Concert for Bangladesh
The Concert For Bangladesh was the event title for two benefit concerts organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, held at noon and at 7:00 p.m. on August 1, 1971, playing to a total of 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Organized for the relief of refugees from East Pakistan (now independent Bangladesh) after the 1970 Bhola cyclone and during the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities and Bangladesh Liberation War, the event was the first benefit concert of this magnitude in world history. It featured an all-star supergroup of performers that included Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and Ringo Starr.
A Concert For Bangladesh album was released later in 1971 and a concert film was released in 1972, with later releases for home video. In 2005, the film was re-issued on DVD accompanied by a new documentary.
The Concert For Bangladesh raised US$243,418.51 for Bangladesh relief, which was administered by UNICEF. Sales of the album and DVD continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
As East Pakistan struggled to become the separate state of Bangladesh during the Bangladesh Liberation War, the tremendous political and military turmoil and the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities led to a massive refugee problem in India. This problem was compounded by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, bringing torrential rains causing devastating floods and threatening a humanitarian disaster.
Bengali musician Ravi Shankar consulted his friend George Harrison regarding a means of providing help to the situation. Harrison recorded the single “Bangla Desh” to raise awareness and pushed Apple Records to release Shankar’s single “Joi Bangla” in a dual-pronged effort to raise funds.
Shankar also asked Harrison’s advice regarding a small fund-raising concert in the United States. Harrison took the idea and started calling his friends, persuading them to join him in a large concert at Madison Square Garden. The Concert For Bangladesh event was organised within five weeks.
Harrison first asked his fellow Beatles to appear. John Lennon agreed to take part in the concert, however Harrison stipulated that Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono not perform with him. Lennon agreed, but left New York two days before the event following an argument with Ono regarding his and Harrison’s agreement that she not participate.
Paul McCartney declined because of the bad feelings caused by The Beatles’ legal problems on their break-up. “George came up and asked if I wanted to play Bangla Desh and I thought, blimey, what’s the point? We’re just broken up and we’re joining up again? It just seemed a bit crazy,” McCartney told Rolling Stone years later. Ringo Starr, however, appeared.
Ravi Shankar and the sarodist Ali Akbar Khan opened the concert with recital of Indian music consisting of the dhun, “Bangla Dhun”.
Except for back-up roles in support of both the Delaney & Bonnie Blues Band and John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, it was the first live appearance for George Harrison since the breakup of The Beatles. Eric Clapton made his first public appearance since the end of the five-month Derek and the Dominos tour the previous December. Clapton was still in the grip of a heroin addiction, and had been unable to attend any rehearsals until the final soundcheck. This was the first live performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and may have been the first time the general public was made aware that it was Clapton who played the solo on The Beatles’ recording.
Musical help was also on hand from Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Badfinger, a large horn section put together by Jim Horn and other musicians, including Carl Radle, Jesse Ed Davis, Don Preston and a host of backing singers organized by Don Nix.
Bob Dylan made his first stage appearance since the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969. Apart from sitting in for a few numbers with The Band on New Year 1972 and an unannounced appearance backing John Prine on harmonica at a Greenwich Village club, he did not play live again until January 1974.
The Concert For Bangladesh songs played and their sequence differ slightly between the afternoon and evening show. Afternoon show ran: Wah-Wah, Something, Awaiting On You All, That’s The Way God Planned It, It Don’t Come Easy, Beware Of Darkness, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Jumping Jack Flash, Youngblood, Here Comes The Sun, Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Blowin’ In The Wind, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, Love Minus Zero/ No Limit, Just Like A Woman, Hear Me Lord, My Sweet Lord, Bangla Desh.
Evening show ran: Wah-Wah, My Sweet Lord, That’s The Way God Planned It, It Don’t Come Easy, Beware Of Darkness, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Jumping Jack Flash, Youngblood, Here Comes The Sun, Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, Blowin’ In The Wind, Mr. Tambourine Man, Just Like A Woman, Something, Bangla Desh.
The Concert For Bangladesh differences are: “Something” is played second in the afternoon and in the evening played as the encore, and “My Sweet Lord” goes from the encore to the second number. Two Harrison songs, “Awaiting On You All” and “Hear Me Lord” were only played in the afternoon show. And Bob Dylan played “Love Minus Zero / No Limit” in the afternoon and “Mr. Tambourine Man” in the evening.
Both the afternoon and evening shows were filmed and recorded for an album, with Phil Spector overseeing the sound recording. The film, released in 1972, combined images from both shows with George Harrison’s preference of the performances of the songs.
Harrison later complained that half the camera operators appeared to have been indulging in illegal substances, which left the focus of some shots rather soft.
The opening of the Concert For Bangladesh film features footage from a press conference to announce the concert with Harrison and Shankar. Harrison is asked by a reporter: “With all the enormous problems in the world, how did you happen to choose this one to do something about?” “Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that’s all,” was Harrison’s reply.
The scene then shifts to outside Madison Square Garden, and news coverage by WABC-TV reporter Geraldo Rivera, who interviews fans who have camped out for tickets to the shows.
The Concert For Bangladesh begins with a performance by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Harrison introduces the set and both he and Shankar attempt to convey the intricacies of Indian classical music to the audience. Shankar additionally asked the audience not to smoke during the performance. Shankar and Khan then proceed to tune their instruments and then stop after about 90 seconds. The audience, apparently believing they had heard an entire piece, respond with enthusiastic applause, to which Shankar replies: “Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.” They then launch into a 17-minute r?ga.
After an interlude of footage from backstage, showing Spector, Harrison and other performers making their way to the stage, Harrison starts off the rock portion with a string of songs from his hit album, All Things Must Pass.
He is backed by a large band, including two drummers, Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner matching strokes, pianist Leon Russell, organist Billy Preston, two lead guitarists, Eric Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis, Badfinger on rhythm guitars, a horn section and a small choir of backing vocalists, many of whom are also playing tambourines. He then turns the concert over to his friends.
Towards the end of Billy Preston’s song, “That’s the Way God Planned It”, Preston gets up from his bench and dances across the stage and back again. This footage is taken during the evening performance. Starr sings his hit song “It Don’t Come Easy” and appears flustered as he forgets some of the words. Russell offers a rock and roll medley and Harrison performs some of the hits he wrote with The Beatles. Bob Dylan appears for a semi-acoustic set of his songs, and the film is capped off with two more songs, closing with Harrison’s song, “Bangla Desh”.