Discovering The Beatles at Stowe Tape – An Experiment in Time

(Updated Sep 12th with link to my article in the Journal of Beatles Studies and April 10th 2023 with set list and link to a feature for The Observer)

It was sixty years ago today….

A spread from the Stowe School archive was laid out in the Headmaster’s Gothic Library when I arrived there on March 22nd, ready for me. Copies of the letters from Brian Epstein, photos and more. Anthony Wallersteiner and old Stoic John Bloomfield had agreed to spend the morning with me and producer Julian May for a special Front Row report marking the 60th anniversary of the Beatles’ most unusual gig – the time they played a private boys’ boarding school.

My fascination with the intersection of popular culture and social change is the driving force behind my journalism. My partner had taken me for a visit to the school last summer and Anthony had given us a tour and told us about the concert. Seeing a blue plaque on the school theatre building marking the event set my spidey senses tingling. Not only did I love The Beatles, I knew there was a story about what that concert represented as a pivotal moment of transformation in British society and the uniqueness of that almost all male audience. What I didn’t know until a couple days before we arrived was that John might have a tape of the whole concert.

Last night’s Front Row special in which I revealed the existence of the earliest complete live recording of the Beatles in the UK was one of the most delightful stories I’ve ever worked on.

It’s all thanks to John Bloomfield’s self confessed technical nerdery in taping the concert on his new tape player that it exists. And thanks to his generosity and trust in me, that he told me about it.

He brought along an extract that we played through the stage PA system turned up as loud as possible to match the experience he’d had back in 1963. It was emotional for all us, including two young A level music students who came along to listen. It was like time travel. The Front Row listen hopefully gives a sense of that.

Back home I decided I needed to be sure of my story and therefore to hear the whole tape. I rang John to ask him if he’d play it in full over a call. I also asked if I could let Mark Lewisohn join us on the call and get his expert opinion on what it revealed. John kindly agreed. Mark was in New York on a research trip for his next volume of his definitive Beatles history (covering 1963-66 by great coincidence), but we found a date and time slot and the three of us listened to it in full for the first time in 60 years, grinning and tapping our feet but also..given that this was cultural history – making careful notes. I now had an almost complete set list — more than 22 songs with another 2 we guessed, missing as the tape had run out before the end. I collated Mark’s notes with mine; John made amendments to correct what we’d misheard on the banter.


I Saw Her Standing There  

Too Much Monkey Business 

Love Me Do 

Some Other Guy 


I Just Don’t Understand 

A Shot of Rhythm and Blues 



From Me To You 

Thank You Girl 

Memphis Tennessee 

A Taste of Honey 

Twist and Shout 


Please Please Me 

Hippy Hippy Shake 

I’m Talking About You 

Ask Me Why 

Till There Was You 


I Saw Her Standing There (reprise) – tape runs out at this point. Possibly there were a couple more songs – maybe Sweet Little Sixteen and Long Tall Sally, according to another Stoic’s partial set list.

I then arranged to record an interview for the Front Row piece with Mark, who gives his invaluable insight and context about what the tape reveals, how it changes our understanding of the band’s performance and the potential for it with audio enhancement, as an artefact of cultural importance. And I don’t mean an artefact as a dead, fetishised object, but for its dynamic exciting capture of a live moment.

As the edit came together with more clips of the banter, the BBC worked its Reithian power when it counted: A colleague in BBC Music rights helped my editors Tim Prosser and Rebecca Stratford clear permission to use extracts. My editors gave constant support and oversight and allowed the piece to be as long as it needed to be: 27 minutes. Julian cast his George Martin-level magic to weave a sound collage of new interviews and archive – he found the BBC’s session recordings with the Fab Four made the same day as the Stowe Concert, matching some of the same songs from my written set list, in case we couldn’t use the tape. We had a nerve wracking week, keeping the secret, and waiting for clearance of clips.

I had written a news story for the BBC News website and my colleagues including Ian Youngs turned that around before 6pm – just over an hour before Front Row went on air. Somehow I recorded an interview with Hugh Laurie about his wonderful Agatha Christie adaptation. Producers Paul Waters and Kirsty McQuire took care of the shape of the rest of the programme. With the symmetry of pieces falling into place, Laurie’s drama was set in 1936, the same digits, rearranged, as 1963. Then we were on air. 1, 2, 3, 4… Tune in:

The Beatles At Stowe concert Front Row Special broadcast on April 3rd 2023 is on BBC Sounds here

Further reading

It was sixty years ago today – Schoolboy’s tape of the Beatles takes us back to an age of optimism (Observer April 9th 2023)

About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Discovering The Beatles at Stowe Tape – An Experiment in Time

  1. Rick Holland says:

    I love the backstory on how this came together! Pure awesomeness. Thanks, Samira, for your work here, and for sharing it with the world.



    Can you please confirm the full track listing ?

  3. Scott Winship says:

    Do you have any insight on what the owner will do with the tape??

    • samiraahmed says:

      Yes, as I wrote in The Observer, there are talks underway about finding it a permanent home in a national cultural institution.

  4. Edward Manning says:

    Great work Samira! Now, will you be sharing that set list any time soon?

  5. Andrew Blackhurst says:

    When will we get the full set list?

  6. Kate Boston-Williams says:

    I found the story and the personal accounts of the day really moving. Your enthusiasm and sheer joy at the discovery really shone through. Thank you

    • samiraahmed says:

      Thank you so much, Kate. It was a joy to work on this story. And that John was willing to trust me with news of the tape’s existence.

  7. Chris Jones says:

    Listened to this last night, Samira – fab (four) stuff. Thanks for this. Can’t wait to hear if any decent recordings come out of what was a historic occasion.

    Best wishes


  8. Rick Holland says:

    Hey Samira, can I assume that ML has introduced you (or that you already know Allan and his colleagues who do the Things We Said Today podcast? You probably know they did a 4-hour sesh with Peter Jackson? However/wherever you choose to discuss the tech side of the recording, I can’t wait to hear it.

  9. ODIrony says:

    Would you be so kind as to pass on the set list as you and co transcribed them? Thanks! What a wonderful discovery!

  10. Paul Webster says:

    Apologies in advance if this is covered in the Front Row episode – but were attempts made to have Paul or Ringo involved as well?

  11. Steve says:

    As a Beatles fan this is such an interesting story, time-travel indeed. Well done, Samira.

    Selfishly, I admit, I hope your excellent journalism and discovery of this previously-unknown Beatles relic don’t tempt Mark L into rewriting and further delaying Vol 2 of Tune In!

    • samiraahmed says:

      Sorry for the late reply, but thankyou. It seems, as Mark wrote at the end of Book 1, there is definitely more stuff out there. How he manages the long and winding road is impressive.

  12. Rick Holland says:

    Hi Samira, it’s interesting that your Stowe work has coincided with the Drake/The Weeknd AI story, as we’re hoping that tech (along the lines of Peter Jackson’s MAL application) can enhance the sound of the Stowe tape, Star Club, or yet-to-be-discovered nuggets, in addition to enabling the Revolver remix.

    Fans and amateurs now have the ability to create convincing stereo versions of mono recordings (She Loves You, Decca, BBC), and now, although it’s early days, we have increasingly convincing outfake creations, like Paul singing ‘Dark Horse’ and George doing ‘Yesterday’ (!).

    Have you heard any of these. and what do you think?

  13. Richard Jenkinson says:

    Wonderful to hear you on the Eggpod again talking in depth about the journey
    you went on to share this discovery with all us Beatle fans.
    Obviously,you now have to do a Front row about the Doctor Who 60 th anniversary and unearth some missing episodes please.

  14. Andy Jack says:

    Thanks to you and John for bringing this into the world. What a scoop! Fantastic to hear this and to learn of the impact the group made on those young men. But it’s your love of The Beatles and bloody good journalistic instincts that enabled this to happen. You’re toppermost of the poppermost in my book.

  15. Pingback: 4 April 1963: Live: Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School, Buckingham | The Beatles Bible

  16. John Stokes says:

    Hi Samira – I’m lucky enough to have listened to the full tape, now available in the British Library’s sound archive, but was very surprised that the penultimate song (‘Money’) is cut short on the tape by the appearance of the Trashmen’s song ‘Surfing Bird’, obviously taken from a slightly scratchy copy of the record! This ends, then we return to the Stowe gig to hear Paul’s intro and then the reprise of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’
    There’s no mention of this in your write-ups on the recording – is it an archiving glitch at the sound archive, or was it on the original tape? If so, can John Bloomfield shed any light on how he came to add a Trashmen track (and at the time, a very obscure US import single, at that) onto his tape?

    • samiraahmed says:

      John did accidentally record over part of the tape some time after he made the concert recording. We didn’t have time on Front Row to go into it, but yes, that’s exactly what happened. I discussed it on the Eggpod podcast about the original Stowe concert tape with Chris Shaw. It was a bit of a jolt, I know. As is the tape running out before the final couple of tracks, which remain a mystery to us all. Great that you heard the tape.
      best Samira

  17. Edward Rhodes says:

    Fantastic article, Samira.
    What are your thoughts now that the tape has been bootlegged and available for anyone to listen to from home?
    I feel that it takes away from what John wanted the tape to achieve with its release, but I’m curious to know what you think.
    Thanks :)

    • samiraahmed says:

      Hi Edward, Don’t know anything about how and whether this is genuine. But can’t imagine it’s great quality. One for the copyright lawyers to handle.

      • Edward Rhodes says:

        Thanks for the reply.
        Someone has managed to get the file from a computer at the British Library and it is being sold as a bootleg in Japan, though the audio has now been shared on YouTube.
        I can’t help but feel that this isn’t what John wanted to happen with the tape, but that it will now reach more people. It’s a conflicting situation really!

      • Edward Rhodes says:

        Thanks for the reply.
        Someone has managed to get the file from a computer at the British Library and it is being sold as a bootleg in Japan, though the audio has now been shared on YouTube.
        I can’t help but feel that this isn’t what John wanted to happen with the tape, but that it will now reach more people. It’s a conflicting situation really!

  18. Marc Stewart says:

    Thanks so much Samira for bringing this gem out to the world! It’s always amazing how things still continue to surface all these years later. Also, I really enjoy your chats with Chris Shaw on Eggpod etc. Beatles ho!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.