Born 2 October 1951, in Wallsend, north-east England, Gordon Sumner’s life started to change the evening a Phoenix Jazzmen bandmate caught sight of his black and yellow hooped sweater and decided to re-christen him Sting. Always a muso, Sting paid his early dues playing bass with local outfits the Newcastle Big Band, The Phoenix Jazzmen, Earthrise and Last Exit, the latter featuring his first efforts at songwriting. Last Exit were big in the North East, but their jazz fusion was doomed to fail when 1976’s punk rock exploded onto the scene. Curved Air drummer, Stewart Copeland, saw Last Exit and whilst the music did nothing for him he recognised the potential and personality of the bass player. Within months, Sting, first wife actress Frances Tomelty, and infant son, Joe, were tempted into moving to London.
Seeing punk as flag of convenience, Copeland and Sting together with Corsican Henri Padovani on guitar started rehearsing and looking for gigs. Ever the businessman, Copeland took the name The Police figuring it would be good publicity, and the three started gigging round venues like The Roxy, Marquee and Nashville. Ejecting the inept Padovani for the proven talents of Andy Summers’ the band also enrolled Stewart’s older brother, Miles, as manager, wowing him with a Sting song called Roxanne. Days later, Copeland had them a record deal. The London press hated the Police seeing through their punk camouflage, and their early releases had no chart success. Instead The Police did the unthinkable - they went to America. The early tours are the stuff of legend - flight’s courtesy of Laker’s Skytrain, humping their own equipment from gig to gig, and playing to miniscule audiences at the likes of CBGB’s and The Rat Club. Their bottle paid off as they slowly built a loyal following, the audiences being won over with the bands combination of new wave toughness and laid back white-reggae.
They certainly made an odd trio with veteran guitarman Summers having a history dating back to the mid-60s, the hyper-kinetic Copeland had been a prog-rocker, and Sting with his love of jazz. The sound the trio made was unique though, and Sting’s pin-up looks did them no harm at all. Returning to the UK, where the now reissued Roxanne was charting, the band played a sell-out tour of mid-size venues. The momentum had started. Their debut album Outlandos d’Amour (Oct 78) delivered three hits with Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You and So Lonely, leading to a headlining slot at the ’79 Reading Festival, but it was with Reggatta de Blanc (Oct 79) that they stepped up a gear. The first single, Message In A Bottle, streaked to number one and the album’s success was consolidated further when Walking On The Moon also hit the top slot. The band was big, but about to get even bigger. 1980 saw them undertake a mammoth world tour with stops on all continents - including the first rock concerts in Bombay - and the band eventually returned, exhausted, for two shows back in Sting’s hometown of Newcastle.
Record company pressure had them back in a Dutch studio within weeks, but Sting’s stock of pre-Police songs and ideas were wearing out. It was noticeable that the hits were all Sting’s and the pressure to deliver a killer, all important third album was on. History will record Summers as hugely talented guitarist but not as an accomplished song-writer, and whilst Copeland could write catchy tunes, the band knew exactly who was expected to deliver the hits - Sting. When Zenyatta Mondatta was released in October 1980 it produced another number one in Don’t Stand So Close To Me and a top five hit with De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da and sold well, but in other respects it was disappointing. A rethink was required.
The results of the rethink materialised with 1981’s Ghost In The Machine, a rich, multilayered album which was augmented not only by Jean Roussel’s keyboards and Sting’s self taught saxophone playing, but by much better writing contributions from Copeland and Summers.