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The Beatles’ rooftop concert (Apple building)

The performance

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

The songs performed by The Beatles on the Apple rooftop:

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 audio tapes.

The Beatles began with a rehearsal of ‘Get Back’ while the film cameras were still being finalised, followed by a take one proper. At the end it was applauded by the spectators on the roof. In response, Paul McCartney said “It looks like [cricketer] Ted Dexter has scored another,” and John Lennon announced: “We’ve had a request from Martin and Luther.”

A second full version of ‘Get Back’ followed. An edit of these two versions was included in the Let It Be film. Afterwards Lennon said: “Well, thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve had a request from Daisy, Morris and Tommy.”

The third song was ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, as featured in the Let It Be film. Afterwards The Beatles went straight into ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, which was used in the film and on the album. At the end of the song Lennon can be heard saying: “Oh my soul, so hard.”

Police constables Ray Dagg and Ray Shayler entered the Apple building during ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’. They initially believed the music to be coming from the basement studio, and realised belatedly that it was coming from the roof.

The officers were stalled by Apple doorman Jimmy Clark, who purposefully kept them talking to allow The Beatles to continue performing. “They’re just doing a couple of numbers, that’s all,” Clark told them, also informing them that it was for an album and film. “Turn it down now, or else I’m going to start arresting people,” 19-year-old PC Dagg told him.

Obstruction of police in the execution of their duty and highway obstruction are powers of arrest by the police but they are not applicable on private premises.

The gamble was that they didn’t know that. Probably because I was so young and stupid I was running a bluff on it.

I think now, at 72 years of age, I can say I wouldn’t [have made the arrests]. At 19, I was pretty gung-ho and I think I probably might have, and taken the flak afterwards for wrongful arrest.

But it would have stopped it, that’s the main thing. I’d have been praised for stopping it but then bollocked for using the wrong powers of arrest.

Ray Dagg, December 2021
The Sunday Times

After ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ Lennon, Harrison, and Starr each briefly looked over the balcony at the crowds below, before returning to their instruments.

The next song, ‘One After 909’, was also used in the Let It Be film and album. At the end of it Lennon broke out into a brief impromptu rendition of Conway Twitty’s 1959 hit ‘Danny Boy’.

The sixth song The Beatles played was ‘Dig A Pony’. A short rehearsal was played first, with Lennon asking for the lyrics. They then performed the song properly, with a production runner on the film, Kevin Harrington, kneeling in front of Lennon holding a clipboard bearing the lyrics. George Harrison, too, briefly knelt next to Harrington.

‘Dig A Pony’ began with a false start. In the film, Ringo Starr can be seen putting his cigarette down and crying out ‘Hold it!’ This, and the full version that followed, were both included in the album and film, although on the LP the ‘All I want is…” refrain which opened and closed the song were cut by Phil Spector.

George Harrison joined Lennon and McCartney on vocals for the excised lines from ‘Dig A Pony’. He also contributed backing vocals to ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’.

As Alan Parsons changed the recording tapes in Apple’s basement studio, The Beatles and Billy Preston performed an off-the-cuff version of ‘God Save The Queen’. This was never used; nor were second versions of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, until the complete show was included in the 2021 documentary Get Back.

The Beatles’ road manager Mal Evans had been stalling the police officers, telling them that the PA had been turned off and that he needed to make changes in the basement studio. During the second ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, however, PCs Dagg and Shayler demanded that Evans take them to the rooftop.

‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ was followed by the second version of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. It was preceded by a false start when Harrison began playing ‘Get Back’, not realising which song was next.

The police arrived on the rooftop just as ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ began. The Beatles were alerted to their presence by the camera crew’s shifted focus. McCartney turned round and, seeing the constables, smiled and sang “Whoo!”

Also during ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, a more senior policeman, Sgt David Kendrick, arrived at Apple. He introduced himself to the receptionist, Debbie Wellum, and assertively yet politely asked to be allowed onto the rooftop. “You can go up,” Wellum told him, “but don’t go actually on the roof, because it’s overweight. Go in the lift, to the fourth floor.”

Last updated: 21 February 2024
Get Back/Let It Be sessions: day 20
Get Back/Let It Be sessions: day 22
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Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.

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