The Concert for Bangladesh

The Concert for Bangladesh

The movie poster.
Directed by Saul Swimmer
Produced by George Harrison
Allen Klein
Starring Eric Clapton
Bob Dylan
George Harrison
Billy Preston
Leon Russell
Ravi Shankar
Ringo Starr
Klaus Voorman
Music by Phil Spector (producer)
Editing by Richard Brooks
Studio Apple Corps (Apple Films)
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) United States March 23, 1972
Running time 95 min.
Country USA
Language English

The Concert For Bangladesh was the name for two benefit concerts organised by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, held at noon and at 19:00 on 1 August, 1971, playing to a total of 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The concert was organised to fund relief efforts for refugees from East Pakistan following the 1970 Bhola cyclone and alleged atrocities during Bangladesh Liberation War. The event was the first ever benefit concert of such a magnitude. It featured a supergroup of performers that included Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and Ringo Starr.

An album was released later in 1971 and a concert film was released in 1972, with later releases for home video. In 2005, the film was re-issued on DVD accompanied by a new documentary.

The concert raised US$243,418.51 for Bangladesh relief, which was administered by UNICEF. Sales of the album and DVD continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.[1]

Contents

Background

As East Pakistan struggled to become the separate state of Bangladesh during the Bangladesh Liberation War, the tremendous political and military turmoil and the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities led to a massive refugee problem in India. This problem was compounded by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, bringing torrential rains causing devastating floods and threatening a humanitarian disaster.

Bengali musician Ravi Shankar consulted his friend George Harrison regarding a means of providing help to the situation. Harrison recorded the single "Bangla Desh" to raise awareness and pushed Apple Records to release Shankar's single "Joi Bangla" in a dual-pronged effort to raise funds.

Shankar also asked Harrison's advice regarding a small fund-raising concert in the United States. Harrison took the idea and started calling his friends, persuading them to join him in a large concert at Madison Square Garden. The event was organised within five weeks.

Harrison first asked his fellow Beatles to appear.[citation needed] John Lennon agreed to take part in the concert, however Harrison stipulated that Lennon's wife Yoko Ono not perform with him. Lennon agreed, but left New York two days before the event following an argument with Ono regarding his and Harrison's agreement that she not participate.[2]

Paul McCartney declined because of the bad feelings caused by The Beatles' legal problems on their break-up. "George came up and asked if I wanted to play Bangla Desh and I thought, blimey, what's the point? We're just broken up and we're joining up again? It just seemed a bit crazy," McCartney told Rolling Stone years later.[3] Ringo Starr, however, appeared.

Concert programme

Ravi Shankar and the sarodist Ali Akbar Khan opened the concert with recital of Indian music consisting of the dhun, "Bangla Dhun".

Except for back-up roles in support of both the Delaney & Bonnie Blues Band and John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, it was the first live appearance for George Harrison since the breakup of The Beatles. Eric Clapton made his first public appearance since the end of the five-month Derek and the Dominos tour the previous December. Clapton was still in the grip of a heroin addiction, and had been unable to attend any rehearsals until the final soundcheck. This was the first live performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".

Bob Dylan made his first stage appearance since the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969. Apart from sitting in for a few numbers with The Band at a 1971/1972 New Year's Eve concert, and an unannounced appearance backing John Prine on harmonica at a Greenwich Village club, he did not play live again until January 1974.

Not unlike folk music concerts of the late 1960s, the program of songs presented had generally spiritual/religious overtones or socially reflective qualities. However, Leon Russell's electrifying performance of "Jumpin' Jack Flash"/"Young Blood" was a standout exception, and helped to cement the musical roots of the Concert for Bangladesh squarely to the era's rock and roll genre.

Other notable musicians contributing to the star power of the event included: Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Badfinger, Carl Radle, Jesse Ed Davis and a horn section put together by Jim Horn. Don Preston, Don Nix and a host of backing singers were brought in by Russell, who directed the stage band behind "master-of-ceremonies" Harrison.

The songs played and their sequence differ slightly between the afternoon and evening show, with "Awaiting On You All", "Love Minus Zero/No Limit", and "Hear Me Lord" only being played at the afternoon show. And "Mr. Tambourine Man" only being played at the evening show.

Afternoon show

All songs written by George Harrison except where indicated.

Evening show

  • "Wah-Wah"
  • "My Sweet Lord"
  • "That's The Way God Planned It" (Preston)
  • "It Don't Come Easy" (Starkey)
  • "Beware Of Darkness"
  • "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
  • "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (Jagger, Richards)
  • "Young Blood" (Leiber, Stoller, Pomus)
  • "Here Comes The Sun"
  • "A 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"
  • "Bangla Desh"

Clash at the door

During the show, a crowd of 200 non-ticket-holders charged and broke through door entering Madison Square Garden. A force of 100 security guards and New York City police charged and clubbed the non-ticket-holders. Counterculture figure Wavy Gravy claimed he was clubbed from behind after showing the officers his ticket. Madison Square Garden security denied that Gravy was clubbed and claimed Gravy, who was in poor health at the time, had a heart seizure.[4]

The film

Both the afternoon and evening shows were filmed, and recorded for an album, with Phil Spector overseeing the sound recording. The film, released in 1972, combined footage from both shows with George Harrison's preference of the performances of the songs. Harrison later complained that half the camera operators appeared to have been indulging in illegal substances, which left the focus of some shots rather soft.[citation needed]

The opening of the film features footage from a press conference in which Harrison and Shankar announce the concert. Harrison is asked by a reporter: "With all the enormous problems in the world, how did you happen to choose this one to do something about?"

"Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that's all," was Harrison's reply.

The scene then shifts to outside Madison Square Garden, and news coverage by WABC-TV reporter Geraldo Rivera, who interviews fans who have camped out for tickets to the shows.

The concert begins with a performance by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Harrison introduces the set and both he and Shankar attempt to convey the intricacies of Indian classical music to the audience. Shankar additionally asks the audience not to smoke during the performance. Shankar and Khan then proceed to tune their instruments and then stop after about 90 seconds. The audience, apparently believing they had heard an entire piece, respond with enthusiastic applause, to which Shankar replies: "Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more." They then launch into a 17-minute rāga.

After an interlude of footage from backstage, showing Spector, Harrison and other performers making their way to the stage, Harrison starts off the rock portion with a string of songs from his hit album, All Things Must Pass.

He is backed by a large band, including two drummers, Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner matching strokes, pianist Leon Russell, organist Billy Preston, two lead guitarists, Eric Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis, Badfinger on rhythm guitars, a horn section and a small choir of backing vocalists, many of whom are also playing tambourines. He then turns the concert over to his friends.

When Harrison apparently forgets the first two lines of the second verse in "Something" at about 1:29:30, he looks around and grins his way through it.

Towards the end of Billy Preston's song, "That's the Way God Planned It", Preston gets up from his bench and dances across the stage and back again. This footage is taken during the evening performance. Starr sings his hit song "It Don't Come Easy" and appears flustered as he forgets some of the words. Russell delivers a rock and roll medley and Harrison performs some of the hits he wrote while with The Beatles. Bob Dylan appears for a semi-acoustic set of his songs, and the film is capped off with two more songs, closing with Harrison's song, "Bangla Desh".

Performers

Performances in the film

All songs composed and performed by George Harrison, unless otherwise noted.

Ravi Shankar

George Harrison and band

Bob Dylan

All songs written and performed by Bob Dylan, with George Harrison on Fender Stratocaster, Leon Russell on Klaus Voormann's custom-painted Fender Precision Bass and Ringo Starr on tambourine.

Encore

Songs composed and performed by George Harrison and band.

Songs not in film

  • "Mr. Tambourine Man" – written and performed by Bob Dylan; from the concert and included only on the album, The Concert for Bangla Desh.
  • "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" – written and performed by Bob Dylan; recorded in the afternoon show and included as an extra in the 2005 DVD.
  • "If Not for You" – written and performed by Bob Dylan with George Harrison on harmony vocals and steel-string acoustic guitar with Klaus Voormann on electric bass; for a soundcheck and included as an extra on the 2005 DVD.
  • "Come on in My Kitchen" – composed by Robert Johnson and performed by Leon Russell, vocals and piano; George Harrison on backing vocals and lead guitar; Billy Preston on organ, Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner on drums and Eric Clapton, rhythm guitar; performed during a sound check and included as an extra in the 2005 DVD.

2005 DVD issue

A two-disc special edition DVD of The Concert for Bangladesh was issued in 2005, with the concert on disc one and a 2005 documentary, The Concert for Bangladesh Revisited with George Harrison and Friends, on the second disc.

Performers interviewed for the documentary include Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, Jim Horn, Leon Russell and Klaus Voormann, who offer their recollections of the concert. George Harrison talks about organizing the concert in voiceovers only. Other interviews are with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, who talk of the historic importance of the event, as well as Apple Corps executive Neil Aspinall.

The documentary reveals how quickly the concert came together, with Harrison working the phone during June and July 1971 to ask his friends to join the show. Madison Square Garden was booked for August 1 because it was the only open date available. Musicians began gathering in New York about a week beforehand for rehearsals.

Notably absent from the preparations was Clapton, who was in the grips of heroin addiction. Harrison says in the documentary that Clapton was booked on every airline flight from London to New York City for a week before the show. With Clapton still absent (according to his recently released autobiography, due to a cold turkey provoked by bad quality heroin that Harrison provided him as a condition for playing the concert), lead guitarists started "hanging around", hoping to be asked to join. Harrison tapped Jesse Ed Davis, who had played in Taj Mahal's band, and bassist Klaus Voormann volunteered to work with Davis in rehearsals. Another musician, Don Preston from Leon Russell's band, joined on lead guitar as well. Organizers then Telexed Clapton, telling him he did not have to come, but Clapton insisted he would play and finally showed up a day before the concert. He performed without benefit of rehearsal, and "he was brilliant," Harrison said.

Clapton, for his part, recalls the time as a period of "retirement" and that "I really made it hard for myself" in the concert, choosing to play a hollow-body Gibson Byrdland guitar for the bulk of the songs, including his solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", when a solid-body electric guitar (such as a Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul) would have been more appropriate.

There are also short features on the making of the film, the release of the album and the artwork and concert photography. Along with the extensive collection of still photos for the album package, stills photographer Barry Feinstein reveals that the photo used on the cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II was taken by him during the concert.

Album release

Cover of the 2005 re-mastered release of The Concert for Bangladesh album.

An album of the concerts was released as a triple-LP box set (later a 2-CD set), produced by Harrison and Phil Spector, and recorded by Gary Kellgren. This record was Dylan's first official live release.

While the LP was issued on Apple Records (distributed by Capitol Records in the US and EMI worldwide), tape distribution (cassette and 8-track cartridge) was given to Columbia Records, Bob Dylan's label, in exchange for being allowed to include his set as part of the package. When the album was reissued on CD in 1992, Columbia (now owned by Sony Music) in turn reissued the cassette version.

The two-CD set was re-released in 2001, and Harrison had been working on a remastered and expanded deluxe edition prior to his death. It was released in October 2005 by Apple and Rhino Entertainment along with the film on a special edition two-DVD set.

Funds and controversy

The concert raised US$243,418.50, which was given to UNICEF to administer. Sales of the DVDs and CDs of the concert continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

However, there were complaints about the high price of the album and allegations that there were delays in money from the album sales being sent to help the Bangladeshi refugees. Allen Klein, then an executive at Apple Corps, insisted the company made no money from the album or film and was only recovering its advertising and production costs. However New York magazine reported in 1972 that some of the proceeds remained unaccounted for. Klein denied it and sued the magazine for $150 million in damages.[5]

According to a June 2, 1985 article in the Los Angeles Times, by 1985 nearly $12 million had been sent to Bangladesh for relief. However, the money was tied up in an Internal Revenue Service escrow account for 11 years because the concert organisers had not applied for tax-exempt status.[6]

In a 1980 interview John Lennon (who did not participate in the concert) opined that benefits are "always rip-offs" and regarding the question where the money from the Bangladesh concert went, commented: "I can't even talk about it, because it's still a problem. You'll have to check with Mother [Yoko Ono], because she knows the ins and outs of it, I don't. But it's all a rip-off."[7]

In popular culture

The Concert for Bangladesh was satirized in two episodes of The Simpsons, "Like Father, Like Clown", and "I'm with Cupid". In the former, Krusty plays it while a visitor at the Simpsons household. In the latter, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has, in his record collection, the Concert Against Bangladesh with a picture of a mushroom cloud on the cover, reflecting Indian–Pakistani nuclear rivalry in the region. In fact, India supported Bangladesh during its struggle for independence.

The July 1974 ("Dessert") issue of National Lampoon satirized the original cover of the LP box set with a chocolate rendition of the starving child. There is a bite taken out of the child's head.

Crowd noises from this film were put into Aerosmith's cover of "Train Kept A-Rollin'" by producer Jack Douglas.[citation needed]

References

  1. ^ Concert for Bangladesh Revisited with George Harrison and Friends, (2005), Claire Ferguson, notes from: Interviews. Apple Corps,6 0349 70481 20, (2005).
  2. ^ http://www.flickr.com/photos/yokoonoofficial/3385752173/
  3. ^ http://www.rollingstone.com/news/profile/story/9359339/the_rs_interview_paul_mccartney
  4. ^ Who clubbed the clown? Village Voice August 12, 1971
  5. ^ "Sweet sounds", Time, April 17, 1972 (retrieved on December 12, 2006).
  6. ^ Johnston, David. "Bangladesh: The Benefit That Almost Wasn't." Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1985, p. R3
  7. ^ 1980 Playboy Interview With John Lennon And Yoko Ono (retrieved from John-Lennon.com on December 12, 2006)

External links


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