Monday, 17 August 2015
George Harrison: Surviving TV Appearances 1971-2000
1) Dick Cavett Show (US TV 1971)
The AAA's favourite chat show host was having a difficult year in 1971 when he managed to secure his second Beatle (John and Yoko had had a ball - and Cavett's show had been the only American show brave enough to broadcast their 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' single, so probably passed their recommendation off to Harrison). In the last year Cavett had lost two of his favourite and most regular guests to drug overdoses - Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin - and experienced the shock of a 72-year-old health food expert dying on his show (not live but so close to transmission time the series had been cancelled a week). Still nervous after the Lennon show, Cavett expects his guest to be doing most of the talking - but George, still unused to America, is on equally nervy form himself, twiddling with a bit of string between his fingers and living up to his reputation as the 'quiet one' with one-word answers and grunts. Most of the show is spent talking about the 'Bangla Desh' gigs but George is already tired of it, moaning about how difficult the Inland Revenue are about the tax and looking into the camera one point, shaking his fist and saying 'sue me, Bhaskar!' referring to the then-head of EMI (this will become a running joke throughout his other interview appearances, with most of the clueless interviewers not getting the joke). Along the way George, with only the Ravi Shankar film 'Raga' to promote, performs as part of his friend Gary Wright's group and plugs the Lennon single released too close to Christmas 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)', which is nice of him. George discusses Beatlemania rumours that the band were all bald ('it's all truth' he deadpans), discusses what he said to John the last time he saw him ('He said hi and I said hi - I must be the most boring person you've ever had on the show!') The part most Beatle fans remember? Dick's comment that Yoko sat in his chair, leaving George to jump up as if electrocuted!
2) Ding Dong Ding Dong (Music Video 1974)
Sadly missing from the 'Dark Horse' DVD, 'Ding Dong Ding Dong' is George's first and perhaps his funniest music videos. The clip gives fans a rare chance to see the grounds of his Friar park mansion as he and a group of friends dress up as pirates and mime the vocals, George alternating his costume with every verse (including his Ed Sullivan Beatles suit from 1964, his Sgt Peppers costume from 1967 and one verse sung nude except for a guitar and a pair of furry monster feet!) The result is nicely matched to the carnival new year's spirit of the music but given the context (Patti and Eric Clapton have just run off together, leaving George alone in his mansion) is it just me or does this video come with a subtext that says 'look at what you're missing now you're not here!' while making up for the religious solitude that had distanced the couple.
3) What Is Life?/Dark Horse (Live 1974)
A brief compilation of George's 'Dark Horse' tour exists - and is every bit as wild and messy as critics always claimed. A hoarse George looks happy enough in a bright yellow shirt and blue dungarees, with Billy Preston trying to cover for his failing vocal chords while the band do a good job of trying to gee up an unhappy crowd. In between a less hectic but still lively 'What Is Life?' and nicely soulful 'Dark Horse' we follow George back stage while he gargles and holds a press conference (the source of the famous quote 'Id rather Patti was with Eric than some dope!')
4) Rutland Weekend Television (UK TV Comedy Show 1975)
'Thirty pieces of...parrot!' Eric Idle's comedy specially put on for England's smallest country (though beamed to the rest of the country) was the source of 'The Rutles' parody of The Beatles, but just as funny though less well known is George's own appearance with 'Nasty' ie 'John' aka 'Eric Idle'. The host is very pleased to have a world famous singer on the show - but George's agent has been telling him lies, he thought he was on to be an actor and play the part of a pirate. He's even come dressed for the part and keeps interrupting the other sketches to ask when he'll be on before storming off ('No pirate sketch? Well up yours then!) We also see him chatting to Neil Innes aka Paul aka Dirk who admits that he'd love to help George but he 'has no power' in this special. Finally George seems to be playing ball and strums the lengthy opening to his big hit 'My Sweet Lord', but the song he sings next is not exactly spiritual. All together now: 'I'd like to be a pirate, a pirate life for me, asll my friends are pirates and we sail the BB seas, I've got a jolly Roger, it's big and wide and vast, so get out your skull and cross bones and I'll run it up your mast!' George's reputation has just gone up big time!
5) 33 1/3rd: The Granada Interview (Promotion 1976)
Here's George, thirteen years on from his breakthrough hit, speaking to interview Joel Siegal saying that he's never really considered stopping but reckons he might 'by 37, 38...' He tells Joel he's 'been more of a lawyer than a musician recently' relating to the court cases for Apple and over 'My Sweet Lord He's So Fine' and admits that he's have been hopeless at anything else: 'I'd never have been a welder!' He's quick to back up the Rolling Stones who Siegal considers 'too old' and disagrees that the Beatles of 1963 seemed young and energetic (we even had short hurr!') Part of the clip, with George speaking about the court case over 'My Sweet Lord', was borrowed as an intro for 'This Song' on the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD.
6) Crackerbox Palace (Music Video 1976)
Another rare chance to see what the grounds of Friar Park look like, this ode to madness features George at home surrounding by a bunch of his dearest and weirdest friends. In the course of the video he appears as a baby in a pram, is part of a 'gnome chorus' who dance on the string of 'stepping stones' along his water feature (which, when seen from the house, looks as if his guests are walking on water) and holds a party outside on his lawn in between a giant maze which recalls the rear sleeve of 'Living In The Material World'. Deeply odd, but very funny and very George, thankfully included on the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD.
7) This Song (Music Video 1976)
Thankfully included on the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD, this third video was a witty response to the 'My Sweet Lord' plagiarism court case which features George in the dock singing his track 'This Song', a witty track from 'Thirty Three and a Third' spoofing the whole debacle. Appearing in front of the strangest looking jury ever seen, George is handcuffed by a hell's angel security guard while trying to play the guitar. Meanwhile a stenographer plays her typewriter like a piano and the judge bangs along with his gavel and at the end a party breaks out while George gets rather violently whisked away. The video also recalls one of the earliest music videos ever made for the classic Rolling Stones single 'We Love You' when Jagger and Richards feared they wouldn't be able to promote the song on TV (because they were about to be locked up!) One of George's funniest videos.
8) Blow Away (Music Video 1979)
A much simpler video for a nicely simplistic song, this one is full of shots of clouds and George playing the guitar (with an Elvis style knee action!) and for the first half appears to be the most 'normal' of all the Harrison videos out there. However, somewhere in the second half it all gets weird as computer trickery allows George to sit aboard a giant white swan, atop a blown up wagging dog (the sort of toy you used to see in the back of car windows) and appear next to a colossal nodding bird (presumably a baby toy for recently born son Dhani). What a shame this video was missed out of the 'Dark Horse Years' compilation - both song and video are true classics of the Harrison canon.
9) Faster (Music Video 1979)
George's love of formula one goes back a long way. As well as investing money in future world champion Damon Hill to allow him to pursue his dream of racing, George was good friends with three time world champion Jackie Stewart, who took him for a memorable drive in this video for George's F1 song, intercut with real F1 footage (quite a feat in its day, given that even back then Bernie Ecclestone kept a tight control over how much footage was used and where). George dedicated the song on the album to Ronnie Petersen, who'd died in the Italian Grand Prix of 1978 and Niki Lauda, who'd survived an awful crash at the German grand prix of 1976 which left him badly burnt. However neither appear in the video, which seems to use footage from the 1979 season (where Lauda was at Brabham). This video also appeared in the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD.
10) Good Morning America (US TV 1981)
'This show is brought to you by DreamWhip and Gello brand instant pudding, together they make dream pie - delicious!' A good guide to why George just didn't do TV, this is a 20 minute American interview view satellite (which inevitably breaks down partway through) where you can tell his hackles are rising as he gets inetrrupted by continual advert breaks, news bulletins and the sort of items that make the UK 'The One Show' look normal (You interrupt George to talk about pig picking?!) George denies being a recluse, tries to describe what the hell the plot of his Handmade Film 'Time Bandits' is all about, speaks about missing Lennon, the intensity of the Beatle years ('a concentrated type of exposure and I overdosed on the fame of it') and gardening ('the flowers don't answer you back!')
11) All Those Years Ago (Music Video 1981)
A simple, straightforward video of old Beatles clips for a song that couldn't really have been done any differently - seeing a smiling miming George would have been against what this video was all about. The videos start with shots of George as he is now (well, as he was in 1981 anyway), before moving onto Lennon in 1980 and gradually back to the very beginning with baby pictures of the pair before ending with the 'stairs' clip from 'Magical Mystery Tour'. Whoever put this together clearly only had access to the usual store of the same old Beatles pictures though and is a little too insistent on cutting Paul and Ringo out of the action, meaning that this teary farewell of a video isn't quite as moving as perhaps it ought to be.
12) Water (Film 1985)
George appears in a Handmade Film spoof of his own 'Concert For Bangla Desh' as Billy Connolly, a Carribean local, puts on a charity concert to raise money to send greedy American capitalists back where they belong. While the film isn't quite as funny as it ought to be (who on earth hires Michael Caine to do comedy for heaven's sake?) the ending is excellent as not just George but Ringo and Eric Clapton appear in an all-star band to perform the Connolly song 'Freedom'. The clip of George and Eric trying not to catch each other's eye and get the giggles is priceless.
13) Carl Perkins, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton And Friends (US Concert 1985)
George's first appearance on stage for eleven years came at a guest night honouring his old idol Carl Perkins. Dressed in a similar denim to what he wore on the sleeve of 'Abbey Road', George doesn't look as dressed for the occasion as the other guests but still seems to be Carl's favourite given his hugs and proud looks to camera. After all, Beatles don't just honour anybody. Along the way the pair revive some Perkins/Beatles favourites including 'Glad All Over' and 'Honey Don't. Ringo and Eric inevitably appear too.
14) Shanghai Surprise (Film 1986)
In addition to 'Water', the second handmade film to feature George was the doomed Shanghai Surprise'. George's cameo comes during the 'club scene' of the film where Madonna and Sean Penn take refuge, with George dressed up like a cross between his idol Cab Calloway and the waiter's uniform Lennon wears in 'Magical Mystery Tour', complete with slicked back hair. He looks deeply uncomfortable as well he might - the director only asked him to do it the night before and the song 'The Hottest Gong In Town' was written at short notice (and sounds like it too). In addition two music videos were put together to promote the film: 'Someplace Else' (a song re-recorded for 'Cloud Nine' as well as being used in the film) and 'Shanghai Surprise' itself, both of them featuring clips from the film with George recording the soundtrack alongside Vicki Brown, the wife of his friend and 50s skiffle idol Joe Brown.
15) Today Show (US TV 1986)
Another odd American TV appearance, this time in person, spread across three separate days. The interviewer is exactly the sort of person George has spent the past fifteen years avoiding and misses many of his jokes, but George is on good form and has plenty to say. While ostensibly on to promote Handmade Films 'Water' and 'Shanghai Surprise', Harrison is more keen to talk about philosophy ('you can transcend any problem really and all problems are only relevant to this form of consciousness' 'nothing exists - the past is gone and the future doesn't exist until you get to it, so you just have to do your best' 'If they're gonna have Mozart and all those people in music classses they might as well have The Beatles' And, tellingly, this comment on Russia producing their first Beatles singles after American influence 'In another twenty years they may get out of Afghanistan!'). He's at his most irate talking about the British press who report about him snubbing Julian and Sean Lennon ('it's Rupert Murdoch and all his gang!') and denies rumours about having a toilet that cost $3500 and plays 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' before talking about the Beatles getting kicked out of Manilla (this interview's angry fists are at Murdoch and Imedla Marcos!)
15) Prince's Trust (UK Concert 1987)
George's 'proper' return to the stage came at an all-star charity gig which oddly wasn't raising money for something George truly believed in but Prince Charles' hobby of helping under-privileged kids he'll rule over one day but can't be arsed to meet (it's not as if he has anything better to do). To be honest he could have funded the charity from his own work as a landlord for half of Southern England his horrible Duchy Original Biscuits, but instead it's the musicians doing all the work as normal. George acquits himself well with performances of 'Here Comes The Sun' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' plus a stint supporting Ringo on 'With A Little Help With My Friends' but doesn't appear to be enjoying himself much and his last UK performance on stage is marred by poor sound and a grotty band. Eight year old Dhani, enjoying his first chance to see his dad be applauded for his work was said to be horrified - 'why didn't you play any proper Chuck Berry music?' he's meant to have asked his dad backstage.
16) Channel X (UK TV 1987)
'They say the quiet ones of the group are always the ravers - is that true?' 'Erm - could be!' The weirdest entry on this list features a twenty-seven-year old Jonathan Ross desperately trying to interview George down his local pub alongside a rather quiet John Peel ('I always thought he was from Liverpool but he's posh from down Heswell!') 'We would have been doing things like that' says George when asked what he'd do if he hadn't been famous and avoiding the Jonathan Ross band setting up inside the pub. He adds that he's given up wearing tight leather trousers and winkle-pickers, is saddened that Madonna didn't have a sense of humour on set (though he likes Sean Penn) and is shocked to learn that this most unprofessional interview is actually going out live on telly. The most revealing sentence though is that the Beatles split 'because there were too many people getting into the group, they should have been The Beatles and The Beatles' wives!' Cue hand-written credits and the worst sounding orchestra in the history of television while George gets back to his pint.
17) Got My Mind Set On You (Music Video x 2 1987)
There were two videos of Harrison's Rudy Clark cover, one made for the teenagers (an awful video featuring George and Jeff Lynne 'playing' inside an arcade machine played by two very hammy extras and an excellent one featuring George apparently playing quietly in his living room. Along the way his house comes alive: the walls start jumping, the books keep falling off the shelves and a moose's head starts playing a sax solo before the single most hilarious moment of any Harrison video when George apparently gets up off his seat to do a double back flip (careful viewing reveals a cutaway just before we go from the close up to the long shot). As George claimed in a video, it's hilarious because it's the last things his fans would ever expect him to do - and yet manages to look like the sort of thing every music video back in the day was full of anyway. Both versions are included in the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD.
18) When We Was Fab (Music Video 1987)
Another priceless video, with George's nips of nostalgia well suited to an inventive video directed by Kevin Godley (once of AAA band 10cc). In the course of the video George gains an extra hand (which is, erm, handy) which then eats an 'apple' laden with not just Biblical but Beatle symbolism, Ringo drives up in a van labelled 'fab gear' and gets out the longest keyboard known to man (so long it actually takes two of him to carry it) and the bass is played by a 'walrus'. The video ends with George levitating during the 'Indian chant' of the song's tagline as he grows ten arms and vanishes. Modern viewers, more accustomed to this sort thing might scorn (especially the way someone walks past the camera every time a cut needs to be made) but in 1987 this video was sensational and it's still one of the very best, deservedly included on the 'Dark Horse Years' set.
19) This Is Love (Music Video 1987)
A final music video from 'Cloud Nine' is less inventive than the first two but features lots of nice shots of a happy looking George playing in the sun in what looks suspiciously like Hawaii but is apparently Britain - blimey, it doesn't look like that near me I can tell you. George is dressed in denim again for his 'Abbey Road' look. However this video is probably more important for what George was up to when the cameras weren't rolling - this is the day the idea for the song 'Any Road' (released on 'Brainwashed' in 2001) came into his head and he spent most of the car journey down and snatched minutes during filming to write it down. Like the other two 'Cloud Nine' songs this track was included on the 'Dark Horse Years' box set.
20) Michael Aspel Show (UK TV 1988)
'I'm even more normal than normal people!' I'm surprised that this half hour show isn't better known among Beatlemaniacs. For starters George appears with a rather drunken Ringo, acting for most of the show as his straightman and for another this is the second longest interview he ever gave. He denies being the 'Howard Hughes Of Henley', argues with Ringo about being a raver ('Yes but I stopped in 1964!' 'Well I only stopped in 1980!), says that it can take ten minutes to 'power walk' his garden or 45 minutes to 'saunter', the days in India (where Ringo came with a case of baked beans and asked for eggs which weren't allowed in the vegan society, with the locals hiding the eggshells so 'God' wouldn't see), admits to being 'cheeky so and sos', discusses Thomas The Tank Engine and most movingly their belief that Lennon's spirit lives on (he's meant to have come to Ringo to tell him to 'cheer up and stop being so depressed!') Though both men are keen to say that they're 'happy' when asked by the ever thoughtful Aspel (the British equivalent of Dick Cavett), Ringo seems deeply unhappy, twitching and smoking and jumping on everyone's lines with jokes only he understands. It was seeing this show - and others in the same period - back that persuaded Ringo his drinking was getting out of control and he ought to cut back.
21) Wogan (UK TV 1990)
George makes a rare and Olivia an even rarer appearance to promote their recent Romanian Aid charity album 'Nobody's Child', the only time they ever appeared together on TV. A thoughtful George, with his hair the longest it ever became, says that he's there simply because he felt he ought to do something while Olivia speaks of her shock at going out to Romania to oversee the money and see the devastation for herself. Apparently choosing the song 'Nobody's Child' was the hardest part of the process and Harrison confirms that he did know it from the Lonnie Donegan cover though it was Joe Brown he called up to ask for the chords.
22) Rapido (Interview US TV 1990)
More promotion for the Traveling Wiburys, with George's last interview for some time finding him on defensive form ('it's all in other people's heads, this mystery and intrigue' is his comment on The Beatles and comments that John's death isn't as sad for him as other people because he knows 'the soul goes on - and that's something I know, not just something made up to make me feel good'. He sounds relieved to be free of his Warner Brothers contract but is already missing the Wilburys, dropping the interesting clue that fifteen songs were written for the first album (so far only twelve have been released). Clips from videos for 'When We Was Fab' and the rarer 'She's My Baby' and 'Nobody's Child' are also included.
23) Live In Japan (1992)
Although the tour in Japan was professionally filmed, as far as I know the full film has never been seen. Instead four songs were included in the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD: 'Cheer Down' 'Devil's Radio' 'Cloud NIne' and 'Taxman'. The performance sounds better than the souvenir CD ever did - George sings some of these tracks with grit in his voice instead of the over-slick feel of that album, although he still looks as if he's having a rotten time of things and can't wait to get home, singing part of the set with his eyes closed. Note too how few guitar solos George plays, splitting duties about half and half with Eric Clapton who sticks firmly to the back of the stage.
24) VH1 Interview (1997)
'Finding out what happens we die is the only thing really that's of any importance and everything else is secondary'. What turned out to be George's last ever televised interview and his last performance in public was given on something of a whim. With no product to promote except for a Ravi Shankar album and secretly diagnosed with cancer, VH1 assumed that George wouldn't speak for very long. Instead he spoke for an hour, perhaps feeling that this might be his last chance to get the main point of what he'd been saying for some thirty-five years across although only half of it was broadcast at the time, the rest being screened for the first time after his death (luckily he beat the cancer at the time, only for it to return in 2001). He talks about Ravi 'this little feller with an obscure instrument' being the first person who ever really impressed him, speaks at length about his theory about the duality of life and nature ('our bodies are manifesting pure bodies but the sap is pure knowledge, we have to tap into that to understand it'), talks about money bringing some freedoms but wanting to 'go beyond all that', speaks at length about Bangla Desh (he didn't expect Eric or Dylan to show and ended up with 'too many guitar players') and politics and standing for the Maharishi Meditation Natural Law Party ('No matter who you vote for the Government always gets in!) Near the end he performs a song he's had rattling around for ten years without a home which will appear on his final record 'Brainwashed' ('Any Road'), the Traveling Wilbury number 'If She Belonged To Me' (sung on the record by Dylan) and finished with a rousing 'All Things Must Pass'. A worthy way to say goodbye, well nearly goodbye because there's still time for...
25) My Sweet Lord 2000 (Promotion and 2000)
'What was your first thought listening back thirty years on?' 'I thought - *intake of breath* - too much echo!' George didn't make a video for his re-release of 'My Sweet Lord' in 2000 but did chat for ten minutes or so about the album - though that hasn't stopped one enterprising fan putting one together out of the footage from this documentary and Pan's People dancing to the song on Top Of The Pops. Highlights include George re-creating his 'All Things Must Pass' album cover on his lawn (he's even kept the gnomes!) and trying to remember the pose thirty years on and George fiddling with the engineering desk in his house. There's a nice cartoon of the 1970 'George' getting attacked by bulldozers to create the 2000 'George' too, which should have been longer. A welcome last chance to see him making music.
And that's it for another issue - we've come to the end of our series of Harrison articles now but we'll be starting a new run on The Hollies next week so join us then if you can - and if you can't we'll wait for you. Ciao for now!