We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to revisit an extraordinary moment between two friends getting ready to perform the world. One of the more touching friendships to come out of the sixties was the mutual respect and appreciation the legendary Bob Dylan held for the late, great Beatles guitarist George Harrison.
Here, we’re looking back at a special duet of the Bob Dylan classic ‘If Not For You’ that the pair shared during the rehearsals for ‘The Concert For Bangladesh’. It’s a song that would connect the pair for years to come but resonates most resolutely during this behind=-the-scenes performance.
The track featured on Dylan’s then-current record New Morning and Harrison’s solo debut following The Beatles’ split; All Things Must Pass and finds a happy home in this footage. The clip has been given extra gravitas with some more context of the performance filled in.
The two friends, Dylan and Harrison, stand side by side and perform the song as a duet as a warm-up for their impending live show at Madison Square Gardens on August 1st, 1971. The show would turn out to be a lasting and shining moment in Harrison’s illustrious legacy as the former Beatles organised a benefit gig for Bangladesh’s people—following years of turmoil, war, and famine.
The show would feature Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton’s performances, to name a few. It makes for an incredible performance from some of the decade’s most influential art and a great concert film.
With one more notable name in Ravi Shankar. The Indian musician was famed for his Sitar work and had inspired Harrison on more than one occasion to pick up the traditional Indian instrument and share it with the world. He was also inspirational when it came to ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’ and, when asked by a reporter as to why Harrison should put on a gig for the aid of Bangladesh, the Beatle replied: “Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that’s all.”
To ask all his musician friends to come and jam was the least Harrison could do. While both Paul McCartney and John Lennon turned down the offer following The Beatles’ less than harmonious split (Lennon declining to come to the show as Yoko Ono didn’t get an invite), Dylan got over his own reclusive tendencies and took to the stage for the first time since his iconic 1969 performance at the inaugural Isle of Wight Festival.
This is what makes the clip so touching. While Dylan is obviously a consummate performer, in the footage, there is a sense of care that Harrison affords his friend, Dylan. A few subtle glances, some shared moments and some body language cues show that their relationship went on far beyond their musical inclinations.
The track wouldn’t be performed at the actual ‘Concert For Bangladesh’ and wouldn’t feature on its famed live albums. But it would appear as a take of them performing it together, from the New Morning sessions, as part of the 1991 Dylan multi-disc The Bootleg Series, Volume 1-3.
For now, though, let’s look back at not only two of the rock and roll world’s most influential songwriters but also, and possibly most importantly, two friends, George Harrison and Bob Dylan, taking to the stage to perform ‘If Not For You’ in 1971.