Unreleased John Lennon recording sells for £43,000 in Denmark

Song and interview were recorded by Danish schoolboys during Lennon and Yoko Ono’s stay in Thy in 1970

A cassette tape recording of an interview by Danish schoolboys with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in which the Beatles star sings a previously unreleased song has been sold at auction in Copenhagen for £43,000.

The 33-minute audio track was recorded by four teenagers as part of a report for their school magazine in January 1970, just months before the Beatles announced their breakup.

The recording took place at a time when Lennon and Ono were calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. In 1969, the couple had staged their iconic ‘bed-ins for peace’ at the Hilton hotel in Amsterdam and the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal. They had come to Thy, a remote district of Jutland in north-west Denmark, to discuss, what would in time, prove to be the thorny issue of child arrangements for Ono’s five-year-old daughter, Kyoko, who was living with her ex-husband Tony Cox in the area.

The visit had initially gone without incident but such was the couple’s fame at the time that a media frenzy quickly gathered pace as word spread of their presence in the country. They felt forced to hold an impromptu press conference, and armed with a tape recorder borrowed from a hi-fi shop, four Danish teenagers persuaded their teacher to allow them a day off to cover the event for their school.

The cassette is being auctioned alongside Polaroid photos.
The cassette is being auctioned alongside Polaroid photos. Photograph: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

Karsten Hoejen, who made the recording, recalled that by the time they had made their way through a snowstorm, the press conference was over and the world’s media had moved on. But the four boys were nevertheless invited in. “We were a bunch of 16-year-old hippies,” he told the BBC. “As we arrived everyone was leaving … We went into the living room and saw John and Yoko sitting on the sofa, it was fantastic. We sat down with them and were quite close to each other.”

“We talked, we had a good time,” said Hoejen, 68. “John asked me, ‘where do you come from? A radio station?’ ‘No, from a school magazine,’ I said.”

On the tape, Lennon’s unmistakable voice is heard responding to the question of how four young boys could contribute to the peace movement. “If you can’t think of any ideas yourself, imitate what we do,” he says. “Sit down and think ‘what can we do locally’?”

Lennon is also heard complaining about the Beatles’ image and discussing the length of his hair.

Hoejen said the meeting was “very cosy” and “relaxed”, with Lennon and Ono sat on a sofa, alongside Kyoko, Cox and his wife, Melinda. “[They] were sat with their feet on the table in their woollen socks.”

The couple joined in a Danish tradition and danced around a Christmas tree, then Hoejen asked Lennon to play a song on a guitar. He gave a rendition of Give Peace a Chance, with a few ad libs, before performing a short tune called Radio Peace, which was due to be the theme tune for a radio station Lennon hoped to launch in Amsterdam.

John Lennon, sitting next to his wife Yoko Ono, plays guitar in Herred during their visit to Jutland in Denmark.
John Lennon, sitting next to his wife Yoko Ono, plays guitar in Herred during their visit to Jutland. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

“The radio station was never opened and the song was never released,” Hoejen said. “To our knowledge, the only place where this song exists is on our tape.”

It was only decades later that Hoejen realised the tape’s worth and stored it away in a bank vault. He and his friends said they decided to auction the cassette given the difficulties in deciding how it would be shared among their children.

The cassette was being auctioned alongside an original copy of the school newspaper and 23 photographs, and is was listed with a guide price of 200,000 to 300,000 Danish krone (£23,000 to £35,000), ultimately selling for 370,000 Danish krone (£43,000) at the Bruun Rasmussen auction house in Copenhagen.

There is no digital copy of the recording and the current owners have maintained exclusive rights over it, preventing media outlets from playing the unreleased song. However, there is understood to be considerable interest in the recording from some unidentified museums, raising hopes it will be available to the public in the future.

“A recording like this is indeed very rare,” said the auction house’s director Alexa Bruun Rasmussen. “We are not sure that there are any other recordings like this one, because it’s an unofficial recording.”


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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