This is part 2 of an interview with Sting and Gerry Richardson by Chris Salewicz took place in September 2003 for Sting.com
In your book you talk about the fact that you were trying to rival each other professionally by writing a song a week. Do you remember this Gerry?
Gerry: Yeah, but I was failing miserably to write a song a week. Sting was probably managing it but yes that is what we were trying to do. You see we had this residency at the Gosforth Hotel which was every Wednesday night and we were packing it. We packed it for a long period of time, I think probably for about two years didn't we?
Gerry: And you can't do the same set night after night, not when the same people are coming to see you. So we were grabbing material from all over the place and also trying to write it. Sting just sort of developed and developed over those two years as a songwriter from not having much. The band started off as a kind of instrumental jazz rock group and then we started to leaven it with the odd vocal from Sting. Probably one of the very early things you sang was that Neil Young song 'Don't Let It Bring You Down'.
Sting: 'Castles burning...' and then we sang that Chick Corea song that Flora Purim sang...
Gerry: 'Five Hundred Miles High'...
Sting: 'Five Hundred Miles High' that was really high... 'Some day...'
Gerry: Good tune that.
Sting: F***ing great tune.
Gerry: We should talk about our influences had moved on by then. One absolutely seminal album for I think both us was I Chick Corea's - one of his first albums 'Light as a Feather' he plays Rhodes on it, he's got Flora Purim on it...
Sting: Stanley Clarke on double bass...
Gerry: I think it's Airto Moreira, Joe Farrell on tenor and flute and we practically wore that record out. Didn't we?
Sting: Then I saw Return to Forever - the Big Band actually supported them one night at the University - and it was Stanley Clarke at his height, Lenny White, Chuck Connors, and Chick Corea and just seeing that level of musicianship well, it should have just made us give up and say 'forget it, we're not musicians' but actually it kind of galvanised us. That's what we really wanted to do. So we started to do a lot of their tunes, 'Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy' and other portentous tunes.
Gerry: Pretentious, moi?
Sting: Portentous... du du der, du du der ... Just ridiculous demi and semi quavers for no other reason than you could play them. But again, fantastic. What an amazing time.
So at this time, are you playing electric bass or stand-up?
Sting: I'm playing electric bass. They was a stand-up bass at the college and I'd plunk away on it, but I was playing the electric bass.
I'd assumed so but suddenly wondered. Are you starting to write? When did you start writing songs?
Sting: Well I'd been writing songs since before I met Gerry, sort of folk songs. I loved James Taylor. I wanted to be James Taylor at that point in my life, but you write songs by pretending to write songs. They're somebody else's songs really but you just change the odd chord and the odd melody, but by the time I'd met Gerry I'd written a few songs, but I think this period that we're talking about where we lived together and had to write a song a week for this residency was a real pressure cooker. It's something I missed in all the subsequent bands I was in - I never had a rival in the way Gerry was a rival. He'd write something, I'd write something and vice versa. He says he didn't, but he did write a song a week. He always came up with something and there was always a great little ping pong match going on. When I was in the Police I didn't have that. It wasn't as if they were songwriters by any stretch of the imagination so I missed that competition. I think Lennon and McCartney had that same thing, kind of tit for tat, he can do that well I can do this.
Was the genesis of any songs that you later recorded there?
Sting: Yeah. 'So Lonely'. The verses at least were from a song called...
Gerry: 'Fool in Love'...
Sting: 'Fool in Love'.
Gerry: 'Savage Beast' became that Russian one...
Sting: No it became, 'We Work The Black Seam'...
Gerry: That's what I meant sorry...
Sting: ...about coalmining. 'I Burn For You' which is a waltz that was on one of live albums was a very popular Last Exit song. I'm trying to think of other songs, but I'd steal fragments from previous songs.
'The Bed's Too Big Without You'?
Sting: 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' was actually written over the changes to 'Nobody Loves You When Your Down and Out' which was a standard blues and with the Police I turned it into a reggae tune over one chord. That worked.
Are you aware that any of this material is any good?
Sting: Yes, we were arrogant little f***s. We really were. We think it's good and we really have a chance.
Gerry: I think Last Exit would probably have cracked it but our timing was diabolical because it was just when punk was just kicking in and we were as fashionable as a pool of sick. I think we would done it otherwise because we were a bloody good band. And the material stood the test of time because a large portion of it is now in Sting's repertoire, but unfortunately the Sex Pistols were coming up on the rails and we were just some naïve composers and musicians and arrangers from Tyneside.
Sting: Historically, we were Newcastle's version of pub-rock. Pub-rock was happening in London with Graham Parker, and all those bands and they were getting deals in London. If we'd been in London we'd have got a deal but we'd have quickly been overtaken by the tidal wave that was the Pistols and the Clash and the Damned, so in way it would have been a short lived thing.
Gerry: I don't know if it would have been. It's stupid to speculate like this but if you think about a band like Ian Dury and the Blockheads there's a lot of elements that we were doing that Ian Dury had. They were basically a jazz-funk band with daft lyrics. Well, good lyrics. Good, daft lyrics. And we had some good comedy numbers in our oeuvre didn't we?
Sting: 'The Laughing Policeman' we used to do.
Gerry: 'The Laughing Policeman'. Sting had a cod rock and roll song called 'The Grand Hotel'. I mean 'Don't Give Up Your Day Time Job' is mildly amusing.
Sting: I thought it was hilarious!
How did that go?
Sting: It was a sort of ballad really, a pop ballad, and the story of somebody who was desperate to create some kind of masterpiece, whether it was song, or a novel or a poet or a painting and he always gets turned down at the last fence. They always say 'don't give up your daytime job'. But I've proved them wrong. He said. [laughs]
Sting writes in his book, he says "Your as close as brothers but you only give grudging respect to his songs. This isn't what you're doing now!
Gerry: Well again, there's nothing like hindsight is there?
Sting: Well, he's from Yorkshire isn't he?
Gerry: I'm never going to gush Chris. We're both from Yorkshire.
Sting: No, there was a healthy rivalry and a healthy mutual respect. I don't think we ever lost respect for each other. We fought, we argued about things but only because we cared about the music. We really cared about this band. We were passionate about this band and we worked out butts off.
How many gigs were you playing a week?
Sting: Well we had a residency every week, maybe a Sunday or we'd get the odd gig a weekend gig somewhere supporting Coliseum...
So a couple, maybe 2 or 3...
Gerry: Yeah, we started to gets lots of local University supports....
Sting: At the time we were considered Newcastle's poshest band.
Gerry: Yes, definitely.
Sting: People are respecting us as real musicians and we're getting the posh gigs if they needed a local support act.
Gerry: And we're packing places out as well. Bigger and bigger audiences. We kept the Gosforth going but we had our Sunday lunchtime residency in the University Theatre didn't we? There were three bands that rotated - the Tyneside Jazz Orchestra which we were in as well, the Steve Brown Band and Last Exit, but Last Exit always got the biggest audience. And I mean packed out.
Sting: And we'd play in Andy's wine bar on a Sunday night which we got arrested for for breaking the law.
Gerry: Yeah, I was convicted of running a disorderly house for breaking the 1789 Sunday Observance Act for charging to get into a venue on a Sunday night.
Sting: They should have thrown away the key! But you know, we were playing with these big bands up from London and we always fancied our chances. There was always a bit of 'we'll blow them off the stage' and they'd come and watch us and see the odd number and we felt that we were worth it.
Were you playing outside of Newcastle? Were you travelling in the vicinity.
Sting: Teesside, we had a residency in Teesside and I think we played as far away as Leeds once but we never really... But when Virgin Publishing signed us we got gigs and played at the LSE [London School of Economics], we played the Nashville, Dingwalls we played.
Gerry: We must have played a dozen gigs In London...
Sting: But that was a 300 mile trip in a transit van for £25 and no one coming to see us. But again we'd do that. I'd do it now it was such an adventure to play in London.
You said that John Hedley and Ronnie Pearson weren't really into the group, you felt...
Gerry: No. I think Ronnie had enough money coming in from his drum shop and stuff to prioritise Last Exit and I don't think John did, which was why we went off to do the pantomime which really meant that he left the band. I think Ronnie was committed to it, but I don't know about Sting, but I think we were all frightened of London. The older guys were more frightened where we were young and foolish and I think they just couldn't make the leap. By that time it was Terry Ellis and Ronnie Pearson and they really would not countenance moving down there. They said 'we'll commute' which was never going to happen, and by that time Sting had met Stewart and there was this split focus - which way am I going to go? And you know, I can't really blame him. Stewart was real wheeler-dealer, and I was pretty frightened by London although I did move down there and have lived there for years but it was pretty daunting. Stewart was established there and just had a mouth like... [laughs]
Sting: Amazing energy. Fantastic energy.
So Phil Sutcliffe, who comes to one of your gigs when your supporting Osibisa reviews it and he's kind of an important figure isn't he?
Sting: It was the first time we'd been mentioned in any music paper. The music papers were something we pored over every week. All of them, 'Melody Maker, 'NME', 'Sounds'... Somehow we were just trying to pick up the vibe from the papers and the first time our little band was mentioned it was this big. I swear to God, it was an inch high, this column. You know, 'Worthy local act Last Exit'. We f***ing hit the roof. It was fantastic, we'd made it. We were a microcosm in the world of music. And that was Phil Sutcliffe and he came to see us at our residency and got us on local radio being interviewed, our first interviews. And then he brought Stewart along after a Curved Air gig. I think they were playing at the Polytechnic, he said there's this local band and turned up at this other teacher training college we were playing at one time, and it was a great gig. I can remember a fantastic gig we played in the refectory and I met this tall American guy who gave me his number. Didn't think much more about it. That was it. Phil Sutcliffe was the contact for me to escape.
So he was important in that respect?
Sting: Oh, hugely important.
I don't think people realise nowadays - it's probably different - just how important the music press was in those days.
Gerry: Oh yes. We used to memorise the 'Melody Maker' every week
Sting: It was all there. People advertising for gigs, and needing singers with image, and PA and deals and all of that stuff. It was fantastic. You'd see gigs advertised at the Marquee and think 'wouldn't it be great if we could ever play the Marquee?' That was like the Mecca to play the Marquee, and so we picked up the whole thing through the press - it was hugely important. We read all the reviews. It doesn't exist now does it?
You couldn't hear much in those days on the radio. There was John Peel and a bit of other stuff but you didn't hear much.
Gerry: No, but in a way that's kind of an advantage. I think these days there is so much music out there, such a massive complexity of different genres when you go into a record shop, and it was easier to focus on things. There wasn't so much crap out there as well either. You go to the record shop and in the jazz section will be two foot long...
Sting: Grumpy old man warning...
Sting: Your first warning!
Gerry: I'm actually being optimistic about the time and saying that it was easier to find what you wanted you know? Anyway, grumpy old man warning so... forget that.
You hadn't seen that Curved Air gig at that point had you? Had you been to the Curved Air gig?
Sting: I'd seen Curved Air before...
But that line up that Stewart was in?
Sting: I don't think so, no. I saw them supporting The Who at the Mayfair. I think Stewart may have just joined...
Because to be honest, I remember them at that stage as not being very good...
Sting: It doesn't matter. They still had their name in the 'Melody Maker'.
Gerry: They had a record deal! A major record deal I think as well.
Sting: They were demi-gods to us. And Sonja Kristina was always very fanciable. Still is.
Did you ever tell Stewart that?
Sting: Not in so many words, no.
By this point you had made a record. You'd made a record at Impulse Studios in Wallsend, which you apparently were not very fond of, you didn't like it?
Sting: The record, no.
Gerry: They were just demos. Last Exit never released a... Oh we did.
Sting: We released a single.
Gerry: But we never signed a record deal though.
Sting: What was the single called?
Gerry: 'Whispering Voices'. Hangs head in shame.
Sting: Yeah, it was Gerry's song sung by Ronnie Pearson.
Gerry: You tell me that I wrote the b-side as well.
Sting: Yeah you did, you were a pushy git.
Gerry: I've no memory of what it was. That was still when I was in control of the group Sting!
Sting: See, our first recording session and they ignore me, basically. I f***ing showed them!
Were you allowed to play bass on it?
Sting: Just. Just, although Gerry could handle it just as well. No I wasn't keen on that record. It's still out there. I have to sign that every now and then.
Gerry: Really? People have still got them?
Sting: I'll be in Singapore and someone will come up to me with 'Whispering Voices' and I have to sign it.
Gerry: It's shit! It really is terrible. Do you remember the first time we heard that? We were doing the San Sebastian Jazz Festival and someone came out with a box of 'Whispering Voices' coupled with 'Roadsong'. We didn't have a record player, but we were near a fairground and we got the bloke on the fairground on the big wheel to play 'Whispering Voices' so we could hear it! And it was like 'UUURGH! Listen to the mix!
Did you put this out on your own label?
Gerry: We didn't put it out. In fact we tried to stop it going out didn't we? Because we wouldn't sign the contracts.
Sting: It was a sort of vanity press version of the record industry that we got some free time at this local studio and we just put some records out that we could sell at the gigs basically.
Gerry: But we never did because we didn't like it.
Sting: No we didn't like it.
So if you didn't like it why did you put it out?
Sting: We didn't really put it out, it just became a fait accomplit. It became a record by default.
Gerry: The guy who owned the studio wanted us to sign a deal with him and pressing the single was a kind of bait to sign the deal. That's my memory anyway, but the bait didn't work because the record was shit. I mean we were partially to blame for the record being shit.
Sting: Well we'd never been in a studio before. We didn't know how to make a record. You finished the song and say 'OK, can we have it now?' and they say, 'Oh we've got to mix it'. And we'd say 'what's that?' What do mean 'mix it'? Like soup? What's mixing? [laughs]
Gerry: And you have to learn to play in the studio as well - it's completely different to playing a gig, and we were learning how to play in the studio. You've got to play much more carefully than you would in a live gig but you've also not got to be inhibited by the process. We were very, very green. Last Exit's recordings got better and better didn't they?
Sting: They had to because they started off really badly. But you know, we didn't know what a studio was. We really didn't. I mean there was egg cartons on the roof that's how high-tech it was. We had no idea.
So how many songs did you do that first session there?
Sting: Just the two.
Just those two? OK. And then you get your deal with Virgin Publishing and they put you in the studio, yes?
Sting: Well the idea was to get a recording deal and reps would come up from London to see us and Island came up to see us and A&M actually came to see us. Virgin seemed to be the most interested and so we went down to London and did demos at Pathway in Islington which Virgin paid for and did about ten songs in an afternoon or something only to be told that the record company didn't really want us but the publishing company did. So it was a kind of consolation prize - well at least somebody wants us, as songwriters if as nothing else. But of course I'll regret that to my dying day because I gave Virgin fifty percent of all the early Police albums. But you don't know this at the time, you think somebody likes me so I'm going to sign this contract.
And did they give you an advance?
They didn't give you advance?
Sting: No, they gave us that day in the studio, which was about £200.
Gerry: We did do a bit more recording work for them didn't we? I think we had three days subsequently with them, but still it's nothing.
Sting: I'm painting a black picture here.
Gerry: It's still black, but we got four days in the studio. That was your advance.
Sting: And we couldn't really afford a lawyer to look at the contract. Ronnie's lawyer looked at it but what he did was conveyancing on houses. He'd never seen a music contract before so we thought 'It's alright. 50/50.' It should have been 95/5...
Gerry: But you'd have never got that. You might have got it to 60/40 after two years or something.
Sting: It's true, but we thought that if we signed the publishing deal they might look more kindly about giving us a recording deal. But you know, again, I don't really have any regrets about that. I found a friend in the publisher, Carol Wilson, who was very supportive of me. I just felt that we had a little hand hold there, a real publishing company likes our stuff so that's something to tell the folks back home. 'Yeah, we got a publishing deal!' It's nothing but at the time it seemed like a big deal.
So presumably you never saw any money from any Last Exit material from that publishing deal?
Sting: No, we never saw anything. There wasn't a mechanism for us to get anything because we never released anything officially.
Gerry: Well, we did have a cassette released which we used to flog at gigs didn't we?
Gerry: Well, release is exaggerating. We did make a few quid out of a few cassettes.
Was this the studio stuff?
Gerry: Yeah, that was done in Newcastle.
You do this San Sebastian Jazz Festival. That suggests you must have got something of a buzz going at that point?
Sting: Well, the Newcastle Big Band played there a couple of times before and Andy Hudson the band leader had some kind of relationship with the organisers and said to us 'do you want to go that year?' So we got a van and disguised the equipment as camping equipment as we didn't have a carnet or anything, it was just a kind of fly by night thing. They drove down, and I took a plane as I was teaching until the last minute.
Sting says in his book that because he flew down that was bit of bad vibe as far as the rest of the group were concerned. Particularly with you?
Gerry: Absolutely. We'd had a journey from hell! And he swans in looking all fresh and tanned and we're all covered in sweat and things.
Sting: I'd never been on a plane. It was my first time on an aeroplane. It was great.
Did you fly from Newcastle?
Sting: I flew from Newcastle to London, and London to Lourdes. But I had to get the plane Gerry as I was teaching up till 4 o'clock on Friday...
Gerry: I've just about forgiven you now...
Sting: And I was semi-pro, not like you. It's just bitterness. It carries on year after year.
It never goes away you know...
Sting: It just festers.
How much money were you making then as a pro-musician?
Gerry: I would imagine £30-£40 a week. Something like that.
That's actually alright in those days isn't it?
Gerry: Maybe that's a slight exaggeration.
Sting: I was getting about £20 a week from teaching plus the gigs we had so that probably added up to about £35 a week. We were probably on the same money.
Sting mentions in his book that you would really shine on Horace Silver's 'The Tokyo Blues' - I think you played that at the San Sebastian show. Do you remember playing that tune?
Gerry: Yeah, perhaps not towards the end but that was staple feature of the band for a long time. I think we used to play that with Earthrise as well. I wouldn't be surprised if we did. It's really one of the first jazz tunes that I learned. As I've said earlier I was into Horace Silver is a typical soul jazz hard bop jazz pianist and I was heavily into that stuff - Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jimmy Smith right from the off.
Sting: The Crusaders were another band that were a huge influence.
At the end of '75 you're Phil Sutcliffe's 'Picked to Click in 76' in 'Sounds'. That must have made you feel better about life?
Sting: It was amazing. We were there with lots of other bands who never made it either but to be picked in the middle pages of 'Sounds' magazine was a major boost for our egos and our sense that we were on the right track.
Can you remember that Gerry?
Gerry: Oh yeah!
How did it seem to you?
Gerry: Exactly the same. I was convinced at the time that Last Exit were going to make it. I really was.
Sting: We felt we had something, and we were just in the wrong place.
Who came up with the name which of course is the Hubert Selby book.
Gerry: I came up with the name.
Did you like the book?
Gerry: No, it's a horrible book isn't it? I don't think I even managed to finish it.
Sting: I read it afterwards and thought 'f***in' hell, that's our name?'
It is fantastic actually, did you feel that it actually fitted you?
Gerry: I think Sting gets it right in the book, it felt like we had to get out and 'Last Exit' has that kind of meaning doesn't it.
That's an important thing because when kind of not in London, I mean you say you were kind of nervous of London but I think in all of those provincial cities it's a duality. London is a bit frightening but on the other hand the place you're in the future there seems even more frightening?
Sting: It's the Billy Liar syndrome. If you don't leave you're stuck there, and that was the worst thing. The worst thing. I felt we had to take the risk. I felt that more than anybody. I really did not want to be stuck in Newcastle. As much as I love Newcastle, and I'm glad I came from there, I had to make a break or I would have just shrivelled up and died.
But you've moved to London for a long time as well. Did you find it hard to deal with at first?
Gerry: Oh yeah. I think it took me seven or eight years to get used to London.
Sting: You see in an ideal world, I was trying to coerce Stewart into making the Police a four piece and getting my old mate in the band but he wasn't having any of it. He wanted a guitar trio and we had a rehearsal or two but it never clicked. The new one was a bit snooty with him. [laughs]
Gerry: I think I was more frightened of Stewart to be honest.
Sting: Well it came off as snooty! [laughs]
Gerry: Also, I still had long hair and I'll tell you what as I was frightened off although it seems hilarious to say it now, but I was terrified of punk! I thought it was all real and they were going to get me! Here I was, this guy who was trying to be Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock and suddenly you have to play three chords on the guitar as loudly and badly as possible. It was like heresy. I believed all the press at the time. Sting was much shrewder, pretending to be a punk for a few years or a few months.
But you said also that the spirit of punk enthused you.
Sting: Well it did, because the thing that had shut us out of the industry for all those years previous to it was what these guys were fighting against so I thought 'great, if they knock the door down, we'll sneak in that way.' It was a real flag of convenience as far as I was concerned. And I went to a few gigs. I saw the Damned, I saw Eddie and the Hot Rods. I liked the energy. As far as the music went it was pretty unsophisticated, it wasn't anything that was going to challenge you musically. But certainly the energy was exciting and galvanising and so I sympathised with it in that sense.
Were you conflicted over the existence of the Police with what you were doing with Last Exit?
Sting: I think I would have been more conflicted if the rest of the band had come down to London. As it was it was only Gerry who took that leap of faith and so m y loyalty was only to Gerry at that point, not to the others. I thought 'well you've let me go down here on a fools errand for me to test the water so you've really just left me.' And so I didn't really have any loyalty to the band. Gerry I had loyalty too and we maintained the contact and ideally I wanted him to be in this band. He did a tour with us in Germany - we toured with Eberhard Schoener - so I didn't abandon Gerry because he'd never abandoned me and there was always that sense that we were in it together. But at some point the Police just became something and we didn't see each other for a long time after that.
How did you feel about that?
Gerry: Oh, it nearly killed me to be honest. It took me I think at least ten years to get over Last Exit falling to bits, because for a long time I always felt sort of Pete Best-ish about the whole thing and so very rarely have I ever used any of the Sting connection, I'm doing it now because Sting has very generously recognised, perhaps in some way, exaggerated my contribution to his early life as it were. But it's something I've shied away from in the past.
You played a Christmas gig, I think it was your last show at the University Theatre bar in 1977.
Gerry: Well again that was Last Exit back together. It was the anniversary of us coming down to town wasn't it?
Sting: Yeah, there was still a big support for us up there drummed up by Ronnie who I think was trying to get us all back. We didn't really want go, we were worried about it but we eventually did it and it was triumphant gig and we really felt wonderful but that was the last time we ever played together. Gerry and I came back to London with the baby one winter's night.
Gerry: I mean nothing much was happening for you at that point - nothing much was happening for me...
Sting: But we still knew London was the place we wanted to be. We'd made that commitment.
It was almost another year before 'Roxanne' was hit. The end of '78?
Sting: Yeah, Gerry was getting paying gigs. You were working in a clip joint in Soho...
Gerry: Yeah, all sorts of things. I think it was in that first year I did about six months on the road with Billy Ocean the British soul singer.
Sting: I was on the dole, making do with the odd gig with the Police and the odd festival in Europe, but really skint.
Wasn't there that other group, Strontium 90 with Mike Howlett?
Sting: Yeah, briefly. Which is where we met Andy Summers. I was just trying things out trying to get as many irons in the fire as I could to make a living. I had a baby, I had rent to pay, I hated the dole I was completely utterly depressed about signing on every Wednesday afternoon at Lissom Grove. Even talking about it now gives me the same nausea, I just hated it. But I knew I was doing the right thing, I was in the right place now. I was in London. If anything was going to happen it was going to happen there.
Did you feel conflicted about that in any way? The northern thing is that they hate London as well. They're very jealous of it but they hate it as well.
Sting: No, I fell in love with London almost immediately. It was slightly easier for me as I was married to Frances who'd established herself as an actress there and she had friends there so it was little easier. Gerry came down, and he had some friends in South London but it was a little easier for me because of Frances.
In fact Frances tried to get you gigs...
Sting: She did. We got married, and she didn't want to be with a deadbeat Geordie musician, she wanted me to be whatever I could be and she helped me a great deal.
Last Exit played at your wedding didn't they.
Sting: Gerry played the organ at the back of the church.
But not at the reception afterwards?
Sorry, I misunderstood there.
Sting: We were too pissed to play.
So this record you've made now Gerry, how did that come about?
Gerry: Well, I've been playing the Hammond organ since 1965, and in 1996 I started a Hammond Organ trio in Newcastle and that's been gigging ever since. I suppose we do 25-30 gigs a year round the area. I think the furthest south we've worked is Birmingham at Ronnie Scotts and we played up in Scotland and as I say, round the area. About five years ago I needed to start doing a higher degree to do with my research at the college and I decided to make the trio into a big band and it's been expanded to a nine piece with two trumpets, trombone, three saxes, drums and the trio is the heart of that band. I've written loads and loads of material and we've gone through various stages of recording and we had a digital multi-track out at a gig last November and band that played above itself and Jazz Action which is the local jazz promotion thing in the North East which has got Arts Council backing has helped me to put this record together.
When was the day it was recorded?
Gerry: I think it was recorded November 12 last year - something like that.
Sting: Pointedly, it's worth noting that there's no bass playing or singing on it. So I see an opening for me there.
So are you going to give him an audition?
Gerry: Well I think it may even happen. Sting's doing something for the Variety Club of Great Britain in Newcastle and he's asked me to supply a band and that he wants to get up and sing, so that may happen. That's next year isn't it, May?
Maybe you should get another singer in though?
Sting: Just in case...
Just like you did on your single.
Sting: I did play with Gerry's band a few years ago. I was playing in Newcastle and was staying at the Gosforth Hotel and Gerry was doing a gig at the hotel and I came down and sang a couple of numbers, a couple of hits with my old mate.
When was that? What were you doing up there?
Sting: I do these concert tours around the world occasionally. [laughs]
I know that, I thought you were there for some other reason.
Sting: No, I was playing the City Hall or something like that. And I've played in the odd pub with Gerry recently. Not recently. Did we play in the Kings Road? You and a guitarist and I got up and did a few songs.
Gerry: Ah right, yeah. Richie Darmore on drums, used to be with David Bowie.
How long ago was that?
Gerry: Oh, that was ages ago.
Sting: The late 70's in this period. It's interesting that we have kept in touch and it's important to me that he's still my mate in the sense that it brings me back to reality in a way, and to have that connection with the past. And writing the book that did that too, it made be grateful for the past because it was a very very fascinating period in my history. I wouldn't be the person I am today without it.
Presumably you can see the connection with Sting then and now?
Gerry: Miraculously, I think he's till more or less the same bloke.
Sting: I've always been arrogant. [laughs] Well, I think I'm the same bloke. I have gone through periods of being a complete pain in the arse, and a prima donna, obviously. I think we all do in my position but at the end of the day I think I've mellowed too to the point where I realise I've been very fortunate and that I value myself not through record sales but through the quality of my friendships and particularly old ones, If you can sustain those then you're worth something in my opinion.
Well, they're the best ones when you realise that nothing's really changed.
Gerry: Yeah, I'm sort of pre-Sting. I mean he was Gordon for a few years.
Did he change his personality when he became Sting?
Gerry: I don't think so, no.
Sting: I was Sting before I became famous though.
But people often change though when they assume a different name. They often become a slightly different person.
Sting: There's some kind of hindsight there, that I was given this name, but that I actually took it and accepted it as my name has somehow a precedent there that yes, I am different, I'm not Gordon Sumner, I'm actually one name and you will know me as that. There's a kind of arrogance there a knowledge there that I can't quite put my finger on. I don't know what it is, but I just had a sense that that was who I was.
That one name creates you as a kind of archetype doesn't it? Kind of gives you something to grow into.
Sting: Yes it does. It makes people kind of curious about me, and if you have the confidence to have a name as stupid as that and wear it with pride then you must have something about you. But I hadn't thought any of this out it just seemed an instinct that was correct, like playing the bass and singing at the same time. It seemed to be the right thing to do. Or not being in a garage band in the early '70s and being in a jazz group. An esoteric group seemed to be the right thing to do as well. My timing seemed to be right.
Did Gordon suddenly demand that you start calling him Sting?
Gerry: Hmm. I seem to recall Frances beating people up who called him Gordon as well.
Sting: Well, the thing is Gerry went away during that period. It was the Phoenix Jazzmen who called me Sting. Gerry had gone to Bristol and when he came back from Bristol everyone was calling me Sting.
Gerry: Except probably me.
Sting: Except probably him. You will call me Sting, henceforth! I will be known as, the formally known as...
Actually one thing I haven't asked you about and I don't know if they are going to edit this, but it's about the boat tour, which sounded interesting...
Gerry: Neither of us have ever done a gig on a cruise liner since, and I never will!
Sting: Don't say never!
Gerry: Well it will be desperate financial straits before...
Sting: I can get a gig on a cruise ship whenever I want.
Yes, you probably can.
Gerry: Well I think I probably could too.
Sting: Can you imagine?
Was it a joke? Was it hellish?
Sting: It was hellish, but we were getting £60 a week, and free board and lodging.
Gerry: I wasn't getting enough, because I was keeping him and Ronnie apart for the entire fortnight.
Sting: Ronnie thought I was unprofessional. [laughs]
Why, because you wouldn't wear your shoes?
Sting: I wouldn't wear the uniform, I didn't really know all the tunes we were playing. We were doing like tea dances in the afternoons. And I didn't know that many tunes and I was just there for the ride basically. But that ship's purser was a nightmare.
Gerry: But you'd already begun to develop traits of Sting-ery.
Gerry: Stinginess. Because I think a year henceforth to that you would have taken it more seriously but it was like, we're on the way the band's on the way, f*** this arsing around with playing standards and things.
Sting: Really? Well I apologise for that.
Gerry: No, I'm not being critical. I think you were just beginning to get a... I kind of felt it too but I just knew that it was lot easier to do the job properly. You took the hard route actually by antagonising everybody but it was the start of 'I've got an attitude and I'm going to use it'.
Sting: There you go. Well, I can't really disagree with it. I probably was developing a...
And thereby being ideally suited for punk rock. [laughs]
Sting: I don't know about that...it was a good chapter in the book.