Interview: SOUNDS (1980)

January 01, 1980

The following article by Hugh Fielder appeared in a January 1980 issue of Sounds magazine...

The rotund gentleman sitting at the next table in this Leeds coffee bar demolishing his quadruple eggs, sausage, beans, chips and grease, is regaling us with great gigs at the Queens Hall at which he's had the honour to flog badges, scarves and posters.

Beside me, a record company person is egging him on, not least because he keeps slagging off 'Sounds'. Finally he makes to leave, the prospect of a good evening's business ahead. "You know, my supplier tells me that Sting could be the next Donny Osmond," he says with relish. I grin and there's a gentle thud as the record company person's head hits the table top.

"I always get a special feeling when I see that single," says Stewart. "I mean, I probably packed that record into its sleeve."

Support band Wazmo Nariz, an off-centre band from Chicago with a compulsive if somewhat oddball style, have been delayed on the motorway because of a pile-up and Police seriously consider going on first to quell the growing agitation from the 5,000 fans packed in the hall.

But fortunately they turn up in the nick of time and are hustled on stage within ten minutes. Their first performance in front of a British audience (and probably the largest crowd they've played in front of) is remarkably poised in the circumstances. For a support band they get a good reaction too. But it's nothing to the hysteria that's let loose down at the front of the stage when the Police go on. The high powered introduction to 'Next To You' is almost drowned by a noise that pitches itself midway between a roar and a scream.

Before the first song is finished two girls have been passed over the heads of the throng to the bouncers below the stage. Altogether 70 people are plucked lifeless from the throng and carried away, some of them admittedly reviving sufficiently to give Sting a despairing smile as they pass beneath him on their way to the side of the stage. The bedlam is confined to the first ten rows or so. Beyond that it's a sea of waving arms and clenched fists which you find at all the most exuberant rock shows. And because the set is virtually one continuously bouncing ball of energy the seething and swaying in the crowd never stops.

Considering that none of Police are what you might call spring chickens (it's the peroxide that keeps them looking young; Sting is young enough to wear the rock idol tag without looking silly but Andy could be the father of most of the screaming teenyboppers although he probably isn't) they rock their way through the set with a vitality and conviction that is as remarkable as it is infectious.

Refusing to pander to rock and roll tradition they put 'Walking On The Moon' third in the set after the hectic 'So Lonely'. The slow spots are few and far between but when they do arrive - like 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' - the dub element in their white reggae comes to the fore Andy and Sting revelling in the spaces they create for themselves.

From there the set bulldozes to its climax via 'Peanuts', Roxanne, 'Can't Stand Losing You' and the encore of 'Message In A Bottle'. From the second number onwards Stewart has been literally steaming in the humid atmosphere; when the lights are switched onto the audience it's impossible to see more than ten yards back because of the steam rising from them.

Sting may be the media star but on stage it's strictly a group affair. As a trio they communicate more intimately on stage than most bands and because of their collective experience that communication starts at an advanced level. Essentially they're following in the footsteps of those British bands in the Sixties who took R&B from the black singers and revamped it for broader public consumption, only this time they're doing it to reggae and with more technical expertise at their disposal. 'The men don't know but the little girls understand' as Jim Morrison would say.

In that sense rock and roll has been waiting for the Police. They are a band you can grow into and then up with as opposed to so many new wave bands who you grow into and then out of. They are equipped for the task ahead and they've been around too long to blow it. At Leeds, Andy Summers' monitor speaker packs up after the second number but apart from a grimace at the road crew it scarcely bothers him.

In the car the following day travelling across to Chester Andy explains: "We've got the set off pretty well now. We've been gigging a lot and we can usually tell very early on how its going to go: The main difference we find is in the sound of the hall. Sorting out that sound keeps us attentive."

"We always leave one number for jamming because it keeps us fresh," adds Stewart emerging from headphones attached to his portable cassette player. "The number can vary but there's always one".

The conversation turns to the outbreak of teenybopper mania which Stewart describes as "a whole new side effect which has suddenly grown up around us. It opens up a whole new market for us which is good."

"I had some girls on the phone this morning at the hotel," says Andy. "There were three or four of them and they were taking it in turns to talk. I was still under the covers half asleep so I wasn't really listening to what they were saying."

When I remind Andy that he has already taken a cameo role, albeit camouflaged, in a book called 'Groupie' written a decade ago by one of the foremost British exponents of the art, Jenny Fabian, he smiles wryly.

"But this kind of mass fan worship is something quite different. I love watching the kids when the lights go on them during 'Roxanne'. You see all those waving arms and gaping mouths. It's incredible. But other musicians seem to like what we're doing as well which is really gratifying for us. It keeps us on our toes to know that they are listening to what we're doing."

Later on, Sting, who's travelled ahead in his Jag, recounts how he was taken to meet Bob Marley in Los Angeles on their last tour. "He liked what we were doing and this rasta came round and took me into the house where he was staying. He knocked at the door and a voice comes over the entry phone saying 'who's there?'. This guy answers 'I and I mon' and I'm standing there trying not to laugh."

Police do their full share of listening too. Sting is a fan of Weather Report and is also hooked on the new Stevie Wonder album 'Secret Life Of Plants' while Stewart is playing the Slits album a lot.

The Deesside Leisure Centre is another 5,000 capacity hall that's starting to establish itself as a rock venue for bigger bands even though its 20-odd miles from Liverpool. It's another indication that British sound crews are starting to get the hang of big sports halls and making them into viable rock venues once the management have overcome their qualms about thousands of rock fans roaring around their precious premises.

At the sound check the band run through 'Truth Hits Everybody' considerably faster than the original and without further ado the song crops up at the same increased tempo in the set a few hours later, as if to back up what they were saying earlier in the day about chopping the set around to keep themselves fresh.

The female casualty rate isn't quite as high as the previous night and the higher roof of the hall means that the sauna effect is also reduced but the rest of the mania remains undiminished. During 'Walking On The Moon' Sting inadvertently transposes two lines and the massed ranks in front of him stop singing and look at him as if he's nuts. How could he possibly not remember? But he wins them back when he returns topless for the encore and stands in front of them looking quizzical and cupping his hand to his ear as the crowd bellow out MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE over and over again, the one song the band haven't yet played.

Meanwhile manager Miles Copeland is frantically repairing the gaffa tape strapping on younger brother Stewart's wrist as Andy finally releases the riff the crowd are baying for. Miles contribution to the Police operation is hard to overestimate. He keeps the band on a punishing schedule but he punishes himself still harder. He drives up for the Leeds gig and supervises or lends a hand with any part of the backstage operation that needs attending to.

Afterwards he sends the band out to sign autographs (a small aside: Sting borrows my worthless biro to sign with and I forget all about the incident until 24 hours later when Sting remembers and goes off to find my biro in his luggage - just because you are a star it doesn't mean you have to act like one) and supervises their return to the hotel, even managing the virtually impossible feat of getting hot chocolate out of the night staff ("They're big tippers" he yells as the lady disgruntedly goes off to put the kettle on).

He then drives back to London and puts in a days work in the office before going up to Chester. Half an hour before the gig he's helping to sell the T-shirts and scarves out front and he's on stage to check that everything's OK seconds before the band go on. After the gig I discover him in a room backstage counting the band's fee for the evening with Stewart, Andy and the press officer leafing through piles of notes with him. Suddenly he breaks into a wild gospel diatribe shouting: "This is money from the Lord; I want you to know that each and every note has the mark of the Lord upon it," reducing all around him to helpless laughter and necessitating a virtual recount.

© Sounds magazine


Dec 1, 1979

For a band largely ignored by the music press and "punk bandwagon jumpers" with two singles about a whore and suicide banned by the Beeb, The Police are doing very nicely, thank you. It's been a long hard slog, but Summers, Sting and Copeland have finally joined that small elite capable of producing singles which chart in the Top Five one week after release...

Dec 1, 1979

Police carry on - The Police act responsible: Up in the A&M offices the joint is definitely jumpin'. Enough staff members to man a battleship are scurrying around performing (seemingly) important duties. Yet there's none of the barely contained hysteria one could find so easily in other Manhattan offices; it's more like the co-ordination of a gold strike. A&M is, as you probably know, one of the more successful record companies. They don't release staggering quantities of records (as do more bloated competitors) and their batting average is impressively high. One wall of the conference room - where I am watching a videotape of a certain three-piece rock band - is completely covered with gold records awarded to artists all over the pop music map: Peter Frampton, Herb Alpert, the Brothers Johnson, Styx, etc., etc...