George Harrison had no idea how complicated the Concert for Bangladesh would be when he agreed to help his friend and music guru, Ravi Shankar. The sitarist has asked George to appear at a concert to raise funds for the humanitarian crisis on the other side of the world.
George learned more about what was happening in Bangladesh. He looked around, saw no one doing anything, and decided he could do better. George had to get the ball rolling and make people aware of what was going on. He didn’t expect to take full control of the concert.
Once George became deeply invested in the Concert for Bangladesh, it was hard to escape. He had no idea he would have to deal with all aspects of the benefit concert and all the hassle that entailed.
George Harrison was ‘sucked in’ with the Concert for Bangladesh
Shankar told VH1 (per George Harrison on George Harrison: interviews and encounters) he began to organize a concert himself. He thought that if George and others performed, they would draw quite a large crowd and raise around $20,000. When George learned more about the crisis, he believed he could do better.
However, he didn’t want to deal with the whole project. George only wanted to raise awareness of the crisis. Then, hopefully, a change would occur.
“The more I read about it and understood what was going on, the more I thought, ‘Well, we just have to do something,’ and it had to be very quick,” George told Fugelsang. “And what we did, really, was just point it out. That’s what I felt. »
Still, George began to take more and more control of the benefit concert and was sucked in. During a 1988 interview with MuchMusic, George said, “You think, ‘Somebody’s got to do something.’ And you look around and nobody does anything. So you think, ‘Well, it just has to start.’
“And then you get more and more involved; as for me, it took three months from the moment I decided to help Ravi. It was the basic idea, to help Ravi to make a concert. I got involved and it got out of hand.
George scheduled a two-show concert on August 1, 1971, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Badfinger, Billy Preston and Ringo Starr signed up to perform.
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George called out the then head of Capitol EMI for cutting off funds earned from the concert for Bangladesh
With the help of his famous friends, George raised $243,000 overnight, according to the Guardian. Millions more would come from sales of the album and live film. However, George knew he had a fight ahead of him.
The IRS examined every penny. Then there was the issue of the record companies, who were not at all keen on not getting paid.
On an episode of The Dick Cavett Show (by George Harrison on George Harrison), George spoke about the Capitol EMI manager blocking the live album. This would bring in more money for the refugees.
George said they had worked very hard on the live album, but when they gave it to the record company, they wanted to know how much money they would make.
George continued, “They don’t want to make it for the price, we want them to make it for what it costs to make it. In fact, we have paid the fees so far. Our society has paid for all the boxes, millions of boxes and everything, the books that go with it, and then we give it to them on a plate, and they want more money, and it’s really not on… you know. It’s really unfair.
“Well, Apple…we’ve paid, so far, all the costs to make the record, to make the box, to do the packaging, all the expenses involved in the show, and then Capitol, with whom Apple has a distribution deal, they just have a distribution deal. So we give it to them and say, ‘You’re out of luck. You’re the company that’s going to distribute this wonderful record.'”
“They say, ‘No, no, we want this money. It’s not enough…’ Because they lost so much bread, you know, they really lost and they fired all the staff, fired everyone, brought in a new guy… good old Bhaskar Menon.
“And Bhaskar is from India and I really thought, at first, he was really into the idea. But you know, it just got held up. This disc really should have been released a month ago, but now we still haven’t solved the problem.
Bob Dylan’s record label, CBS, and Leon Russell’s Shelter Records agreed to release the album for free. Not Capitol EMI. George then spoke directly to Menon.
“We’re going to take it out,” George said. “I’m just gonna release it, you know, release it with CBS and let… Bhaskar will have to sue me. Bhaskar Menon. We’re going to play the ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues.’ Pursue me, Bhaskar.
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George eventually released the live album
Eventually, Menon allowed Apple to release The concert for Bangladesh. People bought enough copies for it to win a Grammy for album of the year. Eventually, film and record sales grossed over $14 million.
George donated all proceeds to UNICEF (he claimed the Red Cross was racist). The funds didn’t quite reach the refugees in time, but they did eventually.
Meanwhile, George made history with the Concert for Bangladesh, whether George’s live exposure of Menon helped or not. The benefit concert paved the way for others, including Live Aid.
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