Live On Air – The Beatles at the Beeb.

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As a child in England in the early sixties my upbringing had a soundtrack. At first it was the radio, which was always on. The transistor radio on the kitchen table was permanently tuned to 247 medium wave and the BBC’s Light Programme. Two-way Family Favourites. Housewife’s Choice. Brian Matthew’s Easy Beat. Music While You Work. Children’s Favourites (later called Junior Choice) on Saturday mornings played all the goofy stuff for us little ‘apporths and started off our long weekends.

The Beatles, it seemed were everywhere. And most importantly for me they were scattered on the carpet in the front room around mum’s Dansette record player. 7″ 45rpm vinyl singles with their black Parlophone labels. I probably learned to work that Dansette player to play those early Beatles EPs before I could run. She Loves You. I wanna Hold Your Hand. Misery. All My Loving. Can’t Buy Me Love…

Mum was only in her early 20s and 45rpm vinyl was the extent of her music collection. So it was the Beatles that provided my first hands-on experience of the pop phenomenon.

The Beatles recorded so many shows at the BBC it’s hard to keep track. Years later I had the privilege of working for the BBC in London and I would visit many of those old studios that the Beatles used – such as the Paris Studios on Regent Street and the glorious art-deco Radio Theatre in the basement of Broadcasting House – many times. The sense of excitement in live radio recording, with a select invited audience (Ah the esteemed BBC Ticket unit) is still palpable today.

The appeal of live radio is the spontaneity, the banter and the asides, some of which were not broadcastable. The re-takes and the rabble rousing all made for an intimate and memorable occasion. Each time I attended a BBC Radio recording I would think of those incredibly exciting live broadcasts. More modern rack bands like U2, Coldplay and Radiohead have all taken their turn in the Radio Theater, but it took the Beatles to really show the value of a beautifully recorded live take of a song, as apposed to a George Martin gem from Abbey Road.

This 2CD set is the second release from the BBC’s immaculately curated archives. It captures so much that the original record releases do not – there’s between take chat and conversation and there’s the genuine thrill of hearing the ‘real’ Beatles and the easy talent they had for live performance, honed in those famous Hamburg Reeperbahn residencies at the Star Club, the Kaisarkeller and The Cavern Club back in Liverpool.

My love of music is always the rough-and-ready takes, the perfect imperfections of the live experience. I love music that is recorded with passion and urgency, and this amazing two CD collection has this excitement in spades.

It’s tempting to download the MP3s and leave it at that, but in this case the CD is an essential buy because of its beautifully put together booklet, introduced by Paul McCartney and containing all sorts of details, essays, photos and informative track commentaries.


As if the Beatles needed an introduction – here’s a few videos to whet your appetite and show a few scenes around the iconic BBC Broadcasting House, just north of Oxford Circus and an integral part of the corporations broadcasting efforts to this day.

An advertising spot putting the new 'On Air - Live at the BBC' collection in perspective.

Speaks for itself - as if the Fab Four needed introductions!

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