How an Elton John Concert Led John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Reunite

Longtime Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone recalls the gig that sparked the couple's reconciliation

John Lennon makes a surprise appearance at a concert by Elton John at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974. According to a new interview, this concert led Lennon and Yoko Ono to reunite.
John Lennon makes a surprise appearance at an Elton John concert at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974.

We generally think of John Lennon and Yoko Ono as being one of rock’s most inseparable couples, but of course that wasn’t always the case. The pair split for 18 months during Lennon’s famous “Lost Weekend” with personal assistant May Pang. But a new interview with longtime Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone sheds new light onto what may have ultimately led to Lennon and Ono’s reconciliation.

Talking to Yahoo, Johnstone recalled playing a show with Elton John on Thanksgiving Day 1974 at Madison Square Garden. Lennon showed up as a special guest, and unbeknownst to the former Beatle, Ono was in the audience.

“At that time, he was with May Pang, who’s also a good friend of mine from all those years ago,” Johnstone said. “But that night, Yoko came to the show, and John didn’t know she was in the audience. I think he would’ve been really nervous if he’d known Yoko was in the crowd. But they got [back] together soon after that, and it was very special for them.”

Johnstone revealed that he believes Elton John “conspired” with Lennon’s assistant Tony King to bring Ono to the show. “They knew she was coming and all the rest of it,” he said. “And Yoko actually sent some beautiful gardenias for John to say, ‘Good luck with the show.’ If you look at the footage — there’s not very many pictures from that show; God knows why not, but there aren’t — you’ll see in John’s button hole, this gardenia that he’d gotten from Yoko. But he didn’t realize she was at the concert at the time.”

Lennon and Ono reconciled in the months following the concert, and their son Sean Lennon was born in October 1975.

Johnstone also recalled how Lennon was extremely anxious ahead of the concert — not because of Ono, but because he had gone so long without playing live. (Sadly, the concert would be the former Beatle’s last public performance.)

“The night of the concert, I was tuning all the instruments backstage, and John came into the dressing room looking terrified,” Johnstone says. “And I said, ‘John, are you OK?’ And he was like, ‘Well, no. I think I wanna throw up. I feel so nervous!’ — because he hadn’t played forever. It was so long since John had done a live performance … But I tuned his guitar up and I kind of gave him a hug and said, ‘Look, I’ll see you up there. It’s gonna be great!’” 

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.