Ringo Starr once shared the best and worst thing about being in The Beatles
Ringo Starr is an often overlooked and incredibly integral part of The Beatles success. His unique drumming style set him apart from the rest of the British invasion and, on stage, Starr had a captivating performance unlike many percussionists of the time.
The Beatles, after all, made their name on their energised and effervescent performances while performing in Hamburg and on the stage of The Cavern. Those shows got larger and larger until in 1966, after the band were forced to cancel a gig because of the chance of electrocution, the group decided to stop touring. For Ringo, it was a bittersweet pill to swallow.
Before the group decided to pack in their live shows, George Harrison and John Lennon were keen to reduce their live performances but Paul McCartney felt differently. Speaking in Anthology, McCartney said: “I’d been trying to say, ‘Ah, touring’s good and it keeps us sharp. We need touring, and musicians need to play. Keep music live.”
On reflection, however, it is hard to see anything but The Beatles live experience spiralling out of control. The shows weren’t only growing in size but without a blueprint for such an explosion of fandom, the threat those giant audiences posed to the four friends from Liverpool on stage was increasing by the minute.
Often the group’s performances were even surrounded by police officers to ensure that breakaway fans from the crowd wouldn’t rush the stage. Things were getting serious and dangerous.
“It was the best time and the worst time of my life,” reflected Ringo Starr back in 1969. “The best because we played a lot of good music, and we had a lot of good times. And the worst time because touring is never a pleasure,” recalled the drummer. Of course, thinking back to their early moments as a band and the group were always on the stage but by 1969 Beatlemania had grown to a fever pitch.
It was this pressure that Ringo felt hampered the band and their personal lives. “Playing was always the pleasure, but what goes with it, especially for a group as big as us,” continued Ringo, “It was like 24 hours a day with no break… with the press and people fighting to get into your room, and climbing 25 stories of drainpipes knocking on your window. I mean it never stopped.”
It’s a level of fandom that has rarely been seen since and it must’ve felt like a rather imposing threat for the band with no previous case studies to look at. After all, there had never been a band like The Beatles, a band so globally adored. For Ringo, the sacrifice was worth it to stay mentally healthy, “And if you do too much touring… with what was going on around us… I personally would have gone insane,” he said.
Ringo Starr has often been at the centre of wild fans after Paul McCartney revealed in his Desert Island Discs appearance that he was the subject of death threats. Macca is laughing off the sensationalism of Beatlemania, “Even when we were getting death threats and stuff on American tours, we used to just take it with a pinch of salt,” he commented. “Mind you, it was Ringo that actually got the death threats and I don’t think he took it with a pinch of salt.”
After The Beatles finished Ringo found his way back on stage and now looks happier than ever taking the mic up front or back behind his fabled drum kit. Now, it would seem, performing live is the best once again.