Anyone who grew up with The Beatles as the soundtrack to their youth had a favourite Beatle, and for many of us it was the quiet one, George. When Paul McCartney went off to do some best forgotten stuff with Wings and John Lennon died so tragically, George Harrison was quietly getting on with his own life, exploring the music and religion of India, and producing work that was spiritual at one end of the scale and downright fun at the other.
It’s fitting therefore that the Concert For George held at The Royal Albert Hall on 29 November 2002 was a fusion of East and West, and also that the line-up of artists encompassed the great and the good of the decades of his career.
Disc One is purely Eastern, introduced by a moving comment from Ravi Shankar, who regarded George as a son – “I strongly feel that George is here tonight. I mean, how can he not be here, when all of us who loved him so much have assembled here to sing for him and play music for him. I’m sure he’s here.”
Disc Two kicks off with Jeff Lynne and I Want To Tell You – the first 20 tracks by or associated with Harrison and with overall musical direction by the old master himself, Eric Clapton. All more or less familiar, some sounding pretty well as you remember them and some given a different twist.
Joe Brown singing Here Comes The Sun is an unlikely but triumphant pairing; Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers wouldn’t have been my choice for Taxman but again it works. Ringo Starr gives us a couple of songs – Photograph and Honey Don’t. The latter, which has never struck me as much of a song, is terrific when given the all-out guitar rock treatment – I guess it’s difficult to go wrong when you’ve got a cluster of guitarists this good on stage.
Highlights – though it’s almost insidious to pick out just a few among so many – are Clapton singing Beware of Darkness, Clapton and McCartney with While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Billy Preston with My Sweet Lord, and Handle With Care. One of the best songs from the wonderful Travelling Wilburys – George and other luminaries (including the late Roy Orbison) getting together “incognito” and having fun – Handle With Care is given a knockout performance by Tom Petty (another Wilbury) with Jeff Lynne and George’s son Dhani.
I’d love to have been at The Royal Albert Hall that night – the atmosphere must have been extraordinary. This album can’t reproduce that properly, but it’s still an uplifting listen and a must for all fans of the quiet one.