The concerts

The two Concert For Bangla Desh shows were announced in a small article in the New York Times, which announced an event featuring “George Harrison and friends”. Initially the shows were to have taken place on consecutive evenings, but the 31 July concert was moved to 2.30pm the following day after tickets had been printed.

First of all, we said we would do one concert and the person who is my business manager, he anticipated a sellout but I wasn’t so sure. I knew The Beatles could always have a sellout but on my own, it was different. We advertised for one concert, and they had to sell the tickets from midnight. The police came because it was such a big queue and the police said they had to open the box office and sell the tickets from midnight and they sold out by 5am. So, because it was such a big demand, we decided to do two concerts. We put in an extra concert in the evening and that was sold out too. And then we sold the seats at the back of the stage where you couldn’t see anything. We had requests to sell these tickets, and we sold these, too.
George Harrison

Twenty thousand tickets were sold within hours of going on sale. Touts made a tidy profit, selling $7.50 tickets for as much as $20 as demand outstripped supply. The guest performers remained a secret until the actual shows, which only served to raise anticipation.

First rehearsals were held on 26 July 1971 at Nola Studios on West 57th Street. Harrison, Voormann, Badfinger and the horn players were the only musicians present, and subsequent rehearsals – both informal and scheduled – involved an array of performers.

Harrison feared he wouldn’t arrive in time for the show, after his flight from England to America encountered bad weather.

I almost didn’t make it. My plane got caught in a violent thunderstorm and was struck three times by lightning. We started bouncing around; dropping hundreds of feet all the time and the lights went out. There were explosions and everybody was terrified. A Boeing 707 went over the top of us, missing us by inches. I thought that the back end of the plane had been blown off. I ended up with my feet pressed against the seat in front, my seat belt as tight as could be, yelling, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Hare,’ at the top of my voice. Miraculously, the pilot managed to land safely two hours later and I am adamant that my chanting, calling out the Hindi names for God, made all the difference.
George Harrison

Ringo Starr arrived in New York on 29 July, and the following day Leon Russell attended his first rehearsal. The final rehearsal and soundcheck took place at Madison Square Garden late on 31 July. Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton both attended.

‘Do you think Bob will show up?’ Pattie asked, obviously worried about the possibility he might not.

‘Sure he will,’ Al [Aronowitz] said with great confidence. ‘Bob wouldn’t let George down.’

A few minutes later Pattie tugged at my arm. ‘There he is,’ she said.

It was as if the Lord Himself had floated down from the heavens. The lights seemed to brighten momentarily, the musicians froze in position, and we all held our breaths as we watched George walk across the stage to give Bob a hug. That was a moment, I’ll tell you. When Eric showed up sometime later, the energy in the hall was almost static with electricity as we all realized that this event was going to be seriously huge. Eric looked like shit – he’d lost a lot of weight, his face was gaunt and his skin ashen, he walked with a shuffle and had trouble looking anyone in the eye – but he was there, after all, and that’s all I cared about. George had pulled it off. The audience was definitely going to get their money’s worth.

Chris O’Dell
Miss O’Dell

For both shows, Jonathan Taplin was production manager, while Chip Monck was in charge of lighting. The concerts were recorded by Gary Kellgren from the Record Plant studios, with Phil Spector overseeing, and Allen Klein organised the filming.

We had The Band’s production people to do the sound mix, and we had Chip Monck for lighting, and Allen Klein’s people did the film of the event. The film was not well done. After the first show we came off, having been almost fried under great big white lights. There had been no stage lighting at all. I asked Chip what had happened and he said the film people had told him to keep the white lights on and one of them said ‘oh no, we didn’t need those lights for filming’ but secretly he thought ‘ha, ha, we’ve got it anyway now, so they can have the coloured lights for the second show’. The second show was, I think, the best one. The lighting was very good but the film didn’t ‘come out’ really. The one camera right at the back of Madison Square Garden produced film that was all black, with just a little pin of light in the centre, couldn’t see a thing. Another camera, halfway down the right of the building was out of focus all the way through; there was a fault on the camera. Over on the left of the building, half way down, there was another camera; this one had huge cables hanging in front of it all the way through, so we were left with the camera that was just in the pit in the front of the stage and another one hand-held but with no sync pulse. The film that you see is the result of a lot of juggling. For example… my first song, ‘Wah-Wah’ has twelve ‘cuts’ into the film, twelve edits. Three of them were real, the other nine were fake. We had to put in different shots from different places. We had to blow up some parts of it, with the result that they were very grainy and it was just stupid. There were other things, negative things.

But the artists were all good, they all did it and I tried to guarantee to them that if they didn’t like the record or the film they could get out of it. I didn’t want them to end up not being my friends after all that. It was a huge responsibility and it worked out well.

George Harrison
I Me Mine

Although credited as a co-producer, Harrison claimed that Spector’s alcohol-related health issues meant his involvement was sporadic.

Phil was at the concert dancing in the front when it was being recorded! There was a guy, Gary Kellgren, who did the key work in the live recording. Then when Phil came to the remix, again Phil was in and out of the hospital.
George Harrison
George Harrison: Reconsidered, Timothy White