Now Playing -George Harrison – Live at the Olympia 1974 – Hari’s On Tour Express

by | Aug 17, 2021 | 0 comments

Some special rock footage guaranteed to blow your mind has recently come into circulation and for the time being is available for review online. In 1974 Ravi Shankar and George Harrison undertook a 45 show concert tour across the US running concurrent with Harrison’ s release of his ‘Dark Horse’ single and his announcement of his own Dark Horse records. Obviously anticipation was high for the tour as this would be the first time a Beatle would tour North America since the group retreated from the road in August of 1966. For a long while, any documented footage from this tour has been at a premium and only a miniscule amount of officially sanctioned product has ever been released from the tour (Living in the Material World documentary). In recent times YouTube has been the recipient of more than a couple different Harrison and Friends tour clips that have been recovered from various collections. As of the writing of this article the footage has been removed from You Tube, but can be found in the dusty corners of the internet for those who want to search.

Harrison put together a ‘hot shit’ band for the tour and was thrilled to share a bill with one of his musical hero’s Ravi. Baked by Tom Scott and members of the the L.A. Express as well as Billy Preston, Willie Weeks, Jim Keltner and Robbin Ford.  Originally a double LP of music was planned to be mined from the shows but unfortunately this never occurred due to a number of contributing factors. The most affecting of these was that media vas vicious in their reviews of the tour. The criticized Harrison’s voice ( which was admittedly rough on some nights due to overuse and abuse), other outlets complained that Harrison only played four Beatles song throughout his set and most obnoxiously they complained about Ravi’s stage time.

Like anything we view through the hazy lens of rock and roll history these media observations can now be looked at as a skewed representation of what occurred on the tour. The recent and previously mentioned clips and snippets of varying quality that have been circulating can now reveal the tour to fans in the different light. There are available clips from Atlanta, as well as a few fan made compilations around , but nothing the compares to the gold we will discuss today.  Which takes us to the subject of today’s TFTRR ‘Now Playing’ feature. I am enjoying beautifully shot, vividly colored and highly welcomed Super 8 footage from George Harrison, live December 4th 1974 at the Olympia in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison played two shows on this date at the venue and this particular footage was shot from very close to the stage at the afternoon performance.

An enterprising fan has lovingly synced the available audience recorded audio to this amateur footage providing us with the most amazing capture of Harrison’s famed 1974 tour we could ever hope to see. In the case of a few of the songs no concert specific audio was available so music from shows in Los Angeles and Toronto was flown in. The ‘rock room’ will try to note when this is the case. The total length of the footage is just short of 28 minutes; and while not complete and frustrating at times, totally worth its weight in rare gold! Most importantly its a steady shot with close to tripod quality.

The footage begins with a version of ‘Hari’s On Tour (Express) ‘ in full bloom. The cameraman is fully focused on Harrison while  the clarity and steady hand of the film is breathtaking. Harrison is a striking image in denim donning his slide and grooving kinetically to the pumping horns. He is shaking it like it’s 1964! Out of frame is band member Robben Ford contributing a soaring slide line to the churning rhythm section comprised of  WIllie Weeks on bass and Jim Keltner on drums respectively. Harrison looks like he is having a blast on his woodgrain Stratocaster taking a gritty solo spot which the steady camera captures in all it’s glory. At one point Hari looks directly at and through the camera. 3 minutes of this track exist before being dropped into a version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ all ready in progress. But such is ‘bootleg’ material.

‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ again finds the camera loving George, as it should. For this much to small snippet of the track, Harrison is armed with “Lucy” the famed cherry red Gibson Les Paul Harrison was gifted by Eric Clapton. George is fully invested in the vocals then leans waaaaaay into his solo before we are dropped into a ‘Something’ already in progress.

Harrison is still playing ‘Lucy’ and swaying to the heavy stepping rendition. In the ‘rock room’s opinion Harrison’s obvious investment in the song is more than enough to prove the extreme worth of this film. Sure, the vocals are ‘shouty’ and rough hewn, but so were Dylan’s in 1974. The taper obviously caught the sweet stuff as Harrison again digs into the solo spot, eyes closed, switches pick up’s and squeezes out a beautifully emotive solo spot. I feel myself getting fired up, this is where its at. The taper pulls back for a wide stage shot and all of a sudden I’m sitting front three rows, only a small glitch brings me back to the ‘rock room’ couch. Harrison sings the final verse with some updated lyrics, while at 6:40 the camera frames a toothy Hari grin that gives me shivers. Stunning.

A perfectly framed and vibrant shot of Billy Preston fills the screen as the band orbits around Preston’s first number one hit, ‘Will It Go Round In Circles?’ The band is jamming here and we are placed up front as the camera pulls back for a full stage shot just as Preston takes a funky melodica solo spot. The energy from the film is tangible. We get some muffled sonic’s at about half after eight minutes which continue through to the end of the song. 

The next segment finds us dropped mid way into a churning horny and percussion filled jam. ‘Soundstage of Mind’ spotlighted all of the contributors to the show and it’s obvious George and the band are having a tremendous time. This spotlights some stunning close up footage of George now donning an additional Stratocaster. Wow, this makes me sweat for an official release from this tour. We know it exists, lets do this!

These concerts were unknowingly ahead of their time, the mixture of styles as well as, artists. Beginning with the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh, Harrison was always looking to expand his and own own sonic pallet. The ‘rock room’ firmly believes that part of the reason for questionable media reviews in regards to Harrison 1974 tour, was because of the closed ears of the reviewers! In our meaningless opinion these performances are ace!

The following clip places us into the first verse of  the ‘Beatles’ ‘For You Blue’. Harrison and his band play a slippery and jazzy reading which the camera operator tries to capture the key moments which the do with great success! Harrison takes a measures solo on his Strat, percussionist Emil Richards takes a (bell/chime?) solo to which the horn section takes great joy in. Next we get Alvin Lee on a beautiful Gibson 335 getting his moment to shine. Hari grins his way through another verse as Willie Weeks’ breaks us down with a thumpy solo spot that overwhelms the recorder.

Sticking with the film makers theme a perfectly framed Harrison stands armed with an Ovation acoustic guitar while playing a lilting reading of ‘Give Me Love, Give Me Peace On Earth’ with band before we are dropped into the tour’s unique arrangement of the ‘Beatles’ ‘In My Life’. Harrison’s arrangement of the Rubber Soul Lennon/McCartney cut was preformed on the 74 tour in a bombastic reading, like a lost All Things Must Pass track. The camera gets Harrison and Lee in frame as Hari takes a concluding solo thankfully captured. 

The following clip finds the Harrison band playing ‘Tom Cat’ from band member Tom Scott’s fusion record with the horn section L. A. Express. A funky number, the track adheres to the theme of Harrison providing his fans with a plethora of different genres and musical experience. Our mystery filmmaker does a fine job of scanning the stage for whomever is contributing at the time. The band is cooked under red lights here, though I do believe that the audio has been flown in from another performance for this clip.

Harrison has his famed psychedelically painted 1961 Beatles Fender Stratocaster and slide for this next rendition of ‘Maya Love’ from Harrison’s then current Dark Horse record. The famed instrument named ‘Rocky’ was part of numerous Beatles sessions and continues to be owned by the Harrison estate. Stunning footage here as Harrison takes two icy slide solo spots in his recognizable tone. I could watch this repeatedly as Harrison plays sinking in inspiration.

The fantastic Billy Preston again takes up the screen with yellow shirt and resplendent afro for his current 1974 cut ‘Nothing From Nothing’. Preston gets the crowd going with a hand clapping break down. The camera pans and everyone on the stage is drenched in the joy of creating music. Following a few blips, Preston comes out from behind his keyboard to get down in front of the crowd. Harrison is beaming as he and Billy groove. The lights are bright and the musicians are brighter as the music churns. Classic! The music heard on this clip hails from the Toronto performance. 

The recorder turns their television eye into the crowd to collect the vibe and then back to the stage where this piece of historic celluloid concludes. This is the kind of stuff the the ‘rock room’ lives for, rare footage, a underrepresented era,  and one of my musical idols in full blow. It remains to be seen if anything will ever come from this footage or the pro shot stuff the Harrison estate has in their archives. (see Living In the Material World) But what we can be thankful for is that a kind renegade taper immortalized this footage forever and we are lucky enough to delve into it. 

Typically the media misses the mark when their unrealized expectations are not met. That is definitely the case with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s 1974 tour where unique combinations of music collided with familiar sounds and were expressed by a special collaborative of musicians.


George Harrison’s 1974 Tour


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