John O'Groat Journal

Durness festival will celebrate Lennon's inspiration
Published:  29 August, 2007


   JOHN Lennon's oldest surviving relative is helping lay down the red carpet for the new arts festival celebrating the ex-Beatle's link with Durness.

Fellow Liverpudlian Stan Parkes used to spend childhood summer holidays with Lennon in the north Sutherland village.

Mr Parkes is delighted that the Durness connection is being marked by a three-day festival of music, poetry, photography, film and dance.

The 75-year-old travelled up from his home in Largs earlier this year to attend the launch of a novel inspired by his cousin's link with the Far North.

Mr Parkes said yesterday: "John would be both delighted and surprised that he had inspired such a great festival in a part of the world he loved.

"This is not about exploiting his fame but celebrating his inspiration - and that is why so many leading artists and John's family have supported and endorsed the event."

Mr Parkes said that, during their family breaks in the Far North, Lennon spent a lot of time painting, drawing and writing.

"Few places meant more to John than Durness," he said. "It was often when he was at his happiest."

During their visits to Durness, members of the family stayed at the croft home of Mr Parkes's stepfather, Robert Sutherland, at 56 Sangomore.

Lennon was to return to the area in 1969 with Yoko Ono, his son Julian and her daughter Kyoto. He was then involved in a car crash at the Kyle of Tongue which left him and Yoko being treated for cuts at Lawson Memorial Hospital in Golspie.

Yoko Ono is not able to attend the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival from September 27 to 29. But she has sent organisers a message of support.

The festival is being promoted by North Highland Tourism, whose chairman, Wick hotelier Murray Lamont, says it can bring lucrative spin-offs for the area.

Mr Lamont said: "Having this event in late September achieves success in one of our key target areas - to build upon and expand the normal tourism season for this area.

"We warmly welcome and thank the people of Durness for their enthusiasm in helping organise and run this unique event."

Durness Community Council chairwoman Mary Mackay said: "The Durness community will make every effort to give a real Highland welcome to the many visitors that are expected and will offer whatever help and assistance is required to make the event a roaring success. We hope it will become the first of many."

Festival director Mike Merritt said the feelings Lennon had for Durness are evident from the many messages and support from members of his family and friends.

Mr Merritt said: "John was more than a songwriter - he was a poet, writer, painter, wit and much more. I wanted to reflect those many artistic faces of John in the first festival and also that art should have no elitist boundaries, hence the eclectic nature of the event. Holding it in Durness ensured there would be no elitism, just one big artistic melting pot."

He added: "Please remember it's our first festival - we will not get everything right, so please be patient and let's hope Durness will welcome us all back again."

Organisers have arranged a free shuttle bus which will run between the various performance venues. Highlights of the programme include chart-toppers Nizlopi; the Queen's Master of Music. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; Lennon's original group, the Quarrymen; the playwright Alan Bleasdale; Canadian singer Alison Crowe; folk group Blazin' Fiddles; Beatles expert Steve Turner; music photographer Mike McCartney; and painter Peter Howson.