When cancer eventually did for George Harrison what a stab-happy home invader and a decade in Abbey Road tolerating bandmate Paul McCartney’s bi**hing couldn’t, there was of course a mourning for the man who will forever be remembered as the guitarist in The Beatles. Yet Concert for George wants you to remember he was more than that. Organised by Olivia Harrison and her son Dhani, and helped of course by Eric Clapton, said 2002 memorial concert has been newly re-mastered to commemorate what would have been Harrison’s 75th birthday.
It sets out this stall by delaying the big guns, almost belligerently beginning with Ravi Shankar and apparently all the sitars in India. The Inner Light will always be lively, but there’s no denying the majority will be here for the cream of 60s and 70s rock. Jeff Lynne and Procul Harum’s Gary Brooker take solid stabs at I Want To Tell You and Old Brown Shoe, but the tempo seems too sombre, even considering the occasion. Of course, Harrison and his Handmade Films production company were behind some beloved comedy classics, and the Albert Hall is both raised and lowered by Monty Python (featuring, randomly, Tom Hanks) barnstorming their way through Sit On My Face and The Lumberjack Song. From there, with Billy Preston, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and (especially) Eric Clapton bringing their A-Game, the mood lifts and a memorial becomes a celebration. Isn’t It A Pity gets an especially fantastic makeover, Billy Preston’s keys and Clapton’s gold standard slide guitar ascending to an ending that smartly weaves in the climax of Hey Jude.
Of course, the roof is blown off towards the end when certain erstwhile bandmates come forth. Ringo Starr introduces the formerly lovelorn Photograph (co-written by Harrison) as a song “that has a different meaning now”, before drying the tears with a jaunty version of Honey Don’t. Then Paul McCartney enters the fray, first dusting off deep cut (sidenote: is it possible to describe any Beatles song as a “deep cut”?) For You Blue, before he then proceeds to pull out a ukelele for Something. Midway through this rather twee version of a number Frank Sinatra once described as the greatest love song of the 20th century, Clapton and the orchestra take the reigns and send it to the heavens. Overall, it’s joyous stuff, with plenty of curio value for fans of musical history. Shankar and Clapton’s playing is unsurpassed, and hearing Macca sing All Things Must Pass – a song Harrison wrote whilst the greatest band in the history of rock tore itself apart that was rejected by that band and then served as the title track of Harrison’s first solo album – is probably as dramatically perfect as music can get.
Concert for George was released on 23rd February 2018 by Concord Music.