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Music For Montserrat was a concert held on 15 September 1997 at the Royal Albert Hall. Musicians came together to raise funds for the Caribbean island of Montserrat after a major volcanic eruption by the Soufrière Hills volcano earlier that year left the island, including its capital of Plymouth, devastated. The concert starred musicians such as Phil Collins, Ray Cooper, Carl Perkins, Jimmy Buffett, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Midge Ure, Arrow and many more, all of whom had once recorded at the island’s famous AIR Studios. A DVD was released with the most famous songs from the concert, such as Your Song, Layla, Brothers In Arms, Blue Suede Shoes, Yesterday, Hey Jude, and Message In A Bottle.
The concert was arranged and produced by George Martin; proceeds from the show and DVD were used for immediate relief and also helped fund the building of a new cultural centre in Montserrat. On its completion in 2006, George Martin gifted the centre to the islanders.
For Carl Perkins, this was his last major live performance; he died just over four months later on 19 January 1998.
From Club Sandwich N°84, Winter 1997:
One of the most common things said at a funeral is “why didn’t we all meet up, and tell him how much we cared, before he died?” And one of the comments most frequently uttered at a star-packed rock charity concert is “What a pity that such a tragedy had to occur first”.
Think about it. The Concert For Bangla Desh was organised to draw attention to, and raise money for, the millions of starving people in that country. Live Aid, ditto for Ethiopia. The Nelson Mandela concert was arranged to urge the release from jail of one of the world’s great leaders. And now, in 1997, Music For Montserrat – organised to provide some financial salve to the residents of that beautiful Caribbean isle whose homes and lives have been ruined by volcanic eruptions.
Don’t get me wrong. Whenever there’s a serious problem it’s always rock and roll stars who stand up to be counted, who show the way, whose compassion and generosity inspires the rest of us. Government ministers, typically, are the last to put their hands in their pockets. It’s just a pity, is it not, that some of the greatest events in the history of rock music are so closely allied to tragedies. Perhaps one day there’ll be a Live Aid II to celebrate mankind’s achievements rather than compensate for its embarrassments. Unlikely, though.
That such great rock shows follow catastrophes is a pity in one other respect too: it casts a shadow over the concerts, tingeing the excitement with a sad hue. Music For Montserrat, a rock show of stupendous proportions that took place in London, at the Royal Albert Hall, on 15 September 1997, was a brilliant event but for the sadness of its cause.
All of the players were there for a reason: a connection with Montserrat. The first performer, Arrow, is one of the island’s principal musicians, a fine exponent of soca music (a blend of soul and calypso). The others were on the bill because they had worked at George Martin’s AIR recording studio on the island, a thriving operation from 1979 to 1989, when it was forced to close in the wake of another natural disaster to hit Montserrat, Hurricane Hugo. Our old friend Carl Perkins (who worked there with Paul on Tug Of War), Midge Ure, Jimmy Buffett, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Paul McCartney himself were all on the bill.
It was a truly remarkable line-up and a great show, and every musician not only worked for free but paid all his own expenses. George Martin graced the evening, too. Having worked tirelessly for some weeks to stage the concert, organising its every detail and publicising the event in the media, George was, as ever, the essence of humility and kindliness as he took to the stage at the beginning of and then throughout the concert, receiving a standing ovation from the audience. Declaring himself “very fond of that little island and its people”, George spoke of its anguish but of the “immediate and very positive response” given to him by the rock stars when he put to them the idea of a benefit concert.
With every possible respect to the incredible talent on view, the audience reaction that greeted Paul McCartney’s arrival on stage indicated that most people had come to see him. Introducing Paul on stage, George Martin recalled, “I met him when he was 20 years old and I was 36. And he grew into one of the greatest songwriters we have ever known. And he’s now a knight of the realm, and still my buddy, pal and mate.”
Noting that the last time he performed on stage at the Royal Albert Hall was 34 years ago to the day, 15 September 1963, Paul remarked to the audience “I didn’t plan it that way!”. Then, causing a tremor of excitement in the old venue, he launched into ‘Yesterday’. When you’ve written scores of hits and hundreds of great songs it must be difficult to choose just three to sing on any one occasion, but ‘Yesterday’ seems to select itself. Paul stood centre-stage, his acoustic guitar slung across his chest, and performed what has to be his best known song. The audience, naturally, were ecstatic.
But what followed was perhaps even more special. As the stage filled with returning star players, as well as an orchestra conducted by George Martin and 40 piece gospel choir, Paul moved to the piano and picked out the opening notes that signalled the sublime ‘Golden Slumbers’ medley from Abbey Road. As the piece sped onward, through ‘Carry That Weight’ and into ‘The End’, and Phil Collins revelled in being able to perform Ringo’s famous drum solo, Paul returned centre-stage to pick up the lead guitar and perform the fabulous sparring section with Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. The effect sent the audience wild, and screaming for more when everyone left the stage.
The concert, however, was not over, and the players returned to cram the stage for a two-song encore: a stunning version of ‘Hey Jude’, with Paul stepping back to let Elton and Sting sing some of the verses, and then, a real surprise: a blast through ‘Kansas City’/’Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!’, in which Paul stood at the microphone, without an instrument, and rocked out. And he still has that voice.
“It’s exciting to play together,” Paul declared in a TV interview for the concert, speaking of Eric, Elton, Mark, Phil, Sting and others. “I’ve seen the guys in the corridors at recording studios, and maybe if you play a festival you might cross as you go offstage and they go on, but we’ve never actually worked together. We’ve had cups of tea together but we’ve never done much more than that.”
The Music For Montserrat concert fixed this situation, and went some way to remedying the plight of the Montserratian people, who have seen their homes and livelihoods devastated by the volcanic eruptions. “Better than Live Aid,” remarked the reviewer from Mojo magazine. It was, indeed, a perfect example of how rock stars can take a sad song and make it better.
I am delighted that we look set to raise so much money for the long-suffering people of Montserrat. I am very grateful to all the wonderful musicians who will perform in the concert. I’m going to Montserrat in the next few weeks to see for myself where the money raised should be spent to the best effect.George Martin
Last updated on July 6, 2020
Setlist for the concert
Start with a duet on piano with Elton John, and joined on stage by Sting, Midge Ure, Carl Perkins and others.
Album Available on Run Devil Run - Ultimate Archive Collection
Album Available on Live Archives Vol. 2 (1990-1997)
Album Available on Complete Flaming Pie - Sessions & Beyond (1997-1998)
Album Available on Run Devil Run - Ultimate Archive Collection