Sixteen years after the Beatle’s death, Getintothis’ Miles Etchells was at the Philharmonic to take in a celebration of his music and indian influences.
For a while now George Harrison seems to have been the hipster’s Beatle of choice, and with good reason. His charming and mysterious personality, combined with his musical genius has made him an intriguing and endearing figure to present day, 16 years after his death.
At the Philharmonic, we were privileged to see one of the more musically focused events in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. While there have been spectacles across the city to pay homage to one of the most important albums ever, this one was a more personal tribute to the ‘quiet Beatle’, rather than the band or album.
Produced by University of Liverpool music lecturer Dr Mike Jones, the concert saw a brilliant ensemble of Indian musicians led by sitar player Jasdeep Singh Degun performing alongside a hand-picked band of scousers fronted by Thomas McConnell.
The concert told the story of how George Harrison discovered the wonder of Indian music and brought it to the fab four through film, pictures, a narration and most importantly music. The story began with slightly lightweight renditions of early Beatles’ songs such as If I Needed Someone, and an explanation of how by 1965 Harrison felt isolated from his band due to the control of Paul McCartney and John Lennon over songwriting, leaving him with nowhere to turn but inside himself.
Over the course of the evening we heard how his chance discovery of Indian music, first on the set of Help! and then when Ravi Shankar was introduced to him by members of The Byrds, led to the distinctive Indian influence on several late Beatles’ classics.
The event organisers can be satisfied that they managed to do Harrison and his passion justice, as the concert demonstrated the beauty of Indian classical music in both its traditional songs and in the music of The Beatles. The ensemble was mesmeric, from drone to sitar and harpsichord to tabla, Jasdeep Singh Degun’s 6-piece were breathtakingly tight, playing as one in the way great ensembles can.
The technical ability of each performer was clear, and the splendour of the combined sound was hypnotic, especially when they played a piece using motifs from Love You To. The spellbinding haze made it clear how Harrison had fallen in love with this music, and how it had become a defining influence on The Beatles.
Whilst McConnell’s band struggled somewhat to fill the space on their own, this sound was probably a mixture of the orchestra-suited acoustics in the concert hall, and an attempt to leave room for the other musicians during the many songs in which the two groups combined. When the groups did combine it was very impressive, highlights being an arrangement of Rain that became more intricately layered after every chorus, Norwegian Wood and the original Love You To.
In a setlist made up almost entirely of Harrison written or influenced songs, tracks such as Help! seemed a little out of place, especially when there were plenty of excellent George songs that didn’t make the cut. Similarly, not using the Indian ensemble for the seminal drone-based psychadelia of Tomorrow Never Knows felt like a missed opportunity, despite how tricky arranging and performing this might have been.
The introduction of musicians who had contributed to the evening’s finale, Within You Without You, was a lovely touch. Buddhadev Kansara (tamboura) and Natwar Soni (tabla) performed two captivating traditional songs, yet it was strange that they were not included in the spectacular concluding performance of the Sgt Pepper centrepiece. Whilst this song was played without its original artists, the Royal Northern College’s ensemble was introduced to add strings to a compelling version of a song that never fails to evoke goosebumps. The track, and the concert as a whole, paid fitting tribute to George Harrison and his contributions to Sgt Pepper, The Beatles and popular music.