George Harrison, the Beatles, the spiritual journey, the innovation
Following the acclaimed Martin Scorsese documentary, the breadth and depth of achievement by the Beatles guitar player is being recognised. What has emerged is a legend.
George Harrison was one of the four members of the Beatles. He was known as the 'quiet Beatle' and seen by many as one of the key drivers of the move by the 'Fab Four'
towards mysticism and eastern influences before the band split up in 1970. The Beatles, the Liverpool group, were arguably the biggest and most influential act the music industry
has ever seen.
Born in 1943 in Liverpool to working class parents, George's mother came from an Irish Catholic background while his father worked was a bus conductor, the young George
was interested in music from the get go. His moment of inspiration came in 1956 when out riding his bicycle near his home in Liverpool. He heard Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel'
playing from a house and so began his interest in Rock and Roll.
George's father was convinced to buy him a guitar and he soon became friends with a young Paul Mc Cartney on the way to school on a Liverpool bus. It wouldn't be the first
bus meeting for the young men who were destined to shape the musical world.
At 14 years of age, George was turned down at audition by John Lennon when he auditioned for 'The Quarry Men' at a club in Liverpool. 'The Quarry Men' was the nucleus of
the band that would eventually become the Beatles. After a further meeting arranged by his friend Paul Mc Cartney, George Harrison eventually joined the band. In 1960 the Beatles
played in Germany at the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg but young George Harrison was sent home by the German authorities as he was deemed too young to be playing in a night
The Beatles took off after 1961 when Brian Epstein, a young man from a well know Liverpool business family took over management of the band having seen them play at the
now famous Cavern club in Liverpool.
Brian Epstein cleaned up the band's image. One of his innovations was to dress the band in suits and have them appear with neat haircuts. After securing the Beatles a record
contract with EMI and gaining the services of legendary song producer George Martin, the band recorded and released its first hit single in 1962. The recording of the song
coincided with the introduction of Ringo Starr as drummer replacing Pete Best and even included a session drummer with several versions of the song.
'Love me Do' was a hit and the Beatles become a huge sensation coining the term 'Beatlemania'. The band's second single 'Please Please me' was released in 1963 as part
of their first album. It was the start of a wave of hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the early years of the Beatles, the dominant force in the song writing for the band was the partnership of John Lennon and Paul Mc Cartney. At first George Harrison was
happy to enhance and develop the creations of Lennon and Mc Cartney although the second Beatles album in 1963 did contain the first song written by George Harrison, 'Don't
In the 2010 documentary on George Harrison directed by Martin Scorsese 'George Harrison in the Material World,' Paul Mc Cartney explains how fellow band members
George Harrison and Ringo Starr added innovations to the songs written by Mc Cartney and Lennon as the band seemed to think as one. However as the band's success gained
momentum, there were strains. It wasn't long before George Harrison was keen to write more songs of his own and became frustrated at the song writing dominance of the
Lennon/Mc Cartney partnership.
His first song written in 1963 'Don't bother me' was written while recuperating from illness in a hotel in Brighton. It showed George that he could write songs and led to a growing
number of songs written by Georg Harrison eventually appearing in albums by the Beatles. George Harrison was keen to learn more about guitar playing and later song writing.
From the mid 1960's, George Harrison, alongside his other Beatles band members, was rich and famous. Paul Mc Cartney in later years recalled a trip to Harlech in Wales
when George Harrison and Paul were teenagers before the band was formed. He remembered how they had stayed in a Bed and Breakfast owned by a friend's mother in the
Welsh town. They had left without paying not realizing at all that the establishment was a commercial one. Now the lady from Wales saw the boys from Liverpool on TV and sent on
her bill which was promptly paid.
In 1965, George Harrison married Pattie Boyd, a model. He had met her on the set of 'Hard Day's Night' in 1964 when she played a schoolgirl. Paul Mc Cartney, the only Beatle
to attend the wedding, was best man. The couple bought a house in Surrey and became part of the growing showbiz and celebrity scene in London during the Britain's exciting
swinging sixties era. The Beatles were very much part of the social revolution and vibrant cultural scene in London at this time. In 1965, George Harrison together with the other
Beatles was awarded the MBE which was presented by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in London. The presentation caused a minor controversy when the band
suggested that their manager Brian Epstein should also have been honoured. The band told the UK press that MBE should stand for Mr. Brian Epstein.
The Beatles had taken America by storm in 1964 beginning the UK popular music invasion of the states. The band was so big that on a tour of the US John Lennon ignited a
massive controversy by suggesting that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ. The comments sparked outrage from many quarters in the America so much so, that Brian
Epstein had to consider cancelling the tour. One of the reasons that the comments may have been so piercing was that earlier in 1966, Time magazine had featured a cover which
asked: is God dead? Many commentators were staggered at frenzied worldwide reaction to the band. In 1967, the band itself was featured on Time magazine in a way which
suggested a change in direction.
At home in the UK the band including George Harrison began to dabble and experiment with drugs including LSD. This was a worldwide cultural phenomenon on both sides
of the Atlantic at this time. George Harrison was also well known for his love of beautiful cars.
In 1965 he had met one of his lifelong friends Ravi Shankar, an Indian sitar player in the United States. He was to describe this man as the most impressive he had ever met. It
was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. He became a student of Ravi's and traveled to India to learn more about playing the Indian sitar. Later in the sixties he expanded an
interest in eastern religion and mysticism, a journey begun by all the Beatles in 1967 when they met the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Wales.
Meanwhile George Harrison became increasingly more capable of producing songs for the Beatles and his influence over the direction of the band grew. Albums by the
Beatles now regularly had a number of his songs. In 1970, one of his songs was released as part of a double A side single with Paul Mc Cartney's 'The Long and Winding Road'.
'For you Blue' went on to become a number one hit. His other hits with the Beatles in the late 1960s included 'While My Guitar gently Weeps', 'Here comes the Sun' and 'Something'.
'Something' was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1969 and the legendary 'voice' and music legend described it as one of the greatest love song written in the last 50 years.
By this time, tensions in the band were becoming evident. Ringo Starr briefly quit the band in 1968 but George Harrison was probably the one of the Beatles who most wanted
out in order to follow a solo career and emerge from what he saw as the domination of Paul Mc Cartney and John Lennon. That partnership remained the driving force in song
writing for the group. Many commentators suggest that by the late 1960s, George Harrison was one of the key drivers of the Beatles as the band explored alternative musical styles
and cultures. Times and tastes were also changing.
George Harrison first met Paul Mc Cartney as a school boy on a Liverpool bus and the two boys became friends often practicing the guitar together. Mc Cartney later introduced
George Harrison to John Lennon on the top of another Liverpool bus when George played for Paul and John on the upper deck of the empty bus and so landed a part in the band
that would later become the Beatles. This was after his initial failed audition.
George and Paul would often occupy the same room together while on tour with the Beatles although in later years both characters came to antagonise each other. It is often
thought that George Harrison together with John Lennon led the Beatles to more towards mysticism and drugs culture of the late 1960s prior to the breakup of the band in 1970.
They were, however, two different personalities with different outlooks. John Lennon, at one time, regarded George Harrison as a protégé or younger brother and came to develop a
philosophy that believed in the ability of human beings to define and create their own destiny without a God while George Harrison explored religious and spiritual traditions.
George Harrison seemed always to believe in a spiritual dimension and God. Lennon and George Harrison had drifted apart prior to John Lennon's violent death in 1980.
George had been writing a song to be dedicated to fellow Beatles member Ringo Starr at that time. On hearing the news from New York where John Lennon had been gunned
down outside his apartment, George Harrison dedicated his song 'All those years ago' instead to his other friend and fellow Beatle. After hearing about John's death, George
Harrison said: 'After all we went through together I had and still have great love and respect for John Lennon. I am shocked and stunned.'
Over the years after the breakup of the Beatles there was continuous speculation that the band may have reunited. In 1974, Mc Cartney and John Lennon had played together in
a legendary jam session in California. Paul later revealed that while he and John Lennon had been watching a TV programme in 1976 where a call for the reunion of the Beatles
on live TV was made, they felt like calling in but decided that it would have been work and they were 'having the night off'. In a poignant interview with the Daily Express after the
death of George Harrison, Paul defined the relationship between the band and how he thought that reunion would have been possible if John Lennon and George Harrison were
still alive. 'If John and George were still here it's highly likely we would've had a Beatles reunion. I think we would've mellowed to the point where we would've said, 'Come on, let's do
it, the thing was whenever we got together, no matter if we were arguing, we played great. We knew each other so well; we read each other. So if Ringo would speed up a little bit,
we all would speed up. So we were like hands in a glove…. It would've been great, but I'm not a great believer in 'What if?' You can't do it, but I suppose it's nice to speculate.'
The three remaining Beatles in 2001 did have a personal reunion at a hotel in New York just prior to Harrison's death. Before this while George Harrison was being treated for
cancer at a clinic in Switzerland, his visiting friend Ringo told him he had to go to Boston to see his sick daughter. 'Do you want me to come with you,' said George. Ringo recalled
that these were the last words he ever heard from his band mate. It was a moment to be remembered. The Beatles were the greatest band in history but ultimately a band of friends.
George Harrison although known as the quiet Beatle and even though he was quite unpredictable, he succeeded in developing many close friendships often with quite the
most remarkable people. He was a good friend of the legendary British formula 1 champion Jackie Stewart. After the Beatles split up in 1970, his record label Dark House records
supported many aspiring musicians and performers.
In 1970s George Harrison bought a sprawling gothic mansion called Friars Park near Henley on Thames. It became his home and over the years hosted many talented visitors.
In 1972 George had a 16 track recording studio installed within the property which at the time was superior that the one used formerly by the Beatles at Abbey Road.
Friar Park was developed by an eccentric UK lawyer Sir Frank Crisp in the late nineteenth century. The 120 room mansion was in a state of disrepair when Harrison bought it
and moved in with his first wife Pattie Boyd in 1970.
It was at Friars Park that George developed a passion for gardening. His 36 acre of gardens became an important part of his life. He had staff of 10 people working on the
grounds including his older brothers and was actively involved himself. George Harrison once described the peace and tranquility he enjoyed within his Friar Park gardens:
'Sometimes I feel like I'm actually on the wrong planet and it's great when I'm in my garden. But the minute I go out the gate I think: 'What the hell am I doing here?'
Harrison's biographer Alan Clayson described Friar Park as 'as synonymous with George Harrison as The Queen is with Windsor castle'. The Gothic Victorian mansion and
estate was full of interesting features installed by the eccentric lawyer Sir Frank Crisp. Many quotations found on the property were used as lyrics in songs written by George
Harrison. The cover to George's hugely successful solo album in 1970, 'All things must pass' features George in the garden at Friars park. The house and estate also featured in
other Harrison songs and music videos over the years notably in 'Crackerbox Palace' which was also inspired by the house.
George Harrison was very friendly with fellow music star Eric Clapton since their days together as aspiring musicians in the 1960s. In Martin Scorsese's documentary, Clapton
recalls that he was drawn to the success and lifestyle that George Harrison enjoyed while also being confident in his own musical abilities which George respected. However,
Clapton fell in love with George Harrison's wife Pattie in the early 1970s although she initially stayed with her husband. Pattie Boyd's marriage to George Harrison finally broke down
in 1974 when his wife described her last years with George as 'fuelled by alcohol and cocaine'. The reason for the final split was an affair that George Harrison had developed with
Ringo Starr's wife Maureen. Patty moved out to live eventually with Eric Clapton while George lived at Friars Park.
Harrison later went on to marry the secretary of the record label Dark Horse which he founded in1974. He had met Olivia Trinidad Arias that year at the Dark Horse offices in
Los Angeles. He married his new wife in 1978 the same year that George and Olivia's son Dhani was born.
It was also in 1978 that George Harrison would put up his Friars Park home and estate as collateral for funding to finance the hit film 'The Life of Brian'. It was also the scene of
a nearly deadly attack in 1999 when Michael Abram broke into the mansion and tried to murder George Harrison. After being tackled by the singer, he was thwarted when George's
brave wife Olivia beat him over the head with a poker.
Olivia Harrison and her son Dhani still live in Friars Park which was the scene for the recording of the Shakespeare's Sister album 'Hormonally Yours' in 2002.
Although George Harrison's songwriting contributions to the Beatles albums increased in quantity and quality as the band developed, George felt constricted. Prior to the
breakup of the Beatles, George was producing music of his own and touring with other acts. He had produced two solo albums, 'Wonderwall Music' in 1968 and an experimental
music album called 'Electronic sound'. In April 1970 his song 'For you Blue' topped the charts in the US as part of a Beatles double A side. His earlier hits in the late sixties with the
Beatles included 'Something' and 'Here comes the Sun'.
After the breakup of the Beatles, George Harrison worked with wall of sound creator Phil Spector on a new solo album including many songs he had written during his time with
the band. The album featured many other musicians including Ring Starr and Eric Clapton and was released as a treble album. The album 'All things must pass' topped the charts
on both sides of the Atlantic. The album included the hit song 'My Sweet Lord'. Subsequently George Harrison was sued for plagiarism over 'My Sweet Lord' when the creators of a
hit called 'He's so Fine' successfully pursued a court case in 1976. The judge held that George Harrison had subconsciously reproduced the melody of the song.
In 1971 George Harrison teamed up with his Indian friend Ravi Shankar for a concert to raise money for people in Bangladesh devastated by a cyclone and civil war. It was the
precursor to the phenomenal Live Aid concerts in the 1980s organised by Bob Geldof. Although the concert proceeds were the subject of a tax investigation, the concert, resultant
album and TV show did raise substantial money for the cause but more importantly raised the plight of Bangladesh in the mind of the public in the West. The concert was featured
in a successful film in 1972.
In 1973 George Harrison released his iconic solo album 'Living in the Material world. The album was top of the charts for five weeks in the US and reached No 2 in the UK. The
album was very positively reviewed.
In 1974 Harrison toured the US with his Dark Horse Tour with an album of the same name launched in December which charted in the US. The tour and album were not a
resounding success as George Harrison sought to introduce new musical concepts resulting in mixed reviews. This was also the year that Harrison's record contract with EMI
expired and the last album with EMI, 'Extra texture' also received a lukewarm response when released in 1975. This was followed by George Harrison albums under his own
record label Dark Horse in 1976. With two songs 'Crackerbox Palace' and 'This song' that reached the US top 25, the album 'Thirty three and a third' was more positively received. A
comical video for Crackerbox Palace directed by the Monty Python crew enhanced the appeal of the new sound.
Followed his second marriage and the birth of his son Dhani in 1978, George Harrison released the single 'Blow Away' which was a minor hit.
In 1980 following the murder of fellow Beatles John Lennon in New York George Harrison rearranged a song he had written for Ringo Starr and released it in Lennon's honour.
'All those years ago' featured contributions from Paul Mc Cartney and his wife Linda. Ringo Starr's played on drums. The song was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic reaching
number two in the US. The songs was part of a 1981 album 'Somewhere in England' followed by an album in 1982 called 'Gone Troppo'.
Despite public appearances and following a lukewarm response to his album in 1982 George Harrison didn't release another album until 1987. 'Cloud Nine' was produced
with Jeff Lynne of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra). 'Got my Mind set on you' went to number 1 in the US and another single 'When we was Fab' rekindled Beatles nostalgia. George
Harrison's guitar playing and creative music videos ensured that the album was a critical success. The album was recorded at Harrison's Friar Park estate. The album itself was a
hit on both sides of the Atlantic reaching number eight in the US and ten in the UK.
In 1988 Harrison was the driving force behind the 'The Travelling Wilburys' featuring music legends Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbson, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. A key characteristic of
George Harrison was his ability to bring friends and people together. 'The Traveling Wilburys' toured extensively at the end of the eighties becoming a four piece band when Roy
Orbson died unexpectedly in 1988.
In 1994 George Harrison played a key part in collaborating with former Beatles and producer Jeff Lynne in creating the Beatles anthology which was a huge bestseller. This
included a new Beatles song 'Free as a Bird' featuring prerecorded vocals and piano playing by John Lennon. A second new Beatles release 'Real Love' followed in 1996 but
George Harrison refused to be involved in a third. 'I hope somebody does this to all my crap demos when I'm dead, make them into hot songs.'
In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer and although he continued to make rare public performances, there were no new albums until the 2002 album released
after his death and completed by his son Dhani.
George Harrison was part of the showbiz elite from the mid 1960s and made many friends and acquaintances. In 1973, the actor Peter Sellers introduced George to a business
man called Denis O Brien and they formed a business relationship. One venture involved the making of the now legendary move 'The Life of Brian'. Over the years George Harrison
was an avid Monty Python fan and although the 'The Life of Brian' was a comedy film, it was a movie which asked viewers to question religious assumptions. So much so, that the
then Chief Executive of EMI Bernard Delfont, who had been lined up to finance the movie, abruptly cancelled the funding when he got around to reading the script. 'In many ways a
movie like 'The Life of Brian' would have been impossible to comprehend for the generation who had not grown up with the Beatles revolution or the changing views of society at
this time, as it was, it was still quite controversial' says one commentator.
When EMI pulled financing for 'The Life of Brian' movie George and Denis O Brien formed a film production and distribution company. The company was called Handmade
Films. In order to raise the funds to finance 'The Life of Brian', Harrison had to put his home, Friar Park, up as collateral. It was a bold and brave move. The movie was a huge
success grossing $21 million at the box office in the US alone having been made for $4 million. Handmade Films later distributed 'The Long Good Friday' and in 1981 produced
the move 'Time Bandits' taking $35 million alone at the US box office. The movie featured a new Harrison song 'Dream Away'.
With Handmade Films, Harrison was executive producer of 23 films including 'Mona Lisa' and 'Withnail and I'. He even made appearances in some movies. The company
provided a much need stimulus to the UK film industry at a time when government funding was drastically curtailed. Unfortunately, a series of movie flops forced Handmade Films
to cease operations in 1991.
On the 30th December 1999, the night before the Millennium, an intruder broke into George Harrison's Friars Park home. Harrison was in bed with his wife Olivia, who heard
the disturbance. Her initial reaction was that he should not go to investigate. But George insisted and was confronted by the 36 year old Michael Abram who seemed to have come
with the intention of killing Harrison. Abrams attacked Harrison with a spear and a kitchen knife seriously injuring the music legend by puncturing his lung. He was eventually
overcome by Olivia, Harrison's wife who beat him over the head a number of times with a poker and a lamp.
In May 2001, it was revealed that Harrison had undergone an operation to remove a cancerous growth from his lungs. It was during recuperation from this in Switzerland that he
received the visit from his Beatles mate Ringo Starr and asked him if he would like him to go with him to visit Starr's sick daughter in Boston. In November that year he was in New
York for radiotherapy after the cancer had spread to his brain. On the 12th of November he met his former surviving band mates in the Beatles one last time before passing away
seventeen days later.
George Harrison was part of arguably the greatest musical act the world has ever seen. Initially seen as the quiet Beatle, he emerged, like his record label as a dark horse full of
talent, innovation and an ability to bring talent together. In the critically acclaimed movie documentary on his life directed by Martin Scorsese, 'George Harrison in the material
World', Paul Mc Carney suggests clearly that even at the outset of the band, there was a talent built into all four members who could communicate ideas together and George
would often improvise on songs written by Mc Cartney and Lennon. In later years, his songwriting and record producing genius became clear in its own right. His influence lead the
Beatles in new directions raising the band to a new level.
His interest in eastern spirituality and his quest for a higher meaning to life were inspirational. From gardening to music promotion, he was an innovator. Phil Spector recalled
his attention to detail on his first solo album after the Beatles split up when he said: 'anyone can be a perfectionist, this was beyond perfection.' Rolling Stone Magazine listed him as
number 11 in the greatest 100 guitar players of all time. In 2004, Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2009 his star was unveiled on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame. His name has even been placed on a minor planet in space. The Martin Scorsese documentary on George Harrison explores his many talents not least his
extensive list of genuine friendships. On his death in 2001 he left an estate valued at over $175 million.
George Harrison was a member of the world's greatest band: the Beatles. First learning the guitar, then songwriting, his interests expanded to include eastern spiritualism, movie making, music promotion and gardening. Over the nearly forty years his albums and music inspired millions throughout the world. He is the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary 'George Harrison in the Material World' directed by Martin Scorsese.