2009.

Horrible day, a very horrible day, superbly brought back.

GordoDecember 9th 2009.

I love working with you.

Penny dropsDecember 9th 2009.


AnonymousDecember 9th 2009.

Is correct. Liverpool didn't give a flying fick about the Beatles until the penny dropped about three years after John Lennon died and they built A SHOPPING CENTRE on the car park. At least it gave the Japanese something to look at. Can't say I like the Disneyland approach.

Lithe O. StoneDecember 9th 2009.

A tragedy.

Jimmy OlsenDecember 9th 2009.

Oh look! A picture of the Echo when it was a newspaper!

MitchDecember 9th 2009.

Great piece of writing Angie. Brought memories of the time flooding back. I remember too feeling heartbroken and bereaved none of which could be understood by my family as we were bizzarely headed off on a shopping excursion to the legendary Tommy Ball's in Blackburn. I did pick up a rather natty pair of brogues that day though as I remember

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