Sting sails onto stage in Leeds

Jimmy Nail, Sting, and Lorne Campbell, artistic director of Northern Stage who is directing The Last Ship.
Jimmy Nail, Sting, and Lorne Campbell, artistic director of Northern Stage who is directing The Last Ship.
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Sting’s debut musical The Last Ship is coming to Leeds. As tickets go on sale, he talks to your YEP.

“I was terrified of the shipyards and I knew from a very early age that I needed to get away,” says top selling artist Sting. And yet it was growing up in the shipyards of North Tyneside, that has inspired what many describe as his life’s work, the musical The Last Ship.

This is the second incarnation of The Last Ship, which first premiered in the summer of 2014, in Chicago, before moving to Broadway where it lasted just five months.

“It wasn’t a flop,” he says defensively. “I made the musical I wanted to make.”

Sting was approached in 2010 by a Broadway producer and asked to make a musical.

“There was no way I was going to make a rock opera or a Disney style fairytale. I wanted to do something that was different.”

We are sitting in a dressing room at Northern Stage at the Sage in Gateshead just across the water from where the first seeds of The Last Ship were sown.

“I wanted to make sure that what I was doing had the support of the local shipyard workers it was about,” says Sting. “And so I invited them to some of the workshops at the very beginning of this process seven years ago to ask their permission.”

Approval of the community where he grew up and decided to leave, is very important to the mega star who was sold millions of records as frontman of the The Police and then as a solo artist.

“I was born next to the shipyard and I would see the men going to work everyday as I went to school,” says the 66-year-old. “It was a frightening place but it was part of my life.

“I wanted something different and I had to leave to achieve it. But at some point it was important to go back to where I came from, the community I rejected and realise that I owed them a debt of gratitude.”

Although Gordon Sumner (Sting’s real name) always wanted to be a musician, his day job was that of a teacher. But his life started to change when a member of the band he was playing in at the time, The Phoenix Jazzmen, decided to rename him Sting because of the black and yellow sweater he used to wear.

Then a chance meeting in Newcastle with drummer Stewart Copeland gave him the break he needed and within months Sting given up his teaching job, moved to London and left the shipyards behind.

The Police was formed with bass guitarist Henry Padovani, who was later replace by Andy Summers, and went on to have hit after his around the globe.The trio went their separate ways in 1986 only to surprise many people by reforming in 2007.

The Last Ship as a stage production may have been in existence for seven years, but for Sting it goes back far further. The death of his parents in close succession had a profound effect on the singer and led, in 1991, to the introspective album The Soul Cages.

“I always felt that it was quite theatrical,” says Sting. “Then about eight years ago I saw an article about Polish shipyard workers in Gdansk. The closure of the shipyard had devastated the community. But the community got together to build their own ship.

“I thought if I can include that story to the story of my own and create an allegory than I would be happy.”

The Last Ship centres on Gideon Fletcher who returns home after 17 years at sea. The local shipyard is closing and no one knows what will come next, only that a half-built ship towers over the terraces.

Directed by Lorne Campbell, the artistic director of Northern Stage, the show also stars Jimmy Nail, who came out of retirement to be part of the project seven years ago.

“When I was 55 I’d had enough,” says the 63-year-old Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star, who worked in the Tyneside shipyard before finding fame.

“Then I got a call from Sting. He said he’d had an idea about a musical and would I go along and work with some of the songs. It was such a fantastic piece of work. Lyrically it was extraordinary, but I had no interest in being involved in the performance. But then it got to the point where it as clear I was going to play the part. I was never formally asked, it just evolved really. I’m like the barnacle on the bottom of the ship.”

Full rehearsals will start in January and Nail knows what’s at stake. When when ticket sales started to dwindle in America, Sting stepped in and replaced his leading man.

“I’m not sure he has ever forgiven me,” says Sting. Although given Nail has once again come out of retirement to take on the role of foreman Jackie he appears to have drawn a line under the US production.

And the reincarnation of The Last Ship, which premieres at Northern Stage on March 12 next year, will be a very different beast from the one seen by the Americans.

“It is more political,” says Campbell. “It is also a collaborative process. Sting listens to everyone involved. 
We are all so immersed in it and we just want to create something beautiful and meaningful.”

Sting, a father of six, says he will be very hands-on during the rehearsal and performance process, although this self-confessed workaholic has plenty of other things on.

“For me,” he adds, “it is all about having fun.”

Tickets for Sting’s debut musical The Last Ship, starring Jimmy Nail, go on sale today. (Oct 30)

It premieres at Northern Stage, Gateshead on Monday March 12 where it will stay for four weeks before going on national tour until Saturday July 7.

The Last Ship will be at Leeds Grand Theatre from Monday April 30 to Saturday May 5.

For tickets call 0844 8482700 or visit leedsgrandtheatre.com

For more on Sting visit www.sting.com