Beatle Harrison's concert still aiding Bangladesh
Wednesday November 2, 01:35 PM
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 mould 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 music mentor.
The pair of shows, one afternoon and one evening, benefited UNICEF and raised $250,000 (140,000 pounds) 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 fertiliser -- 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 organised the concert in response to pleas for help from his friend, Shankar, who is from Varanasi, India.
"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?,'" Voormann said.
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," Preston said.
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."