Interview: SOUNDS (1983)

June 23, 1983

The following interview with Sandy Robertson appeared in a June 1983 issue of Sounds magazine...

The Breathing Method. Sandy Robertson welcomes the resuscitation of The Police.

I can never quite get over the rise to prominence of The Police. I always find my mind trailing back to those awful nights when they supported at that terminal of punk thrash, the Roxy, Covent Garden.

They stunk, but they weren't punk. A sort of mutated, flailing breed of HM and Jazzfunk it was. Dire.

Gradually, from 'Roxanne' on, they've pulled themselves up by the boot-straps to arrive at the point where that initially hack-sounding brand of skank-tinged flange-axe pop they purvey sounds somehow original. A neat illusion, making that which is transient appear important.

And of the three members of Police, none has risen to the challenge of keeping up appearances more than frontman Sting.

I was sitting in his living room on the evening of the day of the recently reported Police reception. This massive Hampstead gaff, which the busy (joke!) man had not occupied since November last, has a fireplace topped by a large signed Dali print. He later informed me he has another above his bed titled 'The Great Masturbator'. Appropriate wheeze: Sting has cheerfully risked coming off the wanker, trying all the new things a pop star should try.

Acting, like. Since his debut as an angel in the TV thing Artemis, he's improved via 'Brimstone and Treacle'. Scarcely a breath and he's off to Mexico City to star in the science fiction romp 'Dune'. Howzat?

"It's a huge budget movie, it's costing 50 million dollars. It's directed by David lynch who did 'Elephant Man' and 'Eraserhead', really weird guy," says Sting, shortly after buzzing into view wearing typical gear, the sort of jumpsuit an Adventure School leader might sport.

"It's a big colour project, 350 special effects. It's gonna be a big, big event. The shooting schedule is enormous, about 18 months, but my bit has been squashed into six weeks so I can go off and tour with the band.

As he munches his disgustingly healthy meal of cold pasta, Sting tells me he will play Feyd, "a villain with a huge codpiece".

He claims not to have been inundated with parts, but says nevertheless that he has to choose very carefully.

"I really chose the director 'cause I liked his past work. Those two movies are really bizarre!

"I'm not a big science fiction fan, but I'd read 'Dune' and I thought it was a good, consistent image, to create a whole planet, ecology, politics, all worked out. I don't wanna make movies just for the sake of being in them... I was never trained as an actor, but acting with the likes of Joan Plowright and Denholm Elliot (in 'Brimstone') I had to learn very quickly!"

He chuckles at the memory of 'Artemis': "Not a bad performance for a novice!" he defends.

Why do rock stars always want to be actors these days, anyway? The tanned chap considers a moment.

"It's always an opportunity that's given to you. People in the film industry see you making dollars and pounds. and they say, 'Oh maybe if we put him in a film the same people who buy the records will go and see the movie'. It's not true, but when you're given an opportunity like that why turn it down? Most of us have a go, very few make it." says he with disarming honesty. "I'd never play a rockstar." he adds.

Don't they ask him to provide the scores?

"All the time... though I did it for Brimstone, but I liked the script so much..."

Meanwhile, Police drummer Stewart Copeland has been soundtracking to a Francis Ford Coppola flick called 'Rumblefish', based on an S.E. Hinton tale about kids in the midwestern USA and has also done his documentary effort 'So What' featuring Anti-Nowhere League.

We both snortle at that 'un.

"Yeah, hah. He thinks punks are photogenic and interesting... I do too, actually," he adds, without much conviction.

With Andy Summers giving forth awhile back with his Fripp-joint platter 'I Advance Masked', it's clear The Police are hardly bereft of energy. Motivation, though? There's barely a tinge of Geordie left in Sting's throat.

Perhaps the next (leading) question would be better put out by Sting's old pal, ex-Soundsman Phil Sutcliffe, who knew him when. But Phil is currently off on the belated hippie trail to Ceylon and wherever.

With all the cash The Police must earn individually and collectively isn't it hard to maintain those old socialist ideals bred when he (Sting) was a struggling teacher back in Newcastle? (Not that I care, you understand.)

"Yeah," he utters with emphasis. "I treat it as a joke, really. I've always been a socialist. I've been very poor, there have been times in my life when I've had no money at all. When it comes you have to sort of change your attitude, really, I enjoy it for a start. You always enjoy money when it comes. When you get your wage packet you enjoy it. It's ridiculous the amount of money I get paid for what I do, but that's really not my fault. I didn't create the system, I just laugh at it..."

Not a perfect answer but humans aren't perfect. Money is hard to defend, and I wouldn't try if I had it. But I'm no socialist...

"I'm glad it's there. Doesn't make me any happier."


Of course, he doesn't deny that his life has been changed by success.

"I've had to change the way I think and behave to survive. It's like being born again."

The split from wife Frances Tomelty, herself a successful actress has been well-documented. He now has girlfriend Trudie to look after him and chide him when he goes too fast on his motorbike. He's rarely at home, work overwhelms.

"The pressures it sets up and creates are pretty hard to withstand." he sighs.

He dislikes discussing business, such as the well-documented squabbles with Virgin Publishing.

"They're still hanging on... there's a bad smell in the room anytime someone mentions those people!"

He'd much rather discuss music, the change in The Police.

"We were flying a flag of convenience in those early days, punk. We were one of the first to have an independent single out... I'd agree we're totally different now. We've evolved away from all that. For the better. I think."

The new Police album is, Sting swears, their very best.

The title is 'Synchronicity' which 'Sounds' says comes from R.A. Wilson's Illuminatus books; a friend tells me it's from the Tao. But Sting assures me it derives from Jung. Take yer pick.

"It's hard to talk about when you haven't heard it. 'Synchronicity' is basically about coincidence, events which are linked meaningfully end yet not logically. Like in one of the songs, it's about somebody's domestic situation in a suburban environment, a guy going through hell hates his wife, hates the kids, hates his grandmother, he can't stand the rush hour... at the same time there's this line about 'Many miles away something crawls from the slime at the bottom of a dark Scottish lake'. Two events in parallel.

"That's synchronicity the album's full of those. Also it's about happy accidents. Sometimes... I think the best music the band makes we make by accident almost. Like ESP. Sometimes, when you've been playing as long as we have, you can do something which has an immediate response from Stewart or Andy, which we didn't discuss...

They fight: it's good, he says.

On a more trivial note, I wondered it a group of their stature might not consider in this visually oriented world, that they could see their way clear to making sharper videos than those which have the group playing imaginary instruments and Sting baring his chest for the umpteenth time?

"Yeah... but our new video is great. We saw all these things with people dressed up as spies in trenchcoats, so I thought 'F*** me, I don't wanna be a nancy boy doing that!' So we're playing and singing in black and white. Simple... Anyway. I've got a good chest!"

He leaps up! To hell with what's unhip we're going to see Eric Clapton at Hammersmith Odeon. He likes Eric Clapton. We go in the Daimler w/driver A&M have hired for him (one for each Police-man actually, £12.50 a day plus 70p a mile. He deserves a rest.

On the way he tells me about playing Chile. The roadies with Police have a sign involving making a fan like symbol above the head with one hand. It means 'illicit drugs are available'. In Chile, it happens to mean 'You are a stupid f****** Indian', the worst insult available.

The Police are about to spend another large chunk of life touring the globe with their fun but (to me) lightweight bop. Good luck to 'em. LA Coliseum, NY Shea Stadium, Japan, Australia... 'Dune', even! But no Chile. Who needs it?

Hey, what did happen to that accent, Sting?

"I lost it quite early on when I realised that social mobility in this country depended on how you sounded."

Smooth sod! But as Trudie points out, he's still got pimples!

Bless him, her, them...

© Sounds magazine



Jun 1, 1983

I can never quite get over the rise to prominence of The Police. I always find my mind trailing back to those awful nights when they supported at that terminal of punk thrash, the Roxy, Covent Garden.

Jun 1, 1983

Breathe slowly, Breathe slowly and deeply. Do not get sick. Not now. Not crammed like a sardine in the back of Andy Summers' Datsun 280-Z on a late night London cruise. Not while my head is hovering just inches above the tousled manes of two-thirds of Britain's most successful pop group. Make a note: never order eggplant in a wine bar. Particularly when you're in a country that imports its vegetables and then calls them by their French names. Quick, distract the mind. What was it about Sting that was so perplexing, so out of synch with what I was anticipating? Well, what was I expecting to find? A bright, brash, somewhat arrogant young muso? A witty, ambitious, strong-willed Apollo about to make the jump from Pop Icon to All Around Beautiful Person? And did he fulfil those expectations? Well, yes... and no. Mostly no...