Rajbun’s Story on YouTube
|The elusive “The Bunbury Tails” CD from 1992|
One of the rarest of George Harrison’s songs is “Ride Rajbun” from the 1992 CD (and cassette) “The Bunbury Tails”. Harrison co-wrote the song’s lyrics with Bunbury Tails creator David English. The eponymous Rajbun was a character in the animated television series, one of a team of cricket-playing rabbits – in this case, from Bangalore in India. Late last year, the series was uploaded on YouTube, something we just discovered. The episode entitled “Rajbun’s Story”, featuring the song can be found here. The song is only briefly heard in the background a couple of times.
The composition is in the style of a nursery rhyme or children’s song, while the all-Indian instrumentation on the recording recalls some of Harrison’s compositions for the Beatles during 1966–68.
Harrison recorded “Ride Rajbun” in March 1988, between the release of his successful comeback album, Cloud Nine, and his formation of the Traveling Wilburys. Harrison’s nine-year-old son Dhani and English accompanied him on the recording, as fellow vocalists, and Indian musician and composer Ravi Shankar provided the opening sitar part.
Having previously been averse to most team sports, George Harrison came to appreciate cricket while recording his 1987 comeback album, Cloud Nine, with fellow musicians Jeff Lynne and Elton John, both fans of the game. Author Ian Inglis suggests that Harrison’s involvement in The Bunbury Tails – a children’s animated TV series about a group of heroic, sports-playing rabbits – partly resulted from his friendship with Eric Clapton, another cricket fan and an occasional player for the Bunbury Cricket Club. The latter was a charity-fundraising team founded in 1986 by writer David English, whose Bunbury Tails cartoon books inspired the TV show. According to English, he suggested to Harrison that he contribute a song to the series while they were playing cricket in the grounds of Friar Park, Harrison’s home in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. English says he likened the “Bunburys” to Harrison’s idea for a semi-fictional band, the Traveling Wilburys, which Harrison would soon form with Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison.
Financed by the Bee Gees, production on The Bunburys Tails began in early 1988, although it would not air on British television until 1992. The series was directed by Bob Godfrey, who had worked on the Beatles’ 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. Harrison’s participation followed his work on various film soundtracks, particularly for releases by his company HandMade Films, during the five years preceding his return with Cloud Nine.
Harrison wrote the song “Ride Rajbun” about one of the show’s characters, Rajbun, a rabbit who originated from the Indian city of Bangalore. In English’s recollection, the night after he had made the request, Harrison called him at home in London and played the tune down the phone. The pair met the next day and co-wrote the song’s lyrics.
Musically, “Ride Rajbun” is in the style of what author Alan Clayson calls “George’s Indo-pop productions” for the Beatles, “Love You To” and “The Inner Light”, released in 1966 and 1968 respectively. The lyrics take the form of a traditional children’s song, author Simon Leng writes, with its refrain sung in rounds, similar to “London’s Burning”.
In the chorus, Harrison urges Rajbun to ride on his elephant Ellie, away from his home in India and embrace his destiny:
Ride Rajbun, ride Rajbun
Seek your fame and speak your fortune
Go on, Rajbun, ride your Ellie
Cross the mountains, through the valleys.
Harrison recorded “Ride Rajbun” in late March 1988, at his Friar Park studio, FPSHOT, and at an unnamed studio in London. The song was his first to feature only Indian instrumentation since “The Inner Light”, recorded in Bombay in January 1968. The sitar introduction to “Ride Rabjan” – or alap, in the Indian classical tradition – was performed by Ravi Shankar. It has been said that Harrison visited Shankar at the London hotel where the sitarist was staying and taped Shankar’s intro in his hotel room. Harrison otherwise played all the sitar parts on the song. As with Harrison’s appearance on “Friar Park”, a track on Shankar’s album Tana Mana (1987), “Ride Rajbun” marked a rare collaboration between the two musicians in the years since their joint North American tour at the end of 1974.
Harrison sang the choruses with his son Dhani, and English (in the role of Katman) provided what Leng calls a “cameo vocal” part. According to author Bill Harry, Ray Cooper played percussion on the track; in English’s description, all the other contributors were “top Indian musicians”, none of whom are credited by name. Besides sitar, the Indian instruments on the recording include tabla, shehnai and bansuri (flute). From writing the song to the finished recording, work on “Ride Rajbun” lasted for four days. Harrison then left for Los Angeles, a trip that resulted in the formation of the Traveling Wilburys.
After the television show was broadcast in 1992, on Britain’s Channel 4 network, Polydor Records included the song on its soundtrack album from the series. The UK-only album was released on 5 October that year, on the same day that Harrison joined guitarist Gary Moore on stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall. While Harrison made a number of concert appearances throughout 1992, this period marked the end of his successful return to full-time music-making, after Cloud Nine and two albums with the Traveling Wilburys. Although he would continue to record privately as a solo artist, “Ride Rajbun” was the last new Harrison song to be commercially released until “Horse to the Water” in 2001.
|VHS Video cassette|
The “Rajbun’s Story” episode was included on the home video of the series. With the Bunbury Tails album and video only available in the UK for a short time, “Ride Rajbun” has become one of Harrison’s rarest recordings. At the time of writing, a copy of the original 1992 CD is available on ebay, at a “buy-it-now” price of US $279.50.