This ain't no picnic...
They called it 'The Police Picnic' - a festival. But where were the grey clouds, the steady drizzle of rain, the mud, the can fight?
Instead The Grove, Oakville, just outside Toronto, was rewarded with the sun in its Sunday best hitting the high '80's, cloudless skies of azure blue and 30,000 fresh and healthy inhabitants of "the young country".
Vancouver band the Payolas, signed to Police manage Miles Copeland's label IRS, confirmed the lack of identity that characterises Canadian bands. They were directionless and had a varied catalogue of pop pastiches like a Clash song, a Mott song, an Any Trouble song, a Police song and the obligatory "people who like to rock" song. The set's brevity was its saving grace.
England's finest rock eccentric John Otway and his cohort Wild Willy Barratt were next. Barratt was dressed in an outrageous purple wig, a stage pass on top of his natural blond tresses.
They kicked off with a dreadful version of 'The House Of The Rising Sun', complete with an Otway nod to rock stardom as he hurled his Gibson to an offstage roadie, narrowly avoiding decapitating the wretch. The Oxfordshire due were as appalling as usual. But it's difficult to dislike somebody who wears a constant schoolboy smirk in a manner that seems to say "one day they'll find out I'm talentless but until then I'll have a laugh."
He ran trough his "hits", probably with a sword, while the crowd polarised into those who loved it and those who threw fruit. When Otway grew sick of trying to get hit he walked off after a hysterical version of 'Cor Baby, That's Really Free' with the stage resembling Covent Garden market.
The real surprise of the day was the vociferous support that greeted Killing Joke's first north American appearance. Singer Jaz ran onto the stage, his face blacked up like a commando and gave the first of his crazed stares and manic laughs.
"The sun may be shining now but playtime doesn't last forever", he threatened as the band launched into the first of many relentless razor blade-edged guitar riffs laced with what sounded like primal screaming at its best.
The grinding row was as musical as Battersea Power Station and all the loopy psycho grins and malevolent looks made me want to reach for the Anadin rather than force feed myself whatever political message they contained.
It was only on the excellent 'Requiem' that the latent violence and anger hit a perfect balance and became more than just empty posturing.
But the band are playing with fire. One fan dressed in Killing Joke motifs pulled a knife on a female at the front of the stage and was surrounded by security faster than President Reagan. Then they flexed their considerable muscles on his body to the accompaniment of Killing Joke's brand of musical malevolence.
After that, the gently synth doodlings of Canadian mystery man Nash The Slash seemed a welcome relief, the bandaged head this time covered with a white helmet. In his matching shirt and trousers he resembled a refugee from 'Chips' who had had a near fatal accident.
His synth and heavy fuzz toned versions of 'Deadman's Curve', '19th Nervous Breakdown' and the bruised forehead classic 'Smoke On The Water' (here renamed 'Dopes On The Water' gave back the crowd its sense of humour. There was no other reaction possible to this reincarnation of the 'Invisible Man' and his vacuous sound but to have a laugh.
At this point my bodily functions beat my sense of duty and I went in search of food and very cold drink and missed the performances of Oingo Boingo (who were described as "alright" and "not bad" by solicited testimony) and veteran Iggy Pop (described as "dull" but "popular").
I got back in time for the Go Go's, the all female quintet who have changed from a nervous and flakey outfit into almost the perfect pop aggregation. They are now an irresistible cocktail of power and pop perception. They have hooks, that grab tight and don't let go. They sounded fresh and spirited with the slinky stylishness of lead singer Belinda Carlisle, the bubbling enthusiasm of rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin and the punchy but bouncy drumwork of Gina Schock on the all important beat.
Songs like the new single 'Our Lips Are Sealed', co-written by Special Terry Hall, 'We Got The Beat' and 'Tonite' sounded like classics and they will be well worth checking out when they come to Britain in October.
As soon as the rousing reception for the Go Go's had died, it was replaced with the chant of "Specials, Specials", building up to a crescendo by the time Coventry's finest hit the stage. Bathed in blue light they exploded into 'Concrete Jungle'.
Neville, as always the dervish, Horace, the gentleman, stylishly flinging himself across stage, Jerry, in possession of his cheesiest of grins under his Parisian painter look, complete with goatee and beret, Terry and Roddy always in control, happy just to observe as Linval starts yet another shuffle across the stage to Brad's solid beat.
The band played a Greatest Hits' set interrupted only by Rhoda's 'The Boiler', a tale of rape and sexual degradation, 'Why', Linval's plaintive questioning of fascist ideology and 'Friday Night/Saturday Morning', Terry's painful look at adolescence.
'Rat Race', 'Nite Clubbing', 'Man At C&A', 'International Jet Set' and 'Enjoy Yourself' elicited scenes of joy that paralleled the Royal Wedding and then they struck the winning punch on the encore 'Ghost Town', a triumph of songwriting which topped the best set of the day.
The little girls understand The Police; they had been crushed at the front for some 11 hours and began to pass out as the moment for the three most popular blondes since Harry, Harlowe and Monroe to appear approached.
The lights came up and my eardrum nearly burst as thousands of pubescent voices shrieked as the blond bombers went into the Lolita anthem of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'. Sting wound up his first "Woo wee ooooh!" of the night and his throat seemed to have lost that youthful sparkle but the crowd were more than willing to join in.
But credit where credit is due. This was Stewart Copeland's show. The man was a percussive marvel. He was light of touch, full of surprises and never staid. He was an octopus, always finding the extra to kick the songs up another notch when already at full strength.
Guitarist Andy Summers looked serious for the most part while Sting frequently went to the front of the stage to gyrate and give a few more girls their first orgasm.
They played all the hits like 'Walking On The Moon', the insidious 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', 'Truth Hits Everybody', the brilliant 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Roxanne'.
Of the new songs from the forthcoming 'Ghost In The Machine' album, very little stuck out as being particularly memorable. The single 'Invisible Sun', "A song about Belfast, but applies to every city in England and Scotland, so what's the difference", contained a wiry Summers solo but its theme of escape didn't stray beyond the ordinary.
'Shadows In The Rain' had a heavier Jamaican beat with an ethereal synth backing and Sting hollered out a bluesy vocal line in the best Bob Marley tradition. Summers' guitar was superb, producing glistening shards of chords on an atmospheric piece with little substance.
They brought on a horn section for 'When The World Is Running Down' and they sounded great. 'Demolition Man', the song Sting wrote for Grace Jones, was funk riff of no real consequence but it had a nice old fashioned rock soul feel. The other two new numbers 'One World Is Enough For All Of Us', a limp white reggae number, and 'Spirits In The Material World', with a classy trumpet solo, both sounded ordinary.
But as with most things Police, the little girls understood.
© Record Mirror by Mike Gardner (With thanks to Dietmar)
Flyer image courtesy of Dietmar & Raphael