A NEW album by Sting will include his first new material for eight years and draw heavily on his Tyneside upbringing and shipbuilding memories.
The Last Ship will include contributions from a host of North East musicians including Jimmy Nail, Brian Johnson, The Unthanks and Kathryn and Peter Tickell.
The album is due for release on September 23 on Polydor Records.
It comes ahead of Sting’s new musical play, also called The Last Ship, which is due to open next year on Broadway, New York.
Several of the new songs on the album will feature in the stage show which could do for the lost North East shipbuilding industry what Lee Hall’s Billy Elliot – also currently running on Broadway – did for coal mining.
Sting has been working on the play for nearly three years.
Inspired by his early years growing up near the Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, it had a run-through at Live Theatre on Newcastle Quayside in February 2012.
An invited audience included former shipyard workers who loudly applauded the cast and Sting’s music, performed by a folk ensemble.
Afterwards Sting, who was born Gordon Sumner, a milkman’s son, confessed: “It’s kind of nerve-wracking and a huge risk to come to Newcastle and present something very unfinished and raw and hope people will understand the process and feel they can invest in it emotionally.”
The story, as seen in Newcastle, centred on a young man called Gideon whose difficult relationship with his father drove him away to sea. When a group of workers whose shipyard is threatened with closure decide to build their own ship as an act of glorious defiance, they turn to Gideon to skipper the vessel.
Sting said he had been inspired by a newspaper story about some Polish shipyard workers who had hatched such a plan but was also keen to honour North East shipyard workers.
“Although the conditions they worked in were appalling, with an inhospitable, toxic environment of asbestos, red lead and welding fumes, they were ferociously proud of the ships they built,” he said.
He recalled the great ships appearing at the end of Gerald Street, Wallsend, where he spent his childhood, and the ceremony surrounding the launch.
Having written the music and devised the story, Sting took the project to producer Jeffrey Seller whose hit musical Rent won a Pulitzer Prize.
Mr Seller welcomed the Newcastle audience and expressed his belief in the project.
He spoke of the play’s themes of family relationships, community and the passage of time.
The new album, with musical roots firmly in the North East, will feature the voices of Brian Johnson, who found fame with rock band AC/DC, folk group The Unthanks, Teesside singers the Wilson Brothers and Jimmy Nail who in Newcastle played shipyard foreman Jackie in the show.
Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell and her brother Peter, on fiddle, also feature on the new album produced by Rob Mathes who has also worked with Eric Clapton, Elton John, Lou Reed and Carly Simon.
Sting said of Kathryn Tickell: “Since the 1990s she's been on a lot of my records and I have a great deal of respect for her.
“She's grown from this young pipe player into this grand dame of North East folk music – an extraordinary musician.
“And she came on board this project very early and loved it.”
Sting said it was through Kathryn that he met the Wilson Brothers.
“They're five brothers who have been singing together in harmony for a long time. And they have very, very powerful voices.
“They have a family sound and a natural, bone-deep understanding of music and harmony. And it's quite something.”
The new album will be available as a digital and physical release in two formats, as a 12-song version and a two-disc deluxe version featuring five extra tracks.
There will also be a super deluxe version with 20 tracks available exclusively at Amazon.