The latest John Lennon and Yoko Ono documentary, John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky, will come to DVD, Blu-ray, and digital formats on September 13th. The film, which produced by Britain's Channel 4 with the cooperation of Yoko Ono and the Lennon estate, aired to raves last fall in Britain and earlier this year on A&E and features “unheard audio including the first demo of 'Imagine,' as well as never-heard-before interviews with one-time Beatle Lennon. Previously unseen footage shows him and Yoko working together in London.” Above Us Only Sky was helmed by Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated director Michael Epstein — best known for the 2010 LennoNYC documentary
In addition to Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon, the doc features new recollections from such key musicians in the Imagine story as bassist Klaus Voormann, drummers Alan White and Jim Keltner, photographer David Bailey, activist Tariq Ali, Lennon engineers Eddie Veale and Jack Douglas, Lennon's personal assistant Dan Richter, and Al Steckler — the American director of Apple Records, among others.
According to the press release: “(Above Us Only Sky) follows the creative journeys John and Yoko took to arrive at Imagine, as well as their paths to the innovative music film Imagine and Yoko’s lesser-known but extraordinary album Fly. Through a deep dive into previously unreleased recordings, including the first demo of 'Imagine,' and unseen film, as well as both archive and brand-new interviews, the documentary lays bare childhoods scarred by inequality, racism, exploitation and the horrors of war — and later redeemed by love and art.”
Yoko Ono said in a statement announcing the new release: “Rock/pop songs appeal. They talk to people. And there's nothing like that. Imagine was a result of that. Both of us knew that we were talking in a way that people understand. The fact that 'Imagine' as a song was written and put out in the world was magical. And I hope you will smell the magic of it. I feel in the big picture the fact that John and I met — was to do this song.”
Imagine holds the distinction of being the only album in John Lennon's catalogue to have been recorded both in England at his home studio in Ascot and at New York City's Record Plant. The sessions can be seen as the overlapping of two major historical eras in the Lennon's lives. We asked Jack Douglas how New York City changed John Lennon: “When he was in New York he was 'John' — he wasn't a Beatle any more. He could never escape that in England. And the other thing was Yoko was a New Yorker already, and so, she made him feel really at home there in New York. I mean, you could see it in his face, he felt this, like, incredible freedom. And I think that's reflected in the music. The rhythm of the city, he loved it. He loved everything about it. He loved being in the Village.”
Drummer Alan White, who formed the rhythm section with bassist Klaus Voormann for the Imagine sessions, recalled the pair sharing an immediate musical chemistry: “I guess I'd been playing with a lot of different bass players and stuff, and it seems like Klaus and myself hit it off straight away — which was very lucky. It's good to play with professional people like that, and then you just know when people know what they're doing.”
Imagine remix engineer Paul Hicks told us that despite the fact that Imagine was recorded in John Lennon's home studio, Ascot Sound, which was still a work-in-progress, the sound produced in the room remains state of the art: “It was obviously quite a big undertaking at the time. Y'know, it was probably one of the first sort of, quote 'home studios' to be built. I think there was (laughs) a lot of late nights sorting things out and getting things working. I mean, obviously, I can't speak for (engineer) Phil McDonald, but, y'know, I would imagine — certainly at the time — it was probably an interesting, nice challenge, I would imagine.”
John and Yoko archivist Simon Hilton, who led the team in restoring both the Imagine, film and the footage for Above Us Only Sky, told us that they tried above all else to remain true to what the film looked and sounded like nearly 50 years ago: “In the film and the audio, we wanted to be really authentic to the originals. To have authenticity, but in the audio, to just bring John out a bit and to give more clarity — almost like you're taking a sock off somebody's head. And that's exactly what we wanted to do to the pictures, too. And in some cases, when we got into the grading of the pictures, we actually got them to dial things back. And Yoko attended all the color grading (sessions) and was there for the finished grade. And we were really careful that it really feels like you're there.”