REVIEW: Sting, The Last Ship, Sage Gateshead

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STING soared at a trio of special home-coming gigs which paid a remarkable musical homage to shipbuilding.

How fitting that the weekend’s gigs should take place at Sage Gateshead, on the banks of the river which was once the industrial lifeblood of the singer’s hometown.

That same river informed the sound of his 14th studio album, The Last Ship. Inspired by his memories of growing up in Wallsend, it’s perhaps his most personal record to date in a career that has spanned five decades, millions of sales and a string of awards.

His Geordie lilt seemed stronger than ever as he performed alongside a host of home-grown talent including celebrated violin and Northumbrian Pipe player Kathryn Tickell and vocalists Rachel and Becky Unthank, who helped to inject an air of romanticism with their haunting sound.

Bringing the grit of the shipyards to the proceedings was Jimmy Nail who recreated the character of Jackie White, a role he originated in the stage musical version of The Last Ship on Broadway. The show met with a mixed response across The Pond, but back in its birthplace it shone.

Thick with colloquialisms which resonate strongly with a North East ear, this was a show which struck a chord most loudly in front of a home crowd.

Reminiscing about his formative years, Sting told the sold-out Sage: “I was born in the shadow of Swan Hunter, my earliest memories are of ships blocking out the sun. Every morning I watched thousands of men going to work and I wondered if that would be my destiny, but I was determined it wouldn’t be.”

He looked back to 1961, when he was nine-years-old and waiting for the Queen Mother to visit the shipyard. She noticed him, albeit briefly, but he says it was this sense of being noticed which sparked a desire in him to eschew the usual career path of boys raised on those streets.

Like the river, the songs meander through the highs and lows of this way of life and thread together the narratives of characters conjured up by Sting.

They touch upon themes of friendship, lost loves at sea and personal journeys.

Sting’s magnetic stage presence makes the story-telling come to life all the more.

He even treated fans to music from his back catalogue and When We Dance sounded more beautiful than ever amidst the perfect acoustics of The Sage’s Hall One.

Though shipbuilding may be a lost industry in the region, music is very much still flying the flag for North East passion.