IN THE TAIL
Sting is not just one of music’s biggest stars, he’s also an actor, campaigner and a walking advert for the benefits of yoga. As he heads out on the road again, he talks about his new album and why at 67 he’s finally ready for Vegas.
Every April the BMI reveals the most performed song in its catalogue.
For the past 22 years, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, first recorded by the Righteous Brothers in 1964 and covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Robson and Jerome, has had a limpet-like grasp on the top spot.
However, at the institute’s annual awards bash a couple of months ago, the natural order was finally upended. The Police, having notched up 15 million air plays for their 1983 hit Every Breath You Take, went to the top of the pile.
“It was 1964 and I was 13-years-old,” Sting told the great and the good of music gathered at the ceremony. “I lived in a little seaport town on the northeast coast of England and heard ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ on the radio and it blew my mind. The idea of a song of mine somehow superceding that one — at least in terms of performance and airplay — is simply not credible.
“We’re already standing on the shoulders of giants, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
There was a little more to it than that, but The Police’s place in music history was cemented long before the BMI award. Throughout the 80s they were one of the biggest bands in the world and Sting along with Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland lived the rock and roll life.
It was perhaps inevitable that they eventually combusted in a mix of egos, aggression and resentment. While much of the past has been put to bed, it’s clear living in each other’s pockets for more than a decade leant hard on the sanity and sensibilities of all the band’s members.
Through interviews, documentaries and subtle references in lyrics, the uncovering of the trio’s relationship has gradually come to the fore although the full details of what went on before the split in 1986 will probably never be known, “Nor would I want it to be,” chips in Sting, almost with a brazen sweep of the stage curtain.
“I challenge anyone to be together as a unit for over 40 years and still, ultimately, be in awe of each other, which we still were.
“And there cannot be any doubt about what we have achieved and the respect we have for one another, when we look back over a career and a body of work that has offered so much enjoyment, to us as well as to others. It has been a great ride, and really, there is always more petrol in the tank.”
That The Police’s songs are still current and relevant to any audience is testament to the strength of their music that emerged from the last trappings of the punk era and morphed into reggae and perfect pop.
“I think the point is to look back over what you’ve done and decide you like most of it,” he says. “It’s okay not to fawn over it all – I don’t think that would be natural. Across such a large expanse of time there are different periods in our own lives that come through in music; there are genres that have come into fashion and left again, and the music we wrote was always influenced to a large extent by society and what we saw in the wider world.
“While some of those issues still remain, some others have gone away, and in that very sense it means the music dates itself. But, you know, at the end of it all I can look back and say it has aged gracefully. And I am proud of that.”
The band should also take comfort in the commercial success of their music – five albums, four of which went to the top of the charts, four number one singles, and the holy grail of ‘cracking America’.
While as solo artists, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland were never going to surpass what they had achieved as a band, the lead singer’s appetite for creating music has never been diluted.
Just last year, his musical The Ship, inspired by growing up in the shadows of the dockyards of the North East, won critical acclaim on its first UK tour and his new album is also a return to the singer of old.
My Songs has just been released and sees Sting reimagining some of his biggest hits, both from his time in The Police and his early solo albums, including Can’t Stand Losing You, Fields of Gold and Message in a Bottle.
“We weren’t treating the original recordings as holy relics or museum pieces, we were just having fun with the songs,” he said. “Also, my voice is different to what it was 30 or 40 years ago. It has more texture, a richness to it.”
As well as the new album he recently announced a new Las Vegas residency next year. By the standards of Sin City it will be a relatively modest affair with 16 performances of Sting: My Songs taking place at Caesars Palace Colosseum throughout the summer.
“Visually, sound-wise, dancing — it’s going to be a Vegas show,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m really committed to that. I am a little frightened and a little excited at the same time.
“I have been offered a residency in Vegas in the past, but I always thought, ‘I’m not quite ready for that. I’m still a touring animal’, but now I’m ready.”
As well as being one of British music’s most successful exports, at 67 Sting is also a philosopher, an environmentalist, an expert in meditation, a philanthropist, and a deep thinker.
“I think most musicians are trying to get out of some sort of creative blockage,” he says. “That’s what leads them to write in the first place. And just because they begin writing, it doesn’t mean they can easily stop.
“There was always a real expression of energy and a need to communicate in The Police’s music, right from the first day we started putting stuff together in 1977. I still feel the need to talk, even today.”
He finds himself at an age where going out on the road shouldn’t be a priority any longer, and yet it is – a full European tour in June and July follows two UK dates and traverses everywhere from Bulgaria to Belgium, Switzerland to Slovakia, Denmark to deepest Estonia.
“I find performing a way of really finding peace, and much more as a solo artist than I did when in the band.”
His love of meditation and yoga has undoubtedly helped him find an inner peace and clearly contributed to his longevity in an industry notorious for total burn-out.
“I’ve always been comfortable in my own company,” he says. “I think we can all do with long periods of reflection. Without that, we’re too influenced, too abused by everyone and everything around us.
“In the past I might go months without being able to really decide how I felt about something. And being in a band was the most toxic version of that, because they are like marriages.
“They are like very intense marriages, except you’ve got, in this case, three people in the marriage, all with big egos and different ideas of how to run it at any one time. And then add in all the stress and touring and so on. It’s a miracle it ever works for long at all.”
While Sting admits he’ll never say never, you’d get long odds on another Police reunion following a fractious year together in 2007.
“Some things are best left in the past – my energy is for the future.”