The Beatles’ rooftop concert (Apple building)

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, on Thursday 30 January 1969, in what became the climax of their Let It Be film.

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

Preparations

A total of 10 cameras were used to shoot the show. Five were on the Apple rooftop; one was positioned on a roof across the street; three were on ground level outside the building to capture the public reaction; and one was hidden in the reception lobby at 3 Savile Row.

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. A closed-circuit system also allowed them to monitor the events on the roof.

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 Beatles were still uncertain about the performance, and met to discuss the idea while the last-minute preparations were made. George Harrison was the most reluctant, but eventually acquiesced after the other members all expressed a range of willingness and enthusiasm.

McCartney and Starr were the first Beatles to take to the roof, accompanied by Maureen Starkey and Billy Preston. Starr repositioned his drum kit after discovering that Mal Evans had “nailed me down in the wrong place”.

Behind Starr’s kit was a painting by Tom Newman, singer with British psychedelic band July. Newman was an aspiring artist and happened to call by at Apple that morning. He can be seen in the live scenes wearing a maroon jacket and standing beside a chimney stack behind The Beatles, and at the end of the concert retrieving the painting.

I was doing these paintings that were kind of science fiction, Star Warsy sort of planets – planets with lots of moons. Odd stuff like that. I was living in a weird fantasy world at the time and I had this idea of just trying to just make a living really and, of course, I was still incredibly a fan of The Beatles and everything that they did and I decided, one morning, to take a couple of paintings up to London and see if I could get into the Apple headquarters in Savile Row. I was kind of mincing up and down the road with these paintings under my arm trying to see if I had the balls to actually go up the steps and bang on the door, a van was parked outside unloading equipment and I just walked by this guy got out of the van and said, “Tom. What are you doing here?”, it was a guy called Adrian Woolf who lived in our street where I lived in Perivale…

Anyway, I said, “Adrian, what are you doing here?” He said, “We’re filming the Beatles, they are gonna play on the roof.” I said, “Fuck me. You’re kidding” and he said, “No. No. Here.” and he gave me this little tiny flight case with some lenses or whatever it was in it and he said, “Here you are. Grab hold of that and come in and I’ll get you in.” And I was shitting myself, of course, but I just followed him so I became Adrian Woolf’s roadie for about half an hour, taking crap into Apple and going up the stairs about four or five times right up to the roof. There wasn’t a lift so we had to use the stairs and I couldn’t believe it, it was like walking into the Magical Mystery Tour, there were all these little dolly birds and geezers with trendy flairs on (chuckles), straight out of Carnaby Street and, amongst them, there’s the Beatles wandering about. So I helped Adrian up with all this equipment and Ringo’s drum kit was set up there so I put this painting that I wanted to see if I could sell, this kind of space-age thing, behind Ringo’s drum kit and I just hid on the roof ’cause I thought I’d get chucked out by Mal Evans who was wandering about with Neil [Aspinall] if they didn’t recognise me. But I suppose I looked fairly groovy ’cause I had Beatles haircut like we all had anyway, so I could have passed for any groover (chuckles) and everyone in Apple all looked similar so maybe it was just that I never got picked on.

Anyway they came on and it was an amazing, amazing gig. I’d never seen them live before – ever – so I was amazed at just how much like The Beatles they sounded. You know, I mean, but not just like The Beatles, it was spot on, there was no mistakes, it was absolutely perfect. They played ‘Get Back’ and, in fact, they were recording it as well, I didn’t know that at the time but they were recording it in the basement. Actually, I used their basement studio a few years after that to record Paul’s brother, Mike McCartney. The version that came out on record of ‘Get Back’ is the one they did on the roof, as far as I can make out. I haven’t checked it note for note but it’s got all the nuance of the live version and they were just playing through little tiny Fender, you know, little baby Fender amp and a Fender PA system and they were just miked up with half a dozen mikes and it was the best fucking rock ‘n’ roll sound I’ve ever heard really. The cops came out and complained because of the noise but actually it wasn’t really very loud, it was just that they were scared that it was kind of revolutionary what they were doing and, at the time of course, there hadn’t been a revolution yet. But it was an incredible experience, it really was amazing, and bizarrely I sold the painting. I got 25 quid for the painting from Neil Aspinall who, bless him is dead now, but 25 quid in 1969, or whenever it was, ’70 was a lot of money, it was more than I’d ever had in one go anyway (chuckles). So that was that.

Get Back/Let It Be sessions: day 20
Get Back/Let It Be sessions: day 22
Also on this day...

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