Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK pop trio: Sting (b Gordon Sumner, 2 Oct. '51, Wallsend, Northumberland), bass and vocals; Stewart Copeland (b 16 July '52, Alexandria VA), drums; Andy Summers (b 31 Dec. '42, Blackpool, Lancs), guitar. Formed in London '76 after Copeland quit Curved Air (on-again, off-again UK art-rock group, first formed '70 with synthesizer, electric violin); his father worked for the CIA, had him educated in UK. He spotted Sting playing jazz bass with ex-Newcastle Last Exit; with Corsican guitarist Henry Padovani they backed US punk singer Cherry Vanilla; released debut single 'Fall Out' on brother Miles Copeland's Illegal label (drummer playing lead guitar, Padovani's technique was so limited), sold about 2,000 copies. Copeland recruited Summers, who had strong pedigree, having played with Eric Burdon, Zoot Money, Kevin Ayers; rehearsed as a quartet until Padovani quit to join Wayne County. The trio got nowhere at first, had little real sympathy with punks; did TV commercials, image formed by having hair dyed blonde for a chewing gum advert. Sting emerged as the songwriter, replacing Copeland; with growing interest of manager Miles, 'Can't Stand Losing You' (suicide threat) was top 50 hit '78, album Outlandos D'Amour incl. 'Roxanne', love song to a prostitute. They did US tour on a shoestring. Sting did films Quadrophenia and Radio On '79, 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You' were belated hits, LP Regatta Du Blanc (patois for 'white reggae') incl. no. 1 UK hits 'Message In A Bottle', 'Walking On The Moon'; world tour '80 got media interest, first six singles reissued as 'Six Pack' (no. 17 on UK chart) and Zanyatta Mondatta incl. no. 1 UK single 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', but the album was rushed and the group were quick to disown it.

Disowned by real punks, they had more talent than that anyway, and made it into the pop market, appeal across the board: kids loved their looks, critics liked 'white reggae' style, Sting's acting career ensured media attention. Ghost In The Machine '81 boasted their best songs to date, prod. by Hugh Padgham (Phil Collins), replacing Nigel Gray (who'd helped shape their sound), incl. no. 1 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', and 'Invisible Sun', Sting's comment on Northern Ireland, banned by the BBC. They took '82 off: Sting acted in Dennis Potter's Brimstone And Treacle (surprise hit with '29 song 'Spread A Little Happiness'); Summers published Throb! book of photographs, collaborated on inaccessible instrumental album I Advance Masked with Robert Fripp; Copeland released alter ego LP Klark Kent on IRS (changed to 'Klerk Kant' when Marvel Comics sued), worked on soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola's Rumblefish. Synchronicity '83 put them back on top, with 'Every Breath You Take' no. 1 both USA/UK, other hits; third LP in a row to enter UK chart at no. 1 also scattered soundalikes like Men at Work who'd prospered during their time off. At NYC's Shea Stadium they were the biggest draw since the Beatles. They contributed nothing original, but craftsmanship and good songs had big impact on a boring scene, their fine pop singles incl. a tension which may have been caused by acknowledged antipathies in group. Miles Copeland's astute management meant touring thriftily, recording cheaply, higher royalties instead of big advances: they were among the wealthiest of '80s rock stars. Summers collaborated with Frith again for Bewitched '84, contributed to soundtracks of 2010 and Down And Out In Beverly Hills '85, released solo The Golden Wire '89 on Private Music (latest was instrumental trio set The Last Dance Of Mr X '98 on RCA). Copeland's album/video The Rhythmatist '85 acknowledged debt to African music, he appeared on Peter Gabriel's So and Stanley Clarke's Hideaway '86. Their success allowed Miles Copeland to expand his IRS label, which gave early breaks to R.E.M. and the Alarm; he long threatened to sue anyone who said Police had split for good, though a reunion after an Amnesty benefit was scrapped, resulted only in new (inferior) single 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', also on belated compilation Every Breath You Take: The Singles '86, UK no. 1 LP. Stewart Copeland's The Equalizer And Other Cliffhangers '88 celebrated TV themes in IRS's 'No Speak' series of new age rock albums.

Sting had the high-profile solo career, becoming a 'serious artist' and exhibiting his ego all over the world. The Dream Of The Blue Turtles '85 incl. jazzmen Kenny Kirkland on piano, drummer Omar Hakim and Branford Marsalis on reeds (all of whom were wasted) as well as Darryl Jones on bass, backup singers etc; it incl. a snitch from Prokofiev in 'Russians'. The band did tour/album Bring On The Night '86; Nothing Like The Sun '87 incl. Marsalis, guests Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, others incl. the Gil Evans band on Jimi Hendrix song 'Little Wing'. (Another edition on CD was called Nada Como El Sol.) He appeared in the heavily panned film of SF cult classic Dune '84, also Frankenstein flick The Bride and film version of David Hare's play Plenty, both '85. He guested on Kurt Weill tribute album Lost In The Stars '85, duetted with Mark Knopfler on Dire Straits' 'Money For Nothing', appeared at Live Aid, Anti Apartheid, Amnesty International charity shows (contributed cover of Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit' to Amnesty's Conspiracy Of Hope) '85--6. The Soul Cages '91 was a no. 2 album USA with misery-loving introspection, as was Ten Summoner's Tales '93 with a streak of humour for a change. Demolition Man was for fans only, a mini-album with live tracks and the title track for the Sylvester Stallone movie. Greatest hits Fields Of Gold '94 was top ten in USA; the ultra-slick troubadourism of Mercury Falling '96 went top five. Meanwhile he crashed around in the rainforests drawing attention to the ecological threat, which was all very well but came over as patronizing; in his good works as in his music Mr Sting took himself much too seriously.