The Beatles last ever live performance took place on the roof of 3 Savile Row, the Beatles’ ‘Apple’ HQ, on January 30th 1969. However, things could have been very different, and almost didn’t take place at all!
The Beatles were in the middle of a project initially called ‘Get Back’. Paul McCartney wanted the Beatles to do a huge live performance of their new album, which would be heard for the first time at the gig. The Beatles were to film the rehearsal for the concert, the took place at Twickenham Film Studios. That location was chosen as the head of Apple Films, Dennis O’Dell, was about the start work there on the film ‘Magic Christian with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.
However, things went badly from the start when the Beatles convened at Twickenham on January 2nd 1969. Twickenham was a large, very cold film studio, and not great for playing music. The main problem, however, was the tension in the Beatles, which got worse as time went on. There was no agreement on where to do the big concert. One suggestion was a Roman Ampitheatre in the middle of the desert in Tunisia. So many bizarre suggestions were made, that John Lennon was heard to mutter, ‘I think we should do it in a lunatic asylum’,
Finally the tension got too much for George Harrison. Over lunch on January 10th, he walked out of the session and said to the others ‘See you ’round the clubs!’
Finally, after days of negotiations, George agreed to return to the Beatles, but only if the sessions ended at Twickenham, and instead continued at their own Apple Studio at Savile Row.
The recording sessions certainly went better than at Twickenham, even though the film crew still followed their every move. However, the film didn’t have a climax, and Paul McCartney was determined to play live somewhere. It was decided to play a few songs on the roof of their own building – this took place on 30th January 1969.
An hour before the session technicians were testing the mikes and having real problems, as the strong wind was making a horrendous noise. Therefore Alan Parsons was sent around to a local branch of Marks and Spencers to buy some stockings to put over the mikes to stop the wind getting in. As Alan remembers, “It was very strange walking into the lingerie department and the assistant asking ‘what size?’ – and me answering ‘doesn’t matter’, ‘what colour?’ ‘doesn’t matter’ – they thought I was really odd.”
Even though they couldn’t be seen from the street, the Beatles could be heard for miles around and lots of people started gathering in the street below. Of course, the Beatles knew this was going to happen, so they had cameras placed all around and many passers-by were interviewed about their reactions. Beatles fans loved it – the group hadn’t played live in the UK for nearly 3 years. However, the local tailors were not amused by their business being disrupted by the concert. They called the police to get the Beatles to stop.
The nearest police station, West End Central, is only 150 yards from 3 Savile Row, at the other end of the street. However, the first policemen that arrived actually came from a police box in Piccadilly Circus, about three times the distance to 3 Savile Row than the police station! Ken Wharfe, then a young police officer, got a call on his radio saying that the Beatles were making too much noise and to tell them to turn it down. Ken and his colleague were huge Beatles fans and couldn’t believe their luck when they arrived on the roof and saw the Beatles playing live. They had no intention of stopping them.
This was a disappointment to the Beatles as they actually wanted to be arrested as it would have been a great climax for the film. They were allowed to finish the last song they were playing – which was ironically Get Back. The ‘rooftop session’ ended when John came to the microphone and said, “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition.” It was to be the Beatles’ last ever live performance.
On the 40th anniversary of the rooftop concert, I managed to get my Beatles tour group up on the roof for the first and only time. The event was covered by CNN https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfvy1gQnkuM
Blogger Richard Porter is a full time Beatles tour guide in London. For more info on his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com