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1. George loved the guitar even before he learned to play, or owned one. He used to draw pictures of the instrument as a young boy. His father Harold – yes that’s Harry Harrison – bought George a Dutch Egmond Toledo 105/0 flat-top acoustic guitar in 1956. It cost just over three pounds. That’s £90 in today’s money. A fan of skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan’s music, George formed a skiffle group called the Rebels, with his brother and a friend.
2. Throughout his life, he mastered how to play an incredible 26 different instruments. His beloved guitar, of course – Rolling Stone magazine ranked George number 11 in their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time – but also the sitar, four-string guitar, bass guitar, arp bass, violin, tamboura, dobro, swordmandel, tabla, organ, piano, moog synthesizer, harmonica, autoharp, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, claves, African drum, conga drum, tympani, ukulele, mandolin, marimba and Jal-Tarang.
3. When he left school at age 16, George worked as an electrician’s apprentice at Blacklers department store here in Liverpool. He only did that for a few months however, until The Beatles offered him more opportunities. His mother was a shop assistant, his father a bus conductor. One of his brothers was a groundskeeper and the other a mechanic.
4. When The Beatles first started working with George Martin, to make them feel at ease presumably, the producer told the lads they should feel totally free to speak up and tell him if they didn’t like any of his contributions. We can only wonder what he thought when George Harrison as the youngest member of the foursome piped up that he wasn’t very keen on the older man’s tie…
5. George had just turned 15 when he joined The Quarrymen, Lennon and McCartney’s first band. The Beatles’ first residency in Hamburg in 1960 ended prematurely when he was deported for being too young to work in nightclubs. He was only 27 years old when the Beatles disbanded.
6. He may have been known as the quietest of the foursome, but he was a strong influencer both inside the band and out of it. Most Beatles albums released after 1965 boasted at least two tracks written by him. It was his mother Louise who introduced him to Indian music, an interest pushed further by David Crosby of The Byrds. George learned to play the Indian sitar and featuring the instrument on the Beatles’ Norweigian Wood is said to have opened the floodgates for Indian instrumentation in popular music.
7. George was the first of the Fab Four to play the US. In the autumn of 1963, he visited his sister in Illinois. His 18-day stay was eventful – he played guitar and sang Roll Over Beethoven and Your Cheatin’ Heart with a band called The Four Vests at the VFW Hall in Eldorado. That’s months before The Beatles landed at JFK Airport to crowds of fans in February 1964.
8. He was the first Beatle to go on a solo tour, the 1974 Dark Horse tour. And George was the first Beatle to simultaneously top both singles and albums charts. He started to record the songs for the All Things Must Pass LP during spring 1970, in the weeks after the band broke up; the triple album came out in the November along with massive hit single My Sweet Lord.
9. George founded the idea of the megastar charity and fundraiser rock concert. Years before the likes of Bob Geldof’s Live Aid, Harrison with Indian sitar Player Ravi Shankar organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, a two part event. He invited massive names to come and play to raise money. Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Badfinger and more took part. Profits from sales of the film and soundtrack of the concert continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
10. George founded film production company Handmade Films in 1978 to finance the Monty Python classic The Life Of Brian. “Because I liked the script and I wanted to see the movie,” he explained. He re-mortgaged his house to pay for the film when original investors EMI pulled out just a week before filming. He also appeared in the movie in a cameo as Mr. Papadopolous, “owner of the Mount.” Handmade Films went on to make Withnail & I, Mona Lisa, and many more under new owners including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels directed by Guy Ritchie.
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