The Bangladesh/UNICEF event
A Night to Remember
(pics & links within text)
On October 19, 2005, a gala screening was held celebrating the release of the CD and DVD "The Concert for Bangladesh Revisited w/ George Harrison and Friends." At the Steven J. Ross Theater on the Warner Bros. Studios lot, a long overdue occurence presented itself - the first meeting ever with all of the children of Badfinger's Pete Ham, Tom Evans, and Mike Gibbins together. Arriving as guests of Apple Corps., Olivia Harrison, and UNICEF were Petera Ham (daughter of Pete Ham and Anne Herriot), Stephen Evans (son of Tom Evans and Marianne Evans), Owen Gibbins (son of Mike Gibbins and Gaynor Gibbins) and David & Adam Gibbins (the two sons of Mike Gibbins and Ellie Gibbins). What made this reunion especially poignant for those who witnessed it was the knowledge of the very recent passing of Mike Gibbins. Ellie, Mike's wife, had said he had been so looking forward to this night. Undoubtedly, Mike would have been proud to see his family represent him so well. Ellie had brought her boys and Owen. She spoke of the importance of them further grasping the significant contributions their father had made to this historic event.
The original concert, held on August 1, 1971, is often considered the first true rock'n'roll benefit concert. The proceeds raised funds to help people in a less than fortunate situation by utilizing its profits toward a charitable cause, in this case, addressing the needs of refugees from the area known as Bangladesh, a devastatingly poor section formerly known as Eastern Pakistan. The two shows earned $250,000 from ticket sales and further profits came in from the ensuing soundtrack album, a single release and a worldwide-distributed feature film, "The Concert for Bangadesh." George Harrison had come up with the idea for the show after talking with his friend, Ravi Shankar who described his fellow countrymen's plight. George was the leader in organizing and gathering all concerned in their different roles to make this a realization and successful outcome. Badfinger had been invited to play acoustic guitars with Mike Gibbins on percussion. Pete Ham ended up with a duet spot with George on "Here Comes The Sun."
Since George Harrison's death on November 29, 2001, his wife, Olivia, and their son, Dhani, have worked hard to continue George's legacy. There have been CD reissues, box sets, and the fabulous concert/DVD "The Concert For George." Now, by re-releasing the soundtrack and film of "The Concert for Bangladesh", another one of George's dreams has been fulfilled.
This commorative event was high-class, not black-tie, but formal, with the finest hor'deurve's and drinks imaginable. It began with the traditional "red carpet" walk with many of the people from the original event coming through, some posing for pictures along the way: Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Joey Molland were some of the more significant entries. Also arriving were entertainment figures such as Angelica Huston, Tea Leoni, Eric Idle, Carey Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Barbara Bach, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and others from all spectrums of Apple, Warner Bros., other executive branches and production houses. There were lots of press, TV and radio people there capturing the event.
The throng gathered, either in the foyer of the Theater building, or went straight to their seats. I was at the event escorting Petera Ham, along with her boyfriend, Raymond Eddie. We had planned to arrive together with David Evans (Tom Evans brother) and Stephen Evans, but after I picked up the Evans duo from their hotel, I ended up sending both ahead in a cab, as Petera and Raymond needed more time to get ready. When the three of us arrived, I spotted David Evans in the Theater foyer. As I approached, I saw David talking with Joey Molland's wife, Kathie Molland. I was looking forward to introducing Petera to the Mollands, and hoped they would tell her some memories of her father, as they had not yet met her. I introduced myself to Kathie. I then turned and said "This Is Petera Ham, Pete's daughter." Kathie and Petera exchanged a greeting. And then Petera was immediately drawn into introductions with the Gibbins clan, who were right there.
Everyone was soon led into the theater. Our group was asked to go to a VIP section in front, based on our tickets. Some of us went to the front row; some of us a few rows back. Comedian Eric Idle and actress Tea Leoni came out onstage to do the initial send-off of the event, providing some amusing exchanges that had many laughing.
We all saw a fifty minute documentary about the original concert, which had been especially created for the DVD release. It was excellent, lots of interesting sound bites, and the reaction was positive - Billy Preston's performance getting an especially big ovation. Quite striking was that Mike Gibbins had a number of featured visual spots in the documentary. Ellie Gibbins was in tears after it ended. When the screening completed, a speaker from UNICEF first came forward. Afterwards, Olivia Harrison gave a brief speech, reminding us of the meaning of this event, relating some of its background, and speaking about George and their son, Dhani. Finally, she stated who was in attendance from the original concert, as they rose from their seats. She also announced a special new charitable foundation, which will be focused on helping children, The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
Our group were amongst the last ones to spill out onto the concourse, where live music had already started. The musicians performing included Dhani Harrison, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, and a few others. It was great to hear the strains of "Give Me Love"playing. We eventually settled into a central spot on the concourse outside, standing amongst movie sets, and all along I was introducing Petera to various people I spotted from the music and film industry. Most were very gracious, talking about her father, Pete Ham, and how happy they were to see her there.
As the music continued, and the waiters served drinks and hor'deurve's, people were milling about, talking and things were festive. Our main group was myself, the two Evans, the Gibbins clan, Petera Ham, Raymond Eddie, and Flemming Carlson. Each of us got into a great conversations with a lot of picture-taking and camera-swapping scenarios. At one point, we were joined in by George Harrison's son, Dhani, who really seemed to enjoy gravitating to the Badfinger kids, as he came back three different times, talked with everyone, laughed and posed for photos. Dhani was extremely engaging and upbeat. Someone had complimented the "Concert For George," for which Dhani played acoustic guitar accompaniment through a great bulk of the show, and he replied "I was just being Pete Ham. That was my Pete Ham impression," He proceeded to mimic the concentrated pose of Pete Ham strumming away, focusing on the perfect performance. We all laughed. He made us feel very relaxed.
Joey Molland did eventually make his way to our group, but he did not have a conversation with us, choosing instead to let off some steam. I was hoping he would take the opportunity to talk to Petera about her father. Apparently, he felt an expletive-filled rant directed at me for three or four minutes was more appropriate.
At one point further into the night, Olivia Harrison, made her way near our area. She was approached by some of our group. She was very kind and complimentary to everyone and spent some special time alone with Ellie Gibbins, consoling her about Mike. Neil Aspinall and Jonathan Clyde, executives at Apple Corps., were also very gracious. Mr. Clyde was particularly attentive and that was much appreciated by the younger set.
Our group stayed upbeat the entire evening. As it wound down, we became the very last to leave. There were a number of gift bags left which included the newly-released DVD, a CD, postcards, booklets, pamphlets, and even some candy. It was a magical night. I don't think the younger crowd wanted it to end. Petera and Stephen raved about the event throughout the week.
As it happened, from the day before until that Saturday following, Petera, Raymond, David, Stephen, and myself, enjoyed ourselves immensely, going around sight-seeing, hanging at rock'n'roll clubs, playing pool, browsing guitar shops, vintage-clothes shopping ,eating at fine restaurants, seeing great shows like The Blasters at The Viper Room, the Raspberries at The House Of Blues, getting a chuckle from the over-the-top Death Metal showcase at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, meeting up with the Bug Music staff at their offices, their treating us to a very nice lunch, having pictures taken for trade magazines... It was non-stop all week and a blast for each of us. A very relaxed and jovial time. The Gibbins family had to leave right after the Bangladesh event, but plans were talked about reuniting the kids in the future.
I was able to talk with Petera much more on this visit that in my other visits with her in London, Wales and Scotland. Our mutual love for kids became even more apparent. A lot of discussion was inspired because UNICEF and Olivia Harrison are big proponents for children. They have joined together to start this new foundation for their benefit. As it is, Petera and myself have both worked off-and-on for years helping kids. She has worked at special needs schools, doing after school care, talking with the kids. I, myself, have done a lot of teaching, coaching, playground/camp counseling, and mentoring of youngsters over the years. Most recently, I have been volunteer-teaching guitar at a home school which doesn't have the budget to pay for an additional teacher. I currently help with many of that school's field trips, music programs held at festivals, senior homes, churches. Annually, some friends and myself help organize a special summer swimming/fishing/picnic excursion for whichever kids want to come, along with one trip to a major amusement park. I look forward to it as much as the children.
I want to mention that Blair, Petera's step-brother, who was very close to Pete Ham, is a lovely gentleman who also works with children in the Social Work Services program in Glasgow, Scotland. Also, to note, Petera's boyfriend, Raymond Eddie is a wonderful down-to-earth chap. David Evans is a dear friend I've known for years now. My other guest at the event, Flemming Carlson, is a great guy who provided excellent company for us a number of times throughout the week.
One really striking thing that happened came when we were desperately driving around, searching for the entrance to The Observatory in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. The signs were leading to nowhere, as there was a renovation going on. Finally, we found the unmarked street entrance. We pulled up to a fenced-off area and saw a major construction site. As we got out of the cars to take pictures of a canyon view, right there was "The George Harrison Tree." We took pictures nearby, and as I took one of Petera, I was struck by the inscription commemorating George - "In memory of a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, as musician, and a gardener." These were very similar to traits which many people who knew Pete Ham described him as having, including his enormous love for nature, plants and animals. Pete was said to have also loved children, to be exceptional with them, and he, too, visited with kids at schools nearby the band's Golders Green residence.
For Petera, representing her father, seeing him on the big screen at the event, hearing the wonderfully kind and loving words that came from people who knew Pete, the words from many Badfinger fans she met at the shows we attended, the perspective of seeing other musicians her father's age performing, and fantasizing how it could have been him on those stages - all of these things had a great emotional effect on Petera, which I witnessed. To see her affected in such a way was very touching for myself. Petera and Stephen Evans bonded well, finding themselves much alike, having shared some similar life experiences, and I think a true friendship has begun. Stephen also said these evenings were amongst the best of his life.
All in all, it was a fantastic week. Each of us are very grateful to Apple, UNICEF, Emma Montanet, and the Harrison family for the invite to the event, which obviously branched out into a lot of great memories for these kids, who for so long have been back in shadows. I expect a lot more happier times in the years to come.
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