LIVERPOOL, England - With a little help from his friends, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr returned home Friday to kick-start Liverpool's year in the spotlight as a European "Capital of Culture."

Starr joined Eurythmics front man Dave Stewart in headlining a huge outdoor concert, featuring around 600 local musicians, aerial performers and children.

Starr said before the ceremony that although Liverpool was always rich for the arts, the Capital of Culture title is a big boost.

"I think it brings it to the attention of the whole world," he told reporters.

"They didn't have the Tate Modern when I was here," Starr said, referring to the famous British art museum, which has a gallery in the city. "It's built up over many years and it is all happening now."

The Fab Four's drummer will star again Saturday in "Liverpool, The Musical," a showcase of the city's rich musical heritage that also features the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Farm and up-and-coming rockers The Wombats.

The year-long festivities are seen as an important step in attempts by the northwest England port city to shake off its image of economic deprivation, social unrest and gang violence.

The city has spent years and pumped millions into regeneration - work that organizers predict will spark a tourism boom.

To give tourists a better impression, rundown buildings - including rows of dilapidated houses near downtown Liverpool - have been hidden behind billboards covered with paintings and poetry.

The efforts to mask buildings in disrepair have not been without controversy.

Graffiti artist Banksy's nine-metre mural on the side of a pub was among the facades covered up - prompting complaints that the city was targeting neighbourhoods rather than individual blighted buildings.

More than 350 other events are planned throughout the year.

Each year two cities in European Union nations hold the title of culture capital, a designation that provides a boost for jobs and tourism. Britain last had its turn in 1990, when Glasgow was honoured.

Stavanger, Norway, is the other culture capital for 2008.


On the Net:

Latest From ...