From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Tony Quinn)
Subject: The Beatles At The Beeb
Date: Sat, 11 Feb 1995 00:02:14 +0000
[This article originally appeared in 'AUDIO MEDIA' February 1995, a UK
trade magazine. I typed it in for those not in the business so apologies
THE BEATLES LIVE AT THE BBC - COMPILING THE 'LOST' TAPES
Down in the BBC vaults, we were told, they had stumbled upon golden tapes
containing long lost recordings of the Beatles' radio performances. It was
hailed as the greatest and most fortuitous discovery since the unearthing
of Tutankhamun's tomb, but then RICHARD BUSKIN,intrepid reporter, got on
the case and spoke to BBC Radio producer Kevin Howlett and Abbey Road
Studios engineer, Peter Mew. The truth, he learned, differed somewhat from
Well, well, well, here we go again! What is it about publicity and press
hacks that compels them, every timesome legendary, previously-unreleased
material is unleashed on the general public, to summon up images of said
tapes being discovered down in the vaults? For one thing, just how many
record companies do, in fact, have these mysterious - and, no doubt,
cobweb-infested - underground storage chambers; and secondly, are we to
assume that there are regularly exploratory expeditions undertaken in
order to seek out even more of this hidden treasure? You can just imagine
the scene..... Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
Indeed, in the case of the recently released Beatles radio sessions, we
were informed by news reports on the BBC itself that the vaults in which
the tapes were actually 'dust-encrusted', which doesn't say too much for
the work of the BBC archivists. Furthermore the tapes were miraculously
all found to be in pristine condition, and they contained songs which
nobody could recall the Beatles ever performing. Well, to all this I will
say just one thing - and, being my usual diplomatic self, I will do so in
a typically restrained manner - what a pile of tosh.
Of the 275 Beatles recordings broadcast by the BBC between March 8, 1962
and June 7, 1965, various were in fact re-broadcast by the network in a
two hour special entitled The Beatles At The Beeb in 1982. A three hour
version was subsequently syndicated in other countries, and in 1988, there
was a series of 14 half hour shows entitled The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes.
What is more, the fans have had bootleg recordings of many of these
sessions since the early 1970's. during the past year, an Italian company
has even put out a nine CD boxed set containing every single number the
band committed to tape in the BBC studios. The only reason for the delay
was the protracted legal wrangling between the BBC, EMI Records (to whom
the Beatles were contracted from 1962 onwards), and the group's own
company Apple Corp. So let's not talk about the mass rediscovery of long
DISCOVERING THE TOMB
Kevin Howlett, a senior producer at BBC Radio 1, wrote the sleeve notes
for the new album, The Beatles, Live At The BBC, having previously
re-engineered - and acted as a conduit in the location of - much of the
material that was used for the 1982 and 1988 re-broadcasts.
"At the press launch for the album, the first question I was asked was
whether it was like discovering Tutankhamen's tomb," he says. "So I
replied that the material was very exciting and that I therefore suppose
you could use that analogy if you want to. That was a mistake, however,
because the reporter then quoted me as asserting, 'it was like discovering
Tutankhamun's tomb!' I should have been wise to his little ploy, because
in truth I feel that the material is much more a time capsule that enables
you to travel back and rediscover where BBC Radio was at in the mid
Such is the case for Howlett himself whose own time at the beeb
commenced quite a few years later. "I was just a child listening at home
to this stuff - a beatle baby," he says. Nevertheless, while researching
the sessions he did talk to numerous people who had worked on them, and
from what they said, he deduced that, during the early to mid 60's,
therehad actually been a conscious decision among the BBc hierarchy to
dispose of all the material.
"I spoke to Jeff Griffin who was here at the BBC, and he recalled a
particular Head Of Department saying, 'This material is taking up too much
room. we've got to get rid of it!' Today that may seem ludicrous,
especially as Radio 1 has its own archive and we hang on to all our
sessions. In fairness, there was so much live recording done in those days
- because there weren't all that many records being played - that if they
had kept absolutely everything, it would have got completely out of
control. I mean. you didn't really need to keep the Northern Dance
Orchestra performing Singing The Blues for the fifteenth time or whatever.
"On the other hand, The Beatles had certainly become a phenomenon within
a very short space of time, and so you would have though that somebody
would have though that somebody would have considered the recordings worth
hanging onto for posterity. There again, I've also heard that the
contracts made with performing artists back then contained a clause
stating that session tapes should be destroyed after three months;
possibly a Musicians Union rule that its members would then be required to
return and make further recordings.
Nevertheless in spite of all the rules and regulations, some employees
fortunately did have the foresight todisregard them, albeit that the task
of tracking down and collating these remnants was anything but
straightforward for Howlett and his colleagues. The beeb, you see, is a
large corporate body with numerous arms that reach out to both the
domestic and overseas markets, and as a result, it has several different
archives in a variety of locations.
BACK TO THE ARCHIVE
"Over the years, it's been a process of putting the Beatles archive back
together really, as more and more stuff has come to light," says Howlett.
"For the series The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes, which included a lot of
speech interviews from the timew as well as the tracks, we turned up quite
a few things. One of the most exciting finds came from the BBC
Transcription Department, which was originally set up to distribute
programmes to far flung corners of the British Empire."
During the 1960's, there was a radio show called Top Of The Pops - not
to be confused with the television programme of the same name - hosted by
Brian Matthew. This fitted onto two sides of a long playing disc and it
featured Matthew presenting session tracks that had been recorded for
various BBC programmes by groups such as the Hollie, The Swinging Blue
Jeans.... and The Beatles.
"The transcription discs were utilised as the source for some of the
1964 material on the Live At The BBC album," explains Howlett. "On 'Things
We Said Today', for instance, you can hear Brian Matthew voicing-over some
sort of introduction, and that's actually taken from a Top Of The Pops
disc, because the original version without the voice-over doesn't exist.
"There can be no doubt that the shows were well recorded at the time. So
it's just a question as to how well the material has lasted over the years
and in what form. I can remeber George Martin (the album's Executive
Producer) saying to me that a disc is quite a good storage medium and that
he was quite happy to master from it. In fact when I was working on a
series called Paul Simon's Songbook a few years ago I talked to (producer)
Roy Halee about his re-mastering of the Simon and Garfunkel material and
how the original master tapes were in a bad condition, having been played
over and over again and not looked after. he was appalled at the state
they were in, and said, 'if only they could find me a decent mintcopy of
'Bridge Over Troubled Water', at least I would be able to master from
So much for disc storage, yet within the BBC Transcription Department
there is also a tape library, and it is here that the most exciting find
was made for the 1988 series The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes. "We came
across two ten-inch reels with 'The Beatles' on the spine," recalls
Howlett. "One of these was a half-hour reel featuring them larking around
for the '65 Christmas Show, (an edition of Saturday Club on which the
group did not perform any songs). They were being interviewed by Brian
Matthew and doing a send up of (the then influential TV pop show) Juke Box
Jury, and obviously another version was eventually edited down from this.
"At the same time, the other half-hour reel was similar in that it had
been left running while the session was in process, but it also included
them performing 'I Feel Fine' and 'She's A Woman'. It had false starts,
takes which broke down half-way through, and talkback between the group
and the control room. It was fascinating, and that was quite a find,
because it's sort of a pre-master really. From it, a master would have
been made - a track would have been dubbed down, edited or whatever".
It's wierd how some things turn up. For instance, I've done a programme
about the Rolling Stones' work at the Beeb. Some of their sessions are
still missing, but one of those that is still around is probably the most
interseting of all. In 1964, they performed tracks in front of a live
audience that they never recorded for Decca. it was an experimantel stereo
broadcast for the BBC, whereby they would broadcast one side of the stereo
on the radio and the other side on the television (ie. stereophony). Then
there were no television programmes in the early morning, and so they
broadcast one side of the stereo on TV only and you would have to position
your radio and your TV to get the stereo image! Now, that tape survived
because it was of interest technically. You know, some engineer kept it
because it was one of the first stereo broadcasts and not particularly
because it featured the Rolling Stones".
Meanwhile, with regard to The Beatles' radio performances, contact with
the original session producers yielded some more tapes, but there were
still quite a few gaps to be filled. It was for this reason that contact
also had to be made with some.... ahem, 'alternative sources'. Indeed,
since the transmission of the 1988 series, the most recent and valuable
discovery has been a recording that a member of the public made off his
radio back on January 26, 1963. Now it should be pointed out that this
kind of practice was, of course, highly illegal, but in the case of The
Beatles sessions, the BBC have had to behavein a manner which could more
aptly be described as bloody grateful rather than terribly annoyed, for it
is thanks to some eager listeners - and not the hallowed vaults - that
certain lost gems have been retreived.
"The 1988 radio series was virtually completed just before it went out
on the air", says Howlett, "but then when it did go out, some people
phoned up and said that they has more tapes. Out of all of them one
appeared to actually have some stuff that we didn't have, recorded all
those years ago on his little Grundig. While it was too late for the
series, I nevertheless kept his letter on file and got back in touch with
him when this album project was imminent. he journeyed down to London
with his five-inch reels, we went through them, and that's how 'Keep Your
Hands Off My Baby' appeared on the album".
Certainly, a good number of shows were originally broadcast by the BBC
in what was then known as VHF, and so, if someone had a half-decent
domestic tape recorder and took a direct feed from his radio, the result
of his or her endeavours could well be usable, especially with the digital
technology now available to clean up such recordings. Peter Mew has been
utilising the SonicSolutions computer enhancement system for the past 5
years at Abbey Road. He first became involved in the Beatles project when
work on the album started in earnest around the middle of 1992.
"After George Martin had chosen the tracks that would go on the record,
they were passed over to me for de-noising, EQing, and all the rest of
it," he says. "Over the peiod of two and a half years, the album went
through various changes - running order changes, title changes and things
like that. At each stage I had to re-edit and make adjustments, so that it
still sounded OK. In fact, overall it must have gone through seven
different versions, and so I can now sing almost every song off by heart!
The masters that the BBC had were in pretty reasonable shape, and they
therefore needed much the same treatment that old studio tapes would need.
From there, however, things went down the scale in terms of sound quality
and some items required a lot more work. Coming from so many different
sources, each track had its own problems, and so it wasn't like a normal
studio job where you had a number of studio reductions which basically
required noise reduction. Everything had to be approached as a separate
entity, and then, having done that, it was a matter of trying to get
continuity of sound, and that worked in some cases and probably not in
Undoubtedly, the greatest attraction of the 56 song Live At The BBC
album is the 30 numbers which the band never recorded; mostly old
rock'n'roll covers from thier Hamburg and Cavern Club days, as well as a
few contemporary hits and even one of their own compositions, 'I'll Be On
My Way', which was a hit for Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas. Again, as
with Little Eva's 'Keep Your Hands Off My Baby', several of these
performances returned the BBC's way courtesy of private recordings, yet in
a good number of cases they also came from the Transcription Library at
Kensington House, but from Bush House, where the World Service programmes
"The show, Pop Go The Beatles, was broadcast in the summer of 1963 on
the domestic service," explains Kevin Howlett. "It featured a guest group
and and a presenter and The Beatles reading requests, but it was then
re-made for the BBC World Service and put out in '64 featuring just the
songs and an announcer, and so that material went over to Bush House. Now,
somebody over there made a tape of the more unusual songs, and due to this
I was able to get hold of some of the most interesting tracks".
Still, there are half a dozen Beatles performances of 'unreleased'
numbers which George Martin deemed as unsuitable for the album: Roy
Orbisin's 'Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)', from their very first
radio broadcast on March 8, 1962 (featuring Pete Best on drums); The
Coasters' arrangement of 'Besame Mucho' and Joe Brown's 'A Picture Of
You', both from June 15, 1962 (still with Best on drums); Slim Whitman's
'Beautiful Dreamer' from January 26, 1963; Chuck Berry's 'I'm Talking
About You' from March 16, 1963; and Carl Perkins' 'Lend Me your Comb' from
the broadcat of July 16, 1963.
Of these, the first five are audibly much too poor to bring up to
scratch for the album - listeners' recordings that were evidently not made
via direct feed into a good quality grundig, but rather with a cheap
microphone placed next to the radio speaker while Mum was told to be
quiet. In other words, items of historic importance that are not quite fit
for general public consumption. yet the reason for omitting 'Lend Me Your
Comb', which originates from the BBC's Bush House archive, is altogether
Officially George Martin's selection criteria for the material involved
both technical quality and the standard of the performance, and on the
latter count the number just missed the mark. Unofficially, the powers
that be may also wish to keep something in the can, and thus have somthing
in reserve to use as a 'bonus track' enticement for some future release
along with all of the alternate takes.
DROPOUTS AND MAGIC WANDS
"The Roling Stones only did about 12 sessions, and so the fact that The
Beatles did 52 is absolutely phenomenal", says Kevin Howlett. "They really
worked at it, and of course, they were playing live in the studio,
although by '64 they did get a bit more sophisticated. They certainly
didn't have a multitrack machine at their disposal. The first multitrack
to come into the BBC was an eight-track, and that was a very long time
after The Beatles had stopped doing sessions here. So, the only way that
they could overdub was to put down a backing track and then play the tape
back through the mixing desk and perform over the top of it. You can
occasionally hear examples of this on some of their '64 recordings.
30 years later one of the problems which peter mew had to deal with,
especially when working on some of the rarer recordings, was that of sound
dropouts. For, whilst he was able to repair most of them, a close listen
to the album indicates that there were still a few instances wher this was
just not possible.
"The art, if you like, of using computer editing systems these days is
that they allow you to take very small slithers of sound from elsewhere
and patch them in, much like you would with a painting," mew explains.
"But if you can't find a matching piece of sound from somewhere else in
the song, then you just can't do it, because you obviously don't want to
apply any new paint!
On 'A Taste Of Honey', for instance, there's an analogue dropout that
has bugged me from the word go, but I couldn't do anything about it,
because that piece of sound wasn't repeated anywhere else in the song. I
also couldn't boost it, because it's not a particular level that drops for
a particular length of time; it might drop a little bit here and then go
up and down, and it's too long to restore using the click removal devices,
which work on several milliseconds of sound. This dropout lasts for
perhaps half a second and so you can't use the computer.
So, at the end of the day, contrary to what some people think, the Sonic
Solutions system is not a magic wand. It's a piece of technology, and if
you've got absolute garbage going in, then you'll have something better
than absolute garbage coming out, but it ain't going to be perfect".
Anyway, in the case of The Beatles, Live At The BBC album, who really
cares? This is vintage stuff and it serves to remind one that, in the
final analysis, musical content is of far more importance to the average
listener than sheer sonic quality.
Brian Willey produced the December 4, 1962 and January 29, 1963 editions
of The Talent Spot on which the Beatles first performed before a live
audience. The first of these, recorded on November 27, 1962 at the BBC's
Paris Theatre in Central London, featured the soon-to-be fab Four at the
bottom of a star spangled bill comprising The Ted Taylor Four, Mark
Tracey, Elkie Brooks, and Frank Kelly. Still, it served as a showcase for
new talent and broke the mould in as much as no audition was required. In
effect, therefore, it was like a broadcast audition.
Willey now recalls that after the first show, Brian Epstein, the
Beatles' manager, "asked me, 'Do you like them?' and I said 'Well, they're
rough, but they entertain me.' Bearing in mind that it was a live
broadcast, a one-take job, they didn't do too badly. Epstein then asked me
if I would have them back on the show. I said 'Yes', and by the time that
happened, a few weeks later, they had already climbed the charts, and in
fact, made a hell of a difference to my audience. This usually consisted
of about 30 or 40 people, and now, suddenly, hundreds were packing the
Paris and queueing outside on the street".
Full-scale Beatlemania was looming just ahead and the band's phenomenal
rise to superstardom was underway. Yet it is only with hindsight that
those who were involved in this story can fully appreciate the
significance of what they took part in all those years ago. "Looking back
they were great days", says Brian Willey, "but at the time, I was just
doing a job, and I'm sure that none of us ever thought we were making a
mark on history.
THIS MONOPHONIC MICROGROOVE RECORDING IS PLAYABLE ON MONOPHONIC AND STEREO PHONOGRAPHS. IT CANNOT BECOME OBSOLETE. IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE A SOURCE OF OUTSTANDING SOUND REPRODUCTION, PROVIDING THE FINEST MONOPHONIC PERFORMANCE FROM ANY PHONOGRAPH.