Tue 2 Oct 2007

Lighting up Durness in Lennon's Memory

THE JOHN LENNON NORTHERN LIGHTS FESTIVAL **** (four-out-of-four stars)


SITUATED closer to Oslo than Liverpool, it's easy to see why John Lennon spent so much of his youth in Durness. With its white, sandy beaches and picture-perfect mountainous terrain, a story hides behind almost every rock in this remote village in the north-west highlands. The Northern Lights - the only thing to get a Scotsman to stand outside without a coat in late September - made an appearance, but the real magic was going on under the sky, as people from all around the world gathered to pay homage to Lennon's spirit.

At the Sango Sands Oasis, Lennon's first band, The Quarrymen, delighted onlookers with a skiffle set and stories about John while giving people in the audience a chance to play with them on washboard.

Meanwhile, a mile down the road at Smoo Cave - a spectacular smugglers' cove believed to be the abode of spirits who guard the entrance to the netherworld - there was the surreal sight of Mr Boom. An entranced group of kids sat between the limestone cliffs as the one-man-band entertainer took them to another planet.

A stone's throw away at the village hall, Canadian angel Allison Crowe gave one of the weekend's most magical moments, earning one of few encores for her solo rendition of Lennon's In My Life (a song inspired by Durness).

Students from the Royal Academy of Music injected new life into the Beatle's work later on with new, inspired arrangements of Norwegian Wood and Imagine. Their mentor, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, however - making his first public appearance in 15 years - played an ingenious number called Clouds on a badly-tuned piano borrowed from the local bookshop. He wrote it, Davies said, when he was 11 years old. You could almost imagine an 11-year-old John Lennon listening to it in wonder too.