The benchmark for benefits...
Back in August 1971, recently estranged Beatle George Harrison helped stage what might be termed rock's first benefit concert. At Madison Square Garden, New York, Harrison assembled an unlikely cast of superstars to raise funds for the starving in Bangla Desh.
As we hear from Harrison's commentary the actual concert only made 250,000 dollars and it was sales from the 3-LP box set and the cinema movie that really made an impact, as well as awareness-raising of the issues.
In retrospect Harrison can be seen as a decade or more ahead of Sir Bob.
This two-DVD set puts together the concert (the film was an edit of two shows) and several features which help explain the event, including interviews with the artists and previously unseen rehearsal footage.
The music stands up well but it is quite startling that some of Harrison's best-loved songs had been written before 1971: 'Something', 'My Sweet Lord', 'Here Comes The Sun' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' are all here.
Eric Clapton got to rehearsals just a day before the gig, and by his own admission was somewhat 'out of it' and going through his own drug-induced crisis at the time.
Bob Dylan kept the assembled multitude guessing what he would perform, but on the day received a heroes welcome. Other support came from two bassists, two drummers (including Ringo Starr) and two more guitarists (Don Preston and Jesse Ed Davis).
If the gig was a triumph of Harrison's musical and spiritual faith, it was also a triumph of technical production. Original director Saul Swimmer reveals the complexities of film editing and the transfer from 16mm to 70mm for the theatre presentation. And then there were the complications of licensing deals which delayed the album's release.
All in all, a wonderful event that celebrates George Harrison's vision (inspired by his friend Ravi Shankar) and a landmark in terms of rock helping good causes.
Review by David Randall