O come all ye faithful...
As the rest of the world ran down, thousands of devout followers flocked to a collapsible pop Mecca somewhere in the holy lands of Tooting. Touts, the law, and hordes of souvenir toting wide boys lined the way for the faithful to stomp through mud and straw like so many sheep into an Italian supertent.
Oh mama can this really be the end - to be stuck inside a bigtop with the de do blues again?
Guided by the gospel according to Wolfie Smith the Congregation became increasingly restless, pushing to the front crushing young bodies against the stage which were then passed back overhead on a human escalator returning teenage debris to the back and oblivion.
In keeping with the pagan festivities, a sacrifice was obviously demanded before the gods of blue eyed reggae could take to the stage. It came in the form of Tommy Cooper who was cruelly but perhaps justly booed off the stage to be replaced by the first terrace chorus of the evening: ''We want the Police, we want the Police,'' they screamed.
Naturally that's exactly what they got - 75 minutes worth of polished pop, steeped in ersatz Jamaican culture and Sting's safely packaged sex appeal.
The sound system was magnificent and the performance faultless. Opening with 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' (ironical in those conditions) the band reeled off their long list of hits and all for a suitable (tax deductible?) charity organisation.
'Walking On The Moon', 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', 'Shadows In The Rain', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', 'Message In A Bottle', 'Roxanne', 'Driven To Tears'; they couldn't and didn't fail.
Andy Summer's guitar shimmered in all the right places, Stewart Copeland justified his mega-kit and Sting, alternating between a stand-up and guitar bass, drove the band along with his professional energy.
If they were tired of playing the same old numbers they didn't show it. Encore number one: 'I Can't Stand Losing You'. Encore number two: 'Next To You' and 'So Lonely'. Like any Western service the inspiration was by proxy and the enlightenment confirmed in the programme: You will see the light, my friend.
Criticising The Police is like attacking the Pope; you offend the laity and risk eternal damnation. Like new Aryans, they offer the perfect solution: uniform, assured. The ideal musical opiate for the masses, in fact. The trouble is I've got a nagging feeling that all Police and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
God bless you and may your Sting go with you.
(c) Melody Maker by Ian Pye
The Police at Tooting Bec Supertent...
Just because The Police have played in India is no reason to turn their Tooting Bec tent concert into a simulacrum of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
It was hell in there, so overpacked was it! The giant marquee was apparently the only venue in London during Christmas week in which Britain's biggest pop/rock band could play. To enter it you were obliged to pass through a chilly outer tent displaying all manner of delicacies and sweet-meats@ tea at 70p per cup, beer at a £1 a pint, and Police sweat-shirts at £7.
It seemed apt that the Red Cross had set up next to the Police merchandising stall because long before The Police had begun their set - whilst comedian Tommy Cooper was being booed offstage by an audience tense and irritable from being pushed and shoved and from trying to delude themselves into enjoying this most ill-conceived of Christmas concerts - fans were being hauled out of the main tent in an unending casualty chain.
Thos voicing their disapproval of all this nonsense, however, were the Grown-ups, who were most definitely in the minority. One wonders whether The Police operation would've dared such a contemptuous treatment of the groups' fans if they hadn't comprised largely of teenagers.
Anyway, The Police did come out and perform some music, and they must have done it quite well, for even I was able to forget sometimes the purgatorial conditions of this cell-like playpen. For much of the set, Sting played double bass and took his shirt off at the right moment, whilst the classically trained guitarist Andy Summers provided the musical ground-base, running the minimalist, structured melodies that make up the music of the group off of his instrument and inter-paying with the dexterously jazzy, often flashy drumming of Stewart Copeland.
With an enthusiasm surprising considering the amount of time they spend on the road, the group played all their perfectly poppy hits, interspersed with lesser album songs and got their predictable three encores.
One assumed that they weren't really aware of the absurdity to which their fans were being subjected, though whether that us actually any excuse...
What a bore audiences are with their whining needs for decent conditions: you don't have these problems with videos.
(c) New Musical Express by Chris Salewicz
I should care, I'm a millionaire...
The occasion: had good intentions and muddy feet. It was really nice that Rico's band was opening the show, but since arriving on time meant a 45 minute wait to get in as we trailed zig and zag across the common in a thin line leading, eventually, to three very wide and under-employed entrances I heard them from outside the big top - whence they sounded great without convincing me that it wouldn't have been more fun inside.
So we made it and tried to find a spot from which my small yet dynamic companion, Mr Fielder, might be able to get a look at the band. We ended up at the back in what turned out to be a direct line from the central stanchion to Sting. Then we stopped still for a long time trying to stand taller and thinner as the last few hundred punters were shoe-horned in around us. This was okay while Jools Holland was playing boogie-woogie and 'Great Balls Of Fire' and addressing us with a true punter's appreciation of the privations the multitude were experiencing. But the pleasant feeling that we were being treated to a special show gradually drained away with the succession of delays and the desperate display put up by poor old Tommy Cooper. He's so popular that you could sense a thrill going through the crowd when his name was mentioned even though they were literally aching to see the Police.
Tommy took about five minutes to translate this welcome into booing, catcalls and a minor bombardment of plastic cups. For one thing he seemed terrified of the fine mess he'd got himself into and for another he'd forgotten how to project himself beyond the living-room close-up of TV. In sum, he died the death.
Thus discomfited we then had to put up with a good half hour of some berk, who basically had no idea of how to talk to a mass of people while bearing in mind that it is composed of individual human beings, ranted at us to move back a couple of paces, ranted some more when we'd done it (although it had been a quite wondrous feat of corporate good will and civilised instinct), told us the Police wouldn't play unless we did what he said, promised that everyone would be able to see alright (untrue for short people including the entire weenybopper contingent and that the band would be on in ten minutes (untrue) and two minutes (untrue).
Rarely can one person have got up so many pairs of nostrils at the same time - at least not since the Prime Minister's last broadcast to the nation. And yet a groundswell of bonhomie relating exclusively to the band rather than the organisation sustained an astonishing level of patience in a situation where any kind of disorder would have been tragic. It was uncomfortable and scary and l don't know whether we Brits are stoics or suckers but whichever, endurance was finally rewarded.
The Police: were practically perfect. They could have done no better justice to their recorded work to date - and by reinterpretation, not duplication. 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' was refreshed by vocal harmonies a street better than anything I've heard them do before on stage, then Stewart quietly ran riot through 'Walking On The Moon' with a range of tom-tom and rimshot surges energising every line without ever overwhelming the floating euphoria which made the song so winsome. They zipped through a crisp sequence of 'Death Wish', 'Fall Out' and 'Man In A Suitcase' before stretching into a fluent 'Bring On The Night' (the first time it's sounded right to me - I'd though the verse and chorus were irreparably disjointed).
Then 'De Do Do Do' cut through with a precise eloquence which almost every reviewer has found it necessary to deny for various socioeconocultural reasons I can't go into here (i.e. they've got the 'ump with the Police).
By now the set was running as sweetly as an inter-city 125 with the Queen on board. Sting was in good voice while Andy and Stewart took it in turns to spoon in the spices and pickles. The textures and techniques emanating from Andy in particular were a joy to hear, every one a vibrant contribution to the greater glory of The Song rather than an attempt to flash his deep skill and knowledge (exception: the puzzling HM outburst in the subdued 'Driven To Tears'?).
Hot and slick from their American tour there was hardly a word said and if a between-numbers gap lasted as long as three seconds it rated as a major rupture, but the music remained sympatico - warm, friendly, gentle, romantic, hypnotic, enveloping, although also cool, objective, abstracted, bleak... and in no time we were out of the thesaurus and into the singalongs.
'Roxanne', 'Message In A Bottle' and ''what do you want?'', ''Blooaargh!', ''Okay, vox populi, vox dei!'' What?!
'The voice of the people is the voice of God'. Well, it beats ''Tooting Bec you're the rock'n'roll capital of the f***in' world!'' by a long distance doesn't it? I've never heard the Police play better and the sound was magnificent. As a group they have an uncommon ability to live in their own present, but somewhere in there 'Shadows In The Rain', the least likely selection from 'Zenyatta', indicated a feasible future - greater weight, depth and darkness; soul explorations beneath the radically conceived style and panache. Canary in a coalmine.
(c) Sounds by Phil Sutcliffe