Newcastle’s Live Theatre is currently celebrating fifty years of bringing audiences cutting edge new writing and local talent to its Quayside stage.
A host of actors, musicians and writers have been appearing there over the past few weeks including Nadine Shah, Jimmy Nail, Stewart Lee and Roger Allam.
On Thursday, it was Geordie musician Sting’s turn for the spotlight when he sat down with the theatre’s Artistic Director Jack McNamara for an interview and to play a few songs to a sell-out audience that included Alan Shearer and Jimmy Nail, as well as lots of friends and family.
Back in 2012, the seventeen-time Grammy winner chose the Live Theatre for initial script read throughs with local actors of his musical ‘The Last Ship’, which went on a critically acclaimed UK tour and runs on Broadway as well as in Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Taking a short break between concert dates on his My Songs tour, Sting looked relaxed and happy to be back in his home town. At a pre-show reception, he mixed and chatted with fans and theatre patrons, posing for photos and signing autographs and bits of memorabilia.
The event opened with Sting being asked about growing up in the city. He spoke of his childhood growing up in Wallsend and how he’d been to see the wonderful Chris Killip photographic exhibition at the Baltic Arts Centre earlier in the day, remarking how one of the shots was taken in his old street - Gerald Street, now gone - which led down to Swan Hunters shipyard.
Music was always in the house, he told us – musicals like Carousel and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for example, but also early rock and roll ‘78s that his mother bought. With that he performed an unlikely cover of ‘All Shook Up’, a record which Sting remembered having an almost catatonic effect on him that had him literally rolling on the floor in front of his bemused parents.
The singer spoke of his escape from a potential life in the shipyards or mines by passing the old eleven plus school examination that earned him a place at grammar school, and of an old guitar that was bestowed upon him by an emigrating uncle. He recalled his mother paying for guitar lessons in Wallsend, and spoke warmly about teachers who had influenced him at school.
Before performing ‘Heading South on the Great North Road,’ Sting told the audience how playing in the Newcastle Big Band and Last Exit eventually led to him giving up his promised teaching pension and moving to London, where he teamed up with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers, formed The Police, and headed to America on Laker Airways.
He recalled being jet lagged and buying a coffee on his first visit to New York. The waitress went to refill his cup and, being broke, he told her he couldn’t afford a second cup. “Honey”, she said, “this is America, the second cup is always free.” Thus began a life-long love affair with the city.
Later he performed ‘Englishman In New York’ and reminisced about his occasional lunches with Quentin Crisp and how two phrases - “illegal alien” and “be yourself no matter what they say” - prompted the writing of the song.
Scattered through these tales was a generous helping of songs that Sting performed on acoustic guitar. While ‘Roxanne’, ‘Message In A Bottle’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’ are some of the most played songs in history, it was versions of lesser known numbers like ‘Waters of Tyne’ and songs from ‘The Last Ship’ including ‘Dead Man’s Boots’, ‘The Night The Pugilist Learned How To Dance’ and the title track that particularly entranced. The evening closed with ‘Fields of Gold,’ dedicated to Trudie who was in the audience.