THE DAILY EXPRESSNovember 15, 2003
The following interview by Angus Batey appeared in the Daily Express's Saturday magazine...
Sting in the tale...
The legendary singer has always told his life story through his distinctive music. Now, with a revealing new autobiography on the shelves, the former Police frontman fills in some of the gaps.
Born Gordon Sumner, the son of a Geordie milkman, Sting has come a long way since his tough, Tyneside childhood. After paying his dues playing on cruise ships, he found fame in the 70s with The Police, and went on to carve out a solo career that has endured like few others over the years. And, with a new album out now and an autobiography released this month, Sting has confirmed his status as one of the most respected musicians in the industry today.
The man of the moment appears in the drawing room of an upscale London hotel. Dressed in a linen shirt, matching trousers and tan moccasins, he is very impressive and exudes a Zen-like calm. Despite turning 52 last month, he looks a good couple of decades younger. This is perhaps due to the healthy lifestyle he enjoys with his second wife, film producer and strict vegetarian, Trudie Styler. Or the signs of professional fulfilment. Sting admits that he's been fortunate, but he also believes that his longevity is as much to do with the intelligence he has brought to bear on the cut-throat business.
"Often you have a hit record by luck," he muses. "The right people in the right place at the right time. The right kind of sound to your voice. But after you've had that stroke of luck, you then have to get smart and work out how to stay there. Nowadays, maybe even staying there for a year is a difficult task. Staying there for 25 years seems almost impossible. But I just take it year by year."
When Sting formed The Police in 1977, he was already in his mid-twenties, and, when the band disintegrated eight years later at the height of their success, few would have believed that he would still be making globally popular music almost 20 years later. But his new album, 'Sacred Love,' released last month, finds him once again reinventing his own sound and style. This month also sees the publication of his autobiography, 'Broken Music: Memoirs', which tells his story up to the age of 25. The making of both book and album can be traced back to an emotional concert two years ago, at the Tuscany home Sting shares with Trudie. An intimate show for invited friends and fans was planned for online broadcast and DVD release. To keep the creative element high, a band was assembled, and, after two weeks of rehearsals, everything was ready. The date was September 11th, 2001. "Trudie and I lost a friend in the Twin Towers (investment banker Herman Sandler), and singing was the last thing I wanted to do, to be honest with you. I just wanted to crawl into a corner and cry," Sting says flatly. "I put it to the band. I said, 'What do you want to do?' And they all said, 'We wanna play.'"
Although the webcast was curtailed after the first song, 'Fragile', the remainder of the concert was released three months later as the DVD, 'All This Time'. "I've never seen it - I've no wish to watch it," Sting admits. "It was a much more sombre show than what we had planned. But as the concert progressed, the mood changed. We felt we had every right to be there, listening to music, making music, singing; because really it's the opposite of what terrorism wants. Terrorism wants us to be afraid, to be frightened and to be controlled. So even though, at the time, I didn't want to do it, I've had no second thoughts about whether or not it was right to carry on with the show."
After the intensity of that day, Sting was forced into a period of introspection, out of which came both the songs that form 'Sacred Love', and the reflection that has inspired 'Broken Music'. Although the autobiography only tells his story up to the early days of The Police, there are moments where the two projects are intimately linked - most notably on 'Sacred Love's' standout track, the brooding 'The Book Of My Life', in which he speaks of a book that he's afraid to write. "The process actually began the day after September 11th," he explains. "I was alone in the house and I had a long time to sit and meditate on what my function was.
Is there any use being a songwriter in this new context? I started writing about personal relationships, but all the songs spiralled into writing about what was happening in the world. So the album ended up being about religion and politics and love and sex. And football," he grins, lightening the mood. "No, there's no football in it."
He's joking about football, though it is close to his heart: Sting is a keen Newcastle United supporter, and among his numerous songwriting credits is the minor hit, 'Black And White Army (Bringing The Pride Back Home)' - a song released as the club's cup final record in 1998. Although his voice betrays the Geordie accent, Sting remains devoted to his birthplace, even though he's not made his home in the region for years. "I'm glad I come from Newcastle," he says. "It's a wonderful place. But I couldn't have become who I am by staying there. I needed to be in a bigger arena to become me. Any artist needs to escape - you escape your parents, your culture... You escape the limitations you have as an artist. But that's no reflection on Newcastle at all!"
Writing the book, though, has meant looking back - sometimes painfully. He recalls the time he discovered his glamorous mother, Audrey, was having an affair, and the effect it had on his father, Eric, brother, Phil, and sister, Angela. There are many positives, though, notably the example set for him by his ex-serviceman dad. "My father, who was a milkman, worked seven days a week, 365 days a year in all weathers," he remembers. "He got paid nothing. He probably made ¬£5,000 in his entire life. But work defined him. In my eyes, work made him a hero. He did this for us, put us through school, bought us shoes. So his stoicism is inbred in me." Lessons learnt from his father have helped Sting in his relationships with his six children - two from his first marriage to actress Frances Tomelty, and four with Trudie - who range in age from seven to 26. "For me, my family is the bedrock of my self-esteem," he emphasises. "If I'm proud of one thing more than anything else, it's my children. They seem like good people, despite my influence!" he laughs. "I also feel very optimistic that they seem to be an evolved version of me. They're smarter than I am."
Another thing that Sting gets from his kids is a connection to the changing face of pop music. In recent years, he has found himself embraced by youthful rap and garage stars, with everyone from the Sugababes to Craig David sampling or remaking his songs. "I don't listen to pop music," he shrugs with a smile. "I don't know much about it. It's not designed for me, I'm not in the demographic. I've managed to sculpt a career that's very much singular. There's no role model for me. I'm making it up as I go along. I write about what concerns me and what excites me and what gives me pleasure. Craig David called me up and said, 'I've written a song based on your song, would you like to come and sing on it?' Absolutely! I've got something to learn. He's a great singer. But they've also got things to learn from me. It's like there's a kind of trade-off. It's so wonderful to see someone young and fresh reinterpret your song, or use bits of your song to create another original piece of art.
"I also get paid," he grins. "I got paid enough on the Craig David track to put two of my kids through college, so I'm not gonna say no! I think it's great!"
© The Daily Express