Cathedral to ring out: ‘no heaven’

05 March 2009

by Pat Ashworth

Back to the ’70s: John Lennon, the former Beatle, murdered in 1980

Back to the ’70s: John Lennon, the former Beatle, murdered in 1980

JOHN LENNON’s 1971 hit song “Imagine” is to be played on the 13 bells of Liverpool Cathedral as part of the city’s Futuresonic festival in May. The Cathedral has the world’s highest and heaviest peal of bells, and the performance will be heard for miles around.

The installation artist Cleo Evans will conduct the ringers, who will initially practise on handbells. Liverpool’s appetite for diverse and engaging works had been confirmed by its success as European Capital of Culture 2008, and the project was born from a year which had seen the cathedral engage with the city on a range of cultural levels, a spokes­man said on Tuesday.

Eyebrows have been raised at the ringers’ playing a song whose lyrics begin: “Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky.” Lennon wrote it as a plea for peace, and his descrip­tion of the song was “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic”.

The cathedral had discussed at length the sensitivities surrounding the lyrics, the spokesman said. “We recognised the various passions this would arouse. But part of our role as a cathedral is to look at the issues that songs like this raise, not to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it is not happening. After prayer and deliberation, we felt this was a posi­tive step, following Paul’s technique in Acts to start where others are and demonstrate the gospel as truth,” he said.

“Finding means of engaging people with the Christian gospel in a way that enables them to hear the message sometimes means stepping out a bit and taking risks. We there­fore decided to welcome the per­formance, allow the use of the bells, and then engage with the issues that the song raises.”

The director of the festival, Drew Hemment, said: “The Cathedral’s support for the project has been fantastic, and reflects the renowned tolerance and courage that the city is famous for. It’s that spiritual essence of Liverpool that this special event sets out to capture and celeb­rate.”

The performance date has not yet been released, but the Futuresonic festival takes place on 13-16 May.

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