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The Beatles Live at Stowe School.

In April the staggering news emerged of a recording of The Beatles unique concert at Stowe School in April 1963.

Stowe is a ’public’ (ie private feepaying!) School in Buckinghamshire, just North of London. Pupil David Moores wrote to Brian Epstein in January 1963  to request that The Beatles play at school easter concert. Brian Epstein was impressed by Moores’ unusual request, and after a series of letters of negotiation, a fee of £100 was agreed for The Beatles to do the show on 4th April. David Moores’ family already had connections with The Beatles, as David’s uncle, John Moores, had bought Stu Sutcliffe’s painting  – that led to him buying a bass guitar and joining The Beatles. David Moores grew up in Liverpool and later became chairman of Liverpool Football Club.

4th April 1963 was typically busy day for The Beatles, in a very hectic year. That afternoon they recorded an episode of the BBC Radio show ‘Side By Side’ at the BBC Paris Studios (in London, not France!) When they arrived, George Harrison was suffering from a bad throat, and didn’t take part in any vocal duties that day. The Beatles taped five songs, including a unique performance of Lennon/McCartney song ‘I’ll Be On My Way’ – which they never recorded for EMI, as the song was given to Billy J Kramer for the B side of his hit ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’.

After the recording, Dezo Hoffman, who had become one of The Beatles favourite photographers, was on hand to take photos of The Beatles coming out of the studios on to Regent Street, though the photos look like the Beatles were entering the building. One of these photos was used on ‘The Beatles Live at the BBC’ album cover in 1994.

Also on hand was a member of the Karl Denver Trio, who had been guests on the show, who used his amateur movie camera to film The Beatles photo session and them mugging up to his camera. He forgot about the film until ‘Live at the BBC’ came out, when he remembered the film and found it in a drawer in his house. His great amateur film can be seen on the ‘Baby It’s You’ video.

After a short rest, The Beatles made the 2 hour or so journey to Stowe. They were accompanied by David Magnus, who was Dezo Hoffman’s assistant photographer, who took some wonderful photos of the occasion.

The Beatles played in Roxburgh Hall – the main hall of the school. 15 year old John Bloomfield was involved with the stage productions in the school theatre and had the foresight to place a microphone at the front of the stage. He then completely forgot about the existence of the tape.

The concert was unique for The Beatles, because as Stowe is an all-boys school, about 98% of those present were male. The only females there were the headmaster’s wife and daughters, and a few female teachers.

The Stowe gig has always been of fascination for Beatles fans. About 20 years ago, a lady came on my Beatls walking tour, who told me she was the daughter of the Headmaster of Stowe, who showed some of the photos that were taken of The Beatles with her family after the show. It was lovely getting a first hand account of such a famous event.

Samira Ahmed from BBC Radio 4’s Front Row had visited the school in the summer of 2022 and became interested in the blue plaque commemorating the performance at Roxburgh Hall. In March she again visited the school, and spoke to John Bloomfield and head teacher Anthony Wallersteiner.

Wallersteiner, in a memorable email dated 3 March, observed, “There was a rumour that one of the boys ran a wire from a microphone to a reel-to-reel tape recording under the stage. Is this a Stowe myth?”

The reply came back from John: “Guilty as charged, ’twas I. Not under the stage, but right in front of it. I will see if I can find the tape and if it is still usable.” On 22nd March Bloomfield turned up for a meeting with Samira Ahmed with the tape in his hand.

Bloomfield played to Ahmed the extract he’d brought on his laptop of the start of the gig on the original stage.

After the meeting, Samira Ahmed set up a call with Bloomfield, and renowned Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, to listen to the entire concert. Lewisohn was totally bowled over, as no-one knew about the tape’s existence.

News broke about the recording on the BBC ‘Front Row’ radio show, broadcast on the concert’s 60th anniversary, where short extracts of the concert were broadcast. The historic tape has now been acquired by the British Library – where members of the public can make an appointment to listen to this amazing concert – so as soon I could I went along to the Library.

The British Library is just around the corner from Kings Cross St Pancras underground station. It holds at least one copy of every book published in the UK. It also has a sound archive, and the Stowe tape is part of that.

To listen to the tape, you have to register as a ‘reader’ in the Library, which can be done online, but also involves a laborious process of getting your photo taken for a reader’s card. Once this is done though you can go into a reading room and access the recording on one of the desktop computers. 

The tape runs for about an hour – and includes 22 songs. It is totally amazing listening to the earliest known recording of a Beatles’ UK concert:

Considering the recording was made by a schoolboy at the last moment, the quality is surprisingly good. It compares favourably with the Hamburg recordings – but like those tapes, new AI technology I’m sure can be used to improve them.

One disadvantage of listening to the tape in a library is that even though you are given earphones, the volume is quite quiet and it is hard to hear some of the banter between The Beatles between songs.

However, because of the makeup of the audience, there are no screaming girls obliterating The Beatles performance. At times the boys sing along, and there is rapturous applause and cheering after each song – but mostly The Beatles can be heard.

The tape begins with The Beatles tuning up, before they launch into I Saw Her Standing There – which is given a rousing reception by the boys of Stowe. The Please Please Me Album was released on 22nd March – and Moores had requested that a copy was sent to him before the concert. It had either been passed around the school, or other boys had bought it, as the song was obviously very familiar to many of those present.

Next comes Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business – which The Beatles had recorded a few hours earlier for the BBC.

Love Me Do is given a big cheer. It seems to have a different ending here to other live performances.

Some Other Guy is introduced by Paul as a song that has just been recorded by their friends The Big Three

Misery is introduced by as a song from their new LP – that they’d written especially for Kenny Lynch for his new single. At this point John goes into full Quasimodo mode – repeating ‘Lynch’ ‘LP’ and ‘single’ in full ‘crip’ accent – much to the amusement of those present.

I Just Don’t Understand which is up next – has Paul saying it is a song they don’t often do – and says it’s a waltz.

Next up is A Shot of Rhythm and Blues, following by Ringo singing Boys – which gets a great reaction.

Very unusually for The Beatles, Ringo goes straight into singing ‘Matchbox’. I can’t think of any other occasion where Ringo had 2 vocals in a row at a Beatles show. I’m guessing it at this point that George was going to sing ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ – but his bad throat prevented that from happening.

From Me To You is introduced as The Beatles next single – and gets a great reaction. Someone shouts out ‘I’ll buy it!’

Following on is the single’s B side Thank You Girl, and then regulars of The Beatles Concerts at the time Memphis Tennessee and A Taste of Honey.

Twist and Shouts gets one of the biggest audience reactions – after which The Beatles seem to be taking requests – as some asks for ‘Anna (Go to Him) and they do it – although more than one boy shouts out for ‘How Do You Do It’ – which had just reached number one for Gerry and the Pacemakers! The wag in the audience probably didn’t realise that the song was written for The Beatles, and they could have done it if they want to!

Please Please Me also gets a great reaction, with the audience repeating each ‘Come on’  – as does the next song Hippy Hippy Shake. By this time the audience are getting quite raucous – and seem to prefer the rockers.

Another Chuck Berry Song ‘Talking About You’ is following by two slower songs Ask Me Why and Til There Was You.

The pace is upped though by Money – but frustratingly, and admittedly somewhat amusingly, someone has taped over The Beatles with the record of The Trashmen’s Surfing Bird!!

The tape ends with a reprise of I Saw Her Standing There, where unfortunately cuts out before the end of the song.

Track Listing

 Saw Her Standing There  

Too Much Monkey Business 

Love Me Do 

Some Other Guy 

Misery 

I Just Don’t Understand 

A Shot of Rhythm and Blues 

Boys 

Matchbox 

From Me To You 

Thank You Girl 

Memphis Tennessee 

A Taste of Honey 

Twist and Shout 

Anna 

Please Please Me 

Hippy Hippy Shake 

I’m Talking About You 

Ask Me Why 

Till There Was You 

Money  

I Saw Her Standing There (reprise) 

All in all, I spent around 2 hours listening to the concert once through, and then going back to listen again to some parts I missed. There is no time limit to how much time you can spend listening to the recording. It was a bit of a task getting to listen to the tape – but once there, it was one of the most pleasurable and rewarding couple of hours I spent as a Beatles fan in a long time. It would be great if the concert could be made more widely available – but until it is, the British Library is well worth a visit – and it is free too!

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3 thoughts on “The Beatles Live at Stowe School.”

  1. Bruce Greenfield says:

    FANTASTIC FIND !!!!!!
    This one concert Probably equaling the length of any Beatle live performances concert bet 64 and 66 X 6. A Major WOW

  2. Jean- francois Staehli says:

    An incredible document and a wonderful concert.

  3. LUCIANE AKEMI DOS SANTOS GRASSANI says:

    Amazing, Richard. Thank you for sharing your impressions of the concert.

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