The Beatles’ rooftop concert (Apple building)

12.00pm, Thursday 30 January 1969 (45 years ago)

Apple Studios, Savile Row, London
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Glyn Johns

The Beatles, with Billy Preston, gave their final live performance atop the Apple building at 3 Savile Row, London, in what became the climax of their Let It Be film.



We went on the roof in order to resolve the live concert idea, because it was much simpler than going anywhere else; also nobody had ever done that, so it would be interesting to see what happened when we started playing up there. It was a nice little social study.

We set up a camera in the Apple reception area, behind a window so nobody could see it, and we filmed people coming in. The police and everybody came in saying, ‘You can’t do that! You’ve got to stop.’

George Harrison
Anthology

30 January 1969 in London was a cold day, and a bitter wind was blowing on the rooftop by midday. To cope with the weather, John Lennon borrowed Yoko Ono‘s fur coat, and Ringo Starr wore his wife Maureen Starkey‘s red mac.

There was a plan to play live somewhere. We were wondering where we could go – ‘Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara.’ But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided, ‘Let’s get up on the roof.’ We had Mal and Neil set the equipment up on the roof, and we did those tracks. I remember it was cold and windy and damp, but all the people looking out from offices were really enjoying it.
Ringo Starr
Anthology

The 42-minute show was recorded onto two eight-track machines in the basement of Apple, by George Martin, engineer Glyn Johns and tape operator Alan Parsons. The tracks were filled with the following: Paul McCartney, vocals; John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s vocals; Billy Preston’s organ; McCartney’s bass guitar; a sync track for the film crew; Starr’s drums; Lennon’s guitar; Harrison’s guitar.

That was one of the greatest and most exciting days of my life. To see The Beatles playing together and getting an instant feedback from the people around them, five cameras on the roof, cameras across the road, in the road, it was just unbelievable.
Alan Parsons
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The songs performed on the roof:

Brief, incomplete and off-the-cuff versions of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), God Save The Queen and A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody were fooled around with in between takes – as was Danny Boy, which was included in the film and on the album. None of these were serious group efforts, and one – the group and Preston performing God Save The Queen – was incomplete as it coincided with Alan Parsons changing tapes.

The Beatles' rooftop concert, Apple building, 30 January 1969

The Beatles’ rooftop show began at around midday. The timing coincided with the lunch hour of many nearby workplaces, which led to crowds quickly forming. Although few people could see them, crowds gathered in the streets below to hear The Beatles play.

There were people hanging off balconies and out of every office window all around. The police were knocking on the door – George Martin went white! We really wanted to stop the traffic, we wanted to blast out the entire West End…
Dave Harries, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Traffic in Savile Row and neighbouring streets came to a halt, until police from the nearby West End Central police station, further up Savile Row, entered Apple and ordered the group to stop playing.

It was good fun, actually. We had to set the mikes up and get a show together. I remember seeing Vicki Wickham of Ready, Steady, Go! (there’s a name to conjure with) on the opposite roof, for some reason, with the street between us. She and a couple of friends sat there, and then the secretaries from the lawyers’ offices next door came out on their roof.

We decided to go through all the stuff we’d been rehearsing and record it. If we got a good take on it then that would be the recording; if not, we’d use one of the earlier takes that we’d done downstairs in the basement. It was really good fun because it was outdoors, which was unusual for us. We hadn’t played outdoors for a long time.

It was a very strange location because there was no audience except for Vicki Wickham and a few others. So we were playing virtually to nothing – to the sky, which was quite nice. They filmed downstairs in the street – and there were a lot of city gents looking up: ‘What’s that noise?’

Paul McCartney
Anthology

25 Responses to “The Beatles’ rooftop concert (Apple building)”

  1. Keith Starr

    Didn’t John play a few bars of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) while they were changing he tapes?

    Not the whole band, just him.

    Did you not include it, because it wasn’t the whole band, or didn’t you know?

    Anyway, you’ve got a great website, really useful resource.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joe

      It was an omission – I also left out A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody and God Save The Queen, but I probably should have been more complete. I’ve added a paragraph about the off-the-cuff songs below the main song list, though it should be stressed that these weren’t proper performances.

      Reply
  2. McLerristarr

    In response, McCartney mumbled something about cricketer Ted Dexter, and Lennon announced: “We’ve had a request from Martin Luther.”

    John shouts something while Paul says in a posh voice “Well, thank you very much. It looks Ted Dexter has scored another.” Then John says “We’ve had a request from Martin and Luther.” There’s definitely an “and” in between “Martin” and “Luther”. I downloaded the bootleg off the internet.

    Reply
    • McLerristarr

      From listening to the bootleg, there is a loud American voice, one of the crew. Who is it?

      Reply
  3. Edvado

    While Conway Twitty may have made ONE recoding of “Danny Boy” the song is much older, having been written by Frederic Weatherly in 1910, and first recorded by someone named Ernestine Schumann-Heink in 1915.

    Reply
  4. Gainsbarre

    It says that George sings a few lines on I’ve Got A Feeling and they were his only vocals during the concert, which was stated in Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles Sessions book, but it’s not quite true, because George can clearly be heard singing on Don’t Let Me Down as well, so much so that at one point he almost drowns John’s vocal out. He only sings in the choruses of Don’t Let Me Down though.

    Reply
  5. Imagination Troubador

    At the end, John says “I hope we passed the audition!”
    What does he say right before that?

    Reply
      • Joe Mancini

        Just prior, we hear a female yell,”Yay”. That’s Maureen Starkey, then we hear Paul say,” Thanks MO, to her…into John’s “I’d like to say…

        Reply
  6. GeorgeTSimpson

    I’ve Got A Feeling on Let It Be… Naked is an edit of the two rooftop performances isn’t it?

    Reply
    • Joe

      No, they used to play for well over an hour in Liverpool and Hamburg in their early days. It was only when Epstein started managing them that their shows typically lasted around half an hour.

      Reply
  7. juan gitara

    in reply to Gainsbarre, indeed George voice can clearly be heard singing on Don’t Let me Down as back up vocal but not drowning out John’s voice.

    Reply
  8. Rocky

    Hi, I’m glad you mentioned George’s small stunt of kneeling before Lennon.
    Out of curiosity, do you know why they did this? Was it just a bit of fun (they both smiled at each other afterwards), or was it something else? Thanks!

    Reply
  9. swozz

    Does anyone know about the beautiful wood planks on the roof? Were they placed there? I can’t think they were always there. They seem to have been cut to fit. Does anyone know if they still exist? Someone have a souvenir?

    Reply

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