Biography (1943 - 2001)
01.12.11: All Things Must Pass
"Everything else can wait but the search for God can not wait, and love one another" - Harrison's last statement.
George Harrison was born in Liverpool on the 25th of February 1943 (later he said he found out his birthday was really on the 24th). His father Harold was a bus driver and his mother Louise was a housewife.
George's first house was a little "two up, two down" house 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree. It was rather cramped for George, his parents,his two brothers Harold and Peter and his sister Louise, but in 1950 (after being 18 years on the waiting list) the family finally got a new council house at 25 Upton Green, Speke. They moved there the day after New Year's Day 1950.
George attended Dovedale Primary school, two forms behind John Lennon. At first he was a good enough scholar to pass the eleven-plus examination and go to the Liverpool Institute (the city's best high school for boys), but once in the school he began to lose interest in his lessons and failed his exams. He was also very rebellious and started wearing tight drainpipe trousers and growing his hair as long as he could, against the school's "short hair" regulations.
Paul McCartney went to the same school as George (one form above) and he took the same bus as George to school. They met each other on the bus and soon found out they were both into music, so Paul introduced George to John Lennon, of whose band The Quarry Men he was a member. At first George was considered too young to join the group, but he kept hanging around with them and following them to all their party engagements so he finally became a member of the band.
After changing names a couple of times, the group finally became the Beatles in 1960. In August 1960 the group (consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best) set off for Hamburg, where they were engaged to play at the Indra Club and then, after it closed down, at the Kaiserkeller, both in the red-light area of Hamburg and both owned by Bruno Koschmider. Their collaboration ended after the Beatles started playing at the Top Ten Club, against the agreement that said they were not allowed to play anywhere within a radius of 25 miles without Koschmider's permission. Koshcmider handed them a month's termination of contract notice and soon after, the police somehow found out that George was not 18 yet and so it was illegal for him to stay- let alone work- in a club after midnight. George was deported and sent back to England and soon after the rest of the band followed, after Paul and Pete were accused by Koschmider of trying to set fire to a cinema he owned.
The Beatles return to Liverpool signaled the start of Beatlemania and also the start of the Beatles' playing at the Cavern Club. They returned to Hamburg to play at the Top Ten Club in mid-1961 where they also made a record, backing Tony Sheridan on My Bonnie and When the Saints Go Marching In. It was this single that allegedly brought then to the attention of Brian Epstein, who eventually became their manager. Brian secured them an audition with Decca Records on New Year's Day 1962 which they failed to pass, but they finally got a contract with EMI's Parlophone label. As the band's popularity began to rise and Beatlemania conquered the world, George was at first overshadowed by the songwriting talents of the Lennon/McCartney team. He soon began to write more and more songs of his own, however, and he eventually showed that he was as talented as Paul and John, although many people to this day don't appreciate his full value to the group (scroll down).
During the filming of A Hard Day's Night George met model Patti Boyd. He fell in love with her and asked her out was on a date. Patti refused at first, because she already had a boyfriend, but George was persistent so she finally yielded. They started going out and soon Patti split up with her previous boyfriend and moved in with George. They got married on 26 January, 1966.
By the end of 1965 George was already beginning to get very interested in Indian music and culture. As the youngest member of the Beatles, Harrison was constantly overshadowed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Although Don't Bother Me (With the Beatles), I Need You (Help!) and If I Needed Someone (Rubber Soul) revealed a considerable compositional talent, such contributions were swamped by his colleagues" prodigious output. Instead, Harrison honed a distinctive guitar style, modelled on rockabilly mentor Carl Perkins.
He bought a sitar -though he had no idea how to use it at the time- and had the idea of adding sitar chords to John's Norwegian Wood- the first time a sitar appeared on a pop record. Harrison's infatuation with India was the first outward sign of his growing independence, while his three contributions to Revolver, noticeably "Taxman" and "I Want To Tell You", showed a newfound musical maturity. The Indian influence continued on the reflective "Within You, Without You" on Sgt. Peppers. He flexed solo ambitions with the trite Electronic Sounds, but enhanced his stature as a skilled songwriter with the majestic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (the Beatles), featuring the guitar of his close friend Eric Clapton (as L'Angelo Mysterioso) and the beautiful "Something" (Abbey Road). Sales of the latter composition exceeded one million when issued as a single in 1969. It became the second most recorded Beatles song (after "Yesterday"), and prompted Frank Sinatra to comment that it was the greatest love song ever written. His comment was tainted somewhat as he clumsily thought that the song was written by Lennon and McCartney.
At the end of 1966 he spent a month in India, studying the sitar, Yoga, Indian philosophy and culture. He also wrote, recorded and produced the soundtrack for the film Wonderwall with Indian musicians in 1968. On 25 August 1967 George travelled with the other Beatles to Bangor, North Wales to attend a course on transcendental meditation by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They all found meditation really interesting and decided to go to India for three months in early 1968, to study it more in depth. The visit didn't go at all as well as intended, though, and the Beatles returned to England earlier then planned, disillusioned with the Maharishi and although they said it was only him they were abandoning and not meditation, neither subject was mentioned much again. George's love for Indian music and culture remained, however, and he still has Eastern spiritual beliefs.
On 12 March 1969- the same day that Paul and Linda were getting married- Patti answered the door of the bungalow where she and George were living to find the police. They had a warrant to search the house for illegal substances. They found some marijuna, and George and Patti were charged with cannabis possesion. They pleaded guilty, although they said they had no idea the drugs were where they were. Ironically, the sergeant who had searched their house was charged a few months later with planting drugs on an innocent suspect.
Meanwhile, tension was building up between the members of the Beatles, and by early 1969 they were on the verge of splitting up. After quarrelling with both Paul and John, George left the group and, according to press reports, travelled north to visit his parents. He returned after about a week, having decided to stay with the group, but this did not mean the end of the tension or the problems. George was quite pleased to go on tour with Americans Delaney & Bonnie in December as an anonymous member of their backing group, Friends, along with Eric Clapton. He knew it was his only chance to return to the concert stage without making huge headlines in the press or been really noticed at all- he could just slip on at the back of the stage fairly unnoticed. Harrison also produced releases for Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax and a recording of the traditional devotional chant "Hare Krishna Mantra" by the Radha Krishna Temple in September, which surprisingly became a hit at the time.
1970 saw the official break-up of the Beatles. For George, that was a good chance to go off and record all the songs he had written that he's been holding back during the last 2 or so years. The result was All Things Must Pass, a triple-record set featuring several high quality compositions including Awaiting On You All, I'd Have You Anytime (co-written with Bob Dylan) and Beware Of Darkness. These selections were, however, eclipsed by My Sweet Lord, which deftly combined melody with mantra and deservedly soared to the top of the US and UK charts. Its lustre was sadly removed in later years when the publishers of the Chiffons' 1964 hit, She's So Fine, successfully sued for plagiarism. All Things Must Pass is generally rated as the best post-Beatles solo project, a fact that must have given Harrison considerable compensation for always being cast in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney.
Harrison's next project was "Bangla-Desh", a single inspired by a plea from master musician Ravi Shankar to aid famine relief in the Indian subcontinent. Charity concerts, featuring Harrison, Dylan, Preston, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell, were held at New York's Madison Square Gardens in August 1971, which in turn generated a film and box set. Legal wrangles blighted Harrison's altruism and it was 1973 before he resumed recording. Whereas All Things Must Pass boasted support from Derek And The Dominos, Badfinger and producer Phil Spector, Living In The Material World was more modest and consequently lacked verve. The album nonetheless reached number 1 in the US, as did an attendant single, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), but critical reaction was noticeably muted. George also toured the United States in 1974, but the tour got bad reviews and George was criticized for being experimental in music and not playing any Beatles songs. The fans weren't too enthusiastic either, and George didn't tour again until 1991 (17 years later).
At the same time, George's marriage to Patti was falling apart. George had cheated on Patti a few times and they were gradually growing apart for other reasons as well. Finally, after years of discord, George and Patti divorced in 1977 and Patti later married George's friend Eric Clapton, who had long been in love with her. George did not consider that Eric had stolen his wife or anything, however, and to the end of his life they remained friends.
Meanwhile, George had met and fallen in love with Mexican-Californian Olivia Arias, who was working as a secretary in his Dark Horse record company. They had a son, Dhani, born on 1 August 1978 and they married soon after. In 1980, George published his memoir, I Me Mine, which he dedicated "to gardeners everywhere", because, as he said in the book, he now looks at himself as a gardener.
George was quite active during the 80's. There were several low-key requests, including Mike Batt's adaptation of the Hunting Of The Snark and the Greenpeace benefit album. He joined the all-star cast saluting Carl Perkins on the television tribute Blue Suede Shoes. He wrote a tribute song to John called All Those Years Ago in 1981, on which all the ex-Beatles collaborated. He also released Cloud Nine in 1987, which contained hit songs such as Harrison's version of the James Ray hit Got My Mind Set on You (which reached number 2 in the UK and number 1 in the USA) and When We Was Fab. Production chores were shared with Jeff Lynne. The album proved popular, with Lynne's grasp of commerciality enhancing Harrison's newfound optimism. Its release completed outstanding contracts and left this unpredictable artist free of obligations, although several impromptu live appearances suggest his interest in music was now rekindled
Then in 1988 he became a member of the Travelling Wilburys, a band consisting of Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and the late Roy Orbison. Orbison's death curtailed continuation, following two excellent albums. Harrison made his first tour for many years in Japan during January 1992 with his long-time friend Eric Clapton giving him support. He reappeared onstage in England at a one-off benefit concert in April. In 1995, the UK press seemed to delight in the fact that Harrison had hit hard times caused by various business ventures and ill advice from people he used as advisors. The Beatles reunion in 1995 for the Anthology series banished any thoughts of bankruptcy. A further bonus came in January 1996 when he was awarded $11.6 million following litigation against Denis O'Brien and his mishandling of Harrison's finances.
He was also involved in film-making, as the co-owner of the production company HandMade Films which has made film such as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979 (where George does a cameo appearance), The Long Good Friday (1980), Time Bandits (1981), Water (1985), A Private Function (1985), Mona Lisa (1986), Shanghai Surprise (1986) and Withnail And I (1987). Harrison only occasionally contributed to the soundtracks.
During this time Harrison cultivated two hobbies which took up a great deal of his time, and he ultimately became passionate about both: motor racing and gardening.
In 1998, George was diagnosed with throat cancer. Further drama ensued on December 30 1999, when Harrison was repeatedly stabbed attempting to accost a burglar in his home. The deranged man was later charged with attempted murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This episode, however, clearly damaged and shook the frail singer. Harrison supervised the magnificent reissue of All Things Must Pass in 2000, with new artwork and re-recordings as a bonus. Rumours of a new album began to circulate before it was confirmed that Harrison had relapsed and was suffering from an inoperable brain tumour. He underwent treatment for lung cancer in March, but a brain tumour was found a few months later. After undergoing treatment for it in a Swiss clinic and trying a new type of therapy as a last chance in America, George died of the disease on November 29, 2001.
The reaction to his death was worthy of the Beatles' standing in the world; newspapers and radio and television stations in most parts of the world gave massive coverage. As the tributes flowed in three instant points of contact for mourners were: Abbey Road studios in London, the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, New York, and the city centre of Liverpool. The most condescending tribute came from Paul McCartney, who, although clearly shaken with grief, referred to Harrison as his little baby brother. It is a pity that McCartney did not feel the need to offer to write any songs with his young sibling in the period between the Beatles' emergence in 1961 to the release of the first Traveling Wilburys album in 1988. When asked to respond at the time to McCartney's offer to write songs together, Harrison politely declined as he was quite happy writing songs with Bob Dylan et al. Harrison had now found a group in which his songwriting ability was not undervalued.
The best and most perceptive tribute came from Bob Geldof, who pointed out that millions of people have and will, hum and sing Harrison's magnificent guitar intros to numerous Beatles songs. Harrison's melodic guitar work often defined the melody of Beatles' songs as we know them. His contribution to songs such as Day Tripper, I Feel Fine and Eight Days A Week was immense. They are a testament to Harrison's craft. His death invoked mass sadness in the passing of yet another member of the Beatles who failed to reach the ripe old age of 64. My Sweet Lord posthumously topped the UK singles chart in January 2002, and later in the year Harrison's final recordings were released on Brainwashed.
01.12.11: George Harrison – Living in the Material World Dvd Review
This is an absorbing and at times mesmeric glimpse into the world of the enigmatic Beatle. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that I haven't seen a better documentary on any Beatle or a more revealing one.
No real surprise when you consider it is directed by none other than Martin Scorsese. With the help of never-before-seen footage from George Harrison’s childhood and insightful interviews with luminaries like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, and his son Dhani, we get to see and understand every facet of his life, both professional and personal.
But holding the whole thing together like glue is the contribution from his widow, Olivia, also a co-producer on the project. By a country mile her interviews are the most watchable. At times pithily funny, always insightful, she is one of those interviewees who takes to it like a duck to water. It can be painful watching though as I found when she eloquently revealed the night in 1999 when the couple were attacked in their home at night by an absolute lunatic. Really scary stuff, the slow but inexorable path to the conclusion of the physical attack as the attacker climbed the many stairs intent on harming them.
The footage and details of the gloriously insane Victorian neo-Gothic mansion Friar Park at Henley-on-Thames which was his home for over thirty years is riveting. What a place; what gardens...it's glimpsing life in another world. I think before John Lennon's death in 1980 the gardens were open to the public. It would have been wonderful to have seen the gardens for oneself but the next best thing is seeing them here. It's like a living, breathing tour round a kind of Willy Wonka gothic chocolate factory. Brilliant.
The whole thing over two discs gives you time to get into the whole minutaie of his complex character. Not a moment is wasted; not a moment forgotten.
The highlight of 400-page book by Olivia Harrison are the photos taken by Harrison himself beginning in the mid-1960s.