Ringo and his pedigree chums

The ex-Beatle is back - with a lot of help from his friends. By Pierre Perrone
THERE'S A Beatles song in the charts this week ("This Boy", by the Scottish kid sensation Justin) but Ringo Starr's single "La De Da" and Vertical Man album are nowhere to be seen.

In fact, apart from his contribution to "Free as a Bird" and assorted Fab Four anthologies, Richard Starkey hasn't troubled statisticians for 23 years, when Ringo and Goodnight Vienna, produced by Richard Perry, threatened a Beatles reunion.

After losing the best part of 10 years in an alcoholic haze, Ringo came back at the end of the Eighties with his All-Starr Band, jam-packed with musicians of the highest calibre and pedigree (Dr John, Nils Lofgren, Billy Preston, Todd Rundgren) - the safest way to reclaim his status as jovial entertainer and cover up his limited vocal abilities.

These outings have offered fans a welcome chance to explore the main branches of some great rock family trees. The current All-Starr personnel comprises the multi-instrumentalist Mark Rivera, Procol Harum's frontman Gary Brooker, the Cream bass player Jack Bruce, the drummer Simon Kirke of Free and Bad Company fame and the Seventies solo star Peter Frampton.

Following the Spectoresque shuffle of "It Don't Come Easy" and the plodding "Act Naturally", Ringo, in characteristic beard, dark shades and orange shirt, explained that we'd spend the evening going around the band with different musicians taking the limelight.

That's fine when you're talking Gary Brooker's emotive "Conquistador" or Jack Bruce's gutsy "Sunshine of Your Love"; not so dandy when it's Simon Kirke revisiting the jukebox fave "Alright Now" or Peter Frampton's reprise of his Wayne's-World-revived double live album (an interminable "Do You Feel Like We Do" complete with voice-box trickery - no thanks!).

But what of Ringo, after all, the main Starr attraction of the event? His approach bordered on the nonchalant at times, though he shone on "Boys" and "I Wanna Be Your Man", double-hitting the snare drum as in the old Cavern days.

The former Fab Four drummer also reclaimed "Love Me Do", the original Beatles single he didn't play on at the time (well, George Martin let him shake a tambourine). Mind you, even with the help of his percussion sidekick Kirke, Starr couldn't re-create Ginger Baker's powerhouse style on the old Cream hits fronted by Bruce (son Zak Starkey, no slouch on the drums, was sorely missed).

Always a trouper, Ringo strutted his stuff like a regular Cilla Black and showed his sense of humour by introducing the career-nadir of "La De Da" as being "number one in Poland". Ringo Starr, the stand-up comic, may yet pull in the crowds.

The somewhat schizophrenic nature of the evening found its perfect illustration when Gary Brooker had to follow the corny, sing-along "Yellow Submarine", in which Starr had wowed the crowd with his Thomas the Tank Engine jokey voice. The Procol Harum veteran gamely picked "another boating song"; his solo rendition of "A Salty Dog" proved sublime, British stiff upper lip to the last. Still, a final salvo of Cream's old chestnut "White Room", the seminal, era-defining "Whiter Shade of Pale" and a nostalgic "Photograph" rounded things off nicely before the obligatory, and more appropriate than ever, "With a Little Help From My Friends".

Without his heavy friends, Ringo Starr wouldn't have much sparkle.