Last night was a really fantastic evening for me and a group of fellow fans and friends, we got to spend three hours in the company of Olivia Harrison. Friday night the 4th of March 2005 was the world wide launch of the limited edition book ‘The concert for George’, Olivia had chosen Sydney as the location for this fantastic event. I met up with my friends and we made our way throught the tide of rushing Sydney workers down to the Shangri la hotel, at ‘The Rocks’ end of the city, the hotel was also playing host to Australia’s own Princess Mary and Prince Fredrick of Denmark, a few Queens were spotted, but alas not a Princess in sight.
We made our way downstairs to the reception area and were pretty much the first people there, there was a big sign on the door saying ‘interview in progress’, soon enough the appointed hour of 6.00pm came around and we were allowed into the ballroom, it was set up so all the book sales were on the right hand side as you came in the door, ahead of you were the rows of seating and in front of the chairs was a small elevated stage, with a table and two chairs and microphones, the old Tingler has been around the block and back so I knew where to go and grab a chair, my friend from Melbourne Joanna had the same idea and being a smart lady knew to place her handbag on two seats directly in front of where Olivia would be sitting, that hand bag positively screamed ‘These seats are taken, move this at your own peril!!’.
As you faced the table to the right of that were all the Genesis books displayed, including a copy of ‘I me mine’. Separating the interview/signing area from where we were mingling and sitting was only a small red velvet link fence. When we walked in the room Olivia was mingling around talking to friends, I was instantly struck by just how beautiful she really is, not much make up, and the most lovely hair, I once read where someone described Olivia as being very petite, and its really true, in person she is very slight and slender, she was wearing a gorgeous dark pants suit and a stunning diamond brooch, from the way it was shining you could tell those sparkles weren’t coming from mere glass.
She had a bodyguard following her around discreetly, and I must admit I was wondering if anyone would race up and try and talk to her, or ask for an autograph or something, but the reaction of pretty much everyone there set the tone of the evening, and that was just to relax and enjoy the night without bothering Olivia too much, and it worked a treat.
I really sensed that Olivia had this serenity around her, or an aura where people just felt comfortable with her being there, if you wanted to say hello to her there was really nothing stopping you, but most people just hung back and were more than happy and satisfied to be in the same room as her. Olivia moved to sit behind the table so she and Brian Roylance could begin to sign and personalise the books for those who had purchased them, as waiters moved around the room offering up totally non vegetarian food (which I found odd), people were happy to catch up with old friends and sip at the offered drinks.
It wasn’t a large number of people there by any means, the room was in no way crowded, and it was easy to move around. I must admit tho once Olivia sat down I too took my seat in front of her and just enjoyed the experience of watching her interact with people. I was a little surprised to notice that she wears glasses for writing and she is also left handed (something for the trivia buffs). We were seated no more than ten feet away from her the whole time. My friend Joanna decided to make her way up and get her book signed, as I was Jo’s date for the evening I got to accompany her for the signing.
There were only ever about 4-8 people lined up at any given moment, and Olivia and Brian took their time with each person, never rushing them and allowing the buyer to chat for pretty much as long as they needed, or wanted within reason. When it was our turn to be introduced I must admit I felt a pang of nervousness, or more likely it was excitement. I’ve always held Olivia in the highest regard, and have always wanted to meet her just to say ‘thank you’. Joanna was introduced first to Olivia, and then the hostess said ‘Olivia, this is Greg Swan’ I shook Olivia’s hand and said ‘Hello, I’m Greg’, she then said ‘Greg Swan, you’re name is VERY familiar, Greg Swan’, Brian recognised me and said hello Greg, then he said to Olivia ‘The Anthology book’ Greg helped with us with that, Olivia responded with ‘oh yes, you’re name is in the credits’ she turned to Brian and said ‘see, I do have a photographic memory’. You could have pretty much knocked me over with a feather after hearing that.
Brian explained some of the things I supplied for the Beatles Anthology book, I explained to Olivia that the Concert for George book was only to be inscribed to Joanna. Jo explained to Olivia how she became a George fan at the time of Cloud 9, and only discovered the Beatles through George, Olivia thought this was pretty funny, and I commented that that made me feel pretty old, Olivia comment ‘But you ARE old’, having just celebrated my 40th birthday I had a nanosecond of insecurity, then it dawned on me that Olivia meant it in a much deeper sense.
We told Olivia that I had just turned forty and she exclaimed ‘Oh, your only a baby’ she went on to tell us about Derek Taylor and how he used to say to them ‘Wait till you turn 60!’, I told Olivia that when I made a speech at my birthday I was struck by how lucky I was just to be there and to make it to 40, and that turning 30 was a real drama for me, we all agreed 30 was the traumatic age. We continued chatting about some personal stuff which i wont go into here just to keep it special between Joanna and i.
Pretty soon they took a break in Olivia signing the books, author Glenn A Baker made a speech and introduced Brian Roylance who stayed sitting beside Olivia. Brian gave us a short history of Genesis books and his friendship with George, then came what was for me the big surprise of the night, Melissa Doyle from the Sunrise Morning tv show was introduced and brought out to interview Olivia. This was fantastic, I had really only expected Olivia to maybe make a short speech, but this was a real treat. I don’t believe Olivia has ever done a public interview before, but you would never have guessed it, as she looked very relaxed and comfortable. It was also great as the questions and topics were actually pretty interesting, and not the usual inane questions offered up. I don’t have a transcript of the interview yet, but from what I can remember off the top of my head some of the topics discussed included the following ..
How when George and Derek Taylor went to look at Friar Park before George brought it, Olivia mentioned that the place was derelict and that she thinks George and Derek had a ‘cup of tea’ sitting in the garden before George decided to buy Friar Park, those of us in the ‘know’ started to laugh at this, and Olivia gave a knowing smile, but the poor interviewer had no idea why we were laughing. Olivia went on to describe the poor state of the gardens, and how George actually got himself a flame thrower!!, we were really laughing at this image of George walking around like a maniac blasting everything with this flame thrower, so Olivia emphasised it again by saying ‘no really he did’, she said the house was derelict and George put his heart into making the gardens beautiful, Olivia noted that she is now carrying on working on the gardens.
It was lovely for us Aussie fans to listen as Olivia recounted how much they loved Australia and came here often. Olivia mentioned the first time they came here in 1982 as a family, they drove down from Brisbane, they went to Byron bay, Coffs harbour ( I was really impressed at Olivia’s knowledge of Australian geography) she noted that both her and George had travelled a lot over the years, especially George, but when they came into Sydney and saw the Harbour Bridge, they both looked at each other and said ‘this is special, this is a special place’. She told a story about how when they were driving down from Brisbane they stayed in a little hotel, it had a hole in the wall with a trap door. Olivia did a very funny impression of the creaking door being opened, it was through this little trap door that breakfast would be delivered, you would wake up in the morning and the breakfast would be waiting for you behind the door, she remembered that when they were leaving Dhani didn’t want to go, he wanted to live there.
Recalling how they loved the weather down here, she lamented that it hadnt been too nice the last couple of days ( severe storms ).
Olivia noted that both Ravi and George were just ‘Two naughty little boys’ when they were together.
Olivia mentioned recently finding a letter from George to his mum when he was only 23 years old. George was responding to concerns from his mother that the Maharishi was only after their money, Olivia said it was amazing that at only 23 George was looking for something beyond the fame he had, and he wrote to his mum saying that ‘Surely its natural for a man to search for peace’.
When talking about Georges song writing, Olivia mentioned buying him a big book of exotic words, as he was frustrated by what he perceived to be a limited vocabulary, she noted he never used this book as all his lyrics came from his heart. Sometimes when writing a song he would put in funny words that Olivia would veto, she mentioned he would get excited when he heard a Dylan lyric where Bob would get a really good word in.
Talk turned to ukuleles, this got another knowing chuckle from the audience, Olivia revealed how George once had plans to purchase 200 uke’s from the factory, and how he always carried two with him in case someone wanted to play, he done this because you couldn’t help but smile when listening to the uke. She said that’s what George was all about, making people smile, she then chuckled and said, tho I do believe he once took FOUR ukes over to Tom Petty’s house one night, and that no one was immune from George and the uke, he even used to get Olivia’s mother playing.
George just loved music, and that even if Olivia was singing .. and she stressed she doesn’t sing, that George would immediately play along with whatever instrument he had on hand. She noted how George loved a crowd of friends around him, but Olivia said as she was a ‘lonely’ Taurus, she didn’t mind being alone.
George didn’t listen to much, if any contemporary music, Olivia listed a lot of what he liked, including the Bulgarian women’s choir.
When asked about Dhani she said he was a chip off the old block, absolutely like George in what he loves, enjoys, what makes him angry and upset.
Olivia was asked if she had a favourite song and she said she had many but couldn’t single one out, she stated that Run of the mill was important to her, and that George loved that song and how the lyrics were very spiritual. She recited the first verse and explained how it described reaching for a higher consciousness ‘How high will you leap?’.
Discussing the concert, Olivia explained that the Concert For George was never going to be filmed, and that it took Brian and Eric to convince her that it wouldn’t be fair on the fans who couldn’t be there. Olivia originally wanted this to be the public memorial, as a private family one had been held that summer, Olivia’s reticence in filming the concert came from Georges dislike of concert films and filming them, that the lights and cameras put the artist off and distracted them, but after finding cameras that wouldn’t be intrusive she decided to go ahead and film it.
Olivia talked about the difficulty in editing the film, as she had to listen repeatedly to Georges words, sometimes just one phrase over and over in the editing suite. She explained it was very emotional, but she came to hear those words as a message to her, ‘Beware of darkness’ ‘Beware of sadness’.
When she first met George she didnt know what George was talking about half the time, he was always quoting Python or ‘The Producers’. He used to say to Olivia ‘Ah my little Swedish bombshell’ which she explained she obviously didn’t look Swedish, but it was a line from the movie The Producers.
I’m certain there is much I have left out, all up Olivia spoke for about half an hour, which was fantastic and much more than any of us expected. Spotted in the audience were Australian singer and composer John English, founder of OZ magazine Richard Neville and artist Martin Sharp.
Next the head of Warner Brothers Australia was introduced to present Olivia with a ‘Gold disc’ display to acknowledge the massive sales of the Concert dvd in Australia. He made a little speech in which he mentioned years ago while George was in Australia, he decided to just drop in and say hello to the Warners staff. George being George he didn’t call or anything beforehand, he just dropped in, the girl at reception was about 18 years old and asked George who he was, this had Olivia laughing and you could see she loves hearing George stories as much as the next person. George told the girl his name, then she said ‘and what do you do?’. Olivia was really happy about receiving this award and instantly pulled out her mobile phone camera to take a photo, which she was heard to say she was sending to Dhani.
The head of the Variety club in Australia which is a childrens charity, was next to speak. He gave a little history on Variety and then Olivia presented him with a fantastic framed photo of George which is one of twenty that was signed by everyone who performed at the Concert for George, this photo is to be auctioned at the following address http://www.lgm.com.au/auction/onlineauction/details.asp?itemID=13471
When Olivia was standing next to the autographed poster of George, she remarked that everyone had signed it including Paul, Jim Capaldi and Klaus, all except George. There was a very real moment, just for a second, where hearing Olivia say that, and seeing her face when she said it, the impact of Georges loss really hit home.
Olivia sat back down and gave a little background on the Material world charitable foundation, how sometimes it has a lot of money and sometimes not so much. I was impressed that Olivia mentioned helping individuals through the foundation.
That pretty much wrapped up the formal part of the evening, all the people who had been on stage and had made a speech decided to get a group photo with Olivia, they looked around for someone to take the photos, and spotting me standing in front of them David asked me if I could take the photos. They handed me the camera and I got them to squeeze in a little, and asked Olivia to look ahead and smile. That done, David told me myself and Jo could have a photo with Olivia for taking the happy snaps.
Olivia continued on signing books as more people purchased them, again all the while relaxed and happy. Once everyone ‘s books were signed it was getting close to 9.00pm, Olivia stepped down from the small podium and casually chatted to some friends. Olivia mentioned that she was a lot more comfortable doing these things in Australia than overseas, even I was amazed at how relaxed the whole evening was, with everyone being really respectful of Olivia’s space, all who wanted to meet her had the chance, and most were happy to mingle and chat over a few drinks.
Olivia moved over to the framed photo of George to pose for a few photographs, seeing I was struggling with my camera for a second, David asked if Olivia could hold for one more photo as I snapped away. Olivia spotted some artwork a friend of a fan had done of George, she called the fan over to chat about the drawings, which made him pretty happy. He asked if I could take a photo of him with Olivia and Olivia was happy with this, so I got off a couple of snaps.
The night held one last surprise for us, as I handed the camera back to the fan I asked Olivia if myself and Joanna could have a photo with her, I explained I’d been taking photos for everyone else this evening but hadn’t got one myself, again Olivia was happy to do this saying it was because Joanna had such a beautiful smile. As I leant forward to give my camera to someone to take the photo, Olivia spotted the pin on my lapel and asked Jo what it was I was wearing, Jo explained it was my ‘George Harrison’ Cloud 9 pin from Dark horse records. We got our photo and thanked Olivia very much, by now it was 9.00pm and before long Olivia left to go to dinner.
It really was a fantastic night, much more than I imagined it would be, my lasting impression of Olivia will be, that she was, and is, very pretty, really kind, gentle, genuine, and strangely enough very strong.