36 Years Ago: Beatles Stage Partial Reunion for Eric Clapton’s Wedding
She was the impetus for two of rock music’s most identifiable love songs in the Beatles‘ “Something” and Derek and the Dominoes‘ “Layla.” Pattie Boyd was also the catalyst for the first Beatles concert reunion.
On May 19, 1979, Boyd — ex-wife of George Harrison — married the former Beatle’s best friend Eric Clapton at his English estate. Harrison brought along Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr for what turned into an epic, though apparently musically questionable, wedding reception jam.
Also there on an outdoor stage at Clapton’s English estate (in the same garden, by the way, where Harrison wrote “Here Comes the Sun“) was the Rolling Stones‘ Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman, Elton John, David Bowie, members of Clapton’s band Cream and Denny Laine, from McCartney’s ’70s-era band Wings.
Boyd, an ex-model who’d appeared on the cover of Vogue, was married to Harrison from 1966-77 — having met him at age 19 during the filming of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. Their marriage bridged Harrison’s stint with the Beatles and the beginning of his solo career. By the turn of the ’70s, however, Clapton had fallen hopelessly in love with Boyd, sparking a torrent of emotions through his signature song on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
“With the realization that I had inspired such passion and creativity,” Boyd said in 2007, “the song got the better of me. I could resist no longer.”
By 1989, however, Clapton and Boyd were divorced, as well. Yet the improbable friendship between Clapton and Harrison — dating back to before their 1968 studio collaboration on the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — continued unabated.
“The first Christmas after I’d left him, in 1974, just as Eric and I were sitting down to lunch, George burst in, uninvited,” Boyd says in her autobiography. “He had some wine and Christmas pudding with us. I couldn’t believe how friendly he and Eric were towards each other.”
So, Harrison’s presence at his buddy’s wedding made its own offbeat sense. He reportedly joined McCartney and Starr for boozy renditions of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Get Back” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” according to Peter Doggett’s Beatles book You Never Give Me Your Money. Why John Lennon wasn’t there for their first performance since the Apple rooftop concert in January 30, 1969, remains unclear, other than the fact that he was the only one then living in America.
Laine called the loose proceedings “absolute rubbish,” yet this 1979 appearance remains an historical moment worth noting in Beatles history. It would be 1981 before Harrison, McCartney and Starr would convene again, recording a Lennon tribute called All Those Years Ago and gathering for another jam session after Starr’s wedding to actress Barbara Bach. The so-called Threetles completed a pair of Lennon tracks in the ’90s, as well.
Boyd has since worked as a writer for 16 magazine. Even now, she is inextricably linked with both Clapton and Harrison. She was, of course, also the spark for Harrison’s “I Need You” with the Beatles, and for Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.” More recently, Boyd has also mounted a traveling exhibit of her photos of Clapton and Harrison. Through the Eye of a Muse has been on display across the world, from London and Moscow to the U.S. and Australia.
Harrison and Clapton subsequently recorded together many times, and took part in a joint tour in the 1990s. Clapton then helped organize the multi-artist Concert for George, held on the first anniversary of Harrison’s death in November 2002.
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