11.21.08 THE NEW STRAITS TIMES


Sting with bite: Pay $600 to watch The Police? Many did earlier this year, and many will again - to hear its lead singer Sting go classical...

Sting: actor, environment activist, tantric sex poster boy. It was not enough for the Englishman that he used to front The Police, which was among the biggest rock bands in the world.

It was also apparently not enough for him that his subsequent solo music career encompassed jazz, opera and world music.

Restless as the bumblebee which inspired his nickname, the man born Gordon Sumner will be performing classical music in a concert next month at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Not just your average contemporary classical compositions, but 400-year-old Elizabethan pieces from 'Song From The Labyrinth', his 2006 album with Bosnian lute player Edin Karamazov.

Speaking to Life! in a telephone interview from London, Sting, 57, says the upcoming show will obviously be completely different from a gig by The Police.

For one thing, he will be playing a custom-made lute - an ancient string instrument that is the predecessor of the guitar - instead of his Fender electric bass.

'The Police are very loud, lots of lights and smoke and a big spectacle. This is a much more intimate and intense show.

'The audience is very close. There is nothing between the performer and the audience. It is all kind of scary and daunting and it's very dramatic music. I have a feeling the audience is gonna like it.'

He may be right. When 'Songs From The Labyrinth' was released two years ago, it topped the classical charts in the United States. It also did well enough to reach No. 25 on Billboard's pop charts.

In Singapore, the album has so far sold 3,000 copies. A spokesman for music label Universal says an average classical album sells 1,500 to 2,000 copies.

In the January 2007 review of the album, Life! classical music reviewer Chang Tou Liang said Sting uses 'his usual raspy unschooled voice... so brilliantly... often identifying with and capturing the lachrymose and tormented soul that was the composer, a rebel in his own time'.

Singapore fan and group editor of SPH Magazines Raymond Goh, 35, is all for Sting's classical work: 'It shows how he has matured musically. It's an artful display of musicianship beyond the pop context. The album grows on you.'

Eighty per cent of tickets for the 'Song From The Labyrinth' concert has been sold, says organiser Lushington Entertainments.

The most expensive ticket costs 0, similar to The Police reunion concert held here in February this year, which took a little under million, an all-time sales record for a single concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Nonetheless, there is a nagging feeling that his ancient classical music excursion is a vanity project, the way serious arthouse movies are for popular comedians. Think Jim Carrey in The Truman Show or Robin Williams in Insomnia.

But it is not an ego trip. It was not even Sting's idea to do it in the first place.

He says: 'People kept suggesting to me that my voice might suit this kind of music. I met Edin Karamazov while doing a tour and he said, 'Look, why don't you sing Dowland?'

'And I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to get to the bottom of this and figure out why people think I should sing this stuff'. Of course, after I learnt a few songs, I realised I did have an affinity with the music and with the story of this man.'

The 16th-century minstrel John Dowland, a contemporary of William Shakespeare's, is considered one of England's most prized songwriters. Sting describes him as a pop star of his era.

In a 2006 interview with The Wall Street Journal, he said: 'In Dowland's time there was no distinction between pop music and music. It was popular. He made songs for the mass media.'

'Songs From The Labyrinth' was conceived in 2004 when Sting hosted Karamazov for a weekend in his mansion in Wiltshire and they pored over Dowland's songbooks dating from 1597 to 1610.

The album's chart success was a pleasant surprise to Sting.

'I thought everyone would ignore it,' he says with a chuckle. 'My intention was just to learn, it wasn't a commercial prospect ever. I'm just very surprised it has been successful.'

Father to six children - two with ex-wife, Irish actress Frances Tomelty, and four with current spouse Trudie Styler - he is no stranger to Singapore, having played here several times.

'Yes, I have been to Singapore a lot,' he says. 'It's a remarkable city. The audiences are always very attentive and I like an audience that concentrates and is able to take in what we're trying to do.'

Initially inspired by the burgeoning punk rock scene in the late 1970s, The Police - comprising Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland - expanded their music with touches of reggae, jazz, pop and other sounds.

Such inventiveness served Sting well in his solo career after his multiple-platinum band split in 1986.

Last year, the trio embarked on a global comeback tour, which sold 3.7 million tickets and raked in US $358 million. It is the third-highest grossing tour of all time by any artist.

Sting's eldest son, Joseph, 32, fronts Fiction Plane, a three-piece rock band that opened for The Police in the Singapore leg of the world tour at the Indoor Stadium this year.

Though Sting confirms with Life! that he is 'finished' with The Police and probably will not pursue any more classical projects, he is still eager to evolve as a musician and composer until he draws his last breath. 'For me, music is its own reward,' he says.

'I'm not doing this just to get Grammy nominations or to get platinum discs or to make a lot of money. I'm doing this for the love of music. All of those other things have happened by accident.'

© New Straits Times by Eddino Abdul Hadi
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