Sting at the Sporting Club, Monte Carlo...
I don't know if there is a new scientific theory bounding around the halls of Academia but since the beginning of May, time has been speeding up for me! At one point in time I am watching Sting perform at the Baltic Centre in Newcastle, and then all of a sudden it is the beginning of July and time to make a trip to Monaco to see Sting at Le Sporting club.
This also marked the start of the summer for me, and a week away from work and a well deserved rest. Whilst most people were still mourning England's exit from the World Cup (Penalties again!), I was starting to get excited about the trip ahead. I had planned this trip with my sister to enable us also to take in some site seeing as well as get to the venue in plenty of time.
We decided to fly into Nice and hire a car and stay in the area of Roquebrune sur-Argens the day before the concert. It was a holiday as well a Sting tour experience, and we had time to lounge by the pool, visit the picturesque ''Saint-Paul'' and meet some friends in St-Raphael.
On the day of the concert the weather was superb; it was hard to leave the tranquillity of the area and the pool and head for the concert venue. I knew this would be a very special occasion and not your average concert venue!
So we travelled from Roquebrune sur-Argens via Eze with a rest and tour of the Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. (A must see for anybody who likes gardens, architecture and culture) The Villa contains twelve different state rooms, galleries, bedrooms with a recurring theme throughout of roses and the colour pink. The immaculate nine themed gardens in the Villa's grounds also play host to cultural and prestigious events in the summer, including Operas by Puccini. As we were leaving the Villa, technicians and riggers were starting to set up for an event for later on in that evening. This included setting the tables on the top lawn for dinner. Other crew meanwhile were erecting a huge flat screen monitor (for the football?) with hi-tech satellite dish and associated equipment as well as other crew doing sound checks.
We were close to the Italian border and that night Italy was scheduled to play Germany in the first World cup semi-final. Although our curiosity was at fever pitch, about what sort of event was taking place here (could Sting suddenly appear around the corner, was this a concert or a pre-concert function I was thinking?) we had to draw our attentions to finding the Sporting club as our number one priority. Thankfully my good track record of map reading was up to scratch and we had no problem finding this exclusive complex. Although some of the local motorists made a point of overtaking us fast down the narrow streets in their Lamborghini's during the drive there. Probably they were trying to prove a point or show their disproval at the modest Peugeot we were travelling in? The security on the gate at first did not want to let us in, as they could not understand that I had to pick up my tickets at the venue itself. But after showing them my receipt and with the help of my sister talking in French explaining my onfirmation receipt details, we were let in. The nearer we approached to the entrance the more excited we became, we walked straight in and walked up to ticket booth to find it closed. There didn't seem to be anybody around? I started to think have I got the right venue, the right day, the right time.
After a minute of wandering around we found the ''Salle des etoiles''. Staff were busy laying the tables and making preparations for the meal, I also got the feeling we had just missed the sound check. A manager appeared (to my relief) so we could ask about where to pick up our tickets from. I handed him my confirmation and he promptly disappeared to find out the information for us. At this point a very beautiful American woman turned up and asked us where the ticket office was, and if the event was sold out? I asked whether she was a member of the fan club which she confirmed. I then explained that we had tickets, but were picking them up here at the venue somewhere. My sister must have been thinking similar thoughts as the ones I was thinking at the same time. She had thought she might be in danger of being dumped as my concert partner in favour of a younger model! Unfortunately I didn't have a spare ticket and I didn't want to cause a seismic rift between us, she would never forgive me or speak to me ever again! Sorry I did not know this fan's name, but I hope you managed to get a ticket to the event, you may never know how close you were to getting my sister's ticket?
The manager returned to say everything was fine, just turn up and mention your name at the entrance to the Salle des etoiles and you will be shown to your table. Excellent, my nerves had settled (Thinking we had missed some kind of deadline to pick the tickets up) and my heart was beating faster after being introduced to this lovely fan, sadly that was the last I saw of her. My thoughts of spending the evening with a beautiful Sting fan discussing all things Sting had been dashed, I had failed miserably but my sister and I now headed for the beach for our next trick. Our accommodation was not in Monaco so we had to shower and change on the beach with the creative use of a towel (Monaco or anybody else for that matter was not ready for any undue exposure at this point in time!) Only the English would be eccentric enough to do this kind of thing. My transformation was complete from looking like a scruffy inter-rail student to a millionaire playboy in two moves. (I could pretend I was James Bond, even though I was in the right location but without the suave looks and the money to go with it.)
Now we looked the part and it was time to enter the ''Salle des etoiles'', wow what a venue. You felt that this was the Las Vegas of Europe, where some serious partying and spending of large amounts of money could take place. Our entrance to this event also included free entry to the Casino afterwards, although we didn't take up this offer, as being bankrupt by the end of this trip was not an option I wanted to consider. The room was exceptionally decorated and lined with tables on two tiers to hold about 1000 people in total. We were shown to our table, number 371 and mingled with the other guests. Although our table was a fan club table the other 4 members were not English or French for that matter, we reckon they were Russian? They seemed very pleasant and smiled a lot, but I don't think they spoke any English, so we could not communicate with them properly. I heard some English voices on the next table, and asked them if they were with the fan club and they replied they weren't, but were with friends. They were particularly friendly and interested in my Sting stories. Shortly after this conversation ended the food began to be served.
Anybody thinking this dinner would be a quick fix affair and an average meal before a concert would be greatly mistaken. We are talking seriously good food and an attention to detail that only the French know how to produce. My mouth starts to salivate just thinking about it now, while I write these words. As we started on our main meal, we made the important decisions of ordering our drinks for the evening's festivities, whilst the support act started to play. (Or as I called them the house band). A jazzy piano band that was ambient during the beginning of their set. I turned to my sister to say ''Could you hear the band ok?'' I was worried I had gone deaf, and if the sound levels were going to be like this for Sting I wouldn't be able to hear things properly. Luckily years of playing music too loud and going to huge concerts, has yet to catch up with my hearing (it will I fear, someday happen)
Yes, the support band was all too quiet, but this was because people were eating, so it really was background music. I felt sorry for them as nobody seemed to be watching them, the lady singing had a good enough voice and I thought she looked stunning! My sister said she couldn't dance, (Which I thought was a bit harsh, but she probably said that because she was envious of the dress she was wearing?) By her own admission my sister felt she had left what she wanted to wear back in England. I can't say I noticed the singer's dancing moves; other thoughts were obviously flowing through my mind? I also remember starting the applause for them, as nobody had been even clapping at the end of their songs up until that point in time. It wasn't till later in the set that I could recognise the songs, all written by English song writers which included ''Sleeping Satellite'' by Tasmin Archer (which stood out for me as the highlight of their set) and ''Here Comes The Rain Again'' by the Eurythmics. It was all very pleasant but was not music that challenges you or makes you want to get up and dance. The originals are superb songs, and I think the jazzy make-over did not add anything special to them.
The only problem this band had was they committed one of the cardinal sins that anybody who covers songs by other artists can make. That is to cover ''Smoke On The Water'', this classic rock song, with the guitar riff that is almost as famous as ''Stairway to heaven'' was murdered in an aura of jazzy blandness that defied belief. If they had been playing in any other venue, they would have not got away with this musical crime lightly or without some form of pain being inflicted to the band by the audience. I was so astonished at this bad cover version; I had failed to see the roof was moving and now fully open! I looked up and saw the skyline and the moon, the whole setting was magical, both inside and outside. I can safely say I have not seen so many pretty and gorgeous women in one place at the same time before. I joked with my sister saying ''It is hard to tell who the wives are and who the daughters are?''
As I was thinking about all this beauty, the roof suddenly started to shut slowly, the lights dimmed and the waiter came over to ask us to pay our drinks bill. (Not quite what I was expecting) 400 Euros! More than our ticket prices (combined) there must be some mistake I thought. The band was now on the stage (I don't need this problem right now) and ''Message In A Bottle'' was blasting out of the speakers as the stage moved forward to the tables at the front of the room. My sister started to speak in French at the waiter, to sort out this issue; he had to give up quickly as he couldn't hear above the sound of the guitars pounding away in a fashion that would unite an entire country. I could hardly contain myself! The only problem I experienced was I was sitting down, it's impossible to sit down during this song, what was I going to do? This was rock at its finest, this was the song that started my fixation with the Police all those years ago, this is where the journey began for me, ''Message In A Bottle'' was that song that re-defined my musical landscape in 1979. It was like a paradigm shift that changed the way I looked at music for ever. It was like I was experiencing the spirit and energy of the Police in 1979 again, and boy did it hit the spot.
I had now arrived at the start of the Broken Music concert and out came what I call the imaginary drum sticks, which is my way of moving, whilst staying seated and not blocking anybody's view. There is nothing like a rock rendition of ''Message In A Bottle'' to get the concert off with a bang. It didn't stop there, straight into a rousing version of ''If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'' and I just couldn't stay seated any longer, the laws of physics couldn't be challenged in this way? I was on my feet less than a minute when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me in perfect English in the kindest of ways to sit down, as I was blocking her view. I obliged, (I'm good like that, and always respectful) but this was my cue to go walkabout. (Leaving my sister to play with my camera and sing along at the table) I know what you're all thinking, I did not dump my sister for a younger model, and I just needed free space to express myself! By the time faith had finished I was on my feet again, moving towards the very large bay windows which were open at the back of the room, leading to a balcony with a magnificent view of Monaco.
I looked up, the stars were shining in the sky and the moon seemed perfectly placed for the next song ''Walking On The Moon'' at this point not many people were on the balcony, a few security and people with crew passes and me. I had found the perfect viewpoint to watch the concert without getting in anybody's way. Because of the exclusive nature of the venue you start to wonder whether waving your hands around could be deemed over the top behaviour, could you find yourself ejected from the premises if you were to go too far? With this in mind my dancing started gingerly during ''Walking On The Moon'' increasing in magnitude during ''Englishman in New York'', which started off in a ''Mad About You'' type of chord sequence to more frenetic style in ''Spirits In The Material World''. I am so pleased this is in the set list, it sounded fresh and with a clarity and purpose that had me jumping around. (Yes you heard correctly jumping) Anybody who thought the extent of the audience's dancing would be a lacklustre affair had not bargained on me in the equation! I was about to re-write the rule book on etiquette in exclusive venues.
The order in which the songs were played was perfect (as usual) ''Shape Of My Heart'' came at the right point in the concert and gave me a breather from dancing. I think Dominic may have fluffed a note during this, but he quickly recovered not wanting to experience one of Sting's looks when these situations occasionally arise. The beginning of ''We'll Be Together'' sees me move from the balcony to in front and to the right hand side of the mixing desk, where a splinter group of like minded fans were on their feet. This is where my vocals kicked in to the rousing chorus of ''We'll be together tonight'' and my thoughts drifted towards the beautiful women in front of me and whether they would be seduced by my charms? (What am I like, what did they put in that half bottle of Rose, love potion?) They kept looking around at me, smiling, and acknowledging my energy and enthusiasm for proceedings. This transferred seamlessly into the next song, ''Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'' where the crew behind the mixing desk were now pointing at me, (With the biggest widest smiles you have ever seen) the happiness and joy experienced by everyone was rebounding around the whole room, as well as having the desired effect of having far more people on their feet. I did get the impression people were thoroughly enjoying themselves even if they weren't as vocal or energetic as me.
Later on in the week I joked with my sister that I had expended two years worth of energy in two days! An equation I am starting to believe myself, I am tweaking this document, at a time I normally prepare my music for my Saturday night DJ slot in a small club in Cheltenham. Although tonight I am still catching up on my sleep and have given the night to a friend, as I feel I will be asleep long before the 3am closing time.
Back to the story in question, the clarity and sound of ''Fields Of Gold'' showed off the acoustics of the venue to its full potential, Sting's voice was in superb form, he is at the height of his powers. If you have heard the DTS version of ''Ten Summoner's Tales'', you are getting close to the experience we were all enjoying. Then came a favourite song that Sting loves performing at the Albert Hall, ''A Day In The Life'', at this point I moved to the right of the balcony away from the mixing desk to start off the initial claps from the audience and some more frenetic clapping further on in this Beatle's song. What confused both members of the audience, staff and security alike was how somebody like me could dance the way I do, then look so composed and calmly move out of people's way during songs. Most probably thought I was drunk, these are not the actions of a drunken person but somebody in Sting heaven. By this stage we were about to enter what I call the rock zone, and to quote Spinal tap, the guitars were about to be turned up to 11!
l can't actually remember whether it was at the start of ''Set Them Free'' or another song (I'm sure somebody can help me out?) but sneaking in the intro to the ''Soul Cages'' (without the lyrics) was a act of genius and confirmed the reason why you do need two guitarists on this tour. The introduction of ''Voices Inside My Head'' marked the start of the rest of the audience joining in on vocal duty, a point I remember very well, as I was very vocal. If Sting hadn't noticed my presence by now he was about to! Again, I retreat to the safety of the balcony to allow myself maximum room to move, people stare and look at me, probably thinking there is something going on in that man's head! (Voices or other issues). Two children (about 14 in age) to the side of me started taking pictures of me. (I hadn't realised I was famous) or more likely they were amused at this Englishman being himself, no matter what they say.
''When The World Is Running Down...'' has been a highpoint in Sting's set for many years now, it will surprise no one to say that my air guitar came out during this number, and I was in full launch mode, by the end of the song leaping with joy (at least 5 jumps) to a live version that must now have a commercial release. (In its current format). I was in similar ecstasy with ''Roxanne'' which was absolutely amazing, I hope they were recording this at mixing desk; it really was up there in the top ten of live versions of this song. If Sting jammed this song for two hours, I don't think anybody would mind at all? After I regained my composure and my voice, Sting said he would like some members of the audience to join him on stage for ''Desert Rose''. Having obviously seen my dancing, he specifically said he did not want any men just women! (I can't blame him, given the amount of gorgeous women in the audience!) Although secretly I wanted to be on stage to form a splinter group, so some of the women could dance around me! Some of those women could really dance, although one was so good, she was probably a professional dancer? ''Desert Rose'' is really a sexy song, after seeing some of those women move, my hormones were pumping, and I felt I was sixteen again. I hadn't really thought of the song in those terms before, I really was hot with all my dancing, I needed a cold shower. I'll let you read into that what you want but enough of my fantasies, ''Every Breath You take'' represented the final push for home and was the next song up.
Drawing the night to a close, where I began to feel my voice become a little hoarse. The surprise of the night for me was the inclusion of a real rocking version of ''Next To You'' which sneaked in there before ''Fragile'' and the additions of ''So Lonely'' along the way, proving once again Sting's voice is in fine form and the art of merging songs together is as superb as ever. By the time ''Fragile'' was half way through, I began to feel I had really exerted myself, and sweat was still pouring down my face, that and a mixture of suntan spray I had used earlier. I was incredibly moved by this version of ''Fragile'' that I very nearly burst into tears at the beauty and delivery of the song and also knowing this would be the end of the night's entertainment. A stunning event and a total unique experience I want to repeat as soon as possible and will never forget.
It was time to find my table, my sister and drink some coffee. I also went and had several drinks of water in the ''bar and boeuf'' below the Salle des etoiles so I wouldn't suffer from dehydration and be able to speak in order to map read for our return journey. We also eventually sorted out our drinks bill, which luckily wasn't 400 Euros, as they tried to charge us for the whole table not just our 50 Euro consumption. That's when I'm so glad my sister can speak far better French that I can. We then had a lovely walk around the Sporting club's grounds and thought we would exit next to the Bay Casino complex, the only exit was through the hotel. My sister had gone on ahead of me, and thought she had lost me (what was I up to?) The next thing she hears is me talking to Billy Francis (the Tour manager); he was sitting talking to two friends on the terrace of the Bay Hotel. I quickly introduced myself and thanked him for the special Newcastle concert at the Baltic centre, explaining what a huge privilege and honour it was for me to experience and how brilliant the fan club is. He was very relaxed and contented and seemed pleased to be speaking to me, even though it was about 1.40 in the morning. We also talked on how the football might affect the start time of the next day's concert in Carcassonne which I was also attending. I introduced my sister and she talked to him for a short while, we kept things brief as I did not want us to overstay our welcome. We said our goodbyes and it was time to head back to our accommodation in the Roquebrune sur-Argens and bring the night to a close.
(c) Roger Puplett for Sting.com