I was back in Newcastle for one of Sting’s three The Last Ship shows, at The Sage in Gateshead last weekend. As I am in the closing stages of my book on Sting, it provided the perfect setting – where he was essentially bringing the stage play home. Although this was not the full Broadway production of the show, it offered Sting the opportunity to talk through the story, introduce the characters, and of course play through many of the songs. In addition to its location, the show had an additional layer of authenticity due to the appearances of The Unthanks, The Wilson Family and of course Jimmy Nail – who performed in the show on Broadway.
This is not intended to be a review of the show, as there has been a number of them already, But more an opportunity for me to consider the impact of the songs – when played in Newcastle, and their reflection of Geordie Identity. I got the opportunity to meet with Sting, just before his first show on Saturday 25th, and managed to discuss the impact of living away from Newcastle, yet being inextricably tied to it causes. This is an akenside syndrome ‘condition’, so beautifully written about by Joe Sharkey.
Firstly, Sting quite correctly believed that a vocabulary is yet to be invented that describes the feelings that those of us experiencing the condition go through. However, I think music has the capacity to portray these emotions more accurately than pure words. Unlike words – it enables us to experience multiple complex feelings simultaneously – as opposed to the more linear trajectory of words. The first time I heard Sting’s ‘Dead Mans Boots’, it portrayed not only his own relationship toward the expectations of his upbringing – but also my own. Indeed it was this song that inspired me to write the book on Sting – maybe I could try and understand my own complex feelings via the lens of my far more famous compatriot? I have lived away from Newcastle myself for 30 years now since leaving music college – yet still consider myself a Geordie, although I am constantly renegotiating my identity in much the same way that Sting has – sometimes feeling very distant – and other times incredibly proud and close.
As a result of my brief conversation with Sting, I set off tomorrow to deliver a paper on Sting and the Protest song at a conference at the University of Limerick, with a fresh perspective of my chosen subject matter. Not only is Sting a thoroughly nice guy – but he is in the process of thinking through his Geordie identity – like many of us. In many ways – despite some of the essentialisms in The Last Ship, he is in fact breaking down the stereotype of what it means to be a Geordie – no incomprehensible accents, flat caps, pigeons or lack of intellect to be seen here. Regarding protest song, I gave him a copy of my book on Frank Zappa as a thank you for meeting me. He informed me that the music world needs more people like Zappa – who speak their mind, not afraid of the consequences in terms of record sales. Sting, who seems to regularly use his background as a creative spark, is also making a brave move here – in particular with his American audience – who may not quite understand or relate to the plot or cultural backdrop in a play such as The Last Ship. I wish him good luck – as the stage play moves forward – apparently to Scandinavia next year – them maybe London after that – although I would like to see the Broadway production taking place in Newcastle!