Liverpool 08: The People's Opening, St George's Hall<br/>Liverpool the Musical, Echo Arena, Liverpool

All it needed was some love
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The Independent Culture

How do you announce to the world that Liverpool is starting its tenure as European Capital of Culture? If you are the Liverpool Culture Company, as the organisers have branded themselves, you persuade Beatles drummer Ringo Starr to play on the roof of St George's Hall.

As the representative of Liverpool's most famous export recreated the famous drumming section of the Abbey Road medley during the feel-good People's Opening on Friday, his thoughts must have drifted back to the Beatles' last performance, on the roof of the Apple building in London's Savile Row in 1969. As the luckiest man in rock performed the very autobiographical "Liverpool 8", the title track of his new album, my own thoughts drifted to "That's My Life", the dreadful cash-in single that John Lennon's estranged father, Freddie, released in 1965.

Despite a reprise of "Liverpool 8" with Eurythmics' Zelig-like Dave Stewart – from Sunderland, but an honorary Liverpudlian for the occasion – Saturday's Liverpool the Musical worked better to remind the world how much it has been shaped by the Mersey. It started with a corny gag involving a loose plug fusing the dangling Liverpool 08 sign – a nod to the event's troubled gestation, and to the fact that half the city remains a building site.

The show continued with No Fakin DJs, positioned at the top of the arena; seven different sections of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra were stacked below. As Vasily Petrenko waved his baton from a hydraulic riser, a medley of "Rule Britannia", "Amazing Grace", "Jerusalem" and "Land of Hope and Glory" accompanied a barrage of images, the most vivid being a Terry Gilliam-style animation of Queen Victoria gulping ships while the mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, dressed as Britannia, sang with gusto.

In his trademark long black coat and dark glasses, Ian McCulloch led Echo and the Bunnymen through "Nothing Lasts Forever", the group's comeback single from 1997, and adlibbed his way into Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side". Local boys of the moment, the Wombats, performed their punky single "Moving to New York", before we revisited the city's love affair with Chuck Berry and Little Richard: cue jazz singer Connie Lush, lustily wailing Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You", a neat lead into – you guessed it – the Fab Four. Or, rather, Garry Christian singing Lennon's "Revolution".

If the aerialists above the stage hadn't already convinced you that Cirque du Soleil cast a long shadow over the event, the snatches of "A Day in the Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" certainly were in the spirit of the Cirque's Love, a celebration of the Beatles' legacy currently wowing audiences in Las Vegas.

But the glaring hole at the heart of the occasion was all too obvious: Liverpool's notoriously back-biting, bitchy musical community hadn't quite come together. Gerry and the Pacemakers, presumably deemed too naff and too Sixties; Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, possibly too Eighties; Ian Broudie, the Coral, the Zutons – all were conspicuous by their absence. Pete Wylie, aka Mr Liverpool, did manage a rousing "Heart as Big as Liverpool", proving once again that he's better at the grander gestures than is the Verve's Richard Ashcroft, though Wylie really needs to think through the implications of his "Ringo for President" manifesto.

Starr brought the proceedings to a suitably chummy close, leading everyone into "With a Little Help From My Friends". My abiding memory, however, will be of Toxteth rapper RiUvEn freestyling "This is How We Do It in the LIV" and elbowing Starr out of the way during the finale.

Liverpool 08 events continue throughout the year (see