Christopher Kovacs - Fine Art
June 25, 2024   11:44 am NL Time

Beatles on the Rooftop

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Beatles on the Rooftop


Status of Original Painting – Private Collection

Size: 14 x 20  inches

Medium: Watercolour on 300 lb Arches


This painting depicts a famous event in rock history. On January 30, 1969, at 12:30 pm, the Beatles appeared unannounced atop their Apple building in London to perform a live concert. In case you don’t know, or their scruffy appearances are too unfamiliar, from left to right, that’s drummer Ringo Starr, bassist Paul McCartney, guitarist John Lennon, and guitarist George Harrison. Lennon and Harrison are wearing fur coats because it was so cold. Joined by Billy Preston on keyboards (offstage and unseen to the left of this image), the group performed five different songs in nine different takes over about 40 minutes. The Metropolitan Police stopped the concert because of concerns about loud noise. Crowds had gathered on the streets below and adjacent rooftops. At the end of the last song, the third take of “Get Back,” John Lennon famously remarked, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” This was the final public performance by the Beatles but few Londoners saw it.

The event was a culmination of efforts (the Get Back project) to avoid a break-up by rejuvenating the band through a return to live performances. Paul McCartney suggested they perform in a forbidden setting so that they’d be forcibly stopped by the police, while Lennon came up with the rooftop idea. This was the only live performance to result from that plan. Recordings from this performance became part of their final album, which was not titled Get Back but instead Let it Be, echoing the group’s acceptance that they were irrevocably parting ways.

Creating the recent painting “One with the Music,” which features Pete Townshend of The Who, was so enjoyable that I planned to do more paintings of rock musicians in the future. But depicting the Beatles has come about much sooner than expected because I could not back down from an unexpected plea to recreate this famous scene. It proved to be quite the challenge because the reference photo is a blurry still from a motion picture camera, not to mention the confusing clutter of objects and people. Moreover, it’s very difficult to do portraits when the key faces are small and unfocused. I viewed images taken from other angles to make sense of what some of the items were (it can be difficult for me to paint something if I don’t know what it is). I discovered that the group of people at the far back are two rooftops away, with another building in between, which explains their diminished sizes. I also came across remarks that those people looked bored, which led to someone’s conclusion that this must have been the Beatles’ worst live performance. But the observers were office workers on their lunch break, not necessarily fans, who were hearing new material that no one outside the recording studio had ever heard before.

This rooftop concert has inspired many imitations by other bands, from Paul McCartney himself on The Late Show with David Letterman, to U2 in their video of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” to a fictional band’s performance on The Simpsons that prompted vocal guest star George Harrison to remark “It’s been done!” Homer thanked the crowd and hoped they’d passed the audition, while Barney remarked, “I don’t get it.”

It’s also notable, after the passage of so much time, that “Apple building” means something completely different today to most people.

Use of the camera still is under license from Alamy, which permits certain copyrighted images to be used as reference material by an artist.

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