FINALE: Paul and John playing the gig
LUNCHTIME, Thursday January 30, 1969. The stately calm of Savile Row, long famed for distinguished tailoring and softly spoken service, has been invaded by the raucous sound of electric guitars, pounding drums and belting rock’n’roll singing. The owners of Number Three, a fine five-storey building, are making a din. The sound of neighbours’ tut-tutting is loud but not as loud as the music
On the pavement below there’s a growing and motley crowd, many of whom normally have no reason to come here.
To general amazement and with no warning whatsoever The Beatles – THE BEATLES! – are playing on the roof.
They can’t be seen by the hundreds of eyes peering upwards from the street, but windows with a view are full of faces and people with access to neighbouring roofs are scurrying up, among them a man well into middle age in overcoat and trilby, smoking a pipe.
It’s a cold day and the band are well wrapped up – Ringo in his wife Maureen’s shiny orange mac, George and John in fur coats.
Paul is wearing a black jacket. His face is insulated by the full beard his girlfriend Linda has encouraged him to grow. All four of them, once moptops, now long-time hippies, have lots of hair blowing in the wind.
30th January 1969: British rock group the Beatles performing their last live public concert
A few hundred yards to the west, 10,000 striking postal workers are rallying in Hyde Park and being addressed by their union leader Tom Jackson.
A mile or so to the east the London School of Economics is under siege by protesting students. Signs of the times.
The Beatles had bought the Savile Row house as headquarters for Apple, the company they had started as shelter and sponsor for imaginative and creative folk who excited them – a sort of arts council for the weird and wacky, not to say the grasping and fraudulent.
Derek Taylor, Apple’s heroic press officer, describes one day when Hells Angels, the manager of the Grateful Dead, a homeless family of seven from California, The Beach Boys, Hare Krishna people and a druggy Indian seeking money for his poetry magazine all turned up.
John and Yoko in Amsterdam
“Savile Row didn’t really welcome The Beatles,” he wrote.
“Many of the shopkeepers there – silly snobbish, growly, obsequious people, believed that since they had been selling marvellous suits to marvellous people they had the right to be the only ones there, which is about as daft as you can get.”
THE concert on the roof was the climax of a film called Let It Be, which records the making of a Beatles album – not a complex, multi-layered artefact of the Revolver or Sgt Pepper variety, but just straightforward playing by a great band with a couple of terrific rock’n’roll voices.
By now the four men were more or less at war with each other but that lunchtime, before the police put a stop to it, they – enhanced by the addition of the American keyboard player Billy Preston – produced a storming set.
Rock and roll band “The Beatles” pose for a portrait in circa 1964
It’s rare to hear the Beatles live, their concerts were so buried in screams that they couldn’t even hear themselves. But because this was filmed it’s easily findable on YouTube.
Yoko Ono is there, leaning against a chimney.
She and John were besotted with each other which made for friction in the band. When Paul is singing Get Back (to where you once belonged) John claimed he was looking straight at Yoko. The film offers little evidence of that.
John is great singing Don’t Let Me Down, Dig A Pony and One After 909, a song he wrote when he was 17. The Beatles really seem to be enjoying themselves.
But for John it was all over. He had moved into a private Johnand-Yoko world.
They would marry that March and honeymoon in Amsterdam, summoning the press to witness them in their bed-in for world peace.
Doing the finale of the film here on this roof came about only after a plethora of exotic and extravagant ideas had been mooted and rejected: what about a Tunisian amphitheatre? Ethiopia? The Grand Canyon? Ringo had suggested Gibraltar.
Paul thought a couple of boats “like the QE2” could take concert-goers to Tunisia, but in the end it was Savile Row.
Relations between The Beatles had been fragile for some time.
The recording in 1968 of the double White Album had been torturous.
Since the death of their manager Brian Epstein the previous year the band had become directionless and only Paul seemed focused on keeping things together.
Frightened by John’s increasing sarcasm, he was insensitive towards George and Ringo and so worried by how things were going that he lay awake at night.
One night he had a dream that his dead mother Mary came to him speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
They weren’t the first to film their music-making in 1968.
In fact, perhaps they were prompted by Elvis Presley’s quite intimate and extremely successful comeback documentary or the great French film director Jean-Luc Godard documenting The Rolling Stones recording Sympathy For The Devil.
Whatever, they were not enjoying their time surrounded by cameras on big sound stages at Twickenham film studios. In fact, they were hating it.
The band in 1963
George took great exception to Paul explaining how he wanted him to play on his songs.
He was the guitarist in the band and he felt it was for him to decide how he played. On January 10, George walked out saying he was leaving The Beatles, but five days later he was back. Everyone was a bit chastened.
Recording was moved to their new studio in the basement at Savile Row, designed by Alexis Mardas – Magic Alex, a Greek designer they had welcomed as a genius.
He was ahead of his time, but not in the matter of designing recording studios.
He had forgotten to put any holes in the wall between the studio and the control room and the air conditioning had to be turned off when they recorded because it made a nasty noise.
Last live performance, Saville Row
Magic Alex was royally financially supported. He was the sort of asset that turned Apple into a money pit. Money worries played a big role in breaking up The Beatles.
Among those who rushed to Savile Row when on hearing that The Beatles were playing was 19-year-old Mick Brown, who was working at Simpsons clothing emporium in Piccadilly.
Nearly 40 years later he would write the biography of Phil Spector, the American record producer John Lennon brought in later, without Paul’s knowledge, to make something of the shambolic musical mess the Let It Be project had become.
After they had a second go at Get Back, John Lennon turned to the microphone as his bandmates took off their guitars and said to the largely unseen audience: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, I hope we passed the audition.”
And that was that. The Beatles never played live together again.