A CONCERT FOR GEORGE
Liverpool Empire, 24th February 2002
The charity concert had sold out within 24 hours of the tickets going on sale, while the list of artistes due to appear was yet to be announced. And so it was that the audience gathered to pay tribute to George and raise £36,000 in ticket sales alone for the Roy Castle Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Relief and Marie Curie Cancer Care on what would have been George Harrison’s 59th birthday.
The first half of the show was devoted entirely to the sixties. Hosts Billy Butler and Phil Easton introduced the first act of the evening, The Ivy League. They opened their set with their UK number three hit “Tossing And Turning” and went on to play other sixties songs including “Only the Lonely” and another Ivy League song “Funny How Love Can Be”, finishing with a medley. They said, “It is really nice to be here on this very special occasion”.
The next act were The Blue Meanies, a local Beatles tribute band, who had waited around all day, hoping to be allowed to take part. They played two Lennon-McCartney numbers, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “From Me To You” and presented a cheque for £1,000 they’d raised at a concert in the Cavern.
Tony Crane and Bill Kinsley’s Merseybeats, the band to have played alongside the Beatles most often, followed. They played eleven songs including “Hey Baby” which they used to play at the Cavern Club, “Let It Be Me” (known to George fans from the bootleg “12 Arnold Grove”), and a medley of Lennon-McCartney songs. They said, “It is a privilege for us to be here on this night. The Beatles were our idols in those days. It’s a privilege for us to have known George”. They also played their biggest single, “I Think Of You”, thanking The Beatles for predicting that it would be a hit when they were on Jukebox Jury. Their set concluded with “Sorrow”.
After the interval, the hosts thanked everyone involved in the concert, giving a special mention to the stage crew and other theatre staff who had made it possible to stage the concert in between performances of “Her Benny”. Special guest Pete Waterman came on stage and teased the audience by saying “He’s not here… Simon’s [Cowell] not here!” initially allowing the audience to assume he meant Paul McCartney. He went on to tell a story about how he and George were great fans of George Formby. George would play a fantastic chord sequence on ukulele and Pete would have to remind him that he couldn’t quite play like that because he was only a DJ whereas George was in the Beatles! He went on to say “George would have loved the way everybody loved him because he was a very special bloke. He never really liked the limelight, but he just was a smashing person”. Pete then introduced Steve Harley whose band also included the original Cockney Rebel drummer Stuart Elliot.
Steve played at a concert to celebrate the re-opening of the Sefton Park Palm House in 2001. George Harrison had also supported the restoration project. Steve opened his set with “A Friend For Life”, following on with “Treat Me Like A Fool”, a Leiber and Stoller 50s song that he’d also played at another tribute concert. “This is George’s night; here’s one for George, God bless him!” was a crowd-pleasing intro for “Here Comes The Sun”, a Harrison song with which Steve Harley also had a hit. The lighting effects made good use of the two black and white banners featuring White-album era pictures of George: stylised red and yellow sun-shaped gobos danced across them in time with the music. Steve added, “I really believe only this city could have done what happened in hours. You know what your money’s going to – there couldn’t be a better cause on Earth” before finishing with his hit song “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)”.
Ralph McTell began by saying “What an honour to be here tonight; a real privilege” and played the song that first got him noticed, “Streets Of London”. The audience were singing along from the start, adding to the beauty of Ralph’s intricate guitar playing. Ralph concluded his set “George was kind enough to say some nice things about my work. I never got to meet him, so that’s why tonight, it’s especially important to me to be here at this wonderful tribute. I know you know that George was a very spiritual man and he loved guitar‑playing, and this is a song about a very spiritual man, a guitar player called Joseph Spence. This guy was a carpenter from the Bahama Islands and he played the guitar in a very special way. This is a little tribute I wrote for him, it’s called The Hands Of Joseph”.
A new band called Dare, featuring Darren Wharton from Thin Lizzy was next on stage. Darren began “It’s a wonderful honour to be here tonight and it’s very very nice to be asked to be part of this”. They played “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with a Dire Straits flavour, followed by their own song “White Horses” and George’s “Something”.
Billy Butler then continued on from Pete Waterman’s teasing, getting the audience to “Give me a P… Give me an A… Give me a U… Give me an L!” then thanking them for saying hi to his son up on the balcony.
Haré Georgeson then took the stage for their tribute to George. They have been playing since 1995 and are very popular with fans at the annual Liverpool Beatle Week. They played four George Harrison songs, spanning his song writing career, with the audience clapping and singing along throughout: “Got My Mind Set On You” (a cover of Rudy Clark’s original), “Handle With Care” (from the first Travelling Wilburys album), “I Me Mine” and “What Is Life?” a song George originally wrote for Billy Preston, but later recorded himself on All Things Must Pass. It’s always great to see how authentically Haré Georgeson, fronted by Rick Alan, can recreate the sound of the original record.
The compères then introduced Pete Wilie and friends, a.k.a. The Mighty Wah! who opened their set with “Badge”, a song co-written by George and Eric Clapton, with a line from Ringo too! Pete said that when he was working on his most recent album, he had been pleased to receive a message from George wishing him good luck from the Scousers. They then played a song from the album, saying, “It’s for George, it’s for John, it’s for Bob Wooler, it’s for Bill Shankly, it’s for anyone you’ve loved and lost… It’s called Heart As Big As Liverpool”.
The next guest flew in from Switzerland in order to take part in the concert. Shalil Shankar played “Raag Ganesha” on sitar, a composition by Ravi Shankar, accompanied by Mohinder Singh on tabla. Shalil, who has studied sitar under the direction of Ravi Shankar & who knew George personally, began by saying “I was deeply touched when I was called to come and take part in this memorial concert. George loved India; he loved sitar”.
To conclude the concert, Haré Georgeson and disciples from the Haré Krishna Temple in London led the rest of the cast in singing “My Sweet Lord”, George’s 1971 number one single, and number one again this year when it was re-released to benefit the Material World Foundation. The audience were on their feet, singing along – something George would have been very pleased to see. A fitting finale to the concert.
Compères Billy and Phil returned to the stage and, while the audience were still clapping and cheering, thanked everyone involved in the concert, and thanked all the artistes for giving their time for free.
“Do you know what? You know when you have that horrible feeling you’ve forgotten something? You know at the end of a party when you’re trying to get home and there’s some old drunk comes staggering in, saying “I’ve just got one more number to do”? I think we might possibly have that old drunk standing in the wings. Would you like to do the honours, Mr. Butler?”
The massive cheer and applause almost blew the roof off as Paul, dressed in a dark casual suit, came on stage. The rest of the cast stood back as Paul reminisced about his dear friend. “Oh yes! Georgie! Thank you. All right? Thank you. Well, wasn’t that a great show? I’m the old drunk staggering on at the end! Erm, I thought I’d just come on and y’know, just say how much I know George would have loved this. We used to come here, y’know, as lads, to watch people like, err, Cliff and the Shadows. We’d be sitting up there, y’know, before all the Beatles stuff and, err, here we are now. We used to take the bus every morning, me and George, in from Speke, the 82. I used to get on the bus a stop before him, Hardwick Road, and, err, he lived in Upton Green in Speke, anyone who knows Speke? …And so, y’know, we, we had a great friendship even before the Beatles or anything, and before I met John. We’d come in and, say, every morning we’d talk about guitars and rock ‘n’ roll and all of that, and so, like I say, I thought I’d just come on. I haven’t, err, prepared anything, I thought, well, it’s just showing up, it’s just being part of it, and for the great charity, for all the money that’s been raised this evening for the charity, that’s worth coming anyway for all of us isn’t it? So I thought, well, I can’t leave without doing some kind of song, and what I thought… So here’s one I didn’t prepare earlier. What I thought I’d do, in the key of F, alright, this is for George, OK?”
Paul then sang an a capella “Yesterday”, solo at first, but soon joined by the rest of the cast and the audience. Paul fittingly changed the words to “Why he had to go, I don’t know, he wouldn’t say” but lightened the mood of the song by adding in vocals between phrases, imitating the bass line of the original song. A very brave and special way to finish the evening, leaving the audience thrilled that he had come along, but sharing the sadness that he felt. Another huge cheer heralded the end of the song, and Paul wound the night up, thanking the charity representatives and saying, “Thanks everybody for coming! Thank you all for coming! Thanks everybody for being beautiful people. George would have loved this! See you next time! Haré Krishna!”