Article 17

Rock On

An Englishman in New York -Sting

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 29th September, 2001)

T he sixties and the early seventies saw a proliferation of multi-talented superstars in the world of Rock music. And then suddenly, there was a drop in the quality of the creative flow. The Music Industry continued with its endless barrage of dance music and the audience that looked for something more than just the tapping of the feet was starved of stimulation. It was around this time that a band called 'Police' started making waves in the club scene in England. Presenting a new mix of Rock and Reggae, the trio comprised of musicians who displayed incredibly innovative ideas, in their approach to songwriting and their respective musical instruments. Spacey and powerful, with textures unheard of till then, the Police ruled the charts in the late seventies. And occupying the bass chair was the former teacher, soccer coach and ditch digger, Gordon Matthew Sumner, known to the world as Sting.

My first exposure to the talent of Sting was at the Police concert in Bombay on 26th March 1980. Nobody in Bombay had heard about this band at that time although they seemed to have already started making news back home in Britain. Those were the days when we rarely got a chance to hear any foreign bands good or bad! The news of this 'authentic' British Rock band doing a charity concert in our very own Rang Bhavan spread like wild fire amongst the Rock loving youth of Bombay. The old Parsi ladies of the charity were shocked out of their skulls when they saw this raucous, wild crowd that descended at the sold out venue on that day. And was it a wild night! The crowd did not know a single song and yet they were blown away by the sheer magic of Sting's voice and fretless bass playing, Andy Summers' sparse spacey guitar playing and Stewart Copeland's precise drum breaks. We found out later that the Police did this one off concert in Bombay only because they were making a TV documentary and they wanted to demonstrate to the world that even a city like Bombay digs the Police. The exotic locales and strange looking Rock fans were proof enough! The Police surely made their point and they went on to make many great albums before they finally broke up and Sting launched his solo career.

Sting started his music career in many Jazz bands and it was here that he got his famous nickname. Jazz musicians have this novel tradition of giving nicknames to their brethren and the trombone player in his Jazz band is said to have remarked that he looked like a bee when he landed up one day for rehearsals in a sweaty striped soccer sweater. This led to him being called "Stinger" which was shortened to "Sting." Later Sting's Jazz background became the springboard for his solo projects. In fact at one point, he had some of the finest New York Jazz stars like Branford Marsalis (alto saxophone), Kenny Kirkland (keyboards) and Omar Hakim (drums) in his touring band, the Blue Turtles. Sting's solo projects have always been an effort of consistent pioneering and he has always taken risks. Fortunately his music has also satisfied popular tastes, something that does not normally go hand in hand! His latest album Brand New Day has received Grammy Awards for Best Pop Album and Best Pop Male Vocal Performance and has notched up worldwide sales of 7 million copies. An analysis of his music will show jazz, country, Celtic and Middle Eastern influences and one can never be certain as to what his next project would be like. His constant reinvention has resulted in him having a multi faceted career that also includes theatre (He acted in Three Penny Opera on Broadway and played the very role that I did in its Marathi Rock interpretation!) and films ("Dune", "Plenty" and "Lock, Stock" and "2 Smoking Barrels"). He is also involved in a variety of humanitarian and environmental causes, from Amnesty International to the Rainforest Foundation, which he founded with his wife, Trudie Styler.

Sting's fascination with India has been consistent from his Police days to the present and he seems to leave no opportunity to visit this country In fact the ``After the Rain Has Fallen'' from Brand New Day has been inspired by Sting's visit to India while he was making the album. Sting says ``I'd been trekking in India and I walked into a rajah's palace one night, really late. It was the middle of the night. And there were all these guards sleeping with rifles on their chests, in the courtyard, and the first line of the song became, 'The palace guards are all sleeping.' It's a beautiful sight -- and that didn't stop me (from) going in.'' Sting has so far avoided Indian influences in his music although he is said to be a big admirer. On October 2nd, as Sting celebrates his 50th birthday, I hope he can satisfy this wish of his Indian fans.

Rock on!

Nandu Bhende











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