Julia’s Banjo

John LennonRob and Alan Fennah are brothers with an interest in music and performance arts. Living in the UK they formed the band Alternative Radio in 1981. Their sound is most definitely not bluegrass. But recently the duo have been pursuing both fact and fiction surrounding one of the primary instruments found in bluegrass music, the banjo.

In 2005 the brothers’ musical play ‚ÄòTwopence to Cross the Mersey’ was a smash hit in the UK, holding the number one slot in ticket sales for a while. The pair have now undertaken to write a screenplay. Twopence was based on an autobiography. The new screenplay is based on fact and fiction surrounding the first instrument given to John Lennon by his mother Julia.

The banjo was the first instrument Lennon learned to play, but it has since been lost and it’s whereabouts are unknown to this day.

Lennon’s banjo is the holy grail of pop memorabilia and it is a total mystery as to where it has gone.

So says brother Rob. He tells this story of how he came to be interested in Julia’s Banjo while attending a Beatles Convention in Liverpool a few years ago. During a discussion with other fans and attendees…

The subject soon got around to ‚Äòpop memorabilia’ and, in particular, a piano formerly owned by John Lennon which fetched a cool ‚Äòone and a half million pounds’ at a Sotheby’s auction. As we argued about the morality of spending such a vast sum on a piano – a Beatles fan, who’d overheard our conversation, perked up: "That’s nothing compared to what Julia’s banjo would fetch".

Intrigued, I asked to hear more. The fan went on to tell me how Lennon’s mother, Julia, introduced her son to the world of music and taught him to play her banjo. "So where is this priceless pop relic?" I asked. "Where is the first instrument the greatest rock ‘n’ roll legend ever learned to play ‚Äì the catalyst that changed art, fashion and pop music forever?" "Missing", replied the fan despondently, "and has been for over forty years".

So the banjo, in the hands of Earl Scruggs, changed bluegrass music forever. And apparently the banjo, in the hands of a young John Lennon, changed the course of popular music forever.

Rob and his brother Alan are just now putting the finishing touches on a screenplay that explores the history and mystery surrounding Lennon’s banjo.

The pair has already written a theme song for the film. A song they describe in this way.

It uses sounds of American South blue grass mixed with a Liverpool jingly-jangle style.

Sounds intriguing to me. The film will be a cross between musical comedy and a National Treasure type treasure hunt.

The real question surrounding this particular instrument though is this. Is it a pre-war?

Read the full story in Rob’s own words here.