The background

1974 was an unusually productive year for George Harrison. In February he returned to India, his first trip to the country since The Beatles’s 1968 stay in Rishikesh.

The visit was to take part in a ceremonial blessing of Ravi Shankar’s new home, and to visit the gardens and temple in Vrindavan. He also focused on ideas for the completion of Shankar Family & Friends, a fusion of Indian classical music and Western pop which was mostly recorded in April and May 1973 in Los Angeles.

Harrison and Shankar also finalised plans for The Music Festival From India, a live revue which opened at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 23 September 1974, before visiting Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, and Copenhagen.

He was also embroiled in business and legal issues relating to Apple Corps. Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr launched legal proceedings agains their former business manager Allen Klein, and the disarray of their company left many of Apple’s musical acts in an uncertain position. He was also executive producer of Little Malcolm, an Apple Film project for which he was attempting to gain a distribution deal in Europe.

Harrison spent much of the first half of 1974 setting up Dark Horse. The record label opened for business in May, and was announced at a press conference in Paris the following month. Harrison’s initial signings included Shankar and English pop duo Splinter; he produced the debut Dark Horse Records releases for both – Shankar Family & Friends and The Place I Love respectively.

On 15 May, on behalf of Dark Horse, Harrison signed a five-year partnership agreement with A&M Records, which included the rights to Harrison’s first four solo albums. Offices were set up in London and Los Angeles. Jonathan Clyde ran the label, but Harrison had the final say. During this time, he also set up the publishing company OOPS Publishing on 28 March 1974, to administer the UK rights to his songs.

I’ve been busy working. I was busy being deposed [by Allen Klein]. I’ve been doing some tracks of my own, did the Splinter album, finished up Ravi’s album, been to India for two months, organised the music festival from India; I’ve done a million things.
George Harrison
Press conference, 23 October 1974

His marriage to Pattie Boyd was coming to an end, and in 1974 she left his for Eric Clapton. Although Harrison publicly gave the couple his blessing, he was evidently wounded by the split. He wrote the Dark Horse song ‘So Sad’ “at the time I was splitting up with Pattie. The album’s next song, a cover of the Everly Brothers’ ‘Bye Bye Love’ contained the lines: “There goes our lady, with a-you-know-who/I hope she’s happy, old Clapper too”.

Harrison’s affair with Ringo Starr’s wife Maureen was cited by Boyd as a key catalyst for the split. The UK press also linked him with model Kathy Simmons, and guitarist Ronnie Wood’s wife Krissy.

I would class those as the dark days. They were the dark days, the days of Courvoisier. He was hammering that down, I witnessed all of that. A failure in any marriage is a dark period, it’s the end of a chapter, and it was quite upsetting for him.
Bill Elliott, Splinter
Behind The Locked Door, Graeme Thomson

Harrison later wrote about “the naughty period, 1973–74”, when he reverted to drinking, drug-taking and promiscuity.

After I split up from Patti, I went on a bit of a bender to make up for all the years I’d been married. If you listen to ‘Simply Shady’, on Dark Horse, it’s all in there – my whole life at that time was a bit like [laughing] Mrs Dale’s Diary.

I wasn’t ready to join Alcoholics Anonymous or anything – I don’t think I was that far gone – but I could put back a bottle of brandy occasionally, plus all the other naughty things that fly around. I just went on a binge, went on the road… all that sort of thing, until it got to the point where I had no voice and almost no body at times. Then I met Olivia and it all worked out fine.

George Harrison
Rolling Stone, 19 April 1979

Harrison and Shankar’s brief European tour was followed by plans for a North American tour, for which he would inevitably be the main draw. The dates were announced in September 1974, with anticipation high: it would be the first on that continent by a Beatle since 1966.

His backing band for the tour included Tom Scott and Robben Ford from LA Express, stalwart keyboard player Billy Preston, horn players Jim Horn and Chuck Findley, bass guitarist Willie Weeks, and drummer Andy Newmark. Shankar’s orchestra contained esteemed Indian musicians including Alla Rakha, Shivkumar Sharma, Lakshmi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, L Subramaniam and Sultan Khan.

I didn’t really choose them… So many things in my life I don’t really do. I just feel like an instrument. I knew I was doing a tour and I knew I had to have a band, but I didn’t want to commit myself to anybody, I just let things roll on. I only met Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks a few months ago. If I hadn’t met them, I wouldn’t have a rhythm section, but I believe the Lord provides me or you or all of us. If you believe that, he provides you with whatever you need.
George Harrison
Press conference, 23 October 1974

Harrison was reluctant to play songs by his former band, and only four were added to the setlist: ‘Something’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘For You Blue’, and Lennon-McCartney’s ‘In My Life’.

Unusually, the Dark Horse album was not yet released until two thirds of the Dark Horse Tour had been completed. Harrison was evidently suffering after a tumultuous year, and from the beginning was visibly exhausted and sounding unwell. His reluctance to play the fame game even extended to rewriting some of his best-loved songs: on ‘Something’ he rasped “If there’s something in the way, we move it/Find yourself another lover”. ‘In My Life’, meanwhile, ended with the words: “In my life, I love God more”.

I either finish this tour ecstatically happy and want to go on tour everywhere, or I’ll end up just going back to my cave for another five years.
George Harrison, November 1974

His decision to play predominantly new songs left audiences and critics bewildered and frustrated, and Harrison’s rough voice – caused by overexertion in the studio – led to the tour being dubbed ‘Dark Hoarse’. Although not all the dates were disasters, the experience bruised Harrison enough to ensure he never again toured in North America. Indeed, his only other subsequent tour was in Japan in 1991.

When I got off the plane, and back home I went into the garden and I was so relieved. That was the nearest I got to a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t even go into the house. I was a bit wound up – then when I came in, I looked in the mirror and decided: ‘Oh, I’m not that bad after all.’ Ego. That reflection. All those bits of rubbish everywhere and I was, I realised, getting dragged down into that hole.
George Harrison
I Me Mine