Sting's starring role...
First and foremost it must be said that this was Sting's first night and it would be churlish to take anything away from his triumphant return to his home town. He's fought his way to the top of a very high-risk profession with his sanity intact and he fully deserved his own night of glory.
And it was typical of his and the Police's attitude that they should play their two shows at Newcastle's City Hall - at the end of two years gruelling touring that has taken in places hitherto untouched by the rock and roll circus - for charity. Integrity isn't easy to keep once the bandwagon starts careering along and everyone from the scarf-sellers outside the gig to the promoter is leaping on your back for a quick ride but the Police have done their very best. Good guys can win sometimes.
But the gig itself failed to hit me the way Police usually do. I'd better qualify this at once (if only to stem the shoals of letters from ardent fans at the slightest sign of criticism) by saying that my old lady, who was seeing the group for the first time, enjoyed every moment.
I suspect that, like her, a good proportion of the audience were also seeing the band for the first time. The hard core fans didn't seem to have tickets - probably because of the nature of the gig and the way the tickets were distributed - and it robbed the occasion of the electric atmosphere that accompanied the band on their pre-Christmas British tour.
The other problem was that I get off on Police as a trio and this concert was definitely Sting plus Stewart and Andy. The follow spots scarcely left Sting for a second and he was frequently exhorting the crowd to do it 'one more time for me'. As I said at the start I didn't begrudge him any of the acclaim he got and wanted the audience to respond more vigorously than they did. But the special circumstances and the fact that the gig was being recorded for Radio One conspired to make the rock and roll a little self-conscious.
Sting was determined to get the crowd moving right at the start by telling them: ''You're not pensioners you know'' and running through the first two tracks of 'Outlandos d'Amour' while the sound man got the balance sorted out. Towards the end of 'So Lonely', as they entered the realms of white dub, Sting's beleaguered larynx received some assistance in the form of a delayed echo effect.
The sound finally reached a ringing density during 'Walking On The Moon' and suddenly the audience was bathed in light as they sang along. The visual impact spurred the band on and Andy toyed with the varying intensity levels of 'Deathwish' with relish.
The gem of the evening for my money (correction, free ticket - let's be honest about it!) was 'Bring On The Night' which was performed with immaculate control before Andy let loose with a blistering solo in the middle. They followed it up with the one new song of the evening called (I think) 'Driven To Tears' which boogied along in a relaxed vein with a characteristic 'yo yo' chorus.
'The Bed's Too Big Without You' normally sends me into a delicious reverie with its hypnotic rhythms and echoed guitar but tonight it was as if somebody had smeared Andy's fingers with acid. He wrenched the number out of its complacency with some harsh and abrasive playing that sounded at the end as if he was having a visitation from the ghost of Syd Barrett.
From then on the hits piled in on top of one another relentlessly, mainly kept free from embellishment with the surprising exception of 'Roxanne'. (I remember Stewart saying they weren't going to fool around with that song any more but it still seems able to take it!). The snores took them back to their punk roots with 'Peanuts', 'Born in the 50s' and finally 'Fall Out'. Ah nostalgia isn't what it used to be!
But even if I wasn't bowled over by the gig there was nothing to suggest any cause for alarm. Their ability to jam on any song at a moment's notice is undiminished and the songs continue to pass through changes which means that every concert offers something new. There are times when I fear for Sting's voice which has been subjected to awesome strain and is clearly suffering as a result. Fortunately the strain is built into his style but with luck he'll never have to punish it as badly as he has over the past year or so.
The next stop is the third album. Whenever you're ready boys...
(c) Sounds by Hugh Fielder
Conked out conquerors...
The hero returns. Local boy makes big. ''Ee, they must be a popular group cos they hired a white Rolls Royce to pick 'em up from the station,'' says the cab driver, ''and that cost about £120 per day.''
Yes. Sting was the returning star to Newcastle City Hall. Two charity shows in the same day and the only British dates planned this year.
The punishing world tour, taking in India, Egypt, Hong Kong and the Philippines is over.
Aye, the conquerors returned to give and take the glory but, own up, if Sting, Andy or Stewart had come back to fart onstage you'd go bananas. I know you don't give a monkeys what I say about them as long as it's good, right?
The bleached bombers could do no wrong in your eyes and, fair enough, from audience reaction they didn't, but I must say that at times Sting's voice sounded, well ropey, even though he gave everything - frogs and all - he and Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers resembled the express train we travelled to Newcastle on. The speed was phenomenal.
Police may have played all those weird and wonderful places and must have got their buzz from playing some, tonight wasn't one.
With that many gigs it can become a routine and the motions have to be gone through. It was a celebration because it was Sting's homecoming, they were charity gigs and 40,000 people applied for 4,000 tickets. And I'll give it to you that what they've done is a tremendous achievement and, as Sting said earlier on a local TV programme, Police could have played St James' Park football ground but it didn't make the performance any more enjoyable.
I've seen them before and I've seen them better. The people who got tickets for these two shows will disagree but most of them are probably newer recruits to the Police fan club, they were just the lucky ones to have their names picked out of the hat.
Even Sting was disappointed in the reaction of the first house. He couldn't have been with the second because the crowd were as vociferous as any I've seen at megaband gigs.
So, the gig had been fixed up and the show must go on but even the lighting engineer was going through his paces. They've got more lights than most bands but they're the same as I saw them on the start of their British tour. With the amount he's got to work with you'd think he could do more than light up Sting and the audience with them.
OK, Sting can now sell it on image alone but there are three very competent musicians in this band.
Christ, what am I doing? I'm having a go at this year's big thing. Police weren't bad, in fact, they were pretty good and they deserve every bit of success they can get but even they must admit it was a workmanlike performance that included 'Message In A Bottle', 'So Lonely', 'Roxanne' and 'Walking On The Moon'. You name the hit, they did it. Admirably too plus, of course. Sting bouncing and dancing onstage the way he does would please even the most jaded eyes but the batteries and ideas need a top up and Police are off for a well deserved rest.
Take a seat in the sun boys and get those barnets ready for the next onslaught.
(c) Record Mirror by Alf Martin
For get everything else. Sting is the next Nicholas Roeg film, must be.
Anyway before I forget everything else: Newcastle. Newcastle was memorable for the most insipid glass of orange juice I've ever tasted; the boomerang twang of local accents - why aye man!; conversations about the current Nicholas Roeg film (Art Garfunkel); the next Police chorus, should be ('Driven To Tears').
Nicholas Roeg makes good films. I imagined him being on hand for this. To cut up everything up, forget it all, and dub it all back together again - something like, somehow, the way Sting's songs are produced; or seem to be produced; illusions (the original title of Nicholas Roeg's current film).
I first saw Police coming out of a taxi in my hotel room, from TV at the end of my bed (one of the beds, there were two). The Police weren't in the bar downstairs. The bar was decorated as a ship's cabin and was full of loud business-like laughs; draught laughter you might say, medallions around necks, seats fashioned from barrels. Get the picture. Not the sort of place to meet Nicholas Roeg's next film.
At the post-gig reception (which wasn't in the mock cabin) Sting did turn up, so did his two friends from that group they're all in. All the music papers were there. (I could be wrong - I don't think New Music News sent anyone, although a rumour got around that they had, and he was selling copies of the publication outside the City Hall, all night).
The Police at Newcastle City Hall was a very informal arrangements. It was more of a 'do' than anything else. The individual songs, even words, simply chains of decorative lights, signifiers strung between The Hometown Gig and Star(dom). In my guise as The Ghost of Roland Barthes, I clung onto the latter; the lure of the lonesome ladder to fame (inevitably, the Nicholas Roeg film): 'Is It A Snakepit?' An empirical study in three rooms, with chorus lines. Keep it up; keep it up...
The Police played their instruments and they played them 'well'. Copeland, drums: the cool, correct side of the adjectives 'slick' and 'professional'. Summers, guitar, grimaces: sporadically struck hold of the adjective 'sharp', alternatively , soloing, gritting his teeth, grinding his axe, 'stupid'. Sting, voice rather rusty skank, rather inaudible bass: should have stayed in bed for his voice's sake but soldiered - the show must go - on.
This was the last date on the Worldwide Tour, and a Hometown Gig for Sting. A two-in-one night charity benefit for, I think Newcastle Boys Club. Aisles of smiles. 'Are-you-alrights?' On the night. Bring and buy. Or cry.
Everything is, naturally, geared to the home crowd. It's like the winners parading the cup through their borough, rather than working hard for a place in the final. Lindisfarne used to do this, these. You could hear the ghosts. A cut-and-dry appraisal of The Gig As Representative Of pre-third album Police would (have) be(en) inappropriate, not to say pointless, not to say pompous, nit to say that I wouldn't still go ahead with it but anyway...
It was simply and mostly successfully a celebration of what The Police have been and done and seen and been and seen as and sung, as far as their audience are concerned, so far along the tightrope. Throw another six. And... (waiting for Stingo?)... the beat goes on.
Tonight, for me a member of the audience in enough senses of the word, it was the predictably few songs: the tremendously sexy 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', which Sting had the good taste (not) to dedicate to the Ghost of Roland Barthes; the tremulously abandoned 'Walking On The Moon'; the high-pitched symbolism of 'Message In A Bottle'. Substitute your own beloved ones: they were all there, four-square.
Sting played at being the Ghost of Tim Buckley, on and off. Maybe they should have played in Durham's fine castle. That would make a good dub album: 'Durham in Dub. Y-I-Man!' The review would have to be lost in the post, though, or d(r)ead on arrival.
The Ghost of Roland Barthes missed the press coach. He spent too much time trying to decide whether to appear with his heart or his head in his hands. Or maybe it was his tale between his legs. Anyway you look at it, it was: bad timing. The same old story. All characters, incidents, coincidences entirely fictitious.
(Now why don't I tell more people than I have already that I met Sting? I didn't.)
(c) New Musical Express by Ian Penman
Police: Something to write home about...
The Police area as cheerful, hopeful, musical and unlikely a rock band as ever promised good things for a new decade. There is an expectation that these three outgoing characters, despite their huge success in the past 12 months, have only just begun.They arrived home in Newcastle in triumph last week - or to be pedantic, their tall, blond charismatic leader, Sting (real name Gordon Sumner) arrived home after a world tour of blinding proportions. They had marched for almost three months through America, the Pacific, Japan and the Orient, with halts as unlikely as an open air arena in Bombay and the American College in Cairo. Then Newcastle, a different but bubbling scene.
As one who reviews mostly in London, I felt immensely glad to be at the homecoming. Outside the City Hall (Newcastle's usual rock concert venue), the customary protest posters in the brightly stark new city centre rang all kinds of familiar bells. What Police did was beyond politics and beyond price.
They spread, first of all, enthusiasm, I don't mean mindless barging about or empty yahooism. The people who like them on Tyneside express their feelings with happiness and a kind of determined pride, responding both to Sting's spell and the joy of the music.
To have people - mostly young, but many many parents and even grannies too - afire with joy in the City Hall isn't easy. As a rock emporium, its stately coolness and all-round balcony make a fair imitation of a school hall on Speech Day. Perhaps it was this aura which kept the crowds so orderly when Police opened 45 minutes late. At Hammersmith Odeon there would have been a blizzard of screams, boos and slow handclapping. Here, the audience just chattered.
But once Police erupted everyone just stood up and stayed up. No one seemed to mind. And as the music flooded out, the mood of total commitment, total enjoyment, grew and grew.
'Message In A Bottle', 'Roxanne', 'Walking On The Moon', 'The Beds Too Big Without You', 'Bring On The Night' - all the hits were laid out with careful affection, and one realised again how good the music is.
'Message' and 'Moon' are the anthems but 'Bring On The Night' is, perhaps, the best of them: a lamenting ballad with beat and guts. And in concert 'The Beds Too Big Without You' is virtually turned into a suite, very impressively. To divine Police's secret is complex. Sting is vital, with the marvellously haughty bone structure of his face and his height only the beginning. He communicates, right down to his ability to fall to his knees after a lengthy spell of emotional lead-singing and, still crouching, to beat out a string of jazzy bass-guitar licks.
Jazz? Yes, that's part of it. The excellent drummer, Stewart Copeland, says he spent a year beating the jazz out of Sting's voice and making him sing like a rock star - he hasn't succeeded. Although I know what he means.
The lead guitarist, Andy Summers, can sing you endless Charlie Parker solos.The jazz shows throughout: in sprightly solos; in the call-and-response pattern of the songs; and in the riffs which make their choruses so easily singable.
That's one reason they're unusual. They're not so young (just below or over 30); Copeland's father used to be in the CIA and his mother is an archaeologist.But they've done it, putting together jazzy feeling with reggae and ballad and rock overtones, never forgetting the need for excitement, while weaving in the most beautiful of harmonies and echo and synthesiser effects. They're not New Wave, rather No Wave, just very good composers and musicians with natural humour, as the Beatles had.
Backstage, the rooms were full of family, including Sting's proud grandmother, Agnes. Kids from the entourage built leaning towers of empty beer cans. A teacher told me of my shortcomings when it came to assessing punk (Popular music is a garden with a thousand flowers; let them all flourish). It was a homecoming to remember. Police will be directing the traffic for a while yet.
(c) The Times by Derek Jewell