- The British Library has acquired the only existing recording of a Beatles concert at Stowe School in 1963
- The recording, made by former Stowe student John Bloomfield, was made just after the launch of the Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me, which marked the beginning of their meteoric rise to fame
- It is the earliest known recording of a live performance by the Beatles in the UK and is now part of the British Library’s Sound Archive, where it can be accessed by users in the Library’s Reading Rooms at St Pancras and Boston Spa.
Today the British Library is thrilled to announce that it has acquired a recording of an early Beatles concert at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire on 4 April 1963, recorded by former Stowe student John Bloomfield. A digital copy of the recording has now been captured by the Library so that it can preserved for future generations.
John was involved with the stage productions in the school theatre and had the foresight to place a microphone at the front of the stage. His recording captured 22 tracks, including future classic ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and cover versions of US hits ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ at a special performance played by a band on the cusp of global fame. John then stored the recording at home for over half a century before BBC journalist Samira Ahmed contacted Stowe School for a news story marking 60 years since the concert. Samira was put in touch with former students, including John who confirmed its existence.
Listeners will be able to hear for themselves the songs played for an audience of schoolboys at the start of the Beatles’ reign, including ‘From Me to You’, which a week after the concert would go to No 1 in the UK charts, the cheers of the crowd and requests for songs and quips to the audience made by a quartet from Liverpool that were about to become the most famous band in the world.
John donated the tape to the British Library and from 20 June readers will be able to access the recording from the Library’s Reading Rooms at St Pancras and Boston Spa. The recording sits alongside a rich array of Beatles ephemera in the British Library’s collections: including a rare copy of their first single, ‘Love Me Do’; manuscripts hand-written by John Lennon of the lyrics to hit songs ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘In My Life’, donated to the Library in 2013; an extensive collection of commercial Beatles releases and audio interviews with the band; and the Beatles’ official biographer Hunter Davies’ archive, acquired by the Library in October last year, which offers a rare personal glimpse into the band’s lives and legacy. Visitors can also see a selection of items from the Davies’ archive on display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery, including handwritten song lyrics and sketches by Paul McCartney of John Lennon and George Harrison.
John Bloomfield said: “There was a chap at Stowe who came from Liverpool and said a band called the Beatles ought to come and play at the Easter concert: frankly it was asking a bit much as I didn’t know who they were and what’s more they wanted the huge sum of £100 for a two hour show. Much persuasion of the teachers was necessary but eventually they had to agree as ‘Love Me Do’ had gone into the charts and everybody was clamouring to see the band. I made the recording and as time went by forgot about it. I am thrilled it is now available for all Beatles fans to hear and get an idea of how exciting a live Beatles show was, especially that unique evening.”
Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the British Library, home to the UK’s national Sound Archives. Our historical audio records are a key part of the Library’s collections, offering the public the chance to listen back to the people and events that have shaped how we live today. Listen in to the Beatles’ concert at Stowe and you’ll hear a country on the cusp of social change, just before the swinging sixties changed the face of post-war Britain. The Beatles are now synonymous with this era, but once, in 1963, they were just a band, playing a concert to unsuspecting schoolboys, and now thanks to John we can join them.”
Karoline Engelhardt, Curator Popular Music Recordings at the British Library, said: “The British Library is home to one of the largest collections of recorded sound in the world and John’s recording represents a really special addition to it. In the Sound Archive you can listen to the voice of Queen Victoria, the sounds of endangered animals and now this unique tape of the earliest known recording of a live performance by the Beatles in the UK. Our skilled sound preservation specialists used the most effective methods to digitally capture the tape’s audio, and it will now delight listeners for a long time to come.”