MELODY MAKEROctober 01, 1981
The following interview with Paul Colbert appeared in an October 1981 issue of Melody Maker magazine...
"There's a wind in Munich," explains Andy Summers, "that makes people go crazy."
"It blows at certain times of the year and people who are susceptible can... y'know..." - he rolls his eyes around the dressing room and bares a fine set of pearlies - "lose control. It's like the effect a full moon has.
You don't believe me, do you?"
Well since it's coming from somebody who's taken the art of the gentle winD-up further than a Swiss clocksmith it does, perhaps, require a smidgen of the old sodium chloride for an easy passage. It might make sense, though. Ever since landing in this beautiful but mixed-up kind of city things have been... well... odd.
What can you say of an airport that doesn't believe in flashing lights or men with ping pong bats to guide your plane into position. But instead has a large van bearing the words "Follow Me" on its back in two foot high letters?
Why the road leading to the Munich Hilton should be awash in inches of water or its reception hall in about eight species of dog are two eternal mysteries to ponder in quieter moments.
At least someone's certain... "The Police, oh no the bus hasn't got here yet. The gig's at 9.00 and the soundcheck's at 6.00 so they'll probably be leaving here around 4.30." This from the tour manager, perhaps? No, from the girl who hands out the room keys. The noun "drink" and it's bosom adjective "large" spring to mind.
Actually the Police have arrived. A knot of relaxed but business-like guests bustle through the mirror-ceilinged lobby and rapidly vanish to their rooms. Not everybody has journeyed on the coach. Andy Summers (why am I already certain he's going to become a wayward influence?) likes trains and eschewed the video-equipped luxuries of the bus to chug his way from the last town. "This isn't right," he surmises.
"I'm supposed to be here early waiting smugly for them, and they beat me by 30 seconds."
Guitars and suitcases spill into the lobby, fans ragtaggle around the band, some clutching pens, others cameras; a few have both and want the chaps to sign the Polaroid pictures they've just taken. This is efficiency. And this is the Police back on the road.
It's Friday October 9 in Munich, the last date of a slim seven gig mini-tour designed to put the buzz back into playing live. From the barrage of smiles it's apparently been going very well. Tomorrow will be the start of their first true holiday almost since the band began - no albums to record, no rehearsals to attend, no appearances to make until December. These are happy boys.
Wish the same could be said of the drinks machine in the hotel room. Multilingual instructions obtusely hint that each of the eight buttons will propel a particular beverage into a tray underneath the fridge. No 2 is a can of Coke. Press No 2 "clank, bong" open drawer , nothing. Press it again, "clank, clank, bong" Still nothing. Give up.
Decide on an orange juice, No 3. "clank, clank, clank... thud". Open drawer, Inside is a can of Coke. What was that about a wind?
Time to move and Sting in black jeans and a sheepskin jacket, unusually thick for the surprisingly warm clime, is already in the back of the lobby and introductions are made. His first remarks prove him to be a man - ahem, like myself - of questing observation. "Lot of dogs in here, aren't there?"
A fair pride of autograph hunters, too, including one with a broken leg.
"In our country it's traditional to sign the plaster," points out Sting to the hobbling Kraut, who had initially proffered a sheet of paper. A leg is presented and a ball-point wielded which immediately sinks nib first into the soft outer material. Medical advance, it seems, has no place for the autograph collector.
More autographs on the bus from within the ranks. This tour obviously includes material from Ghost In the Machine which features Sting playing saxophone. The third matter of equally apparent note is that you can't sing and blow brass at the same instant. A horn section was required. New Jersey trio The Chops are it - Darryl Dixon, David Watson and Marvin Daniels. They do an excellent job, but at the moment they're doing some superb blagging. In truth they want a couple of signed pictures of the band as keepsakes, but are a bit embarrassed about admitting it. "This is for the family album?" quizzes Stewart Copeland as he inks across his image. "F*** no, I'm gonna sell it," says Dave.
As the contorted profile of the Olympiahalle crests the Munich traffic jams, Stewart wonders about the architectural completion. "Are they still putting it up or something?" That's how tonight's venue appears. It looks like a huge metal tent barely supported by a posse of erratic cranes, themselves tottering drunkenly around the perimeter.
Inside, the overwhelming impression is of a large mattress about to fall, For a moment he's marginally distracted and comforted by the fact that Genesis have just finished playing the place and in fact had booked out of the Hilton not many minutes before the Police tumbled in. Phil Collins left a letter at reception: "Just bought the album and I love it, love Phil".
"He BOUGHT it," says someone.
Inside the hall there already seems to be a band on stage belting through a Police track. "Just the roadies brushing up on a few of our songs," reveals Mr Copeland, who, overtaken by the location's Olympic urge, sprints away down the stairs. I've never known a man disappear so quickly. He runs everywhere, and this from someone who later claims to be lazy: "If I happened to be a guitar player I'd be a real wimp, it's just as well I play drums."
He even succeeded in running around a disco that night. Flailing through an undergrowth of German limbs and drinks I tried to keep up with him as he made a circuit of the place. Hopeless. Wedged tight between a pillar and a Teutonic boozer, a long night of short breaths and immobile arms (panic... can't reach money to purchase alcohol) pressed close on the horizon. Suddenly a voice boomed in one ear - "well that's it, shall we split?" We walked out two minutes after walking in.
Back at the hotel Sting had offered a slyly grinning invitation... "Come and see me around 7.00. I'll be on the floor." And he was. Boots and socks off, sheepskin jacket rolled up as a pillow, he stared at the dressing room ceiling. This, it unfolded, was the Alexander Method, a system of relaxation developed by an Australian actor to prevent pre-performance tension. I had to admit that it closely resembled the northern hemisphere practice of "lying down", or "falling down" as it is occasionally known. But according to Sting, a hard surface coupled with massaging of the big toe has helped relieve a few throat problems.
Last weekend it was his birthday: "We always seem to work on my birthday. I got very drunk, there was lots of cake flying around and the support group had the whole hall singing 'Happy birthday to Sting.' I'm 30."
Feels different, does it?
"Yes it does, actually. It's an interesting time to reassess and plan ahead and think of yourself at the end of the next decade. I also looked back on the last ten years - an abortive university career, a career as a teacher, now I'm a 30-year-old millionaire, hah!"
Of course, I haven't reached that august milestone myself.
"Ha, ha, ha... oh, f*** off," laughs the man. One-nil.
They are all distinctly "up" right now - a combination of an idyllic bout of recording and a short burst of highly successful gigs.
"Montserrat, where we did Ghost In the Machine, worked out really well," says Andy "Munich Wind" Summers. "On the last album at Hilversum we didn't feel as if we'd got far enough away and there was a lot of pressure from us."
Sting was more specific. "It rained for four weeks and I had a cold" - but the sunny atmosphere of Montserrat was conducive to a bright, spontaneous album, two of the tracks, 'Demolition Man' and 'One World', being one-track wonders.
Harking back to less ecstatic times, Andy opines that depression usually sets in when they've been on the road for too long. "That's when you start losing perspective, everybody wants to leave the group and suddenly you can't remember what you were like before the group happened."
How do you cope with it?
"Well... I read the Bible and pray a lot. Let's kneel brother..." You sod, I should have learnt by now.
'Omegaman' describes a way of getting through those moments, a way which he finds tougher to explain in person. "There are times when you can break through depression and recognise, almost as if from the past, a positive feeling. It snaps you out of it, like a memory... it's hard... when you feel lonely... and I think everybody does... it's nothing to be ashamed of...". Are you grinning again, Summers?
One alerting discovery is that beneath the cheery exterior they all share a measured fatalism though in different areas and at variant strengths. While the world tours and the viewed misery have given them a determination to change matters, or at least point out that they must be altered, it's also imprinted an inevitability on their reasoning. Perhaps continued existence in a world where gigs always go down well (even if the band are dissatisfied with them) and albums always sell by the millions (even if the band think they're patchy) contributes to that. So as Stewart Copeland argues that most people missed the point of 'Invisible Sun' - and it's in fact a song of inner strength and determination - maybe the hope they have is born of desperation rather than inspiration. I laugh lest I cry.
"There is no shadow of doubt in my mind, " says Sting, again from the floor, "that one day, whether by accident or design, they will be dropped, and they have to be got rid of either by peaceful means or not."
The conversation in this case is running down the frightening alleys of nuclear war and warheads. But of the whole sentence it's the last word - "not" - that worries me the most. What does he mean, and realising he's just argued himself into a moment of truth, Sting pauses before taking a leap.
"Well... I think rioting is a start. Genuine justified anger as appeared in England this year. Yeah," he continues, warming to the conviction, "burn it down. You've every right to. I don't want riots, I don't want burning, but I can see why they happen. It couldn't be worse for the kids, society's done f*** all for them and at least the riots have been successful since they've got the government out of its sleep."
The Police insist the 'Invisible Sun' promo film shot around Belfast and rejected by the BBC was not a message but a statement of fact. Sting's wife, who comes from the city, sat in during the editing, balancing every Catholic and Protestant image, ensuring it was non-sectarian.
Stewart Copeland refuses to draw the boundaries even that tightly: "It could be Kabul, Addis Ababa or any city, maybe not even a city. There are a lot of places in the world where life is unbelievable but it goes on.
It's not a film about the problems of Ireland but about people living their lives in spite of them."
He say that far more gruesome scenes appear on TV news throughout the week but because of their regularity and slot they cease to sink in. However loud the alarm clock rings, you can eventually stop hearing it. Shift focus to 'Top Of The Pops' and there's no resistance.
"I can see why the BBC turned it down," says Sting, "but I disagree, I think it should be shown for exactly those reasons. It is a chilling film, it sends tingles up my spine every time I see it. There was a chance of talking about real issues in pop music but the BBC wouldn't let us. The inference is that all pop music should be meaningless, banal and stupid..."
This isn't the sole focus for their fatalism. Their own fame has lately been getting a considerable dose of abjection; not least from Andy Summers. "There is a conscious move towards a lower profile and to lose the three laughing blond heads; there are other groups in England who can do that now."
Manager Miles Copeland puts it more bluntly. "Thank Christ for Adam."
The faces have vanished from the cover of 'Ghost In The Machine'... sort of. The three digital hieroglyphics aren't the title spelt out in runes but computerised mushes for each of the band. The one in the middle is Sting, the top three arrows representing his stand-up hair.
"It's been fun being famous," ventures Stewart Copeland, Excuse the mild cough Stewart but you're hardly good copy for Anonymity Weekly. "Yeah. But the image is not so important anymore, it's done its job and it can be relinquished. There are problems: like buying underwear at Woolworths and disappointing the girl behind the counter because you didn't get extra large."
One of the questions posed at Sting is whether he wants the Police to be the biggest group in the world in five years. "I'd like the WORLD to be here in five years. Basically, I don't need another number one, it doesn't give me any more ego massage than I've already got, it's just a game now. It's nice to be number one but I'm not going to commit suicide if we're not. It was more important to produce something of integrity. There will be a hit, the game will be played to the hilt next month but it wasn't vital that Invisible Sun should be number one, just that it should be released. Ghost In the Machine was an important step because everyone was expecting a sequel to the last three, which didn't happen. As for the next direction, who knows? I don't care right now, I don't care whether we go on, or are successful as a group, it doesn't worry me, I'm genuinely more worried about my kids having reasonable lives, living till they're at least 20. Being the biggest group in the world doesn't matter a f*** compared to that."
Honestly, they really are in a good mood.
In the arena the mattress hasn't fallen yet. If it did, around 8,000 kids would be going to bed early, though judging by spirited examples of limb-tangling happening in the gloom, the thought isn't far from certain minds.
Still backstage, a German reporter has cornered Stewart but is more intent on a little role reversal, spieling forth with a lecture on Polish Solidarity. "There must have been something wrong with his tape recorder, everything we said came out of the speaker. It was like being interviewed over a PA."
Somewhere in the audience is Mike Oldfield. He'd made a silent appearance at the soundcheck and would later put in an oven briefer and quieter one backstage. Also reported to be hovering in the vicinity are Kirsty MacColl, Matchbox, Soft Cell and Leif Garrett and they're all apparently taking lodgings at the Hilton. Was there any way of warning them about the drinks machine or the dogs? Some things you just have to find out yourself, I guess.
This gig is no velvet glove. Any set that starts with 'Message In A Bottle', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' and 'Walking On The Moon' has more to do with cast iron than cotton wool. There's no sparring, this is body blow after body blow from a fast, ardent police force. The Olympiahalle has probably witnessed limbs moved in a more graceful manner but never so many shifted at once.
Halfway through, girls are sitting down and dancing, waving arms in place of legs that no longer support them. Miles Copeland had reckoned that at the biggest, wildest Police gigs one person faints every 30 seconds. I don't know who this person is but I'm glad it's not me - I'd hate to have missed it.
The Chops are still feeling their way in and though they frequently embellish Sting's lines they never depart from the spirit - hard rhythm, not gooey melody like the heartbeat spikes on a an ECG. They slip in as neatly as a spoon in soup and come up brimming.
The one slow moment is Invisible Sun. The German audiences are less familiar with it since their single was 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', also shared by the States. In comparison, 'Shadows In the Rain' functions at a similar pace but never seems to touch the ground, suspending itself on a chime of guitar harmonics. Sadly absent is the final trio from 'Ghost In The Machine' - 'Omegaman', 'Secret Journey' and 'Darkness'. Fully attendant are 'Roxanne', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely', all delivered wearing steel jackets.
They bounced back to one of Sting's earlier comments: "I consider songwriting as my main job and I think I'm genuinely good at it. Being a musician, singer and performer are merely side effects." Side effects??
That's like saying Robin Hood approved of archery because it got him out of doors.
Munich would seem peculiarly short of backstage adulation or lunacy though Andy Summers does inform The Chops that before the English gigs commence they'll be expected to get some blond wigs. "That's nothing. Sting wanted us to dress like SCHOOLGIRLS..." Yes, they have enjoyed themselves, no they don't usually do much live stuff, up, there sure were a LOT of people out there.
The coach ride back to the hotel is uneventful, the pursuance of an after gig meal less so. The hotel restaurant is closed. Undoubtedly the cook has been standing in a breeze, but down the road apiece is a Greek place that Andy knows and swears by. Someone phones and books a table for 15 people. We march to the door: "How many are coming?" - "Four" - "Oh".
The first taxi driver has never heard of the place. The second knows it intimately and declares his colleague in front to be "stupid", by an evaluation born out by the number plate "MAD 4335".
So here we are - Andy, Miles, photographer Tashi and myself sitting in the middle of a table for 15 - a sort of budget last supper. Fortunately the rest, including band, crew and promoters, pile in five minutes later - steak and a remarkably small quantity of alcohol are consumed.
Stewart doesn't indulge in the stuff, reckoning it unsafe for the system. This he informs me on the plane home the following day, about 30 seconds before upending a cup of British Airways coffee down his trousers. With great face he calls the stewardess. "Could I have another coffee, most of the last one is in my lap."
"Certainly sir, I'll bring you a soda-water...", (what for, an underpants cocktail???) "to remove the stains." A fine example of lateral thinking.
The steaming diversion had interrupted a discussion of Police alternatives - projects outside the band.
There was Sting's acting: he'd departed at 6.30 that morning to meet a director in London and would shortly begin filming 'Brimstone and Treacle' at Shepperton. "It's definitely a good move for me," he'd confided. "A real coup, a real acting part. The thing about films is they're other people's dreams, they're as flimsy as that."
There was Andy's album with Robert Fripp. "It was so different, just Robert, me and an engineer. It will probably come out in late spring with maybe a tour in autumn. Half of it is two guitars and the rest we built up between us, several of the songs have a Chinese pastoral effect... very pretty."
Plus the fact that Mr Summers is also an accomplished photographer (having impressed Tom "Chief" Sheehan at an earlier meeting), is currently assembling a book of works and is watching his material appearing In The Face, Sunday Express colour magazine, Hot Shoe and Creative Camera.
"I just want to go back to London, where I haven't spent any time for two years, take photographs - and go across the road to buy a packet of cornflakes... that sort of thing."
The Copeland targets are more long term. "Film making. We're all interested in it from some angle but there's not room for each other. There's no part for me in Sting's film, and for me to make a movie... well ...
Sting gets ten offers a week, and I could never afford him anyway. Besides, my idea of the medium is different. I'd like to direct 'Star Wars'. The thing is, I won't know if I'm any good at it for years; there are a lot of techniques to be learnt. Knowing how to express yourself in any medium is what being an artist with an 'e' at the end is all about. I do have an 'e' there, just a small one."
And one extra scheme bobs along in the surf. In August the band went to Canada to put together tapes for a double live album recorded round the world over the last two years. Officially it's finished but it may yet have an '81 appendix of 'Ghost In The Machine' material.
You might also count the projected arrival of Sting's second child, an event he's vowed to attend. "I was gigging for the last one and I still haven't been forgiven, even though it did pay the rent that week."
But the disparity of exterior intention doesn't have a simile within the music. Though Sting is most often quoted about the lyrics' political tone, it's not a unilateral declaration.
Andy Summers: "Stewart and I will listen to the lyrics and endorse them before they go on the album to see if they make sense to our lives. We've been round the world two or three times talking to each other and if Sting's going to write something, we know what he's talking about."
Sting: "Some lyrics are really banal, just a signature, others are very important. I'm getting better at writing songs of objectivity. Originally they were very subjective. about an individual - alienation, feeling lonely, depressed, love affairs. I think the development has come about through travelling and I'm getting better at writing about the world. I've stopped caring about me."
Stewart Copeland: "My interpretations of the lyrics are my own and the value of the lyrics to me is of many interpretations. People who play music often have this form of expression thrust upon them. I happen to be highly opinionated, but whenever you go into details my opinions are only operable to my perspective and for that purpose I distrust that form. It's why the songs are kinda vague, umbrella-like."
And so, bring on the night.
Darryl, David and Martin heed for sleep since their US flight leaves around 9.00 the next morning. The promoters hand the band thank-you mementoes - wallets. "You don't think they're trying to make a point, do you?" whispers the chap Summers, who not wishing to see me left out earnestly passes a small package across the table. "I want you to have this."
It's a chocolate. Thanks Andy, I'll keep it 'til it goes mouldy.
Sting had already got his parting shot in. With an even more alarming 5.30am call in prospect he took the early elevator to bed. "I used to have a beard like that," he nods at my chin." I grew out of it though." Oh, yeah: funny thing, I had my hair cut the other day and the girl with the scissors asked if I was trying to look like Sting.
"No, mate. Not good looking enough," he shoots as the lift doors close on a million pound, 30-year-old smile. One-all.
© Melody Maker magazine