The rooftop concert • Thursday, January 30, 1969

ConcertBy The Beatles

About

On this day, The Beatles, with Billy Preston, performed their final live performance on the top of the Apple headquarters, at 3 Savile Row, London. It was lunchtime and the performance lasted 42 minutes.

A couple of days later we were all having lunch on the third floor. Ringo and I were in conversation about the building and its attributes and he asked me if I had ever been up on the roof, saying it had a wonderful view of the West End of London. So he took me and Michael Lindsay-Hogg up there, showing us a large area of flat roof with wonderful views of the city stretching away to the southwest. I suggested that if they wanted to play to a large crowd, why not play on the roof to the whole of the West End. We went back downstairs and put it to the others, and after some discussion, it was agreed. As the Savile Row police station was only a couple of hundred yards away we knew the concert would probably not last long, but the police stopping it would all be part of the fun.

Glyn Johns – From “Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles , Eric Clapton, the Faces…”, 2014

It was good fun, actually. We had to set the mikes up and get a show together. I remember seeing Vicki Wickham of Ready, Steady, Go! (there’s a name to conjure with) on the opposite roof, for some reason, with the street between us. She and a couple of friends sat there, and then the secretaries from the lawyers’ offices next door came out on their roof.We decided to go through all the stuff we’d been rehearsing and record it. If we got a good take on it then that would be the recording; if not, we’d use one of the earlier takes that we’d done downstairs in the basement. It was really good fun because it was outdoors, which was unusual for us. We hadn’t played outdoors for a long time.It was a very strange location because there was no audience except for Vicki Wickham and a few others. So we were playing virtually to nothing – to the sky, which was quite nice. They filmed downstairs in the street – and there were a lot of city gents looking up: ‘What’s that noise?’

Paul McCartney

There was a plan to play live somewhere. We were wondering where we could go – “Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara.” But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided “Let’s get up on the roof.”

Ringo Starr – Quoted in Classic Rock, May 2020

In your recollection, playing on the roof was your idea, right?

I figured it was my job to say we need a place we’re going to, we need a place to end, we need a conclusion. And that’s when I said, “Why don’t we do it on the roof?” Because I thought that was part of my job, to offer them choices. Because it wasn’t that they lacked ideas or imagination. God, no. But you had to help focus them because they had a million other things to do, including making an album.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg – From Rolling Stone, November 2, 2021

We went on the roof in order to resolve the live concert idea, because it was much simpler than going anywhere else; also nobody had ever done that, so it would be interesting to see what happened when we started playing up there. It was a nice little social study. We set up a camera in the Apple reception area, behind a window so nobody could see it, and we filmed people coming in. The police and everybody came in saying, ‘You can’t do that! You’ve got to stop.’

George Harrison – Anthology

That was one of the greatest and most exciting days of my life. To see The Beatles playing together and getting an instant feedback from the people around them, five cameras on the roof, cameras across the road, in the road, it was just unbelievable.

Alan Parsons – The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

I think the reason for the rooftop session was to generate a little excitement. They were sick of just playing the same tunes over and over again. They just wanted to get a solid performance recorded, and I think that, until they did go on the roof, they hadn’t really achieved that. Or at least they didn’t think that they had. They announced it just the night before. It was just, “Let’s go up on the roof tomorrow morning.” So we worked late into the night to get it happening. Part of my job was to run multiple cables from the basement up to the roof.

Alan Parsons – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

Glyn sent me out to buy some pantyhose to stick over the mics to minimise the wind noise. I walked into this department store and said, “I need three pair of pantyhose. It doesn’t matter what size.” They thought I was either a bank robber or a cross-dresser.

Alan Parsons – Interview with Guitar Player magazine

That was one of the greatest and most exciting days of my life. To see The Beatles playing together and getting instant feedback from the people around them, five cameras on the roof, in the road, it was just unbelievable. The only regret I have is that I intentionally set up behind all the cameras on the roof, so there is not one picture of me up there!

Alan Parsons – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

The first thing they had to do was get a builder in. He had a look on the roof and [had to] to get half a dozen Acrow props [telescopic tubular steel props] to make sure the ceiling didn’t cave in on the accounts department which was directly underneath.

It was just a pitched roof so they put down these Acrow props and then placed the wooden beams on top of them. Then it was a big deal to get sufficient power up to the roof for the lights and their amps. They were running feeds back down to the basement studio. That is why one of the numbers on the roof didn’t get fully recorded because they were changing tapes down in the basement.

Then someone said – it might have been Paul – “We should get a helicopter to film it as well.” Then the next thing you hear someone say, “Oh, there’s a girl in accounts and she has a lot of helicopters.” Eh? Turns out she was related to Bristow’s Helicopters. So they rang Bristow Helicopters and they said, “Yeah, yeah what do you want?” But the space was only 1,600 square feet so it would all have been a bit pointless really, not to say pretty dangerous. You have this image in your head of everyone on the roof either being hit by rotor blades or being carried away by the downdraft. Can you imagine it?

Les Parrott, cameraman – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

In the end it started to filter up from Mal that the police were complaining. We said, ‘We’re not stopping.’ He said, The police are going to arrest you.’ ‘Good end to the film. Let them do it. Great! That’s an end: “Beatles Busted on Rooftop Gig”.’

We kept going to the bitter end and, as I say, it was quite enjoyable. I had my little Hofner bass – very light, very enjoyable to play. In the end the policeman, Number 503 of the Greater Westminster Council, made his way round the back: ‘You have to stop!’ We said, ‘Make him pull us off. This is a demo, man!’

I think they pulled the plug, and that was the end of the film.

Paul McCartney – Anthology

I’m four to six feet away from the band, so I’m virtually looking in their faces. When they started playing, at some point – and this is something I’ll never forget – there was this moment where Paul looked over at John or John looked at Paul and there was this look of recognition. It’s like they were saying: “You know what? No matter what’s going down, this is us. This is who we are. This is what we’ve always been. Stuff’s going down right now, but we are what we are, and that’s a good rock’n’roll band.”

Ken Mansfield – Quoted in Classic Rock, May 2020

We set up a camera in the Apple reception area, behind a window so nobody could see it, and we filmed people coming in. The police and everybody came in saying: “You can’t do that! You’ve got to stop.”

George Harrison – Quoted in Classic Rock, May 2020

I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition.

John Lennon

I didn’t need to be out front or anything like that. I was an invited guest but it was one of the best moments of my career. I got to play on the last live performance of The Beatles and, let me tell you, it was magical.

Billy Preston – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

I arrived as a young cop from Piccadilly Circus and there were about fifty or sixty people spread around the roof. One of the things I remember was the music was fantastic and every available roof space was taken up by people. They were sitting on chimney stacks to get a better view. And despite my instructions to arrest The Beatles, no one would have done that, because it would have ended perhaps the greatest concert that had ever happened. Thirty minutes later, I left absolutely buoyant having witnessed one of the greatest bands in the world. I don’t think the police were ever going to stop The Beatles [playing]. It was a great party atmosphere. There was no disorder. I remember John Lennon making quips like “I’ll come quietly” and things like that. It was a lucky day for me and a lucky day for London that they had this free concert by The Beatles on the roof.

Ken Wharfe – Policeman – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

I was lucky to have been there because the roof was actually very weak at the top of Apple and so they told all of us that we couldn’t go up there. None of the employees could. I always got to know the right people so I got to know the cameraman. And he said, “Come up, you can help me.” So I went up and I just sat there thinking, “God, I hope nobody realises that I’m not supposed to be here”. But it was… it was freezing cold. That is, I mean that I remember more than anything – how cold it was up there. But also it was just so exciting to think originally the idea was that they were going to… they were doing it so that everybody in the whole West End of London could hear the music and in fact the amps weren’t that big. So the people on Savile Row could hear it, and it was fun to watch them looking up trying to figure out, what was that?

Chris O’Dell – From the Apple press office – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

When you look back on it now it was an incredible thing just to be there. It really was historic. But at the time you’re just trying to make sure everything goes okay. I was used to seeing them so I wasn’t, like, starstruck or anything. But it’s only when you look at the pictures that you think, I was really there.

Kevin Harrington – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

They’d been through everything together. It was kind of like a marriage and people were starting to not get along as they had when they first got married. But when they got up on the roof they really loved it. It was cold but they had a very good time together. It proved to them that they were such a great rock and roll band. They could still connect and they could connect as beautifully as they’d always done.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

Since you know it’s their last time playing in public, and since you know they didn’t know themselves it was the last time, it’s kind of beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time because if anyone ever passed any audition it was them.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg – From “And In The End” by Ken McNab

Alistair Taylor “They had this great idea of filming them actually playing live on the flat roof at Savile Row, which is all very well, but it stopped the traffic, and it sent the police hurling round. I’m not sure if it was a defied gesture to say, ‘Goodbye, public,’ or whether it was an act to really upset the residents of Savile Row. We thought it was a great idea and they decided to do it at lunchtime. Plans were being laid and Big Mal Evans was humping all this gear up onto the roof. All the amps, drums and all the speakers, all had to go up there. We all knew that it was going to stop the traffic. We knew that the police would be there, saying, ‘You can’t do this! This isn’t on,’ because the Savile Row police station is only about three-hundred yards away down at the bottom of Savile Row and we were virtually at the top end. The main thing that amused me was that they were doing this in the middle of the highly respected tailoring industry and we knew that the other residents would complain. The Beatles said to me, ‘What we’ll do is set up a camera in the reception, in a secret booth, matching in with all the paint work and everything. A hidden camera, and we’ll film the police coming in.’ But, I wasn’t happy about this, because, over the years, the police had been very co-operative with the boys, assisting them in and out of hotels and airports. So, I said, ‘This is not fair, filming them in a secret booth. If you want to film them, film them without a hidden camera. So, if you want to do this, I don’t want to know about it.’ But, in fact, they went ahead and set up this booth, painted it out to match the surroundings and it didn’t look like a booth in the corner. I said, ‘Right, I’m going. I’m not going to be in the building when this happens.’”

Badman, Keith. The Beatles: Off the Record . Music Sales. Kindle Edition.

Badman, Keith. The Beatles: Off the Record . Music Sales. Kindle Edition.

We were used to odd events, and so the sight of John, Paul, George and Ringo plus the TV people climbing onto the roof didn’t faze me. But, when they started playing right above me, and my office ceiling began to vibrate, I thought it was time to move. I rushed out of the front door into the street to find the other office girls hanging out of windows screaming and hundreds of passers-by gazing up to the roof.

Jean Nisbet, Apple employee – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman

I ended up watching the concert, standing amongst the crowd on the corner of Savile Row, just like one of the gang. You could hear the show for miles. The volume of The Beatles’ performance on the roof was quite incredible!

Alistair Taylor – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman

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From Facebook – 30 January 1969 Photo by Ethan A. Russell © Apple Corps Ltd. (https://www.thebeatles.com/)
From Facebook – 30 January 1969 Photo by Ethan A. Russell © Apple Corps Ltd. (https://www.thebeatles.com/)

I had to climb up a wall and almost fell to my death. I like that picture as there was nobody bigger in the world, yet they really were quite small in the context of the city of London. The photo shows they were mere mortals after all.

Photographer Ethan Russell – From The Guardian, February 10, 2019
From Facebook – 30 January 1969 Photo by Ethan A. Russell © Apple Corps Ltd. (https://www.thebeatles.com/)
From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°69, April 1969
From Daily Express – January 31, 1969 – From They May Be Parted (@TheyMayBeParted) / Twitter
From Daily Mirror, January 31, 1969 – From They May Be Parted (@TheyMayBeParted) / Twitter
From Facebook – Photo © Apple Corps Ltd. (http://www.thebeatles.com/)

Last updated on February 6, 2022

The rooftop of the Apple building, 3 Savile Row

This was the 1st and only concert played at The rooftop of the Apple building, 3 Savile Row.

Setlist for the concert










9.

Danny Boy




12.

God Save The Queen



14.

A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody




Going further


If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.

Read more on The Beatles Bible

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