photo of George Harrison with his banjo-uke,
at the Ukulele Society of Great Britain,
legendary career as a guitarist is well
documented, and as a member of the Beatles he was
of course one of the most influential and popular
musicians of the twentieth century. But it's a
lesser known fact that Harrison was also a great
ukulele player, and on his untimely passing in
November 2001, uke fans the world over mourned
the loss of a kindred spirit, for he was a great
champion of the instrument.
in Liverpool in 1943, Harrison grew up with the
music of Lancashire comedian George Formby, as
did all the Beatles. Formby's huge popularity at
the time meant that the sound of the ukulele
banjo, and particulary his own rhythmic style of
playing, were a familiar part of life. Harrison's
interest in Eastern mystic beliefs (from the mid
60s onwards) led him to adopt a deep philosophy
of self discovery and understanding, so it was
only natural that in his later years he would re-explore
his earliest musical roots and influences.
a 1991 interview, Harrison recalled memories of
his mother singing George Formby songs at home,
and he developed an enthusiasm for Formby and the
ukulele that would last for the rest of his life.
Harrison attended meetings of the George Formby
Society and the Ukulele Society of Great Britain
(see picture, below left) and acquired a fine
collection of ukes, including the Ludwig banjo-uke
once a favourite instrument of Formby himself.
interest in the ukulele was acknowledged publicly
in 1995, during the Beatles
Anthology project, when he
appeared playing the uke in the TV/video
documentary series. At the end of the Beatles'
historic single Free As A
Bird (their first new
release for 25 years) George recorded his own
small Formby tribute, by giving a brief rendition
of Formby's famous solo from When
I'm Cleaning Windows at the
end of the track, along with a clip of Lennon
reciting Formby's catchphrase 'Turned Out Nice
Again' - in reverse! The banjo-uke also featured
(less prominently) on the single Real
Love released in 1996.
the artwork for his newly remastered release of
the classic triple album All
Things Must Pass in 2001,
Harrison included a photo of himself holding a
uke, so clearly not only did he have a great
passion for the instrument, but he wanted the
world to know about it! Throughout his final few
years many rumours circulated about a possible
new album release from George Harrison, and it
seemed likely that the ukulele would figure in
such a project. On his untimely death from cancer,
it was revealed that much recording work had been
done in Harrison's final months. We now hope that
this will be released as a posthumous addition to
the already staggering legacy of this truly great
man, taken too soon from the world.
A tribue by Andy
Eastwood, December 2001 -may he rest in peace.
HERE TO READ THE FOLLOW-UP ARTICLE on George
Harrison's final album, 'Brainwashed'