THE SCOTTISH GAZETTEJuly 01, 1993
The following article by Mary Miller appeared in a July 1993 issue of The Scottish Gazette newspaper...
Every little thing he does is politic. The rock singer Sting has lent his name to world-wide environmental causes, but playing in Istanbul he was more content to talk about music, reports Mary Miller.
Approaching the top floor of Istanbul's Marmara Hotel, one hears a strange sound like birds' wings beating. It is the flick-click-flack of cameras. "That's enough," says a sharp female voice, and a wave of photographers barge towards the lifts, crusted with stands and bags and lenses, and odd waistcoats with multiple bulging pockets.
Sting is sitting at a table, just visible behind a vast and tasteless arrangement of orange lilies. He looks wicked. His hair is standing up in tufts, his face is lean, and the blue eyes look flinty. Hovering nearby is she of the voice. Her eyes flicker over us with disapproval. She looks at her watch and sniffs.
The questions are in Turkish. Sting sits and stares intently at the questioner while an extremely pretty interpreter struggles to modify the prose. Straight away, we are into hostile territory. What does Sting think about sport and politics. Why does he allow Benetton to sponsor his concert when they have a policy which... There is a gutteral explosion from the back, as the Benetton representative, an earnest lady in safari kit, rises to dispute the point. Madam, the voice, clears her throat, but Sting interrupts first - "Excuse me, this is nothing to do with me. Can we have another question."
He is his own man, for certain. No publicity machine has invented him, and whoever manages him; one suspects, has to put up with precise direction in return. He explains politely about his name. He used to have a yellow and black stripey jersey, and his mother, too, calls him Sting. So do his children. And does the name also reflect his personality - might he be waspish? A long, cool stare - yes, he says, lowering his eyes... perhaps.
There is of course, a barrage of questions about his environmental commitments. In 1989, Sting set up the Rainforest Foundation, which aims to promote the conversation of Brazil's natural and genetic rainforest resources. In particular, he is concerned with the indigenous population. The foundation supports them in the development of their land, while providing western medical care compatible with the people's own traditional methods. He is also concerned with the protection of rights, the conservation of rainforest culture, history and tradition.
But what about Turkey's pollution problems? Why could he not give a concert to raise money for the problems of the country he is in? It is, he says, the job of individual governments to tackle problems - "We are all or should be, environmentalists. Giving concerts is a separate activity from the advocacy of causes. I am here to sing."
Someone asks him about fame, and he says, without the slightest hint of wearied preciousness, that it is tiresome - "If you're to write songs which have any depth which are to make connections with people's lives, you have to be able to observe, to be a fly on the wall. Most of the time, people are staring, instead, at this fly. I would like more time in which to be anonymous, but I can hardly grumble."
He really does speak this way - in the measured tones from his former life as a teacher. He does not media-speak, and his voice has the slight boomy resonance of a serious singer. One wonders why 'Private Eye' has chosen to place their ragged claws around his throat - much column space is given over to Sting-wringing - for he seems such an unsatisfactory target.
We plough along furrows of high-mindedness. Racism? "A long term disease." Bosnia? - "Well, it's easy to say that the fighting must stop. If someone had raped my wife, - (someone, unwisely, sniggers at this point - the blue flints flash, and there is an icy pause) - "and murdered my children, I would go on fighting."
Something seems to snap. He deflects the next question, and says, very firmly, that he would like to clarify a point - "You must accept that there is a limit to how music can change things. I cannot, with a song, change the world. What I can do, if I am lucky, is with that song, perhaps plant a seed, awake an awareness in someone, which might mean that they thought long enough to break a pattern of behaviour. It's a long shot. I'm only a singer."
He talks learnedly about compound time and rhythm in Turkish music, in response to a somewhat sneering comment assuming his lack of knowledge about local culture, and says that he doesn't like the ghettoising of different musical forms. He has narrated in Prokofiev and Stravinsky pieces, and is keen to develop classical influences in his work. He doesn't want to make movies. He's only a singer.
And that night, in the massive Inonu Stadium, he sings. The amplification makes him sound as though, in the course of the afternoon, he has mastered Turkish, but the musicianship is in no doubt. He has the whole mob singing lustily "I am an Englishman in New York", and loving it.
He's 42, seems happy with that, with a wife and kids and a career. One senses that they all will survive. Probably, he'd quite happily go back to teaching. His class, for sure, would learn some good songs.
© The Scottish Gazette