Former Beatle Ringo Starr was the star of the show as Liverpool's European Capital of Culture year kicked off in style in the UK's newest music and entertainment venue.
The city saw the start of its year of culture begin with a two-hour extravaganza, which was also the official launch of the iconic waterfront Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool, comprising the Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre. A sell-out performance saw 700 performers - including Ringo - wow an audience of local people, cultural luminaries and VIPs, including UK Culture Secretary James Purnell.
The musical spectacular, called 'Liverpool the Musical', was attended by over 200 of the world's media and featured acclaimed conductor Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra as well as famous Liverpool bands Echo and the Bunnymen and the Farm. Arena bosses hailed the technically demanding performance as 'outstanding' and said it showed off the world-class capabilities of the new facility. Performers were stacked seven storeys into the air during the spectacle, which was choreographed by renowned directors Nigel Jamieson, responsible for the opening of the Sydney Olympics, and Jayne Casey, co-founder of legendary dance club Cream.
Over 15,000 man-hours were required to set up the gig, using 200 moving lights, 4km of cable and 600m of trussing. The 10,600-capacity Echo Arena Liverpool aims to the most environmentally-friendly arena in Europe, with all the venue's electricity needs coming from renewable sources. The Arena has over 100 events already confirmed, the highlight of which is November's star-studded MTV Europe Music Awards.
Irish popsters Westlife, cult comedy duo the Mighty Boosh and top sports entertainment WWE Wrestling already have sell out dates at the venue. Tim Banfield, general manager of Echo Arena Liverpool, said being part of the opening night of the Echo Arena Liverpool had been a 'once in a lifetime' moment. He said: "It's been a really fantastic build-up to opening the Echo Arena Liverpool and the opening night did not disappoint - it was simply outstanding. "You only get to open an Arena once and I doubt we could have done it any better. "It was a massive technical challenge to deliver a show as good as the opening of Liverpool's European Capital of Culture Year but we showed the quality and dedication the team here has as well as what this venue is capable of.
"We already have a top line up of music, sports and entertainment lined up for 2008 with several events sold out before we even opened. "That just shows how excited the people of Liverpool are about the venue and from the feedback we received after the opening event people cannot wait to come here and enjoy what we have to offer." "For too long, the people of Liverpool have lacked a world-class music and entertainment venue of this type. "Now we hope to offer them some of the best in the world of music, sport and entertainment over 2008 and beyond."