Rock star Sting made a triumphant homecoming at the weekend for three performances of songs from his musical The Last Ship.
While the musical itself may have closed early on Broadway, this version was without any question a huge success, held at the Sage Gateshead to benefit its 10th birthday appeal.
Three capacity audiences caught the Wallsend-born superstar take us through the tale of workers at Swan Hunter in Wallsend and their families, inspired by his childhood growing up in the shadows of the huge ships once built there.
Geordie or not, you could not help but be moved by the music and storytelling, just as Sting himself was moved when 700 schoolchildren joined him at the Sage before the concerts proper to sing songs from The Last Ship with him.
It wasn’t just Sting who entertained us, though. He was backed by a stellar North East cast including Jimmy Nail, Kathryn Tickell, her brother Peter, Charlie Richmond, Rachel and Becky Unthank and Teesside’s The Wilson Family, as well as musicians Sting normally tours the world’s arenas with.
The show was a mix of pathos and humour, backed by a projector screen of atmospheric images of days gone by when Tyneside shipbuilding was the envy of the world.
For those lucky enough to get tickets, it was a chance to see one of the world’s most famous musicians in an informal and up close and personal setting.
Sting regaled us of tales from his childhood, including the time the Queen Mother came to launch a ship and passed him by in her big Rolls-Royce and “waving at me”. He was not even in his teens at the time, but it was a pivotal moment for Sting – it was then he knew he was not destined to work in the shipyards as he wanted to see the world and “travel in a car like that”, he joked to us.
Some have questioned if Sting has forgotten his roots – The Last Ship is ample proof he most definitely has not.
The music comes alive much more than it does on CD and the banter with Nail, Richmond and the other acts just added to a hugely enjoyable concert.
There were some surprise moments, such as Nail’s sister Val McLane making a guest appearance and Sting telling us it was she who signed his equity card, commenting at the time: “Are you sure you want to be called Sting?”
The Unthank sisters not only treated us to their hauntingly beautiful vocals, but put on a cracking dance show too.
Australian-born Jo Lawry provided the main female vocals, Sting bringing her all the way from Brooklyn for the concerts, calling her an “honorary Geordie” for the weekend. She was superb.
But the evening ultimately belonged to Sting himself, who waived his fees for the concerts to aid the birthday appeal. What Have We Got? had the audience singing along and joining in, Dead Man’s Boots was as rousing as it gets and The Last Ship itself brought a lump to the throat.
All involved deserved the standing ovation at the end. It may not have won over Broadway audiences, but on the strength of this, if The Last Ship is ever revived as a musical and does a North East run it would be without question a runaway success.
hese performances, though, will become the stuff of legend, when anyone who caught them can look on with pride and say “I was there”.
(c) The Chronicle by Gordon Barr