In part one of our interview with Louise Harrison, she discussed her new book My Kid Brother’s Band… a.k.a. The Beatles and told stories of her firsthand experiences with Beatlemania. Today, Louise talks more about her book and her parents’ influence on the Harrison children, fills us in on some of her current projects, and explains how the “Harrison Hug” has traveled around the world.
REBEAT: George’s Concert for Bangladesh became a family affair, with you, your dad, and your brothers all taking part. How did everyone become involved?
LH: My mum had died in 1970 and so at that point, dad started accompanying George on a lot of things he was doing. It just worked out very well. Dad was a very calm person, you’d never see him lose it — he could do about 25 things at once without getting upset or angry. So his calmness and strength was great for George, especially when he was doing things like the Bangladesh concert. Because nobody had ever done anything like that before, let alone him not doing it before, and so he needed Dad’s strength.
George seemed like he was a pretty strong person himself. In the book, you give credit for that to your parents.
That’s right. Worldwide, he had so much respect from people for the kind of person that he was. I thought it’s only fair that my parents get the honor due to them for having raised us the way they did.
Another unexpected thing George inherited from your parents was his spiritual beliefs, though they were expressed quite differently once George found his own religious path. But how were they similar?
I remember George giving us an example one, very similar to what dad would say. He’d talk about the Creator being a “massive, intelligent energy,” and that each of us had a drop of that energy, and that that’s what made the soul that was within all of us. It was the life force within us. That was very much part of what he got into later.
And George’s Indian music influences may have actually come from your parents too?
[Laughs] Yeah. Mum used to listen to the Sunday morning program from Air India on the BBC — all the sitar music and that kind of stuff — and she really loved it. She would go dancing around the kitchen pretending she was an Indian dancer. And this was partially during the time she was pregnant with George, so that was probably the first time he started hearing the music!
Shortly after your brother’s death, you began a new project, a Beatles tribute band called Liverpool Legends. How did that happen?
I met Marty Scott [“George” in Liverpool Legends] about six weeks after George died. Marty became my brother for all intents and purposes when I first met him. In fact, his parents are about 10 years younger than me but I still call them Mum and Dad! And so we started a band. Marty said, “That way, you’ll have an income.”
How do you like your career as a band manager?
It’s great. What better job could you have? We just did a show up at the Mayo Clinic, a show they put on for a thousand of their retirees. So they invited our band to come and play Beatle music for them. I joked with them before the show, “Hey, any Beatle People here?” and they all shouted out yes. And I said, “Good, because I’m the Mum of the Beatle family, so say hello to your mum!” So they all said, “Hello, Mum!” Then I said to them, “You may all be retirees, but by the time you finish this evening, you’ll all be 16 years old again.”
But Liverpool Legends also has greater purpose.
Yes — a new organization called “Help Keep Music Alive.” Music directors from high schools get in touch with us, and as long as they have an auditorium that will hold about 700 people, we send them the charts of our music. The students learn the music and we come along and do the concert. We’re just about to become a nonprofit so we can begin to raise money for schools. If we can get some donations, that will make our efforts a lot more worthwhile.
What is the “Harrison Hug”?
It started when one time George gave me a hug and he said, “Pass it on.” And so after he died I started to hug people and say, “This is from George, and he wanted me to pass it on.” And so they did.
How far has the “Harrison Hug” spread?
I’ve had emails and texts from all over the world. One lady texted me and said she’s given her “Harrison Hug” to people in 17 different countries. And another from Argentina said she got her “Harrison Hug” as a birthday present from someone who had gotten the hug from me in Cleveland in 2003. So it’s definitely circulating. In fact, I’m thinking, now that I’ve got Facebook and Twitter, I should start a page where people can let me know who got a “Harrison Hug” and who they passed it on to.
I’m sure you’ll be giving a lot of “Harrison Hugs” at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans this month.
I’m sure I will! I joke and I keep saying if I keep on hugging like this I’m going to be flat chested!
My Kid Brother’s Band isn’t only about George; it’s very much a memoir of your own life. You’re very candid with some of your personal struggles — marriage, finances, and living through World War II, among others — and how you’ve been able to come through those issues. What’s the secret?
We were being bombed every night, and the next day, maybe three or four friends weren’t there anymore. Each day we would go to the town hall and read the casualty lists. But we developed an attitude about that. You’d read the casualty list and the joke became, “I’m not on it so I guess I’ll have to go to work after all.” So we put humor into everything. And as long as you can laugh about things, you can weather those storms. And another thing Dad used to say was, “Somebody kicks you in the teeth or knocks you down, get back up again.” You don’t let them see that they hurt you.
You’re quite outspoken about your political beliefs throughout the book. Why is that such an important part your story?
There again, that was all part of my dad quoting, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” I can’t be true to anybody else, so I might as well say what I think. I’m not running for office so I don’t have to court the voters or get billionaires to back me up, so what the heck?
We’ve had such terrible things going on in the news — that horrific shooting in Charleston and various other things — and I realized that in my book I address an awful lot of topics that come up in the news. I address segregation and racial relations, prohibition, pesticide use on the planet, and a whole lot of other topics.
You’ve also used the book as an opportunity to clear up some rumors about you that have surfaced in the press. What was it like to open up about those issues?
It was very stressful to do that. Especially with the kind of life I’ve had and the kind of parents, where everything is so upfront and honest, when you tell everybody the absolute honest truth about everything. And then to have people making up stories about you, especially with all the effort I put in trying to get my kid brother started in the first place over here, to have people say that I’m exploiting him. Not only is that ridiculous, but it’s very, very hurtful. Those kind of things were very tough, but I tried to be very matter-of-fact about it, and explain, “No, I’ve never had a bed and breakfast, and I wouldn’t want to be making other people’s bed and breakfast every day anyway!”
I think there are still people to whom it was a godsend because they were able to blacken me without blackening themselves. So it worked very well for some people out there to be able to discredit me in as many ways as they could. But I’ll survive. As I said to one person, “I’m only broke, I’m not broken.” One of the life lessons I’ve learned is that there’s nothing quite as valuable as having good friends. That far outweighs all the gold bullion in the world, to have some good friends.
I’m sure you have lots of friends, especially in the Beatle fan community.
One of the things that Mum and Dad always said was to give back the love. And one of the other things they said was, “The more love you give out, the more you get back.”
Sounds like something a band I know once said…
Louise Harrison will be signing her new book and giving out “Harrison Hugs” this month at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, August 14–16, 2015. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and visit Liverpool Legends online.