Let It Be Documentary
To mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Let It Be, and the accompanying Academy Award-winning film (both released in May 1970), Guy Garvey tells the story of the fractious and often bitter sessions that documented the demise of The Beatles.
Featuring contributions from many of those who worked on the Let It Be sessions, including director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, engineer Alan Parsons, photographer Ethan Russell, author Richard DiLello and engineers Dave Harries and Brian Gibson, this programme explains how a project (originally a TV documentary, titled Get Back, which was designed to re-energise the band and capture their stripped down rock’n’roll roots), instead documented power struggles, bickering and conflict.
The project was perhaps doomed from the start. Paul McCartney’s original suggestion was for the group to play three shows, which he hoped would refocus and invigorate the band after the tensions experienced during the recording of the White Album. When this plan failed to materialise, the idea evolved into a worldwide broadcast of a live concert.
Paul decided that the rehearsals should be filmed for a documentary that would promote the live broadcast and they began at Twickenham Studios on 2 January 1969. Everyone involved in the rehearsals considered them to be disastrous. Harrison was increasingly resentful because he felt his songs were either derided or ignored; Paul’s attempts to hold the band together and rally spirits came across as controlling; John had all but withdrawn creatively, seldom contributing even to the arrangements of his own songs; and Yoko Ono – who often spoke on John’s behalf as he sat silently by – was a major source of tension.
The intrusive film cameras and the cold, unfamiliar settings of Twickenham Studios contributed to the ill feeling. Fed up with John’s creative and communicative disengagement, George announced that he was leaving the band. He went to Eric Clapton’s house, where he wrote Here Comes The Sun, but within a few days he was persuaded to return to the group.
After three weeks of filming, the band were still unable to agree on a location for the proposed concert, so Michael Lindsay-Hogg suggested they stage an impromptu performance on the rooftop of their Apple headquarters. The live performance took place on 30 January in front of a small audience of friends and employees but it was short by the police after complaints about noise. Filming continued the following day and then no further work was carried out on the project until March, when John and Paul called engineer Glyn Johns to EMI and offered him free rein to produce an album from the recordings.
Johns booked time at Olympic Studios to mix the album and presented it to the group at the end of May. Originally intended for release in July 1969, it was pushed back to September, to coincide with the TV special and film about the making of the album, and then further delayed because the band decided to release Abbey Road instead.
On 15 December, Glyn Johns was approached again, but this time with the instruction that the songs must match those included in the [as yet unreleased] film. New mixes were prepared but once again rejected. Then in March 1970 the session tapes were given to American producer Phil Spector, who worked on the tracks and compiled Let It Be. By the time the album and the film with the same name were finally released on 8 May 1970, the Beatles had broken up.
You can listen to this hour long radio documentary from BBC 2 on their homepage here, and it will be available for a period of only 7 days from now.