Sunday, 2 August 2015

"RINGO: With A Little Help" by MICHAEL SETH STARR - A Review Of The July 2015 Hardback Book (on Backbeat Books) by Mark Barry...




"...All I've Got Is A Photograph..."

It's Wednesday morning – the 15th of August 1962. Having had too many beers the night previous playing that lewd and lascivious Rock 'n' Roll music to impressionable teenage girls - Johnny Guitar of Johnny & The Hurricanes is sharing a trailer with a mate of his who is sleeping it off in the back. As Johnny opens the trailer door - he's greeted by two nattily dressed and equally cocky Liverpudlian reprobates. Johnny knows instantly that 'his' band's rhythm section is in trouble.

These two guys are part of the only pop group in Liverpool with an actual recording contract – a deal with a proper record company called Parlophone Records. In a heartbeat Johnny also knows what the young Paul McCartney and John Lennon want – the best Drummer in Liverpool – Richard Starkey - aka RINGO STARR. And thus history is made in a hung-over trailer on an unpromising summer morning. And then in September of 1962 - along with George Harrison (who championed Ringo joining the band all along) - they would fly as a foursome called "The Beatles" down to EMI's Abbey Road Studios in the big choke of London to meet professional Producer George Martin - and thereafter gingerly alter the fabric of the known Universe (cheeky buggers)...

After all these years (five decades plus and counting) - it seems odd that Michael Seth Starr (no relation) should be the first to claim an in-depth Biography of the world’s most famous Drummer – Ringo Starr. And it appears he’s done it without the subject’s permission or indeed interest. Yet across the 442 pages of this July 2015 Hardback Book published by Milwaukee’s Backbeat Books – Michael gives a blow-by-blow account of Ringo’s extraordinary life and some would say miraculous survival.

There’s 19 chapters beginning with "Little Richy" (his formative years) and ending with "Peace And Love" (a 35-year marriage of substance with Barbara Bach - an All Starr Band that has featured Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren in its ranks). In between of course is the sheer lunacy and joy of "Beatlemania" – the movies "How I Won The War", "Candy" and "The Magic Christian" - the split – the chart years on Apple – the "Born To Boogie" movie with Marc Bolan's T.Rex - the drunken oblivion of the mid-to-late Seventies with Harry Nilsson and others – meeting Bond Girl Barbara Bach on the set of "The Caveman" film - Lennon's horrible assassination in December 1980 in New York and so on...

The early chapters describe his harsh upbringing - a toiling mother Elsie trying to put food on the table in Dingle (a rough part of Liverpool) – his father walking out - years of ill-health with stays in boy’s homes and finally salvation through American Rock 'n' Roll 45s coming off the ships down at the docks. Chapters 2 and 3 are called "It Was In My Soul" and "Ringo Starrtime" chart his early passion for rhythms and his rise as a drummer (his first kit was bought for him by a kindly work mate called Henry "Harry" Hunt for £12 – hauled all the way from London). Then that fateful meeting. Then "Please Please Me" hits the shelves of record shops in January 1963 and all Hell breaks loose...

The author keeps the details and facts coming and the two sets of photo plates chart the passing years up to 2014 with a smiling Ringo and Barbara still looking impossibly cool after all these years. Chapter 11 deals with the "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Sgt. Peppers" period of astonishing recording achievements – the pressure of global fame. Aged 30 in July 1970 – Ringo began his solo Apple career with hits like "It Don't Come Easy", "Back Off Boogaloo" and the gorgeous "Photograph" – but he also starred in the disastrous and bloody "Blindman" film and the Frank Zappa Avant Garde indulgence of "200 Motels". By the time we get to Chapter 14 delightfully and honestly entitled "We Were Junkies Dabbling In Music" – the lifestyle rot had set in and his marriage to his wife Maureen was over by 1975. In 1976 he shaves his head bald – in 1978 he makes a dreadful film called "Sextet" with an 85-year old Mae West – and in 1984 he plays on stage with The Beach Boys - but can’t remember it because he was so out of it (he hid his glaze behind dark glasses). By the time you arrive at "Getting Out Of Bed's A Problem These Days" and finally "Peace And Love" – you’re amazed him, his family and his relationship with McCartney and Harrison is still intact. There’s an Epilogue, Notes (references), Bibliography and an Index.

Now revered as an Elder Statesman of Rock – Ringo has been there and done that – and has indeed survived with more than a little help from friends. I enjoyed this crazy journey far more than I thought I would. I’ve always had an affection for Ringo Starr and a sneaking admiration for his wit and occasional musical brilliance - and this hugely entertaining read (sanctioned or not) has only made my smile every time I see him - wider ...

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