Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Get Back To 1969.

For the last week or so, while working, I've been listening to the Beatles' 1969 Get Back rehearsals.

They were potentially planning a live show, their first in almost 3 years, and so on a cold January morning they arrived at a soundstage at Twickenham film studios with a crew recording the rehearsals for a TV special.

It was cold, the soundstage was cavernous, and their relationship was fraying - for a number of reasons. But they made music, playing old rock 'n' roll standards and learning new songs. After a week or so, George had had enough and quit. The others continued for a day or so before deciding they weren't working as a trio and so they packed up and left.

A week later they had convinced George to return, with the proviso there wouldn't be a concert and they would move to a friendlier studio space. And so, with an 8-track recorder borrowed from EMI, they moved the rehearsals to the basement of their offices at Apple Records, a studio which was being built but was not yet complete. They continued rehearsing for the rest of the month until the climbed the stairs to the roof where they played live for 42 minutes across the rooftops of London. Their last ever live performance.

The film crew captured more than 100 hours of footage, which formed the basis of the Let It Be movie. The sound crew for the film used portable Nagra recorders to tape the audio, all on 16 minutes tapes. 

The 8-track recordings from these rehearsals became the accompanying album.

More than 20 years ago, bootleggers managed to get hold of around 550 of these Nagra tapes, and started releasing the complete rehearsals. They managed around 60% of the rehearsals before they were busted, and all the tapes were returned to Apple. But they made backups, and the backups were then released on the internet for fans.

What this means ifs that I have around 97 hours of audio from these sessions. It has been a long-time ambition to listen to them all chronologically. And now I am living the dream.

It's not for the faint-hearted. There's lots of dialogue and discussion (fascinating if you are a Beatles scholar), sloppy attempts at half-remembered songs, take after take after take of new songs as they learn them. Even I get a little bored after an hour of Maxwell's Silver Hammer with accompanying anvil strikes and whistling intro.

I listen to a couple a day while I'm working, and I'm currently about 17% of the way through.

Yes, they can be tedious, they can be sloppy, they can be flat due to disinterest from a disintegrating band. But when they're on the same page, and focused, they can be absolute magic.

And those are the moments I love.

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