The traditional touring cycle is not for Ringo Starr. Not for him is hawking his latest album in a series of earnest shows, even if it (‘Give More Love‘) was only released last year. It’s not that, as a drummer, he’d struggle to do a set entirely of his own songs because, to date, he’s released 19 of his own studio albums. He just does as he damn well pleases – he was in The Beatles after all.
Instead, since 1989, he’s been enlisting groups of famous mates to join his All-Starr Band and travel the world playing a selection of his and his most famous mates’ hits, and the songs of whoever’s on stage with him that night. Bruce Springsteen, Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh, and John Entwistle have all done it, either as one-night guests or more permanent fixtures and, tonight, his latest troupe join him on stage at New York’s iconic Radio City Music Hall. Amongst them are Toto’s Steve Lukather, Men At Work’s Colin Hay, Santana’s Gregg Rolie, 10cc’s Graham Gouldman and more.
“Man, I’m excited,” Ringo says after kicking off with a cover of Carl Perkins’ ‘Matchbox’ and a version of his 1971 track ‘It Don’t Come Easy’. He revels in seeing his face on numerous t-shirts in the front rows of the crowd, calling out people with a cheerful “I see you, brother” or a chuckled compliment. When someone screams “I love you, Ringo” – and it happens often – he’ll flash a broad, beaming grin and respond in kind. The whole time he throws up enough peace signs that if you were playing a Ringo-themed drinking game, you’d be wasted by the third song.
That third song is the first Beatles track of the night. “There was only ever one song written by Lennon, McCartney, and Starkey,” he says introducing it. “I know, I know – it should have been the other way.” ‘Rubber Soul”s ‘What Goes On’ follows, Ringo swaying and dancing around a small patch of centre stage. Once it’s over, he darts up to the vacant drum kit behind him and turns things over to the band, “all stars in their own right”.
There are mixed results once the spotlight is shifted off the Beatle. 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ goes down about as well as you’d expect a song that references cricket to go down in America, a country that has made a national sport out of a flashier version of rounders but still can’t fathom wickets and leg-spin. Men At Work’s ‘Down Under’, however, is a hit, with people of all ages up on their feet.
Still sat behind the kit, Ringo pulls a microphone towards him. “I’m going to do a song I did with that other band I was in,” he teases. “I did it with that other band you’re thinking of and I did it with Rory [Storm and the Hurricanes] and every All-Starr Band since cos I love it. As he sings and drums along to The Shirelles’ ‘Boys’ his head swings and jerks in that classic Ringo way, like a nodding dog if it’d been made with the rhythm of ’60s girl-group pop in mind.
The night is made up of silly fun as well as a lot of wedding disco classics intermingling with Beatles tunes. The All-Starr leader darts between pop icon and comedian, settling into each role in seconds. Back on his feet, he introduces ‘Yellow Submarine’ by playing a trick on the crowd. “If you don’t know this one you’re probably in the wrong venue and you’re probably waiting for the Rolling Stones,” he says as his band launch into ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. Then he points out a seat near the front of the crowd and waves. “Hi Mick! We’ve got Mick in tonight.” Everyone starts craning to spot the singer as Ringo looks on grinning, watching the looks on his fans’ faces until he puts them out of their misery. Mick Jagger isn’t present tonight – it’s just a mischievous prank on Ringo’s part.
Satisfied with his joke and a rousing ‘Yellow Submarine’ done, he leaves the stage to let his band deliver “two magical, musical moments” – 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ and Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen’. “I could go home now, I’m full of love, and joy, and peace,” he says when he returns. Someone tries to shout something to him as he’s preparing to continue the show and he turns sharply, spying the opportunity for another wisecrack: “Just a minute, I have to stop the show – somebody wants to talk to me.”
There are some bizarre moments in the show, not least seeing Ringo drum on a version of Toto’s ‘Africa’. Up on his drum riser, he looks like he’s having the time of his life, singing along to the chorus with a smile. It’s a similar story when he’s reunited with his drum mic for ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ and again when he’s left the kit behind to dig out his 1973 track ‘Photograph’ and a cover of Buck Owens’ ‘Act Naturally’.
Of all the Beatles songs aired tonight, closer ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ seems the most fitting. Maybe it’s the fact that Ringo’s a drummer – often the butt of all the jokes in any band – but the show is an ego-free display from start to finish, with the All-Starr Band being given as much attention as Ringo himself. “I wanna thank you all for being a great audience,” the bandleader says as the song reaches its climax. “I love it and I love you. Peace and love – it’s the only way.” He dashes off into the wings as the band segues into a blast of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’. He darts back on to sing along to one revolution of it before he disappears again, letting his bandmates lap up the standing ovations and applause on his behalf. He could stand and milk it all for himself but, then again, he does as he damn well pleases. He’s Ringo Starr, after all.
Ringo Starr And His All-Starr Band played:
‘It Don’t Come Easy’
‘What Goes On’
‘Don’t Pass Me By’
‘I’m Not In Love’
‘Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen’
‘Oye Como Va’
‘I Wanna Be Your Man’
‘The Things We Do For Love’
‘Who Can It Be Now?’
‘Hold The Line’
‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
‘Give Peace A Chance’