The Police Play “I Burn For You”

Brimstone and Treacle SoundtrackListen to this track by soundtracking blonde-headed trio The Police. It’s “I Burn For You”, a song as taken from the 1982 film soundtrack Brimstone & Treacle, a film with a very familiar presence on screen; bassist, singer, and head songwriter Sting.

The soundtrack featured a number of tracks from the band, most of which were instrumental. Other tracks were provided by The Go-Go’s, who were Police tour-mates around  this time, and Squeeze. Otherwise, this soundtrack provided something of a stop-gap between major releases for the Police after Ghost In The Machine and before Synchronicity.

Also, it was a way to support a film project that involved Sting in his pursuit as an actor. He’d previously been featured as Ace Face in 1979’s Quadrophenia, a part that relied on his ability to scowl with maximum cheekbone exposure. With this new role, as a charming but bestial deviant named Martin, things were more involved when it came to the demands of the script, written by the renowned playwright and screenwriter Dennis Potter. The film is based on his play originally made for television in 1976, but not broadcast due to its disturbing subject matter.  Plus, it was on this same soundtrack that would host Sting’s first solo single – “Spread A Little Happiness”. That song is a music hall-era tune written in 1929, and sung by Sting with a decided smirk. The song’s vintage didn’t stop it from reaching a top twenty showing on the British pop charts at the beginning of the 1980s.

Perhaps it stood to reason. By this time, The Police were the biggest band in the world, and still on their way up. Yet like that musical hall chestnut,  “I Burn For You” had a lot more to do with the past, reaching back into a pre-fame era for Sting before The Police, number one records, or international fame were even thought about. Read more

The Police Play “Spirits In The Material World”

Listen to this track by musically multifaceted three-headed hit machine The Police. It’s their 1981 hit “Spirits In The Material World” as taken from their fourth record, Ghost In The Machine. The song, which is the opening track of the album, is the third of four singles from the album, scoring top twenty chart positions in Europe and in North America, and marking something of a second phase in the life of the band.

Up until this point, the sound of the band had relied heavily upon the dynamics of the three players, to be very easily translated into a live setting. But, “Spirits In The Material World”, and Ghost In The Machine in general represented a break from this approach.

The reggae-influenced verse and rock chorus upon which they’d built their sound  makes something of a return in “Spirits In The Material World”. But, the sonic landscape is completely different, even if the Police sound is consistent, rhythmically speaking. This is a claustrophobic, mechanized sound that is driven by the hard lines of the synthesizers instead of being centered around the guitar-bass-drums playing of the three members. Even Sting’s lead vocal sounds cold and distant. Andy Summers’ vibrant and nuanced guitar work is present, yet buried under this new sonic veneer.

So, this record represented a redefined Police. But, was it for the better or for the worse? Could it be a bit of both?
Read more

Kevin Ayers, Ollie Halsall, and Andy Summers Play ‘Didn’t Feel Lonely’

Here’s a clip of ex-Soft Machine honcho Kevin Ayers, along with under-exposed guitar genius Ollie Halsall, and then-current Police guitarist Andy Summers (who’s birthday it is today, BTW).  It’s a 1981 performance of Ayers’ tune ‘Didn’t Feel Lonely’, a jazzy, funky R&B workout that proves to be the perfect staging ground for a guitar-duel between Halsall and Summers.  You decide who wins.

Kevin Ayers and Andy Summers had been long-time friends and touring partners by 1981.  Indeed, Summers had toured with the Soft Machine at the end of the 1960s as a temporary member, until it was decided that his presence off the road was no longer required.  The split didn’t affect Summers’ relationship with Ayers, however.  Ayers’ solo career often included Summers as a supporting player, along with many other luminaries like Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno, and John Cale, among many others.

Ollie Halsall: another cool leftie guitarist.

Among these others was the almost impossibly gifted Ollie Halsall, who became a stalwart bandmate to Ayers, and something of an unofficial musical partner during Ayers solo work through the 70s and into the 80s.   Like Ayers himself, Halsall flourished in the late-60s as progressive rock gained traction with rock audiences.  His chops as a guitarist suited the times perfectly, working with a myriad of bands and songwriters in that vein.  But, along with his work with Ayers, Halsall’s work was popularized by his contributions to Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ The Rutles, a razor-sharp Beatles parody which along with the comedy, featured excellent songs and superlative playing.

Like many extremely talented musicians, Halsall struggled with a drug problem that claimed his life in 1992.  But, this clip shows him at the height of his powers, locking horns with Andy Summers and arguably besting him as the two dextrous players trade licks as Ayers oversees. Halsall would play with Ayers for sixteen years, while Summers would continue to build his reputation with the Police, and beyond with a solo career of his own.

Kevin Ayers is an active musician today, with his latest album Unfairground gaining  significant critical praise.

For more information about Kevin Ayers, check out the official Kevin Ayers website.


The Police Perform ‘Next to You’

Here’s a clip of the the Police, as taken from a live appearance in Hamburg in 1980, just as they were about to hit stadium critical mass.  But, at this stage, they were still shaking off their stab at punk rock.  And this track “Next To You”, taken from their debut Outlandos D’Amour , is a leftover from that early period, before we began thinking about every breath they took at Shea Stadium.

Much criticism has been leveled at the Police for their perceived appropriation of punk rock early on, and probably even more criticism for their appropriation of reggae.  But, this is the way I look at it.  Even if these guys all had credentials as musicians, and could play anything they wanted to – which is a punk rock no-no  – they were fans of the genres from which they borrowed.

This is particularly true when it comes to Bob Marley who inspired Sting’s melodic sense on a number of tracks (‘So Lonely’ for instance), not to mention his vocal delivery.  And drummer Stewart Copeland was a Steel Pulse fan, easily taking his love for their work and incorporating reggae drumming into a pop/rock idiom.

But, this track is their take on a punk tune, which is really just a speeded up blues-rock number.  There gets to a point where the labels began to blur at the edges.  And I think this is where the strength of the band really lay.  They knew how to borrow from various sources to make something of their own, which to a certain extent is true of any band. Maybe this track doesn’t demonstrate this as well as others.  But one thing it does do is show that even if these guys weren’t actual punks (too old, and too skilled…), they sure had the energy of punk.


Andy Summers and Robert Fripp Play ‘I Advance Masked’

Here’s a clip of cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow guitarists Andy Summers (the Police) and Robert Fripp (King Crimson) with the title track off of their 1982 collaboration, the instrumental I Advance Masked. This would be the first of two albums the two musicians would make together, following up in 1984 with Bewitched.  And, just as an aside, it’s Andy Summers’ birthday today!

It may seem to many that these two players were hoeing different rows of the pop music pumpkin patch. By 1981-82 when this track was recorded at Fripp’s Dorset England home studio,  Summers was a part of the biggest band in the world with several hit singles behind him and many in front.  Fripp was a part of rock’s intelligentsia, having founded progressive rock’s first tier band King Crimson while also serving as something of a technical wunderkind to other artists like David Bowie, Brian Eno, and Peter Gabriel.

Yet, the two men shared something of a passion for exploration in the field of instrumental music, and the nature of avante-garde  improvisation.  Yet, they were not interested in what had gone before as far as guitar albums went.  They wanted to present the guitar as a textural instrument, an instrument that can allow for an atmosphere,  rather than just to lay down a bunch of flashy rock  solos.  As a result, the record wasn’t what a lot of rock fans expected, of course.  Yet, it sets out what it’s designed to do, which is to set up each piece as something of a mood, and the suggestion of a landscape or locale, with ambient sounds being as important to the whole as the melody lines are.

After recording I Advance Masked, and its follow-up, Summers and Fripp would stick to their instrumental paths, even if their respective bands would be sidetracked.  Both the Police  and King Crimson would dissolve by the mid-80s, in Fripp’s case because he was the primary mover of his band, with the King Crimson name being more about his own vision for an approach to music, rather than a stable group.  Outside of the Police, Summers would make a career out of instrumental albums, bringing in rock, jazz, and ambient sounds, which he plays with here.  And Fripp would continue collaborations with other artists such as David Sylvian, Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree, The Orb,  and with musicians in temporary groups like the League of Gentlemen and  the League of Crafty Guitarists.

When I bought the album, I was surprised by how few reference points I had for it.   I wasn’t sure about it.  But, then a lot of the subtleties began to come through for me.  There are a lot of jarring moments on this album.  They were experimenting, after all. But, there are also moments of absolute, crystalline beauty which makes me wish they’d made a few more albums together.

For more information about Andy Summers, check out

And for information about Robert Fripp, check out this interview with him that among other things discusses his meticulous (to say the least!) approach to collaboration.


Happy Birthday, Andy Summers.

It’s Andy Summers’ birthday today.

Click the image to see the Police play in front of a group of journalists just before the band embarked on their 2007 reunion tour.  The song is a medley of two Police album tracks from the band’s third album Zenyatta Mondatta, two storming tunes that not many people realise are so good; “Voices Inside My Head/When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around”. Note the scorching solo from Summers, betraying his love of jazz playing.

the Police 2007

Most know Andy Summers’ work in the Police. But, he was active well before his job with Sting and Stewart Copeland. He started as a contemporary of Eric Clapton, active in the London R&B scene with the Zoot Money Big Roll Band. Among other bands he’s played with are Dantalian’s Chariot, Eric Burdon & the New Animals, and a brief stint with The Soft Machine, with whom he toured but didn’t record.

For a more in depth look at this fascinating musician, read Andy’s autobiography, One Train Later, which covers his years with these bands, along with his most famous role as guitarist in the Police.

Happy birthday Andy!