1963 Beatles concert recording emerges
Samira Ahmed, a reporter from the BBC Radio 4 program series Front Row went to a public school in Stowe to reminisc on a Beatles concert which took place there sixty years ago tomorrow, April 4. While there, a former pupil she interviewed, revealed to her that he had recorded the concert on reel to reel tape, and he still had the recording.
This is the earliest full, or nearly full, concert by the Beatles in Great Britain recorded, that we know of. It is not the usual half hour or twenty minutes performance by the band which was typical for their package tours, this is one hour long.
The hour-long quarter-inch tape recording was made by 15-year-old John Bloomfield at Stowe boarding school in Buckinghamshire on 4 April 1963 when the band played a concert at the school’s theatre.
They had been booked by fellow pupil David Moores, who had written to manager Brian Epstein.
“Probably the most unusual concert appearance of all.” Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle
Bloomfield, a self-confessed tech geek, had designed the stage lighting system, and took the opportunity to add a microphone of his own to the stage setup that night, plugged into his reel to reel tape recorder.
The band starts with «I Saw Her Standing There», going straight into Chuck Berry’s «Too Much Monkey Business». Promoting songs from their recently released «Please Please Me» debut album, the band honour requests from the audience and play cover versions.
Earlier that same day, before travelling to Stowe, The Beatles had performed «Too Much Monkey Business» at BBC Radio’s «Paris» studio in London for an episode of the «Side by Side» program series. The recording took place between 11am and 2pm. Aside from the Chuck Berry song, the group performed «Love Me Do», «Boys», «I’ll Be On My Way» and «From Me To You» for the radio show.
Photographer Dezo Hoffmann and his assistant, David Magnus took photos of The Beatles outside the Paris studios that day, photos which were later to be used on the cover of the 1994 album, “The Beatles Live at the BBC”. «I’ll Be On My Way» from that day’s recording was also released on that album.
Part of the recording from Stowe was teased in brief snippets in tonight’s Front Row special on BBC Radio 4, which is currently available for listening to at BBC Sounds. No word of what is going to happen with the recording, but it seems to be outside of copyright, at least in Europe.
A few of the other songs performed in Stowe: «I Just Dont Understand», «A Taste of Honey», «A Shot of Rhythm and Blues», «Memphis Tennessee», probably «From Me To You» and many songs from the «Please Please Me» album. The recording is described as “nearly complete” and that The Beatles performed “more than 22 songs”.
In the program, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn has this to say about the significance of the recording: “The opportunity that this tape presents, which is completely out of the blue, is fantastic because we hear them just on the cusp of the breakthrough into complete world fame. And at that point, all audience recordings become blanketed in screams”.
“So here is an opportunity to hear them in the UK, in an environment where they could be heard and where the tape actually does capture them properly, at a time when they can have banter with the audience as well”.
“I think it’s an incredibly important recording, and I hope something good and constructive and creative eventually happens to it”.
In 2020, when the school put up a blue plaque to celebrate the Beatles’ visit, Sir Paul McCartney recalled how shocked they’d been. “Good old working class boys like us had never visited an establishment like Stowe and we were shocked to see the stark living conditions,” he said.