Every year, on January 30, Tony Barrell goes on a pilgrimage to the site of the Beatles’ rooftop concert
On the 30th morning of every year, I go on a pilgrimage. I don’t bother with Lourdes, Fátima, Lindisfarne or any of those other holy places: I journey to the West End of London and walk to Savile Row. I find a nice spot on the pavement over the road from number 3, and I gaze up at the handsome Georgian brick mansion that was once home to the Beatles and their company, Apple Corps.
It was on the roof of this building on January 30, 1969, that John, Paul, George and Ringo – accompanied by their guest keyboardist Billy Preston – took London by surprise with 42 minutes of live music and banter. It was a premiere for a batch of songs including ‘Get Back’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’. And, of course, it was the last time the world’s greatest band performed live to the public.
I come here to remember John and George – two wise, creative, complex men who died too young
I come to Savile Row to pay my respects to the band that has soundtracked my life. I come here to meet other Beatles fans and talk about their astonishing, timeless music. I come here to remember John Lennon and George Harrison – two wise, creative, complex men who achieved so much in their lives but died too young.
Perhaps one day I’ll turn a corner and find myself transported back to 1969
And I also come here because there’s a ridiculous part of me that hopes time travel is achievable. Perhaps one day I’ll turn a corner and find myself transported back to 1969 – just as Nicholas Lyndhurst travelled back to the 1940s by walking down a London snicket in the sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart. I’ll arrive in Savile Row just as the boys are tuning their guitars. When the music hits the cold air and the confused people around me start asking “Who is it?”, I’ll turn to them and say: “It’s the Beatles. This is their final public performance, so make sure you stick around and enjoy it. If at all possible, you should climb up on a nearby roof so you can actually see them.”
When the policemen eventually start hammering on the Beatles’ front door, asking them to turn the noise down because they’ve had complaints from whining businessmen, I’ll tell them to go away: “Look, Officer, none of us are ever going to hear the Beatles again. This is history in the making! Let them carry on and let’s all enjoy it. Now, with respect, you need to bugger off and investigate some real crimes instead.” Then, as the bobbies slink away (hopefully without arresting me) and the band continue to play beyond 42 minutes, maybe we’ll hear some more songs – George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’, perhaps, or some oldies – and an extended rock’n’roll workout before the afternoon light faded and it became too cold to play another note.
If I couldn’t physically go back to the rooftop concert, then at least I could do a ton of research and transport myself mentally
Of course, the sensible part of me knows I won’t find a time portal here. That’s why I wrote the book The Beatles on the Roof: because if I couldn’t physically go back to the rooftop concert, then at least I could do a ton of research and transport myself mentally. And that’s how it felt as I rummaged through the archives, interviewed people who were there on that historic day, and actually wrote the book.
A well-written and thoroughly researched book. The Beatles On The Roof is a charming piece of literature with a lot of warmth and soul to it. Certain passages were really touching and Barrell’s enthusiasm for the subject matter is inspiring
Here’s a nice review of the book from the Norwegian rock webzine Eternal Terror:
“The brilliant thing about this well-written and thoroughly researched book by author Tony Barrell is that it examines and explores the rooftop performance in relation to the interpersonal relationships between the different members of the band as well as the staff and managers and so on. In that sense, Barrell’s piece focuses on so much more than just the actual performance and those who were there to witness it… ‘The Beatles on the Roof’ is a charming piece of literature with a lot of warmth and soul to it. There is a sense of longing to Barrell’s narrative in that he tells of magical and enchanting things from a bygone era that the rest of us can only dream about. Certain passages were really touching and his enthusiasm for the subject matter is inspiring. The way in which he evokes a sense of 60s London and touches on The Beatles’ relation to the great city is brilliant. A great book for all of those who are interested in The Beatles and the cultural impact of the rooftop concert.”
You can read more about the book here. ♦
© 2018 Tony Barrell