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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 06:55 GMT
A Bootleg Beatle's memories

The Bootleg Beatles in action
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

Neil Harrison, who performs as John Lennon in the Bootleg Beatles tribute band, will dedicate the song Imagine to the late singer at a concert in Bradford on Friday.

Harrison has been playing Lennon in the tribute band since it formed in the same year the singer was shot.

He said the anniversaries of his death are always difficult.

"We do this every year. It may be the 20th anniversary but there is a 8 December every year.

John Lennon
John Lennon was "honest and very, very direct" said Harrison
"I will just dedicate a song to the man himself. I do Imagine because it is the most poignant of his songs."

People are always asking Harrison for his opinion of the famous singer and he always gives the same reply: "He left a vacuum in front of him."

He says he remembers very clearly the day on which Lennon was shot in New York by Mark Chapman.

"We [the Bootleg Beatles] had played Keele University and we were staying in college digs.

"We got up in the morning for breakfast and the landlady said Lennon had been shot in New York.

"She did not say he had died. We thought he had been injured, not killed. But when we turned on the radio we learnt he was dead.

"It was the worst news I had ever, ever heard in my life. We were devastated. He was as close to me as family."

The Beatles have been Harrison's idols since he was a small boy growing up on Merseyside.

"It was always the music first," said Harrison.

I would love to know John's opinion on many of today's issues

Neil Harrison
But he said that Lennon's charisma and personality was a large factor in his popularity.

"Not that many people were speaking out about stuff at the time. No other artist was really a political animal as much as John was.

"I was always interested in what he said. He was very outspoken, very, very direct and honest."

"In a way that's what I miss about him. I would love to know John's opinion on many of today's issues such as the presidential elections.

"It would probably be wacky and off the wall."

The touring tribute band grew out of a successful West End show, Beatlemania.

"I was a massive disciple of the Beatles. They were the reason I had got into music and writing songs.

John Harrison
John Harrison has performed as John since 1980
"All of the Beatles were my idols. People say that because I play John he must be my favourite. But it was not like that; I loved them all."

On Monday, thousands of people of all ages turned up at the Royal Albert Hall in London to see the Bootleg Beatles sing some of the Fab Four's most famous songs.

There seems to be little chance of the surviving Beatles ever re-uniting for a live performance, so for many fans the Bootleg Beatles are the closest they can get to the real thing.

"The Beatles are a very current band. The gigs are always full of kids who know all the words.

"We always thought it would be those who grew up with the Beatles."

Harrison says he is not tired of performing with the Bootleg Beatles and has no intention of stopping.

"There is such a wealth of music to play. There are so many great songs to play and such magnificent arrangements by George Martin."

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See also:

29 Feb 00 | Brit Awards
Tribute bands: The next best thing
06 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Yoko's anniversary peace call
06 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Julian Lennon reflects on John
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