|Tour||The 'Zenyatta' years 1980/81|
LONDON: Tooting BecO come all ye faithful...
As the rest of the world ran down, thousands of devout followers flocked to a collapsible pop Mecca somewhere in the holy lands of Tooting. Touts, the law, and hordes of souvenir toting wide boys lined the way for the faithful to stomp through mud and straw like so many sheep into an Italian supertent.
Oh mama can this really be the end - to be stuck inside a bigtop with the de do blues again?
Guided by the gospel according to Wolfie Smith the Congregation became increasingly restless, pushing to the front crushing young bodies against the stage which were then passed back overhead on a human escalator returning teenage debris to the back and oblivion.
In keeping with the pagan festivities, a sacrifice was obviously demanded before the gods of blue eyed reggae could take to the stage. It came in the form of Tommy Cooper who was cruelly but perhaps justly booed off the stage to be replaced by the first terrace chorus of the evening: "We want the Police, we want the Police," they screamed.
Naturally that's exactly what they got - 75 minutes worth of polished pop, steeped in ersatz Jamaican culture and Sting's safely packaged sex appeal.
The sound system was magnificent and the performance faultless. Opening with 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' (ironical in those conditions) the band reeled off their long list of hits and all for a suitable (tax deductible?) charity organisation.
'Walking On The Moon', 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', 'Shadows In The Rain', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', 'Message In A Bottle', 'Roxanne', 'Driven To Tears'; they couldn't and didn't fail.
Andy Summer's guitar shimmered in all the right places, Stewart Copeland justified his mega-kit and Sting, alternating between a stand-up and guitar bass, drove the band along with his professional energy.
If they were tired of playing the same old numbers they didn't show it. Encore number one: 'I Can't Stand Losing You'. Encore number two: 'Next To You' and 'So Lonely'. Like any Western service the inspiration was by proxy and the enlightenment confirmed in the programme: You will see the light, my friend.
Criticising The Police is like attacking the Pope; you offend the laity and risk eternal damnation. Like new Aryans, they offer the perfect solution: uniform, assured. The ideal musical opiate for the masses, in fact. The trouble is I've got a nagging feeling that all Police and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
God bless you and may your Sting go with you.
© Melody Maker by Ian Pye
Ticket image courtesy of Dietmar & Raphael
LONDON: Tooting BecRockatta De Bowl...
The Police these days aren't too dissimilar to the real item. You see them everywhere. Most of the time you accept them, most of the time you don't annoy them, sometimes you're glad they're there... and every so often somebody tells the newspapers just how wonderful they are.
All of which, naturally, isn't intended to knock the success of the first rock concert at the new Milton Keynes Bowl. Despite the first flood of the summer - which reduced most of the reclaimed rubbish tip into a quagmire - Police hauled in over 20,000 fans, the bill was well balanced and a fair proportion of the hard-earned pocket money give up.
But Police aren't yet able to match the acclaim their two albums have brought them. Being there seemed to be enough; not quite delivering an exciting rock show seemingly a matter of no concern.
Regatta De Bowl, this year's Knebworth for the young generation, opened with Tom Robinson's Sector 27 sounding as muddy as the arena itself.
They were followed by the unfortunate Skafish, who, by standing firm against a hail of (mostly full) beer cans were injured, a doubly inauspicious start.
But with Skafish the token bellyflop over the patch was clear for Squeeze who did their best to maintain their reputation as perky and intelligent pop craftsmen. Their image to me is one of always attempting to conceal more than they deliver - a packed set of 'thoughtful' candy floss and tight hooks. Their applause was nonetheless earned and appreciated.
UB40, still learning their way, were well worth their position. Commercially fortunate, and thus identifiable, their ambitions are rapidly expanding. With long and languorous jazz and dub passage fleshing out their sax-led reggae UB40 are easy to like and easy to be lulled too. Nor will they ever lose a threatening edge - a long improvisation of 'Summer Time' for instance, or the growing power of 'King' (better on stage than on record) left them with warm, deserved applause.
The yawning hour-long wait for Police would have been perfect had it only started to rain heavily. Instead the gap frayed tempers and caused outbreaks of slow handclapping. All Police needed to do was wave and they would have been cheered for ten minutes. Yet Police, for all their fame and fortune, can't really be expected to know that of course.
Sting stands stage left, clutching an upright bass ("It's my new toy. it's called Brian or something" we're later to find out), occasionally remembering to make stage announcements in the same strained manner that he sings. "Dat's right!" he screeches to impossible acclaim.
Stewart Copeland is a very fine drummer, perhaps more than a third of the Police sound as know and love it. He looks ready for plenty more than the present stage dynamics are giving him, and I hope he gets it.
Andy Summers, another excellent musician, allowing himself only the smallest amount of theatrics (one scissor jump, two duck walks and three nervous glances into the crowd) makes up the trio.
It takes Police a while to find themselves; and even longer to find the audience that obviously loves them. 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' allows Sting enough time to begin to find his pitch. The ambition is finally realised on a nervously rushed and unexciting rendition of 'Fall Out'. But not before wavering examples of 'Walking On The Moon' and 'It's Alright For You' things were obviously going to be alright.
With Andy Summers delivering a series of effects, and perhaps just a hint of additional synthesisation fleshing out the sound (was there?) Police began to take a grip, expanding songs and filling up the minutes.
The introduction of new songs like 'Da Doo Doo Doo Da Daa Daa Daa' and 'When The World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What's Around' were the brown paper wrapping for the real presents of 'Message In A Bottle', 'Roxanne', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' and 'I Can't Stand Losing You'.
With these anthems Police played at arm's length. The learned-by-heart verses delivered with more gusto through the night air and the mud than through the speakers. The snore was obvious and quick as 'So Lonely' put the seal on a pleasant show who's strength was entirely outweighed by its saleability.
Give them another year and just maybe they'll be playing live as well as their records lead you to believe they can.
This time for the Police, as much as for the Milton Keynes Bowl, this was merely a baptism without fire.
© Record Mirror by John Shearlaw (with thanks to Dietmar) & Rapheal
LONDON: Tooting BecI should care, I'm a millionaire...
The occasion: had good intentions and muddy feet. It was really nice that Rico's band was opening the show, but since arriving on time meant a 45 minute wait to get in as we trailed zig and zag across the common in a thin line leading, eventually, to three very wide and under-employed entrances I heard them from outside the big top - whence they sounded great without convincing me that it wouldn't have been more fun inside.
So we made it and tried to find a spot from which my small yet dynamic companion, Mr Fielder, might be able to get a look at the band. We ended up at the back in what turned out to be a direct line from the central stanchion to Sting. Then we stopped still for a long time trying to stand taller and thinner as the last few hundred punters were shoe-horned in around us. This was okay while Jools Holland was playing boogie-woogie and 'Great Balls Of Fire' and addressing us with a true punter's appreciation of the privations the multitude were experiencing. But the pleasant feeling that we were being treated to a special show gradually drained away with the succession of delays and the desperate display put up by poor old Tommy Cooper. He's so popular that you could sense a thrill going through the crowd when his name was mentioned even though they were literally aching to see the Police.
Tommy took about five minutes to translate this welcome into booing, catcalls and a minor bombardment of plastic cups. For one thing he seemed terrified of the fine mess he'd got himself into and for another he'd forgotten how to project himself beyond the living-room close-up of TV. In sum, he died the death.
Thus discomfited we then had to put up with a good half hour of some berk, who basically had no idea of how to talk to a mass of people while bearing in mind that it is composed of individual human beings, ranted at us to move back a couple of paces, ranted some more when we'd done it (although it had been a quite wondrous feat of corporate good will and civilised instinct), told us the Police wouldn't play unless we did what he said, promised that everyone would be able to see alright (untrue for short people including the entire weenybopper contingent and that the band would be on in ten minutes (untrue) and two minutes (untrue).
Rarely can one person have got up so many pairs of nostrils at the same time - at least not since the Prime Minister's last broadcast to the nation. And yet a groundswell of bonhomie relating exclusively to the band rather than the organisation sustained an astonishing level of patience in a situation where any kind of disorder would have been tragic. It was uncomfortable and scary and l don't know whether we Brits are stoics or suckers but whichever, endurance was finally rewarded.
The Police: were practically perfect. They could have done no better justice to their recorded work to date - and by reinterpretation, not duplication. 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' was refreshed by vocal harmonies a street better than anything I've heard them do before on stage, then Stewart quietly ran riot through 'Walking On The Moon' with a range of tom-tom and rimshot surges energising every line without ever overwhelming the floating euphoria which made the song so winsome. They zipped through a crisp sequence of 'Death Wish', 'Fall Out' and 'Man In A Suitcase' before stretching into a fluent 'Bring On The Night' (the first time it's sounded right to me - I'd though the verse and chorus were irreparably disjointed).
Then 'De Do Do Do' cut through with a precise eloquence which almost every reviewer has found it necessary to deny for various socioeconocultural reasons I can't go into here (i.e. they've got the 'ump with the Police).
By now the set was running as sweetly as an inter-city 125 with the Queen on board. Sting was in good voice while Andy and Stewart took it in turns to spoon in the spices and pickles. The textures and techniques emanating from Andy in particular were a joy to hear, every one a vibrant contribution to the greater glory of The Song rather than an attempt to flash his deep skill and knowledge (exception: the puzzling HM outburst in the subdued 'Driven To Tears'?).
Hot and slick from their American tour there was hardly a word said and if a between-numbers gap lasted as long as three seconds it rated as a major rupture, but the music remained sympatico - warm, friendly, gentle, romantic, hypnotic, enveloping, although also cool, objective, abstracted, bleak... and in no time we were out of the thesaurus and into the singalongs.
'Roxanne', 'Message In A Bottle' and "what do you want?", "Blooaargh!', "Okay, vox populi, vox dei!" What?!
'The voice of the people is the voice of God'. Well, it beats "Tooting Bec you're the rock'n'roll capital of the f***in' world!" by a long distance doesn't it? I've never heard the Police play better and the sound was magnificent. As a group they have an uncommon ability to live in their own present, but somewhere in there 'Shadows In The Rain', the least likely selection from 'Zenyatta', indicated a feasible future - greater weight, depth and darkness; soul explorations beneath the radically conceived style and panache. Canary in a coalmine.
© Sounds by Phil Sutcliffe
Pass Image courtesy of Dietmar & Raphael