On the road with The Police...
At the beginning of September, The Police returned from a four week tour of Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal.
It takes considerable organisation to launch a band on such an extensive tour. Extra road crew and lighting personnel have to be taken on I for the trip and an awful lot of office work has to be done, hotels booked, transport sorted out, etc. After weeks of work by Tour Manager Kim Turner and his staff, we waved everyone off on Friday 8th August, for their first date on the 9th at the Werchter Festival in Belgium. This was a great success, but, would you believe, it rained!
The following day, everyone drove to the Le Touquet Hippodrome and after that, they headed southwards through France, taking every second day ''off'', for either travel or radio and press interviews.
Some hard driving had to be done in sunshine and tremendous heat, although the weather continued to be unreliable. In Biarritz it poured all day, but stopped just before the sound check and this enabled the show to go on. Like a lot of the places the band played, there was no roof on the stage, and heavy rain would have made playing impossible.
On the day they were due to play at Frejus, however, there were fourteen hours of sheeting rain, making our Milton Keynes deluge on 26th July look like an April shower! The rain conquered this time and the concert had to be postponed until the following day (after yet more rain).
The concert venues ranged through bull rings, football and sports' stadiums, arenas, vast marquees and, in Orange, it was an ancient Roman Amphitheatre surrounded by ruins, castle walls and monuments, with the audience looking down on the stage from steep slopes or clinging to rocks very picturesque, if rather precarious.
Obviously in a tour of this length, one or two mishaps inevitably happen, but there are always loads of laughs to compensate!
In Biarritz, Stewart suffered an acute attack of food poisoning just half an hour before the band was due to appear on stage. As he was doubled up with pain, there was no way he could play his drums - but the audience had already gathered and was expecting the show! The solution: a good stand-in so personal roadie Jeff Seitz slid behind the kit to back Andy and Sting and would you believe, in all the excitement and leaping about at the front, only a few people realised that a switch had been made!
Stewart, wrapped in blanket, watched the performance from the window of an adjacent caravan, and his comment afterwars was that it felt very strange to ''see myself'' on stage The police. Of course, an apology was made on his behalf later, but it was agreed by all that they'd rather solve the problem this way than give no show at all.
We at home had a scare when it was reported on the radio that ''The Police have been involved in a road accident!'' A frantic telephone call to France roused a puzzled Sting from his sleep and after a quick count of heads we were assured that all the band were present and OK. It turned out that of the equipment trucks overturned on a hairpin bend and the local gendarmerie had wasted no time in reporting what they considered to be an exciting accident to radio stations. Luckily no serious damage was done and none of the lads in the crew was hurt.
While the same crew were motoring through Spain to Portugal, their coach pulled into a mountain village for refreshment. Maybe it was their 'Police' tee-shirts, or occasional bursts of noisy laughter; whatever it was, the local yokels took an instant dislike to our crew and, unbelievably, started picking up small rocks and pebbles and actually stoned them back to their vehicle and out of the village. They laughed about it afterwards, but someone could easily have been hurt, and it wasn't a very pleasant experience.
The next thing that happened was that crew member Roy (Tufty) Tough broke a bone in his foot, but he decided to continue the tour in a plaster cast and on crutches. This slowed him down to such an extent that, while hurrying to join the band at their hotel in Lisbon, his mates lost their patience and grabbed a workman's barrow from a nearby construction site, bundled Tufty into it and pushed him along the cobbled streets at breakneck speed. However, on arrival at the very plush Ritz Hotel, they tipped Tufty out, wheeled the barrow up to the rather superior commissionaire who was standing there in full uniform, and requested him to ''Park this vehicle...'' Unfortunately, his lordship was not amused and threatened to call the police!
On the not so funny side, Annette of the Dazzlebourne crew injured herself quite badly when diving into a swimming pool. Once again, it was the very resourceful Jeff who rescued her from drowning and, sadly, she had to be flown back to hospital in England after only two concerts. Many thanks to the St. John's Ambulance Brigade, who arranged the journey with Annette strapped flat on a stretcher in a plaster cast. We all wish her a speedy recovery.
A rock movie called 'Urgh! It's A Music War' is being made at the moment and The Police's contribution to this is 'So Lonely', which was filmed at the delayed Frejus concert. Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones came along to this gig - in fact, quite a few famous artists who either live or were holidaying in the South of France looked in on the concerts. Andy Partridge of XTC made his mark by showering Sting with corn flakes after the show in Madrid. (We are buying a big pack of Shredded Wheat for Andy's next gig!).
There's no room to mention all the thousand and one little incidents which occurred during the tour. On the whole, the trip was a real pleasure for band and crew alike, as it was free of the kind of petty hassles or grievances that usually bug a long tour. Apart from Stew's food poisoning he, Andy and Sting were in tiptop health. Sting took a jog or a swim every morning with Larry (his personal roadie) and gave his throat a special steam treatment twenty minutes before going on stage to keep his vocal chords relaxed.
Each show was wonderful, seeming to get better and better, and the tour finished with the show in Lisbon, which went without a hitch, which was remarkable since the country had been added to the itinerary half way through the tour and the actual venue had been changed after the posters had been stuck up round the area. The concert was played at the Estado Du Restelo just outside Lisbon, which was an enormous football pitch surrounded by an athletics track which could have held 100,000 in comfort.
The stage was placed a quarter of the way along the oval, facing outwards, and even with the arena shortened in this way, over 17,000 fans poured into the show around 8pm... the most impressive crowd so far.
But the day had started much earlier for the crew with the setting up of the stage, PA system. lights and sound monitors. The weather was ideal - blue, blue sky, sunshine and a gentle breeze.
Stewart, Andy and Sting arrived at around 6pm for the sound check, when each instrument has to be tuned and tested. This is a relaxed hour and the band usually relieves the monotony of ''Just testing - one-two three-four...'' with improvised choruses, imitations of other artists and the odd dance routine or touch of slapstick.
Once they've got the sound balance, they return to the dressing room while the audience streams in and the support bands perform their sets. The 'dressing room' at this stadium was the changing room for the athletes and was consequently rather primitive and the other drawback was that it was at the opposite end of the track to the platform so, by the time they got there, the band had worked up quite an appetite for the fish, fruits and cheeses that the promoters had prepared for The Police and all their friends!
Among those enjoying this feast, as well as the band and their personal roadies, were Sonja Kristina and Andy's wife Kate with baby daughter Layla who is now 13/4 years old. Sting's wife Frances was in London attending the dress rehearsal of 'Macbeth', which was to open the following night at the Old Vic Theatre.
Baby Layla is proving to be a model child. She accommodates herself to all situations and was happy just trotting around looking at things. When she spotted a pair of Stewart's drumsticks, it seemed as if she had found her vocation in life because she set about whacking the stuffing out of an armchair with gusto. Andy groaned' ''Oh Layla you disappoint me - I thought you were going to be a guitarist like me, not a drummer!''
While all this was going on, the roar from outside was getting louder and becoming very insistent. The support band on this night was a young Portugese group with their own followers, but the crowd was impatient for the main band: ''THE POLICE''! Although Police tapes had been playing in all the Lisbon clubs and night spots for several days, the young people of Portugal had never seen the band live, and in fact this was the first ever rock concert to be given at the stadium - so the audience were an unknown quantity. Would they like the music? Would they understand the lyrics?
It was a nice surprise to find that a little vehicle had been provided to transport the band the hundred or so yards to the stage area, and what a cheer went up and what a surge forward to the front there was as The Police climbed out, ran on to the stage and launched straight into the first number, then rocked through a perfect set.
They played all the favourites from the earlier records and four numbers from the new album: 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', 'Voices Inside My Head', 'Driven To Tears' and the new single, 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'. There were jokes from Andy and Sting and a quick desertion of the drums by Stewart, who clowned around out front giving his imitation of a vaudeville dancer for a few minutes while a phantom drum beat thumped out from the sound box.
The amazing thing was that this very foreign crowd, who we thought were being introduced to a new kind of music, (up until now, the top artist in Portugal has been Lou Reed!), were howling out the lyrics along with Sting and going berserk at the choruses. Now and then the lights would move from the stage onto the crowd and an incredible scene would be lit up thousands of people along the terraces, clinging to the sports' scoreboard and leaping wildly in the arena itself.
It was a long show with three encores, one of them livened up even more by a grotesque chorus line-up of bedraggled roadies in shorts, doing high-kicks across the stage and back, which nearly incapacitated the band and sound crew with laughter! But there was no time for hysterics, as the crowd wanted more, more, MORE! However, at that point the promoters stepped in and hustled Sting, Andy and Stewart into the waiting vehicle and sped them back to the dressing room. They were longing to come back for a fourth time, but the power was cut off - finito!
We were all transported back to our hotel - with the splendid trio chatting away as though they had been sitting in the dressing room for the past few hours and not working hard up front thrilling 17,000 people. A few of the departing crowd spotted Sting through the window of the coach and couldn't really believe who it was, but waved wildly and hoped that they had just seen The Police. For them, the show was now a memory but already the promoters are negotiating to get The Police back for a longer stay. Not too long, though - WE want them over here!
(c) Dee Boyd for Outlandos/Sting.com