THE BEST DRUMMER
IN THE BEATLES…?’
Book Review of:
‘RINGO STARR: A LIFE’
by ALAN CLAYSON
(Sanctuary 2005 – ISBN 1-86074-647-0 £7.95)
When Ringo was briefly hospitalised for a tonsils-removal operation in 1964, his Beatles-logo’d drum-seat got temporarily filled by stand-in drummer Jimmy Nichols for a European tour. That doesn’t happen much these days. Now, they just cancel the bloody tour. But back then, Ringo merely posed for a ‘Melody Maker’ cover-photo with a placard saying ‘I Feel Fine’, as his contribution to their current hit. Of course, it’s easy to write Ringo off as fame-by-association. He wasn’t there for the ‘Backbeat’-period Hamburg group-bonding. He wasn’t even there for the rejected Decca audition. Instead, he was drafted in last-minute for “Love Me Do” as the acceptable fringe when Pete Best refused to sacrifice his quiff. On such whims are history made. In some alternate time-stream could it have been John, Paul, George… and Jimmy Nichols – or Pete Best? If so, how would things have panned out differently?
Alan Clayson uses meticulously exhaustive research to navigate his eventful path, the years that lead up to him joining the Beatles – through Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. To how American fans single him out as ‘cute’ from the first tour. ‘If you had to be in a band’ he quipped, ‘it might as well be the Beatles.’ Probably the worst track the Beatles ever recorded was “Octopus Garden” – Ringo’s second-only writing contribution. Although afterwards he charts with a number of half-decent solo hits of his own. He plays on George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ sessions (1970), then on John Lennon’s first solo ‘Plastic One Band’ album (1971), when they could have had their pick of just about any drummer in the world. He even drums on McCartney’s ‘Tug Of War’ album (1982). So – why Ringo?
He’s the jester, the good-guy, the cohesive force defusing the in-group tensions around him. His role throughout was not just to drum for the Fab Four, but to arbitrate between their internally warring poles. A demilitarised buffer-zone. But across the decades since, there’s only the indulgences, the rehab, and the long inactive spaces between, the occasional mediocre albums, and the mildly entertaining movies. Ringo’s amiable comedic talent first surfaced in the ‘Hard Day’s Night’ movie-sequence by the river. Although his subsequent acting career failed to develop whatever potential it indicated, sleep-walking through movie-adaptations of Terry Southern’s cult novels ‘Candy’ (1967) and ‘Magic Christian’ (1970). Yet the Beatles story must still be chockfull with secrets and untold stories unvoiced through loyalties to the dead, or to the living. And if Ringo won’t write it, and McCartney’s never likely to divulge it, this is about the best we’re likely to get. It is by turns sad, touching, comic, and never less than informative. But betrayingly – rather than checking out the ‘Ringo’ index-references, you tend to search out the more creatively-interesting names around it.
(First published 1996 as ‘Ringo Starr: Straight Man Or Joker’, this revised edition 2005) Sanctuary Publishing Limited, Sanctuary House, 45-53 Sinclair Road, London W14 0NS
‘THE SUPPLEMENT Issue.30’ (UK – October 2006)
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.1 Jan/Feb’ (UK – December 2006)
WITH A LITTLE
Album Review of:
by RINGO STARR
(1998, Mercury/ Polygram 538-118-2)
“With A Little Help From My Friends” is ‘the song that gave me a thirty-year career.’ Ain’t that sad? Best drummer in Rock? Naw. Ringo was hardly the best drummer in the Beatles. And he was their fourth best writer. As they simultaneously disinter a Lennon box-set of ninety-four out-takes complete with John’s “I’m The Greatest” written for one Mr Richard Starkey, Ringo assumes his ‘Thomas The Tank-Engine’ persona as laconic drone-over link-man for a live traipse through his own back-catalogue. Songs that might have been perfectly adequate if they’d been written by a member of the Searchers or Gerry & The Pacemakers, but which got sadly over-shadowed when compared with Lennon-McCartney. Or even Harrisongs. He’d been kicking “Don’t Pass Me By” around for years to general Mop-Top ridicule until they eventually donated space for it on ‘The White Album’ (‘Let’s hear it for ‘The White Album’. Let’s milk it for all we can get...’). And his ‘you were in a car-crash, and you lost your hair’ does have an attractively stoned oddness. But semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower it is not.
He follows it with “Octopus’s Garden”, his aquatic ‘Yellow Submarine’ retake from ‘Abbey Road’, probably the most skipped-over track in Rock history (‘I’d had one of those ‘herbal’ cigarettes’ he explains lamely). Then – a handful of solo hits co-written with ‘the one-and-only George Harrison. Let’s hear it for George...’ (“It Don’t Come Easy”), or taped after a night of drunken indulgence with Marc Bolan, ‘a very good friend of mine, god bless him...’ (“Back Off Boogaloo”), clear up to “I Was Walking” from last year’s ‘Vertical Man’ album. The ‘VH1 Storyteller’ project is a step on from ‘Unplugged’. Plugged. But with audience intimacy. And, as required, they hang on every Ringo-ism, ask questions (“who yells ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers’ at the end of “Helter Skelter?” – hey, it was Ringo!), and supply rapturous ovations at the slightest provocation. The band includes Joe Walsh, plus a bunch of adequate session non-entities. And it all makes for a very undemanding pleasantly jog-along wallow in the soft thirty-year underbelly of amnesiac nostalgia.
Album Review of:
‘RINGO STARR & HIS
ALL-STARR BAND: LIVE 2003’
(2004, CNR Records 22.999052)
It’s a thankless task, being Ringo. Eight years as a Fab. Then the longest lost-weekend retirement in Rock. Now he hollers ‘What’s my name?’ and they all holler back ‘RINGO!!!’ ‘It’s the only reason I’m here’ he adds. So at least he’s under no illusion, he knows it too. But apparently in the States that’s enough to keep the ‘All-Starrs’ on the road. This time round, it’s a live set in Detroit during an eighth tour, and there’s the solo Ringo hits, in lifeless facsimile. Beatles hits even more so. Paul Carrack is on piano and vocals (“How Long”), Colin Hay who I once interviewed when this – “Down Under”, was first a hit for Men at Work. John Waite (“When I See You Smile”), Shelia E (Prince’s “Glamorous Life”). Two songs each from these disparate also-rans. Updated with Ringo’s tribute to Sun records “Memphis In Your Mind” from his recent ‘Ringo-Rama’ (‘like you bought it, right?’ he mocks truthfully). Then “Don’t Pass Me By”, Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” from the ‘Beatles For Sale’ album, and – inevitably a bored karaoke “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Utterly pointless. An appalling abuse of CD-space.
‘SONGBOOK no.5 (Autumn)’
(UK – December 2004)
DVD Review of:
‘RINGO STARR & THE ROUNDHEADS: LIVE’
by RINGO STARR & THE ROUNDHEADS
(2012, Image Entertainment) www.watchimage.com
Own up, who really needs another Ringo Starr DVD? With Global Warming, Syria, and Simon Cowell to worry about, does anyone still give a toss about another amiable jog-through of the usual suspect old clunkers? Even now they must be camping outside HMV stores and crashing websites with orders for this fifty-six minute package, NOT! The same old one-track-per-LP Beatles songs get dusted off alongside the handful of post-Fab solo hits, all to no real purpose. Done live at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois, and first broadcast in 2005 for PBS, Ringo’s without his regular All-Starr Band, but manages to rustle up Colin Hay (of Men At Work) to guest on “Who Can It Be Now?” And obviously a good time was had by all. But is that enough? Ringo was on TV’s ‘Loose Women’ a while back, talking-up his useless retread of Buddy Holly’s ‘Think It Over’ from his ‘Ringo 2012’ album, provoking pretty-much the same conundrum. Who needs it? What possible audience-need is this targeting?
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 33’
(May/June 2012 – UK)