08.13.2007 - Man in a suitcase...
On the first leg of their North American tour The Police performed to approximately one million people. And while most of those people caught the band once, sometimes twice, there are some fans for whom that just isn't enough. We recently caught up with English fan club member Roger Puplett after he returned from his second jaunt across the Atlantic in three months to see the band and to get his thoughts on how the tour is going, how the band has developed since the tour launched in Vancouver and what lies behind his passion for the band.
Roger, you're quite a familiar face at Police and Sting concerts. When do you first remember being Stung as it were?
The point where it all started for me was when I first heard 'Message in a Bottle'. The opening seconds of the song and that guitar riff had me hooked right from the start. I remember first hearing it on Capital Radio in London, it was so distinctive, I hadn't heard anything like it before in terms of the melody, lyrics and, of course, Sting's vocals. Everything really followed on from that point in time. My sister had the 'Regatta de Blanc' album which I then borrowed and never got round to giving back!
When did you first join the Fan Club and what was it that made you subscribe?
I can't remember the precise date but it was a long time ago - the early 80's. I have the original fan club newsletters dating from 1980. Dee and Tina remember a much younger Roger! Joining seemed the natural thing to do after I had started my Police record collection with buying the 'Message in a Bottle' single. I then wanted to buy all the other merchandise and records as well, so joining the Fan Club seemed the best thing to do to keep up to date with my favorite group. I also wanted to complete my collection of the "Police Files". I had been missing number 17 for 26 years and I finally completed my collection in 2006!
I had also heard good things about the fan club from a friend's sister who was already a member. I'm sure after I joined the fan club it came top in a survey of all UK fan clubs in Smash Hits magazine. I've been a member ever since.
When and where were your first Police and Sting shows?
My first Police show was at Wembley Arena in London on the 'Synchronicity' tour in 1983 and the first Sting show was the opening night at the Royal Albert Hall in 1985 on the 'Dream of the Blue Turtles' tour.
What are your lasting memories of that first Police show?
I was very young, still at school studying for my O-levels and there was this huge buzz - no pun intended - around both the concert and the group at the time. They were the biggest band in the world. Everybody I knew had a copy of 'Synchronicity' and there was wide coverage of the tour in all the newspapers and magazines. I remember being incredibly excited as I had seen the 'Police in the East' documentary and the Gateshead '82 concert on "The Tube" but up until then had never seen the band live - in person - so to speak.
I remember the incredible energy coming out from the band, the big and colourful lightshow and how loud the concert was! Andy's guitar playing was just incredible, Sting was super confident and Stewart was equally impressive as the hard working drummer.
Although the music blew me away, I don't remember the acoustics of the venue being up to today's high standards. My tee-shirt was a tad wet by the end of the concert - no change there then - and it was also a size small back then too!
What was your reaction when you heard of the Police reunion earlier this year?
Shock, disbelief, was I dreaming, did I imagine it? I did double check a few times, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I actually fell off my chair when I heard it was going to be a full on tour, I was watching the webcast from the Whiskey on my laptop on the kitchen table and tripped over my chair and that's before I had opened a bottle of wine to celebrate the news.
I remember people talking after the Broken Music tour saying that was the nearest point sound wise that Sting had come to re-forming the Police. But I never thought anything would come of it. Sting had said so many times before that he would not reform the Police, and I believed him! My gut reaction over the 30th Anniversary celebrations was that the group might do one concert in the UK and another one in the States, but not a full blown tour.
How many shows have you seen already on the current Police tour?
Ten! Three in Vancouver, two in Toronto, two in Montreal, one in Hartford, one at Madison Square Garden and I wrapped the first leg up at the Virgin Festival in Baltimore. It should have been 13, but I didn't make it to the Chicago shows in the end and I attended the Live Earth concert at Wembley and not in Giants Stadium as I had originally intended.
That's pretty amazing going - so you've been across the Atlantic on two jaunts already this summer?
It has been a truly amazing set of trips and a huge privilege for me.
You caught the start of the tour in Vancouver right through to the end of the first leg in New York. What do you think has been the main difference between the band you saw in May and the one you saw in August?
There was a lot of nervous energy right at the start and more improvisation in Vancouver. They have tightened the bolts up in relation to the set list and are really going from strength to strength. Each member of the group also knows their timings better than at the start of the tour which isn't surprising. It is now a well oiled and organized set list. Or as I say, 'the best two hour workout I'll ever experience!' I think the overall tempo of the show has speeded up as well; my dancing certainly has during the course of the tour!
The guitar solos are longer and appear more precise. The guitar section in 'Synchronicity II' is longer as well. Some of the arrangements on certain songs have been tweaked, which are very noticeable, 'Walking on the Moon' now gets an extended middle section, and a Sting and Andy go walkabout on the stage. 'De Do Do Do' now gets a more audience friendly reaction and a lovely volley between Sting - "De Do Do Do" and the audience's reply of "Da Da Da Da" - that Roger Federer would be proud of. At first I thought the transition between 'Voices' and 'When the World is running down' seemed slightly odd and patchy but this appears a lot more natural now. Saying that, by the time the European tour starts, I would love to see the return of 'Bring on the Night'.
The band seemed much more relaxed now. Sting was positively beaming throughout both concerts in Montreal. The audience there was very vocal, probably the best of the whole tour. Who knows why but the atmosphere in Montreal was electric - everything gelled and came together at that show. There were points in those concerts where I don't think it could be any better than that Moments I can truly say I have never been happier at a concert in all my life.
So, quite a lot of changes since the tour start in Vancouver then?
The crowd reactions do vary from one venue to the next. I thought at the Fan Club concert in Vancouver the crowd were so in awe at seeing the three of them back on stage together that they didn't move around much. Contrast that to Montreal where the crowd was already standing well before Bob Marley's 'Get Up Stand Up' was heard from the PA!
Andy seems more relaxed and is smiling much more now and was also moving around the stage much more especially in MSG. His guitar solos are out of this world and he is now taking pictures of the audience at the end of the show! The drumming on 'Next to You' has also changed since Vancouver. Those first dates saw Stewart hit those drums so fast towards the end that someone half his age could not compete. How he has the energy to do that intensity of drumming at the end of a 2 hour set I just do not know.
And obviously the set list no longer includes 'Murder by Numbers' or 'Spirits in the Material World', but it would be nice if the latter at least, could be reinstated for the European shows. The song worked so well on the Broken Music tour that it's a shame the song has been dropped.
Which are the high spots of the band's set?
The whole set! But seriously, the arrangement on the 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' is gorgeous and totally fresh and invigorated. 'Walking on the Moon' also tends to get my vocal chords in good shape. The new arrangement and additional percussion on 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' deserves to be released as a live single in my view. It is worth going to see the concert just for that! I think it's possibly everybody's favorite arrangement. I also have a soft spot for 'King of Pain' especially when Andy nails his guitar solo.
Have you many more shows to come once the tour enters your own backyard as it were and arrives in Europe?
What? Twenty more shows?
Yes, all seven UK shows plus the two in Stockholm, two in Amsterdam, two in Paris, two in Antwerp, and the shows in Aarhus, Hamburg, Munich, Dublin and Dusseldorf.
How do you cope with getting time off work to attend so many shows?
I get asked this a lot at the moment! I have been fortunate on this tour, as the tour covers two holiday leave years for me at work and as I work at a University the leave allowance is pretty good. They usually do not like you taking it during term time, but there are ways around it!
Also some of the dates are being held at weekends which are easier to get too especially in terms of taking time off from work. Also I have found in the past if I plan far enough ahead that helps things out as well. Ironically it was harder for me to get time off to go to see Sting's LSO St Luke's shows in London than get a week off to go to Vancouver! Sometimes dates work out, other times I have to really negotiate things. And on other occasions things don't work out - like having to miss out on the Chicago shows.
The last trip to the East Coast involved an awful lot of pre-planning, and sometimes I think that's the key. I've got a background in Geography and that's always useful, but I did need an Excel spreadsheet with all my travel plans on it with me, to remember what I was doing!
The Police tour has some hefty ticket prices, if it's not too rude a question, how on earth do you afford to attend what will be thirty shows at least on the tour?
A combination of factors really comes into play here. I'm still (unusually) single at the moment and don't have any children or dependants, so that saves some money! It also means I probably have more freedom than I would otherwise have to travel around the country, only work gets in the way. One of the main costs on my last trip was the air fare; hotels are a lot cheaper in the States than in the UK. And spacing the cost over several months also helps. In the late nineties I did save some money from my years of club DJing, which has helped me in funding the tour, but if the tour goes carries on into 2008 or beyond 2009 then I have got problems!
Are you already thinking about returning to the States this autumn or going even further afield?
You read my mind! Whether it will happen yet I don't know yet. It is all down to my manager at work, he's on holiday and he has to sign my holiday form first. I would love to go to the new dates in Toronto and Montreal in November. I met some lovely fans in Toronto and I'd love to meet up with them again. Getting time off work is my biggest problem at the moment.
In all your traveling, do you worry about your carbon footprint?
Actually, at the Virgin Festival in Baltimore, I got asked the very same question by a TV crew. Yes, I do worry about it, even more so as I am currently reading a book called "Heat" (How to stop the planet from burning) by George Monbiot. It states early on in the book that carbon emissions from cars alone need to decrease by 90% globally before 2030 to have any real positive outcome on global warming. It is a scary outlook and we all need to do our bit.
My day to day Carbon footprint is pretty low but I'm the first to admit my air travel has dented my good profile. On my last trip I did one long trip, rather than lots of short frequent trips that would have involved more air travel. On my trips from Toronto to Montreal and New York to Hartford I used the train instead of air travel and at all the concerts I went to (apart from one) I arrived and returned from the venue by public transport. Hartford was the only venue I arrived at by car but on the return journey we gave a lift to three extra Police fans, so had a full car. Considering most cars only have one or two passengers in them, that helps matters. I'm well aware that I have to offset more of my footprint and plant a large amount of trees this year!
What about Sting solo? Are you kept busy following his solo tours too?
Yes, definitely. Last year I went to seven of his European Lute concerts with Edin Karamazov, and several of the Broken Music shows too including Monte Carlo and Carcassonne.
How many Police/Sting concerts do you estimate you have seen in total?
I actually lost count after the 'Summoner's Tales' tour in 93/94. All I can tell you is that it is well over 100 shows.
Returning to The Police tour, which is the best show you've seen this summer and why?
It's tough to narrow it down to one concert as I have loved every concert for a variety of reasons. But if pressured I would have to say the second night in Montreal. The crowd atmosphere was electric, I had an aisle seat Row 12 (thanks to the fan club), had plenty of room to dance and leap around, and the band were at the height of their powers. Sting's face was beaming with pleasure throughout the concert, he loved every moment and also the audience was in fine voice.
I'm not including Vancouver as summer concerts, although the opening night of the tour - the one after the Fan club show - has a special place in my heart. Not only did the concert blow me away, but I was next to a beautiful singer by the name of Wendy Starland who had an amazing passion for all things Police - a kindred spirit - and the only time I've been weak at the knees at a concert other than from hard dancing!
And where is the best place you've been to this tour on your travels?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my travels in Canada visiting Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. But visiting Whistler and Victoria on my Vancouver trip was particularly magical. Having dinner in the Fairmount in Whistler was so special and magical that it was a shame I didn't have anybody I could propose to there. It was so romantic and beautiful.
Eating in the same fish restaurant that the band had dined at - not at the same time I hasten to add - during their stay in Vancouver was also memorable, the best fish I have had in my life!
Toronto was terrific too. Plenty of tourist places to visit, Niagara Falls on the Canadian side were a highlight. The day trip couldn't be faulted, well organized, picturesque and it also included a wine tasting. I also discovered some fine restaurants, some I returned to several times. The welcome I received from the staff was tremendously warm like we had known each other for years.
You have a rather unique method of expressing yourself in your dancing. So much so, for example, that you were visible on several occasions on the jumbotrons at Madison Square Garden. How would you best describe your "moves"?
Unique! Enthusiastic, some say mad. I get so wrapped up in the music my moves tend to launch skyward! It usually depends on how much room I have to dance to how my dancing develops. The more space I have the more athletic my dancing becomes. I had heard from a few other fans that I had been spotted on the screens but the funny thing is I have no idea what songs the cameras zoomed in on me at MSG. There is not one song I'm seated during a concert, apart from at the end when Lily Allen's 'Knock 'em Out' is playing over the PA as the audience is moving to the exit. I'm generally having well earned rest at that point. At Hartford I actually had virtually a row to dance in and wander around. At Baltimore, space opened up around me during the concert. Maybe my leaps unnerved some people, I'm sure they were waiting for me to fall down! My enthusiasm tends to rub off on people though. A man to my left, actually shock my hand to congratulate me straight after 'Synchronicity II'!
During the finale of 'Next To You' I did a huge leap in time with Sting's leap and unfortunately misplaced my landing and ended up splat on the ground. People were probably thinking 'serves you right', only for me to spring back up almost as fast as I went down. My hands seem to go all over the place during that song and it's similar during 'Every Little Thing' when I'm usually singing rather loudly. But when women come up to me at the end of the concert and say 'You were awesome!' it is the best praise for my moves I can possibly get!
A big smile beams from my face every time, but it wouldn't be there in the first place without these concerts.