Beatle Harrison’s concert still aiding Bangladesh
By Matt Hurwitz
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Long before Katrina and tsunami
relief, Live 8 and Live AID, former Beatle George Harrison
assembled an all-star concert that cast the mold for celebrity
charity, and with a new DVD and remixed songs, “The Concert for
Bangladesh” is raising money again.
The 1971 concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden
featured Harrison, who died four years ago, and fellow Beatle
Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Billy
Preston and sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, Harrison’s Indian
The pair of shows, one afternoon and one evening, benefited
UNICEF and raised $250,000 from ticket sales alone. While that
may seem a small sum compared to tens of millions raised for
Katrina relief or in the Live 8 concerts to raise awareness of
poverty in Africa, it was a huge amount at the time.
All the performers worked for free to aid refugees from
Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan, who fled into India to
escape political strife. They suffered from starvation and
disease in the process.
“I think musicians are selfless,” Olivia Harrison, the
Beatle’s widow told Reuters at a recent event to promote the
new DVD. “And they respond to one another, something I’ve
really encountered since George died.”
The message reached across the community, says former Doors
drummer John Densmore. “It was the beginning of conscious
giving,” he said. “When you get the brass ring, spread it
around. Money is like fertilizer — if you hoard it, it stinks.
If you spread it around, stuff grows.”
THE GIFT STILL GIVES
Since the original show, $15 million has been raised from
sales of the original concert album (which won a Grammy), CD
and videos of the film documenting the historic concert.
The new DVD hit retail shelves last month, along with a
remixed CD set of the music, and sales will again benefit
UNICEF through a new charity, The George Harrison Fund for
The 2-disc set also contains a new 45-minute documentary
about the concerts with never-before-seen footage, and the
companion CD features previously unreleased performances by
Dylan and others.
Harrison originally organized the concert in response to
pleas for help from his friend, Shankar, who is from Varanasi,
“He and Ravi were great friends, and George just wanted to
help,” Starr told Reuters.
Many of the original musicians who played at the concerts
attended the recent party, including Preston, famed session
drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Klaus Voormann, as well as
Harrison’s widow, Olivia and 28-year-old son Dhani.
“George once said that, although it was happening to people
who were thousands of miles away from him, it was right in
front of him in the form of Ravi Shankar,” said Olivia
Harrison. “Ravi’s concern and distress over it was something
that he had to respond to.”
Voormann, former bassist for Manfred Mann and a longtime
friend of The Beatles from their days playing in Hamburg,
Germany in the early ’60s, was living at Harrison’s home in
England when Shankar visited the Beatle to plea for help.
“It was Ravi who was suggesting that he himself should
perform a concert, until George said, ‘Why don’t I do it?,”‘
FORGOTTEN WORDS, FRENZIED ACTS
Harrison performed tracks including “My Sweet Lord,” from
his top-selling album “All Things Must Pass,” while Starr sang
his hit single “It Don’t Come Easy.” In the film, audiences can
see both performers forgetting the lyrics to their own songs.
“It was before the days of teleprompters. I mean, it was a
little nervy,” Starr said of his first live outing five years
after the Beatles gave their final concert. “But with all the
other great artists there, I could do what I do best, just play
drums behind them, which was great.”
Preston performed his current hit, “That’s the Way God
Planned It,” dancing wildly onstage and whipping the crowd into
a frenzy that Harrison clearly enjoyed.
“It wasn’t planned; it was just the spirit of the show,”
The concert not only raised money for relief supplies, it
put Bangladesh on the map at a time when few people knew what
or where it was. The shows inspired volunteerism among a
generation of young people, even if the only help they could
provide was buying a concert ticket or an album, said Chip
Lyons, president of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
“The concert produced resources that UNICEF desperately
needed to help during the crisis,” said Lyons.
Eric Idle, a member of the British comedy troupe Monty
Python and former Harrison pal, said the Beatle would likely be
very proud of all that was accomplished — and still is being
gained — from the concert.
“It’s rare for one person to be able to do that out of
their own volition, to create something that not only helps one
country in crisis … but makes it possible for the Bonos and
(Live AID/Live 8 creator Bob) Geldofs and Eltons to galvanize
all of this popular force for good.”