One Train Later by Andy Summers. Yes, that's right, he of the
Police. It's his memoir and as pop memoirs go it's a good one and I'm
not even a fan. I can recall in old interviews with the Police it
often being mentioned that Stewart Copeland once played with arch
hippies Curved Air and that Sting used to be a teacher in Newcastle
but I can't recall much ever being mentioned regarding Andy Summers' past which is strange because boy, does he have one.
Amusingly, it all starts with Andy as a young boy having piano
lessons and him being asked one day by the husband of the teacher to
whip him with a belt because he "deserves it". Andy duly obliges as
he can't see anything wrong with it and why should he? He then
progresses to having to walk through a wood each day to get to
school. This particular wood, however, is populated by hundreds of
homosexuals - all pale, lonely, and middle-aged to a man - all
twirling their spinnakers from behind stout oaks, as Andy puts it.
I'm not making this up. He's then one day given an old, beat up, Spanish guitar by his uncle
and from that moment his universe shifts and it's all down hill from
He jams with whoever he can, becomes an adept guitar player, meets a
singer/keyboard player by the name of Zoot Money, gets invited to
London by the manager of Alexis Korner's band and with Zoot Money
becomes the R&B house band at a club in Soho where he meets and
plays with everyone from John Lee Hooker, Eric Burdon, Albert Lee and
Ben E King to Ronnie Wood, Georgie Fame, John Mayall, Eric Clapton,
Fleetwood Mac and the Pink Faries.
One evening he takes a new drug that people are talking about in
almost hallowed terms. It's Andy's first ever acid trip and fair play
to him for writing about it so openly and admitting that it affected
him profoundly. It's like Bill Hicks doing his monologue about how
you never read or hear about good drug stories in the news, only bad
ones. Andy's is a very good drug news story indeed and interesting to
Him and Zoot almost immediately split up their R&B band and set
their controls instead for the heart of the sun. They dramatically
change their style of dress and start writing songs about universal
love before painting all their equipment white and employing a
psychedelic light show casting swirling shapes and groovy colours
upon them whilst playing live. They call themselves Dantalian's
Chariot and become a hardcore, psychedelic hippy band. Check 'em out
on YouTube, freakoids.
Nothing lasts forever, of course, and after being upstaged one night
by nature's own psychedelic light show as in the Aurora Borealis and
being involved in a near-death car crash brought about by bad vibes,
the band splits.
He joins Soft Machine, then the Animals and whilst in America jams
with Jimi Hendrix. Did you know that? Andy Summers of the Police once
jammed with Hendrix? I certainly didn't. I always assumed he was just
some boring old wanker in a pop band that had hitched its wagon to
the Punk train and found fame and fortune by jettisoning any notion
of a scruple. How wrong was I? Sort of.
But anyway, after returning to Britain he joins Neil Sedaka's band,
then the Kevin Coyne band, then the Kevin Ayres band; and even plays
lead guitar at a live rendition of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and
is touted as a potential new member of the Rolling Stones. Fucking
hell. I didn't know any of this. Through a series of twists of fate
via uber hippies Gong he then meets and re-meets Stewart Copeland and
Gordon Sumner and from then on pop history is in the making.
Now, I was never a fan of the Police but unlike Julie Burchill I
never considered them to be the worst band in the world. No, I
tolerated them. They were one of the first bands I heard being
spoken of in terms of 'selling out' but this was in the Punk Years
when such things seemed to matter.
The Police never had any Punk credibility from the start and it was
fairly obvious to everyone at the time that they were simply using
Punk as a stepping stone to pop stardom, though most people didn't
seem to have much objection to this, probably because they were
never promising us the world unlike some other bands I could mention.
I remember back in those days I used to bleach my hair white (and dye it blue, and black, and yellow) and girls would approach me saying I
looked like Sting and though I didn't take it as a compliment
(because Sting had no Punk credibility) I would still try and take
advantage of this predicament. If you know what I mean?
At that same time, I remember going to the Stonehenge Free Festival
and the Police album was being played over the p.a. and me feeling
uneasy about it. As if something a little better, a little more
independent could and should be played instead. This feeling of
unease regarding them was crystallised when they ended up playing in
Chile when under the jackboot of the Pinochet regime and Argentina
when under the junta of the Generals and their dirty war campaign
against their own citizens. Did the Police ever play Sun City in
South Africa at the time of Apartheid? If not, they might just have
well as done just to have the full deck.
Andy doesn't shy away from this stuff in the book but at the same
time he fails to see anything explicitly wrong in endorsing these
regimes by playing under them. Similarly, when they play Mexico the
tickets are sold at $40 each which is well beyond the means of their
fans there, meaning they end up playing to a rich elite.
They play in India and Andy describes the atrocious poverty there
(which he's taken aback by) but then he ventures into Calcutta to
take fucking photographs of it! It's a cheap holiday in other
people's misery, as John Rotten said. It's also known as 'splendid
isolation' whereby a person (or a whole country) stands back in a way
that makes them seem special, believing it's not their business to
comment or get involved in any direct way with what is usually tumultuous
events. And Sting's still at it to this day, playing exclusive
parties for the children of Russian oligarchs - for 'the experience',
Either the Police never really understood what they were doing and
were just innocents abroad or (as managed by Miles Copeland) they
were cynical and calculating. I suspect the latter. At one point they
play a gig at Disney World, in Florida, and they worry it might be
detrimental to their credibility. This in itself suggests a
disconnect. Play to members and associates of Chilean death squads
and not care a fuck; play to Mickey Mouse and the fat spawn of fat
Americans and lose sleep over it.
When they headline the Reading Festival in '79 an awards
ceremony is held backstage with A&M Records who present them gold
records for the sales of their album. Mark Perry of seminal Punk band
Alternative TV and Sniffin' Glue fanzine intrudes upon it and yells
at them all, accusing them of selling out and betraying Punk. He ends
up being forcibly ejected. "We didn't carry out his agenda,"
writes Andy "But that was never in the cards."
In Mark Perry's defence I'd argue he never had any agenda just a
dream by the name of 'Punk' and he wanted it to be wild and free, not
corporate and concerned only with record sales. But how little did
the Police understand this. How little did they understand Punk at
all, in fact, as evidenced by Andy reporting on a 1977 Punk festival
the Police took part in alongside the Clash, the Damned, Eddie and
the Hot Rods and the Jam. On the journey back from the festival, all
the bands are in a coach and he describes how Sting is sat reading a
book and how Stewart Copeland is "mortified by this defiant
act" because "no-one is supposed to read in the Punk
world." Is he serious? Where the fuck did he get that idea
It's all water under the bridge now, of course, and I don't really
intend my observations to distract from what a good book this
actually is. It's quite a hefty tome too, coming in at over 450 pages so these episodes I highlight are essentially minor incidents in
the whole sprawling tale.
I'm loathe to criticise the Police too harshly as well because
weirdly, I suspect if I ever met Andy Summers (or even Sting come to
that) I'd probably get on with him. I'd approach him (and Sting -
particularly Sting) with caution and be wary of him, however, simply
because of the Jupiter-sized ego he carries with him. I'm not too
sure I'd get on with Stewart Copeland though, as he tends to come across as
one of those loud, annoying septic tanks (yanks) that you bump into
when on holiday in Europe.
And if I can just make it clear, I don't hate the Police (as in the
band) at all but by doing this review it enables me to also post one of my
If I had my way there wouldn't only be fireworks in the sky on Guy Fawkes night and New Year's Eve but on every single night of the year, even at the height of summer. In fact, especially at the height of summer...
Some books being torn, tattered and dog-eared are all the better for
it. It lends them character.
When travelling to a different country or even to just a different
town, I always try to seek out any second-hand bookshops or charity
shops as there's no way of knowing what book (or books) might be
waiting there. You never know what might be found.
Occasionally I might come upon a book in one of these places that I'd
quite like to read but it will be damp-stained and thoroughly worn
out so I choose not to buy it simply for the fact that I don't want
it in my house. I have my standards. Sometimes a book can be found,
however, and though its pages might be loose and its cover torn I
would still buy it because the damage lends it an unknowable history.
Where has it been? Where has it come from? Who else has read it? How
did it end up here?
I worked once for a prestigious wine company called Avery’s of
Bristol and there I was taught that wine is a living thing that
should be respected, be it the cheapest bottle from the shelves of
Lidl to the most expensive from the cellars of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The same philosophy is one that I've always applied to books, that
they're 'living' things to be respected and like wine they can age,
some for the worse but some for the better.
The copy I've just read of Leonard Cohen's Poems 1956-1968 is
in a beleaguered condition but I don't mind. I guess that new, shiny
copies can still be purchased on Amazon or some such place and
there's nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong in getting a copy
from there. But a copy from Amazon may look new, it may smell new, it
may be pristine but it won't, however, come with a history.
I've never understood Leonard Cohen being criticised for being
'depressing' or for making music 'to slash your wrists to' as I've
always found his songs to actually be beautifully uplifting, often
serving as a genuine antidote to melancholia. And if Leonard is meant
to be such a depressive then how come he's always been such a ladies
He's always interested me has Mr Cohen, not only for his songs but
for the whole way he's lived his life. In 1960, for example, he
bought a house on the Greek island of Hydra and that's where for the
best part of the next seven years he remained; writing his songs, his
books and his poetry.
I've been to Hydra and it is indeed a very beautiful place. Very
rustic, with no cars allowed there and hundreds of cats everywhere.
Could this copy of Leonard Cohen's book of poems have come from
there? It's possible and I like to think so.
Although not all of the poems would have been written in Greece, a
good amount of them would have been and you can tell. If you have any
affection for his songs then these poems will also appeal. Plato
said: "At the touch of love - everyone becomes a poet"
and if that's the case then Leonard Cohen is a man forever in love.
"You tell me that silence is nearer to peace than poems,"
he writes in Gift "But if for my gift I brought you silence
(for I know silence) you would say 'This is not silence, this is
another poem' and you would hand it back to me."
For myself, one poem in particular struck a chord going by
the title I See You On a Greek Mattress because I too (coincidentally
whilst living in Greece) once knew a guy called Steve who I used to really
like but have now long lost touch with. And I too have had dealings
with the I Ching, again (coincidentally) whilst living in Greece.
A lot of books that I read, once I've finished them I tend to donate
to a charity shop rather than keeping them because I always feel that
books are meant to be read and not just left on a shelf to gather
dust. This one, however, I think I shall keep.