The following interview appeared in the March 1993 issue of Rock World magazine...
'Ten Summoner's Tales', his new album, confirms that Sting the movie star and campaigner, is still a rocker at heart who insists: "I loved making this album - I had to make it!".
"Let Sting sing!" is the cry as the man of thousand faces gets back to his roots. 'Ten Summoner's Tales', his new album, confirms that Sting the movie star and campaigner, is still a rocker at heart who insists: "I loved making this album - I had to make it!".
Gordon Sumner. Not a name to conjure with, but transformed into Sting, the coolly attractive, sensitive, witty man from the North Country has become a national institution. His talents have ranged across a multitude of activities these past two decades, and his fame as a singer, actor and public figure has become immense. Sometimes his fame has overtaken the reality, and opened him up to ridicule. Through no fault of his own Sting, the star of The Police, became the rather wimpy figure who seemed to be set on shaming the world into mending its ways.
He was the Englishman in New York, taking a bow in the street with a violin, and hoping cab drivers might not be rude enough to run him over. He was the man who wanted to stop the South Americans destroying their rain forests. And why not? It was an admirable ambition, but one which eventually resulted in him being called "a middle class St Francis of Assisi."
It was a cruel, unwarranted jibe, almost as bad as being called 'Stink' by those who felt he had snubbed them. But there was concern among his friends and admirers about his direction.
Somewhere along the way, the blond haired, good looking dude who was the ultimate in hip front cover material, seemed to have lost the plot. In fact since the day he quit The Police at the height of their powers, Sting has been consolidating his musical tastes and ambitions, producing a succession of fine solo albums and blending his love of rock, jazz and classical music. The music of Sting today, like his voice, has matured beyond the sometimes brittle, nervous energy of The Police. Towards the end of that extraordinary band's career, sometimes his voice seemed in danger of expiring under the demands of such highly strung songs as 'Roxanne'. On 'Ten Summoner's Tales' we hear a rich and mellifluous voice epitomised on ballads like the warmly attractive 'Shape Of My Heart'. If his persona has sometimes seemed precious, it now commands only respect as he moves into a new era in which he not only retains his sensitivity as a performer, but reminds us that he is, after all, a stubborn Geordie!
He was born in Wallsend, Newcastle (on October 2, 1951) and as his illustrious predecessor, Eric Burdon of The Animals found, there is something about the accent which perfectly suits the singer of blues and soul. You can hear those cadences still at work on Sting's most telling new song 'Something The Boy Said'.
"Perhaps I'm a bit claustrophobic psychologically," he says, "I hate to be trapped. No one's yet come up to me with a limit. They've tried but I've always been able to duck and weave and I'm still doing that."
The Police split in '85 after a massive world tour promoting their last 12 million selling album 'Synchronicity'. The band were one of the most successful in the world and 'Every Breath You Take' was on everyone's lips. But Sting had to break free and do his own thing.
He began to audition jazz musicians to form a band in New York. He formed The Blue Turtles band, which included Branford and Wynton Marsalis on brass instruments. At the same time he was much in demand to guest on other artists' albums and turned up to do a duet with Phil Collins on the 'No Jacket Required' album while he also contributed to albums by Dire Straits and Miles Davis.
In July 1985 he sang at the Live Aid concert backed by Phil Collins and Branford Marsalis, and he and his own band were the subject of a special film 'Bring On The Night'. The late Eighties were a fantastically busy time for Sting, as he took part in all-star shows and tours, including the 'Conspiracy Of Hope' tour, which included Sting with Bryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty and U2. He found time to sing the songs of Kurt Weill in Hamburg, and join the Gil Evans Orchestra for a jazz festival in Italy. Truly he was the Renaissance Man!
But signs of the rot setting in occurred when his 'An Englishman In New York' single, about UK exile Quentin Crisp, failed to get into the Top-Fifty. Another single, the protest song 'They Dance Alone' also failed to chart in the U.K. But he maintained his contribution to the rock stars' world peace campaign by appearing on an Amnesty International world tour alongside Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel.
It was in 1989 that he began an international promotional tour, giving interviews to publicise the fate of the Brazilian Indians who faced the destruction of their rain forest homeland. He also spoke out at the annual Human Rights Award Ceremonies in Boston. In 1990 he took part in an extraordinary jam session at the Rain Forest Foundation backed by Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis. Joining him on stage were Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne.
'Soul Cages', released in 1990, was his first solo album in three years and was accompanied by a world tour which took in some 250 performances. He explained the absence of an album as simply not wanting to put out a load of random tracks just for the sake of it. As in all things he does, Sting had to have a motivation, a new challenge, whether it was playing a part in a Broadway show or the inspiration to write songs about fresh concerns.
At the Carnegie Hall in New York, he played a concert which raised $250,000 for the Rainforest Foundation, and then he embarked on a massive European tour which kicked off at the City Hall Newcastle, back home where it all started. Only by this time, he was a multi-millionaire.
Despite all his good works and hard graft, there were those who began to deride his role as guardian of the oppressed. He has been called cold, aloof, pretentious and even arrogant. But as Sting sings on his new album "You don't know nothing 'bout me!"
In fact, Gordon Sumner is the first to admit he had been rather over-exposed. And as for accusations of being a cold fish, he'll laugh out loud. He freely admits being bored with seeing endless images of himself and hearing about this fantastic creation - Sting! The real Gordon Sumner, son of a milkman, has too much of a sense of humour to take himself too seriously. Today he loudly proclaims "Maybe I should start a campaign to burn down the rain forests!"
So Sting is now less likely to join the campaigning bandwagon and picks and chooses his appearances with greater care. His shows at London's Royal Albert Hall on March 9,10 and 12 will be eagerly awaited. In the meantime the first single off the album, the superb 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' has already caused a revival of Sting fever.
But, says Sting about the album: "It's a pop record - in the truest sense. I loved making it. I had to make it, just as I had to make the last one. Yet I felt it was important that it shouldn't be confessional, autobiographical, or therapeutic. If Soul Cages was therapeutic, then the therapy worked."
On that album Sting was dwelling on the loss of his parents and says: "It was a very dark record. This time I wanted to make one for the fun of it, the craft of it, to engage the band musically. There's a clash of styles and motifs that's quite deliberate."
The album has been produced by Sting with Genesis man Hugh Padgham and has a mix of seeping arrangements and tonal colours. "I like to throw curves into the arrangements" says Sting. The album was recorded with surprising speed, in just eight weeks. There is tremendous urgency in many of the songs and Sting explains: "I'm learning to relax in my life, but I hope I never lose the tension in my work. Without tension there's no spring."
Sting is backed by a very tight band including guitarist Dominic Miller, David Sancious on keyboards and the excellent Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Sting plays bass and there are 13 other musicians, who add everything from chromatic harmonica to Northumbrian pipes.
"The band is really working well together and the ideas are starting to crackle. We've got one song called 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' which must be only country song ever written in 7/4 time, but it won't give Garth Brooks any competition. On 'Seven Days', we wanted to do something in 5/4 time with a kind of reggae beat and chords that come out of a Broadway show. It was a hybrid and the fun was in trying to make sense of this three-legged animal with two heads. I'm working with musicians I have to keep challenging and make demands on them by asking them to do things that aren't natural."
Another song 'It's Probably' Me was written for the 'Lethal Weapon 3' movie. "I knew it was a buddy movie and that while the characters no doubt love each other their manhood would prohibit their professing their love. I needed a phrase that was reticent but also tender, that's how I arrived at 'It's Probably Me'.
There are also a lot of musical jokes on this record, like going from a rockabilly rhythm into a string quartet. It made me laugh! 'St Augustine In Hell' is a song about the tension of wanting to be good and yet being tempted and enjoying the temptation. The last number '(Epilogue) Nothing 'Bout Me' ends on a series of climbing notes. It's a chromatic run off into eternity. It doesn't end. It just keeps going."
Just like Sting!
© Rock World magazine