George Harrison’s debut tour following the death of The Beatles took place in 1974 but, after years of not performing life, Harrison was rusty, and it showed. The co-headline tour alongside Ravi Shankar was nothing short of disastrous with the former Beatle putting in a performance that was a shadow of his former self.
The 45-date tour saw Harrison rely on solo material and only squeezed four songs by The Beatles into his set which were ‘Something’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘For Your Blue’ and ‘In My Life’. This decision, perhaps unsurprisingly, truly angered the fans in attendance who, in truth, only came out to hear Beatles classics and also had no interest in seeing Ravi Shankar who was given a generous amount of stage time.
The run of dates, on reflection, have since been revered as a performance ahead of his time. World music, at this period, was still an unknown quantity and was greeted with a sense of disdain rather than intrigue. “It’s a pity that a lot of people missed out on something that went above their heads,” Harrison said about the tour in an interview with the BBC in three years later.
Before the tour even started Harrison had begun to distance himself from the world of The Beatles as he shared some harsh words on Paul McCartney at the press conference announcing the tour. “I don’t think the Beatles were that good,” he said. “I think they’re fine, you know. Paul is a fine bass player, but he’s a bit overpowering at times. To tell the truth, I’d join a band with John Lennon any day, but I couldn’t join a band with Paul McCartney. It’s nothing personal; it’s just from a musical point of view,” he harshly uttered.
Harrison was allegedly using cocaine like it was going out of business during the tour as he fuelled himself through the gruelling run of dates. The drugs may have provided Harrison with the energy he needed but it didn’t do his voice any favours and led to some diabolical shows across the gigantic run of dates.
“I either finish this tour ecstatically happy and want to go on tour everywhere,” he said in the days before the first show of the tour before adding, “Or I’ll end up just going back to my cave for another five years.”
The tour went so badly that Harrison decided not to hit the road again until him and Eric Clapton played a few dates in Japan in 1991—with the former Beatle instead focussing on spending time in the studio rather than playing to people who he perceived as being ungrateful of what he was offering.
With hindsight, after spending so long away from the road, Harrison was over-ambitious with his return to the stage and doing two arena shows a day was going to take it out of his body as well as his voice. If Harrison had started with a limited run of intimate shows that would have made him fall back in love with playing live. Instead the tour did the complete opposite.