GEORGE HARRISON AND FRIENDS The Concert For Bangladesh (Epic)

The grandmother of all charidee shindigs, The Concert For Bangladesh was actually two shows, given on 1 August 1971, at Madison Square Garden. The idea originated with Ravi Shankar, who wanted to do something to aid the plight of the 10 million East Pakistani refugees who had fled their conflict-torn homeland over the border into India, and, as Harrison put it, “After half an hour he talked me into being on the show”. Perhaps because of its genesis, it balances its remit to entertain with an opening performance of Indian music by Shankar himself. With smoking forbidden in the venue at the artist’s request, the open-minded audience even applaud the musicians’ tuning up! What follows is 17 minutes of “Bangla Dhun”; fluid and tumbling, precise yet frenetic, melodically complex but instrumentally restrained, it’s the diametric opposite of the ramshackle guitar army’s assault on popular favourites that forms the body of the gig.

George follows immediately, rattling through a selection from “All Things Must Pass”, and it’s fascinating to hear these songs performed live when they were still box-fresh. The massed ranks of musicians manage to replicate much of the Spectorian overload of the originals, yet these versions still seem spryer. “My Sweet Lord” might sound a little wobbly and underrehearsed at times, but you can actually hear the words to “Awaiting On You All”!

Perhaps the true revelation of the set, Billy Preston works the gorgeous “That’s The Way God Planned It” into an exultant devotional fervour. Only slightly less staggering is Ringo’s rapturously received solo turn – “It Don’t Come Easy” might only be pop music, but it’s executed with panache, even if he mislays the lyrics on occasion.

The star-studded firmament of a house band - it takes nearly three minutes for George to introduce them all – numbers, as well as the aforementioned, Leon Russell, Jesse Ed Davis, Badfinger, Jim Keltner, Don Preston, Carl Radle and Klaus Voormann. Eric Clapton is introduced as “your friend and mine”, despite having already released “Layla”, his barely-disguised (and barely-controlled) paean to Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd.

Could this “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” be the first live rendition by the song’s author? Similarly, “Something” and an acoustic “Here Comes The Sun” – which sounds like the first cuckoo in spring - are also naggingly authentic, especially given that Ringo isn’t very far away (if not actually playing; the booklet notes are infuriatingly unforthcoming on that point).

Leon Russell’s medley of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Young Blood” is kinda flabby and theatrically indulgent. Bob Dylan offers a straightlaced semi-acoustic set: casual, off-the-cuff renditions of the songs that fired a generation, Ringo literally and rather hesitantly playing the role of Mr Tambourine Man. George’s “Bangla Desh” is no classic in the manner of his late-flowering Beatles work or much of “All Things Must Pass”, but as a medium for the concert’s message it’s uncompromised in its purity. A solitary bonus track, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” adheres to Dylan’s more recent performing philosophy: his small ensemble are clearly playing “If Not For You” before he wrongfoots them with his vocal.

As well as those generous four extra minutes of music, the packaging has been, er, refreshed compared to the rather foreboding original box set, and there’s the expected new sleevenote hoopla. Nevertheless, it was an event more groundbreaking for its motive than its music (whose legacy arguably includes Ringo’s All-Starr Band and even Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra).

The Beatles

Traveling Wilburys