THE AQUARIANJanuary 01, 1979
The following article by Jeff Tamarkin appeared in the January 1979 issue of The Aquarian magazine...
"If punk doesn't move, it'll die." The words sound odd coming from the mouth of someone who has just stepped off the stage at CBGB, but then again, the Police are not your everyday headbangers.
For instance: the drummer, Stewart Copeland, formed the group as a reaction to the reigning anti-fun, mega-bucks attitude in rock, after leaving his post a latter-day member of the overhyped British progressive outfit Curved Air. The bassist and singer/writer, who calls himself Sting, recently wrapped up filming a lead role in Quadrophenia, the film based on the Who album of the same name. Guitarist Andy Summers, who considers himself a guitar craftsman, has put in time with the likes of Soft Machine, Neil Sedaka, the Animals and David Essex, among other more esoteric organisations. And (excuse the inevitable but irresistible pun), this "arresting" trio of blond Britons recently completed its first U.S. tour, covering most of the major Eastern markets, without the benefit of record company backing.
"I wanted to have a small, quiet - no, make that a small, loud - group that was self-contained and didn't have to depend on record company support," says drummer Copeland after a late-night set at the infamous Bowery night-spot. "Curved Air was all money and big business. I liked all the people but their attitude was that it was a job and they had work to do."
Copeland and Sting, who had already been playing as the Police with another guitarist, met up with Summers while the latter was still working in the band of prog-rock hero Kevin Ayers. The three began playing together immediately after their first encounter. Says Copeland, "Andy yanked me into a cafe and said, 'Look here, you need me to play in your group because your guitarist isn't good enough.' I couldn't help but agree with him."
Before long, the Police were caught up in London's raging new wave mania playing at such pinhead venues as the Roxy and the Vortex. But despite the fact that they've garnered an audience of pogoers in their homeland, they do not see themselves as part of the punk clique. "How much can you do with three chords and a lot of screaming?" asks Sting. Copeland adds, "We never wanted to be a part of that. We just wanted to play to those kids because they were hysterical to play to. But then the press, who know better," he notes with more than a hint of sarcasm in his tone, "decided we were too sophisticated to be punks, and we started to get slammed. They called us bandwagon-hoppers, even though we were there before the press was."
The traditionally claw-digging British rock press was not entirely off-base, however, when they called the Police sophisticated. Although their basic sound and stage attack adheres to the standard new wave framework - power, urgency, recklessness and conciseness - there is also an obvious degree of higher musicianship at work here. Long improvisations and slowed-down tunes are not entirely ruled out, and some songs include such anti-punkisms as slide guitar solos and jazzy chord changes. 'Roxanne', their current single (and a cut from the forthcoming A&M album), is a reggae-ised number about a prostitute, which also recalls several familiar '60s pop passages along the way. Most of the band's material, written by bassist Sting, whose voice is like that of a new wave Paul McCartney, is about love and relationships. But there are some semi-political songs, and then there's 'Peanuts', a quirky number not unlike Devo's 'Uncontrollable Urge', which Sting says is "about my disappointment with Rod Stewart, who became a big joke when he used to be a big hero."
Sting lays claim to being a model and actor as well as a musician. He has worked on several British TV commercials and recently landed a starring role in 'Quadrophenia' which he says generally adheres to the story in the Who's concept album from 1973. Basically, it's the tale of a British mod boy in 1964. Sting plays a bellhop and is one of six main characters in the film. Originally, though, Sting wasn't particularly interested in the part.
"My agent phoned me one day," recalls Sting, "and asked if I wanted to go out for 'Quadrophenia'. I said 'Nah I'm too old, and besides, I can't be bothered and I don't feel well...' She said,'Well the casting director wants to see you.' So I went and met the director and he said, 'You're the person for the job.'" Sting, who started filming the day Keith Moon died, says he met the Who during the filming. but that they weren't intimately involved in the filming process itself. "The Who are producing the movie to the extent that it's their money and that Pete Townshend is the musical director," says Sting, "but that's as far as it goes. Pete's around on the set telling jokes and all, but he's not really involved. There's no playing or singing in the movie. There's just acting, and the soundtrack is by the Who."
Filming took about six weeks, and the film should be in American theatres by next summer. Sting says that, although he enjoyed the experience, he doesn't want to make a habit of it. "It was a hassle doing two things at once. It's really hard being on trial 24 hours a day, and that's what it was like. I would like to do more acting, but I'm a musician by vocation and that's what I'll remain. My wife's an actress, so I know what a shitty life it is."
Although the Police's U.S. tour was also a grind, they were intrigued by this country. Their travels took them to such cities as Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia and upstate New York, besides the CBGB dates. Copeland remembers one freezing night in Poughkeepsie (he pronounces it Po-keep-zee), which he considers the highlight of the tour. "It was a wet cold and freezing night, the night of the big football game between Po-keep-zee and some other team. There was a total of six people in the audience. We just sat around watching television, and got friendly with all the people. It was like, 'Oh, we'd better go on now and play.' And we went behind the stage and they went in front of the stage, and we played. It was the best gig of the tour. I like a lot of what I've seen in the U.S., and New York is my favourite place. I think the atmosphere in London is a bit more lively than here but that's basically down to the fact that in London, 14-year-old kids can get into the gigs legally. That makes a big difference because there you have those couple of hundred maniacs up front screaming and jumping up and down. Those kids are sick of the heroes elected by their older brothers and sisters, and in fact, by their parents. They just want to listen to new groups to go to the local gig instead of listening to the radio, and to buy records by the groups they're seeing at those local gigs."
But, adds Summers, trickling over for the tail end of the conversation, the Police aren't trying to be heroes to anyone. "We're not into exploring the universe with this band. We're just into turning people on to some innovative music."
© The Aquarian magazine