LIVERPOOL, England (AP) – With a little help from his friends, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr returned home Friday to kickstart Liverpool’s year in the spotlight as a European Capital of Culture.

Starr joined Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart in headlining a huge outdoor concert, featuring around 600 local musicians, acrobats and children performing from rooftops and on construction cranes – a symbol of the industrial city’s regeneration.

From a platform above the neoclassical St. George’s Hall, Starr belted out his latest single “Liverpool 8” to the 40,000-strong crowd.

“Destiny was calling, I just couldn’t stick around,” he sang. “Liverpool I left you, but I never let you down.”

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 yearlong festivities are seen as an important step in attempts by the northwest England port 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.

“You have both sides of the coin, it is ying and yang,” Starr told The Associated Press. “You know there (are) some really nice posh restaurants but just 2 miles away it is not so pretty.

“I believe they are knocking the street I was brought up in down,” Starr said. “That is the end of it, they will build something else. Let’s hope it is better.”

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 30-foot mural on the side of a pub was among the structures covered up – prompting complaints that the city was targeting neighborhoods 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 honored.

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

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AP-ES-01-11-08 1808EST

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