Originally known as Strontium 90, The Police was formed by American drummer Stewart Copeland in January 1977.
Copeland (who had previously been in Curved Air) remembered Sting, a bass player with a rare voice from a jazzy outfit he’d seen in Newcastle, and found him ready to leave the north-east and his day job. The guitarist he picked with a pin.
When Andy Summers expressed an interest in joining, he didn’t have to ask twice. His CV included stints with Zoot Money, The Animals and Soft Machine, as well as three years studying classical guitar at college.
The group played a French punk festival in August 1977 – then there were three . . .
They began recording in January 1978 at Surrey Sound Studios, essentially transposing their set onto tape until Sting turned up for a session with a love song, as slow as it was unfashionable, a serenade to a Parisian prostitute. Lately they’d been getting into reggae at rehearsal, so they tried that feel behind the verse between rock hard choruses. Roxanne was born.
The next day Stewart’s brother Miles took it to A&M and returned to the studio that night with the news that the label was going to release it as a single.
The deal with A&M was just for that one single. But when it was released in late spring, the group was in Germany, Miles Copeland (by now their manager) was in the States, and a French whore was persona non grata on the playlist.
Nonetheless, A&M weren’t put off by the sales sheets and took an option on a second single later in the summer, Can’t Stand Losing You, which bubbled under, but similarly disqualified itself from mass airplay with a theme of threatened suicide.
Sting, meanwhile, snatched the role of Ace in Quadrophenia (1979) after appearing in television commercials and the Sex Pistols film. A&M suddenly found themselves with an album option on a group with a film star as front man.
The debut Police album Outlandos d’Amour was released in January 1979 and included three hit singles. But when their second album with a pidgin English title, Reggatta De Blanc (meaning “white reggae”) appeared in the autumn, it quickly topped the UK chart, also becoming the group’s second US Top 30 album of 1979.
Reggatta… supplied their first two UK chart-toppers – Walking On The Moon and Message In A Bottle. Both singles were prime examples of the band’s off-kilter brand of new wave, highlighted by Andy Summers’ economic but ear-catching riffs and Stewart Copeland’s deft drumming.
Andy Summers felt the band were losing their raw energy when they recorded Ghost In The Machine (1981), but in retrospect the sophisticated reggae lope of Spirits In The Material World, the ominous political invective of Invisible Sun and the sparky pop exuberance of Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic mark out The Police’s fourth album as a work of eclectic brilliance.
Borrowing its title from a 1967 book by author and philosopher Arthur Koestler, the album’s themes of alienation and internal conflict mirrored the band’s disintegrating domestic and professional relationships while foreshadowing the more cerebral concerns Sting would explore in his later solo career.
The strained relationship between Sting and Copeland erupted into violence during the recording of Synchronicity in 1983.
Sting would often erase Copeland’s work in the studio, prompting the drummer to magic marker the legend “You are a cunt” onto his tom-toms. The luckless Summers often had to referee the bouts, by holding the ‘Ring of Good Vibes’ (a tape reel) over the fighters’ heads.
The album brought down the final curtain on The Police’s stunning career. It was their biggest seller, shipping eight million copies in the United States alone.
After a final tour, The Police broke up in 1985 and Sting developed a global high profile as a successful solo artist.
Sting (Gordon Sumner)