In the late 70’s and early 80’s, The Police were one of the most famous bands in the world and their history is fairly well known: initially born like a Punk band, the 3 musicians (Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland) were soon to invent the “Reggae for white people” and finally have been contaminated by the sounds of New Wave and Pop.
I have already written on this blog, though, that Andy Summers has a totally different background and replaced Daevid Allen for a short period in the Soft Machine (I don’t know if it’s clear: the guitarist of Do do do do da da da da played with the Soft Machine!), he played several times with both Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt as a soloists and did a jam session with Jimi Hendrix (i don’t know if it’s clear: the guitarist of Do do do do da da da da played with Jimi Hendrix!).
In my researches, I found the members of the Police randomly in many different contexts, but official biographies hardly speak of these collaborations, so I decided to delve into the genesis of the group and the different experiences of the three members, especially in the years between 1977 and 1980.
So here’s to you, the dark history of the Police.
The Strontium 90: Police Academy
The Police played together as whole for the first time in the band called Strontium 90, a music project by Mike Howlett, historical bassist of Gong.
It’s Mike in person to tell this story on the back of a CD containing demos recorded by the group in the early 1977: after Gong, the bassist began working on his solo project calling Sting, who had seen him play in Newcastle with his band Last Exit, and Andy Summers, whom he met at a party.
Missing a drummer, Sting called Stewart Copeland, a member of his newly born band the Police.
The Strontium only last a few months, just in time to play in a ‘Gong and relatives’ mega-reunion that took place on May 28th, 1977 in Paris.
For anyone who has never heard about, Gong is this group of nice people:
I would love to see the three platinum blond boys in this meeting of French freaks.
Nuclear Waste – The Radio Actors
Obscure 7 inch record that was especially recorded by a group that was created specifically for the occasion.
In the summer of 1977, the musician Herry Williamson, wanting to record a song of protest against nuclear power, formed a group called The Radio Actors always with some members of Gong, like Gilli Smith (wife of Daevid Allen), Steve Hillage (another old acquaintance of this blog) and the same Mike Howlett.
The singer of the band was Sting.
After this 7 inch record, the Radio Actors broke up and were forgotten.
en passant: The past of Copeland (Curved Air and Klark Kent)
Let’s take a small step back: we already said that when Sting had to think of a drummer for Strontium, he called Stewart Copeland.
Copeland had been the drummer of Curved Air with whom he recorded two albums, and he also married the lead singer Sonja Linwood.
For those who do not know them, Curved Air were these little guys here:
Copeland is struck by Sting after seeing him play with the Last Exit and asks him to play together. So the two formed the first nucleus of the Police, together with guitarist Henry Padovani. Having participated in the Strontium 90 project, he knew Andy Summers and asked him to join them.
The Police, the real ones, were born.
Between 1978 and 1980, in the years that will be the beginning of the golden era of the band, The Police took part in some bizarre projects that nowadays are completely forgotten.
One of these is the Stewart Copeland solo career.
In fact, in this same period, the drummer lived an alternative artistic life by the name of Klark Kent, recording several singles and an album on which he played all the instruments, including voice.
Klark Kent’s sound is similar to The Police’s sound:
In this video, the backing musicians were just his friends Sting and Andy Summers along with the new Curved Air drummer and another guitarist.
Copeland’s solo ambitions were soon abandoned, because of legal problems with the Superman copyright holders.
Flashback e Video Magic – the Police with Eberhard Schoener
This is the project that wins the prize for the “most obscure” of The Police’s collaborations.
In 1978, the year of release of their first work, Outlandos d’Amour, The Police played in an album of German experimental musician Eberhard Schoener, called FlashBack, and a few months later, Sting and Andy Summers also participated in the following Schoener album: Video-Magic.
On the Internet, I found a few lines concerning these albums on the English and German versions of Wikipedia and little else. Probably, the collaboration origins from a previous contact Andy Summers had had with Schoener, playing guitar on two of his previous records, before the birth of The Police (here is the full list of collaborations).
They also appeared on German TV shows with him.
The music is similar to Kraftwerk and German electronic music and is unique in the production of the band.
I have to admit that, although they have been an 80s phenomenon that sold millions of records, the Police have also made quality stuff, though often forgotten.
Update: Andy Summers & Robert Fripp
After writing this post, I discovered another obscure but very interesting collaboration between Andy Summers and Robert Fripp, the guitarist of King Crimson, to which I devoted an entire post (only in Italian Language).