b. 7 July 1940
Ringo met The Beatles in Hamburg in October 1960. At the time he was performing with Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, but stepped in on a number of occasions when Pete Best was unavailable. At the time there was a sense of solidarity among the British groups in Hamburg, and The Beatles got to know Starr well. Ringo quickly established himself as a rock-steady drummer, whose open hi-hat and four-to-the-floor bass drum helped energise The Beatles’ sound.
He became the central character in the films Help! and Yellow Submarine – which were a testament to his popularity as a band member. A Hard Day’s Night, too, showed his natural ability as an actor, though he subsequently downplayed his performance, claiming he was hungover on the shoot.
In the years that immediately followed the Beatles break-up, an initially fruitful solo career did not survive the tide of Beatles nostalgia. Despite hits like “Sweet Sixteen” and “Goodnight, Vienna”, Starr became the first solo Beatle to have his music turned down by a record company, EMI, which had produced the Beatles. Rendered aimless without the Beatles’ musical purpose and sense of destiny, he rather publicly disintegrated, and spent much of the Seventies in a haze of Brandy Alexanders pursuing epic drinking benders with Marc Bolan and the singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson, a legendary boozer who also became Lennon’s brandy-buddy during the latter’s “lost weekend” period of the mid-Seventies. Nor has he fulfilled the acting promise he showed in A Hard Day’s Night, where his performance was hailed by some critics as “Chaplinesque”: one movie, Blindman, a spaghetti Western filmed in southern Spain, closed barely weeks after opening in New York.
The Born to Boogie Story
In 1972 Marc’s fortunes were aflame, with T.Rex topping charts around the world; Marc Bolan defined the post-Beatles pop scene. As the greatest star of his era, Bolan followed in the grand tradition of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles with a natural progression to the silver screen.
The great Hollywood heroes had fired his boyhood imagination in the 1950s and given him the self-belief to transform from Mark Feld to Marc Bolan, so it made complete sense for him to immortalise himself in celluloid. Doing so with a former Beatle made for the perfect recipe.
T.Rex’s autumn 1971 ‘Electric Warrior’ tour had witnessed widespread fan mania, causing Marc’s management considerable security headaches. In the UK in the 1960s and early ‘70s, bands seldom played at venues with capacities larger than two or three thousand, but as demand to see Bolan was clearly out-stripping supply, a large venue where his safety could be guaranteed was required.
In November 1971 Led Zeppelin gave two legendary shows at the 10,000-seat Wembley Empire Pool in North-West London. (The venue had been constructed to host swimming and ice skating competitions during the 1934 Empire Games. Over the years it hosted tennis, boxing, table tennis and cycle racing, and was even home to Gibraltan refugees during the Second World War.
At the War’s end the swimming pool remained closed, so the building was adapted for other large-scale events.) To meet the public’s hunger and to put an end to ‘Bolan Quits Tours’ stories, T.Rex were confirmed as the next group to take on the huge venue.
Tickets for Saturday 18 March 1972, priced at 75 pence, went on sale on 18 February and sold out in days. An additional matinee concert was added; this, too, sold out. In the months following the T.Rex dates, the Moody Blues, Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd performed at the Pool, confirming it as the UK’s leading indoor concert arena.
Ringo Starr had approached Marc Bolan in 1971 with an idea to include him in a series of documentary films about superstars of the era, such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and troubled footballer George Best. These plans never came to fruition, but when Ringo discovered that Bolan was intent on filming the Wembley shows, the idea was revived, and so a deal was struck to make a movie (50/50 between Apple and Bolan’s Wizard Artists company) with a working title of ‘T.Rex In Concert.
The concerts were a triumph for Bolan, the pinnacle of his career. Following three number one hit singles and the chart-topping success of the ‘Electric Warrior’ LP, the reaction of the cynical music press was one of surrender: Bolan was acknowledged as the superstar he always wished to be.
The shows were kept simple: the stage effects ran to little more that two enormous blow-up photos of the show’s protagonist, with popular DJ Emperor Rosko playing MC for the night. He span a few discs and worked the crowd into an anticipatory frenzy, with support band Quiver mostly overlooked.
As cameraman Ringo crouched in the pit at the front of the stage, the Public Address system blasted out ‘Clean Up Woman’ by Betty Wright, one of Marc Bolan’s all-time favourite songs. He left the dressing room, climbed the steps at the back of the stage and made his way out through the curtain.
It was Bolan’s second appearance at the venue, having performed as an unknown, way down the bill at the ‘Glad Rag Ball’ in November 1965; no film survives of that debut but it would have been overshadowed by hit-making performers like Donovan and the Rolling Stones. However, by March 1972 Bolan’s time had come: the audience’s reaction was spectacular.
Ten songs were performed at each concert: Jeepster, Baby Strange, Telegram Sam, Hot Love and Get It On received the T.Rex electric treatment, along with acoustic numbers Spaceball Ricochet and Cosmic Dancer, all making it to the final edit; show-opener Cadilac, Girl (acoustic) and Summertime Blues (the encore) were discarded…
In addition, a session at the Beatles’ Apple Studios in May 1972 brought together Marc’s chums Elton John (piano) and Ringo Starr (additional drum kit) who joined T.Rex for a unique collaboration on Tutti Frutti and Children of the Revolution.
A separate four-song acoustic set filmed in the grounds of John Lennon’s mansion at Tittenhurst Park, Ascot, yielded new versions of Jeepster, Hot Love, Get It On, and The Slider, with Tony Visconti conducting a string quartet as Bolan sat cross-legged in the long grass. These elements were woven together to make the film, with various incidental footage of Marc and Ringo hamming it up and riding in a cadilac, and Marc reciting his poetry. As Ringo was appearing in front of the camera as well as behind it, he hired executive director Frank Simon to help out, famous for the “The Queen”, a 1968 cinema verite documentary about New York’s drag scene.
Bolan reported that over fifty hours of footage was shot. This was cut down to just 64 minutes during the summer of 1972, and released to UK cinemas at the end of December as Born to Boogie. Somehow the title tune never made it to the film, eventually appearing as the B-side to the ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’ 45 at the year’s end.
The UK premiere was held at Oscar’s cinema in Brewer Street, Soho on 14 December 1972, attended by T.Rex, Ringo Starr and Elton John (sporting his famous ZOOM glasses). Marc’s wife June was initially refused admission, as an over-zealous doorman considered her claim to be Mrs Bolan just another ruse to get close to the star of the show. The after-show party at Tramps nightclub also played host to Donovan, Bernie Taupin and Keith Moon…
To promote the movie, as well as the usual round of press interviews and advertising Marc appeared on BBC’s ‘Pebble Mill at One’, and the picture was reviewed on BBC Film ’72, with Barry Norman.
In-cinema displays included eight colour 10” x 8” shots from the film, a large poster, and a 25p programme.
The movie’s run continued at Oscar One, with distribution to the ABC chain of cinemas commencing on 31 December in London and the suburbs; it went nationwide in the New Year, with frequent re-screenings during the school holidays.
After Marc Bolan’s tragic death in 1977, the film became a regular monthly favourite at the Essential Cinema Club on Wardour Street in Soho, also enjoying occasional screenings at special fan-organised events and music film festivals throughout the UK.
It made a brief appearance on VHS in the early 1990s and then slowly slipped into obscurity, with the final public screenings being at an anniversary tribute event at the Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square, on 16 September 1997, attended by Marc’s son Rolan Bolan.
After many years of doubt, in 2003 it was finally confirmed that the out-takes from the movie still exist. The cans of unused film had been stored for three decades, coming to rest in a high-security warehouse in West London. And so began the project to realise the ultimate Bolan visual experience: the Born to Boogie Video.