It has been a decade since dozens of artists gathered at the Royal Albert Hall to pay tribute to George Harrison. Concert participants Jeff Lynne and Sam Brown contribute exclusive comments.
By Chaz Lipp 

Ten years ago, one of the classiest tribute shows in rock history was staged at the Royal Albert Hall in London. On November 29, 2002, dozens of musicians joined together to pay their respects to the late George Harrison. It was one year to the day after the legendary singer-songwriter passed away. The show is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and CD as Concert for George. The Blu-ray and DVD include both the 100-minute documentary directed by David Leland and the full 146-minute concert. The former was released theatrically in 2003 and includes a combination of concert highlights, rehearsal footage, and interviews. The latter allows the viewer to experience the concert uninterrupted.

One of many elements that made the Concert for George so distinctive was the fact that the participants were men and women who had actually worked with Harrison. They all had a personal connection to him. This wasn’t one of those all-star tributes where various “flavors of the month” were roped in, regardless of how dissimilar their styles might be from the artist being honored. This was the music of George Harrison played by his friends and partners. With the exception of Bob Dylan, who was reportedly unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, most of the artists who had worked closely with Harrison throughout his career were present.
Eric Clapton with Dhani Harrison

Chief among these artists was Eric Clapton, who organized the show and served as musical director. He managed to assemble a phenomenal lineup, rehearing everyone over a relatively short period of time. Another of Harrison’s closest friends contributing a great deal to the concert was Electric Light Orchestra mastermind (and Traveling Wilburys co-founder) Jeff Lynne. I spoke to Mr. Lynne recently about the concert.

“Basically Eric organized it. I just helped in any way I could, like by singing four of the songs. Or five, was it? Four, I think,” Lynne recalled. “It was basically Eric in charge of all that, he did a fantastic job. He got everybody at it early in the morning as well, which is really unusual for most of the people involved,” he said with a laugh.
Jeff Lynne

Imagine the task of coordinating all the various schedules of the artists who performed. It’s certainly a testament to the love and respect these musicians had for their departed friend that they were able to pull it off. What kind of a rehearsal schedule was needed for everyone to learn their songs?

“Eric got us all working out and practicing for probably four or five hours a day for probably a couple of weeks,” Lynne explained. “So that was why we really were good by the time we were ready to go.”
Among the tunes Clapton performed, “Beware of Darkness”—a thoughtful, philosophical statement from early in Harrison’s solo career—stands as a highlight. Later on, Clapton was joined by Paul McCartney for a version of “Something” that earned the duo a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Collaboration. McCartney had already been performing the song as a solo ukulele tribute piece on his own tour that year, but this was the first time he melded it with the full Beatles arrangement.
Dhani Harrison and Paul McCartney

Speaking of McCartney, both he and fellow surviving Beatle Ringo Starr shared the stage for a very rare public performance together. McCartney delivered excellent readings of “For You Blue” and “All Things Must Pass.” Harrison’s son Dhani, 24-years-old at the time, played acoustic guitar. His striking resemblance to his father created a poignant image when he was framed in the same shot as McCartney and Starr. For his spotlight moment, Starr chose to feature a song he and Harrison wrote together, the 1973 chart-topper “Photograph.” Though not the most adventurous song choice, Starr also evoked the spirit of another Harrison influence (and departed friend), Carl Perkins, with a spirited take on “Honey Don’t.”

Ringo Starr (center)

Another stellar moment came early on from none other than Jeff Lynne, who tackled “The Inner Light.” This seldom-covered Beatles tune was sandwiched in between a pair of classical Indian pieces composed by Harrison’s friend and mentor, Ravi Shankar. Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka, was featured on sitar. Was covering that song intimidating at all for Lynne?

“Oh yeah, that was a scary one! You know, I mean Ravi stood right there,” Lynne laughed. “And you know, trying to sing it, we hadn’t had much practice on that one. We only practiced it once, in an office. Anoushka, me, and one of the drummers.”
Anoushka Shankar

With classically-trained Indian musicians—including Rajendara Prasanna on shahnai and Tanmoy Bose on tabla—that seems like a very risky song to leave anything to chance. Was it really only practiced one time?

“Well yeah, then we just—we actually practiced it probably twice in an office. Then once on the stage before the show. Before the doors opened. And that was it,” Lynne explained. “Then we did it on that night. And it was really good. It worked out great.”
Lynne contributed several other lead vocals, including a duet with fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty on “Handle With Care.” Lynne filled in credibly for the late Roy Orbison. Backed by the Heartbreakers, Petty had already rocked out on “Taxman” before mellowing a bit for “I Need You” before he and Lynne honored their Wilbury legacy.  
It wasn’t all legendary superstars responsible for the best moments, however. Joe Brown, longtime friend of Harrison’s and associate of The Beatles in their early days, wound up contributing some of the most moving moments. He performed “That’s the Way it Goes,” one of the two most obscure Harrisongs of the night (originally on the 1982 album Gone Troppo). His show-closing rendition of the old standard “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” accompanying himself on ukulele, was deeply touching.
Sam Brown

The other most obscure number was handled by Brown’s daughter, Sam. With a string of international hits from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s to her credit, Sam Brown is well established as a soulful vocal powerhouse. She delivered a high energy rendition of Harrison’s “Horse to the Water.” The 2001 version found on Jools Holland’s Small World, Big Band was Harrison’s final recorded performance. Holland was part of the house band at the Concert for George, backing Brown on a ferocious take. Ms. Brown had nothing but warm memories of the concert when I asked her to reflect back on her experience, ten years on.

“I have never before seen the Royal Albert Hall so transformed. The atmosphere was incredible,” Brown remembered. “To be a part of this amazing evening was for me, indeed a great privilege. To be welcomed with open arms into this diverse and loving musical family/band, was an experience which I suspect will never be outshone in my lifetime!”
I’ve barely touched upon the depth of Concert for George, which – thanks largely to the Monty Python segment – was not without moments of levity. Harrison originally established his film production company, Handmade Films, in order to ensure Monty Python’s Life of Brian was produced. Whether on DVD or Blu-ray (the latter with lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound), Concert for George is a treasure for fans. The double-disc CD presents nearly the entire show, with only the Monty Python segment (Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam performing “Sit on My Face” and “The Lumberjack Song”) and Sam Brown’s number unfortunately omitted. Both the video and audio versions are still in print and are highly recommended.
November 29, 2002 saw the spirit of George Harrison lighting up one of the most revered performance halls in the world. His friends rallied together to create a one-of-a-kind event that is well worth remembering and revisiting.
Special thanks to Jeff Lynne and Sam Brown for their participation in this piece.For more about the Concert for George check out our chat with Dave Bronze, who served as bassist in the house band on that special night.

Chaz Lipp

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