Magnetic North

May 16, 2014 at 00:13


Sting: From Northern Skies to Fields of Gold (forthcoming, 2017) By Paul Carr

In the post-progressive rock era of the late 1970s and early 80s, a three-piece band called The Police emerged to be one of the most commercially successful acts of their generation. Unlike the vast majority of bands to emerge during the Punk/New Wave era of the mid-to-late 1970s, the members of The Police were all seasoned musicians by the time the group was formed in 1977, with guitarist Andy Summers (a decade older than his two bandmates) having performed with the likes of Eric Burden and The Animals and The Soft Machine, and American-born drummer Stewart Copeland working with British progressive rock band Curved Air.

Lead singer and bassist Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, was not only the frontman of the group, but also became their main songwriter, later forging an equally successful solo career and becoming one of the most celebrated songwriters and recognisable voices in popular music. Sting’s initial success however did not occur overnight.

After performing one of his final gigs with his band Last Exit at Newcastle University Theatre, Sting set off for London with his wife Francis Tomelty, baby son Joe, and “a couple of bags of clothes, two guitars, and a wicker rocking chair” – his worldly belongings.

The financial future of the pair and their child was at that point unknown, but Sting’s decision to leave the relative security of life as a provincial school teacher and part-time musician was pivotal, not only in terms of his forthcoming projection into worldwide mega-stardom, but also for guaranteeing that songs such as ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’ and ‘I Burn for You’ were not condemned to Northern folklore, but were to become a well known throughout the world.

Born in Wallsend, a mainly working class area of North Tyneside in the early 1950s, the foundations of Sting’s creativity and drive for success were very much established against the background of the North East of England, with vestiges of the spaces and places of his upbringing, the social conditions of the 1950s and 60s, and an idea of ‘Northern Englishness’ continuing to surface in the songs that spanned his career.

Nowhere is this more apparent than his latest solo album The Last Ship (2013) – a recording based on a forthcoming Broadway musical – which is replete with local dialect and real and imagined characters based on his own past, and in which Sting re-engages with themes he has explored earlier in his career (his hometown of Wallsend, his working class background, the proximity of Swan Hunters’ shipyards and the sea), all of which arguably constitute a coming to terms with his ‘Northerness’

Paul Carr’s book will frame Sting’s creative output against the real, imagined and idealised places that have set the context for his musical development, as well as emerging as preoccupations in his songwriting.



PAUL CARR is Professor of Popular Music Analysis at the ATRiuM, Cardiff School of Cultural and Creative Industries. His research interests focus on the areas of musicology, the music industry and pedagogical frameworks for music related education – he has published extensively in all of these areas. He is also an experienced performing musician, having toured and recorded with artists as diverse as The James Taylor Quartet and American saxophonist Bob Berg. His most recent publication the edited volume, Frank Zappa and the And: A Contextual Analysis of his Legacy (2013)