What’s the most covered song written by the Beatles? The answer is something quite surprising: it’s “Something” by George Harrison. Attributed as the third best songwriter in the group, George was the middle child of the Beatles family; not as angry as John, not as cute as Paul, and not as lucky as Ringo. Although, he was the first of the fab four to release a solo work, with the soundtrack of the forgettable psychedelic film “Wonderwall” (nothing to do with Oasis).
In 2002, a year after his death, the Concert For George – organised in his honour and to celebrate his influence – occurred, and a splendid time was guaranteed for all. Attending and performing were George’s friends and contemporaries, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton and Michael Palin, a regular actor in Hand Made Films of whom George was the founder.
Starting with traditional Hindu prayer “Sarve Shaam” and Ravi Shankar composition “Your Eyes”, George Harrison’s strong spirituality immediately is reflected upon. “The Inner Light” – George’s ode to mindful and stationery travel – follows, performed with some gusto by Ravi’s daughter Anoushka Shankar and Jeff Lynne, accompanied by an especially jaunty joy-filled piece specially written by Ravi Shankar.
Then it’s time for something completely different. Monty Python members Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, plus Neil Innes, Carol Cleveland and Tom Hanks, perform a very naughty Python song, followed by “The Lumberjack Song” and little bit of “Spam” (only a little, as George was a vegetarian). As each track arrives, each performer radiates an energy of happiness, as the live crowd cheers and a familiar song kicks in.
These opening tracks demonstrate there was so much more to George than experimental Indian classical music sounds on Beatles albums and “My Sweet Lord”; I get the impression from his many collaborations on his solo albums, he was also lots of fun to be with. The inclusion of the Monty Python songs shows that George never took himself too seriously, somewhere between Lennon’s political art house approach and Paul’s poppy quirky sound.
Maybe it’s because I’m a George Harrison fan, while listening to this release, I found it hard to not sing along throughout the concert, feeling as if I were there. Eric Clapton performs a rocking version of “Wah-Wah”, and his performance of “If I Needed Someone” sounds so bright and natural you can imagine its writer joining in too. Gary Brooker’s version of “Old Brown Shoe” has a grand rawness, proving that the best songs are the ones that are improved by other artists giving them their twist. Likewise, Tom Petty’s sneering tones suit both “Taxman” and “I Need You”.
The Travelling Wilburys’ “Handle Me With Care” is covered like a respectful and fun sing-along, reminding us of the deserved reappraisal George received in late Eighties. Both Ringo Starr and Billy Preston – he of groovy keyboard in “Get Back” – show up too, but it’s Paul McCartney covering “For You Blue”, “Something” and other Harrison classics that really make the evening, with that fun “jam session” quality that was the hook of George’s lively songs in his catalogue. Slowing down the pace, “Give Me Love” and “Beware The Darkness” are also entertaining; if you close your eyes as you listen, you can imagine lighters being held up and swaying.
But it’s not all successful. Joe Brown’s contributions (“Here Comes The Sun”, “That’s The Way It Goes”, and concert closer “I’ll See You In My Dreams”) are sweet but standard cover versions; they lack anything special, although his heart seems to be in there. I personally prefer cover versions to be unique to the artist, but perhaps at a tribute night such as this, experimentation might not be in order. Jools Holland’s rendition of “Horse To The Water” – one of George Harrison’s last songs – also left me a bit dry.
The recording of this tribute acknowledges George Harrison’s varied works, plus the love he earned from his fans and friends. Overall, I enjoyed witnessing the sounds of the special concert; only a few personal favourites were missing. I would have liked to have heard “I Me Mine”, “Blue Jay Way” and even perhaps the obscure “The Pirate Song” from Rutland Weekend Television. But you can’t have everything.
Sad as it is to know George Harrison has been away from us more than 15 years, I think “All Things Must Pass”; I bet he’d be on “Cloud Nine” to know his works are still revered and rediscovered by generations old and new.
Concert For George will be released on 23rd February from Concord Music as a 4-LP Box Set; a Limited Edition Deluxe 10-disc Box Set; a 2-CD set, a 2-CD + 2-DVD combo package; and a 2-CD + 2-Blu-ray combo package.