***Updated review: 23rd June, 2017***
So, The Beatles. It's the stock answer I'll give if anybody asks me to name my favourite band of all time and, although I love a huge amount of music, I think it would be true. Other than David Bowie, The Beatles have meant more to me than any other group, right from childhood onwards. I think it's fair to say that I'm a hardcore Beatles fan and, therefore, this release is aimed quite squarely at people like me – someone who will want to own pretty much everything The Beatles have ever released. The original Live At The BBC Volume 1 album was released in 1994 and was one of the biggest selling albums of the year, being the first release of “new” Beatles material since the Live At The Hollywood Bowl album in 1976. Volume 2, coming nearly twenty years later and after the very successful Anthology project from the mid 1990s, didn't really have the same kind of excitement surrounding it and many fans, myself included, wondered what it was going to be like if Volume 1 had featured the cream of the BBC recordings. Thankfully, there were still plenty of good performances from the archives left unreleased, but I genuinely can't see there being anything left after this volume; it's not that they've scraped the bottom of the barrel, but there really can't be hardly anything else of broadcast standard left in terms of BBC archives.
As big a Beatles fan as I am, it's difficult to treat this album as any more than it is: a collection of archive live performances The Beatles made for the BBC in the early sixties, some of which aren't of the best sound quality. It is going to be enjoyable and of great interest to any hardcore fan of The Beatles, but for anyone who has owned Volume One for the past couple of decades, this album simply adds another volume of curios, asides and performances of songs we have all (mostly) heard before. There are the old rock 'n' roll classics The Beatles hammered out in Hamburg as live versions of singles and album tracks from their first few years of recorded output (1962 to 1965), plus a few profile interviews tagged onto the end, but in many cases, studio and Anthology versions are superior to some of the performances on offer here. There are a few exceptions, however, such as the gorgeous performance of Buddy Holly's Words Of Love, which pre-dates the Beatles For Sale studio recording, an excellent rendition of Chains, with the group harmonising with more warmth than their album version, and a spirited There's A Place, always one of my favourite tracks from their incredible debut. George's guitar solo on I Saw Her Standing There is surely better than the recorded version, as is a beautifully radiant I'll Follow The Sun.
There are a few places where the quality drops a little. Paul's version of Lucille fails to capture the excitement that such a energetic song should bristle with and, musically, The Beatles fail to do the song justice, with George's guitar solo sounding particularly off-kilter. Some of the tracks exclusive to this collection, namely I'm Talking About You and Beautiful Dreamer, aren't anything very special at all and the sound quality of both leave a lot to be desired. I'm not entirely convinced that the rocking treatment of Beautiful Dreamer works at all, really. Although it is an otherwise lovely performance (including a superb guitar solo from George), I do wonder what Ringo was thinking on Till There Was You with his unnecessarily busy drum beat. Occasionally, the quality of the recordings get in the way of the enjoyment of the music, but, thankfully, the vast majority of the music here is very listenable indeed.
Live At The BBC Volume 2 is a really enjoyable, quality package which features a introduction from Paul McCartney written in July 2013 in the beautifully detailed, glossy booklet, and made me grin many times whilst listening to it, thanks to the between-song chatter that highlights the unique character and wit of The Beatles, but, I have to admit, this is the first time I've re-listened to Live At The BBC Volume 2 since I bought it nearly four years ago, so it's not really the kind of album I've found myself wanting to listen to often, despite my deep love of the band. I'm not criticising any aspect of this collection, far from it, it does exactly what it says on the tin, but if I had to put my finger on why I haven't listened to this live album regularly, it is probably due to the lack of a wow factor. There was a palpable excitement listening to and watching the Anthology project and there were certain tracks on Live At The BBC Volume 1 that really got the hairs on the back of the neck tingling. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of those intense feelings generated by this double album this time round; indeed, unlike previous raids of the Beatles archives, I can't really claim that Volume 2 has increased my love for or appreciation of The Beatles, or that there is much here that got me excitedly taking to internet forums to spread the word of the brilliance of particular tracks on the album when it was first pleased.
To surmise, these two discs are a very pleasant, decent listen that are possibly a lot more interesting because of the in-between record dialogue, the interviews and the pleasure of hearing the four of them chat at the beginning of their careers. Maybe even more pleasurable than listening to the music itself, as good as most of it is. Apart from one or two tracks still buried in the archives, it seems like this is probably going to be the last original material that we will hear from the Fab Four, so that, in itself, makes it something to treasure, but for the songs, live performances and sound quality, I have to say, objectively, that it isn't exactly the toppermost of the poppermost. Wouldn't it have been great to have been there, eagerly listening to this emanating from the wireless at that point in time, though? Perhaps for those people who were there, this is every bit as special hearing it now as it was then, but, for me, this is amongst the lesser Beatles releases... if there is such a thing as a lesser Beatles product, that is.