Sting needs no introduction. In fact, that was how he was introduced this week to a group of journalists at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. The mega-star singer and songwriter was in the city to share his candid and personal stories that inspired the musical, The Last Ship — scheduled to be on stage from February 9 to March 24, 2019. We were also treated to an intimate on-stage performance with a few of his songs from the production.
While we needed no introduction, we all love to hear the personal stories and it’s what makes this musical so fascinating. Inspired by Sting’s 1991 album The Soul Cages and his own childhood experiences, The Last Ship tells the story of a community amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Tyne and Wear with the closure of the Swan Hunter shipyard.
“Some of the largest vessels in the world were built at the end of my street and my earliest memories were looking south towards the river and not being able to see the sun except for the massive bows of the giant ships,” said Sting. “I’d watch thousands of men walk to work every morning at 7 o’clock. I’d watch the same men walk back home. I wondered if that would be the fate to my destiny.”
Everyone in his home town worked in the shipyard and there was very little else in the town in the way of work. “Frankly, that was the last thing I wanted to do,” said Sting. ” The shipyard was a dangerous place, a dark place, and a noisy place. I had other dreams. I dreamt about being a musician. I would sing those songs all over the world and be paid extravagant amounts of money. And that dream came true for me.”
Sting tells us he felt as though he had abandoned his community and town but at a certain point he realized that he owed a debt to that community. “What happened to that community and the shipyard was tragic in many ways. Because of abstract economic reasons the shipyard was closed. A way of life was shut down. Men lost their identity. It was the death of the town.”
The musician felt he was ideally placed to tell the story both as a songwriter and someone who came from that place. “A lot of the play is biographical by accident in many ways but I only realized that later on down the line.” However, he didn’t want to give the impression that it was all doom and gloom. There are several love stories woven into the play.
He mentioned that the music started forming about ten years ago. Sting jotted down a list of names of people he knew working in the shipyard and what their jobs were. The people included the foreman, joiners, welders, and even the union man.
“I realized that I put a lot of my private secrets into the work and when I look at it I realize I had given away a lot more than I had intended. But it’s been very therapeutic for me,” said Sting.
One of the themes is fathers and sons and the tension between generations. “My father didn’t want me to go to the shipyard. Plenty of other kids had that experience. My dad was the milkman but I didn’t want that job either. I needed to get out of there. My dad thought I was crazy.”
Sting received a scholarship to a grammar school where he was taught latin even though his father wanted him to have a technical education, something that he could relate to as an engineer. “The idea of making a living out of music was a pie in the sky idea. But sometimes a father’s love is misconstrued and is seen as controlling. And sometimes a son’s ambition can seem like just a crazy idea. In my case, I was just lucky,” said Sting.
Sting shared memories about how the town rarely saw celebrities. The only time would be when a ship was to be christened by a member of the Royal Family.The towns people all got dressed in their finest and lined the streets waving flags as dignitaries drove by. He vividly remembers one moment as a child seeing the Queen Mother waving from her Rolls Royce and catching her eye. “I started vigorously waving my flag as a loyal subject,” said Sting. “I realized for the first time, as she passes that I’ve been noticed. I’ve never been noticed in my life.”
Back in those days, he tells us people thought Royalty had magical powers and healing powers. “Well, I wasn’t cured of anything. In fact quite the opposite. I was infected with an idea. The idea was that I didn’t belong in this street, in this house, nor in this shipyard. I wanted to be in that fuckin’ car. I wanted a bigger life, a grander life which is what I got.”
He was asked if riding in that Rolls Royce lived up to his dreams. He replied with “No. I don’t think I’ve actually even been in a Rolls Royce. But I actually hate limousines. I try to live a modest life. But I mean, I do have a castle. Doesn’t every rockstar have a castle?” said Sting. “But I am grateful for my life. I’ve been very very fortunate but I also appreciate it because I was brought up at the other end of the economic spectrum and I know what it’s like to be poor. So, in many ways I appreciate everything that has happened to me.”
So, what about his home town? Have they recovered since the shipyard was shuttered? “For decades, virtually nothing,” said Sting. ” The coal mine was closed at one end of the town. The shipyard was closed. Really the town died. But they just had a recent revival with wind turbines being built there now and it’s quite successful so I’m happy about that.”
About The Last Ship
When a sailor named Gideon Flecher returns home after seventeen years at sea, tensions between past and future flare in both his family and his own town. The local shipyard, around which the community has always revolved, is closing and no-one knows what will come next, only that a half-built ship towers over the terraces. With the engine fired and pistons in motion, picket lines are drawn as foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy fight to hold their community together in the face of a gathering storm.
The Last Ship features an original score with music and lyrics by Sting as well as a few of his best-loved songs including Island of Souls, All This Time and When We Dance.
This new production of The Last Ship has just finished a critically acclaimed 12-week UK & Ireland tour, which followed a sell-out run at Newcastle’s Northern Stage.
Oh, and did we mention that Sting will be performing in the musical taking on the role of foreman Jackie White ?
Go to www.mirvish.com for ticket details.