George Harrison Thought Live Aid Was ‘Brilliant,’ but Knew How Bob Geldof Felt After It Was Over

Without George Harrison, Live Aid might never have happened. The former Beatle invented the benefit concert when he organized the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Bob Geldof used the same formula and blew it up a million times 14 years later.

George thought Live Aid was brilliant. However, knew how Geldof felt after it was all over.

George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh 14 years before Live Aid

In late 1971, legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar told George about the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan.

A devastating cyclone killed 500,000 people. After months of inaction from the West Pakistani government, people wanted a change. Eastern nationals declared themselves the independent country of Bangladesh. It started a bloody war. The Western Pakistani troops committed genocidal acts on the Bangladeshi people.

In 1997, Shankar told John Fugelsang at VH1 (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters) that he’d started planning a benefit concert himself. He expected to raise about 20 to 30 thousand dollars. When George started looking into the crisis, he believed he could do better.

“The more I read about it and understood what was going on, I thought, ‘Well, we’ve just got to do something,’ and it had to be very quickly,” George told Fugelsang. “And what we did, really, was only to point it out. That’s what I felt.”

George’s former bandmate John Lennon gave him the confidence to organize the benefit concert. After he consulted an Indian astrologer to find the perfect date, George got to work. He set it for August 1, 1971, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Badfinger, Billy Preston, and Ringo Starr signed up to perform.

George said (per Rolling Stone), “The Concert for Bangladesh was just a moral stance. These kinds of things have grown over the years, but what we did showed the musicians and people are more humane than politicians.

“Today, people accept the commitment rock ‘n’ roll musicians have when they perform for a charity. When I did it, they said things like, ‘He’s only doing this to be nice.’”

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George thought Live Aid was ‘brilliant,’ but knew what Bob Geldof went through after it was over

During a 1988 interview with MuchMusic, George talked about Live Aid. He explained that he didn’t know Live Aid was happening because he’d been away for a few months. However, when he discovered what was happening, George knew Geldof didn’t organize Live Aid to “be nice.”

“I saw a part of it,” George said. “But I thought it was real big. It went on a bit with all the satellites that they had covering everywhere; it was pretty impressive compared to Bangladesh, like it was much more low-tech in those days. But it was nice to see Geldof doing that. I thought it was brilliant, really.”

George said he didn’t think about doing a benefit concert when he saw what was happening in Bangladesh. The former Beatle only wanted to help Shankar and started it for someone else to take over.

“You don’t really think like that,” George said. “You think, ‘Somebody’s gotta be doing something.’ And you look around and there’s nobody doing anything. So, you think, ‘Well, just gotta get it started.’ And then you get more and more involved in it; like for me, it took three months from when I decided I’d help Ravi. That was the basic idea, to help Ravi do a concert. I got involved, and it escalated.”

George didn’t envy what Geldof had to do following Live Aid. “But then you get so involved in trying to get the record companies to give them all the money and the unions to do it for nothing,” he said. “Very difficult; you get so sucked in. That thing for me took 10 years to get it all finalized and unraveled, and we had the American Internal Revenue kept insisting I did it for profit, even though they had the accounts of every penny.

“So, I can see why he wanted to get out of it, Bob, after two years of doing that. It’s draining.”

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The former Beatle gave Geldof advice on Band Aid

George and Geldof knew how to organize benefit concerts, but the former Beatle felt he had to advise the Boomtown Rats frontman, especially on his other philanthropic endeavor, Band Aid.

Midge Ure, who wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas” with Geldof, told Rolling Stone that George spoke from experience when he said to get a good accountant to manage the benefits affairs.

“The Concert [for Bangaldesh]… all of the money didn’t get where it was meant to go,” Ura said. “It was spent on overhead and ad men. So [Harrison’s advice to Geldof] was, ‘Get yourselves good accountants.’ We have the same accountants today who [ensure] we don’t spent a penny on anything. We’ve had no office, no secretaries. We begged, borrowed, and stole telephone lines, space, whatever we could.”

George raised $243,000 at the Concert for Bangladesh, and the live album and the film brought millions. However, UNICEF didn’t get the funds until much later. Everyone wanted a piece, as George said.

The Concert for Bangladesh might not have earned as much money as Live Aid, but George made it possible for the 1985 benefit concert to happen. He paved the way.

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