Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ringo in Atlanta

Checking out decorations for the evening's festivities.  Photo by Patti Murawski
Arriving in Atlanta International Airport.  Photo by Jennie Swenton

Brad, Georg, Ringo and Barbara.  photo by Jennie Swenton

This story by Jennie Swenton is about when Ringo and Barb went to Atlanta from September 25-27 to celebrate the opening of a restaurant in that city in which Ringo was a shareholder.   It originally appeared in issue #58 of "With a Little Help from my Friends."

Around the middle of September, I got a call from Pat Simmons, telling me that Ringo would definitely be attending the September 26 opening night party of the restaurant in Atlanta in which he is an investor, the London Brasserie.  She suggested that I get in touch with WALH subscriber Brad Hundt, who had more information about the party.  It turns out that Brad is also a subscriber to the Harrison Alliance, the fanzine that I work on.  Brad told me all he knew about plans for the party, which he was to attend as part of the press corps.  The media in Atlanta had said that all sorts of stars were going to attend the party –George Harrison, Elton John, Phil Collins, to name a few.  Add to this the news from London from Petra Zeitz that Paul and Linda were planning to be there, and it really set the imagination going.  Patti Murawski, my “partner in crime” on THA, and I decided it would be great fun to vacation in Atlanta at the time of the party – a good chance to meet some THA friends and see Ringo and maybe a few other special people.

Brad met us at our hotel in Atlanta on Friday, September 25.  He and his friends had found out that Ringo and gang were arriving at the airport at about 4:30 on a flight from London.  Patti and I are so sued to struggling to find out anything, we were amazed that this was turning out so differently.  We met one of the Brad’s friends, Rick Glover, who took us out to the airport.  There was hardly anyone waiting for Ringo.  There were the four of us, a few other fans, and some media people, but really nothing compared to what I expected.  (Remember rumors were still flying that George and Paul would be there, and God knows who else…).  I didn’t put much stake in the rumors, but wasn’t really sure who might show up.

While waiting to meet the British Consul General; as the Queen’s representative in Atlanta, he had come out to the airport to meet Ringo.  For a few minutes, it looked like security might bring Ringo and Barbara out through another exit but in the end they took them through the way the general public would go.  The international arrivals area is separated from the main terminal by glass; suddenly, we saw some security men go racing down the corridor.  A few seconds later, Ringo and Barbara appeared.  There were security people around them, and couple of cops, but we could see Ringo and Barbara fine.  Ringo looked really great, in a black jacket with pinstriped, jeans and black shoes.  His beard and hair were very dark, shortish, with his hair spiky in the front.  TI was all very quick, although the Consul General did get to greet him.  I also heard someone ask for an autograph, but Ringo refused, citing the long flight.  Ringo and company had to go up an escalator to get to the exit so I went on ahead up the stairs, figuring to watch Ringo come up the escalator after I’d reached the top.  At the top of the escalator a fan shook Ringo’s hand and said, “Welcome to Atlanta.”  Somehow, as I started to leave the building, I would up tucked behind Barbara, and walked almost shoulder to shoulder with Ringo; security didn’t say a word or lay a hand on me.

Ringo and Barb got into an enormous limo straightaway.  While the door was still open Patti and I waved to them – Pattie gave thumbs up and Ringo did the same back.  After they shut the door of the limo, we turned to see what else was up and saw Bill Wyman was there!  There was an actor with him, Michael Brandon, from the TV show “Dempsey and Make peace.”  After posing for some photos, Bill and Michael went in another limo.  For the other people who came on the flights with them, there was a red double-decker London bus to transport them into town.

Brad told us that Ringo was doing a radio interview the next morning.  We had found out that he would be interviewed at the Sundial restaurant, so Patti and I thought maybe we could see him there on Saturday.  As it turned out, however, the restaurant was on the top floor of the hotel he was staying in, and the elevator that went there was shut off to the public and the restaurant was closed while Ringo was there.  (We didn’t know all this until we got to the hotel on Saturday morning).  We were there awhile until we had figured out what was going on, and by being there so long we discovered we missed hearing the live radio interview!  After that we went to the Peachtree Center shopping mall which was attached to the hotel where Patti and I were staying and which is where the London Brasserie is located.  “Ringo’s restaurant” is atone corner of the mall, so that you can enter the restaurant form either the street or the mall.  Ringo’s hotel was about two blacks form the mall.  We went to have some lunch in the mall and looked at the decorations that were being put up for the party.  The party was being held in the mall and in the Brasserie – to get into the restaurant itself you needed a special pass, and the other party-goers had a different type of pass which let them into the mall area only).  Workers were putting up red and white balloons and streamers made of then metallic ribbon.  There was also a centerpiece decoration with a British theme (Big Ben, knight in armor, union jack) and a bandstand where a sound system was being set up.

Around midafternoon, we were going back to our hotel when I remembered that I had wanted to go to a toy shop I had seen in the lobby of Ringo’s hotel.  We decided to go straight there before returning to our hotel, as there might not be time later.  We were in the shop just a minute when we both heard someone playing songs on a toy xylophone and a British voice asked the clerk, “Do you know that one?  I co-wrote that…”  The guy was a real ego-maniac, saying to this poor clerk, “Don’t you know who I am?” When she had no idea who he was.  She did eventually ask his name and he was Gary Osbourne, who has written some lyrics for Elton John.  Meanwhile Patti and I kept looking at the toys but also kept our ears open in case we might learn some clues to Ringo’s where abouts.  Gary bought something and was leaving the shop, but when he got to the door he stopped to talk to someone who was passing by out in the hotel lobby.  Just out of curiosity I turned to see who he was talking to.  At the same time Patti said, “Who’s he talking to? Through the shop window I saw Ringo!

I quietly told Pattie he was there and we went out into the lobby.  Gary showed Ringo the gift he had bought.  Gary was wearing a pair of white sneakers with wild red and lack designs and Ringo asked him what size they were.  Gary told him the size and the two compared show sizes, Ringo putting one foot alongside Gary’s.  Gary told him he’d bought the shoes at a Foot Locker store near the Brasserie in the mall, and said that shop had a sign in the window which read, “Ringo Starr’s number one fan works here – let’s talk!”  Ringo was a bit amused by that!  Then Ringo, Barb and their friends went on their way.  We followed at a distance as they walked out of the hotel and continued on down the street.  A couple people recognized Ringo on the street and stopped to shake his hand.
Since the restaurant was so close, they walked over there.  Not far from the restaurant, Pattie walked along with Ringo and asked if he had time to sign.  He didn’t say no but “Not while we’re walking.”  Shortly after that Ringo and Barbara and friends crossed the street and went into the restaurant.  Patti and I continued down to the corner and went around the building to enter the mall from another entrance.  We decided to go to the shoe store and tell the clerk that Gary Osbourne and Ringo had been trading notes about the shoes – we had seen the “Ringo’s biggest fan” sign in the window earlier in the day.  We went in and told the clerk what had happened.  He had apparently got a call from the restaurant already; someone had phoned to say Ringo would be coming over to the shop.  Needless to say the guy (Dana) was over the moon to hear that!  We didn’t talk too long because he had customers to wait on.  We couldn’t leave the mall, knowing Ringo was there in the Brasserie, so we looked at the progress that had been made on the decorations while we’d been gone. 

After a while, we saw Ringo coming out of the restaurant and turn into the mall.  Along the way he signed on or two autographs.  He and Barbara and two people who’d come with them from the hotel came into the mall and sure enough, Ringo went into the Foot Locker.  Patti, a few other fans, and I stood a short ways outside the door.  Ringo and Dana, the shoe clerk, hugged each other as if they were old friends!  Barb and one of the guys left for a little while, to look at the party decorations.  Ringo sat down and spent awhile trying on the white/red/black shoes.

We watched Ringo trying on the sneakers and looking at some kids’ t-shirts in the shop while talking with Dana.  When Barbara came back Patti and I asked her to sign some photos.  She signed them and said, “I don’t’ know if Ritchie will have time to sign.”  Pattie assured her that she understood.  After Ringo had bought his shoes, he posed for a picture with Dana before leaving.  He had on the shoes he had just bought.  When he came out of the store he and his friends went to look at the bandstand.  The band was there doing a sound check and when they saw Ringo was there, they played a few bars of “Back off Boogaloo.”  When they finished they said they had a song especially for him, and played “A Hard Day’s Night” all the way through. He was really enjoying it, bopping to the music.  A small crowd had gathered, some were there because they recognized Ringo, but a lot had just heard the band and drifted over to watch and listen, with no idea that Ringo was there.  When the song was over everybody, including Ringo, applauded.  After that, Ringo and friends left the mall, we followed at a distance as they went out the exit near the Brasserie and got into a limo.

We had made plans earlier in the day to meet Brad, Rick and their friends George and Sandy at Georgia State University.  They were going to the party but we had wanted to meet before they went in.  At about 6:00 we headed over to the Brasserie.  They were going to get there a bit early and there wasn’t anyone outside the Brasserie yet; when we got back a short while later there was quite a crowd outside.  Patti and I “excuse me’d” our way up to the front of the crowd.  There was a long wait for guests to start arriving.  It turned into a real mob scene after the press arrived.  Police barriers went up as the crowd grew, but the security and police allowed a lot of the media people to stand in front of the barriers.  Brad, Rick, George and Sandy had come outside to wait too, as had many of the guests.

Jerry Lee Lewis arrived, as well as Andrew Young, the mayor of Atlanta.  Other celebrity guests included the Georgia Satellites, .38 Special, Isaac Hayes, Mike Nesmith, Nigel Olsen, Jermaine Jackson, Expose and Peabo Bryson.  When Ringo and Barbara arrived it was chaos; the press crowded all around as they went across the sidewalk and up the stairs.  I really felt sorry for them having to go through all that.  After Ringo and Barbara, Bill Wyman strolled from the car quite safely, as all the press people had rushed up the stairs to follow Ringo and Barb.  Ringo had on the black and white jacket he wore onstage at the Prince’s Trust concerts; I didn’t really even see Barbara when they came in.  Bill looked good, in a satiny blue suit.

It soon became apparent that neither George nor Paul was coming.  There were some famous people there but nothing like the megastars that had been said to be coming.  We weren’t disappointed as we had suspected all along that It was just a bunch of hype that George and Paul would be there.

The only news of the party which I have is that most of the guests didn’t even see Ringo for most of the night.  He and Barbara did come down to the stage when Jerry Lee Lewis got up to sing a few songs with the band, and Ringo played drums on a couple numbers, as was shown on “Entertainment Tonight.”  Ringo and Barbara left eh party through a side door sometime after midnight.

We waited for Brad and the others to leave the party.  When things starting winding down, we got some London Brasserie chocolate which was being given out as party gifts (small pieces of chocolate with the restaurant logo on them).

Sunday morning I called Brad and Rick.  They were planning to go to Ringo’s hotel, so we arranged to meet there.  When we got there, we found George and another fan named Tim were there too.  It didn’t look like anything much was happening there but at least it would be a chance to visit with our friends before we left Atlanta.  Patti and I had to get an airport shuttle from our hotel at either 2:30 or 3:00 in order to get to the airport in time for our flight home…as it got near 2:30 we decided to take the 3:00 shuttle .. it was getting later and we’d have to leave to make the 3:00 bus when suddenly, at about 2:40, Barbara came out of the hotel and Ringo was there!  They were with some other people we didn’t know and Bill Wyman was there too.  Rick, Patti, George, Brad and Tim went over to Ringo; Ringo shook his hand and asked for an autograph.  When I saw they were asking for autographs and he agreed to sign, I got over there and asked him to sign too.  He took his time and signed for all of us.  The guys were telling him they had eaten at the Brasserie and the food was good, and wished him good luck with it.  Patti said, “Make more records!” and he said, “Ok!”  I commented on his new shoes (he was wearing them) but he didn’t hear me. I also heard Patti talking to Barbara about the melee outside the restaurant the night before; there had been reports that she had gotten hurt in the crowd coming into the party, but she assured Patti she had just been frightened by the chaos more than anything else. 

After Ringo signed, we all said thank you and then stepped back and let him talk to his friends.  They appeared to be waiting for a car, but none arrived.  I saw Patti had gone over to get Bill’s autograph so I went over and asked him to sign as well. 

Ringo posed for a photo with a couple of the guys, and then Brad and George posed with him, so we all took a few photos.  Ringo was being really sweet.  Ringo and Barbara and friends waited a minute or two longer, then went back into the hotel.  They were sitting in the lobby, but we decided we ought not the hassle them, besides, it was 10 to 3 and Patti and I absolutely had to leave or we’d miss the bus to the airport.  It was not easy to think about that when we had just seen Ringo Starr!

I can’t begin to express how exciting it was to see Ringo, especially on Sunday.  It was such a highlight not only to see Ringo, but to also get his autograph!  Even if I haven’t been able to get an autograph, it would have been a great weekend and worth going.  It’s not every weekend you get to meet a Beatle at the airport, see him trying on shoes in a shoe store and get his autograph!

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