We’re in the back room of The Nelson with Alex Eberhard, who started ‘The All Things Must Pass Orchestra’ project two years ago with the aim of playing the music of George Harrison live. He recruited nine other musicians including trombonist Paul Nieman, whose connection with GH will be revealed later. Alex’s links to George go way back.
“I am Austrian, born in the small village of Burgau in the south-eastern part of the country, where I lived until I was 20. When I was about 13, my grandmother gave me my very first guitar which had a George Harrison sticker on it. I’ve still got that guitar. I pretty soon got a band together and we did some Beatles covers but a lot of George’s music was a bit too complicated for me to play when I started.
“I really got into George Harrison’s first solo ‘All Things Must Pass’. In 1981, when George released the track ‘All Those Years Ago’- his tribute to John Lennon who had been killed the year before – I sent the only fan letter I ever sent to a rock star asking if he would be kind enough to tell me what chords he used in that song. I never got a reply.
“When I was 16, I studied drums with a private teacher for two years, which prepared me for admission to a music university in Graz. Over an eight or nine year period, I first studied classical percussion, gained a teaching degree and did a Master’s degree; then studied jazz drums and classical guitar.
“My main teacher for many years was the Principal Timpanist for the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra. On occasions, when they needed more percussionists, they employed students and I got to play with them. That taught me that this is not the path I want to go down. When you’re a percussionist you play some simple strokes and then you sit there for ages counting bars and rests. It’s not very satisfying.
“During this period I had been teaching privately on the side and when I left I gained a proper official job as a full-time guitar and drum teacher, which I could have carried on until retirement but I was frustrated because there weren’t any gigs as a jazz drummer.
“So in 2002, I came to England and I was fortunate enough to get into the resident jazz band at The Lion and Lobster here in Brighton and I played with them twice a week. The band is still going and I think they’re celebrating 15 years this year. That’s how I met a lot of musicians that I’m still working with today.
“The idea for doing this project came after I watched clips of ‘The Concert for George’ at the Albert Hall in 2002 and I thought what a huge sound. I realised I would need a 10-piece band to reproduce that. I wanted to celebrate his music without being a Beatles’ tribute band. None of us are trying to look like George Harrison.”
Paul, a longtime jazz trombonist and Brighton resident, has his own interesting GH connection: he actually played on several tracks on ‘All Things Must Pass’.
“The funny thing is I’m shockingly hazy about the details,” he says. “I was either hired by someone who booked London session musicians at the time or by one of the players themselves. As I recall there were nine brass players. We were in Abbey Road studios with the producer Phil Spector but George wasn’t there. The track already existed in part so there was enough for us to play to but it was incomplete. They were fairly simple lines. I don’t think we were given music. Instead Phil Spector sang the lines that he wanted us to play. We were mainly all playing in unison and I do recall thinking it wasn’t a very economical use of nine brass players. Most of the time was actually spent waiting, drinking cups of tea, with nothing to do. Phil Spector was striking and the thing I remember most about him was his multicoloured glasses, split into a rainbow of about three or four colours.”