The following article by Jim Green appeared in the February 1979 issue of Trouser Press magazine...
Police lean to America...
It's smoky and crowded in that dusty old shoebox they call CBGB, and there's a band called the Police onstage - so what else is new? They're from Britain - so big deal. And they all have bleached blond hair - swell. But jeez, if you listen - hey, this is hot stuff! The bassist is jumping around in a boiler suit and he's singing in this neat, kinda high-pitched voice - and the drummer's bashing away so hard he's gonna bust those drumheads. I mean, he's careening from snare to tom-tom like a percussion machine! And there's a twinky little guitarist in striped tee and leather jacket, standing there with a look of distraction his face. kinda like a child whose face momentarily looks old when deep in concentration. Just scrubbing away while the others steam along - whoops, where did that solo come from?
And the songs - they combine straight-ahead super speed new wavery rock with slower reggae-oid sections, with great hooks out of classic Britrock tradition. These ain't your usual punks, or anything else for that matter.
All of the preceding is what uninitiated observers saw when the Police came to town. People came in not knowing much about 'em, but after seeing 'em wanted to know more. Having already been hipped to them through their debut 45, 'Roxanne' (backed with 'Peanuts'), I was more than happy to oblige with some info.
Drummer Stewart Copeland is actually American (a foreign service brat like his brother Miles, who manages the band), and best known for his drumming with Curved Air. Guitarist Andy Summers started out as Andy Somers and cut his musical teeth in mid-60's groups like Eric Burdon and the Animals, Zoot Money's Big Roll Band (which he later told me "was a lot like Graham Parker and the Rumour - only much better") and early Soft Machine, and went on to become a much-in-demand session guitarist, working stage and studio gigs for such disparate folks as Tim Rose, Kevin Coyne and Kevin Ayers. He'd even had his name bandied about as a possible replacement for Mick Taylor in the Stones ("I wasn't much interested in that, actually"). Bassist Sting was a bit of an enigma, except that he'd written both sides of the single I've fallen in love with, was responsible for that wondrous warbling and the luvly harmonies, too) and played his fretless Fender like a dream.
Understandably disorientated after coming straight to the club from the airport (and decidedly jet-lagged, as well) in a short interview done after the show I got what was only a fragmented picture of what these decidedly non-punks were doing in a, well, new wave band. I did find out that some of the trappings that seemed artificial and calculated were as much happenstance as anything else. The blond hair, for instance, Sting had prior to the formation of the group. Stewart liked Sting's so he followed suit and when the group was hired to do a TV commercial for Wrigley's chewing gum, in which, Stewart explains, "We're a pop group acting very obnoxiously popgroupy and the day is saved by Wrigley's, or something - they wanted us all to have blond hair," so Andy did it too. And Sting's name? "No big secret there, he's Gordon Sumner. Nut he was in the trad jazz band as a kid and they had these uniforms which of course he wouldn't wear. Instead he wore a yellow and black striped shirt. Hence Sting. Heck, his mom calls him Sting.
But why a new wave band?, I wanted to know. Stewart seemed to be the impetus for it all. Brother Miles had forsaken the sterile rock mainstream (he'd been managing successful bands like Climax Blues Band, Wishbone Ash and Renaissance) for the vitality he saw in new wave music and had begun promoting concerts, then organising a distribution umbrella for small labels (starting some himself) and managing some of the bands. Stewart, too, felt stimulated by the sheer energy and its disdain for the tired, gutless perspectives dominating commercial rock.
Stewart has seen Sting play with his jazz band ("they were not tired old farts," said Sting: "Oh yes they were," said Stewart) and when he got involved in putting together a band for a Gong offshoots festival (?!) with Mike Howlett, he thought of Sting (off-the-wall enough of an event to accommodate a band with two basses). Convincing Sting that a rock band with a new wave cast to it was what they really wanted to do, they added Henri Padovani on guitar and voila! A punk band.
They put together a single to kick off Miles's Illegal label. 'Fall Out' / 'Nothing Achieving' but despite the talents of the rhythm section, the songs potential weren't fully milked. Said Stewart, "Henri was good for what he was, which was a punk, but that was too limiting." Enter Andrew, who could be quietly making a fortune in the studio. In fact, the lot of them are doing sessions on the side, individually and as a unit.
Stewart continues, "We think this band is important, and we've made sure not to go into debt to anyone; sessions helped us do that. But as the band does more touring and recording, and making money itself, we won't be doing so much of that."
As it is, the Police have not done many gigs thus far; when the band returned to CBGB at the tail end of their couple of weeks in America, they had in fact done more gigs on this tour than they had done previously as a band in England. As a result they were tighter and the arrangements smoother and more self-assured. It takes time to become simpatico as a group and some of that was beginning to happen in earnest, as evidenced by little things like the band picking up Sting's lead when he wandered into the Beatles' 'Fixing A Hole' in the middle of 'Hole In My Life'.
The album, 'Outlandos d'Amour', sounds great, simply one of the most comfortable records that I've heard in a long while. No stinting on energy - it's just that catchy melodies on top of punchy rock or quality reggae ("Playing reggae licks to us is like blues licks, they're hard to resist," said Stewart) done up Police-style is an eminently winning combination. There isn't anything all that heavy in the way of lyrics, besides perhaps the odd line or two here and there, yet 'Outlandos' has an emphasis on romantic dilemmas, please, threats of suicide and a hilarious solution provided by Andy - an inflatable lover ('Pictures Of Lily, '79?). There is one song where the lyrics do hit home hard; 'Peanuts' cuts down a rock star whose success has spoiled him. I thought immediately of Rod Stewart and Sting, who'd dumped Stewart (Copeland's) original lyrics to write these confirmed by hunch. When he sings it live, he drops some of the words out. "Words get in the way. When I remember great songs half the time I don't know what the words are supposed to mean anyway." Sting further implements this view by doing some reggae-jazz scatting where songs provide holes for it.
The band has braved much disfavour in the English press, but trendy as that bunch is the pendulum is winging Police's way these days. It won't hurt their popularity that Sting has a substantial role in the upcoming 'Quadrophenia' film as the Bellboy. Largely unknown over here (We did a gig in front of six people in Poughkeepsie," recalled Andy "and they loved us - we introduced the audience to one another at the end!"), the US release of 'Roxanne' has created a small stir in some markets like Boston, which ate it up. But it all comes down to the music - these Police love what they are doing, or rather what they're trying to do, as they haven't had that much of a chance of it yet. With the LP's release Stateside they'll get down to cases in earnest, when they do a proper tour. So you can read this, America - be prepared - the force may be with you.
Trouser Press magazine