The Plymouth Herald: Sting brings on the night at Plymouth Summer Sessions…

June 17, 2024

It's been 46 years since Sting last graced a stage in Plymouth and he did his level best to make up for his long absence.

Harking back to his Police days, where he smashed the charts alongside guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland, Sting stripped back his bigger band down to the basics - a guitar, a bass and drums. It's a testament to his skill as a musician, composer and performer that even with such a minimal set up, his material is so vast and so well interpreted that the trio still sounded twice the size.

Looking enviously fit and well for a 72-year-old man - Blondie's Debbie Harry conspiratorially told the crowd earlier "Sting looks tanned" with a knowing wink - he strode out on stage in a simple white T-shirt, dark jeans and large boots to the moody and mesmeric 1980 'Voices Inside My Head' which appeared as a lesser track on Zenyatta Mondatta, the Police's third album.

With five Police albums and around a dozen solo albums, Sting has an absolute goldmine of material to choose from for a gig in front of several thousand keen fans on Plymouth Hoe, which had finally decided to be graced by bright sunshine and warm weather on Sunday.

Understandably, for many of those there, it was the 'old' classics which appealed and Sting made a point of suggesting at one point that he would try and gauge the average age of the crowd by whether or not they knew one of his early works.

Grammy and Brit award-winning, multi-platinum album-selling Sting was in fine tune on the final night of the Summer Sessions - and made sure the crowd was too.

It was no surprise that the likes of Message in a Bottle and Walking on the Moon from the 1979 Regatta de Blanc were a piece of cake for fans to sing along to, but even So Lonely from the 1978 Outlandos d'Amour weren't going to faze this crowd who were more than happy to bellow back harmonies when requested.

Sting has performed across the entire globe during his career, including a slew of landmark and legendary gigs including Live Aid (the original one) at Wembley Stadium (the original one) as well as the Amnesty International Human Rights Now tour with Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel taking in Europe, North and South America - admitted that he was pleased to be in the humble city of Plymouth, before then admitting the last time he was here he played a little venue called Woods in around 1977 and then the Van Dyke club the year after.

A few in the crowd shouted out their joy at the now dearly departed venues and Sting himself did not recall who else was on the bill thse nights - however, If it helps job your memory The Police supported the barmy Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias and John Dowie.

Following If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, the single from his 1993 Ten Summoner's Tales album - a play on his real name of Gordon Sumner - it was a delight to hear 'Englishman in New York' which came from his second solo album, the 1987 Nothing Like The Sun , which was primarily influenced by the passing of Sting's mother the year before and to whom he dedicated the album "and all those who loved her".

The song itself is a jaunty tune which was written to honour the bravery and boldness of the quintessentially Englishman, Quentin Crisp. Crisp, who once viciously described himself as "one of the stately homos of England", had moved to a rougher part of New York in the 1970s and the pair had become friends, with Crisp even appearing in the pop-video upon the single's release.

The supremely upbeat Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, from the 1981 Ghosts In The Machine album, gave everyone chance to jump around and sing along before Sting went on to joke about his country home - actually, 'more of a castle' he admitted - which had inspired one of his biggest hits, Fields of Gold which warmed the crowd's hearts.

For those who remember the video, the eerie guitar intro, the throbbing bass and pounding beat - and those red, yellow and blue wasteland outfits - of Synchronicity II, it was a rare treat to hear the tune from The Police's final album performed with just as much power and dark menace as back in 1983.

Just one track came from his lesser known 2003 album Sacred Love's Never Coming Home but despite the trio playing a song which normally has a much larger collection of musicians, it still got across the rhythmic punch and heartbreak of a relationship gone wrong.

It's long been recognised that Sting is a voracious reader, absorbing tales, ideas and philosophies from everything he devours on the written page and turning them into lyrics - for instance the title of album Synchronicity came from Arthur Koestler's book The Roots of Coincidence. He made a point of citing chapter and verse of a Bible story which led him to Mad About You, travelling "a stone's throw from Jerusalem" from his 1987 album The Soul Cages.

Coincidentally - it was Father's Day on Sunday - Sting chose to speak of his own father, telling us how he had shown him the vast structures being built at the end of their road at Wallsend's shipyards, urging him to seek his fortune away from their home, crossing oceans and travelling the world.

Self-deprecating, he joked that he didn't follow his father's good advice, before then performing Why Should I Cry For You, a distinctively emotional song written about the death of his father, which had inspired many of the songs from The Soul Cages, released in 1991. The album itself was the first to feature the talented guitarist Dominic Miller, who has since become a constant contributor and live music right-hand man, including for this Sting 3.0 tour.

Driven To Tears, from the 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta, which lambast the world for its inaction in the face of televised poverty and starvation, had been given a funkier reworking back when Sting was first touring with his 'new' band for the Bring on the Night tour in 1985, but for Plymouth he returned it to its original, almost angry, version.

And then he went and reminded us of our age again, thinking we would know the intro and lyrics of the 1978 single Can't Stand Losing You. We did. And Walking on the Moon. And So Lonely. Four and half decades later, we still know the lyrics to those classics.

Desert Rose, from the 1999 Brand New Day, was more of a test in many ways, mainly because the vocals by Cheb Mami who accompanied Sting on the recorded track has a voice few could match. Again, a song which has such a big sound on vinyl/tape/CD due to the mass of instruments and voices, could have a been a challenge for a lesser musician, but ably assisted by the guitar work of Dominic Miller, Sting's own vocal strengths and the drummer Chris Maas, the grandeur of the song was still there.

Made famous as much by the Luc Besson film, The Professional, the memorable Shape My Heart from Ten Summoner's Tales can still catch one's breath. A song about a gambler, but there's something about the intricate guitar work which threads the song which, in previous times, would have seen lighters galore aloft as it's performed.

Another lesser known album track, King of Pain, has been recognised for the absolute gem it is by a host of musicians who have covered it over the years since its release on The Police album Synchronicity, not least Alanis Morissette's MTV Unplugged version.

Needless to say, it was great to see it getting an airing in Plymouth quickly followed by the music industry standard, Every Breath You Take, which has seen as many samples scraped from it for other rappers as a James Brown drum beat. From the opening six notes you know the song and you know everyone's going to be singing it back at him.

The trio take their bow and there's understandable calls for an encore, which seems rather pointless as the previous perfomers did not get opportunity.

However, for those who began to head off to the gates, they were called back when the Sting and his colleagues returned to the stage, for the tale of a girl whose lover does not want her to entertain an evening making money the very old-fashioned way. Roxanne, from The Police's first album, Outlandos d'Amour, has been played fast and slow - Sting's solo guitar version for The Secret Policeman's Ball in 1981 is a version you just have to go and find - but he kept it original, with full-one cries of anguish at the characters' dismay at his honey's hooker habits.

To end, Sting chose the quite beautiful and heart-wrenching Fragile, from the album Nothing Like the Sun, saying he wanted to leave us with something to think about as we go out into the dark night. For those who were lucky enough to watch the stunning Sting-inspired Message in a Bottle performance last year at the Theatre Royal, presented by Sadler's Wells and ZooNation, you know how poignant and stirring this tune is, with Sting's bass fingers moving surprisingly lightly over his classical guitar and his voice gently reminding us of our value and fragility.

All in all, with so many more songs which could have been played, the night could easily have gone on for another few hours, but Sting brought the four day Plymouth Summer Sessions to a close with cheers, applause and smiles and the hope that organisers will return next year, but perhaps not all of the weather.

(c) The Plymouth Herald by Carl Eve


Jun 13, 2024

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