02.01.80 THE OBSERVER
The following article by Richard North appeared in a February 1980 issue of The Observer magazine...
The name on the bell-push at Sting's flat was 'Sumner'. It happened that I already knew his wife's name: Frances Tomelty, the actress (last seen in television's 'Testament of Youth'), and his three-year-old son is called Joseph, after his step-father; the film actor Joseph Tomelty. But Sting himself lurks under a pseudonym.
Or rather, shelters under it. There is something quite private about Sting, the lead singer of The Police, the band's bass player, and the composer of many of their hits. The truly blue punk world is apparently alarmed at the band's success, theirs being a musical form which thrived best on failure. Sting, happily ensconced in a flat in Bayswater, which would do justice to a middle-level advertising man, couldn't care less about the problem spiky-heads have in coming to terms with his - and The Police's - phenomenal success. "Screw them," he says, when conversation drifts towards talk of a sell-out.
'Walking on the Moon' and 'Message in a Bottle' were immense commercial successes, and very beautiful songs as well, but old Sting hands will not easily relegate the marvellous, raunchy, sad 'Roxanne' - probably the song of the decade just gone and perhaps even of the next.
Sting himself, with a successful wife and young Joseph who is possessed of what Sting calls, "a fortunately accommodating nature", has that base in life which anyone courting his kind of extravagant fan-worship badly needs. In common with the rest of the band, he is a family man. "That part of my life means more to me than the band." he says. You almost believe him. "We realise the problems," he says. "There is such a history of wreckage and disasters in the rock world; we hope that because we've all read about them we're better equipped to avoid them."
He's also conscious that the band have mastered the mixture ('cross-over' is the record industry word for it) of a punk forcefulness and a pop success. Blondie, and rather few others, have managed the same trick. Sting is happy about success. He was a teacher in Newcastle - he says the experience has given him a certain grip on audiences, especially when they're inclined to be aggressive - and the singer in a band there. The decision to come to London was to do with swapping a decent career for the chance of excitement. It was no part of the strategy to hide lights under bushels.
The band's success - his bathroom has a very glossy kind of insulation, gold discs - is pure pleasure to him. "I admire bands like ABBA. Their songs are worked at, and cared for. What they do is very good, and there is no point knocking it. They create great pop music, and so do The Police.
"We're now at an agonising time. We've had a great success with the first album. We've managed to beat the problem of 'the second album'. But now over the next few months we must do the third. We've mastered doing a kind of white reggae and it would be easy to continue in that vein. But we want to do something more than just explore the interface between reggae and rock. Blond reggae won't do, by itself."
So, somehow or other, while a world tour will make his extraordinarily beautiful face - chisel-led, almost like a war-comic hero - even more famous, he will have to find time to work away at home in a corner of his front room. There, on shelves, is what amounts to a recording studio where he can make dummy tapes of his songs. But also this year he wants to follow up his acting life, which has already produced cameos in 'Quadrophenia' and 'Radio On'. He's been offered roles in films from pretty grand stables, the likes of Francis Ford Coppola showing interest. He's most tempted by an offer of a part as Mordred, the baddy, in a 'Knights of the Round Table' film.
There's Eberhard Schoener to be reckoned with as well. This master of the synthesiser and the laser is also a respected classical musician, as audiences at opera houses and concert halls the world over testify. He met Sting through Andy Summers, The Police's guitarist, who has often worked with him. "With my opera background," says Schoener, "I could immediately hear the dimensions of Sting's voice. He had come to Germany just as the bass player, and had nothing to sing. This was a couple of years ago: he was very shy, very interesting. Since then, we have worked together often, and I've written an opera for his voice, which of course I hope we'll do."
But will Sting have the time? The machinery of success grinds on: Sting must make up his mind whether Schoener's project is worth doing - it's the kind of choice that rock stars are notoriously bad at. Sting stands the chance - a dubious honour, perhaps - of being the next great rock hero. We've had Jagger and Lennon: Sting is in that league. He has that kind of curious charisma. What he does with it is of course his business, and may, unfortunately, be all too much to do with business.
However - in spite of his fascination with being yet more celebrated, and riding around in absurd gas-guzzling ex-Army motors - Sting does have an ordinary man's awareness of priorities. When he toured the States he was appalled by the extravagance and waste he found there.
It may just be that in Sting the rock industry and the rock fans - not always the same people by any means - have found someone who can be a success and still keep a grip on ordinary - not to say sustainable - values. He wants a country house, but not I think, to lock himself away from the world in.
© The Observer magazine
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 name on the bell-push at Sting's flat was 'Sumner'. It happened that I already knew his wife's name: Frances Tomelty, the actress (last seen in television's 'Testament of Youth'), and his three-year-old son is called Joseph, after his step-father; the film actor Joseph Tomelty. But Sting himself lurks under a pseudonym...
The rotund gentleman sitting at the next table in this Leeds coffee bar demolishing his quadruple eggs, sausage, beans, chips and grease, is regaling us with great gigs at the Queens Hall at which he's had the honour to flog badges, scarves and posters. Beside me, a record company person is egging him on, not least because he keeps slagging off 'Sounds'. Finally he makes to leave, the prospect of a good evening's business ahead. "You know, my supplier tells me that Sting could be the next Donny Osmond," he says with relish. I grin and there's a gentle thud as the record company person's head hits the table top...
Police carry on - The Police act responsible: Up in the A&M offices the joint is definitely jumpin'. Enough staff members to man a battleship are scurrying around performing (seemingly) important duties. Yet there's none of the barely contained hysteria one could find so easily in other Manhattan offices; it's more like the co-ordination of a gold strike. A&M is, as you probably know, one of the more successful record companies. They don't release staggering quantities of records (as do more bloated competitors) and their batting average is impressively high. One wall of the conference room - where I am watching a videotape of a certain three-piece rock band - is completely covered with gold records awarded to artists all over the pop music map: Peter Frampton, Herb Alpert, the Brothers Johnson, Styx, etc., etc...
For a band largely ignored by the music press and "punk bandwagon jumpers" with two singles about a whore and suicide banned by the Beeb, The Police are doing very nicely, thank you. It's been a long hard slog, but Summers, Sting and Copeland have finally joined that small elite capable of producing singles which chart in the Top Five one week after release...