George Harrison was lead guitarist, songwriter and singer with The Beatles. Although often overshadowed by the partnership of Lennon and McCartney during the band’s lifetime, he emerged as a significant talent in his own right.
The early years
Harrison was born on 25 February 1943 in the family home at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool.
His parents were Harold and Louise Harrison, who had roots in Ireland. They had three other children: Louise, Harry and Peter, all of whom were older than George.
In 1950 the family moved to 25 Upton Green in Speke. George went to school at Dovedale Road, where he passed his 11 Plus and gained a place at the Liverpool Institute for Boys, a local grammar school.
He attended the Institute between 1954 and 1959. Not an especially gifted child academically, Harrison struggled as a student and left without any qualifications. He had trouble relating to his teachers, and insisted on wearing tight jeans and long hair, much to his parents consternation.
In 1959 Harrison formed a skiffle group, The Rebels, with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly. Harrison’s mother bought him a guitar for £3, and the group’s debut gig at the British Legion club in Speke earned them 10 shillings.
Harrison considered becoming an apprentice engineer after leaving school, but music dominated his passions and he performed with a number of fledgling groups in Liverpool. In 1958 he met the Quarrymen, whose ranks included Paul McCartney, a friend of Harrison’s from the Institute.
Although Harrison was considered too young to join the group, he did fill in when their regular guitarist Eric Griffiths was unavailable. Eventually he was accepted as a full member, despite the reservations of the Quarrymen founder and leader, John Lennon.
Paul introduced me to George and I had to make the decision whether to let George in. I listened to George play and said, ‘Play Raunchy’ [a 1958 hit for saxophonist Bill Justis]. Then I said, ‘OK, you can come in.’
I couldn’t be bothered with him when he first came around. He used to follow me around like a bloody kid, hanging around all the time. He was a kid who played guitar and he was a friend of Paul’s which made it easier. It took me years to come around to him, to start considering him as an equal.
The band became Johnny and the Moondogs, and later the Silver Beetles. Their first trip to Hamburg in August 1960 took place while Harrison was just 17, and the Reeperbahn, the red light district where they played, proved an educative experience: “Everybody around the district were homosexuals, transvestites, pimps and hookers and I was in the middle of that, aged 17,” he said.
The first trip ended in Harrison’s deportation for working under-age. When they returned in March 1961 The Beatles had become more assured as performers, and in June cut their first single, ‘My Bonnie’, as the backing band for Tony Sheridan. For this they were paid 300 marks with no royalties.
At the band’s first recording session for EMI, producer George Martin tried to ease the band’s nerves by saying, “Let me know if there’s anything you don’t like”. “Well, for a start,” replied Harrison, “I don’t like your tie.” This led to a succession of jokes being cracked in the studio, which endeared the band to the EMI staff.