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My favorite Singer – S T I N G

Born 2 October 1951, in Wallsend, north-east England, Gordon Sumner’s
life started to change the evening a Phoenix Jazzmen bandmate caught
sight of his black and yellow hooped sweater and decided to re-christen
him Sting. Always a muso, Sting paid his early dues playing bass with
local outfits the Newcastle Big Band, The Phoenix Jazzmen, Earthrise and
Last Exit, the latter featuring his first efforts at songwriting. Last
Exit were big in the North East, but their jazz fusion was doomed to
fail when 1976’s punk rock exploded onto the scene. Curved Air drummer,
Stewart Copeland, saw Last Exit and whilst the music did nothing for him
he recognised the potential and personality of the bass player. Within
months, Sting, first wife actress Frances Tomelty, and infant son, Joe,
were tempted into moving to London.

Seeing punk as flag of convenience, Copeland and Sting together with
Corsican Henri Padovani on guitar started rehearsing and looking for
gigs. Ever the businessman, Copeland took the name The Police figuring
it would be good publicity, and the three started gigging round venues
like The Roxy, Marquee and Nashville. Ejecting the inept Padovani for
the proven talents of Andy Summers’ the band also enrolled Stewart’s
older brother, Miles, as manager, wowing him with a Sting song called
Roxanne. Days later, Copeland had them a record deal. The London press
hated the Police seeing through their punk camouflage, and their early
releases had no chart success. Instead The Police did the unthinkable —
they went to America. The early tours are the stuff of legend — flight’s
courtesy of Laker’s Skytrain, humping their own equipment from gig to
gig, and playing to miniscule audiences at the likes of CBGB’s and The
Rat Club. Their bottle paid off as they slowly built a loyal following,
the audiences being won over with the bands combination of new wave
toughness and laid back white-reggae.

They certainly made an odd trio with veteran guitarman Summers having a
history dating back to the mid-60s, the hyper-kinetic Copeland had been
a prog-rocker, and Sting with his love of jazz. The sound the trio made
was unique though, and Sting’s pin-up looks did them no harm at all.
Returning to the UK, where the now reissued Roxanne was charting, the
band played a sell-out tour of mid-size venues. The momentum had
started. Their debut album Outlandos d’Amour (Oct 78) delivered three
hits with Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You and So Lonely, leading to a
headlining slot at the ’79 Reading Festival, but it was with Reggatta de
Blanc (Oct 79) that they stepped up a gear. The first single, Message In
A Bottle, streaked to number one and the album’s success was
consolidated further when Walking On The Moon also hit the top slot. The
band was big, but about to get even bigger. 1980 saw them undertake a
mammoth world tour with stops on all continents — including the first
rock concerts in Bombay — and the band eventually returned, exhausted,
for two shows back in Sting’s hometown of Newcastle.

Record company pressure had them back in a Dutch studio within weeks,
but Sting’s stock of pre-Police songs and ideas were wearing out. It was
noticeable that the hits were all Sting’s and the pressure to deliver a
killer, all important third album was on. History will record Summers as
hugely talented guitarist but not as an accomplished song-writer, and
whilst Copeland could write catchy tunes, the band knew exactly who was
expected to deliver the hits — Sting. When Zenyatta Mondatta was
released in October 1980 it produced another number one in Don’t Stand
So Close To Me and a top five hit with De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da and sold
well, but in other respects it was disappointing. A rethink was
required.

The results of the rethink materialised with 1981’s Ghost In The
Machine, a rich, multilayered album which was augmented not only by Jean
Roussel’s keyboards and Sting’s self taught saxophone playing, but by
much better writing contributions from Copeland and Summers. A darker
record in many ways, the album still had the usual clutch of hit singles
with Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic making number 1 and the bleak
Invisible Sun reaching number 2 (the latter despite a BBC ban being
slapped on the video) and Spirits In The Material World also charting.

Sting was starting to feel the confines of the band oppressive and was
turning to other outlets. In the late 70’s he had appeared in a couple
of movies — a minor part in Chris Petit’s «Radio On» and an excellent
cameo in Franc Roddam’s «Quadrophenia» — and 1981 saw him take his first
lead role in Dennis Potter’s big-screen version of «Brimstone and
Treacle» and in the BBC play «Artemis ‘81». His first, albeit short solo
appearances at The Secret Policeman Ball benefits in aid of Amnesty
International also showed a burgeoning interest in humanitarian causes.

The early eighties were becoming a turning point for Sting. His marriage
effectively over, he disappeared to Ireland and Jamaica to write songs
for the Synchronicity album. The album was preceded by the release of a
new single Every Breath You Take in May 1983. The song went to number
one on both sides of the Atlantic and simply stayed there. Dressed up as
a love song, the song was anything but — it’s sinister theme was one of
obsession and surveillance. Seventeen years later, the song is one of
the most played records on American radio having clocked up five million
plays. With such a stand-out track the album couldn’t fail and it duly
took its rightful place at the top of the world’s charts. The band
started a spectacular stadium tour of the States, the high spot of which
was a sell-out show in New York’s Shea Stadium. Further hit singles in
the shape of Wrapped Around Your Finger, King of Pain and Synchronicity
II helped the album’s success even more, including the award of three
Grammies, but the writing was on the wall for The Police.

The band’s tense relationship was slowly breaking down, with Copeland
and Sting occasionally resorting to fist-fights. The pressure cooker of
being on the road, of being too big, of too many egos was starting to
tell and after the Shea Stadium show Sting told the others that it was
time to take a break. The Synchronicity tour finished in March 1984 and
the three went their separate ways. Copeland to movie scoring, Summers
to guitar duets, and Sting initially to acting. A vastly over-hyped
cameo appearance in David Lynch’s movie «Dune», and another lead role in
the awful «The Bride» followed before Sting picked up his guitar again.
This time however, it was not a bass.

In June 1985, Sting released his first solo album The Dream Of The Blue
Turtles and it was a revelation. Featuring the cream of America’s young,
black jazz musicians — Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Omar Hakim and
Darryl Jones — the album showed that Sting had lost none of his
songwriting ability by being outside of the Police camp. The new
material had a more political stance — We Work The Black Seam dealt with
the miner’s strike, Children’s Crusade with drugs, and Russians with the
West’s demonisation of communism. He even wrote what he termed «an
antidote song» to Every Breath in the shape of If You Love Somebody Set
Them Free. The album was premiered at a series of shows at Paris’s
Mogador Theatre — a period captured in Michael Apted’s movie «Bring On
The Night» — and the band were magnificent. The success of the album, a
successful solo appearance at Live Aid, and the subsequent world tour
convinced Sting that the safety net of potentially reforming The Police
was no longer necessary — he had not only a retained a fan base he had
started to gather another one.

Released after the death of his mother, …Nothing Like The Sun (Oct 1987)
was another strong collection of songs, containing perennial favourites
Englishman In New York and Fragile. Sting even got himself banned from
Chilean radio thanks to They Dance Alone, a haunting song which resulted
from his meeting with some of South America’s «Mothers of the
Disappeared». Also released was a mini-album Nada Como El Sol which
featured several of the album’s songs in Spanish, and which helped
strengthen his popularity further in Central and South America. The
world tour started in Rio’s 200,000 capacity Maracana Stadium on the day
that Sting received the body-blow news of his father’s death. His new
band included Kirkland and Marsalis, Delmar Brown, Jeff Campbell and
Tracey Wormworth, with Sting content to sing, dance and play occasional
guitar. In mid tour, the entourage joined the Amnesty International
«Human Rights Now!» tour alongside Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel
for several huge fundraising concerts.

Ever busy, when the tour finished he was looking for a new project, and
found it with a starring spot on Broadway during late 1989 in Brecht’s
«3 Penny Opera», and the role of Macheath. Despite some savage
criticism, the shows were popular and the show completed a three month
run. Also at this time, visits to the Amazonian rainforest led both he
and partner Trudie Styler to establish a charity, The Rainforest
Foundation, aimed at protecting both the environment and indigenous
peoples. This has proved to be no passing interest, with an annual
all-star benefit concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall helping keep the
charity running.

Not all was well on the musical front however. The loss of both parents
in quick succession had hit Sting hard and one of the world’s most
famous songwriters was suffering from severe writers block. Returning to
his childhood memories for inspiration, Sting produced 1991’s The Soul
Cages. Jokingly referred to as a record for the «recently bereaved», the
album was bleak but compelling. Depending on your point of view it was
either impenetrably dense or his strongest work — only the listener can
decide. The first single, All This Time, was deceptively poppy and Mad
About You was also a minor hit, but the rest of the album was not radio
friendly. Nevertheless the album still sold well, the title track
collected a Grammy, and the live shows saw a stripped down rock band of
Dominic Miller (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and David Sancious
(keyboards) with Sting returning to the bass. During the tour a very
popular MTV unplugged session was recorded in New York and this was
followed by a small acoustic gig at a Wallsend Arts Centre some of which
was released on the Acoustic Live In Newcastle set.

Sting and Trudie Styler were married in 1992, and bought Lake House in
Wiltshire, part of which was subsequently turned into a recording studio
in time for the writing and recording of Ten Summoner’s Tales (Mar
1993). As upbeat as The Soul Cages was downbeat, this was a remarkable
album, and saw the emergence of a new, less earnest and relaxed Sting.
Recorded in his home, the album was a major return to form producing
instantly likeable tracks such as If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, Fields
Of Gold, Seven Days and Shape of My Heart. It also hinted at what was to
come on later albums with odd time signatures and its mix of musical
genres and styles. During the inevitable world tour he found time to
record a Stateside number one by performing with Bryan Adams and Rod
Stewart on All For Love from the «The Three Musketeers» and to add
another three Grammies to his ever increasing collection. Life was
looking good, and the 1994 retrospective Fields Of Gold saw the release
of two new tracks This Cowboy Song and When We Dance.

A significant part of 1995 found Sting preparing for a court appearance,
against his former accountant who had misappropriated several Јm of his
money, much to the amusement of the press without Sting even knowing it
had vanished, but the second part of the year found him turning to
writing for his fifth solo album, Mercury Falling. Released in March
1996, the album showed an increasing tendency for Sting to risk
commercial success by writing to please himself and his band. Foregoing
standard pop and rock fare, he was now writing country tunes such as I’m
So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying, bossa nova such as La Belle Dame Sans
Regrets, gospel tinged material such as Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot and
songs in devilishly difficult time signatures (I Hung My Head). It was
clever, and much of it was good, but it was an even bigger rag-bag of
styles than Ten Summoner’s Tales. Some fans weren’t sure if they liked
it.

Sting was also becoming more noticeably involved in contributing songs
to movie soundtracks — there was always a demand for Police songs, but
in 1993 he had been approached to write the theme song for «Lethal
Weapon 3», and duly complied with It’s Probably Me. A reworking of The
Police’s Demolition Man followed for the film of the same name, as did
the recording of several jazz standards for the «Leaving Las Vegas» and
«Sabrina» soundtracks. Mercury Falling continued this trend with
Valparaiso, which was used in the movie «White Squall». Puff Daddy’s
reworking of Every Breath You Take (in the shape of I’ll Be Missing You)
brought Sting’s earlier work to the notice of a new generation, and to
the fury of many Police fans he and Pras from the Fugee’s reworked
Roxanne in 1997. Further soundtrack contributions to «The Mighty» and
the remake of «The Thomas Crown Affair» followed, as did a cameo role in
the British hit movie «Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels».

The much anticipated Brand New Day album was released in autumn 1999 to
a mixed reception amongst critics. This is a shame because Brand New Day
was a tour-de-force. If Mercury Falling mixed genres, Brand New Day took
it a step further — the title track was full of optimism and starting
over, a true millennium message. The remarkable, arabesque Desert Rose
featured the prince of rai music, Cheb Mami, Fill Her Up crossed country
with gospel, Perfect Love…Gone Wrong included French rap, and Big Lie
Small World was gentle bossa nova. The difference over Mercury Falling
was that the songs were stronger and the music more confident. This was
one of Sting’s finest albums.

And what of 2001? The Brand New Day world tour continues throught the
summer, as the release continues to Sting’s most successful solo album.
The inevitable Police-to-reform rumours will no doubt continue to
surface periodically, but having survived the last seventeen years and
successfully rebuilding their friendships, Sting’s intention of «keeping
that legend intact» looks to be pretty secure. Let’s hope so.

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