SOUNDSMay 01, 1985
The following interview with Hugh Fielder appeared in a May 1985 issue of Sounds magazine...
Paris in the Springtime - Have the Police split? After two nights in the maternity wards can Sting stand the paparazzi grilling? Hugh Fielder muscles in on the Fleet Street Party.
"I haven't left the Police. The Police achieved everything we set out to do a hundred times over. I'm just exploring different areas with other musicians. And I'm having a ball."
This on the face of it, seems a straightforward explanation of Sting's latest endeavour, a solo album and tour backed by the cream of New York's jazz-rock fraternity. And in Sting's mind it may be simple. But for a top rock star who would also be a top film star if he could, nothing can be that easy. It isn't allowed.
For a start, every move he makes is the subject of intense media scrutiny. And clearly his record company would like his solo album to be as successful as... as a Police album, for instance.
So already this Sting thing is starting to take on significant proportions bordering on the commercial. And if it's going to get commercial, then it has to be handled correctly, which is why the world's rock and showbiz media corps have been lured to Paris to witness its launch.
Sting's starting his world tour here, with a week of gigs at the small Mogador Theatre and, to satisfy the voracious appetite of the assembled hacks, a press conference has been laid on at the top of the Pompidou Centre, that British designed ship's boiler which doubles as the modern cultural capital of Paris.
Sting has brought his band along with him, which is very generous but rather unnecessary because none of the journalists are interested in talking to his band - although the lady from the Daily Mirror does ask back-up singer Dolette McDonald what it's like to work with 'one of the world's greatest sex symbols.'
Unfortunately, Sting isn't looking like one of the world's greatest sex symbols today. He's looking a bit razzled, having spent the last couple of nights at the maternity hospital where his girlfriend Trudie has just given birth to a baby boy, Jake. ("No, it's not a family name, its a pirate's name.")
This information is of enormous importance to the Fleet Street boys, one of whom persistently tries to rile Sting by calling him Gordon, something not even his girlfriend does. The Star is anxious to know if Sting will marry his girlfriend. "Course not. Bloody fool! You asked me that last week in Montreux."
The French journalists are all fired up by the news that Sting's latest offspring will at least start life with a French nationality. "Do you like France? Would you like to live in France? Would you like to work with a leading French director?" asks one lady breathlessly.
They also have a tendency to ask long, complicated questions about Sting's philosophy on life, his relationship to the gay rock scene and whether "you feel a little bit black in your heart". Only the one who asks, "What would you say if you met yourself in the street?" renders Sting speechless. It has the rest of us in stitches.
Every now and again Sting manages to elucidate about his music and his band but this is not, apparently, what sells newspapers. Indeed, a couple of the Fleet Street boys pass up the gig altogether in favour of trying to gatecrash Joan Collins 52nd birthday party down the road.
Fortunately, his remarks are captured for posterity by a film crew led by Michael Apted, the director of 'Gorky Park', 'A Coalminer's Daughter' and 'Stardust', not to mention the excellent TV series 28 Up.
He has been filming the formation, recording and launch of Sting's band and, if he matches his reputation, he could produce a first class rock film, not least because, as Sting says, "Most rock films are made about bands when they're at their peak or finished. I wanted a film about the beginning of a band." Mind you, Sting was not exactly unknown when this project started.
Apted is also filming all seven nights at the Mogador Theatre, although whether he'll get much footage off this particular night is debatable, because by now Sting is really feeling the effects of his two previous sleepless nights. His voice is hoarse and he keeps having to force his attention back to the gig.
Still, hopefully the cameras caught the road crew's prank of lowering on stage a diminutive pink castle with a purple heart stuck in it at the end of a song called 'Fortress Around Your Heart', a joke of Spinal Tap proportions. Fortunately, Sting has seen the film. "At least it wasn't Stonehenge," he mutters grimly.
Ironically, the lyrics to that song offer more clues to Sting's mental machinations than any of his disclosures at the press conference - and they're a 'human interest story' of truly tabloid proportions. Sting has probably only had one major rejection in his whole life and it clearly still rankles.
The allusions on several of the other new songs from his album, 'The Dream Of The Blue Turtles', are much more direct, however. 'Children's Crusade' manages to lump together the medieval entrepreneurs who organised the 'Children's Crusade' and then sold the participants off for slavery, the First World War Generals who agreed an unofficial truce while they went back to their respective countries and lowered the conscription age to give them more cannon fodder, and the modern drug barons who give heroin away to school children to ensure themselves a captive market.
'We Work The Black Seam' is a paean to the mining classes that will probably give Mrs Thatcher (and Sting's manager, Miles Copeland) apoplexy; 'Russians' is an attempt to get behind the deliberately fostered hate-relations between East and West "to show that they are human beings too, and not just demographic sub-robotic morons".
Sting's words frequently annoy the lyrical purists but, if he often fires from the hip, it's better than firing from the brain. "How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy' is almost in the same class as my own Sting favourite, "Hey mighty Brontosaurus, have you got a lesson for us?".
On stage, the new songs are mixed in with what Sting calls 'tertiary Police material' and played by his band of highly rated jazz rockers from New York. The power and potency of the rhythm section - Weather Report's Omar Hakim on drums and Daryl Jones from Miles Davis' latest band on bass - are neatly balanced by the more thoughtful playing of Kenny Kirkland on keyboards and the supreme sax playing of Branford Marsalis.
Sting has never hidden his pre-Police jazz rock roots with local Newcastle combo Last Exit, among others, and it's not surprising that two of his earliest compositions - 'Low Life' and 'I Burn For You' - are among the most enlightening numbers on the set. But it's his version of 'Roxanne', alone apart from a poignant soprano sax solo from Branford, that leaves the lasting impression.
Sting plays a largely inaudible rhythm guitar and makes very little musical contribution to the show. He certainly doesn't try to interfere with the band, but his presence is enough to remind them exactly what kind of a legend they are playing with, and they seldom cut loose to the extent they are capable of.
This is particularly noticeable early on in the show. 'Shadows In The Rain', 'Driven To Tears' and 'One World', together with its new twin 'Love Is The Seventh Wave', sound brisk but carefully arranged. Both 'Children's Crusade' and 'We Work The Black Seam' have genial Sting melodies although both stem directly from 'Synchronicity' tracks. In fact, only the cool swing of 'Consider Me Gone' and 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' are unfamiliar enough to make you wonder how they'd sound with Stewart and Andy.
In so far as Sting's avowed aim is simply to present his music in a different setting, the show was a resounding success. The difference was generally intriguing enough to make direct comparisons with the Police invidious. And it will certainly be amusing to see how the sectarian American radio stations try to cope with some defiantly black music sung by a defiantly white singer. The pop stations will have no scruples over playing it but will the black stations be able to overcome their own prejudices?
Sting may well be enjoying showing off his roots but, as he's already discovered, blondes have more fun.
© Sounds magazine