09.01.1983 - Circus
The thing about being really successful is that it can make or break you," muses Police guitarist Andy Summers at his home in south-west London. "Once the spotlight is on you and you're up there on that public platform, you really have to deliver. If you don't, then down you go. And I think that one of the main reasons the Police continue to go on is because in the end we do deliver."
Now that they've topped the album charts with their current 'Synchronicity' LP which has spawned the hit singles 'Every Breath You Take' and 'King of Pain', there can be little doubt that the British trio is more popular than ever. This past summer they embarked on a marathon stateside tour and packed concert arenas across the nation. When they announced a date at New York's Shea Stadium, all 67,000 tickets for the show were sold out in less than five hours.
Although Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland are both extremely capable musicians, the key factor in the Police's success story is generally considered to be singer/bassist Sting, especially since the popular front-man has been responsible for writing most of the group's material, including all of their biggest hits.
While Sting's songs may be lyrically intense, the basic musical format is one of simplicity and it's his ability to come up with an abundance of catchy, commercial tunes that has sustained public interest in the band's records.
"I have no compunctions about trying to write hits," he readily admits. "That's the name of the game, and I like playing the game of charts."
Sting (real name Gordon Matthew Sumner) was born in Newcastle, an industrial city in the North East of England, where he eventually became a teacher at a Catholic school. By night, he played in various local jazz combos. While working with the outfit Last Exit in 1977, he was "discovered" by American drummer Copeland, formerly of Curved Air, who was recruiting members for a new band he was putting together.
Adding Frenchman Henri Padovani on guitar, the Police started off gigging in London clubs during the British punk/new wave explosion, and it was after a concert at the Marquee club that Andy Summers took over as guitarist.
"I'd been looking to join a new band," he recalls, "and as soon as I saw them, I knew that this was the right one."
Andy's musical career had begun in 1964 when he played with Zoot Money, and, having also worked with the Animals, David Essex and Kevin Coyne, his professional experience proved invaluable to the line-up.
The Police released their first single, 'Fall Out', on the independent Illegal Records label, and it wasn't long before manager Miles Copeland (Stewart's brother) landed them a major deal with A&M. Soon they became recognised for their blond hair, which they'd dyed for a Wrigley's gum commercial, and by the end of 1978 they had made solid impact with Sting's reggae/rock crossover tune 'Roxanne' from the debut LP, 'Outlandos d'Amour'.
With other strong compositions like 'So Lonely' and 'Can't Stand Losing You', Sting soon became the focus of a good deal of attention and was quickly regarded as the band's leader. He became quite outspoken in interviews and is reported to have told one British journalist that the Police had started to become successful because they were playing his songs rather than Stewart Copeland's. This was a somewhat hyperbolic statement in view of the fact that the latter had actually formed the group.
Over the next couple of years the Police became international stars and enjoyed a string of hit singles like 'Walking on the Moon', 'Message in a Bottle' and 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'. It was a while longer, however before they were considered seriously as a rock band and not just a pop group, particularly in Britain.
"I think our master plan, if anything, was to get through this pop scene and not to get completely caught up in it," maintains Summers. "You can't just rely on the pop single all the time, and we've obviously gotten away from that because we're now playing huge stadiums in America.
"I was talking to Eric Clapton recently and we were saying how lucky you are if you make it in America. Without that, it's really hard. All these groups that are coming up now unless they crack it in the States, they're not gonna last that long."
The 'Ghost in the Machine' LP came out at the end of 1981. It contained a diverse selection of material; while straightforward pop could be heard on a song like 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', there were also more complex and experimental pieces such as 'Invisible Sun' and 'Darkness'. Affirms Summers: "I think we definitely went off more at a tangent on that album."
A full-scale global tour ensued, which was brought to a climax with a headline performance at the first US Festival in September of last year. By then, the individual members were also working on outside projects, but Andy insisted at the time that there was no chance of them splitting. "We're all doing our own things now and there's room for it. It's part of what comes with being successful with something like the Police. You create a platform to go off and do other things. So Sting's done his film 'Brimstone and Treacle', Stewart has worked on a soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola, and I've recorded an album with Robert Fripp. I expect we'll do more on our own in the future, but I can state quite categorically that the band isn't splitting. In fact, the next project for all of us is a new Police album."
Consequently by the end of '82, the group had flown to Montserrat, where they'd made 'Ghost in the Machine', and begun work on the sessions that produced 'Synchronicity'. In the past there had always been a certain amount of tension within the band whenever it had been in the studio. Asked whether that was the case with 'Synchronicity', Andy gives a knowing nod.
"The working situation has probably gotten harder," he says with an enigmatic smile. "It's always been sort of tension-prone, but obviously with the onset of large-scale success, money, people depending on us and all the attendant pressure, it kind of lends a knife-edge to the studio situation."
Adds Sting: "It's not an easy relationship. Were three highly autonomous individuals, and a band is an artificial alliance most of the time. There are great tensions, but I also think there's a genuine respect between us. But it's not all buddy-buddy, and it never was."
Sting claims that most group decisions are arrived at by 'violence', and admits that he'll argue "till the cows come home" for something he believes in. He evidently gets his way most of the time, since all but two of the compositions on 'Synchronicity' are his. Has the media's focus on Sting as a star made things even more difficult?
"That's not really a problem," answers Summers, "because it's been going on for so long, and he hasn't left the group." Andy adds that Sting's willingness to stay with the Police never really surprises him. "I think that any of us would be very lucky if he did something on his own outside this group that ever matched it," he says. "It's hard to get this successful at anything. Sting knows that too, and whether he'd be as good without the group, who knows? I'd like to think that he wouldn't be," smiles Summers. "I like to think that Stewart and I contribute something to it."
If the Police should break up, the three members would have plenty of individual work to keep them busy. Sting recently completed a role in the sci-fi movie 'Dune' (expected as an early 84 release), and Andy, has more projects he'd like to undertake, including a movie score and an album of guitar music.
But for now, the Police are staying together. After playing a round of European concerts, they'll be going on to Australia, the Far East and other far off places still to be announced at press time. Clearly, they're riding the crest of a wave that began to rise in 1977, and only time will tell how long the surge will last.