Reclusive George Harrison on the road again

July 16, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

For almost two decades, George Harrison has been one of pop music's great recluses.

The former Beatle left the rock 'n' roll road with barely a wave goodbye after a 1974 concert tour marred by inconsistent performances and scathing reviews. He hunkered into his Friar Park manor outside London, periodically putting out new records and producing films. He appeared onstage for only the most special occasions -- a Prince's Trust benefit concert in London, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner in New York.

But mostly Mr. Harrison seemed to be following the title of one of former band mate Paul McCartney's songs -- "You Won't See Me."

The past eight months have seen a marked change, however. In December, Mr. Harrison toured Japan, backed by good friend Eric Clapton and his band. On April 6, he performed a political benefit at London's Royal Albert Hall.

Tuesday, a live album from the Japanese tour was released, and on the phone from his house, Mr. Harrison is talking about possible autumn outings in the United States and Europe.

"Well, I don't know if it's a full return. I'm definitely not going to just make my life on the road from now on," the 49-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist says with a chuckle. "But it is a return in as much as . . . I can see how I could do it in the future. I quite enjoyed doing it. And I think I may do a couple more tours soon."

Mr. Harrison credits his touring return to urging from Mr. Clapton, an old buddy who wooed and married Mr. Harrison's first wife, the former Patti Boyd. Mr. Clapton toured for most of 1990, and whenever the two would talk, "Eric kept telling me that in the various places where I went, people were asking him where I was, what I was up to."

Mr. Clapton also offered Mr. Harrison the services of his band, which further piqued the ex-Beatle's interest. "It does make it easier to do, just stepping into a band that's already there," Mr. Harrison says. "I kept thinking, 'Yes. No. Yes. No. . . .'

"I finally decided that if I was going to do something, I better do it sooner rather than later."

Mr. Harrison says he had fun in Japan. He even gave up smoking to preserve his voice. And he still chuckles when remembering audience cries of "Georgie!" "They call me Georgie, which sounds really funny."

He also discounts niggling reviews of the shows, as well as published reports of tension between him and Mr. Clapton.

"There was none whatsoever," Mr. Harrison says. "Everybody's really pretty quiet on the road these days. It's not like it may have been back in the '60s and '70s, when everyone was partying. Now it's pretty quiet. We just sit on the train and the plane, go to our own rooms in the hotel and meet up to do the show. We're not hanging around in the bar all day anymore. It's basically just treated as a job these days."

Right now, Mr. Harrison is considering more of that kind of work. If he does go out, Britain and Europe are at the top of the list -- "otherwise, they'll lynch me," he says with a laugh. He's also dangling the prospect of an American tour, perhaps with his Traveling Wilburys players Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.

"That would be something I'd like to experience," Mr. Harrison says, though the Wilburys have maintained a no-tour policy. "I've always played around in my own mind with what a Wilburys tour could be. Would each person do a solo set and then do Wilburys at the end, or would we all go on right from beginning to end and make everything Wilburys? It's an intriguing thought. We could have a great band up there and the four of us could play acoustic [guitars] if we wanted to. We could all sing 'Blowin' in the Wind,' and Bob could sing 'Something.' Or we could just sing our individual songs and make them Wilbury tunes, as if we'd recorded them that way."

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