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Fab glimpse of legend George Harrison's life

GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD by Olivia Harrison, 400 pages, 260 images Abrams, New York 2011 (€24.99)

THE impressively presented George Harrison: Living in the Material World by Olivia Harrison, is an ideal coffee-table tome. Compiled by the late Beatles star's wife, Olivia Harrison, the book is a companion piece to the recent Martin Scorsese movie. Beautifully detailed, it is image-dominated, with more than 260 pictures over the 400 pages, and interspersed with reminiscences from Harrison's family, friends and fellow musicians.

A brief narrative would have helped to add more detail to captions, or to give a little more context in connecting the various comments. But as 'the quiet one' of the Beatles, perhaps it's sufficient that not too much is said.

It was easy to pass a pleasant afternoon reading the text and viewing the images. The breadth of Harrison's life and lifetime involvement in music: his emergence with the Beatles, his material successes, his quest for spiritual enlightenment, his involvement in film production, his love of motor racing and gardening fill the book and leave the impression that his experiences would more than fill up just one lifetime.

Harrison's life is touched upon through seven chapters. Vivid glimpses are provided through photographs, many taken by Harrison himself or with his own camera, hand-scribed lyrics, school-book sketches, postcards, letters, diary entries and reflections from friends, family and other artists. These are great for glancing at or skimming over, visiting or revisiting in coffee-table book fashion.


The chapters are chronological but a few of the photographs are placed thematically so the timeline gets a little jumbled occasionally. Blitz-bombed Liverpool contrasts with the homely childhood and family photos which precede the first hints of a musical future shown in Harrison's sketches of guitars, chords and scratchboards.

The first cheap acoustic guitar, the skiffle group and the Beatles packing out the Cavern Club are followed by a photo of Harrison's first passport as the band head to Hamburg where they 'grow up' and gather momentum.

The youthful photos and smiles of the band members contrast with Harrison's frustration, coping with the suffocating adulation during the American tour and he escapes to the Himalayas in his first effort to transcend the material world to the spiritual one. Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton give insights and then, during his pilgrimage, Ravi Shankar and some fantastic photos of India and Indian life dominate.

The wild gardens of Friar Park, the photo in a candlelit grotto and the original hand-written lyrics of My Sweet Lord (that you just can't help singing your way through), reveal the melding of religions in the search for simplicity and spirituality.

The material world is still never far away and the production company HandMade Films and Formula 1 car racing feature. His friendship with Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam of Monty Python and world champion drivers Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill hint at the breadth of Harrison's abilities and interests.


And the music is never far away either; jamming with Carl Perkins, singing with the Traveling Wilburys (that includes hand-sketched original lyrics to End of the Line) and then finally -- and too briefly -- there is a glimpse of family; of Olivia Harrison, who has compiled the slightly stilted and selective but impressive chronicle of George's life, and their son, Dhani.

It's unfortunate that there's not more from Olivia Harrison other than a brief synopsis at the end and a couple of photos. She makes it clear that nothing 'speaks louder than his music' and she doesn't want to say too much or delve into any of the negative aspects of Harrison's life. That's not the purpose of this book. She wants to celebrate Harrison's life and his spiritual quest while successfully 'living in the material world'.

A lot of what's here is fresh and captivating. I'm not a devout fan but I do enjoy the Beatles and the music of George Harrison and feel well catered for.