Page last updated at 20:20 GMT, Friday, 11 January 2008

City enjoys culture capital party

A workman puts finishing touches to a banner
The event has been described as "a once in a lifetime" show

Tens of thousands of people have joined in a launch party for Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture.

Former Beatle Ringo Starr helped get the party under way by performing on the 100ft-high roof of St George's Hall in the centre of the city.

He was joined by acrobats who dangled on wires from cranes - designed to reflect the building work which has transformed the area.

The opening party kicks off a year-long programme of more than 350 events.

Fireworks exploded from the top of St George's Hall and lights and projections bathed the Neo-Classical masterpiece and other surrounding buildings, including the Empire Theatre and Lime Street station.

As well as suspending the acrobats, some of whom appeared to dash up the side of St George's Hall, the cranes also hoisted shipping containers, which were designed to symbolise the city's shipping heritage.

Organisers hope the Capital of Culture tag will attract an extra two million visitors and boost the economy by 100m.

The ceremony began at 2008 GMT and boasted a list of 600 performers, including Starr, former Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart and The Wombats.

Ringo Starr performs at the launch party
Ringo Starr performed on the roof of St George's Hall

The show's design was drawn up by director Nigel Jamieson, responsible for the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Games.

It took more than 100 tonnes of staging, 2.5 miles (4km) of fibre optic cabling and 250 people more than 40,000 hours to set up.

Two 40ft (12m) screens were erected to help the crowd on Lime Street enjoy the show.

Despite earlier criticism, Phil Redmond, Brookside creator and deputy chairman of the Culture Company said he was sure it would go to plan: "It's like a scouse wedding - a lot of rowing but it gets there in the end."

On Saturday the new Echo Arena will play host to a musical extravaganza which will showcase some of the most famous names in Merseyside music.

Ringo Starr, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Farm, Riuven, The Wombats, Pete Wylie, Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra took centre stage alongside community choirs and gospel groups in the "once in a lifetime show".

At a news conference the former Fab Four drummer said he was proud to be a part of the celebrations.

"I'm from Liverpool, I do feel that - it's in my soul.

"It has changed so much over the years but the atmosphere of the city doesn't change - it's still here."

Liverpool's art galleries and museums will also be open to visitors until 2200 GMT.

Experts at the North West Development Agency have predicted that the year-long title and other planned events could net 50m from tourists.

They also expect the same amount again to be generated on Merseyside.

Peter Mearns, executive director of marketing at the NWDA, said: "As the celebrations get under way for Capital of Culture the eyes of the world will be on England's North West and it is critical that we seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show the world exactly what we have to offer here."



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Ringo Starr performs to the crowds in Liverpool



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