Up on the Roof

On the Anniversary of the Beatles Rooftop Concert – I wanted to share this story written by Esther Shafer, my late wife, about the time we went on the roof of 3 Savile Row. Esther passed away in December 2000

The rooftops of Mayfair looked exactly as they did in Let it Be As we stood on the rooftop of 3 Savile Row on that beautiful September day, I tried to imagine myself at The Beatles final concert. The rooftop was smaller than I’d imagined, but in general the that I remembered from the film and photographs looked just like I’d pictured them.

Naturally, the privilege of being ‘on the roof’ was one of my most exciting Beatley experiences ever. The moment was doubly special, however, as I was sharing it with the man who was to become my future husband. Although this was early in our courtship. we made sure to have our picture taken at the spot where John and Yoko were photographed, when officially changed his name to John Ono Lennon.
England is full of beautiful places for two Beatles fans to fall in love. Fittingly, Richard and I first met as he was guiding his Beatles walk, on December 31st 1989. Coincidentally, we first spoke to each other in front of the Indica Art Gallery in Mason’s Yard where John and Yoko first met. If there had been no London Beatles Fanclub I doubt we would have talked to each other but, since Richard was giving out applications to join the club, I had a reason to speak to him. At the time I didn’t expect to return to London in the near future, as I’d waited so many years to make the trip, so I thought the club would simply be a way for me to relive my memories of London through other people’s eyes. Yet, because of the club, our friendship developed through letters first and then telephone calls. Besides being Beatles fans, we discovered we had so much in common that we knew we must see each other again and that’s how I came to be on the rooftop on that special day.

As one might easily guess, seeing Beatley sights is the perfect ‘date’ for Beatles fans. Since Richard had been a Beatles guide, he enjoyed showing me Beatley sights as much as I enjoyed seeing them. Nothing can compare with the experience of seeing The Cavern and Mendips for the first time. Yet, some of the more out of the way places can be just as exciting. They are harder to find but a bit like discovering a hidden treasure. While in Liverpool, we ‘wandered through Speke, trying to find Paul and George’s former houses, as well as the British Legion Club where The Rebels (George’s first band) played. We never did find Upton Green or Ardwick Road, but the unchanged look of the neighbourhood and friendliness of the people trying to give us directions enabled me to imagine Speke as it was when Paul and George lived there. And while taking a photograph outside Paul’s former home on Western Avenue, we were invited in by the current residents for a cup of tea and reminiscences about the McCartney family!

We are married now, and our love of exploring Beatle sights continues. A walk on a Sunday afternoon led us to Ailsa Avenue in Twickenham, site of the fabs’ doorways in Help and The Turks Head Pub in St Margarets, where Ringo plays darts in A Hard Day’s Night. And a long drive through the country bought us to Friar park, Henley on Thames.

I’m sure one memory that will be difficult to top was Paul’s surprise concert at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden on May 10 1991. Paul couldn’t have known, but playing ‘Here There and Everywhere’ and ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ was his wedding present to us.

Paul McCartney didn’t want to visit old home

Sir Paul McCartney didn’t want to go inside his old house for ‘Carpool Karaoke’ because it felt ”weird” but eventually agreed.

Sir Paul McCartney didn’t want to go inside his old house for ‘Carpool Karaoke’ because it felt ”weird”.

The Beatles legend showed James Corden the area where he’d grown up in Liverpool for an extended version of the popular segment in 2018 and though the pair visited his teenage home on Forthlin Road – which was where he and the late John Lennon co-wrote ‘She Loves You’ and is now a National Trust site – in the clip, the memorable moment almost didn’t happen.

James explained that, shortly before setting off, the 77-year-old musician had admitted he didn’t want to go in the house.

The presenter recalled: ”He said, ‘I haven’t been there since I left, when I was 20. I just feel weird about it.’

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The ‘Beatles Rooftop Concert’ – Their Last Live Performance for ‘Let it Be’

The Beatles ‘Rooftop Concert’ took place on 30th January 1969. It was the culmination of a month-long project that saw the Beatles rehearsing at Twickenham Film Studios for a concert at a yet undecided venue, at which they were going to perform their new album live. However, after George Harrison walked out of the band, the Beatles relocated to the new Apple Studios in the basement of 3 Savile Row and continued to record their new album, with the film crew still present. As the recording sessions drew to a close, it was thought that some sort of climax for the film was needed, and Paul McCartney especially was keen to play live somewhere – but where?

The decision to play on the roof was only made on Sunday 26th January. There are many different versions on how that idea was reached, and whose it was.

If an earlier idea had been realised, there would have been no place to play on the roof – Paul McCartney had wanted to build a roof garden, complete with a lawn and trees.

On the Monday, an engineer visited the roof to make sure it could withstand all the Beatles’ equipment and personnel. Scaffolding and wooden planks were hired and put down to reinforce the space chosen, which was to the front of the roof, overlooking Savile Row. For the next few days, the equipment was being carried in through the reception, disturbing the work of receptionist Debbie Wellum and Chris O’Dell, whose office was on the top floor, just below where the makeshift stage was being erected.

Initially, the rooftop session was planned for Wednesday 29th January, but the weather forecast had said it would be a very gloomy day, and not good for filming so the project was put back until the 30th.  One reason for this was it was hoped to get helicopter shots of the Beatles on the roof and needed good light. However, tut this was later abandoned.

On the morning of the 30th, EMI technicians Dave Harries, and Keith Slaughter were driving towards 3 Savile Row with a car full ropes, blocks, amplifiers, speakers and other vital equipment needed for the rooftop session to take place. In Kings Langley, they were pulled over by the police, who thought their equipment was going to be used in a burglary. They had to convince the police of the real reason they had all the equipment in the car.

One person that missed this historic day was the Beatles trusted roadie, Neil Aspinall, who was in hospital having his tonsils removed. It was left to Mal Evans and Kevin Harrington to set up the Beatles instruments on the roof. Kevin Harrington said that they didn’t know which songs the Beatles were going to play, so just took all the instruments that were in the basement studio up to the roof.

An hour before the session technicians were testing the mics 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 Spencer 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.”

Apart from the Beatles and the film and recording technicians, very few people were allowed on the roof. Among the lucky ones were Yoko Ono, Maureen Starkey, and Apple employees Ken Mansfield, and Chris O’Dell. They all set by a chimney, trying to shelter from the strong wind. Leslie Cavendish, who was the Beatles official hairdresser, was in the building, but after making his way up to the third floor and near to the roof, he was stopped by Mal Evans, who said there was no more room for anyone else. Alistair Taylor, the Beatles long-time associate and now office manager at Apple, decided to watch from down on the street outside.

Although it certainly wasn’t announced in advance that the Beatles were going to play on the roof, one group of fans realised early on that something big was about to happen. ‘The Apple Scruffs’ were a very loyal group of Beatles fans, who used to hang around on the steps of 3 Savile Row, waiting to see their heroes come and go. Their curiosity was certainly raised when they saw all the equipment needed for the session being brought into the building.

Tony Richmond, who was director of photography invited his girlfriend along, and she tipped off Vicki Wickham, who had produced the great TV show, Ready Steady Go, who brought along the presenter of the show Cathy McGowan. Rather than go to the roof, they went to the Royal Bank of Scotland, opposite 3 Savile Row, and somehow were allowed onto the roof. They probably had the best view of all.

Despite it not being announced in advance, the Beatles still wanted an audience, so deliberately scheduled the show for lunchtime, when nearby workers would be on their lunchbreaks and could come and watch. It also harked back to the Beatles Cavern Club lunchtime shows.

Just before they went on the roof, the Beatles gathered in a top floor Apple office which was used as a makeshift dressing room. Ringo borrowed his wife’s bright orange coat, while John and George are wearing their own heavy winter coats. Only Paul didn’t dress for the weather, wearing a suit and an open necked shirt. The Beatles long-time friend Billy Preston had been playing keyboards with them for the last week and had a big role to play on the roof, naturally joined them.

George Harrison was still questioning the point of going on the roof, and Ringo complained of how cold it was. Some were even thinking that the Beatles might abandon the project at the last minute. Finally, John Lennon, who had been silent up to now, said to the others, ‘Let’s do it’ and they went onto the roof.

In all, the Beatles were on the roof for 42 minutes – which was longer than their performance at Shea Stadium. At first, the Beatles played a rehearsal of ‘Get Back’ followed by what could be regarded as ‘take one’ of the same song. They then played ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ and ‘One After 909’ For the next song ‘Dig a Pony’ it’s obvious that John has forgotten the lyrics of his own song (not for the first time!) and asks Kevin Harrington to hold them up for him while he is singing.

The Beatles on the Roof of 3 Savile Row

After this, there was a slight gap, as Alan Parsons had to change the tapes. During this break, the Beatles play a short version of the National Anthem! After the tapes are changed, the Beatles do second versions of I’ve Got a Feeling and Don’t Let Me Down. They finish the session with a third version of Get Back.

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.

As well as at street level, people started gathering on nearby roofs, and even on the top of tall chimney stacks, to get a better look. Many others got great views from their office windows. A good back view of the proceedings could be had from the top floors of buildings in Heddon Street, where three years later David Bowie would pose for the Ziggy Stardust album cover photo.

The Beatles on the roof of 3 Savile Row – looking down from above

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 Beatles guessed that the police were going to come, and had a secret camera set up in reception to film their arrival. The nearest police station, West End Central, is only 150 yards from 3 Savile Row, at the other end of the street. However, as soon as they began playing, the front door of the building was locked, to prevent any intruders coming in, and to delay the police.

A journalist who had been tipped off about the event went into nearby West End Police station to ask their opinion on what was going on. The desk policeman said they were happy for the Beatles to play and weren’t doing any harm. Things started to deteriorate as more and more people started gathering in the street, bringing traffic in Savile Row to a standstill and complaints were made by local tailors, and ironically, the Royal Bank of Scotland, where many people were watching from their roof! Eventually a ‘Black Maria’ police van drove towards 3 Savile Row and the Apple staff started to become worried. Dave Harries remembers ‘George Martin went as white as a sheet’ as he thought he was going to be arrested.

However, the among the first policemen that arrived 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 wanted to be arrested as it would have been a great climax for the film. Although other policeman had arrived, and asked the Beatles to stop playing, there was no intention to arrest them. After negotiations, they were allowed to perform one last song, 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.

I always feel let down about the police. Someone in the neighbourhood called the police, and when they came up I was playing away and I thought, ‘Oh great! I hope they drag me off.’ I wanted the cops to drag me off – ‘Get off those drums!’ – because we were being filmed and it would have looked really great, kicking the cymbals and everything. Well, they didn’t, of course; they just came bumbling in: ‘You’ve got to turn that sound down.’ It could have been fabulous. – Ringo Starr, Beatles Anthology

 

In the end it started to filter up from Mal that the police were complaining. We said, ‘We’re not stopping.’ He said, The police are going to arrest you.’ ‘Good end to the film. Let them do it. Great! That’s an end: “Beatles Busted on Rooftop Gig”.’

We kept going to the bitter end and, as I say, it was quite enjoyable. I had my little Hofner bass – very light, very enjoyable to play. In the end the policeman, Number 503 of the Greater Westminster Council, made his way round the back: ‘You have to stop!’ We said, ‘Make him pull us off. This is a demo, man!’

I think they pulled the plug, and that was the end of the film. – Paul McCartney, Beatles Anthology

Blogger Richard Porter on the roof of 3 Savile Row 30th Jan 2009
The roof of 3 Savile Row, 30th January 2009

Blogger Richard Porter is a professional Beatles tour guide in London. He is guiding a special tour on 30th January 2019 to commemorate the rooftop concert. It leaves at 11am from outside exit one of Tottenham Court Road Station. It costs £10 for adults, or £8 for students or seniors.

Full details of all Richard’s tours are at http://www.beatlesinlondon.com

 

New Beatles Movie Aims to ‘Bust the Myth’ of ‘Let It Be’ Sessions

Director Peter Jackson previewed a few minutes of his upcoming documentary based on the Beatles‘ Let It Be movie over the weekend.

Variety reports the screening took place at Universal Music’s annual showcase that coincides with the Grammy Awards. Jeff Jones of Apple Records said because of the perception that the 1970 movie was a depressing look at the Beatles coming apart, Jackson was brought in to digitally clean up old footage, removing what reporter Jem Aswad described as the “murky, shadowy atmosphere” of the original. It’s a process similar to what the director did when colorizing the World War I footage in They Shall Not Grow Old.

“We have created a brand new film that will attempt to bust the myth that the Let It Be sessions were the final nail in the Beatles’ coffin,” Jones said.

According to Aswad, Jackson succeeded based on what was shown. “An amazing counter-narrative to [the] Let It Be film has ensued,” he wrote. “It’s brighter both visually and spiritually, with many, many shots of the Beatles joking around, making fun of each other, singing in silly accents and generally indulging in vintage mop-top hijinks. It also features many scenes of the group rehearsing songs from the Abbey Road album — their true swan song, which would be recorded over the following summer — and even rough versions of songs that would appear on solo records. On the basis of this clip, Beatles fans will lose their minds over this film.”

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The Story Behind The Song: ‘Instant Karma!’, John Lennon’s one-day wonder

There are a plethora of songs that John Lennon can hang his creative hat on. From his work with The Beatles to his enigmatic solo work, ‘Instant Karma!’ provides the perfect bridge between the icon’s career islands.

The song was written and recorded in one day, January 27th, 1970, and released just 10 days later, with John Lennon once boasting that he “wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and we’re putting it out for dinner.”

While that is a slight exaggeration, ‘Instant Karma!’ was one of the most hastily put together songs John Lennon ever wrote. The singer and songwriter’s choice to put out the track so quickly would have some huge implications for the rest of The Beatles and quickly put Lennon out into the public as a solo artist before the confirmation of the band’s split had been announced.

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Ivor Cutler: The king of fantasy island

Many of the biggest names in Scottish music have gathered to explore the imaginary kingdom where Ivor Cutler’s career began, discovers Sean Guthrie

“I asked Paul McCartney,” says Matt Brennan, eyes lighting up. “I found an email for his manager and I thought: you know what? We’d collected so many musicians we’d never thought there would be any chance of getting. Very generously his manager did reply and said: ‘Paul is working on his own projects right now, but he’s a keen supporter of Mr Cutler.’ I thought: good on him.”

Mr Cutler, of course, being Ivor Cutler, the Scottish humorist, poet and songwriter who appeared in the Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour at McCartney’s behest and whose influence on the Fab Four is indisputable (more of which later). He is also the inspiration behind Return to Y’Hup, a thrillingly picaresque compendium of Cutler’s songs and poetry driven by Brennan and friends, and featuring a lengthy list of the great and good of contemporary Scottish music.

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First trainees graduate from Liverpool’s world-famous Strawberry Field

Liverpool’s world-famous Strawberry Field has seen its first group of young adults graduate from a new programme to help them into work.

The iconic red gates made famous by the Beatles opened to the public for the very first time in 2019 following a refurbishment and rebuilding scheme at the former children’s home.

Owned by The Salvation Army, Strawberry Field has a long-standing connection with young people in Liverpool.

For nearly 70 years, it gave some of Liverpool’s most vulnerable children a refuge from turmoil and unhappiness.

Now the Steps to Work programme reaches out to young adults with learning difficulties or other barriers to employment through a training hub on the lower ground floor of Strawberry Field.

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‘John Lennon: The Final Year’ Doc To Explore The Beatles Star’s Life & Death In 1980 As Drive Boards For International Sales

EXCLUSIVE: The final year of John Lennon’s life is to be explored in a new documentary timed to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of The Beatles singer and guitarist.

John Lennon: The Final Year will look at the musician’s life in 1980 before he was tragically assassinated at age 40 by [name deleted] outside The Dakota on December 8 1980.

British distributor Drive has boarded for international sales and will start talks with global broadcasters and streaming platforms at the forthcoming Realscreen market in New Orleans.

The film is produced by Reda Films, the company behind Nat Geo’s Emmy-nominated Brothers in War, and The Queen and Us producer History Television International.

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[Blogger’s note – you will notice I have deleted the name of John Lennon’s killer from this post. The ‘Jerk of all Jerks’ killed John Lennon to be notorious. Mentioning him by name gives him that.]

Blackpool to have it’s own ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ with opening of resort’s first ever Beatles themed pub

Hamish Howitt says it has been a long-time dream to dedicate his pub of 23 years to his all-time favourite band, The Beatles.

Now, in a first for Blackpool, and as part of a major renovation project, Hamish and the extended Howitt family are working eight days a week to make the publican’s grand vision a reality, opening the Beatles-themed Yellow Submarine Pub Ltd at the Scot’s Bar in Rigby Road, South Shore.

The ambitious plans will see the bar, sited at the former Royal Pavilion Theatre, transformed in a kaleidoscope of colour, taking visitors on a journey back to the 60s.

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