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The Beatles live: Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School, Buckingham

One of The Beatles’ more unusual live engagements, certainly for 1963: a performance at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.

Stowe School was a prestigious all-boys public school. The event came about after one of the pupils, David Moores from Liverpool, contacted Brian Epstein to see if The Beatles would consider performing. Epstein was impressed enough with Moores’ approach that he agreed to the booking.

The performance in the school’s Roxburgh Hall was unusual for another reason: the boys sat in neat rows watching the performance, without a single scream to be heard. David Magnus, an assistant to the photographer Dezo Hoffman, took a number of photos of the event.

A recording of The Beatles in conversation backstage after the performance was auctioned in Japan in 1997.

The Beatles at Stowe School, Buckingham, 4 April 1963

In April 2023 news broke of an almost-complete recording of The Beatles’ performance, made by then-15-year-old schoolboy John Bloomfield, who was the show’s stage manager.

Samira Ahmed from BBC Radio 4’s Front Row had visited the school in the summer of 2022 and became interested in the blue plaque commemorating the performance at Roxburgh Hall. In March she again visited the school, and spoke to Bloomfield and head teacher Anthony Wallersteiner.

Wallersteiner, in a memorable email dated 3 March, introduced us, observing: “There was a rumour that one of the boys ran a wire from a microphone to a reel-to-reel tape recording under the stage. Is this a Stowe myth?”

The reply came back from John: “Guilty as charged, ’twas I. Not under the stage, but right in front of it. I will see if I can find the tape and if it is still usable.”

On 22 March, producer Julian May and I turned up to record at Stowe, not knowing if Bloomfield had managed to find the tape. He had. It turns out he’d felt embarrassed too. A self-confessed tech head, trying out his new Butoba MT5 recorder, taking a dozen D-cell batteries costing 10 old pence each, he’d regarded it merely as a poor quality amateur recording of songs better captured in official releases.

We played the extract he’d brought on his laptop of the start of the gig on the original stage. Bloomfield guided us to crank up the sound louder, to replicate the original bone-shaking experience and I felt my whole body vibrate with the sheer raw power of the Beatles. It was exciting, but also poignant, sharing that moment with Bloomfield, thinking of his school friends. Some are dead and some are living.

Samira Ahmed
The Observer

The Beatles at Stowe School, Buckingham, 4 April 1963

The tape captured 22 tracks, running out during a reprise of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. It is believed that they played a further two tracks afterwards. This is the likely full setlist:

Ahmed’s report was broadcast on Front Row on 3 April 2023. She also wrote about it for The Observer newspaper and her own blog.

As for the tape – talks are underway to get it cleaned up and given a permanent home in a national cultural institution. Bloomfield feels strongly that it should not end up, as so many Beatles relics have, in the vault of a private individual. And, since Peter Jackson’s audio restoration for The Beatles: Get Back series, there are cautious hopes for cleaning up what’s been captured on that old magnetic tape.
Samira Ahmed
The Observer
Last updated: 25 January 2024
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