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16th February, 2023

George Harrison: A Life in Artefacts

On 25th February 2023, fans all over the world will be reflecting on the life and memory of George Harrison on what would have been his 80th birthday. In the lead up to this significant date, The Beatles Story are reflecting on their memories of the ‘quiet Beatle’ and rock ‘n’ roll legend by revisiting some of our favourite pieces of George Harrison memorabilia.

 

1. The Beginnings: George Harrison’s First Guitar



The first guitar that George Harrison ever owned, which inspired his love of music and eventually led to him becoming part of the world’s greatest band, can be seen on display at The Beatles Story, Liverpool. Bought for £3 and 10 shillings which was loaned to a teenage George by his mother, Louise, the Dutch-made Egmond guitar was purchased from his old schoolfriend, Raymond Hugh. Egmond were renowned for their low-cost guitars, and this was the perfect instrument for beginner George, whose interest had been sparked by his father Harold who had himself played guitar whilst in the Merchant Navy and introduced George to music by playing American records he had brought back from his travels.

Disaster occurred, however, when George, being naturally inquisitive, unscrewed a bolt at the base of the neck of the guitar resulting in the neck falling off and he was unable to screw the two parts back together again. He hid the guitar in a cupboard for almost a year until his brother Peter came to the rescue and repaired it, but unfortunately the frets produced a buzzing sound and could only produce a couple of chords when played. Thankfully Skiffle was just around the corner bringing with it music that could be played using just that. The guitar remained in George’s possession for around 5 years before he sold it onto another Liverpool teenager in 1959, and it’s now proudly on display for visitors all over the world to enjoy.

 

2. Early career: Bernadette and George



Various cherished items belonging to Cavern regular and Beatles Story co-founder Bernadette Byrne showcase a more personal memory of George Harrison. After dating him for around 6 months in the early 60’s, Bernadette kept a few treasured items from her time with the George, including a pink handwritten note and a postcard he had sent to her from Tenerife.

After performing at The Cavern Club one evening, George Harrison had spotted Bernie Byrne waiting at the bus stop. Recognising her from their shows and friendly conversations afterwards, he pulled up and offered her a lift home. After this happened a few times, George decided to push a note through her door asking her to give him a call. Bernie did just this when she came home from work and, shortly after, became his girlfriend. A self-professed hoarder, Bernie kept the note for decades allowing her to share her treasured memory with others.



A unique postcard written by George Harrison in late April 1963 currently sits next to the pink note on display at The Beatles Story. George Harrison sent the postcard to Bernie Byrne from Tenerife, where he was holidaying at the time With Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. They stayed at a villa belonging to the family of musician and producer Klaus Voormann, who the group were friendly with at the time, along with Astrid Kirchherr. Whilst enjoying one of the last holiday’s they could before Beatlemania went global, George wrote and sent a postcard to his then girlfriend Bernie. “He sent this postcard addressing it to ‘Bernydet’ which was his pet name for me.” – Bernie Byrne

Other items signed by The Beatles from Bernie’s collection are currently on display at The Beatles Story, including a handbag, picture postcard and picture mount from 1962.

 

3. The Birth of Beatlemania: George Harrison Halloween Costume



Perfectly encapsulating the moment Beatlemania captivated the USA is this original 1964 George Harrison Halloween costume by American costume manufacturer Ben Cooper Incorporated. Their popular Beatles costume range was officially licensed by NEMS – a record store enterprise owned by The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein – and released shortly before Halloween in 1964 following the band’s rise to fame in the USA.

Founded in 1937, Ben Cooper Inc. began designing costumes in the late 1930s and by the 1950s had become synonymous with Halloween in the USA. Their surviving products provide unique snapshots into pop culture history throughout the 20th century, with this original George Harrison piece perfectly encapsulating the moment that the British Invasion began to enchant American teens and Beatlemania was born.

 

4. Solo Career and Spiritual Life: Signed ‘Far East Man’ lyrics and ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ 



These lyrics, along with the ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ book, were both signed by George Harrison and given to his girlfriend at the time whilst on a trip to St. Lucia in 1974. The lyrics form a verse in the song ‘Far East Man’ which appears on George's 1974 album ‘Dark Horse’ and are written on Material World Charitable Foundation headed paper, an organisation set up by George to support established charities and enhance the exploration of diverse forms of artistic expression and philosophies. The autobiography was a personal favourite of George’s, introduced to him through his great friend and sitar teacher Ravi Shankar. George was so impressed by its teachings that he used to carry around copies in his briefcase that he would sign and hand out to anyone interested in eastern philosophies.

 

5. The End: George Harrison’s Last Tour Set List



This heavily stained set list in blue and black ink titled “George Side 1” was used by George Harrison during his last tour at Japan’s Tokyo Dome on 17th December 1991. Accompanied by Eric Clapton, George played twelve concerts in Japan on the tour, recording and subsequently releasing a ‘Live In Japan’ double album the following year. His second and last solo tour, the setlist consisted of a selection of Harrison's hits as a solo artist alongside some of his best-known Beatles songs.

Accompanied with the artwork for the ‘Live In Japan’ album and an invitation ticket to the concert, George said of the stains, “It was not usual for things to survive at all let alone the recording studio”. The ‘Live In Japan’ album was his last release before his death in November 2001.

 

6. Memories: ‘Concert for George’ Sparkle Drum Kit




This drum kit, A Ludwig Classic Maple Kit in gold sparkle with a hammered bronze snare was sold in auction for $64,000. It was played by Ringo Starr at The Concert For George, the memorial for held for George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall on 29th November 2002 – the one year anniversary of his death.

Organised by Olivia and Dhani Harrison and under the musical direction of Eric Clapton, his closest friends staged a concert that was a mixture of music and comedy with all proceeds going to the Material World Charitable Foundation that was founded by George in 1973. The first half opened with a nod to George's spiritual side; a traditional Sanskrit invocation, the Sarvesham chant and Indian music. This was followed by a comedy interlude from Monty Python, performing some of his favourite sketches, before George's friends took to the stage for the remainder of the concert.

During the concert Ringo appeared on stage and performed two songs before introducing and accompanying Paul during ‘For You Blue’, ‘Something’ and ‘All Things Must Pass.’ George's Band, who played for the remainder of the concert, consisted of artists who had worked with George over the years including the last remaining Beatles - Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the Traveling Wilburys, Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Jools Holland, Sam Brown and Joe Brown, who closed the evening with ‘I'll See You In My Dreams.’

This incredible Ludwig kit is now proudly on display in The Beatles Story and brings with it a piece of that powerful performance, allowing visitors as they experience it to take a moment to reflect on the incredible life and legacy of George Harrison.

 

If you weren’t lucky enough to secure tickets to our sold-out event ‘Pilgrimage for George,’ we’ll be live-streaming the panel discussion and live music on our Facebook page!

And don’t forget, we’re encouraging donations to George Harrison’s charity The Material World Foundation as part of our #George80 celebrations! If you can, please consider donating at: www.materialworldfoundation.com/ and support their vital work, including their work in the Liverpool area supporting LIPA and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.


 

 

Emma Davies

Emma is a Sales and Marketing Executive at The Beatles Story with a Bachelor's in Music & Popular Music from the University of Liverpool.

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