The Last Ship (Benefit Shows)
Apr
24
2015
Newcastle, GBSage Gateshead
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Sting thrills Sage Gateshead with The Last Ship performances...

Rock star Sting made a triumphant homecoming at the weekend for three performances of songs from his musical The Last Ship.

While the musical itself may have closed early on Broadway, this version was without any question a huge success, held at the Sage Gateshead to benefit its 10th birthday appeal.

Three capacity audiences caught the Wallsend-born superstar take us through the tale of workers at Swan Hunter in Wallsend and their families, inspired by his childhood growing up in the shadows of the huge ships once built there.

Geordie or not, you could not help but be moved by the music and storytelling, just as Sting himself was moved when 700 schoolchildren joined him at the Sage before the concerts proper to sing songs from The Last Ship with him.

It wasn’t just Sting who entertained us, though. He was backed by a stellar North East cast including Jimmy Nail, Kathryn Tickell, her brother Peter, Charlie Richmond, Rachel and Becky Unthank and Teesside’s The Wilson Family, as well as musicians Sting normally tours the world’s arenas with.

The show was a mix of pathos and humour, backed by a projector screen of atmospheric images of days gone by when Tyneside shipbuilding was the envy of the world.

For those lucky enough to get tickets, it was a chance to see one of the world’s most famous musicians in an informal and up close and personal setting.

Sting regaled us of tales from his childhood, including the time the Queen Mother came to launch a ship and passed him by in her big Rolls-Royce and “waving at me”. He was not even in his teens at the time, but it was a pivotal moment for Sting – it was then he knew he was not destined to work in the shipyards as he wanted to see the world and “travel in a car like that”, he joked to us.

Some have questioned if Sting has forgotten his roots – The Last Ship is ample proof he most definitely has not.

The music comes alive much more than it does on CD and the banter with Nail, Richmond and the other acts just added to a hugely enjoyable concert.

There were some surprise moments, such as Nail’s sister Val McLane making a guest appearance and Sting telling us it was she who signed his equity card, commenting at the time: “Are you sure you want to be called Sting?”

The Unthank sisters not only treated us to their hauntingly beautiful vocals, but put on a cracking dance show too.

Australian-born Jo Lawry provided the main female vocals, Sting bringing her all the way from Brooklyn for the concerts, calling her an “honorary Geordie” for the weekend. She was superb.

But the evening ultimately belonged to Sting himself, who waived his fees for the concerts to aid the birthday appeal. What Have We Got? had the audience singing along and joining in, Dead Man’s Boots was as rousing as it gets and The Last Ship itself brought a lump to the throat.

All involved deserved the standing ovation at the end. It may not have won over Broadway audiences, but on the strength of this, if The Last Ship is ever revived as a musical and does a North East run it would be without question a runaway success.

These performances, though, will become the stuff of legend, when anyone who caught them can look on with pride and say “I was there”.

(c) The Chronicle by Gordon Barr

Sting, The Last Ship, Sage Gateshead...

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.

(c) Sunderland Echo by Katy Wheeler

Sting was joined by friends including Jimmy Nail and the Unthank sisters in benefit gigs for the Sage's birthday appeal...

A superb array of musical talent and some great songs ensured that The Last Ship, Sting’s weekend benefit gigs for Sage Gateshead’s 10th birthday appeal, will live long in the memory.

We didn’t get to see the full-blown stage musical version of The Last Ship – it closed on Broadway in January – but a story “about exile and a sense of belonging” came to life resoundingly through the music and Sting’s brief narrative interludes.

“I’m delighted to be back here – to be back home, particularly in this lovely venue we’re all so proud of, us Geordies,” said Sting, introducing Saturday afternoon’s performance, the second of three.

But Sting, who hasn’t always boasted of his Geordie roots, was not only performing for a home crowd. To scattered whoops, he welcomed people “from Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia”.

Sting has fans in as many countries as have been visited by the big ships made at Swan Hunter – many of them for Cunard, a sponsor of the gigs, and including the one launched at the end of Sting’s Wallsend street by the Queen Mother.

He recalled the day, back in 1961, when, as a wide-eyed nine-year-old, he imagined he caught the royal visitor’s eye and decided he’d like to ride in a big posh car. Many may have thought it. Sting, we can assume, has achieved it.

The Last Ship, title track of show and album, opened proceedings, a rousing, rumbling song of soaring melody and rhythm.

In tone, the show ebbed and flowed, from And Yet and August Winds, songs as beautiful and wistful as any Sting has written, to the foot-stomping and theatrical What Have We Got?

This raucous anthem was made for the throaty delivery of Jimmy Nail who played shipyard foreman Jackie White on stage and was in terrific form here.

If Jimmy was lured out of retirement to do The Last Ship, as Sting claimed, then it was a good move. He got a huge cheer in the Sage’s Hall One and the man who gave us Crocodile Shoes should maybe think about reviving his musical career.

It was wonderful to see so much North East talent on display, including Jimmy’s big sister, the actress Val McLane, who reminded us that she, too, has a fabulous voice.

A superb array of musical talent and some great songs ensured that The Last Ship, Sting’s weekend benefit gigs for Sage Gateshead’s 10th birthday appeal, will live long in the memory.

We didn’t get to see the full-blown stage musical version of The Last Ship – it closed on Broadway in January – but a story “about exile and a sense of belonging” came to life resoundingly through the music and Sting’s brief narrative interludes.

“I’m delighted to be back here – to be back home, particularly in this lovely venue we’re all so proud of, us Geordies,” said Sting, introducing Saturday afternoon’s performance, the second of three.

But Sting, who hasn’t always boasted of his Geordie roots, was not only performing for a home crowd. To scattered whoops, he welcomed people “from Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia”.

Sting has fans in as many countries as have been visited by the big ships made at Swan Hunter – many of them for Cunard, a sponsor of the gigs, and including the one launched at the end of Sting’s Wallsend street by the Queen Mother.

He recalled the day, back in 1961, when, as a wide-eyed nine-year-old, he imagined he caught the royal visitor’s eye and decided he’d like to ride in a big posh car. Many may have thought it. Sting, we can assume, has achieved it.

The Last Ship, title track of show and album, opened proceedings, a rousing, rumbling song of soaring melody and rhythm.

In tone, the show ebbed and flowed, from And Yet and August Winds, songs as beautiful and wistful as any Sting has written, to the foot-stomping and theatrical What Have We Got?

This raucous anthem was made for the throaty delivery of Jimmy Nail who played shipyard foreman Jackie White on stage and was in terrific form here.

If Jimmy was lured out of retirement to do The Last Ship, as Sting claimed, then it was a good move. He got a huge cheer in the Sage’s Hall One and the man who gave us Crocodile Shoes should maybe think about reviving his musical career.

It was wonderful to see so much North East talent on display, including Jimmy’s big sister, the actress Val McLane, who reminded us that she, too, has a fabulous voice.

The Tickells, Kathryn and Peter, provided virtuoso support on strings while Julian Sutton did likewise on melodeon.

The Unthank sisters, Rachel and Becky, not only sang but got their clogs on for a dance, adding to the folk-infused fervour of the afternoon.

Singing solo alongside Sting and Jimmy were Charlie Richmond, a Newcastle College graduate who sang in the workshop performance of The Last Ship at Live Theatre in 2012, and versatile Jo Lawry, an Aussie introduced by Sting as an “adopted Geordie”.

Some accomplished American musicians made up a tight band.

Musical director Rob Mathis, who has also worked with Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon and Aretha Franklin, was clearly a lynchpin, busy on keyboards throughout.

But the biggest cheer of the afternoon went to the Wilson Family, from Teesside, who – as five large and rather shambling middle-aged brothers – are anyone’s antidote to chart pop.

“I thought I was getting The Beach Boys,” quipped Sting. “I was happy with what I got.”

Unaccompanied and in perfect harmony, and without microphones, they sang a song called Big Steamers (words by Rudyard Kipling) and brought the house down.

A word, finally, for the wonderful slow motion visuals projected onto a screen above the band.

With the colours and textures of a Turner painting, we saw a ghost-like sequence of still and moving images of the Tyne in times gone by.

“I expect that was quite expensive,” said one impressed audience member afterwards. She should know. It was Maddy Prior, lead singer of Steeleye Span.

It was a ‘no expense spared’ kind of occasion and one to savour. Money raised will, through the birthday appeal, help to fund Sage activities into the future.

(c) The Journal by David Whetstone

Sting, The Last Ship: Sage Gateshead...

This is a show with a Sting in the tale. Like a bewhiskered buccaneer, Sting skippered his beautifully-crafted $15m musical into home waters with a passenger list of elite performers. Having hit an iceberg of apathy in its debut voyage across the Atlantic, instead of a victory jig it was down to Kathryn Tickell, her brother Peter, Teesside’s The Wilson Family, Rachel and Becky Unthank, Newcastle actor Charlie Richmond, veteran Tyneside actress Val McLane and vocalist Jo Lawry to give a rousing salute to the songs of Gordon Sumner. He, Jimmy Nail and Broadway show musicians had at least brought back a seaworthy production – and the argument will remain that the journey should have started in the North-East and steered via the West End.

But, from the hauntingly comedic title track this is probably one of the wonders of Wallsend that Sting was so determined to put back on the map.

Nostalgic tales of a nine-year-old boy who watched the Queen Mother arrive to launch a ship from the end of his street in 1961, were perfectly balanced cargo alongside “father and son” references from Dead Man’s Boots, love truths from Mrs Dees’ Rant and It’s Not the Same Moon or the end of an industry in We’ve Got Now’t Else.

Sting earned standing ovations over three sold-out performances for The Last Ship. The next port of call for this project, which has received three Outer Critics Circle nominations, looks uncertain. At least this is one treasured vessel which reached New York and returned.

(c) The Northern Echo by Viv Hardwick

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