Well, after four years of discussions, public lectures and a number of book launches, I am now down to my last few days of engaging with my hometown of Newcastle, via the lens of Sting. I am looking forward to speaking at the Westbourne Book Binge on Sunday, where I am being interviewed by Paul Kelly, which is followed by what will be my final talk in Cardiff on Monday 30th. Although I only managed to meet Sting once in the four year period, I would like to thank him for giving me the environment to think about my own relationship to Newcastle – which is equally as complex as his. Like Sting, mine is refracted through distance, time and imagination, but it is a nostalgia that feels very real. It is a nostalgia that reflects the true meaning of the word – a mixture of ‘homecoming’ and ‘pain’.
I went to see the first preview of The Last Ship a few weeks back at the same venue where I first seen Sting play in Last Exit when I was 14 years old, which itself was a nostalgic experience. However, even when I attempted to distance myself from the feeling of being in the same room with several hundred Geordies, watching a narrative of isolation, escape and return, I could not help but feel Sting had tapped into something very special here – far more profound than anything he has done previously – or will probably do subsequently.
It is well documented how the various narrative streams in The Last Ship relate directly to Sting’s own past – such as his relationship with his dad, his move to London, his rejection of of Newcastle, and of course his celebrated reunion. Although Sting is exercising his own ghosts here, he is also assisting people such as myself, who has loved and hated his hometown, and was determined to somehow escape what appeared to be a wall of cultural and geographical restrictions when growing up. At 16 when I left Blaydon Comprehensive, my whole world existed around a five mile radius of the house I was born in – so ‘escape’, was the only alternative for someone who wanted to make music. However, ‘return’ is the most important part of this story to me. When I met Sting, he told me that ‘a word does not exist that describes his [now very positive] feelings for Newcastle’, and I would say the same is true for me. As I said at the start of this blog, we are partially talking about a Newcastle that is in the imagination, with parts of it not existing anymore, but it has been such a pleasure having the opportunity to think about it from a personal perspective, let alone an academic one. I hope at least parts of my book transcends Sting, and facilitates readers to consider the complex relationships we all have with our hometowns, and the ways in which artistic practice can assist both the composers and their audiences engage with the places of our birth.