wife makes his film dream a reality
July, 30, 2005 By Hugh Davies
George Harrison's widow has overseen the remastering
of the film and music of his 1971 Concert For Bangladesh into a high-definition DVD, a vast project the former Beatle had
to abandon when he became ill.
Olivia Harrison said: "It's really stunning. It's been blown up from the original 16 mm
to 70 mm. George wanted to get a full soundtrack. Now, you'll be watching a really beautiful film."
The 99-minute film
of the charity concert has been restored and remixed, along with 72 minutes of extra footage, for release on HD-DVD in October.
There is previously unseen film of Harrison and Bob Dylan rehearsing If Not For You, with Ringo Starr on drums and then
Intriguingly, Dylan decided not to perform his song at the ensuing afternoon and evening concerts at Madison Square
Gardens, New York, on Aug 1, 1971.
Harrison, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell are
also seen doing a sound check in the arena, playing Come On In My Kitchen. In addition, there is film, seen for the first
time, of Dylan playing Love Minus Zero/No Limit at the afternoon show.
Jonathan Clyde, who produced the new project, said
the sound had been recorded on 16 tracks by Phil Spector, who was recruited by Harrison after they made his All Things
Must Pass recording.
He said: "They were trying to replicate the sound of the album." More than 40,000 people
watched the concerts.
Highlights included While My Guitar Gently Weeps featuring Harrison, Russell and Clapton, Just Like
A Woman with Dylan, Russell, Harrison and Starr, Here Comes the Sun by Harrison with Badfinger, and That's The Way God Planned
It by Billy Preston.
Mrs. Harrison said that long afterwards, her husband became fascinated again by the concert, and
started working on remastering the sound in the summer of 2001. But he died in November of that year.
"Our work on it
is just really a completion of something George had started," she said. "It's always emotional for me to watch him. It's his
best ever performance."
Harrison: His widow talks about realizing his final vision
October 19, 2004; Independent co uk
Before his untimely death in 2001, George Harrison wanted to share his revolutionary 1971 Concert for
Bangladesh with the Live Aid generation. Now his widow Olivia
has done just that. She talks to Louise Jury
When George Harrison died of cancer four years ago at the age of 58, his widow, Olivia, vowed to
finish the projects he had been working on.
So far she has continued the restoration and maintenance of the large Victorian
garden at their mansion near Henley-on-Thames, remastered and released six albums from his back catalogue and finished Brainwashed, the album he was working on
in his final months. And today, in Los Angeles, she will be joined by her husband's friends - led by fellow Beatle Ringo Starr and a clutch of other
Sixties rock musicians - to launch a DVD, with accompanying documentary, of the concert that Harrison organized in 1971 to raise funds for refugees in Bangladesh.
The original Concert for Bangladesh and associated merchandising raised $15m, which
was distributed through Unicef, the United Nations' Children's Fund, and all the royalties for the new release will go to
the same cause. It is this cause that has enticed the reluctant Mrs. Harrison into the limelight. She looks slightly uncomfortable
at being the focus of attention, though she tries hard to be gracious.
In an elegant cardigan-jacket and fitted black
trousers, Olivia, petite and raven-haired, nurses a coffee and betrays her Mexican-American roots with a gentle accent as
she requests her own tape recorder to record our interview. We talk in the living room above her office at the headquarters
of Apple Records, the Beatles' label, in a Belgravia townhouse that would make an estate agent swoon.
Images of John, Paul, Ringo and George line the walls and it remains the hub of the Fab Four's vast business empire, which
backed Harrison's venture in 1971 and is supporting the release of the DVD now - albeit
for no profit. I wonder whether it is distressing to be confronted with so many reminders of her late husband, but Olivia
retains her detachment. "I always separated George the artist from George the person." Even when he was alive, she says, they
would walk past pictures of him as if it were somebody else entirely.
Indeed, she resists discussing her emotional life
and is on guard against betraying the privacy she and Harrison guarded so closely. It is Unicef she wants to
talk about. The fund co-operated with the release, and the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke warmly in the accompanying
documentary about the impact the original concert had. "This re-issue is a very big deal for Unicef; they're really happy
about it," says Olivia. "We're just handing them the whole project and hopefully it will generate more funds for them. It's
an historical document and it's theirs."
The concert came about after Harrison's friend Ravi Shankar confided his fears for his native Bengal, where thousands of refugees created by its fight
for independence were stricken by severe floods. But it was a nerve-racking venture, with Harrison unsure until the very last
minute whether friends such as Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan would turn up to Madison Square Garden for the two performances,
in the afternoon and evening of 1 August. Although it ultimately proved to be the model for Live Aid and the huge charity
concerts of the Eighties and Nineties, the event, according to Olivia, represented risky and uncharted waters at the time.
"The music community had never made that sort of endeavor before. But it was innocent and simple and straightforward and
beautiful, I think, because it was an expression of concern through their music. It was the only way George knew how to help."
The idea of the DVD was originally floated before what would have been the 30th anniversary of the concert in 2001, and Harrison seized on it with typical enthusiasm. The original
footage was retrieved from storage at Apple. But with Harrison undergoing treatment for the throat cancer with
which he was diagnosed in 1997, he had remastered only the music by the time of his death.
He never saw forgotten footage
of, for instance, himself performing "If Not For You" with Dylan in rehearsals, and a Dylan performance of "Love Minus Zero/No
Limit" not included in the original film (which was released briefly on VHS). It was left to his softly spoken widow to put
all the film together and complete the work.
"I couldn't devise a more perfect project for myself. It's so close to George
and he had his hand on it. I couldn't just put it back on the shelf," Olivia says. Dhani, her son with Harrison and also a musician, helped complete Brainwashed, but he has been less involved with the DVD. "It's
a bit more my era - 1971," she says, smiling.
As Olivia reminisces about Harrison and how carefully he looked after his fellow musicians,
how touched he was that men like Clapton and Dylan had agreed to take part because they could see it mattered to him, it is
almost possible to forget that she was not there at the time.
Although the film project has brought her as close to the
events as many who were actually present, she only experienced the concert second-hand. She and Harrison met three years afterwards,
when they were introduced at his American record label where Olivia, then 27, was working. But in 1971, she had been traveling
in Europe. "I remember being annoyed
that I didn't know about the concert and thinking, 'How can I have missed that?'" Yet she recalls the effect it had on public
awareness of the disaster in Asia. "I don't think any of us knew about it before, I'm ashamed
to say. We didn't have the media like we have today."
David Puttnam, the film producer and Labour peer who was at the
first concert, believes that Bangladesh had not really been an issue for the international community before Harrison used his fame to put it on the agenda. In the documentary accompanying the DVD, he speaks warmly of the ex-Beatle
as a Sixties romantic. "He never gave up hoping that the dreams of the Sixties could be realized. In hindsight, I think what
was so special about George is that he always believed in the power of goodness." Olivia seems touchingly grateful for these
words. "It's lovely of him to say that. It's hard for me because George didn't like to blow his own horn and I don't want
to do it for him. He wouldn't like that. He was very self-deprecating. But George always wanted to make something better.
He learned a lot from that concert personally, what he could achieve."
Harrison has often been presented as a difficult recluse, but Olivia says it was only the press he wished to
avoid. "Ringo always used to say George was the most social 'recluse' he knew. If you came to the house, there would always
be people there. If he walked in the room now, he would make you smile. He had a great presence, and he was an uplifting person,"
she says, adding: "He could be grumpy too, but he didn't like people around him to be unhappy. He liked everyone to be having
a good time. Otherwise it was a waste of life. People say life is too short and it is." And so it proved. Inquiring about
Harrison's final days with cancer, I ask whether he had, Dylan Thomas-like, raged against the dying of the light,
but Olivia responds quickly: "There's no dying of the light." It's a reaction that springs from the profound spiritualism
she and her late husband shared, a spiritualism that to a non-believer seems strangely at odds with the immaculately coiffure
and manicured woman discussing the practicalities of transferring film to video.
"I feel very fortunate. I have a lot
of joy because I know it's OK," she says. "This physical world is not the end by any means. It's just another place you pass
through. I don't just believe that, I know it." Ask her whether she thinks she will be reunited with her late husband and
she suggests she will. "In the Vedas [ancient Hindu scriptures], it says you'll meet a multitude of past relatives and lovers
and people and friends that you know, so why not think you're going to bump into somebody somewhere along the way?"
will not discuss the possibility of ever finding love again. "I have too many things to do right now. I'm on an even keel
and I like it this way." When Harrison died in 2001, the couple was living in Switzerland where they had moved after he was attacked and stabbed by an intruder at their Henley home, but she has since returned to Britain. She is uneasy talking about
that difficult period, but says Harrison had wanted to leave the UK for a long time and the attack was the clincher. "If he hadn't died, Switzerland would have been our home. But after he died, I came back. I had more history here."
Lennon's first wife, has recently published an autobiography, which includes the allegation that Harrison had an affair with Ringo Starr's first wife, Maureen, after Starr left her in the early 1970s. Olivia says nothing
about the claim and, while refusing to criticize Cynthia for her revelations, the idea of doing likewise clearly appalls her.
"Cynthia has just written a book about John. That's fine," she says. "I just want to appear where I have to. I don't need
to say anything about George to present him or preserve him because that's not what he would have wanted. I'm just trying
to finish what he started."
'The Concert for Bangladesh: George Harrison and Friends' is released on Monday on double DVD through Warner Music Vision and on
CD through Sony
with George Harrison's widow
By Bill Harrison from Toronto Sun
Harrison describes finishing The Concert For Bangladesh as 'bitter and sweet'
the projects George Harrison started before his death is a labor of love for his wife Olivia.
And that's in the truest
sense of the words labor and love.
"It's bitter and sweet, I have to say," said Olivia from London, England, in an exclusive interview with the Toronto Sun.
"But George wanted it done. I can't not
do it, not when he had his hand on it and was working on it. There were three or four projects -- actually, more like a half-dozen
-- that hopefully I'll be able to finish."
One of those finished packages hits stores Tuesday: The first appearance of
The Concert For Bangladesh on DVD, along with previously unseen rehearsal and show footage, and a new and fascinating documentary.
A strong argument can be made that George, who died in 2001 at the age of 58, had more of an impact in a worldwide, cultural
sense than any rock icon of the 1960s.
There was his obvious musical contribution as one of the Beatles, and
with his solo career.
There was his championing of Indian musicians, which opened up the whole "world music" scene.
was his quiet financial intervention to save what we now consider to be classic comedic films, such as Monty Python's Life
And, of course, there was The Concert For Bangladesh, which took place on Aug. 1, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York. It marked the first time rock stars "weren't
just thinking about ourselves for five minutes," according to participant Eric Clapton.
It all was organized by Harrison, the quiet ex-Beatle, through personal phone calls and despite tight deadlines in an era when similar
charitable forays were not common.
"Things were simpler then," said Olivia, 57. "George was asked by a friend. He hated
to see (famous sitar player) Ravi Shankar in distress (about conditions and circumstances in Bangladesh). George said, 'This was
happening to people miles and miles away from where I was, and yet it was right there in front of me, because Ravi was in such distress. How can you ignore that?'
"George knew (the concert) had an effect, and he knew it at the
time." But it didn't become a model until many years later (with such events as Live Aid in 1985 and Live 8 in 2005). "I think
people were slow off the mark, if you ask me."
George had a strong sense of humor, so it is not an insult to his memory
to acknowledge The Concert For Bangladesh has been the target of jokes through the years.
For example, during an episode
of The Simpsons, Krusty The Klown has overstayed his welcome at the Simpsons residence. As his hosts fight off sleep, Krusty
fingers through the family's record collection and exclaims, "Whoa! The Concert For Bangladesh!" The next sound you hear is a sitar playing.
The point being, this is how a boring night gets even
Of course, the concert is not all sitar-heavy. The main ensemble features, among others, Harrison,
fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and Billy Preston.
Even Olivia admits the average music
fan may not have the time to watch the whole concert, at least in one sitting. The real prize is the documentary, which was
Among the notable insights: Harrison's reluctance and nervousness about being a front man; Dylan's fear
of playing in front of such a big crowd, to the point that Harrison wasn't totally sure Dylan was going to walk onto the stage
until moments before it happened; and Clapton's admission that he was so drug-addled, "I was in another world, not really
"I thought people would understand more about it, and the importance of it, if we had a documentary," said Olivia,
who wed George in 1978. "When you just watch the concert straight through, it might not be so clear in hindsight. I think
you need that context."
Olivia appreciated and agreed with the assessment that George became a crucially important figure
in pop culture and beyond. But George never thought of it that way.
"George did a lot of different things, but he didn't
actually care what the outcome was," Olivia said. "Sure, it would have been nice if everybody said, 'Wow, that's great,' because
they enjoyed it. But he didn't need the praise.
"He wanted to share the things he loved so much. Who got it, got it, and
who didn't, didn't.
"He always had things going on like this. That's why he was such a fun guy."
And that's why he
now is such a missed guy.
The tale of the tapes
Even some of the most important tapes in rock 'n'
roll history can wind up gathering dust in somebody's basement.
"Yeah, mostly mine," said Olivia Harrison, wife of late,
great Beatle George Harrison. "I have quite a lot. I've been collecting them for 30 years."
However, tracking down the
tapes that led to the new DVD release of The Concert For Bangladesh was an ordeal.
"I was helping George in 2001 when
he was remastering the audio, hoping to bring it out for the 30th anniversary," Olivia said. "Lo and behold, it had been remastered
and somebody had given George the wrong tapes.
"That began a process of tracking down the correct ones. There were so
many different versions because they did the film and the album. Everybody seemed to have the wrong ones. Finally we got in
touch with (producer Phil Spector, who was involved in the original recording of the show in 1971). We're saying, 'Phil, do
you have the tapes?' And he was like, 'Yeah, I got 'em.' 'Well, send 'em over!' "
Still, getting things ready for the
30th anniversary proved to be an unrealistic task.
"DVD was just beginning in 2001, so we had no idea it would take that
long," Olivia said.
Royalties donated to UNICEF
The Concert For Bangladesh just keeps on giving.
All artists’ royalties from the new DVD release of the show will be donated to UNICEF.
The original concert
on Aug. 1, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York, raised $250,000 US, which went immediately to charitable causes.
Subsequent movie and album sales
raised millions of dollars more. But main organizer and ex-Beatle George Harrison was furious that it took so many years for the
cash to reach its intended destination.
"The money from the gate went directly to UNICEF, but the royalties took longer
to get to UNICEF, because of the way it was structured," said Olivia Harrison, George's wife.
"Eventually it did get there.
But in 1973 George set up his own foundation because he was frustrated with all the bureaucracy and the situation with the
(tax authorities in the United States).
"George said, 'I'm not going to let that happen
again. I'm going to have my own foundation so if I want to give money away, I can do what I want.' "