40th Anniversary of George Harrison's Concert For Bangla Desh

The Concert for Bangladesh was the first major benefit concert of its kind. The idea came from George Harrison who was asked by his friend Bengali musician Ravi Shankar how to raise money for the refugee problem in Banladesh (then called East Pakistan).

The problem occurred during the brutal Bangladesh Liberation War as East Pakistan was struggling to become a separate state from West Pakistan. The war resulted in brutal treatment of the East Pakistani people & led to a mass refugee exodus into the border of India. A major tropical cyclone storm followed, taking the lives of thousands or more people. The storm (Nora) is one of the worst natural disasters on record, bringing torrential rains & flooding, only making the devastation & starvation worse by 1971.

Harrison recorded the song Bangla Desh (a top twenty five US hit) as his first attempt to donate profits & bring awareness to the cause. When Shankar brought up the idea of a concert, Harrison ran with it. In just five months, he got together a group of friends to perform two concerts on August 1st, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Originally called George Harrison & Friends, there was an afternoon & an evening show.

The show opened with Ravi Shankar playing a seventeen minute Indian raga with his band, something the rock crowd tolerated as they waited on the edge of their seats. Remember this was right after the Beatles break up & everyone was anticipating a Beatles reunion. It was a highly anticipated performance, George’s first major live appearance (except for a few minor cameos’) since the Beatles Tour of 1966.

George was fresh off the major solo success of his album All Things Must Pass with his #1 song; My Sweet Lord / Isn’t It A Pity, as well as the Top ten hit What Is Life, just two years after Abbey Roads success (Something, Here Comes the Sun). This was one of the first times a bunch of superstar musicians all took the stage together, instead of doing their own performances & walking off, as others followed.

On the bill with George Harrison was an all star cast, his good friend & former Beatle band mate, Ringo Starr on drums & vocals. Also on drums was Jim Keltner as a second drummer.
Eric Clapton, who was battling his own heroin addiction at the time, was on guitars. Clapton was so strung out due to his drug issues he missed all the rehearsals except the final sound check.

George stated that Clapton was booked on every flight from London to New York the previous week but didn’t arrive until a day prior to the show. George got anxious & had back up lead guitarists available in case Clapton would be a no show. But Eric Clapton arrived without rehearsal & was superb. Clapton was fresh off his tour with the classic Derek & the Domino’s line up, earlier in 1971.

Also on guitar / vocals & harmonica was the legendary Bob Dylan. As Dylan arrived he saw all the press as well as the mob scene around the Garden on Seventh Ave. He told Harrison “it’s not my scene man”. George said it wasn’t his either, he had Never played alone. As the lights went down during the show before Dylans set, it was feared he wouldn’t come on stage. Harrison introduced him & he too was superb, drawing a huge ovation from the crowd.

On keyboards & piano were the great Billy Preston & Leon Russell. Preston was a long time Beatles friend since their days in 1963 London. He had played on the Let It Be sessions, on the Apple rooftop, & is featured on the Let It Be album, as well as on George’s solo album. The classic Badfinger Line up of Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland and Mike Gibbins were also on stage as a backing band. (No Matter What, Day After Day, Come & Get It).

Klaus Voorman, a Beatles friend since their days in Germany in 1962 played bass. Voorman designed the cover of the Revolver album as well as the Anthology albums in the 1990s. Voorman was also a member of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band & played on most of Johns solo albums; (Live Peace in Toronto, Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Sometime in New York City, Walls & Bridges, Rock & Roll).

Voorman also played with Ringo on his 1973 album; “Ringo” as well as Sentimental Journey, Ringo’s Rotogravure, & Goodnight Vienna. He played with George on All Things Must Pass, Living in the Material World, & Extra Texture. He turned down invitations to join the Moody Blues & the Hollies but was a member of Manfred Man (1966-1969).

Lesser known musicians on stage were Jesse Ed Davis, Carl Radle & Jim Preston. The horn section dubbed “The Hollywood Horns” featured another talented cast including Jim Horn who played with everyone from all four solo Beatles, to the Traveling Wilburys, Rolling Stones (Goats Head Soup) Joe Cocker (Mad Dogs & Englishmen), Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), Steely Dan (Josie/ Aja), Canned Heat (Going Up Country) Johnny Rivers (Poor side of Town) Jackson Browne (Running on Empty), Warren Zevon (Excitable Boy) Elton John, U2, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, Duane Eddie & hundreds of others, even Frank Sinatra on Strangers in the Night (flute).

George came out at first to introduce the Indian segment of the show, & it still touching to me today watching the movie, to see the huge ovation he received from the crowd. You can still feel the love & energy that was in the Garden that day by watching the movie. George appears on stage with a full beard, his hair shoulder length which had been recently cut from his super long hair that had almost reached his mid section the previous year.

Ringo also has long hair & a beard on the lower part of his face, like something out of the Planet of the Apes. George dons a white suit jacket & white slacks, with an orange long sleeved shirt underneath. A ticket on that rainy Sunday in 1971 was approximately $7.50. In a time before internet, stub hub or even Ticketron, people had to line up in front of the Madison Square Garden Box office for a chance to purchase tickets.

Watching the film now, of all the great performances of the day the highlights had to be George doing Something & acoustically performing Here Comes the Sun. Also George & Clapton playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps; it was first time this song was ever played live & the two dueling on guitar solos is just incredible. Dylans Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall / Leon Russel’s Jumpin Jack Flash & Ringo’s It’ Don’t Come Easy were all other highlights.

Looking back all the musicians (who were not paid) spoke positively about the show. They all felt each one shoved egos aside & put the music, as well as the cause first. The concert was certainly filled with diversity, spirituality & an overall positive message as most of any of the Beatles works.

The concert set a precedent for benefit concerts of the future. A triple live album was released & a film was made as well. The remastered double CD came out in 2001 & the DVD boxed set in 2005. There has been much controversy over the years about the monies that had been raised & sent to the cause.

At the time the concert raised $250,000, through the year’s the album & movie sales have been estimated as much as 20 million dollars. Since then George has been a proud supporter of UNICEF & since his passing his wife Olivia Harrison has taken over the cause. Earlier in March of 2011 she visited Bangladesh for the first time.

The set lists were: Afternoon Show:

Wah-Wah" (George)
"Something" (George)
"Awaiting On You All" (George)
"That's The Way God Planned It" (Billy Preston)
"It Don't Come Easy" (Ringo)
"Beware Of Darkness" (George)
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George/ Clapton)
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" /"Young Blood" (Leon Russell)
"Here Comes The Sun" (George /Pete Ham)
"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" ( Dylan)
"Blowin' In The Wind" (Dylan)
"It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" (Dylan)
"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" (Dylan)
"Just Like a Woman" (Dylan)
"Hear Me Lord" (George)
"My Sweet Lord" (George)
"Bangla Desh" (George)

Evening show
"Wah-Wah" (George)
"My Sweet Lord" (George)
"That's the Way God Planned It" (Billy Preston)
"It Don't Come Easy" (Ringo)
"Beware Of Darkness" (George)
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George / Clapton)
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" / "Young Blood" (Leon Russell)
"Here Comes The Sun" (George / Pete Ham)
"Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (Dylan)
"It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" (Dylan)
"Blowin' In The Wind" (Dylan)
"Mr. Tambourine Man" (Dylan)
"Just Like A Woman" (Dylan)
"Something" (George)
"Bangla Desh" (George)


Anonymous said…
Thank you dear George Harrison, Olivia Harisson, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar and all! Salaam and pronaam and namaste brothers and sisters!

Bujhee Kom/Zaved a Bangladeshi from Banglacricket.com

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