Entry for May 31, 2007

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The Police: An Arresting Trio

(Suppose this is about as relevant now as it ever will be—not at all?—but it’s here to serve historical interest. Will follow up with more detailed interviews with all three clownheads at the height of their fame! –dd)

The Police are a three-man band from England.

The fact that they may well be the best new band to emerge from that country is nice, certainly, but not extraordinary. The fact that they are a three-man band, on the other hand, is.

To put it mildly, the band has captivated me with its debut album, Outlandos d’Amour (A&M SP4753). I’ve never heard a fuller sound emerging from a three-piece band, and the fact that the band studiously avoids the tedium of overdubbing makes their music all the more remarkable.

The Police are guitarist Andy Summers, drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist and vocalist Sting. They all have roots–Summers particularly–yet the sum total of each musician’s musical contribution never sounds at all derivative, and it is this uniqueness that sets the Police apart from most other new bands.

Currently the group is beginning a six-week tour that will eventually bring them to Detroit’s new Center Stage on March 22, on a bill with the Romantics. In a phone interview last Thursday, both Summers and Copeland sounded extremely enthused about their upcoming tour, especially as it will continue their headlining-only policy established during the band’s first U.S. tour.

First U.S. tour? How, you ask, can a band whose first album was released less than a month ago already be making their second tour?

Easy, guitarist Summers explains. They took the low-budget route.

“Actually our first tour went against the usual tradition,” Summers recalls. “Bands don’t usually tour unless they’ve an album to promote. We couldn’t really expect A&M to give us much support without an album, so we did it ourselves.”

As it happened, the band packed up their gear, took Copeland’s drums as hand luggage and flew to the States, where they used a van and borrowed someone else’s amps for their first “economy tour.” Bookie’s, the Detroit Club, was in fact one of the band’s few stops–a concert I unfortunately missed, though I’m told it was a crazy show.

Why the headlining approach? Copeland feels it’s the only way.

“We’ve been offered spots as back-up group on tours with Boston and Alice Cooper,” he says. “But we don’t want to be associated with that garbage. We don’t want to be in a position where the audience walks in and sees only one or two tunes in our set. We want to headline–and even if we do end up playing for a few empty houses we’ll be working just as hard to win over the audience.”

The band’s personal history is almost as interesting as its music. Summers, for instance, has played with an enormous array of respected British musicians, including the Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers and Kevin Coyne. Coming over with the Soft Machine for their first U.S. tour, Summers said, he was left in the U.S. when that band broke up (to later reform and record their second LP and many others). He got a call from Zoot Money–a member of Eric Burdon’s New Animals and highly distinguished musician in his own right–and joined the Animals for their last LP, Love Is, a certified classic. Summers’ ties with Money extend backward through Dantalion’s Chariot–a psychedelic outfit–and Money’s Big Roll Band, a straight R&B group.

“There’s no question that my roots are straight R&B,” Summers said, “and I think they’re the best roots possible.” He says that R&B and reggae form the basis of the current Police sound, though outright pop influences are certainly evident.

How Copeland formed the band is an equally interesting tale. Though his passport says he’s an American citizen, he says he’s actually spent a total of three years living in the United States. Otherwise, he’s lived in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, among other places, and presently lives in London, which he terms “the hub of the world.” Copeland says he was within eight credits of graduating from the University of California at Berkeley when he “got the call” from his brother Miles to come to London.

In London, Copeland spent two years playing with a reformed version of Curved Air. “We were a really fine band on the road,” he recalls, “but there were a lot of problems in the studio. The general thing was stagnation–caused by too much money and too big a budget. It’s the kind of situation where you’ve got 60,000 pounds being put into a recording and it almost has to be commercial–you can’t take chances with that kind of money.”

Curved Air disbanded for a second time shortly before the end of 1976, Copeland said, shortly before the British punk scene was underway. And he has much positive to say about that scene:

“It was really very much a social thing–it was a new generation that wanted to have new heroes, their own. Kids were giving up on the really big scene, they’d enjoy watching a local band as much as the
ones they saw on television. And, really, the whole thing made extremely good sense to me.” Such good sense, in fact, that Copeland decided to form his own new wave band. Bringing bassist Sting down from Newcastle, Copeland formed a trio with guitarist Henri Padovani, called the band the Police, and released “Fall Out” b/w “Nothing Achieved” on Copeland’s own label, Illegal Records. The single sold so well, Copeland says, the initial press run of 2,000 was increased to 10,000.

But things weren’t working out for the first version of the Police.

“Our guitarist played three chords well,” Copeland said, “and not much else. Sting and I became bored of our musical limitations; we knew we needed a more versatile guitarist.” They found that guitarist in Andy Summers, who played with bassist Mike Howlett, Copeland and Sting in a Gong Reunion Festival held at Paris in mid-1977.

“I ran into Andy a while later on Oxford Street,” Copeland recalls.” He saw me and said, ‘Hey, you boys got talent!'” It wasn’t long before Summers joined the band, and the group, as Copeland sees it, improved tremendously.

“Roxanne” was the first tune the Police Mark II recorded–a tune which easily stood as one of the year’s best. Within six months the entire LP was recorded–then came the first U.S. tour, then a return to England. Since that time eight new tracks have already been recorded–including the upcoming single “Message In A Bottle”–and after the new tour, guitarist Summers said, the band will return to finish off the second LP.

Speaking of the new material, Summers mentioned that songwriting contributions may be spread around a little more–Sting composed the bulk of the first LP–but, as far as he’s concerned, “We’re very happy to be doing songs by Sting. He’s quite an excellent writer.”

With phone interviews here, radio spots there, the Police are currently reaping the benefits of having a tour actually coinciding with a new album release. The fact that the album is selling so well, according to the trades, makes this new tour all for the better.

“Our main thrust is in live performance,” Copeland says. “We’ve become a much better band since the album’s been recorded.”

And that, most definitely, is saying a lot. Remember to catch the group at the Center Stage on March 22. The Police, for once, are a force to be reckoned with–and you should watch them in action. I know I’ll be there.

(Michigan State News 3/8/79)

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