50 years ago today revisited

The former Apple building at 3 Savile Row, London, where the Beatles staged their final concert in January 1969.

You may remember that a while ago, Kate celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper with a blog-post. It gave us a great chance to show off our copy of the LP, an American imprint, that is, perhaps surprisingly, part of the Sir Arthur Bliss Archive. 

Two years on, there is another 50th anniversary. For on January 30th, 1969, the Beatles performed live for the final time, on the roof of the Apple Building in Savile Row, London. Although two more albums (Let it be and Abbey Road) were issued following the concert, relationships within the group became increasingly strained, and the recording of I want you (She’s so heavy) at Abbey Road Studios in August ’69 was to be the last occasion on which the foursome were together. Our latest pop-up exhibition in the Anderson Room features some Beatles memorabilia from an unusual publication.

The Beatles: it was 50 years ago today written by Terry Burrows (London: Carlton, 2012) (MR501.a.201.3) is one of those delightful books that we receive occasionally, which is rather more than just a book. Stuffed with facsimiles of Beatles’ memorabilia, it’s been a perfect item to use for our latest Anderson Room pop-up.

Some of the early flyers make for fascinating reading…

The Fab Four are not yet together, though they are on the same bill. 1961.

A facsimile of a flyer from 1961 shows an early incarnation of the group. At this point, the Beatles had 5 members: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and drummer, Pete Best. Ironically, March 15th was the day that Sutcliffe left the Beatles, departing to Germany where he became engaged to his girlfriend. Sadly, he was to pass away the following year aged 21 from a brain haemorrhage, just a few days after the Beetles [sic] played their set featured below.

Misspelled, and still a supporting act (though the font’s got bigger), but life is about to change…

Ringo Starr is also on both these bills, drumming with Rory Storm’s bands – the Wild Ones, and the Hurricanes. In August 1962, he officially joined the Beatles having previously replaced Pete Best in a recording session in October 1960 – none of these very early recordings survive.

By the end of ’62, the Beatles would have two songs in the UK Singles charts. In April 1963, they had their first number one with Love me do. The next seven years were to be the Beatlemania years. By 1968 however there were problems, their manager, Brian Epstein, who had guided them to the top, was dead; and there were growing artistic differences between John and Paul. Despite this, the group still managed to work reasonably amicably together, as can be heard in some of the out-takes from the Let it be sessions.

During the sessions for the Let it be album, there had been discussions about a live impromptu gig, to be included in the Let it be film, which it was hoped would mark a return to touring. After various suggestions for exotic locations – the Palladium, the Sahara – it was decided to stage a concert on the rooftop of the then Apple building in Savile Row, London. Bemused city-workers on their lunch-break weren’t sure at first what was happening, but crowds quickly gathered for what would turn out to be the Beatles’ last live performance.

After performing for 42 minutes in a set that included One after 909 (the rooftop recording was used on the Let it be album), Don’t let me down, and Get back, the concert was closed down by the police, concerned about noise levels and congestion. By the end of August 1969, it was all over, the Beatles had played together for the last time.

A few years ago there was an odd coda to this, when music librarians across the country, including those at the UL, received a mailshot advertising the sale of a mysterious building with important musical connections. It took a while to work out which property was for sale, but after a few guesses, we realised it was the Apple building. No. 3 Savile Row is now a clothes shop, with a small display commemorating the event in the foyer area.


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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