Sunday, September 22, 2013



I’m in a quandary. I am conflicted. Let me explain.

Around 18 months or so ago, I was invited to a very exclusive work-in-progress presentation of a brand new show at Newcastle’s Live Theatre. Whilst I considered myself very lucky to be asked along - alarm bells were not so much ringing, as quaking themselves to death.

When it comes to entertainment, there are three* things that set my teeth on edge. Musicals, Geordierama and the music of Sting.
This invitation was to a musical, about the shipyards of Wallsend.Written by Sting. If you’d doused me in TCP and forced me to eat cucumber my total hell would be complete. Thing is, the show was brilliant. Everything that disgusts and repulses me turned round to make me smile. What with it being a work in progress, I figured that would be the end of it, I was wrong.

On Friday I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour, after a lovely night listening to Parallel Lines with the Record Player. Idly flicking through the channels and there was old Stingo again, now with the songs from the musical, fleshed out and made solid.
Sting can do what ever he likes, he’s made his money. Jazz-wank? He’s done it. Greensleeves with a chamber orchestra? Yup. Fannying about getting up peoples noses spouting airy-fairy nonsense? Double yup. So now he’s come home.

What made me sit up and listen was the assembled cast of musicians. He’s done his homework, he’s put his money where he thinks his soul might be. The Unthanks, Kathryn Tickell, and The Wilson Family all feature. He didn’t need to do that. I could have hired some fancy dan musicians in New York and just sailed on. He’s even got Jimmy Nail on board, when damn it he could’ve had Michael Buble.

So here’s the rub. I admire Sting for chasing this dream. It may be rose tinted geordierama, he may well be a tourist, with his love of his Wallsend past. I admire the fact that he’s giving a platform to musicians who were made in the northeast, musicians who wouldn’t be  skirting the mainstream otherwise. Begrudgingly, I liked the songs.
So, yes, I’m conflicted - I wouldn’t go so far as buying the bloody thing - but my antistingstance may well have loosened slightly.

Next week I will be writing about my admiration for Bono and his new album of Adele and Amy Winehouse songs.

*not really, there’s loads, but we’ll be here all day if once I get started.


Chris W said...

Yes: Sting redefines smug and can come across as very egotistical and self-important at times (can't many major performers)but...but... but... he's also supremely talented. As a teenager I liked The Soul Cages (which must overlap with his new project in terms of subject matter) and I really love The Police (not the local constabulary but the popular beat combo of yesteryear). Sure: he can be irritating in the extreme but he's a talented guy. And a few weeks ago I listened to But Seriously by Collins too...and enjoyed it. Life's too short and I'm not bothered what folk think.

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping said...

See, the thing is, some of us are old enough to remember when The Police first hit it big-time. One of the first major interviews Sting did was, i think, with the NME (might've been Sounds) and, in it, he did one of those 'bloody hell, I grew up in s shithole, if you ever see me back there, you know I've screwed up big style' type interviews. I particularly remember his dismissal of the North East as a region 'whose hero is Andy Capp, a drunken wife beater.' Now, fair enough, it's a valid opinion and it probably had a smidgen of truth in it then (it might even still do) but, if you have that as a world view then, at least have the courage to stick to it. Fast forward twenty years to 1998 and he's suddenly writing the song for Newcastle United's appearance in the cup final and saying things like 'no matter where I am in the world on a Saturday I always need to find out how The Toon got on.' So, he's a hypocrite who changes with the wind. Fine, okay, that's not the biggest of sins in the world, but then there's the fact that he's SO bloody sanctimonious (that spectacular car crash of an interview on Newsnight where Paxman called him out on flying around the world - first class- whilst chiding everybody else about their carbon footprint, for one). Final point, he makes shit records and has since about 1983. I love the first two Police LPs even though I'm with Costello when he said 'why does Sting have to sing in that ridiculous cod-Jamaican accent.' But, his solo career is one endless parade of easy-listening mush, dreary lyrics and the occasional flirtation with lutes. I think he's a git, frankly. So, there you go, the case for the prosecution (and, hopefully conviction and execution) rests. if anybody can come up with a decent defence, you're a better person than I.

Mr Drayton said...


Chris W said...

Well, as younger angrier folk many of us went through a phase of hating our parents...and the same can sometimes be true of our hometowns. It is, perhaps, later once you've been through all of the crap that you turn around and say: actually that shaped me - that's a part of me...and affection creeps back in. The sanctimonious bit I can buy and I'd agree with you. Personally I like the last three Police records best. Zenyatta: they sound fantastic playing as a band, even if some of the material is throwaway (The Police could make throwaway stuff sound amazing), I love the tight horn arrangements on Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity is their mature statement with at least three masterful pop singles (even if a couple of them weren't the biggest hits). Re: his solo stuff - I have to be in the mood for it (as with later P. Gabriel). Sure: he deals in pastel shades and I'd argue he lost his way after Ten Summoner's Tales but I certainly don't think it's all mush. Pretentious? At times, yes. Irritating? He's had more than his share of moments, for sure but I'm not totally behind your wrecking ball, Demolition Man. (-;

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping said...

I will confess that part of my utter and complete loathing for Sting - his records aside - is down to some of the people who buy his records. It's that mortgage sensible, middle-class dinner party crowd whose record collection also contains Phil Collins and Dire Straits and who have nothing _ NOTHING - but total respect for Annie Lennox and all that bollocks. I'm sure someone, somewhere could probably make a decent argument as to why the blading ex-milkman from Waalsend should be knighted and made president of the world for his wondrous and saintly ways but, I'm afraid I'll be unavailable and on the lavatory at the time.

Chris W said...

Well I think Dire Straits and Collins cop way too much flak. OK: Collins at his worst is saccharine or average and I can pick my way through some of his stuff... Knopfler's later solo output is shuffling in yer slippers but for me the simple acid test is: does the music in some way move you? If it does I'm not going to avoid it. I think a track like Telegraph Road is amazing. To hell with the yuppies. Can't blame Knopfler for that. I might like Avalon, But Seriously and Nothing Like the Sun but I'm equally happy to be listening to Can, Terry Riley, Brian Eno, Parliament, Daft Punk...whatever floats my or decidedly uncool.

I wouldn't say Sting deserves to be knighted or is a saint but if I banged on some of his better songs in the right mood I'd be happy enough. If you use personality as a barometer of someone's art then you'll be down at Tynemouth Market offloading all of your Rolling Stones albums...and Miles Davis would never get a look in again. I know you don't like Sting's music either and that's fair enough. Mick Jagger won't be winning any great guy awards anytime soon, though...