ONE TRAIN LATER - ANDY SUMMERS
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 there, really.
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 boot.
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', apparently.
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 from?
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 favourite songs...