As drummer for the world’s most famous quartet, Ringo Starr puts on quite the show. Olly West attended his Bogota gig and was not disappointed.
It was with some trepidation that I set out for the rather bizarre Centro Comercial Bima in the far north of Bogota for Ringo Starr’s first gig in Colombia. As a Beatles obsessive since the age of four, I felt I had no choice but to make the journey.
But at COP $257,000 a ticket, or COP $446,000 for the so-called VIP section, I was worried that the organisers had somewhat overestimated the appeal of the “second best drummer in the Beatles” (John Lennon’s words).
My concerns were far from allayed when I arrived for the shuttle service from Calle 170 an hour before Mr Starkey was due on stage to find myself waiting with just one other ticketholder. Ominously, my bus companion’s friends called during the journey to inform they’d bought tickets outside the venue for COP $100,000, and upon arrival touts were offering me VIP entry for COP $210,000.
The tent was more or less packed when I got there, so maybe word had got round about the cheap tickets.
The middle of a shopping centre-cum-amusement park by a motorway in no man’s land is few people’s idea of rock and roll, but the organisers did at least have the sense to place a tent by the plastic castle and model cows. Ringo – pedestrian drummer or not – put on a show fit for any festival.
Beginning with ‘Matchbox’, one of his first recordings with the Beatles, and finishing with an epic ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, Ringo and his star-studded band gave the audience exactly what they wanted: an evening of rock music of a calibre rarely seen in these parts.
Ringo’s secret lies in knowing what his audience wants. He’s no fool – the crowd comes to see Ringo, the Beatle, not Ringo the virtuoso (or not so, we’ll leave the debate to the purists) drummer. Unlike many a snooty rock legend from the 60’s and 70’s, he’s not overly interested in showing off hours of cringe-worthy new material or pretentious 10 minute reworkings of album tracks.
The formula is simple: he surrounds himself with a star-studded band – including Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Santana keyboardist Gregg Rolie and Richard Page of Mr Mister – to ensure flawless musicianship, and he gets on with entertaining while allowing his band members all the moments in the spotlight they need.
Running around the stage like an excited toddler and with remarkable energy for a man closing in on 75, Ringo gives the impression that he’s aware he got lucky playing with one of the most influential bands in history, but that he’s in no mood to stop enjoying the ride. And his talent for showmanship is not borrowed.
Maybe we weren’t the most beautiful audience he’d ever seen, but when Ringo said we were, we believed him. You’d also think that, after 50 years, he’d be fed up of singing the glorified nursery rhyme ‘Yellow Submarine’, but he didn’t show it and no one would have gone home happy without hearing every single line.
People have taken the piss out of Ringo since almost before he was famous, but he works as a live act because he’s quite aware of this and is happy to play on his reputation, with a touch of humour and self-deprecation that is refreshing to see. For ‘Don’t Pass By’, his first composition, we were treated to the Liverpudlian playing the two chords he knows on the piano for all of four bars before stopping, turning to the audience, and bowing to a raucous ovation. Of course, the band then took the reins and he astutely stuck to the microphone for the rest of the song.
Santana classics ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Oye como va’ and Toto’s Freshers’ Week anthem ‘Africa’, made what will presumably be Ringo’s only ever visit to Colombia a night to remember.
So good, in fact, that I was just about able to forgive the organisers for the dismal bar selection (all alcohol provided by the sponsor Buchanans – when will concert promoters in Colombia stop being held to ransom by drinks providers?) and we left delighted that Ringo didn’t “pass us by” on his South American tour.
By Olly West