From growing up near the shipyards, channelling his inner Geordie to his continuing fight to save the rainforests, Sting remains in robust form
Interview with Andrew Threlfall
Earlier this year Sting’s PR wrote to me about how much he’d loved talking about his beloved Geordie background in an interview I’d done with him about the subject of his northern shipyard roots and now those stories have made art in The Last Ship. Following on from enormous critical acclaim, the musical now sets sail on a UK and Ireland Tour. He loves nostalgia does the former punk rocker.
The Last Ship is “inspired by Sting’s own childhood experiences, it shows the collective defiance of a community facing the demise of the shipbuilding industry alongside a poignant and moving romantic tale of childhood sweethearts and the adults they grew up to become.” There is, naturally, a massive one-off outdoor show right beside the very river that helped inspire and shape the show at Spillers Wharf, Newcastle Quayside on the banks of the Tyne on Monday 28 May 2018. Sting is expected to attend and it follows a sell-out run at Northern Stage in Newcastle.
The UK and Ireland tour runs until July, where it will finish at The Lowry, Salford and features some untypical provincial stop offs on the way.
So what was different about this particular interview? Sting was more open, more frank, like never before in the 28 years I’ve known him and been sitting down with him for our “Northerner to Northerner” chats.
So why were you always a proud Geordie?
I’ve always loved snow, and so the winter time, for me, was such a creative time. It’s a time to reflect. It’s a miserable period of the year for a lot of people with long hours of darkness and frost, but also it’s the season to feed the imagination. People sit around telling stories too. Also as global warming takes place, it’s flattening out the seasons. I find worrying because psychologically we need them.
This connection to winter, it’s not just an irrational love of big thick woolly jumpers?
Haha! I think we are always rushing around and we naturally use winter as a time to slow down. Animals hibernate. We’re meant to reflect on the year before in order that we can move efficiently into the spring. It’s pretty simple psychology, but often now we are disconnected from the seasons because of air-conditioning or global warming. So we are losing that sense of a cycle that had been useful to us for thousands of years. I mourn the loss of winter. Without it I think we’re in a lot of trouble. I lived in a very grey, industrial town, but the snow would transform it into this magical landscape.
Your album Soul Cages dealt, like in The Last Ship with growing up in Newcastle and the shipyards. Why have you taken us all on a journey to look for the inner Geordie?
I don’t have to search very hard for the inner Geordie! I think he’s always been in there. I’m certainly still very connected to my roots. On Soul Cages I was trying to get over the recent death of my parents. Just trying to figure out how to deal with it. I think I did what most ‘modern’ people do, which is to try and ignore it, pretend it doesn’t affect you… so you just work. You go to work the next day. So when my parents died nearly 30 years ago now I went on tour for nearly a year and then did a play straight afterward with no break. It was all designed to keep my mind off this terrible thing. But I don’t think this approach can ever possibly work, because you run away from it, but then it comes back and bites you in the leg. The big thing is it means that you’re next in line in a way. And you have to deal with that. We are proud of our toughness up there. That’s why when you watch my football team Newcastle United play on a freezing cold day some of the fans will stand there half naked with no shirt on to demonstrate their hardness. They’re nuts!
Do you think there is a built-in craziness to Geordie behavior?
Absolutely. And I do have that in abundance! Plus, as you point out correctly, I do like to wear a nice sweater.
You’ve come a long way from the bumble-bee t-shirt in The Police days to designer mohair…
I have. Maturing. Slowly but surely!
You turned 65….hang on, I’m going somewhere with this. Didn’t you call up your close friend Bruce Springsteen a couple of years ago when he hit the same milestone?
I did indeed. I called him because I like to see how my elders are getting on! We have an agreement now that we don’t get each other presents.
Who else do you like to keep in touch with from that era when you were off on Amnesty International tours or saving the planet?
I’ve still got a very close affinity to Brazil, although I don’t go to the jungle as often these days. I think celebrity just gets in the way. So I limit my connection to fundraising rather than going out there to the Amazon. South America is just one of the most interesting places on the planet politically, religiously, economically and environmentally. A set of circumstances found me there 30 years ago and I don’t regret it for a second. I feel very at home there.
Are you still close friends with the old Indian chief?
I haven’t seen him for a long time now but I know he’s safe in his jungle for now.
Does singing on topics like suicide and winter depress you?
I don’t think these topics are morbid or maudlin. I think mortality and madness are important topics to discuss.
Did all the micky taking you received at the time for hanging around with the Indian chief get on your nerves?
Er, well yeah it did slightly, but 25 years later I’m still fighting the same fight. And now people are agreeing with those things I was talking about. You can get rid of motor cars and plane travel tomorrow but if we don’t address chopping down the rain forests we are still fucked! And this is scientifically proven now; it’s not just a feeling. The biggest contribution to greenhouse gasses is deforestation. And unless we stop that nothing else matters.
Finally, you clearly love nostalgia, but is there a charitable cause big enough for another Police reunion?
[Laughing] You know the answer to that!
Be quick if you want to book tickets for the Spillers Wharf performance.