THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCERFebruary 01, 1980
The following article by George Arthur appeared in a February 1980 issue of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper...
If during the chaos of English punk rock in full bloom, someone had compiled a list of bands likely to make good, The Police wouldn't have been on it. Two years ago, the group looked like anything but a winner. What became its first hit 'Roxanne' wasn't reviewed by Great Britain's leading music paper until months after it was issued. And the song was effectively banned from British radio because of its subject, the singer's love for a prostitute. Besides which, punk rock trendies (both in England and in the U.S.) never really took to the group. It's members were too old, their musicianship too developed and their goal too clearly success to endear them to rock's cult of the unbeautiful loser.
The Police made their Seattle debut last May at the Paramount Northwest, the audience filled less than half of the auditorium. As in England, the band debut album 'Outlandos d'Amour' and the single 'Roxanne' were issued long before rock radio began airing them. Still, no rock band ever made it by listening to either its critics or detractors. The Police have kept slugging away and the effort has paid off. The current issue of Rolling Stone names the band as "best new artist" in it's annual critic's poll. Last week, the group's current LP, 'Reggatta de Blanc', was number two on the British charts and two of its singles have gone to the number one spot. The groups appearance tonight at the Showbox has been sold out for two weeks. But perhaps the best indication of The Police's visibility was that ultimate accolade of media fame, a recent profile in People magazine.
Asides from the band's sound, which actually deserves to be called "unique" one of the reasons for its success is obviously its bass playing vocalist, Sting (Gordon Sumner). As good looking as an advertising model (which he's been), he made his screen debut in one of last year's best rock movies, 'Quadrophenia'. As the coolest of the film's mods, the guy who has everything going for him, it would be hard to say how much of the role was the script's and how much was Sting's.
A telephone interview with him last week confirmed what's been apparent in other encounters with the press. Besides looks, the guy's got brains, an asset he shares with The Police's other two members, drummer Stewart Copeland, son of an American CIA man and brother of the band's manager, and guitarist Andy Summers, who has played with such British acts as The Animals and Soft Machine. Speaking from St. Louis on the fourth day of the current U.S. tour, Sting was the opposite of the stereotyped sullen, inarticulate rock'n'roller. Asked about the band's reputation for going it alone (its first U.S tour was made without the support of its record label), Sting confirmed the band's independent ways.
"At first we were forced by necessity to keep things basic, keep expenses down," he explained, "but really we saw that was the best way to go. I would feel very negative about losing money on a tour, but a lot of bands tour just for promotion - and lose money in the process. So we keep it as basic as we can. "On this current campaign the entire Police entourage consists of seven members - the three musicians, three roadies and a manager.
The Police sounds is an arresting blend of pop, rock and reggae. It comes from a variety of sources and ideals almost none of them the usual. "I can't see trying to sound like Van Halen or Led Zeppelin or someone. The only intelligent way is to find a unique way of doing your own sound. If I had any kind of 'pedigree' as a bassist it comes from experience in jazz. Before the band I'd played in jazz groups, big bands, Dixieland, mainstream stuff." This jazz background shows in two bassists he mentions as admirable, the late Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report.
Sting's wary of a label often applied to The Police, 'reggae'. "We're not a reggae band, we've added our own to what we've taken from it." Part of his dislike of the term come from the current attitude towards the Jamacian music in England. "People there take it as a sacred music, not to be tampered with. It's a political thing really. By playing it they hope to align themselves with the third world." He repeats, "We're not a reggae band. We're three white boys from England and we don't slavishly copy reggae." The political posturing connected with it is one of the reasons he says he "doesn't admire The Clash."
Warming to the subject of The Police sound, Sting continues "If I'm forced to categorise it, I call our music pop, in the best possible way. It appeals to a broad audience, though it's not the lowest common denominator. We're into good music, not a vast profit. It's not an industrial process. The real magic is when things cross and sparks fly. We came at the interface of pop and reggae." Which brings him to the subject of American rock radio. "It's awful, there's no cross reference, no black music or country and western or soul. Radio should help music, not be a straightjacket. Rock'n'roll is dying on its arse and that's one of the reasons."
He's also puzzled by American rock bands which do note for note covers of current hits. "On our first tour we found local bands which opened for us would play Styx or Foreigner songs exactly as the came off the record. In England a band that did that couldn't find work. People want to hear original material."
© The Seattle Post-Intelligencer