10.01.1981 - Look Now
All of a sudden, getting to talk to the Police has become, well, tricky. It isn't that they're too big to bother, now that they're one of Britain's best-selling new bands, it's just that in 1979 and 1980 their feet don't seem to have touched the ground!
Last autumn, they did an American tour, which was followed immediately by their British dates and in January, they set off on a whistle-stop world tour, taking in America, Japan and Australia, as well as more unusual rock venues like Egypt, Kenya and India! On top of this travelling, Sting, Andy and Stewart somehow have to fit in their recording commitments and song-writing. As they are so busy, we felt very privileged to be invited over to Sting's house one day, to have a chat about the band and it's tremendous success.
"It does sound a heavy schedule, I know," he told me, "but there's no better time we can capitalise so readily on the fame we've already got. We think it would be silly to sit back and rest on our laurels, when there are so many things we have to achieve. Success in America is just one of them. I know the papers say we've made it there, but America is a vast country. We might be big on the coasts, but there are millions of square miles in the centre where that don't mean a thing!"
I remarked that it sounded like a carefully worked out master plan, and he laughed.
"I suppose it is! I think every group has the same plan, even complete beginners. It's the plan the Beatles had, to conquer the world, and they mastered it! To have the whole world listening to your music, that's a special dream of mine, too!"
Unlike many successful bands who have been together since schooldays, the Police got together quite late and they all had very different musical backgrounds. Sting's main musical interest had been in jazz, drummer Stewart had played with classical rock band Curved Air, and guitarist Andy was in thousands of other bands before he joined.
"I didn't plan to be a pop star, or to be famous," Sting explained. "My real ambition was to be a respected musician."
Coming from a musical family, he says there were always guitars around the house and he can't remember a time wasn't he wasn't playing something.
"My situation is different from most musicians, though, because I was successful at school," he told me. "I went to university and trained as a teacher and being in the academic world meant that I put off becoming a professional musician. I don't regret it; it gave me time to get my ideas sorted out. I'm 28 now, which means I'm no chicken. If I'd been successful when I was 19, I'd probably be a drug addict by now. That's what happens when you get too much too early. You can't cope with it."
Sting did, in fact, go on to teach for a while, before finally deciding to have a go at the music business.
"It was absolutely impossible in 1975-6," he said, flatly. "Unless you'd been in Deep Purple or something, no one in the industry wanted to know. It was very frustrating. What I really related to with the Sex Pistols, was the way they put two fingers up to the music business, which I had come to detest for its resistance to new talent - and that was when we decided to form the Police."
However, the new band's connections with punk and the new wave were vague. About the only thing that Sting and co had in common with Johnny Rotten and co was they were both new and different.
"We were also that bit older, when punks were supposed to be young - although a lot of them weren't!" said Sting. "Joe Strummer and Hugh Cornwell weren't 18-year-olds, were they? Also, we were fairly sophisticated musicians, so there was a lot of wrong with our credibility among the kind of people who are mainly interested in fashion. Success in Britain does mean more to us, partly because it's home and partly because it's where all the great, new music has come from, ever since the Beatles began."
It has always seemed crazy to me to knock a group for being able to play their instruments and sing in tune but, believe it or not, this did happen to the Police in the heyday of punk!!
"I was criticised because I could actually sing and because I wrote melodies, at a time when punk singers just roared in cockneyney accents," said Sting. "We stuck out a mile as being different and it has paid off in the long run."
Partly because Roxanne wasn't a hit here until the second time it was released, the Police spent a lot of time in America at the beginning of their career.
"American music is shackled by the radio station," Sting told me. "They play all those groups that sound the same to me! The other thing is that American radio is so sectarian and colour-orientated. You get country stations, soul stations, rock stations and so on, where they only play one kind of music all day. You get no cross-pollination between different kinds of music. In this country, Radio One plays everything. One minute you get mindless pap and the next, it's something good. It's all mixed up, so it's a very healthy scene. Roxanne got into the American charts just because it's a great song, not because it's part of any new movement."
Sting says that the Police are all workaholics anyway and that's one more reason why they don't actually mind the continual touring.
"I don't like travelling, but I love playing," he said. "That one hour a day has to be pretty special to make the other 23 worthwhile! I enjoy success. It's gratifying to do something and see the results of it, a record in the charts, a concert tour sold out. The audience is the main thing, of course. It's amazing to play a song that I wrote in the corner of my living room and see the reaction and all those people singing along!"
Sting is, undoubtedly, a respected musician, but he has also found himself in the position of being a pop star and a pin-up idol, too. But he seems to be balancing the demands of being a public figure with his natural need for a private life.
"It's all part of the same thing and I'm perfectly aware of how important a part it is," he said, thoughtfully. "It's just that I never visualised myself that way! I realise that it's not just my music that I'm selling, it's the whole thing, and I'm prepared to accept total responsibility for it. People do come to see us as well as hear us. They want to touch us and we have a responsibility not to let them down. Idolatry can be a bit hard to take but, at the same time, it gives people pleasure. Fans have their own ideas of what you are like and they fit you into all their fantasies! For instance, if a fan came here now and saw me in this state (he looked tired and scruffy and was wearing a sweater and jeans that had clearly seen better days!), I would feel I had to hide and that is weird, having to hide the real you!
"I try to live as normal a life as possible, but I can't really. If I go to the shops, fans will say hello, I get asked for autographs, and I can see other people watching me, even when they don't say anything. That's a responsibility in itself. I feel I can't scratch myself or have a button missing! When people ask for your autograph, you have to be nice to them, though sometimes it's hard because they expect so much."
Sting lives in a basement flat and he says there are often girls outside, so that he sometimes feels a bit like a goldfish!
"I don't mind being asked for an autograph, I'm grateful for the attention and I know they only ask because they like me," he said. "Some girls come back day after day, though, and then I have to be firm. I put on my schoolteacher voice and that frightens them! I wonder if I should feel guilty about that but I don't, because I have to maintain my integrity and I don't want to be on public show all the time. Besides, I have a responsibility to my family, too."
Sting has never made any secret of the fact that he's married to an actress called Frances and that they have a three-year-old son called Joe.
"I've made a point of being absolutely truthful about it," he said. "It's a lot easier."
It isn't easy being married to a rock star, but Sting says that as Frances is in the entertainment business herself, she understands the pressures of it all.
"We are gypsies, really," he said. "I suppose we see each other about a third of the year, so our times together are very precious. I think all the partings make for a very intense relationship, but I've missed a lot of my son's growing up. When I am here, I spend a great deal of time with him."
As well as topping the charts with the Police, Sting has also appeared in movies like 'Radio On' and 'Quadrophenia'. I asked him about his acting career.
"You'd better put 'acting' in inverted commas," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, acting is something you do on stage where you create and sustain a role. In a film you don't do that. You hang around, say one line, then hang around again. The camera is so close to your face you can't register much expression or make any dramatic gestures! That's why the best film actors are non-actors. Clint Eastwood has a totally wooden face and Steve McQueen only has about one expression. When I did 'Quadrophenia' I used the same expression all the way through and in 'Radio On' I was just being me and not really acting at all!"
As Sting is the main writer, singer and front man of the Police, he does attract most of the attention the band gets.
"We aren't totally democratic, for we don't really take equal shares, but I think the way we do it is fair," he says thoughtfully. "We have a lot of tension and fighting within the group, but it is creative and only because we care. We all care passionately about what we're doing. Every time we come off stage, we have a row and some times it actually comes to blows. It does keep us all on our toes, though!"
The Police believe in quality music above everything else.
"Writing songs isn't an easy thing, it's a craft," said Sting. "Good songs don't just come to you, you have to sit down and work them. The higher your standards are, the harder it is!"
At the moment, the band's appeal seems to go right across the board, from punks to mods. From 11 to 30-year-olds of both sexes and that's how Sting wants it.
"I'm not interested in a fashionable elite, but in mass appeal," he says firmly. "The Beatles said more than the Stones, because more people liked them. In one sense, mass appeal is easy if you are prepared to go for the lowest common denominator, but we're going for thoughtful people who care about pop music and who don't want music that's played by money-grabbing record-industry puppets."
Sting obviously had lots more to say, in fact he told me he could happily rabbit on for hours but not this time, his next interviewer was knocking at his door. Reluctantly, I said goodbye to one of the Eighties' most interesting new stars. Before I left, I told him a bit about Look Now...
"We do get a lot more girls at our concerts," he said thoughtfully. "I don't really know why...?"
Anyone got any ideas?