How the Police Went ‘Around the World’: Exclusive Interview
In an alternate universe, Police guitarist Andy Summers perhaps could have been a sumo wrestler. That’s one moment that we see in the 1982 documentary and concert film The Police Around the World.
Sting and Stewart Copeland flank Summers as he prepares for his bout, offering motivational coaching and encouragement. Of course, there’s an apparent air of satire to it all and things don’t play out well for Summers vs. sumo.
There are plenty of similarly light-hearted moments like that which show the Police having their share of fun as they travel the globe. But it also captures the opening moments of a rock band that was on the rise, playing show after show that demonstrated how they had quickly become fierce players, intensely connected as a unit.
Filming took place on their first world tour in 1979 and 1980, and there would be both milestones and challenges. The Police delivered what would come to be known as the first rock concert in India. A similarly important show in Egypt proved to be a complex situation and seemed doomed from the start because of both equipment and logistical issues. In the end, they pulled it off and the audience in attendance was none the wiser that there had been any problems threatening to scuttle the event.
Mixing footage from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, India, Egypt, Greece, France, South America and the U.S., the film plays out as a visual travelogue of the period. Summers helped to oversee a five-year restoration process for The Police Around the World, which has been largely unavailable since its original 1982 release. “It’s taken [that amount of time] to put all of this together through all of the various bureaucracies,” he explains to UCR. “The process included locating “the original film itself in a basement in London.”
Once the film was obtained, they painstakingly worked to bring it up to date, cleaning up the footage and remastering the sound for the new reissue, which is available on Blu-ray, DVD and a variety of audio formats. Additionally, they were able to locate several performances that hadn’t been previously released. “A lot has gone into it to get it to this point,” the guitarist adds. “But I’m pleased to see it out because obviously, we’re a couple of generations on since this was done. I think it’s nice for people to see it.”
Summers discussed some of his favorite moments from the original experience during a recent phone conversation with UCR.
What do you remember about hatching the idea to have you face off against the sumo wrestler?
Yeah, well, it’s a funny moment. I can’t remember if it was actually my own idea to threaten myself with a sumo wrestler. [It was in] the spirit of the funny things we were doing. We had a lot of time on our hands. This idea of the sumo [wrestler] came up and we actually executed it. It was a setup because we had to get permission from the sumos. We have to drive outside of Tokyo, go to the sumo house where they all lived, meet the guy and do the performance. It was done in a room that was hovering around zero temperature-wise, and I got quite sick after the fact – because it was so cold!
Miles Copeland wrote in his memoir how there had never been a rock concert in India and only one that he was aware of in Egypt. The film shows what a remarkable experience it was.
It was a very vivid experience. We all wanted to go to India. I think that was actually my idea, to go to India on the way back from Australia and not straight back to Italy. Let’s go to India, Egypt, Greece and then finally, Italy. India and Egypt were pretty exhausting. Miles actually flew to Bombay and didn’t know anybody at all, and was going to search around to see if he could find somebody so we could do a gig in a little basement or something or a club. There must be something – you know, just so we could put India on the schedule – but as it turns out, he connected with these old ladies called the Time and Talent Club. They had some influence in Bombay and we ended up doing the show at the Rang Bhavan Auditorium to about 3,000 people. It was an amazing night. We played really well and I think it’s quite a standout in the film, actually. We were very excited to be in India. I went back subsequently on my own for a few days. I remember standing on stage going, “I can’t believe I’m standing here doing this,” in front of this 3,000-strong mob of Indian people, all screaming at the stage. The fact that we were in Bombay doing this, it seemed like utter madness to me, but it was kind of a great moment.
Watch the Police Perform 'Message in a Bottle' in Hong Kong
How much experience did you guys have at that point playing big shows like that? It's not the largest show, but it's a decent crowd.
Yeah, it was decent. I mean, for us at that point, this was the very early days of the band, so that was a big one. You know, 3,000 people in India? Oh, my God, I don’t think we were pulling that kind of crowd yet in the U.K. But not long after that, we were moving really fast. We started to play arenas of 10 or 12,000. And after that, of course, it just went up and got even bigger. Ultimately, there wasn’t a stadium big enough to hold the crowds.
What did watching this film bring back for you?
I think we all rose to the challenge. I think we were all very excited to be traveling like that. I mean, we were a hot band and everyone’s totally into the band. I think we were in those early stages before the [wave] of incredible fame that came later. We were very into being as good as we possibly could be. You know, the performances, I think they show up on DVD: It was pretty fierce. I’m particularly pleased with the Kyoto performances. We really don’t sound like anyone else. It was a very exciting time and you know, we were three young guys [traveling] around [and having a] great time in all of these countries and playing our asses off every night. What’s not to like?
The film presents the band in a light that hasn't been widely seen. You used the word "fierce," and I think that's quite appropriate.
You know, the band had this amazing energy. We were very intent on making every show just killer and trying to win every audience over. Like most people who start out and want to have a music career, they want to "make it," as we call it. This is what we had to try and prove it with, and we were really good at it. Obviously, It’s sort of a miraculous event that the three of us met each other and it produced this thing called the Police. You know, one guy different and it would have been a very different band that probably wouldn’t have even been a band. You cannot say, “Oh, well, I could do that.” You can’t formulate that. It happened to be the unique thing that happened with the particular three of us.
There's footage of you and Sting and Stewart in India. You're playing the sitar. Was that your first time playing one?
No, I was good friends with a professor of Indian music in London. He taught me and I actually had a sitar and I used to play it. I listened a lot to Ravi Shankar, Allauddin Khan and other people. I was pretty into Indian music, so that was another extra thrill for me to go there. But I probably do look like the most competent of the three of us, because in fact, I had sort of dived into it a bit.
What are you really glad that this film captured?
Well, you know, it was a great time and a great moment, when it’s still reasonably innocent. There’s not so much [of us] vying [for] position. That came later – you know, [where] we’re all too famous to even travel together. The typical stuff that sets in at the level that we got to, which was sort of insane. I like the sort of innocent quality that we’re all having a good time. We seem to be all getting along, and we’re really trying to kill with the performances to make this band happen. We were as one, if you like, in that period.
The Egypt concert seems like it was challenging to pull off.
It was fraught. I can’t remember quite what was going on in Egypt at the time but you know, the Copelands – Miles in particular and their father – had worked for the CIA, or whatever it was, and there was definitely Middle East connections. Miles must have dug deep in his phonebook and had this one phone number, which was enough to get us through the bureaucracy and whoever was in charge got the gates open, so we could get our equipment out. Now, we’ve got the equipment and we’re all stuck gazing at the pyramid of Giza and various camels and stuff, waiting to [see] if we can play. We played at the University of Cairo, but nothing worked and it was like, “This gig is not going to happen.” Everything is being filmed and there we are, all ready to go. Eventually, somehow, I don’t know if they imported something from the dam of the Suez Canal, but we eventually got electricity so we could do the show. It was sort of a tense moment.
It's been mentioned that there is going to be a series of Police reissues over the next 10 years. What else is in the pipeline?
I mean, we didn’t make that many records. We made five records that were all No. 1 everywhere all over the world – more than most bands. So we have a vast, very popular catalog that’s never gone away. The whole thing is kind of miraculous because here we are still talking about it all of these years later. The music never seems to go away, which it makes you feel very good about it – that we didn’t just do something that appeared and was never heard again. You know, we carry on. I can only say that over the next 10 years, [there’s a lot planned]. I know we’re going to make a documentary; there’s going to be a traveling exhibition. These things will be different. Obviously, they keep repackaging things and doing stuff with the material, so I don’t really know, but Stewart and I have a very smart and energetic manager who is intent on making sure this continues on in various forms. I think the next thing will be the documentary, an amazing documentary, made by a very talented person. We’ve got to figure that out yet.
There are those CBGB recordings that were recently discovered. Have you figured out what you'll do with those?
Yeah, thanks for reminding me. I'm going to write that down and ask our manager. [Laughs.] I’m amazed because that was very innocent. It was the first show we ever played in the U.S. at CBGB’s. It was the mecca of punk then. Sting and I flew from England; Stewart was already in New York. We got off the plane and got in the cab at Kennedy, went straight to CBGB’s and went on stage. It was amazing and we went down a storm. I am absolutely gobsmacked to find out that somebody had filmed some of it at this point. Who knew? We’ll see what we can do with it.