February 01, 2013

Ringo Starr: Solo Beatle's Lonely Art Club Brand



THE term "the art of Ringo Starr" could mean many things to many people. The lead vocal on With a Little Help From My Friends (above) might come to mind, or any one of the unorthodox drum fills and structures that were such a fundamental part of the Beatles' oeuvre.

 The songs Photograph, It Don't Come Easy and Back Off Boogaloo, just some of the hits that have adorned his post-Beatles solo career, could also be considered. 
Few Beatles fans, or even those who follow Starr's music career, would be aware that visual art is also part of the 72-year-old's make-up. Yet when he arrives in Australia in just over a week, to play his first shows here since the Beatles tour of 1964, he'll also be exhibiting a collection of computer art that has become an important part of his life.

GALLERY: Ringo's art

"I am an artist, yes," he says with a hint of mock sincerity, his Scouse accent still discernible under a trans-Atlantic veneer. Starr splits his time between homes in Los Angeles, Weybridge in Surrey, and Monte Carlo.

Starr sells them to raise funds for the Lotus Foundation, a charity founded by the drummer and his wife, Barbara Bach, that assists a variety of social welfare projects. From February 16 to April 28, more than 40 of Starr's creations will be on view at the Silver K Gallery in Melbourne. The exhibition will also include images of the Beatles by famous photographers from the 60s.

"I love to play drums in the band, but this is another side of me," he says. "As long as people enjoy it . . ."

Starr's main business in Australia this time is not to sell art, however, but to tour the country playing music for the first time in 49 years.

 The All Starr Band has become a regular vehicle for his musical talents over the past 24 years and an impressive rollcall of musicians has passed through its ranks, among them Dr John, Joe Walsh, Harry Nilsson, Billy Preston and our own Colin Hay. The present, 12th line-up features lauded songwriter and producer Todd Rundgren, Toto's guitarist Steve Lukather and Santana and Journey's keyboards player Gregg Rolie.

The band leader has a fairly relaxed approach. "If you're free and you want to have fun in the summer . . ." is how he touts for potential bandmates. "I try to think of what will be a great combination of people and hopefully it works. So far it has."

And clearly there is a lot of respect from the music fraternity, given the pedigree of artists who have joined him on stage. The current band has already toured the US. "We have a great line-up," says Starr. "This band is so good. I used to change the band for every tour, but I realised that we haven't been to Australia and New Zealand and Japan. Later in the year we'll do South America as well, so we're covering more of the world with the same band than I used to do."

Starr performs some of the Beatles songs he sang back in the day as well as solo material, but also allows his colleagues to perform some of their songs. One condition of getting a phone call from the former Fab: you have to have songs to get in the band.

"It's a great way for me to go out (on the road)," he says. "It gives me the opportunity to be out the front, you know, doing Yellow Submarine and Little Help, and with all the other band members . . . we all support each other. That's what a band is to me."

Starr has been playing in bands for 56 years. In 1957, as Ritchie Starkey, he formed his first outfit, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, with four mates from the Liverpool factory where he worked. Skiffle, the punk music of its time, was extremely popular in England, made so by artists such as Lonnie Donegan, who had an international hit with his version of an old blues/folk song Rock Island Line in 1955. Starr covers the song on his latest album (his 16th), Ringo 2012.

"That's a throwback to when I started playing," he says. "We all started playing during the skiffle era. It was a way of breaking out because we weren't called up to go in the army, so we had to find something to do. We couldn't really play. We just learned it as we went along."

Starr met the Beatles, with their drummer Pete Best, in Hamburg in 1960, while he was playing in another group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. By August 1962 he had replaced Best in the Beatles and the rest is history, but even as a fully fledged member of the band enjoying global success in 1964, Starr wasn't completely certain about his Beatles future.

When he became ill with tonsilitis shortly before a European, Asian and Australasian tour and had to be replaced by drummer Jimmie Nicol, Starr became concerned that he might not get his job back. Nicol played the first Australian date in Adelaide before a recovered Starr flew into Melbourne to take back the drum stool. He has fond memories of that Australian visit, although he was bemused by the reception he got in Melbourne.

"I got out of hospital and got on the plane and it landed in Australia, and everyone was saying, 'How do you like it here?' -- and I'd only just got off the plane," he says.

"It was an exciting time with the Beatles. We were a young band and we were conquering the world in a musical way. We were four lads and we made the most of it."

Starr is looking forward to his second Australian tour, although he has been back in the country a number of times since that visit in the 1960s.

"It has been a long time since I've played down that way," he admits, "but I've visited Australia several times, mainly Sydney. When nobody knows you're coming, you can just hang out."
This time, however, he wants people to know he's coming. And he's still as passionate about music as he was when he started. Drumming remains his first love.
"If I could only do one thing, that's what it would be," he says. "My dream was, at 13, to play drums and then to play in bands and to play with good people.

"So far, I'm still doing that. I've done what I've done and I'm blessed that I can still do it, and blessed that I'm still supported by a lot of people and by some great musicians.
"And I'm still doing it. How far out is that?"

The Ringo Starr and the All Starr Band tour begins in Brisbane on February 11 and travels to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The Art of Ringo Starr Exhibition opens at Silver K Gallery in Armadale, Victoria, on February 16 and runs until April 28.

By Iain Shedden. 

Many thanks to the Australian.

An interview Ringo did with Red Symons – listen here.
Many thanks to Jessica for this!

Above: Just one example of Ringo's work.

Ringo ready for Oz pandemonium

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