And so, Ringo Starr has become the first Beatle to reach 80. The band’s drummer and occasional comedy turn celebrated this milestone with a little help from his friends in an hour-long online “concert” on YouTube on Tuesday.
It’s strange to think that the oldest member of the Fab Four is now older than Harold Wilson was when he died (aged 79). Wilson, the grey-haired Prime Minister who wooed the young Liverpudlian scamps to boost his own credibility. Wilson, the man who recommended the lads for MBEs in 1965. Wilson, the avaricious politician who the Beatles lampooned by name in the excoriating song Taxman the following year. Still, that was when Starr was younger, so much younger than today.
Ringo Starr’s Big Birthday Show was a lockdown rockdown; a colourful compendium of ageing rock stars, pals and family members sending birthday messages from their living rooms, gardens and home recording studios. Everyone from George Harrison’s widow Olivia and Mick Fleetwood (together in Hawaii) to Bob Geldof and Ron Howard provided video clips.
Paul McCartney, The Eagles’ Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Sheila E, Ben Harper and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl were among those who performed pre-recorded musical numbers. The whole thing was glued together by the man himself, sitting at a drum kit in a white tuxedo and shades in front of a cartoon mural at his home in Los Angeles. His droll Scouse accent only faintly Americanised, he told well-rehearsed anecdotes while raising money for a clutch of charities.
Ringo’s birthday is, of course, something to be celebrated. And there was a sense of hatchets being buried around the event. Pete Best, the drummer the Beatles brutally dumped for Ringo, took to social media hours before the broadcast to wish his replacement a happy birthday (although there was a sense of teeth being gritted. “Thought about it and thought why not,” Best wrote in his post).
Meanwhile Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George and an accomplished producer in his own right, used his clip to describe Ringo as the best drummer in the world and express his late father’s “regret” over using a different sticksman (Andy White) on the Beatles’ debut single Love Me Do. “I hope you’ve forgiven him now,” Martin said.
Yet for all its chumminess the event had a bizarrely culty feel. For Beatles nuts, a playful ritual has developed around Ringo’s birthday. At midday on July 7, wherever they are in the world, fans perform a so-called “peace and love moment” by raising both hands in the peace gesture and repeating Ringo’s adopted catchphrase. The phrase already evokes the caricature of a superannuated LA-dwelling hippy, but it was repeated ad nauseam during the show and was often accompanied on screen by animated bursts of rainbow squiggles and CND logos. The effect was something between an Austin Powers film and a particularly satirical episode of The Simpsons. I half expected Sideshow Bob to walk on and perform Yellow Submarine.
There were powerful moments. In a section raising money for Black Lives Matter, Ringo retold the story of how the Beatles refused to play in front of segregated audiences. And there were some musical treats. Sheryl Crow performed almost all the instruments – from the cello to the drums – on a warming All You Need Is Love. Harper and Grohl gave a lovely bluesy rendition of Ringo’s solo song Down and Out. We even saw Ringo singing with his All-Star band.
Despite years of touring, he remains the world’s most unlikely frontman, singing with an awkward side-to-side lurch that makes fellow shuffler Ian Brown look like Carlos Acosta. McCartney’s contribution was a clip of Ringo and him playing Helter Skelter on Macca’s tour last year. It was – to borrow a word – fab, but it was a shame that his only living former bandmate didn’t send a personal message. There was no Yoko either.
But what made the Big Birthday Show really trippy was the timing. Due to the LA-London time difference, I watched it propped up in bed at 1am mumbling at my buffering YouTube as the world around me slept. As I lay there, rockers twice my age ran around on stages singing about peace, love, revolution and the idealism of youth.
Ringo at 80? It was me who felt like the old one.