Thursday, 7 October 2010

Billy Preston at the Beeb

Most Beatles fans are familiar with the story of how George Harrison invited the R&B keyboardist Billy Preston to join the group for the final days of their troubled January 1969 sessions - the results being audible on the 'Get Back' single and visible in the Let It Be movie.

I knew that Preston was in the country as a featured sideman in Ray Charles' band; and that his relationship with the Beatles went back to Hamburg in 1962. But what I didn't realise until last week was that on the same day he finished his duties with the Beatles (31 January 1969), Billy starred in his own BBC-TV concert special. It was filmed at the Talk Of The Town in London, with the assistance of the Johnny Pearson Orchestra, and featuring nothing but Preston for 40 minutes. At a time when TV coverage of 'pop' rarely extended beyond Top Of The Pops and light-entertainment series starring Cilla Black and Cliff Richard, this was an unusual honour indeed.

Which begs the question of why. It certainly wasn't because of his connection with the Beatles, as the booking was made before he ever showed up at Apple. But it could have something to do with the fact that, as an instrumentalist, Billy was a cult hero on the Mod scene, mostly for his 1966 single 'Billy's Bag'. He'd even released two albums in the UK before he joined Apple, the deliciously titled The Most Exciting Organ Ever and The Wildest Organ In Town.

It was only when he signed to Apple and released 'That's The Way God Planned It' that his talents as a vocalist became apparent to the general public. And that's the perfect cue to dig out the DVD of The Concert For Bangla Desh, and relive four of the most exciting minutes in the history of live performance.

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