...All this time...
Even if it hadn't been for the senseless acts of violence and the inspiring evening I would have remembered the 11 September as the day I spent three and a half hours running around Florence trying to find a particular brand of olive oil for my girlfriend.
By mid afternoon the olive oil was safely locked away and I was heading up to Sting's place with ''The Best Fans In The World''. Conversations were hungrily enjoyed, especially by those of us who had never met so many Outlandos members before.
We reached Il Palagio and walked up the hill to find the small stage and a scattering of seats. We were ushered into a dining hall and cautiously nibbled breadsticks while mulling over the terrible news of the day and the possibilities that the show might not happen.
Kathy Schenker visited with news that suggested it was off. Then Dominic and Chris wandered in and told us of their wish to play.
At this point I reached for the red wine. The world may be going to hell in a handbasket but the view (Sting's olive groves) was terrific, the company was excellent and we couldn't help our friends in the States by giving in to the gloom.
After some food (and more wine) we were called out to the stage. In front of us assembled an extended band, waiting for its leader. Then out walked Sting, sombre in a black suit and scarf, to rapturous applause. We didn't know what to expect. I have been in Sting's audiences for over twenty years and had never seen him look like this. A whole assortment of emotions seemed to emanate from him as he told us of his feelings and introduced 'Fragile'. A song that has never sounded as poignant.
I think, to a person, we were all in shock too. But music has a power to heal and I found myself enamoured of the Jobim like changes in this new version of the song.
When it was over there was a requested absence of applause followed by a minute's silence. Sting asked us what should happen next and the emotional crowd asked for more.
A haunting Thousand Years melted into 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong'. Then we were treated to a truly inspired re-working of 'All This Time'. As a musician I always get my biggest kick from watching what Sting does to his songs on stage, and the interplay between the band members. I got goose bumps as each song revealed a new dimension and sweeping blues and jazz attitudes mixed together with the generous grab bag of styles that Sting has at his disposal.
Trudie appeared from the house and sat amongst the audience as the evocative 'Hounds of Winter' was played. Then a segue of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' (slow and brooding) and the wonderful, but rarely heard, 'When We Dance'. Sting told us a story about Kenny Kirkland and played 'Dienda' as a tribute.
Such is Sting's perverse nature that, on such an intimate evening when he could have played anything he wanted, he put 'Roxanne' on the list. Repetition hadn't dulled it though and around this point the mood began to pick up. The music providing an alternative focus for the day and smiles between the musicians being picked up by the audience.
The songs continued with contributions from Dominic Miller on guitar, Chris Botti on trumpet, Christian McBride on double bass, Kipper, Jason Rebello and Jeff Young on keyboards, Jacques Morelenbaum on cello, Marcos Suzano on percussion, BJ Cole on pedal steel, Katreese Barnes and Janice Pendarvis on backing vocals and Manu KatchÃ© on drums.
Several more songs were given their new treatments then, after 'Every Breath You Take' and a solo encore of 'Message in a Bottle' the concert was over and we all showed our appreciation. Various members of the band returned to talk to the audience and, having chatted to Janice, Christian, Dominic, Chris and Manu I was gripped by a strange urge to acquire some of the house olive oil.
Wonderful, in retrospect, was my ability to use this once in a lifetime chance to be at Sting's house, surrounded by a host of talented and interesting people and, instead of soaking up the ambience, go condiment hunting.
Of course, that's why I spotted Sting out chatting to people too late and only managed to proffer a brief ''After all this time it was nice to meet you'' (d'oh!) before he said ''why-aye'' and vanished into the house. Still, I hadn't come to meet the man but to enjoy the music (I kept telling myself).
As we finally headed back to Florence I thought about what we had witnessed. Even the most road weary fans had something new to satisfy them. Sting's generosity and hospitality had given us something good on an otherwise terrible day.
However he feels about his music and its place in the world, he should know that, like all the best music, it has the power to enthuse and inspire. To give you what you want and to surprise you too.
(c) Will Cruttenden for Sting.com
A dream come true...
Picture this; 11 July 2001, this is meant to be the middle of summer but it's a dark, grey, very wet night in Scotland. I return home from work in the evening and decide to check out my e-mails for anything tasty. I read with astonishment a mail from Tina that describes Stings new live album will be recorded at his home in Tuscany, Italy. I read on with hope that the album and possible video will be released soon, and I have a chance to see and hear a live performance from the ultimate band! To my disbelief the mail continued, ''In order to be fair to everyone, Outlandos have drawn the names of fan club members at random from the membership list. These lucky fans are being offered tickets. The reason for this note, is that your name was one of those selected, and consequently you are being offered ONE ticket for this fantastic event''.
I awoke roughly three minutes later to my girlfriends offering of smelling salts. I read the e-mail once more to check for any evidence of trickery from any of my so called friends, but it all seemed genuine enough? I printed it off to be sure that it was true and not some fake, or joke. It really sank in round about the 150th time that I read the e-mail that evening that not only was I being given the chance to see Sting in action, but I was also to go to his house in the hills near Florence!!! The next logical step was to e-mail Tina with a 1000 thank you's and offer her my modest Scottish castle as a down payment for the ticket.
Two months later I departed Glasgow and headed for Florence in Italy which I'm glad to say was not experiencing the same blizzard, hurricane, monsoon weather that so often frequents the Scottish summer.
Tuesday 11 September duly arrived to a day of blue skies and warm weather where everything in the town of Florence seemed normal. A walk around this beautiful city helped me spend the time of morning, then it was going to be meeting up with the Outlando's members at 5pm at the Holiday Inn. It is with great sadness and shame on humanity that I witnessed on TV about 2/3pm (Italian time) the horror that unfolded in America that afternoon. No words can describe these events or the emotions that we ALL experienced of deep shock and horror.
I met all the Outlandos members at the Holiday Inn and it wasn't long before we were heading off in a coach to the Florentine hills. It was not long before we caught our first glimpse of Il Palagio which was nesting high on a hilltop surrounded by miles of olive groves (which, incidentally, Mr Sting owns). Tina issued everyone with special guest passes and we headed up the hill (past the Police - no pun intended) towards the Sumner residence. Stings house has three large visible buildings and his courtyard included a small stage which was filled with musical instruments. Single seats from the house were arranged to seat the 150 invited guests, and these were flanked by video camera's and recording equipment. Our group was shown into Stings house where we were treated to a banquet of a three course dinner complete with wines and of course Sumner Olive oil ( to give any salad that special stingy taste). It was here that it was announced that due to the days events in the U.S. that Sting and the band members had decided not to play, as it was not appropriate.
We all had mixed emotions of sadness and excitement as no one could really believe that they were having dinner in Stings house! During this time Chris Botti and Dominic Miller (sporting a new short spikey haircut) entered, and chatted to all willing parties. We then learned that Sting had decided to play one song and then let the audience decide what to do next.
We all then entered the courtyard and took a seat. Tina allowed Will, Darren, Sean, Angelika and myself to obtain a remarkable standing space which was about four rows from the front of the stage (although everyone was near to the stage no matter where you were positioned). The band entered the stage and included two backing vocalists (Janice Pendarvis), a cello and a double bass as well as Stings usual line up for the 'Brand New Day' live set. Sting entered a few minutes later dressed in a black suit and a striped blue and yellow college style scarf around his neck. He welcomed the audience to his house and then spoke of the days events that occurred in the U.S. Sting expressed his concern that any acts of terrorism should not be allowed anywhere in the world and that he would play 'Fragile' but could the audience not clap at the end of the song as a mark of respect to the people who had lost their lives, and instead hold a one minute silence. 'Fragile' was played but not the same version that we are all accustomed to - this version was very laid back, very emotional but captured the sentiment of the night exactly. The song ended with the start of a very emotionally charged one minute silence. Sting then asked the audience, ''Should we carry on, It's up to you''?
To much encouragement Kipper played the synth intro for 'A Thousand Years', again this was not the album version but a more ambient, distinctive vocal and atmospheric. Sting stated that he shouldn't have sung that song as the lyrics were too close to the events of that day. During this song Trudie took a seat only a few feet from where we were standing and she looked very beautiful and radiant. The song was followed by 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong' which ended with a gentle fade out of the opening of 'A Thousand Years'. The audience was soon on it's feet as Sting introduced the next song as 'for his Dad' and a funky version of 'All This Time' commenced. Complete with acoustic guitar Dominic started the opening chords of 'Seven Days' which was followed by the classic chilling version of 'The Hounds Of Winter' which was truly exceptional. Dominic opened the next song with acoustic guitar playing and we were all very appreciative to hear a slower but brilliant version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', then it was straight into 'When We Dance' which was the first time I had heard this track live. This song soared to great heights with poignant lyrics accompanied by angelic backing vocals and impressive orchestration.
It was very clear by this point that Sting was very affected by the days events and he stated that ''this night should have been a happy joyous occasion but it cant be''. He continued that ''Kenny Kirkland has left the planet and as a tribute I wrote lyrics dedicated to him''. He continued that, ''instead of playing sports, Kenny was made to practice piano by his mother every day'', ''This song's for him, God Bless you Ken''. The song that was played is called 'Dienda' and has a real jazz feel to it, very late night 'Angel Eyes' - 'Leaving Las Vegas' style which is a particular favourite of mine, because I consider Stings delivery of such moments as passionate and tender. I consider this track will be a real winner when the live album 'All This Time' is released.
Sting now asked the audience, ''Do you like my house? I got it for a song, maybe this one...'' Dominic then unleashed the chords of 'Roxanne' which included a trombone solo in the middle of the song. The crowd enthusiastically sang along and danced to the big band rhythm as the band intensified with melodic charm. Sting then announced, ''They can't kill our joy on the planet,'' and kicked into 'Set Them Free' which had a blues feel to it rather than the normal version. Dominic continued the next song with some blues chords and I was intrigued to hear the song turn out to be 'Brand New Day' which was filled with energy and merited a great response from the audience. Some great moments of pedal steel guitar was heard on 'Fields Of Gold' of which turned out to receive another ecstatic response from the audience. Sting then said, ''My fans are the best in the world, my house is your house'' and broke into 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.
This song was played like the version on the 'Blue Turtles' album and contained Chris Botti holding an infinite note on the trumpet much to the amazement of Sting (who sprayed him with throat spray) and the audience. Sting then announced that, ''he had never known a man to attract women as much as Chris Botti does''. An excellent version of 'Shape of My Heart' followed with Dominic playing effortlessly guitar wizardry! 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' was greatly received, especially with the big finish. This was concluded with 'Every Breath You Take' - what can I say, a classic!
The band then went off stage to rapturous applause, Mr Sting returned complete with acoustic guitar to play 'Message In A Bottle'. He thanked the audience for coming and concluded with saying, ''Don't forget what happened today''. I can say that it is the most memorable and unforgettable experience that I have ever had in my life. I spent the next hour talking to Dominic Miller (thanks for the plectrums and autograph for my Mum). Sting then came out and shook hands and thanked everyone for coming. Nights don't come better than this one and I would like to thank Sting, Dominic, Tina and the full band for making this a dream come true.
(c) Drew Dudgeon for Sting.com
Under the stars in Florence...
The 11 September 2001 should have been a joyous occasion, memorable for the recording and simultaneous webcast of Sting's new live album in Tuscany but events of that day in the United States meant that this could not be.
The recording and webcasting of Sting's new album had been planned for months. Sting's desire to bring the music he had toured across the world for the last two years on the Brand New Day tour 'back home to where it was born' as a thank you to his fans was keenly anticipated, especially as he had promised to reinterpret those songs and to revisit some older material. The recording was to take place in front of a small audience of invited fan club members and lucky competition winners at Il Palagio, his home in Tuscany. The day arrived. The camera crews and sound engineers were ready. Sting and his band were rehearsed and ready and those ready to make up the audience were full of anticipation.
Then a few hours before the scheduled start of the webcast the news began to filtered through of the terrorist attacks in the United States. As each report became more incredible than the last it was clear that the scale of the unfolding events was unprecedented. The audience members arrived dazed and confused. We had travelled from as far afield as Japan and Argentina to attend this event and a number of Americans (including several New Yorkers) had also made the journey. On arrival, we were led into a large dining room and were seated at communal tables. The atmosphere was tense and sombre with a range of views amongst us about what should and might happen.
Sting's manager spoke to everyone explaining that a decision hadn't yet been made on whether to proceed or not and that Sting was still considering what to do. Guitarist Dominic Miller and trumpeter Chris Botti both came into the dining room and during their conversations made it clear that they and the band felt they should proceed with the performance and that to cancel would be tantamount to ''admitting defeat to the terrorists''. This news lifted our spirits and as food and wine were served the atmosphere gradually changed, turning positive, as we all realised that it would be an act of defiance for the show to proceed.
With still no inkling of what would happen, we made our way outside to the courtyard. A small raised area just outside the front of the house served as the stage, and a few rows of chairs followed by a cluster of tables and chairs and a small standing area comprised the viewing area. Some spare but tasteful lighting illuminated the area and we all took our seats still wondering what might happen. After a few moments, Sting and his band took to the stage. Sting, dressed in black and wearing a woollen scarf around his neck to ward off the chill Tuscan air, was visibly upset. His voice betrayed his emotions as he told us that ''This was supposed to be a very joyous occasion, but because of the horrific events of today it simply cannot be a joyous occasion. We have three choices, one is that the show must go on, the other is not to do anything at all and the band and I came up with a compromise. We'd like to do one number on the web-cast for the rest of the world to see and then shut it off as a token of respect to those who have lost their lives and loved ones in this terrible event, and then it's up to you. I'd like a minute's silence after that song, I don't want any applause I just want us to stand and think about what has happened today. It's difficult for all of us - I'm angry, I'm confused, I'm frightened and I don't really want to give this meaningless act of violence any credence. It's totally and utterly pointless. I'd like to sing this song for those people who've lost their lives.''
With that, Sting played a raw but beautiful version of 'Fragile'. The cries and tears from the audience could be clearly heard as many embraced and comforted each other, finding strength from simply being with each other, united amongst friends. As the closing note was played, everyone remained silent, flawlessly maintaining the requested minute of silence and, as the web-cast was closed down, Sting quietly asked us, ''It's up to you now - what should we do?''
The response was overwhelming, and to cries of ''Play all night'', ''Play for those who've died'', and ''Don't let them win'', the band [Jason Rebello, Kipper and Jeff Young on keyboards, Dominic Miller on guitar, Christian McBride on double bass, Jacques Morelenbaum on cello, BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar, Manu Katché on drums, Marcos Suzano on percussion, Katreese Barnes and Janice Pendarvis on vocals] picked out the intro to 'A Thousand Years'. Sting was clearly struggling to contain his emotions during this song and after it was over commented that ''some of the words of the song had made it very tough to perform''. Remembering his father, Sting then performed a poignant version of 'All This Time' and before 'Seven Days' Chris Botti suggested to Sting that they should play the full, originally planned set (which would have been a generous 27 songs). Sting demurred, saying that he didn't think he could, but after a few more numbers the mood noticeably started to change as the band took heart from the audience's sensitive and supportive applause and encouragement.
Old favourites such as 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'The Hounds Of Winter' and 'When We Dance' were dusted off to the delight of everyone whilst other songs were quietly and sensitively dropped from the set as they were considered inappropriate on a such a night.
Old friends such as the late Kenny Kirkland were remembered fondly as Sting performed 'Dienda' for only the second time and told a touching story about his old friend. Introducing a sad version of 'Roxanne', he told us all that tonight ''his home was our home'' and that he had ''really fantastic fans'', and, as he sang the final line ''You don't have to put on the red light'', he added a whispered ''but she did anyway''. Sting brought the 18 song show to a halt around 10.30pm with a memorable version of 'Every Breath You Take' before returning to perform a solo version of 'Message In A Bottle', again dedicated to those that had lost their lives that day, before leaving the stage to a tumultuous ovation.
As the crowd thinned, members of the band came out and mingled with fans chatting about the show and the events in the States, expressing their thanks for the part the audience had played throughout the evening. It had been important for the band to play that night, and they appreciated the response they had received. Without any fuss or commotion, Sting also came out into the audience, shaking hands, exchanging kisses and chatting to fans - many of whom he had clearly known for years. The show had obviously meant as much to him as it had to the fans present.
The band recognised how sensitive and supportively the audience responded. They knew that amongst us were people who had family and friends directly involved in the results of the terrorism, that some had not been able to contact home as the telephone system was not working, and that everyone present was gaining strength and comfort from the spirit that was so clearly evident. Proceeding with the show for the two hundred strong audience present showed immense selflessness by the band who united the audience as one and gave many the hope and courage to face the uncertain and dreadful days ahead, several of whom would be stranded in Italy for many days due to the suspension of flights.
Thank you Sting; thank you to the whole band; and thank you to the other fans present for making the 11 September so memorable under such awful circumstances.
(c) Dave & Wendy for Sting.com
''Just don't ask me how I feel...'' There is no need to ask for, as he sits on the steps of his isolated Tuscan compound, Sting is silently weeping. Saltwater rivulets make their way down his nose. He brushes them away, but they end up in his ears. They stop for a moment and then they begin again.
Half an hour ago, in front of a few dozen fans and record company junkateers, he had finished what should have been the recording of a live album, entitled 'All This Time'. It was meant to be a celebration: a two-act, two-hour show for the chosen few, literally taking place in Sting's backyard.
A planned webcast invited the world to watch the singer and his 13-piece band give old and new favourites a gentle caressing. In the event, in unbearably heinous circumstances given today's events in New York, he has played surely the toughest gig of his life and emerged enhanced in both artistic and human status. ''And,'' he whispers, ''what does it all mean? Absolutely nothing.''
The day had begun well. Having completed a successful dress rehearsal the previous night, Sting slept the sleep of the just. Early afternoon Italian time, a couple with whom Sting and his wife Trudie Styler worked closely in the Rainforest Foundation called to say ''Hi'' from the top floor of the World Trade Centre in New York. Ten minutes later the World Trade Centre was ablaze. Sting and Styler could not reach their close friends. Nothing is certain but, even at this early stage, the worst seemed likely and logical.
''We had a band meeting,'' sighs Sting. ''Everybody spoke. One of the things that made us play was that people need a sense of community, they need a hug and they need to be together. We asked all our guests if they wanted to come here or stay in their hotel rooms. Everyone came.''
The right decision?
''I just don't know. We're in shock at the moment. Trying to pick the songs was just ridiculous. When I got to the line about towers in 'A Thousand Years' (''An endless turning stairway climbs to a tower of souls'') I... I just wish I hadn't started that song.''
Suddenly he is taken by another thought.
''I must console my wife.'' And so he stumbles upstairs, another confused witness of a dreadful day.
Sting elects not to impose his personal tragedy on the audience. Instead, he shuffles onstage, quietly declares, ''I'm angry, I'm confused and I'm frightened'', and explains that he will play Fragile before shutting the webcast down as a mark of respect. He asks that the song be greeted with silence and says he'll consider afterwards whether to go on. 'Fragile', a 14-year-old song given new poignancy by events (''Nothing comes from violence''), has never sounded quite so beautiful, or so apt. The subsequent silence is deafening.
''What do you want to do?'' asks Sting in non-rhetorical fashion. A standing ovation is the response. He looks neither pleased nor validated. ''OK but it's going to be a very different show.''
Sting swigs from a mug and then plays a one-act set, 40 minutes shorter than the rehearsal. The show doesn't have to go on but it's perhaps best that it does - even if Sting himself seems unsure if he wants to be here.
It's said, often by the pain-free, that great art comes from pain. There's proof of sorts tonight as each song that follows 'Fragile' takes on new meaning, 'Brand New Day', the title-track to his most recent album, and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' become songs of rebirth and renewal. The all-out rock assault on 'Every Breath You Take' is catharsis for everyone, not least the song's author.
Reluctantly, he tries 'Message In A Bottle', the eternal song of community, as a wholly solo encore. The crowd - always respectful but bemused at having to rally their clearly devastated performer - play their part, quietly humming chorus lines that Sting cannot. Its spine-tinglingly wonderful: a small triumph in an evening of utter defeat.
''It's been a day we'll never forget,'' concludes Sting as he walks off stage, head high, spirit crushed. ''God bless us all.''
(c) Q Magazine by John Aizlewood