The Beatles Story Pier Head, Liverpool
Review by Donna Jackson
The inaugural exhibition at the brand new extension to the Beatles Story at the Pier Head is an incredible and moving experience. White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon has been put together by Cynthia and Julian Lennon to tell their story, and it offers to us a very intimate and personal insight.
The exhibition begins with Julian introducing us to the importance of the white feather in his life, and then takes us on a chronological journey through Cynthia’s and Julian’s lives with John, always with honesty and integrity and therefore also with grace and dignity.
The largest section of the exhibition focuses on the years that John spent with Cynthia. It is packed with photos, video images, John’s gold discs, and various personal possessions of both Cynthia and Julian. The photos are a combination of private family snapshots, including a family album of Julian’s baby pictures – so cute!! – and official ‘Beatle’ pictures. The contrast between the two seem to reflect the dichotomies of Cynthia’s life during these years, and is powerful and thought-provoking. There are several personal postcards on display as well as items that belonged to John, including two of his jackets.
Many of these items touched my heart, but I was moved to tears by a couple of pages from a letter that John wrote to Cynthia on August 23 1965. The letter revealed John’s loneliness and desperation during the American tour, but it contrasted so vividly with some of the public images, and particularly I thought of John’s performance at the Shea Stadium concert only a week previously, with all its excitement and joy. This insight into John’s roller-coaster emotions was very, very poignant and moving. I felt that this opportunity to glimpse John’s inner self was such a privilege, and the exhibition would have been worth the price for this alone.
More was to come though. The next section clearly signified a dramatic change. The decor was different – a plush red carpet instead of shiny white tiles, dark red walls, and more subdued lighting. This section was devoted to Hey Jude, and the reason that Paul wrote the song, which clearly was, and still is, very important to Cynthia and Julian. Paul’s kindness to both of them was portrayed in the artwork – floor-to-ceiling images of Paul with Julian; a representation of the rose that Paul had given to Cynthia; and video interviews, where once again it felt as if Cynthia and Julian were talking to you, and you alone. It was incredibly beautiful and also incredibly sad, and had me in tears yet again.
Then the exhibition went on to portray the years after John and Cynthia had separated. A small section was devoted to the car accident that John, Yoko, Julian and Kyoko suffered while in Scotland in 1969. The story that Cynthia tells is amazing ... but it would be wrong for me to give away the details. It fits well into the theme of the exhibition but I shall “say no more.”
If I thought that the exhibition was emotional so far, it was nothing compared to the final section. To begin with it was desperately heart-breaking, particularly a quotation from Cynthia about Julian always asking if there was a letter or phone call from John, because it made him feel wanted. Then it grew more hopeful, with John and Julian growing closer, particularly through their shared love of music. One of the guitars that John gave to Julian is on display, and is clearly, and understandably, a prized possession of Julian’s. Of course, the hope is short-lived ...
Throughout the exhibition, white feathers had been placed in the display cases. Just before you leave the exhibition, there is a final interview with Julian and Cynthia, and Julian explains the full importance of the White Feather and its connection to his dad; I thought of the feathers in the display cases, and was reminded that there is still a connection between John and all of us too. Julian also talks about his charity work, and I was sure that John would be very proud of him.
Julian and Cynthia conclude by thanking you for visiting the exhibition and sharing their story – when really we should be thanking them for allowing us to share it. But you walk out with a smile as well as tears; Cynthia warns us to ‘behave’ and Julian reminds us to ‘love your mum’. It’s clear that they are very close and the warmth that I felt at that moment will stay with me.
All-in-all, White Feather is a stunning and emotional exhibition that gives a thorough, personal, honest and graceful insight into a part of John’s life that others seem to want (and in the past, seemed to want) to airbrush from the history books. I feel privileged to have been able to share in this story.
If you are in Liverpool, take an hour and visit White Feather. You won’t regret it. ... But don’t forget to bring a tissue!