George Harrison's big sister Louise brings tribute act to Moncton Saturday
Back in the early 1960s, George Harrison's big sister used to go pounding on the doors of radio stations in Canada and the U.S., insisting they play the songs by a new band from England called The Beatles.
Today, Louise Harrison remains one of the Beatles' biggest fans and continues to travel the world with a stage show called Liverpool Legends, which comes to the Moncton Wesleyan Celebration Centre on Saturday, Feb. 27.
From aging baby boomers who lived through the changes the Beatles helped inspire to their tiny grandchildren, the songs of the Beatles still have a dominant influence in pop culture as one of the most popular and influential musical groups of all time. It's been more than 40 years since the Beatles broke up, but Louise says the band's legacy will live on forever because early songs still represent timeless and positive messages.
"I think the most important part of why it's doing so well and for so long, especially in today's world, it's one of the few totally positive messages out there," Louise said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Illinois.
"It seems that the rest of the world is crumbling at our feet at the moment. Everything is about fear and hatred and greed and all of those awful things, and the Beatles were all about love and peace and caring and compassion and the people of this planet would like to have a little more of that."
In the great scheme of things, the Beatles were around for a relatively short time. They got their start in England in the late 1950s, soared to world stardom in 1964 and played their last concert at Candlestick Park in Los Angeles in August of 1966. They retreated to the studio to record several more albums before their famous rooftop performance in 1969 signalled the end of the Beatles. But their music lives on in the hearts of fans of all ages and in the musicians who still seek inspiration in their words and chord progressions.
Born in 1931, Louise Harrison was 12 years older than her baby brother George, who became known to legions of fans as the "quiet Beatle." She was actually living in Canada when the band started recording their early singles like Love Me Do and Please Please Me, and became the band's first ambassador on this side of the Atlantic.
"I was involved very closely in the early days. I was living in Canada when I received the first records, the singles that they put out. My mom mailed them to me when I was living up in Quebec province. So that was the first time I heard the Beatles was when I was living up there. When I moved to the United States in 1963, I started going around to all the radio stations with their records and I was writing to their manager, Brian Epstein, and giving them as much information as I could to help them break into the United States. I was constantly telling him, 'you've got to get them on the Ed Sullivan Show.' I was very closely involved in the early promotion. But I was the big sister and that's what big sisters do."
The Beatles arrived in New York in 1964 and appeared on Ed Sullivan's TV variety show, immediately sparking a new wave of musical mayhem that became known as Beatlemania. Louise says the boys did their best to deal with the busy schedules and adulation, but it was rough on them to be constantly in the spotlight. Did they think at the time it would be so huge?
"No, nobody ever really imagined that it would get so big. When they started it was just a matter of encouraging other people to have fun with them and maybe making a few more bucks than their dads had made, that was the attitude that they went into it with. But unfortunately, when they did start making money there was an awful lot of predators coming into the picture and that sort of soured them a little bit. They started realizing that all of the fun and joy and happiness that they were trying to spread was being compromised to some degree by the fact that they were also generating money."
She says her brother George did his best to cope with the overnight rise to fame and fortune.
"Initially it was a lot of fun for them. I've always been a bit of a ham so it was always easy to me to talk to millions of people on TV and on stage. They were always very comfortable with that. Our parents brought us up to be confident and self-assured, and not be overwhelmed by the big shots in the world, and on the other hand not to be unkind to the lesser shots in the world or the lowly people. We were always taught to treat everybody as equals and to be kind and compassionate no matter what the other person was like. So that was very handy when the guys started mixing with the top people of the world and also having people in wheelchairs wheeled up to them. They knew how to be kind and compassionate and caring and responsive to everyone regardless of the stature of the person they were dealing with. That went a long way. They weren't trying to make a big impression, they were trying to be themselves. They were trying to be real. I think that has a lot to do with why they are still around and still thought very highly of. They weren't being false, they weren't trying to be better than they were."
The troubles surrounding the Beatles have been well-documented. Perhaps the most telling is the documentary film shot in January of 1969 during the recording of their final album, Let it Be, which clearly reveals the tension between the band members. After one argument, Harrison reportedly quit the band and walked out the door, reluctantly returning a few days later. The four Beatles went their own directions, each with their own solo projects. But the assassination of John Lennon in 1980 put an end to any thoughts of a reunion.
"As it got later in their career, they were being pursued by the predators. That made it a little more difficult for them because the true message of what they were all about and the love and the joy were starting to be compromised, and that was the point where George started backing away from being involved in the world the way he had been."
She says Lennon's death contributed to George's withdrawal from society. According to Beatles lore, Harrison felt bad because he and Lennon had parted on bad terms. But the song All Those Years Ago, dedicated to Lennon, became one of his biggest hits. George Harrison released several solo albums and enjoyed success with the Travelling Wilburys (Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison). He survived a knife attack by an intruder in 1999, but died of throat and lung cancer in 2001.
Louise says she still speaks to Paul McCartney on occasion. And although she was an unofficial big sister to the Beatles, she never tried to impose herself on them.
"I never imposed myself into their lives because I knew how many millions were trying to impose themselves into their lives. So I thought at least I'm a member of the family so I didn't need to be obnoxious."
Louise spent much of her life as an environmental crusader with an organization called Drop In, which encourages people to take responsibility for the health of the planet.
She formed a production company and hand-picked the musicians who perform in the stage show Liverpool Legends. She tours with the group and goes onstage to introduce the show and talk about the history of the Beatles.
The stage show goes through three distinct eras of the Beatles history, starting with the early years and the Sullivan Show, followed by the Sgt. Peppers era and the Abby Road era. The band goes through several costume, set and instrument changes in keeping with the different songs of those eras. The show has been well received and endorsed by such people as former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
"There will never be another four like those guys, because they have been a musical influence to generations of performers. I'm really thrilled that the band that we have is getting accolades from people around the world. We're not driven by the greed motive, we're just driven by wanting to keep the Beatles' message alive.
"I think a lot of people have Beatles in their blood. I think all the nice people on the planet like the Beatles. I've found there are people that don't like the Beatles, but those people don't like anything, except maybe money."
* The Liverpool Legends show comes to the Moncton Wesleyan Celebration Centre, 945 St. George Blvd., on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $57.50, and available by calling 1-877-700-310 or online at www.ticketwindow.ca