An Englishman in New York Part 1
Sting was always the epitome of cool.
He was never a punk and The Police were never a punk band, although they dabbled with it at the start of their career. They never embraced that punk ethos like that other trippy trio The Jam, and those Woking class wonderboys weren't punks either.
I wonder if Paul Weller would play the Royal Court Theatre on board the Queen Mary 2 after bringing out a Broadway show. I suspect that's not his style.
But it sure suits Sting.
When it came to threesomes I was always a Jam man. Make of that sentence what you will. Shredded white reggae didn't do it for me.
The only time I saw The Police play was at the Mont de Marsan Punk Festival in August 1977 when they hadn't quite perfected that shredded white reggae sound and were belting out two minute songs, albeit with a little more finesse and a little more professionalism than say The Clash or The Damned who played at the same festival. Incidentally, The Jam were to also set appear but there was an argument over billing so they refused to go on at the last minute. The headline act were Dr Feelgood who backstage consumed coke by hall mirror lengths.
I journeyed down to the festival on a coach from London to a bullring near the Spanish border with an overnight stay in Paris. On board were assorted journalists and musicians including The Police. I’d never heard of the band and don’t recall speaking to them. But then, I don’t recall much of that speed-fuelled coach trip.
The band’s slickness didn’t sit well in that hardcore punk arena. They were destined for greater things and I guess they probably knew it. With those looks and that voice, Sting was never gonna give you up. The band soldiered on in relative obscurity for 18 months until ‘Roxanne’ was reissued in April 1979 after flopping on its initial release the previous year.
And the boy could act too. As The Face in Quadrophenia - that also appeared in 1979 - Sting was electrifying and predictably he was dubbed The Face of Pop. The greater things had arrived. I still had no affection for their music, despite the worldwide adulation. They were far too clean for me, no dirt under those manicured nails.
I interviewed Sting twice, both over the phone. The second interview was for Flexipop! when he was the subject of Welcome To The Working Week in the spring of ’81. He was insanely intelligent and sharp and witty and refreshingly open.
I’ve only been stopped in my tracks twice during a one on one interview.
The first was slapstick.
At the start of an interview with an oddball Australian singer called Duffo in 1979, he offered me a cigarette from a legitimate packet. A few minutes into the interview the cigarette exploded in my face. I almost pooed my pants. Jesus, wouldn’t you? But then I creased up laughing. It really was hilarious.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked, gingerly. ‘Only I do that with all the journalists who don’t know me and some don’t take it so well. They don’t get it.’
I got it and I loved it and the interview was really entertaining. It also made for a cracking angle. Knew his shit, did Duffo. To nearly poo your pants before you laugh – the essence of punk.
Sting knew his shit, too.
The second tracks-stopper occurred during that Working Week phone interview. On the Wednesday night of that week, Sting said he went to Dingwall’s to check out Jools Holland and his new band, The Millionaires. It just so happened my wife of less than one year went to Dingwall’s that very same evening with some friends – a rarity in itself.
I couldn’t help but interrupt him in full flow and enlighten him on this coincidence.
‘Yeah,’ he said, casually, ‘she was a great fuck.’
I almost pooed my pants. Jesus, wouldn’t you? But then I creased up laughing. He didn’t need to ask if I was okay. He knew. This was a man after my own heart. A Geordie with a Cockney sense of humour pulling my plonker. Unless of course he wasn’t. I wondered why she had that smile on her face when she came home that night…
The unexpected is the lifeblood of great humour, and the edgier the better. This was right up my street in my kind of town. We talked for nearly two hours and it was peachy.
I grew very fond of Sting after that, although I never met him, or indeed, spoke to him again – it’s hard to catch a star let alone put one in your pocket. I still didn’t like his music that by this time had become shredded bleached-blond reggae.
There are very few songs that hit you so hard the first time you hear them that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing, in a JFK/Elvis/John Lennon kinda way. As a kid I actually cried at the sheer beauty of ‘I Get Around’ fading in and out with the waves on Radio Luxemburg’s Sunday night Top 20 countdown (where everything faded in and out with the waves) as I strained to listen to my transistor under the blanket on my bed when I was supposed to be sleeping...
‘Hey Jude’ on the David Frost TV show; ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the car radio driving through cold country lanes in Gloucester; ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’ on Top Of The Pops; ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ driving home on a wet Autumn night and pulling over because all I wanted to concentrate on was that song.
It was May 1983, the day before I celebrated my third wedding anniversary. I was living in a council flat with my wife, Dina, in Camden Town. The sun was shining, the world was fresh and the juices ran down my legs. These were the good days, not just of wine and roses but love and romance and kissing to be clever. It was Saturday morning. I sat in the living room while Dina was in the tiny kitchen making Greek coffee.
There was a batch of pre-release review copy singles in a bag by the side of the sofa. I’d brought them home from Flexipop! and thought I’d give a few a twirl on my Toshiba music centre turntable.
I took the first one out of the bag – shit, The Police. I remembered Dina, no real fan of music, once saying that she quite liked ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ (hmmnn…) so I thought I’d give her a little treat while she made mine metrio.
The opening chords drifted out of those speakers like audible marijuana and, for a few precious moments, I became the music, circling those sweet vocals before soaring with them. Nothing else mattered. I was back in ‘I Get Around’ land and that same tear was about to fall.
‘What was that called?’ said Dina as she brought the coffee into the room.
‘Every Breath You Take.’ I said, breathlessly.
‘It was lovely, but a bit creepy,’
Creepy? What did she mean, creepy? This was surely the most romantic song every written – ‘God Only Knows’ for a new generation.
‘How he’ll be watching every move she makes, every day. Sounds like a potential murderer.’
What was she talking about? This was a man in love, like me, revealing his devotion, his desire.
I played it again.
These were the words of a stalker. A man so overcome with jealousy and hate that he wanted to ruin someone’s life by spying on her every single day because, unsurprisingly, she doesn’t love him anymore. He’s cold and angry and one step away from sticking a knife in her back. This was one deranged fucker.
It was an utterly brilliant combination; discordant, dangerous thoughts hidden in the folds of such a divinely simple riff. I loved the song even more and I’ve loved it ever since. This blissful bolt from the blue was the perfect pop record - perversion drenched in beauty. Another Sting tale of the unexpected, played at weddings across the world. The essence of punk.
And here I am, over thirty years later, on board the world’s most iconic cruise ship in Brooklyn port watching that still handsome Face from a few feet away sing his masterpiece like an evil angel. Or is it legal alien?
It’s the first encore to a private show for 50 people that featured songs from his musical ‘The Last Ship’ which opened on Broadway a few days before.
In front of a cool four-piece band and even cooler girl singer, Sting steered us through his own Testament Of Youth…
Next: Sting’s live ‘Testament Of Youth’
© Barry Cain 2014
Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives