12.20.09 Sting comes home for The Sage Gateshead's fifth birthday bash...

Sting comes home for The Sage Gateshead's fifth birthday bash...

Although it's a home from home for celebrated Northumbrian composer Kathryn Tickell, it was Sting's debut at this amazing venue. But he celebrated his homecoming in some style.

In fact he had the North East audience wrapped around his finger.

I saw The Police in their heyday and have been to numerous solo Sting gigs over the years but never seen him perform with such passion and intensity.

The occasion was the Sage's fifth birthday bash and he was Kathryn's special guest - but the lad from Wallsend stole the show.

Some of the songs were familiar - 'Fields of Gold', 'Alone with My Thoughts This Evening', 'Every Breath You Take' - but they were stripped down to the bare bone.

There was a raw honesty about this stark acoustic set.

And he's come a long way since he first played the battered Spanish guitar left behind at home by an uncle who emigrated to Canada.

He has confessed to having a few ghosts in his life, but Gordon Matthew Sumner seemed perfectly relaxed and delighted to be back on home turf. And he enjoyed bags of Geordie banter with the appreciative sell-out crowd in Hall One.

"I haven't had to tune my own guitar in a long time" laughed the bloke who has sold more than 100 million records and picked up 16 Grammys, before launching into a haunting version of Fields of Gold with Katherine on pipes.

He kicked off the set with a song taught to him by Kathryn, 'The Snow It Melts the Soonest', appropriate for the sub-zero temperatures on Tyneside on Sunday night. He also threw in an Appalachian yuletide tune, 'Cherry Tree Carol', from his new album 'If On A Winter's Night'.

In his revealingly candid autobiography Broken Music he compares himself to the big ships that were built at Swan Hunters on the Tyne at the end of his road. Most went away never to return. He explained to the audience how it became a metaphor for his own musical journey. But the sting in the tale was that he WAS back.

"I'm from Wallsend, which is the posh part of Tyneside," he joked with the audience. "I'm fiercely proud of my roots and very grateful for them. It's the first time I've had a band of Geordies behind me too."

Joining him on stage with Katherine were the rest of her band - brother Peter, on fiddle, Joss Clapp on guitar and Julian Sotton on melodeon.

His fabulous encore 'Message in a Bottle' "a song I wrote in Newcastle" with some spine-tingling sax playing by Andy Sheppard (another special guest) seemed an appropriate note on which to end his contribution.

Acclaimed folk newcomer Thea Gilmore and collaborator husband Nigel Stonier travelled 300 miles from Southampton in atrocious weather to make this birthday celebration.

The three-hour gig started with a long set by the 40 or so members of Folkestra - the ensemble managed by Kathryn in her role as artistic director of Folkworks.

She in turn paid tribute to her influences, fiddlers like Joe Scurfield, Willie Taylor and James Hill. Kathryn clearly warmed to her role as host, introducing her Folkestra bairns like a proud mum, and peppered her own performance with typical virtuoso pipe and fiddle playing on tunes like Rothbury Hills.

And Sting paid tribute to them all thus:

"I'm delighted to be back on Tyneside, and it's great that we have the Sage building which is representative of the extraordinary musical talent of this area."

Welcome home, son.

© ne4me.com by Michael Hamilton
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