For music nerds, it's the same kind of feeling as rare dinosaur bones being unearthed; the earliest known full recording of The Beatles playing a live show in the U.K. has been found almost exactly 60 years after it was made.
This particular Beatles gig took place on April 4, 1963 when the up-and-coming band performed at a school’s theater. Teenager John Bloomfield, a boarder at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, tested out his new reel-to-reel tape recorder at the show. The hour-long quarter-inch tape result, revealed on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, opens with “I Saw Her Standing There,” then segues into Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business.”
The setlist was made up of songs from The Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me, which had been released on March 22, 1963, as well as some of the legendary group’s R&B covers. They’re also heard taking requests from students, and joking amongst themselves between tracks.
Bloomfield, who is now 75 years old, was only 15 at the time. He kept the tape a secret for years. He finally revealed its existence when journalist Samira Ahmed visited Stowe to make a special program for Radio 4’s Front Row to mark the gig’s 60th anniversary. “It was a unique Beatles gig, performed in front of an almost entirely male audience,” Ahmed wrote of the discovery. “And crucially, despite loud cheers and some screaming, the tape is not drowned out by the audience reaction.”
Speaking about the find, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn also commented, “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. And at that point, all audience recordings become blanketed in screams...So here is an opportunity to hear them in the U.K., 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.”
So far, former Beatles members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have not reacted to the news. The discovery of the tape comes after the Danny Boyle-helmed film based on the band’s music, Yesterday (2019), and Peter Jackson's bombshell documentary Get Back, which dropped in late 2021 and showed previously unseen footage of the Fab Four during their final recording sessions.
Ahmed and Lewisohn are the only people to have heard the full Stowe School recording after Bloomfield agreed to play it for the first time since it was made six decades ago. The full recording is not publicly available at this time. However, part of the historic recording was played on the April 3 broadcast of BBC's Front Row. It is available to listen to exclusively on the podcast's website. Click here to check it out.
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Article Image: A wide shot of the Beatles playing their historic TV debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. (Bernard Gotfryd [Available through Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.)