It’s pretty bizarre. Every time I come across someone who worked at Abbey Road in the 1960s or in the film industry in the 1980s, or journalists who’ve trod this beat longer than I, I often ask for the name of the person who’s impressed them the most. These are people from all walks of life, but one person always gets mentioned. It’s uncanny. It’s George Harrison.
Olivia Harrison, George’s widow who has been working with their son Dhani to release the former Beatle’s first six solo albums, all lovingly remastered and presented as 'The Apple Years' boxset, chuckles when I tell her this, and tries to shed some light on the phenomenon.
“He had this way of looking at you that made you feel you were without limitations,” she tries to explain. “It just went straight to your heart.
“Once you’d been with him, he had this way of making you want to bring out a truer version of yourself, unlocking something.
“It was profound and electrifying, and it can still bring prickles to the back of my neck.”
By the time Olivia met George in 1974, the Beatles had long split, but he was busier than ever, having almost finished completing a mammoth six albums in seven years.
“He was working non-stop,” remembers Olivia. “His life was changing.”
This tireless one-man production machine seems at odds with the famously laid-back, spiritual side of George that he increasingly embraced. According to Olivia, it was a dichotomy he acknowledged himself.
“He used to tell me, ‘I’m a Pisces,’” she reveals. “He really did struggle. The Beatles used to work all night long, and I don’t think that great work ethic ever deserted any of them.
“But he tried to incorporate the inner life, too, into whatever he did. He conducted himself with a great consciousness…” she laughs,”even when he was behaving badly, he would do it with a great awareness.” She smiles broadly. “You’ve got to love him.”
(I’m reminded of that wonderful moment in Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison ‘Living in a Material World’ when a very warm Olivia explains how you stay married to such a will o’ the wisp spirit. She says, “You don’t get divorced.”)
It’s clear that Olivia’s love for her husband is undimmed, and I wonder what it’s been like for her and Dhani, going back over the old tracks, listening to them in the studios at their Henley home, Friar Park, where George himself made so much music in the grounds he happily tended?
“This summer’s been beautiful,” she replies. “Dhani’s been in the studio, scoring a film there, and it’s been just like the old days, people coming and going, music drifting outside. It’s been lovely.”
For Dhani, who resembles George strongly, it must be a complicated legacy of stepping in similar professional footsteps to those of his feted father, but Olivia’s convinced Dhani’s managed to find his own way.
“I can’t think of any rebellion he had,” she ponders now. “George never held anything back, even when Dhani was really young, so they were very close, and Dhani had a clear understanding. Some of the things George told him, it was almost like he knew he might not be around later on, so he had to tell him then.
“So yes, it’s difficult to make your own way, but that’s what it was, and Dhani loved that guy, they were very close.”
Olivia could equally be talking about herself, and she remains generous in sharing her husband with the legions of fans who remain inspired by him, his work and his way of looking at the world. Where does she go when she wants a bit of him to herself?
“I probably head to a tree in the garden, or something like that, that we made together,” she says. “But there’s nothing mysterious about George.
“No matter how much I shared, there would still be a whole universe not expressed. He made so much time for people, so if they can be a little bit inspired by him, or with this music again, who am I to stop that?”
'George Harrison: The Apple Years 1968-75' are available individually and in a box set with exclusive DVD and book. They are George's first six albums remastered from analogue for CD and digital release. The albums are 'Wonderwall Music', 'Electronic Sound', 'All Things Must Pass', 'Living in the Material World', 'Dark Horse' and 'Extra Texture (Read All About It)'.