- United Kingdom
- Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School
More from year 1963
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One of The Beatles’ more unusual live engagements, certainly for 1963: a performance at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.
Stowe School was a prestigious all-boys public school. The event came about after one of the pupils, David Moores from Liverpool, contacted Brian Epstein to see if The Beatles would consider performing. Epstein was impressed enough with Moores’ approach that he agreed to the booking.
The performance in the school’s Roxburgh Hall was unusual for another reason: the boys sat in neat rows watching the performance, without a single scream to be heard. David Magnus, an assistant to the photographer Dezo Hoffman, took a number of photos of the event.
A recording of The Beatles in conversation backstage after the performance was auctioned in Japan in 1997.
The earliest known full recording of The Beatles playing a live concert in the UK, at the point they were becoming the biggest band in the nation, has been revealed by BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, almost exactly 60 years after it was made.
The hour-long quarter-inch tape recording was made by 15-year-old John Bloomfield at Stowe boarding school in Buckinghamshire on 4 April 1963 when the band played a concert at the school’s theatre.
They had been booked by fellow pupil David Moores, who had written to manager Brian Epstein.
Epstein, perhaps recognising the connection to an important Liverpool family – the Moores family owned the Littlewoods football pools and retail business – agreed to the booking for a fee of £100, and Moores raised the funds by selling tickets to schoolmates.
Bloomfield was a self-confessed tech geek keen to try out a new reel-to-reel tape recorder. Now in his 70s, he revealed the existence of the tape when I went to Stowe to make a Front Row special about the 60th anniversary of the concert.
It was a unique Beatles gig, performed in front of an almost entirely male audience. And crucially, despite loud cheers and some screaming, the tape is not drowned out by the audience reaction.
It captures the appeal of The Beatles’ tightly-honed live act, with a mixture of their club repertoire of R&B covers and the start of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, with tracks off their debut album Please Please Me, which had been released barely two weeks earlier, on 22 March.
They kicked off with the album’s opening track I Saw Her Standing There and then segued into Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business.
Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn and I are the only people to have heard the full recording after Bloomfield agreed to play it for the first time since the recording was made. Part of it was played on Front Row on Monday (3 April).
Speaking about its significance, Lewisohn said: “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 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.
“I think it’s an incredibly important recording, and I hope something good and constructive and creative eventually happens to it.
“I didn’t even know this tape existed until you told me about it, and I think I had to pick myself up off the floor.”
The band arrived late from a recording at the BBC Paris Studios and, used to playing two half-hour sets, rattled through more than 22 songs in an hour.
Remarkably, they are heard taking requests from the schoolboys, who shouted out the names of songs that had been released just two weeks earlier. The banter between the band and audience reveals John Lennon doing joke voices, the huge popularity of Ringo Starr, and the fact that George Harrison had lost his voice and was unable to sing.
Bloomfield said the show made a big impact on him. “I would say I grew up at that very instant,” he said. “It sounds a bit of an exaggeration, but I realised this was something from a different planet.”
Although Stowe was a boys’ school at the time, some girls were watching the Fab Four from the back. “It wasn’t until they started playing that we heard the screaming, and we realised we were in the middle of Beatlemania,” Bloomfield said. “It was just something we’d never even vaguely experienced.”
Afterwards, the band were taken for a meal in the tuck shop and were shown Bloomfield’s typically spartan dorm room.
In 2020, when the school put up a blue plaque to celebrate the Beatles’ visit, Sir Paul McCartney recalled how shocked they’d been. “Good old working class boys like us had never visited an establishment like Stowe and we were shocked to see the stark living conditions,” he said.
Bloomfield has kept the recording for all these years, but had never publicly revealed its existence until now.
Visiting the school theatre again, he said he was embarrassed to have made the tape, but seeing the Beatles had changed his life and he found it emotional listening to it again, 60 years on.
It was a sweet slice of cultural history and, at the same time, evidence of an unlikely clash of English social classes. The discovery of a tape recording of an early Beatles concert made in 1963 at a Buckinghamshire public school last week has astonished music experts and fans alike.
And now the crackling, hissing 60-year-old tape, complete with audible banter from the Fab Four, is to be restored for wider listening, according to the BBC journalist who uncovered the story, Samira Ahmed. The former student who made the tape, John Bloomfield, hopes to have it enhanced with the same kind of technology that has recently improved other early Beatles demo tapes and first studio takes.
“Talks are under way to get [the tape] cleaned up and for a permanent home in a national cultural institution,” Ahmed has told the Observer. “John feels strongly that it should not end up, as so many Beatles relics have, in the vault of a private individual.”
Bloomfield was the teenage stage manager for the concert in the Stowe school theatre on 4 April and he had the foresight to place a microphone at the front of the stage, that fed into his new Butoba MT5 recording machine. Fearing later that its poor quality made it worthless, he simply stored it away in his home while the band’s worldwide fame grew and grew, enduring even now, more than half a century after they last played together in public.
Most striking among the revelations on the tape, and revealed in full below for the first time, is the set list. Details such as these shed fresh light on the musical progression of the band at a point when they were on the cusp of stardom.
That list includes some American rhythm and blues standards – including I Just Don’t Understand and Matchbox – honed by the young band members during late-night stints at clubs in Hamburg’s red light district in the previous three years. But the running order that evening was also peppered with their own compositions, including From Me to You, which would go to No 1 in the UK charts the following week, and tunes from their recently released album, Please Please Me, that were soon to become recognisable around the world.
Rumours of the tape’s existence had persisted down the decades and the current headmaster, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, suggested to Ahmed and Bloomfield, who both visited the school this March with the BBC, that perhaps it might be time to find it.
Hearing the sound of the tape played, initially over the video call, immediately persuaded Ahmed that her news story was about more than just marking the anniversary of an extraordinary event at the school. Instead she felt that she was able to finally imagine the power of the moment that the Beatles sound first really began to be appreciated by British audiences.
“I felt my whole body vibrate with the sheer raw power of the Beatles,” Ahmed recalled. Other revelations include suggestions that John, Paul, George and Ringo were all fuelled by more than just adrenaline and beer on that night. After all, they have since admitted that their gruelling German gigs were only possible with the help of a stimulant called Preludin. It has also emerged that after the concert at Stowe, Ringo, then 22, made a jokey lewd approach to one of the teenage girls who had been watching from the back of the hall, the daughters of school staff members.
“It must have been like a hurricane hitting that school,” writes Ahmed in the Observer. “They wolfed down chicken and chips in the school tuck shop, and on the walk back to the car, Ringo suggested a quick fumble in the bushes to one of the girls (politely declined).”
BEATLES ‘STOWE SCHOOL CONCERT TAPE 1963’ – Transcript, with approx timings:
0.00 Beatles tuning up; faint classical music played in background (over PA?)
0.52 Crowd cheers;
John?: ‘Ello… ‘ello… who’s your lady friend’ (faint, off mic); faint laughter from crowd
1.06 ‘I SAW HER STANDING THERE’ – cheers and clapping throughout, right from the start.
Clapping on the ‘on’ beat (1 and 3, not 2 and 4)
3.48 TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS (straight after ISHST, no chat or pause)
5.49 Crowd cheers.
Paul: ‘Thank you very much, good evening and all that… before we go further we’d like to apologise cos George has lost his voice (‘Hurray!’ – John, to some laughs) so he won’t be able to sing any bits, y’know (‘Bits?! – John, laughing)
‘We’d like to carry on with a song which is our first record (‘record’ – John, faint) with Screaming (indistinct name) on mouth organ… a tune called ‘Love Me Do’
6.49 LOVE ME DO – clapping again throughout, very noticeable when the accompaniment pauses during the chorus (‘so Ple-e-e-e-e-e-ase…. (PAUSE)… Love Me Do’ (ie heavy clapping at the ‘pause’)
George’s rhythm guitar strums are very clear on the off-beat (only)
George does ‘chugging’ riffs after the harmonica solo, different to the record, similar in feel to the Pete Best arrangement. Neat little outro guitar solo too.
8.50 Crowd cheers.
Paul: ‘We’d like to do a tune now, recently recorded by some friends of ours, a Liverpool Group, The Big Three… it’s just come into the hit parade (‘Booo!’ – John)… a tune that’s called ‘Some Other Guy’
9.11 SOME OTHER GUY – clapping again throughout, and cheers during the guitar solo
11.15 Crowd cheers.
Paul: ‘Thank you very much. We’d like to do a tune now which we wrote a few weeks ago especially for a fella called Mister Kenny Lynch (‘Kenny Lynch!’ – John, in his ‘spastic’ voice, presumably with matching face and hand movements) (crowd whistles and cheers) (a lone voice in the crowd: ‘Misery!’)
‘This is Kenny Lynch’s latest single record (‘single!’ – ‘spastic’ John)…
‘We also recorded it for our latest LP (‘LP!’ – ‘spastic’ John)…
‘the song’s called ‘Misery’ (‘Misery!’ – ‘spastic’ John) (crowd laughter, and cheers)
11.59 MISERY – clapping, cheers and whistles, also what sounds like very feminine screaming now (late arrivals, or girls finally plucking up courage?)
13.48 Crowd cheers.
Paul: ‘Thank you very much’
John: ‘We’d like to do one we haven’t done for a bit, cos we don’t usually play this long, haha, and we’ve got to work ’em out so it’s not just him singing’ (Paul: ‘Ha, OK’) We’d like to do a waltz (crowd laughter) It’s called You Don’t Understand by ????? (indistinct)
14.21 YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – John” says ‘Go!’ just before the guitar solo.
17.02 Crowd cheers
Paul: ‘We’d like to carry on now with a tune, an old blues tune, it’s called ‘A Shot of Rhythm & Blues’
17.18 A SHOT OF RHYTHM AND BLUES – brief dropout in the tape at 17.54, 1 sec
19.58 Crowd cheers, indistinct shouts
John: ‘I’d like to carry on…. (Paul and George? interject: ‘Boys!’) Pardon? Oh aye!
Paul: ‘We’ve just had a request (‘Give it to ’em!’ – Ringo? John?) for, erm, our drummer to sing… You might’ve heard… anyone heard the LP? (cheers) (‘Take two house points!’ – George? Ringo?) Great! So, a track off the LP, Bingo sings (‘alright, Bingo!’ – John)
George? ‘We’re going to sing ?????? (indistinct)
Paul: ‘Go on, George’
George: ‘Never mind that’
Ringo?: ‘All join in, folks! (in Spike Milligan ‘Goons’ voice)…. that’s loud!’ (reacting to hearing his voice on mic)
20.46 BOYS – wild cheering and screams throughout, especially during the guitar solo. Lots of Ringo and George fans in the crowd, perhaps?
23.19 Crowd cheers
Crowd member: ‘There’s A Place!’
Paul: ‘Thank you, thank you’
Ringo: ‘I’d like to do another one now, make you suffer… (Crowd member: ‘How Do You Do It!’)
‘Matchbox… Carl Perkins… (John laughs at something)… ???? (indistinct) Big stuff (??)
23.37 MATCHBOX – cheers throughout again
26.33 Crowd cheers
Paul: ‘well this is one we’d like to do now which wasn’t on the LP and is in fact our new release… this is our next record what’s going to be out, y’know (‘Oh aye, yes!’ – John, in hammy Northern voice)…
‘this one written(??) by ourselves, just pluggin; it, y’know, so we hope if you like it, you’ll buy it (‘And if you don’t like it, don’t buy it (???) – John) It’s called, er…. what’s it called? (‘From Me, To You!’ – John, in posh ‘actor’ voice) … From Me To You. Ready? 1,2 3….
27.14 FROM ME TO YOU – cheers and whistles throughout
29.09 Crowd cheers
John: ‘Well seeing as you clapped, we’ll do the B-side…’
Paul: ‘It’s a good excuse, yeah, it’s called Thank You Girl. Don’t worry though (??? indecipherable)
29.43 THANK YOU GIRL – ends on a little guitar strum from George, not on the record, and a brief squeal of feedback
31.44 Crowd cheers
Paul: ‘??? (indistinct) a Chuck Berry number now
Crowd member: ‘A Taste of Honey!’
Paul: ‘No, we can’t do that yet..’
John: ‘We’re doing a Chuck Berry one called Memphis Tennessee – and I bet it is…’
32.09 MEMPHIS TENNESSEE
34.29 Crowd cheers
Paul: ‘Thank you very much… We’ve had a request (various shouts: ‘A Taste of Honey!’ ‘Chains!’ ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret!’)… we’ve had two requests for ‘A Taste of Honey’.. so we’d like to do “A Taste Of Honey’ (cheers)
35.06 A TASTE OF HONEY (Some laughter during the intro, but then audience very quiet for this one)
37.05 Crowd cheers, more requests shouted out: ‘Twist & Shout!’ ‘There’s A Place!’
John: ‘We’ve had a request for ‘Twist & Shout’…’
George: ‘??? (indistinct)…. I’ve got no voice, y’see’
(More indistinct chat)
37.45 TWIST AND SHOUT (cheers)
40.11 Crowd cheers, more requests shouted out: ‘Please Please Me!’ ‘Anna!’
Paul: ‘By the way, as you may have noticed, this is a bit unrehearsed, we thought we’d be doing two half-hour spots… We’ve just had a request, Tom’s had a request, JOHN, John’s had a request, for ‘Anna’ off the LP
(audience member? ‘Yeah! yeah!’)
‘So, again, George will ?????? (indistinct)
‘Good ol’ George!’ – audience member
41.18 ANNA – some comment in the intro gets a laugh; audience listens fairly quietly again, some singing along ‘Anna’ in the chorus
44.20 Crowd cheers
John: ‘???? ending on that’ (referring to the song’s ending)
Paul: ‘We’ve had a request for ‘Please Please Me’ so, (Cheers).. thank you. But before we do it, we’d like to thank you for ???? (indistinct) (Laughter from John)
44.59 PLEASE PLEASE ME – brief dropout in the tape at 45.39, 1 sec
46.59 Crowd cheers, whistles, more requests shouted out: ‘Chains!’ ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret!’
Paul: We’d like to carry on with a tune recorded a long time ago by a fella called Chan Romero, if you’ve heard of him… (audience very quiet, just one voice shouts: ‘No we haven’t!’)… Don’t worry… It’s called The Hippy Hippy Shake
47.45 THE HIPPY HIPPY SHAKE – loud enthusiastic cheering right from the start. Crowd loving the song within seconds of hearing it for the first time!
49.35 Crowd cheers, more requests shouted out: ‘Long Tall Sally!’ ‘There’s A Place!’ ‘Ask Me Why!’ ‘PS I Love You!’
Paul: ‘OK, we’ll have a bash at ‘Ask Me Why’
(audience member: ‘Make George sing!’)
52.37 ASK ME WHY – some screams again
54.36 – crowd cheers, applause, shouts of ‘Ringo!’
Paul: ‘Any requests?’
Crowd: ‘Ringo!’ (numerous calls) ‘I Saw Her Standing There’
Paul: ‘er, here’s one you might ???prefer???, quite a slow tune recorded by Peggy Leg… er, Lee (laughter) from the show The Music Man, and it’s called ‘Til There Was You’
55.47 TIL THERE WAS YOU – crowd very quiet and attentive for this one, probably the clearest performance on the whole tape
57.50 Crowd cheers, more requests: ‘How Do You Do It!’ -someone sings a line of the song
John: ‘We’d like to do one of Julie London’s, now…’
(audience member, again: ‘How Do You Do it!’)
John: ‘ (indistinct) ‘..he doesn’t do ours, y’see!… it’s called ‘Money’
58.26 MONEY – 58.48 drops in volume, then cuts out completely and we hear the start of’ Surfin Bird’ by the Trashmen
59.00 – Surfin Bird by the Trashmen – the full record, which fades out at 1.01.25
Paul: ‘Yeah well, OK, we’ve had a request to do one that’s a repeat, we started off with it, and seeing as we’re stuck for numbers, seems a good excuse… (audience very quiet again)… sorry, ???? (something about George, and ‘Chains’, presumably how they can’t do it with him unable to sing?)
Brief dropout again
Paul: ‘so, a request for these fellas in the front row….’
1.02.14: I SAW HER STANDING THERE – loud cheering, singing along and screams
Tape Cuts off.From Stowe School tape – transcript – beatlegdb.com
Last updated on October 20, 2023
Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School
This was the 1st and only concert played at Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School.
Setlist for the concert