In the late '60s, George Harrison purchased Friar Park, the sprawling estate on which he lived until he died in 2001. It had been built in the 19th century by a lawyer and political advisor by the name of Sir Francis Crisp. Crisp was clearly an eccentric, evidenced by the bizarre amusement land he built for himself. Friar Park includes a huge gothic mansion, surrounded by acres of land containing a maze of man-made underground caves, each with its own theme, connected by an underground lake. Also to be found there: a model of the Alps; a lake with stepping stones just at the surface that give one the appearance of walking on water; and a vast garden with thousands upon thousands of different species of plants. Both the house and garden apparently feature dozens of plaques inscribed with cryptic verse by Sir Francis himself.
Harrison became deeply engrossed in the house, its history, and, of course, Sir Francis Crisp. The former Beatles' first solo effort, the triple-album tour de force All Things Must Pass, was a collection of the backlogged songs culled from his years with the Beatles and included a song called "The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)." The song is not so much the story of Friar Park or Francis Crisp as it is a song for the house: a love song from George to his estate. It simply references many of the features of Friar Park, quotes the inscriptions from Sir Francis, and relates to the listener Harrison's feelings about this house by taking you on a tour of the grounds. You see what he might on any ordinary day. Like no other Harrison song, "The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp" offers a glimpse of the true George Harrison -- at once mystical, humorous, solitary, playful, and serious. He may have written other songs that are more frequently sited as personal or biographical, but these songs, such as "Not Guilty" or "Wah-Wah," are most often against the backdrop of the Beatles' saga. Still others ("My Sweet Lord," "Hear Me Lord," "Bangladesh") are about a specific interest or aspect of his personality (i.e., his spirituality) that he intentionally expressed. "The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp" is simply an unselfconscious account of something that he was quite taken with. It thereby becomes a reflection of his personality. The melody of the song is darkly beautiful, so one imagines Friar Park as such, and it's not difficult to see George Harrison in the same manner. Phil Spector's lush production, of course, only enhances this effect, shrouding the whole tale in a reverb-induced haze. It is worth noting that the cover of All Things Must Pass shows Harrison at Friar Park, sitting among some of the many gnome statues that populate the grounds.