THE SUNFebruary 22, 2008
Sting is one of those rare souls who seems master of his own destiny...
He confirms that The Police concert at Hard Rock Calling in London's Hyde Park on June 29 will be the last chance to see the band on British soil . . . ever.
Speaking from Tokyo on the Japanese leg of the band's world tour, he's in fine form - honest, down-to-earth, witty and not afraid to have a laugh at himself. He also reveals the decisive streak that marks out his actions.
He says: "I do tend to follow my instinct and I think it was the right decision to stop in the Eighties and it was the right decision to go back on tour now. I also think it's the right time to finish in the summer."
Sting first walked away from The Police after their fifth album became a No1 smash on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was an extraordinarily brave move when you consider Syncronicity went eight times platinum in the States, topped the charts there for 17 weeks, and lead track Every Breath You Take beat none other than Michael Jackson's Billie Jean to Song Of The Year at The Grammys.
The singer has since resisted the lure of a full-blown reunion for nearly 25 years despite the promise of untold millions, instead launching a hugely successful solo career with seven studio albums cracking the UK top five.
Sting's most recent effort raised a few eyebrows but again showed his determination to be true to himself. Songs From The Labyrinth celebrated the airy lute music of John Dowland, who was born in the time of Elizabeth I. Then, last year, he finally rekindled The Police flame, announcing at last year's Grammys: "We're The Police. And we're back!"
He is currently more than 100 dates into the fifth highest grossing tour of all time - only The Stones and U2 have done better - but he's decided that the final show in New York this August will be the band's "swansong."
The Police story began back in 1977 when punk was all the rage, first appearing as a fourpiece before quickly emerging with the classic line-up of blond pop pin-ups Sting (vocals, bass), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (drums).
As Sting himself says, they were never really punk, refusing to be "ghettoised", mixing angular rock with the less likely influences of jazz and reggae.
From breakthrough hit 'Roxanne' onwards, the hits flowed... 'So Lonely', 'Message In A Bottle', 'Walking On The Moon', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and, of course, 'Every Breath You Take'.
In 2008, those timeless songs are getting their final live performances by the band so SFTW was delighted to get one of Sting's last-ever Police interviews.
It's a very, very different society to ours. It's interesting, like another planet in some respects.
The fans show their appreciation in a different way. It's much more ordered, less chaotic. You have to say they're really enjoying themselves but they're not as boisterous as we are. You get used to that and they're very appreciative.
They listen very hard to the music which is satisfying. And we're playing to 55,000 of them so their numbers make up for any lack of noise! We did a date in Osaka and two here in Tokyo. Tonight's our last show in Japan. Then we're off to Hawaii, poor us, two shows there then I've got a couple of months off.
And how's the tour been?
It's been a long haul. Since we announced the thing exactly a year ago and did the Grammys, we've done over 100 dates. But we're still together. Still friends.
When will it end?
I think the very last show will be in New York in the first week of August. It will be our swansong.
Is this really going to be the final chapter in The Police story?
Yeah, I think it's right. We've been saved from the nostalgia in a bad sense because I think the band sounds fairly contemporary. We don't sound like an old tribute band.
Considering the songs were written 25 to 30 years ago, they still, to me and most of the audience, sound like today. In a sense, we're recreating history with a contemporary punch.
You came out of the new wave/punk era but added elements like jazz and reggae to the sound.
It's always been our intention not to be a ghettoised band, not to be one particular thing but to invite all colours and see what happens.
But did you see youselves as a punk band when you first started?
No, not really. Punk was what was happening at the time and we had to fly some sort of flag to fit in. The image was sort of that way but the music was not.
What about the iconic blonde hair?
Yeah, it was silly but it looked instantly recognisable. To have a successful career, you need a unique signature. People would go, "Oh, that's The Police." But we had lots of other factors. And we're still recognisable, that's the main thing.
Do you play better now?
I certainly hope so, Simon! I'm still hitting high Cs in the right places.
Why did you get back together?
The idea of touring again with The Police was something I resisted for 25 years because my instinct told me "no, no, no." Then one morning, I woke up and my instinct said, "This is the time." I can't give you any rational reason why I would have thought that on that particular day. But when tickets went on sale, it clearly was the time. It's been one of the top five grossing tours of all time. It's amazing and we're thrilled, happy and grateful all those people have come to see us.
Did you consider going back into the studio?
Taking it beyond this? Again, I think my instinct told me that's not the thing to do. Leave it alone. We've created some sort of myth again and another piece of our legacy and people should appreciate that. Staying too long is the worst thing you can do in this business.
Roxanne's 30th anniversary is in April. Was that a peg?
Certainly for me. It was the song that got me out of a tiny bedsit in Bayswater to being on the world stage. I'm doing it every night and singing it with gratitude.
Do the other songs still resonate with you?
My job every night is to sing a song I may have written 25 years ago as if I'd written it this afternoon, with the same passion and spontaneity.
Also, I'm still finding things within those songs that I can do that are different, to keep my interest in them. That's the challenge. I love it.
Of course, it's not all about Roxanne.
Yeah, there's all the songs that followed. It's one thing to have a hit record and, for some people, that's all they get, but to keep having them was extraordinary.
You never had a point when the Police didn't sell.
We finished at the top - at Shea Stadium (the New York ballpark played by The Beatles in 1965). What a trajectory in the five or six years we were doing it.
Why did it end at that point in the mid-Eighties?
You know, my instincts don't necessary tally with logic. I'm in the biggest band in the world and I'm deciding to leave. Everybody's shaking their heads going, "The boy's lost his mind." But I do tend to follow my instinct and I think it was the right decision then and it was the right decision now to go back on tour. I also think it's the right time to finish in the summer.
How did you find Stewart and Andy this time round?
(Lots of laughter) We're older, more mature as musicians and as people. We navigate each other better. More diplomacy goes on. There's more easing ideas in and out of the band. It's generally better. It's not always been an easy marriage. It can't be because we're strong personalities.
What will it be like after that final gig in New York in the summer?
We'll shake each other by the hand, thanking each other for the opportunity. I'll go off back to Italy and try to think about what I'm going to do next. Hopefully write some music or something.
Any new solo material?
I don't write on the road. Never do it. I need some peace and quiet which is why I got that place in Italy. I'll go there and wait for inspiration or I'll go for long walks and think what have I learned in the past couple of years and what I can put into songs that people will find interesting. I don't want to make a noise for the sake of making a noise. I want to actually say something for myself and for the people who listen to me.
So, no notions of what the next project might be like?
No, not a clue. I need to create a vacuum and get into a nice creative space. You've got to be patient.
How do you feel about your last project, the lute album 'Songs From The Labyrinth', based on music by 16th/17th Century composer John Dowland?
When I did the Dowland thing, people would shake their heads and go, "What?!" But you know, it was done with love and a lot of care and people appreciated it. It's sold nearly a million copies. I hope Mr Dowland's happy! I certainly am.
Music is a journey of learning for me. I'm still learning to be a musician, songwriter, composer,arranger. And I want to get better so that's really my agenda, not to be top of the techno dance charts.
Do you keep abreast of current music? I see you've done a collaboration with Nicole from Pussycat Dolls.
Ah, not hard to look at. And she can sing too which is amazing. She's great. I like to collaborate. I like to try my hand at stuff. My kids keep me abreast of what's hip. I just listen to what they're listening to.
What will it be like playing Isle Of Wight and Hyde Park, saying farewell as The Police?
England is where we began our career, in London. It has a special place in my heart. I'm English.
Playing the Isle Of Wight is an historic event and Hyde Park, what a wonderful thing to do. We're also doing two shows in Manchester that we missed on the early part of the tour because I got sick.
Do you think it will be an emotional time?
Yeah, I think so. To play two shows at Twickenham last year was fantastic. It was very heartening. Lovely. Coming back to England and feeling that reaction.
So, yeah, with the added thing of "this is it", it could be quite emotional.
Do you like to change the setlist around?
Once a set is working, I don't really need to change the order of the songs. They change internally. There's a sort of jazz element inside the arrangements where they can evolve. We'll do a couple of new songs for the final part of the tour just in case people want to see us twice! Generally the shape of the thing will stay much the same.
You're a very youthful 56. Do you still keep incredibly fit?
I'm in pretty good shape for a rock star. I work hard and I enjoy keeping fit. I'm still an athlete. I don't think I could do my job unless I was fit. It's part vanity, part discipline and it's necessary. You don't want to go on and look like a dodgy old geezer up there. You've got to keep it up.
What did you think of the recent Led Zeppelin reunion?
I thought it was fantastic. I'd like to think we had some influence over that. I'm not sure they're gonna do a big tour but it was great that they did that. I would have loved to have been there.
On that note, our chat draws to a close but not before Sting tries to get a picture of his homeland. "What's the weather like in London?" he asks. "It's freezing in Tokyo if that's any consolation."
I reply that it's a damp, grey February morning. "Ah, I'm really looking forward to coming to England and saying goodbye."
Strange to think that when he does, it will be for the final stand of one of Britain's greatest ever bands.