Dear John is a star-studded celebration of John Lennon’s 80th birthday – in aid of the War Child UK charity.
Release Date: 11th June 2021
Dear John is the brainchild of Blurred Vision guitarist, vocalist and founder Sepp Osley. Sepp was born in Iran in the war-torn mid-eighties and escaped with his family, via Europe, to settle in Toronto, Canada. It was in Toronto in 2010 that Sepp formed Blurred Vision with his brother. Based in London since April 2015, the band now consists of Bentley Levy on bass, Jake Libretto on guitar and Jake Bradford Sharp on drums, alongside Sepp. The band has been generating surfable waves with their socially aware agenda and their most recent album, Redemption (June 2020) has received numerous plaudits.
Sepp Osley, and Blurred Vision, are renowned Beatle admirers. They were the only Canadian band to play at the New York City concerts in 2014 that celebrated the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ first US shows, the same year that they recorded their anthemic John Lennon tribute, Dear John, released as a single in 2015. In 2019, Sepp realized a career-long dream to bring together a roster of artists, including Nick Van Eede of Cutting Crew and Steve Hogarth of Marillion to celebrate John’s 79th birthday in a show at the London Hard Rock Hotel, with proceeds going to the War Child UK charity – a cause very close to Sepp’s heart. The show, which featured a performance of Sepp’s Dear John was a huge success and a decision to celebrate John’s birthday annually in the same manner was taken.
Of course, COVID, and the associated lockdown, intervened to ensure that John’s 80th birthday on 9th October 2020 would have to be marked in a somewhat different way and a stellar bill was invited to participate on an online platform, with the resultant show streamed via YouTube. And what a bill it was! Alongside Blurred Vision, Graham Gouldman (10cc), Larkin Poe, Gowan (Styx), Lindsay Ell, PP Arnold, Cutting Crew, Maxi Jazz (Faithless), John Illsley (Dire Straits), KT Tunstall, Mollie Marriott (daughter of the great Steve) and Laura Jean Anderson all performed, and Peter Gabriel, Andy Fairweather Low and Richard Curtiss all put in appearances. It was a wonderful evening.
As Sepp said: “I began reaching out to artists around the world who I respected and admired. Before I knew it, an unbelievable roster of artists had signed up and were going to be part of the 80th birthday celebrations for our mutual hero and help us raise money for the charity so close to my heart.”
At this point, it is, perhaps, worth taking a moment to explain exactly what War Child UK is.
War Child UK is a non-governmental organization which, together with War Child Holland and War Child Canada forms the War Child International Network. The charity works with parents, care-givers, community members, other NGOs, governments and corporations worldwide in support of children and young people affected by armed conflict and war, to ensure that affected children have access to protection, education and psychological support. Sepp was attracted to the charity following his own experiences of forced displacement and one senses, instinctively, that it’s the kind of cause that would have also attracted the subject of this tribute album.
And all revenue generated by this album will be donated to War Child UK.
And so – on to the music.
Tribute albums can be a bit of a mixed bag, as I’m sure you’ll agree, particularly when an artist’s songs are as well known as the songs on this particular collection are. Well – the good news is that the interpretations of the songs here, taken from John’s full period as a Beatle, as well as from his solo years are, without exception, fresh, entertaining and vibrant. Several take a completely new approach whilst some are faithful reproductions of the well-known original versions but all are performed with love, evident enjoyment and the greatest of respect, and any messages (these are, after all, John Lennon songs…) are fully retained, if not re-emphasised and strengthened.
There’s nothing too surprising about the choice of material, but, then again, with a catalogue as well known as John’s, it would be difficult to choose something really obscure without delving into the Two Virgins/Life With The Lions/Wedding Album trilogy, and the temptation to explore those waters has (perhaps thankfully for some) been resisted. There’s no room on the album for any version of Imagine or Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, but many of the other suspects are here and there ARE one or two nice surprises.
Blurred Vision opens proceedings with an enjoyable, faithful, take on Strawberry Fields Forever. Slightly heavier than the Beatles’ original, it includes a wonderful psychedelic guitar playout, and the “Ringo” drum fills are spot-on. Laura Jean Anderson joins Blurred Vision for a tight, emotion-laden version of Real Love, before Mollie Marriott steps forward to deliver a soulful Don’t Let Me Down.
By this time, the album is beginning to gather momentum as a record of a very special live show, and that momentum is kept by Graham Gouldman with his poppy, bouncy interpretation of Across The Universe and an excellent, folky, full-bodied Norwegian Wood from Sepp’s close mates, Cutting Crew.
The most radical reinterpretation of any of John’s works comes from rapper Maxi Jazz as he delivers Power to the People in spoken/broken word to a backing of a single acoustic guitar. It’s a version that makes up in intimacy what it loses in immediacy, and the polemic is just as strong, even though it arrives by a completely new route. Gowan starts and finishes his spot by acknowledging John’s 80th birthday – the only time on that album that it’s actually mentioned, and gives a bright, true rendition of John’s early psychedelic classic, Tomorrow Never Knows. The band achieves a marvelous reproduction of the studio and tape loop effects that were so challenging to George Martin back in 1966 and it’s a successful performance of a difficult song.
Blurred Vision return, aided by their guest, Nick Van Eede from Cutting Crew, for Dear John, their 2014 dedication to Mr Lennon, and the theme tune to the whole affair. The song ends dramatically, with a segue into the first “freakout” crescendo of A Day in the Life. The version here, which includes only the “Woke up, got out of bed… and 4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire” verses is tight, rocky and highly effective.
KT Tunstall delivers another album highlight with her soft, acoustic version of Gimmie Some Truth. The outright anger of John’s original is replaced by plaintive resignation, and to excellent effect. At a time when our politicians are even more neurotic, short sighted and pig-headed than they possibly ever were in 1971 when the song was originally released, it’s a highly appropriate selection. John Illsley’s shot at I’m Only Sleeping is suitably lazy in a Dire Straits kind of way, before the album is rounded off by a jaunty, but still on-message Instant Karma from Blurred Vision and Mollie Marriott.
Dear John… is an excellent, highly entertaining album. The songs are familiar, yet subtly different to the versions that you’ll be familiar (or perhaps over-familiar) with, and the overall effect is refreshing and very enjoyable. And remember, all proceeds go to that very deserving charity. Don’t delay, get those orders in today!
Dear John… is out now and can be ordered from iTunes HERE.
Watch Blurred Vision – with Mollie Marriott – perform Instant Karma at the Dear John… concert – here: