The great thing about watching concert films is that you get the kind of close-ups that the audience can only dream of. I felt sorry for those watching the Concert for George in the Royal Albert Hall. It’s difficult to be swept away by the performers if you’re sitting so far up that vertigo is a distinct possibility. Luckily the audience is not the focus of this concert film, apart from the occasional view of a banner held aloft, or a sudden standing ovation to salute a revered performer.
Concert For George, organised in memory of the late, great George Harrison, impresses by the sheer volume of performers on stage at any one time – from featured artists to several orchestras, three drummers, ten guitarists, and numerous singers, all of whom read like a veritable who’s-who of the last fifty years of popular music. Many of the performers looked so ‘unstarlike’ and unpretentiously attired, they seemed more like the bloke who lives next door than internationally-renowned rock icons – the only person dressed as if it really was a special occasion was Ringo Starr. An onstage appearance by the Monty Python team seems slightly incongruous, however. George Harrison apparently regarded them as taking over where The Beatles left off. That is, they started the year The Beatles stopped – though of course George Harrison also played a major role in producing several Monty Python feature films under the aegis of his film production comapny, Handmade Films.
Some performers seemed completely unconnected to others: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Paul McCartney spring to mind. This however makes for interesting viewing, as it does say something about George Harrison’s diverse collection of friends and collaborators. It is also rather fun to hear all their different interpretations of his songs. Tom Petty’s rendition of one song is so eerie that Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osborne couldn’t have done it any better. Ringo Starr surprised me with a beautifully silken voice and an utterly adorable performance style. Billy Preston presents the blues/soul versions of George’s songs. The duet between Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney on the other hand is more like a screechy shouting competition.
Full marks for style, lighting and sound on this production, though, and the film is skilfully edited and so smooth you often forget how many cameras there were in the hall. Intermittently there are cuts to the pre-concert rehearsals. Here we are given snippets of information about George from several of his friends. The film would perhaps have benefited from more elaborate interviews, but I suspect that this would have turned Concert for George into more of a documentary. Concert films should after all be about music. How pleasant, then, to see one that is short on gimmicky dry ice, flashing lights, pyrotechnics and showy dancing and packed full of good old-fashioned rock and roll. If you loved George Harrison’s music, you’re going to love these new interpretations of his songs, and undoubtedly love this film as well.