“There's still a bit of that working lad from Liverpool in me”

Ringo Starr, in a recent concert with his All-Starr Band, at the start of the tour that is coming to Spain.
Ringo Starr, in a recent concert with his All-Starr Band, at the start of the tour that is coming to Spain. / AARON JOSEFCZYK / REUTERS
  • Ringo Starr, the Beatles drummer, will be performing in Spain this summer along with his All-Starr Band with tracks from his own repertoire and those of his guests

When he came up with the idea of starting a group, the first All-Starr Band, with some friends, the legendary drummer with The Beatles was already a household name in the pop world, although his personal life had taken a downturn. Ringo Starr had just come out of a clinic, where he had gone to treat his alcoholism, and his wife, actress Barbara Bach, had done the same. He felt he needed to get back on stage and go on tour again to complete his recovery, and that is exactly what he did on 23 July 1989 in Dallas.

It was a gathering of historic names, like Joe Walsh of The Eagles, Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band, Dr John, Billy Preston and Rick Dando of The Band, plus guest artists such as his son Zak Starkey, who is also a drummer, and Bruce Springsteen. The musician from a working-class family from Liverpool completely recovered his vitality and also delighted fans with the setup, performing hits he had composed or sung with The Beatles, including Yellow Submarine. The other group members also chose songs from their repertoires.

With this same formula, and about to celebrate his 78th birthday, Ringo will be coming to Spain (26 June in Barcelona, 28 in Madrid, 29 in La Coruña and 1 July in Bilbao), but with other musicians because over time some have left the group and others have joined. In the concert they will also be performing numbers from Starr's most recent disc Give More Love.

“I started the All-Starrs after going through a bad time, with a very simple method. I opened my diary and started ringing friends to see if they wanted to join me and play. Dr John said yes, Clarence said yes...” says the pop legend in a phone conversation recently from his home in Los Angeles.

Nowadays he feels “blessed, happy”. He begins and ends his conversations with the words “peace and love”. He usually wears a necklace with the hippie symbol - “you'll also see it at the concert” - and feels part of “the spirit of those years”. In 1968 The Beatles published the White Album, which he considers one of the band's landmarks. A year earlier they had recorded Yellow Submarine and a year afterwards came Sgt Pepper. It was the group's most charismatic period, and the most creative. However, Ringo Starr believes that his true identity lies in another place and another time.

The cap and the hat

“OK, it's true that a lot of things happened in those years, but my real movement, the one that marked me, was in the factories in Liverpool, in the 1950s. There's still a bit of that working lad, who used to play music in the evenings, in me.”

Richard Starkey, Ringo's real name, started working in 1955, when he was 15, on the British railways. They fired him because he didn't want to wear a cap, and put a hat on instead. But that wasn't his only experience of work and until the early 1960s, when he decided to dedicate himself to music, he was employed by a Liverpool equipment manufacturer. Today he has a fortune of approximately 200 million euros and has sold his mansion in England, although he still has a house in London, in Chelsea.

Industrial cities like Liverpool and Manchester have played an important role in pop music. How does the world's most famous drummer explain that? “That was when there was music news for the first time, and we were doing everything they were doing in London. It was the same in Manchester and Birmingham. But I think there is a deeper reason, and that is 'skiffle', a very basic rock which we liked a lot and which you can play with a drum, in my case, and three guitar chords. That was all we needed, and that is what set us on the path.”

He started with a friend from the factory, in 1957. He played with different groups and in 1962 joined The Beatles, replacing Pete Best, who had failed to convince the other band members or their manager, Brian Epstein. As John Lennon has said, at that time Starr was one of the best-known musicians in Liverpool.

This will be the second time he has played in Spain. The first was in 1965. “Yes, in Madrid and somewhere else, I think it was Barcelona,” he says. That was during the Franco dictatorship, and it was a huge event. Some of the fans waiting to greet them at Barajas airport fainted, and there was all the excitement of Beatlemania.

“I remember it was important for you, but you have to understand: it was just two more concerts. The tours were long and it was our job to play. That's all. We got off the plane, did the concert and then it was on to the next one,” he says.

Sixty years after playing on stage for the first time, he is still on the road. He doesn't mind leaving the Californian sunshine and travelling in planes, buses and cars. “I suppose the sun in Spain is the same as in California, isn't it? I'm a musician, someone who tries to entertain people. That's what I do and I still enjoy it. I'm just grateful that I dedicated myself to music. When the evening of a concert arrives, I feel really good. I'm with the other musicians and it's great. I love the public, and the public loves me. Peace and love, brother.”