Starr of Liverpool sets the rhythm for year of culture

Perched atop Liverpool's St George's Hall, the former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr last night drew back the curtain on a party that will last a year. Capital of Culture year, for the people of Liverpool, was officially underway with an opening ceremony that was as equally wonderful as it was bizarre.

It started, as you might expect, at eight minutes past eight – 20:08. After the obligatory countdown, the crowd – which was estimated at around 40,000, was treated to a showcase of some of the city's favourite sons and daughters.

Ringo was joined by 600 locals, including school children, 40 acrobats, four construction cranes reaching up to 250m, and a team of performing forklift trucks, as he opened the show on the drums. A crane then hoisted a crate, emblazoned with the words "precious cargo", through the air. The precious stars to emerge included Les Dennis and stars from the pop band Atomic Kitten. Next up was a musical medley entitled "Roof Top Symphony", a show which consisted of a seemingly endless number of musicians dressed in hard hats playing instruments fashioned from, among other things, a plastic insulation pipe and barrel.

If this was the bizarre, what followed was truly wonderful. The crowd, which was by now spilling out of Lime Street and into the neighbouring side streets, watched in awe as four aerialists performed a breathtaking display.

First they scrambled up the huge screens to a backdrop of iconic Liverpudlian images – there were numerous shots of the Beatles, flashes of the city's two football teams, Everton and Liverpool, and, somewhat strangely, a picture of former pop singer Pete Burns.

As more and more people decided to call it a night – put off either by the crush, the cold or the poor views afforded to those who hadn't arrived at least two hours ahead of the start – the evening drew to a spectacular close.

First up was an energetic performance from the Indie band, The Wombats, who performed their new single, "Moving to New York" – a song title that led some crowd members to joke that it was perhaps not the wisest choice for an evening held to celebrate the rebirth of a city somewhat closer to home.

And finally it was time. If the crowd really did number 40,000 as the PR people were claiming, you can bet that the vast majority were here for one reason alone.

The Beatles are a religion in Liverpool and at the altar of Ringo Starr, they had come to worship.

The cheers were deafening as he greeted the audience "hello, Liverpool" he bellowed from a cage perched high above the crowd, and then launched into his new single, Liverpool 8, a song written specially for the year of culture and performed with the former Eurythmics star Dave Stewart.

Warren Bradley, the leader of Liverpool City Council said: "Tonight was a fabulous opening. There is a great buzz about Liverpool and I think tonight reflected that."

And with that the evening was over, but the party was just beginning.

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