SHOW PEOPLE / Something in the way he sits: 35. George Harrison

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The Independent Culture
U2 WERE more ambitious; Prince had better dance steps; Springsteen expended more sweat. But no concert I have been to this year was more fun than the one at the Albert Hall on 6 April, when the Natural Law Party proudly presented, for one night only, Mr George Harrison.

It was fun because it was spontaneous: not just another stop on a trudge around the world. Announced on a Thursday, the show took place on the Monday and was widely forgotten by the next Thursday, when an ex-Beatle's influence on the electorate was there for all not to see.

For those who missed the show, there is now a live double album, recorded in Japan last year but featuring the same songs and the same band, plus Eric Clapton. The live double is an unloved genre, but this is one of the better ones. There are six great tracks ('Something', 'Taxman', 'Give Me Love', 'My Sweet Lord', 'Here Comes the Sun', and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'), some fine playing, and some nice rough edges.

So the only Beatle to have a second career - as a producer of interesting low-budget films like Mona Lisa and The Long Good Friday - is back being a pop star. Or is he? What is his job description these days? 'I don't know. I don't see it as a job. My job is pleasure, and everything to do with living is a job. That's why I got in a band in the first place - 'cause I didn't want a proper job.'

One of the things George is famous for is having mixed feelings about touring. When the Beatles gave up playing live in 1966, it was said to be his idea. He was 23. He went back on the road later, but not for long, and not in Britain. 'For a long time I had this feeling that they weren't really into my music, the British. But that's kind of because I had a lot of lousy press, and I just presumed the press were speaking for the public, and I made a Terrible Error. And so it was really good when I went out there - it showed me something about the audience.'

He too enjoyed the spontaneity of it, which of course is a hard thing to recapture. 'I would like to do some more dates, but I'm having trouble deciding when and how. I don't know if I can be bothered booking myself out that far in advance. It becomes such an ordeal, it's like Operation Desert Storm or something. It's very expensive. I mean, that show at the Albert Hall - I read in a couple of reports that I did it to raise money for this party, but that wasn't the case. It actually cost about pounds 70,000. So that's why once they get tours started, they just let 'em go as long as they can.'

The tour, when it comes, will be an oddity: it won't be plugging an album. Nearly five years after his last set of new material, apart from the throwaway stuff he does with the Traveling Wilburys, he is neither making a record nor planning one. 'I want to try and decide whether to tour first. I've been around so long, people like to hear the old songs anyway. But there's always new songs going through the back of my brain.'

The day we met, Sgt Pepper was back in the Top 10, on the strength of the 25th- anniversary South Bank Show. 'Is that right? I heard it was heading up there. Well, that's good, there's always room for something like that, something historical.

'I don't particularly think that Sgt Pepper was the best Beatle record. Personally I preferred Rubber Soul and Revolver and Abbey Road. But I liked the cover, and I did like a couple of the tracks.' How much did he have to do with it? 'I can't remember, really. I can't remember doing much. I was there, though, sitting in Abbey Road Studios for most of my life.'

He says this, as he says most things, evenly, perched on the edge of the hotel sofa, very still, looking me in the eye. He meditates daily, and looks good on it. Of the people who changed the world 25 years ago, he may be the one who has stayed closest to the old ideals. 'I'm not cynical about it 'cause I know it works.'

But now, finally, there are signs of creeping conservatism. He describes today's dance music as 'a lot of bullshit', done by 'people who aren't even musicians'. (Haven't we heard that somewhere before?) 'It's part of the times, like those horrible hamburgers - just something that somebody can chuck up with the easiest effort and throw out at people who aren't really interested in anything anyway and just want to fill a hole. It's like life these days.'

This blast is followed by two more: against the Government, for not encouraging people to beat stress with meditation, and against Q magazine, for dismissing him on one page and eulogising Freddie Mercury on the next. On the first subject, he is unconversationally evangelical. On the second, he is unprintably reactionary. It doesn't seem to matter.

'Live in Japan' is released tomorrow (Dark Horse / Warner Bros 759926964).

(Photograph omitted)