12.01.1979 - Record Mirror
It's been a long hard slog, but Summers, Sting and Copeland have finally joined that small elite capable of producing singles which chart in the Top Five one week after release.
No band in history has ever been unluckier in their moment than the Police. When they did their first gigs as a back-up band for New York cover-girl Cherry Vanilla they were slagged by the know-it-all music press for being bandwagon jumpers and as Sting himself admits "we were too young to have been at Woodstock but too old to be punks."
The Police were really the brainchild of drummer Stewart Copeland who, after two years with art-schooled hippies Curved Air, was eager to get back into playing loud rock'n'roll which didn't depend on record company support.
"Curved Air was all money and big business. I liked the people but their attitude was that it was a job and they had to work to do it." Copeland spotted Sting playing in Last Exit in Newcastle on a Curved Air tour and when the band split he enticed him down to London where Sting slept on the floor for six months while the band rehearsed with French guitarist Henri Padovani (later to join Wayne County and the Electric Chairs).
In this form they played with Cherry Vanilla and in in their own right at the burgeoning Roxy Club in early 1977 while they managed to supplement their income with session work. With Copeland writing the songs and Sting performing them in his sub-McCartney tribal scream they were, to say the least, unremarkable until Andy Summers saw them one night at the Marquee and yanked Copeland into a café to tell him that the band needed him because the guitarist wasn't good enough. Copeland agreed and Summers was enlisted into the ranks. Now a four piece with a very plain single release behind them - 'Fall Out' achieved world sales of 15,000 - they debuted as a quartet at the Mont de Marsan punk festival in France which was at the time the only continental haven for British new wave bands.
With audiences pogoing happily to 'Fall Out' and still despised by the music press the Police completed a tortuous first year with a total of only 12 gigs. Looking back on it Sting commented "We never wanted to be a part of that. How much can you do with three chords and a lot of screaming kids? We just wanted to play to that screaming audience because they were hysterical to play to but the press decided they knew better and that we were to sophisticated to be punks." (Copeland owned a real drum kit and Summers was playing slide guitar solos) and we got slammed. They called us bandwagon-hoppers even though we were there before they were."
With Summers in the band what the Police lacked in image (just about everything) they more than made up for in the flair and style of their playing. Summers' melodic Harrison type guitar style with Sting's deceptively simplistic bass lines and Copeland's solid heavy beat made them certainly the most danceable of London's flowering new wave.
At about this time they did some tapes with ex-Velvet Underground cellist John Cale which due to dissatisfaction were never released, did some concerts for Eberhard Schoener's Laser Theatre in Germany and were asked to appear in a Wrigley's Spearmint gum advert for American TV for which they were asked to go blond and appear as a 'typical punk group.' Soon after, they started recording sessions for the 'Outlandos d'Amour' album and clinched the support slot on a Spirit tour of Britain.
When Copeland's brother Miles heard 'Roxanne' being laid down in the studio he flipped out, became their manager and secured them a deal with the American company A&M run by Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert. On March 22, 1978, Roxanne was released to a mixed reception. During the year they supported such a motley selection of bands such as Steel Pulse, Chelsea and the Albertos, did another three weeks in Germany, Sting began filming for 'Quadrophenia' and with 'Roxanne' only available on import in the States they did their first American tour taking in Boston, Detroit, Dayton, Pittsburg, Washington, Philadelphia and CBGB's New York.
Copeland, meanwhile, denied being the man behind a record which was in the chart called 'I Don't Care' by one Klark Kent. One by one Sting's songs, with their jazzy chords and reggae beats, began to replace Stewart's in their set. "Sting had never played in a rock band before and so didn't have any songs that fitted into that bracket," says Copeland. "Gradually he began to get into what was happening and as I was managing the group at the time and my songs had all been used up on the earlier recordings we started to do a fresh set of his material."
Immediately the band had problems with the British playlisting system. They refused to play 'Roxanne' because it was the story of a French prostitute and Can't Stand Losing You, was out too because it referred to suicide. Another early Sting song, Peanuts, was about how his previous hero, Rod Stewart, had become a fallen idol - "I used to be a great fan of his but something happened to him. I hope I don't end up like that."
Up until now the whole operation had been run on a fraying shoestring budget. Laker Skytrain flights, fleapit hotels, a single recorded for £300 at Surrey Sound studios and a do-it-yourself existence with their van piled high with gear from one grotty pub to another until A&M put their money where their mouth was, signed the band for an album deal and the big record company mechanism was thrown into action. Both 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You' started to get heavy airplay on American college radio and then far-reaching FM stations and the Police began to climb first the US chart and then Britain started taking notice. "We finished the album and it was full of pop songs with very heavy hooks - radio orientated - so we said we'll take two chances and we're proud of them."
So now, blond as David Hockney, they finished off 1978 with a big nationwide British Tour, three singles in the British chart, and another assault on America. January 1979 saw them do another month in Germany playing 20 dates at the Laser Theatre, various radio sessions and on February 13 they began recording the follow-up album 'Reggatta De Blanc' - very bad French for white reggae again at Surrey Sound on another low budget, this time self-imposed.
Meanwhile due to steady sales, 'Roxanne', was at last making an impression on the British chart, being by now a Rip Van Winkle-type sleeper, and the band made their first appearance on 'Top Of The Pops'. 'Outlandos' was storming up the US chart and the Police began an extensive tour supported by the Cramps. By August the albums had been completed, Sting was doing the round of broadcasts expected of successful pop stars, 'Roundtable', 'Juke Box Jury', and was sending female hearts a-fluttering, 'Quadrophenia' was premiered and they topped the bill at the prestigious Reading festival. The new single 'Message In A Bottle' ('So Lonely' had just flopped) was released and worked its way up to the top of the singles chart and the Police now having firmly broken in the States undertook another Stateside tour and immediately flew back to play more British dates, supported this time by Fashion. The whole of October and November has been taken up with another US trek and plans are now a fact for a world tour around Christmas-time.
To say the Police have come a long way is just a mild understatement. For a bunch of very diverse musicians with no image, no press coverage and no record deal who picked the worst possible moment to play the sort of music they wanted to play, the Police, along with Dury, Costello, the Rats and Blondie are all in the battle to become the next Beatles or more probably the Stones.
They did it the old fashioned way. They've played and played and played. The Melody Maker will be pleased with them because they've paid their dues and with simple tunes but complex arrangements they neatly employ, they're able to appeal to anyone from five to 35. What they have achieved is that more than any other band, they've opened the gates to America which have been closed since the Beatles and have succeeded in creating a hybrid of all the best parts of pop, soul, reggae and fusion which is all their own. They are loud-mouthed, proud and arrogant and deservedly so for they've been pushing against iron doors for a long time. They've even managed to avoid all the thousands of possible puns such as "do the Police come quietly?" (my own actually), or rather their disapproving journalist friends have.
I'll leave the last words to their mentor Miles Copeland. "American groups just want to make money. What we want to do is actually to see things change. To me, disco is not the threat to rock'n'roll. The threat lies in listening to Zeppelin and the Beatles for another 10 years." And as Sting himself says, "Punk's definitely not where I'm at. To be a rock'n'roll star? Well I'm ready to take that on."