28/10/05 19:32 Filed in: Records
When you look at this piece of history you have to take into account the circumstances and the timeline of what's going on in and around the world of Beatledom as much as the musical landscape generally. The abridged version is that George was responsible for bringing Ravi Shankar to a worldwide audience; in a way he could never have reached the mainstream otherwise. He'd been to India with Ravi in 1966 and it had opened his mind, the morning lessons followed listening to the great man’s practice in the next room. Who wouldn’t be changed forever? When John Phillips was putting together the Monterey Pop festival in 1967 George insisted that John invite Ravi to play; his transcendent 17-minute raga, Bhimpalasi, ends the Pennebaker movie.
When the Beatles finally creaked toward calling it a day in 1970 the reaction was to wonder if any of them would have a hit again (seems a ridiculous notion now, that they wouldn’t) - George was the first, with My Sweet Lord hitting number 1. Shortly after that his attention was diverted by the tragedy unfolding in Bangladesh, a part of the East India coast. The eastern part of Pakistan was struggling to become the separate state of Bangladesh and refugees by the thousand started their trip to make new lives. Torrential rains caused massive flooding and a humanitarian disaster threatened. Ravi told George and he recorded the song 'Bangladesh' to raise money and then decided to really have a go by putting on two concerts at Madison Square Garden, one afternoon performance (as is customary with Indian music) and an evening show.
The organisers didn't exactly have the best reputation... the music was produced by general nutter and now alleged murderer Phil Spector and the gig was produced by legendary crook, Stones manager, and cause of much of the Beatle break up, Allen Klein.
George spent 6 weeks calling friends and asking them to perform including all of the former Beatles. Paul refused no doubt because of the Klein participation and John said yes after George insisted Yoko didn't perform (smart man!). However following an argument with Yoko about it, John decided to pull out. Ringo of course said yes. As did friends Billy Presston, Leon Russell, Jim Keltner, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, Jesse Ed Davis and of course, the jokerman at any party, Bob Dylan. The concert was a huge success and raised £250,000. The real money came after from TV rights to show the gig (I had an ancient video copy, terrible quality, from one such American broadcast), a theatrical release and the soundtrack made a ton of money too. The incredible thing about the gig is that you can feel the fresh Beatle wounds on stage, even more so from the audience. Several songs were played from his newly released All Things Must Pass and a few Beatle George classics, played beautifully - Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Here Comes the Sun. The latter, watch out, has a lovely moment at the start where George sees someone he knows at the front and lets out the sweetest smile. In short, this set is worth buying.
The packaging is exquisite, the concert (which begins with a wondrous Shankar performance) is superb and the extras are plentiful - documentaries, rehearsal and soundcheck footage, postcards, Apple window sticker, poster and a copy of the handwritten lyrics to Bangladesh. This was the first charity concert, the first and the most innocent, where rock stars stopped thinking about their profile for a day and just went ahead. Sure enough though, Dylan had a last minute wobble because of the presence of cameras and had to be coaxed onto the stage. George said that when he introduced him he wasn’t actually certain he’d come out to play. But he pulled himself together and put in a superb performance. Everyone did it for George, not for record sales. As for him... it makes me sad sometimes just to watch him. He was a beautiful man, totally at one with himself in a way the rest of the Beatles never were, and the world is a poorer place without him.