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The Beatles’ iconic rooftop gig in 1970 ‘Let It Be’ documentary “almost didn’t happen”

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The restored version of The Beatles‘ classic 1970 documentary film Let It Be was premiered in London earlier this week (May 7), before arriving on Disney+. Speaking at the press launch, creators explained how one of the most vital scenes – and significant moments in music history – never happened.

The film was screened in front of an audience at the Curzon Mayfair which included original recording engineer Glyn Johns and Giles Martin (son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, who remixed the music in Let It Be), Louis Theroux, James Bay, The Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie and Captain America and Indiana Jones actor Toby Jones.

The documentary, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, was first released in cinemas 54 years ago and has been difficult to obtain since primarily because the original master tapes were stolen from Apple Corps shortly after the film was made.

Speaking in a Q&A hosted by former Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman, Jonathan Clyde producer of the film and director of production at Apple Corps, said: “When we first started talking about [restoring] it with [head of Apple Corps] Neil Aspinall in 2000, he said rather unenthusiastically, ‘I suppose we’d better do something about Let It Be’.

“But the problem was that the master sound, that’s 450 to 500, 15 minute reels of master sound from the 20-odd days of shooting, had been stolen from Apple [Corps] in the early ’70s.”

He continued: “So in truth, there was not a lot we could do except whoever it was who pilched them was licensing them to bootleggers who were then bootlegging vinyl and CD box sets. So we thought maybe we could take the CDs and try and sync the rushes but that didn’t really work, the sound and the picture drifted. Then in 2003, Neil got a call from the City of London police saying ‘We might have some property of yours we found in a warehouse in Holland’. So we got the sound back.”

The Beatles rehearse during ‘Let It Be’. CREDIT: The Walt Disney Company

Clyde then explained how Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary “became the trigger that liberated Let It Be to be re-released”. “Compared with the transcripts of the old version you’re hearing so much more, there’s more dialogue, there’s more snippets of music and the picture restoration is extraordinary,” he said.

According to Clyde, when The Beatles made ‘The White Album’, they were all recording in separate studios and the sessions seen in Let It Be at London’s Twickenham Film Studios was the band “attempting to reconnect with each other”.

“They were like, ‘Come on, let’s get back to where we started, to where we belong, where we used to play The Cavern or play in Hamburg, let’s try and rekindle that’,” he explained. “They really got themselves in sync with each other personally and musically and they just kept recording the album that came from that, which turned out to be ‘Abbey Road’.”

However, matters went downhill from there.

“In the background there was trouble at mill, a decline arrived and that drove a wedge between Paul [McCartney], John [Lennon] and George [Harrison] and Ringo [Starr],”said Clyde.

“It was then in April of 1970 that it was announced officially that they were breaking up. And then the film and the album which had now been reproduced by Phil Spector had come out together as a sort of odd post script to the end of their career. So they didn’t have a great love for Let It Be because it was associated with all the troubles [within the band].”

The producer also revealed that The Beatles’ iconic rooftop gig at Apple Corps at Savile Row almost never got off the ground.

‘Let It Be’ has been remastered by Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production. CREDIT: Disney/TheBeatles

“They’d set up the day before the gig, all the crew were ready, all the equipment was there and the band were like, ‘Yeah not today’ and Michael Lindsay-Hogg was pulling his hair out because he as the director had to find some climax to this, this period of filming,” said Clyde. “He felt some responsibility.”

Guardian columnist John Harris, who previously compiled 120 hours-worth of audio recordings that were made during the sessions in January 1969 into a book of The Beatles: Get Back, added: “It kind of is a happy ending in the sense that they made it on to the roof. It was touch and go. The story is that the four of them until the evening before, George said he didn’t wanna do it and there was general scepticism.

“They get to the door out on the roof and they stand there and John says: ‘Fuck it’ and out they came. It really beautifully in a modestly spectacular way…it’s not about pyrotechnics, it’s about what great musicians they were, it’s about London at the time as well.”

When asked about the band splitting, Clyde concluded: “At some point they would have broken up. They were the first big band to break up and this was shocking at the time. It’s not as shocking now because big bands break up all the time, it’s natural.

“They’d sort of outgrown The Beatles in a strange way and it affected their relationships for a few years but then it all healed over.”

The restored version of Let It Be is now streaming on Disney+.

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