A live recording of the Beatles from 1963 has been unearthed, capturing the near entirety of the Fab Four’s performance at a boys-only school in England.
It’s a before-they-were-huge story that could have been written by Wes Anderson; teenage boy at boarding school writes to Beatles manager Brian Epstein and books the band for £100, sells tickets and packs out the school hall. His classmate records the set, sits on it, and only now after 60 years he shares all of the details with BBC Radio 4.
Beatles recordings are pop-cultural gold dust. No one is making them anymore. What’s there is what’s left. That’s all we’ve got. This one, however, by some estimates the earliest UK live recording of the band yet, is something special, capturing a 22-song performance spread over two sets, and the Beatles enjoying the informality of playing high-volume electric guitar in a school setting, taking requests from school kids.
It was captured by John Bloomfield, then a 15-year-old pupil at Stowe boarding school in Buckinghamshire, on 4 April 1963, 60 years ago today, 311 days before the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles debut studio album, Please Please Me, had been in record stores for two weeks. They had a number one single. Things were moving quickly.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s Samira Ahmed on Front Row, Bloomfield explains that the band were yet to be a big name on campus, and how their arrival changed his life.
“No one knew who the Beatles were at this school,” he says. “But they turned up here and played an incredible concert, and that was the beginning of the ‘60s as far as we were concerned. It was fabulous.”
David Moores was the pupil with the chutzpah to write to Epstein and arrange the gig. He was from Liverpool, and more importantly from the Moore family who owned the retail and football betting company Littlewoods. This just might have swung it for him. A performance fee of £100 might not seem much today but adjusted for inflation that would be £2,679. It might have dissuaded some, especially a school kid, but fortune favours the brave.
Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn said there was a “novelty value” to the gig that appealed to the band, and crucially Epstein. This enthusiasm for the Beatles was not yet shared widely. This was to be the big easter concert and the pupils at Stowe didn’t know who who the Beatles were.
“One or two of the pupils here were quite dismissive, saying, ‘Well who are these insects, the Beatles?’” said the school’s current headmaster, Anthony Wallersteiner. “And second, if the school has approved of this band, then they have got to be rubbish, so there was a little bit of scepticism.”
Bloomfield was an home recording enthusiast, in possession of a 1/4” reel-to-reel tape recorder, and stage manager for the day. Of course he was going to record it. Remarkably, he has sat on the tape all these years, only revealing its existence when Front Row arrived to document the 60th anniversary of the show.
Bloomfield, Ahmed and Lewisohn are the only people to have heard the bootleg in its entirety. Lewisohn was blown away. Bloomfield’s tape is unique among Beatles recordings of that era. The hysteria and the screaming from the fans doesn’t overwhelm the mix.
“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,” Lewisohn told the BBC. “"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.”
A portion of it was played on Front Row but time will tell if the recording will be restored and released in some fashion. The recording is quite lo-fi but with a bit of TLC it could definitely sound presentable. For the full story on how the Beatles came to Stowe, head over to BBC Sounds.