Do I have to tell a story? James Norman reflects on his Seven Days in London...
Boarding flight 44 from Minneapolis to Gatwick that cold, gloomy night of March 23rd, I had a feeling that I was about to embark on a great adventure. I was going to England to visit my best friend who was studying abroad there, and was planning on going down to London to catch a few of Sting's shows at the Royal Albert Hall. He was playing 10 shows there, in the midst of an 18 month world tour that kicked off in Las Vegas last October.
After visiting my friend, I made my way down to London. I found an excellent youth hostel situated only 1 block away from the Albert Hall, affording me a perfect 'home base' for the week. Like many reading this newsletter, Sting has affected my life in profound ways. His ability to synthesize literary, philosophical, historical and diverse musical genres into brilliant songwriting continues to amaze me. I was, in a way, on a pilgrimage to London, to honour a man who has brought so much joy to my life.
27 March: Monday rolls around. Opening night. I arrived at the Albert Hall early to scope out the scene. It was cold, gloomy, and windy... quintessential London weather. I got there about 3pm, and was soon joined by about a half dozen other fans near the stage door. As we milled around, we soon realized that we all knew each other from the internet! These people were the infamous Italian Bees, with their trademark yellow and black stripped scarves wrapped around their necks. We agreed that it was 'un mondo piccolo' - a small world. As we slowly froze waiting for the band to show up, our patience soon paid off. A big black Mercedes Benz (sorry Jaguar!) pulled up and out jumped Sting. He was in a good mood and impeccably dressed, right down to the hiking boots from the Acoustic Guitar
interview. Then a big white van pulled up and the rest of the band came out. Everyone made time to talk to us and take pictures, and we all left happy.
Since I was volunteering for the Rainforest Foundation, I got to go in early to help Rob, the organizer, get things set up. As soon as I walked through Door 1, I felt a shudder run up by back; the first ominous rumbling of 'A Thousand Years'. I had walked right into soundcheck! I tried to act as 'cool' as possible beside the roadies and tech guys, pretending like it was not a big deal. ''Yeah, I've heard of Sting'' I said to one of them, trying not to show that I had been dreaming of a moment like this for 4 years. For the show, all the volunteers received seats way up in the 'gods,' which is a standing-room-only space at the very top. I saw people dancing up in front of the stage the whole night, and I promised myself this would be the last night I would be up there. Sting read a letter
during the show that said someone in the audience had a special question to ask someone else. The spotlight turned to a section in the boxes, and a man proposed marriage right there! As soon as they kissed, the band broke into 'Every Little Thing'. I had seen the show 4 months previous to this in America, and not too much had changed musically.
28 March: Tuesday... and the pre-show routine was the same as before, but tonight I realised that I had to find a way to sneak in to the front row. This would be interesting, considering I did not even have a ticket! I cased the main floor about 10 minutes before Sting went on... security was nonexistent. I waited, perched on a stairwell next to the stage until... (low rumble... guitar intro to 'A Thousand Years') ... at that moment, EVERYONE rushed the stage. It was great! Survival of the fittest. I squirmed my way up to front row centre, and stayed there the whole night. There was a big guy behind me, Paul, who literally follows Sting AROUND THE WORLD to his concerts. His is a jolly Englishman who kept yelling, ''Go on, Sting!'' all night in my left ear.
The best was yet to come. As I was finishing my duties with all the wonderful people from the Rainforest Foundation, Simon (the Director of the UK branch of the Foundation) came up to me and offered me a backstage pass for after the show! After peeling myself off the floor, I found my way backstage, proudly showing the pass to the scary security guards at the door. The band and entourage were in a little room with food and wine, with about 40 other people. It was quite surreal talking to Cheb Mami, Chris and Trudie. What do I say? One of the best parts was when I was explaining who everybody was to the Rainforest Foundation people. I would say, ''And here we have Miles Copeland,'' (giving a brief biography of each person), and people like Miles were standing 5 feet in front of me! It's
like I was giving a walking tour of the band. That night was pure magic.
29 March: Wednesday... I tried to arrive extra early to catch all of the soundcheck, and was rewarded for my efforts. On this night Luuk from the Netherlands was also helping out with the Rainforest Foundation, so we both sat in the audience for the soundcheck. Sting glided out onto the stage at about 5pm, and immediately started to work on 'Fill Her Up'. This was because British celebrity Jimmy Nail was going to be the surprise guest singing the part of James Taylor. They must have gone over it 10 times, with Jimmy messing up something different every time! It was so great to see Sting 'work' - it felt very much like the 'Bring On The Night' movie, only with different music. We had heard that it was Jason Rebello's birthday, and after 'Fill Her Up' everyone left the stage, save Sting and
Jason. Sting asked Jason, ''What should we do?'' They then started playing 'Dienda', the tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland. I have never felt so much emotion before. There Sting was, singing to two people in a vacant Albert Hall, his voice soaring and filling up the entire room. A silent tear ran down my cheek; it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard.
This night was celebrity night apparently, with Peter Gabriel, Brian Adams, Lulu and Madonna in attendance. Consequently, security was unbelievable! There were 6 burly guards in the front stage area alone, making sure nobody stood up or even got near the stage. But even they could not hold us back; we broke through and got up to the stage by Bourbon Street. The sequence with Jimmy Nail ended up turning out very well, with Jimmy replacing ''Fill 'er up, son'' with ''Fill 'er up, Sting.''
30 March: Thursday... was a day off!
31 March: Friday... was personally, a great day, because I finally got to meet Wendy and Dave, the creators of the world's best Sting internet site, Stingchronicity and Tina, who persuaded me to join the fan club! Sting's voice was getting worse by the day. On his little stand he had a towel (which the people in the front row took turns stealing after every show), hot tea, and a spray bottle. He was using all of these more and more. Also, by Friday he had stopped doing the soundchecks. The show itself was quite weak until 'Roxanne', when the audience injected some much-needed energy into the band's performance.
1 April: Saturday... was the best of all six shows I was at. Why? 100% the crowd's energy. I never realized how much Sting reacts to the crowd; with everyone up and dancing there was a whole new level of energy created. That night it was nearly impossible to get up to the front. The security guards were even bigger and scarier. I had to wait for one guard to look down to tie his shoe, and then I vaulted two rows of chairs and crash landed into Dave. People behind me thought I was going to keep going onto the stage! The music tonight was absolutely excellent. You could tell they were all very comfortable and were listening to each other more then ever.
2 April: Sunday... was... Well... Sunday. A very reserved crowd. Looking around me, almost nobody knew the lyrics to anything except four songs. Sting even reverted to telling his tantric shopping joke, that's how bad it was! Even though the crowd was lame, the music making continued to shine. Since this was my last night, I was thinking about all the wonderful memories I had accumulated from the previous week, and how much I will miss all the beautiful people I met. Seven days will quickly go.
Seven Days... After everything, I've come to a few conclusions I'd like to share. First, there are two types of Sting fan. There's the larger group, which is comprised of everyday people who work their everyday jobs, who love Sting/The Police and want to keep up on what's going on. I am/was one of these people. We have all the albums, but really have no idea when people talk or write about obscure bootlegs and such.
Then, there's the other group. Smaller, yes, but living on a different plateau of Sting/Police fandom. So I write this for the first group: These people are at the living core of what we believe in. Most of these people have hundreds, maybe thousands of Sting/Police concerts on tape and other rarities. They take weeks off of work (I still don't know how Paul does it!) and follow Sting around Europe and the world. The Italians put their lives on hold when Andy Summers comes to Italy, cooking him meals, driving him places, and treating him like deserved royalty. These people all live in different countries, but know each other like old friends. It was amazing for me to know that there's this kind of Sting network in existence. And to be part of this big family, if only for one week, was
So when Sting comes back to your area in the future, I implore all of us to try to create a bond such as this. Do whatever it takes to catch that show, even if it's hundreds of miles away... you won't be disappointed. I know we're all busy, but there's something magical, something special going on at these shows that I feel can change our lives only for the better. I only know because it happened to me, just like it can happen to you.
(c) James Norman for Sting.com