For nearly three years, I've been working on a new musical play called The Last Ship.
The inspiration for it really stemmed from my album The Soul Cages that I wrote in 1990, which depicted the landscape of my hometown, Wallsend, in the Northeast of England. My early memories are of the Swan Hunters shipyard at the end of the street, where some of the largest ships ever built were constructed; the imposing presence of ships, towering over the roofs of the terraced houses we lived in, represented a very potent symbolism for me. I watched thousands of men walk down our street every day on their way to work on these mighty ships. My great-great-grandfather was a master mariner, one of my grandfathers was a North Sea pilot, another was a shipwright, and my father served his time as an engineer. So my family over the generations has always been connected to the sea and ships.
Eventually, the economic downturn and lack of orders for new ships led to the closure of the yard in Wallsend. While writing for The Soul Cages, which coincided with the death of my father, I used the demise of the shipyards where I was born and raised as a metaphor for mortality. Using this material as a starting point, I began to wonder if there was a story to be told, with characters and a plot, set against the surreal industrial environment of my hometown.
Before I began writing for this project, I hadn't written anything in about eight years. I'd lost the urge to create -- the urge that had driven me most of my life. But once I decided to turn these memories of my childhood into a narrative, and began to think of writing for other people -- for other characters, from other viewpoints apart from my own -- the songs came very quickly. I wasn't in the way anymore. I really felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was free to tell a story that was important to me. The floodgates seemed to open, and every time I sat down, the songs would pour out.
What to do with 25 to 30 songs? You can't use them all in a musical theatre production -- it doesn't need it. I think if these songs would have had no life beyond the play, then I'd feel badly about it. What I wanted to do was make an album myself with these songs.
The play for The Last Ship will not debut on Broadway until 2014, though my hope is that people find this material interesting, as a document of the process, rather than the finished product. The album may stand alone, regardless of the play, but I feel it also will give people an idea of the story I have been so inspired to tell.
The album, The Last Ship, will be released by Cherrytree/Interscope/A&M Records on September 24, 2013 (internationally on September 23, 2013).