In an alternate universe, Police guitarist Andy Summers might have been a sumo wrestler. It’s a moment seen in the 1982 documentary and concert film The police around the world.
Sting and Stewart Copeland flank Summers as he prepares for his fight, offering motivational coaching and encouragement. Of course, there is an apparent air of satire in all of this and things don’t go well for Summers vs sumo.
There are plenty of lighthearted moments like this that show the police having fun traveling the world. But it also captures the early 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 during their first world tour in 1979 and 1980, and there would be both milestones and challenges. The police gave what came to be known as the first rock concert in India. An equally large show in Egypt proved to be a complex situation and seemed doomed due to equipment and logistical issues. In the end, they were successful, and the audience in attendance was no more aware that there had been issues threatening to scuttle the event.
Mixing images from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, India, Egypt, Greece, France, South America and the United States, the film presents itself as a visual travelogue of the time. Summers helped oversee a five-year restoration process to The police around the worldwhich has been largely unavailable since its original release in 1982. “It’s taken [that amount of time] to bring it all together across all the different bureaucracies,” he tells UCR. “The process included locating ‘the original film itself in a basement in London’.
Once the film was obtained, they worked painstakingly to update it, cleaning up the footage and remastering the sound for the new re-release, which is available on Blu-ray, DVD and a variety of audio formats. Additionally, they were able to locate several performances that had not previously been released. “A lot of things have been done to get there,” adds the guitarist. “But I’m happy to see it because obviously we’ve been two generations since it was done. I think it’s good 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 having had the idea to face the sumo wrestler?
Yeah, well, it’s a funny moment. I don’t remember if it was really my own idea to threaten myself with a sumo wrestler. [It was in] mind the fun things we were doing. We had a lot of free time. This idea of sumo [wrestler] came and we actually executed him. It was a set up because we had to get permission from the sumos. We have to drive out of Tokyo, go to the sumo house where they all lived, meet the guy and do the performance. It was done in a room where the temperature was hovering around zero, and I got quite sick afterwards – because it was so cold!
Miles Copeland wrote in his memoirs that there had never been a rock concert in India and he only knew about it in Egypt. The film shows what a remarkable experience it was.
It was a very lively experience. We all wanted to go to India. I think it was actually my idea, to go to India coming back from Australia and not directly to Italy. Let’s move on to India, Egypt, Greece and finally Italy. India and Egypt were quite exhausting. Miles actually flew to Bombay and didn’t know anybody at all, and he was going to look around to see if he could find anybody so we could do a gig in a little basement or something or a club. There must be something – you know, just so we can put India on the program – but it turns out he hooked up with these old ladies called the Time and Talent Club. They had some influence in Bombay and we ended up doing the show at Rang Bhavan Auditorium in front of around 3,000 people. It was an incredible night. We played really well and I think that’s quite remarkable in the movie, actually. We were very excited to be in India. I went back there afterwards on my own for a few days. I remember standing on stage saying, “I can’t believe I’m here doing this,” in front of this crowd of 3,000 Indians, all of them screaming on stage. The fact that we were in Bombay doing this, it felt like total madness to me, but it was kind of a great moment.
Watch police play ‘Message in a Bottle’ in Hong Kong
What experience did you have at that time playing big shows like that? It’s not the biggest show, but it’s a decent crowd.
Yeah, that was okay. I mean, for us at that time, it was the very first days of the band, so it was important. You know, 3,000 people in India? Oh my God, I don’t think we attract that kind of crowd in the UK yet. But soon after, we were moving very fast. We started playing arenas of 10 or 12,000. And after that, of course, it just grew and got even bigger. In the end, there was no stadium big enough to hold the crowd.
What did watching this film bring you?
I think we all rose to the challenge. I think we were all very excited to travel like that. I mean, we were a hot band and everyone is totally in the band. I think we were in those early stages before the [wave] of incredible fame that came later. We wanted to be as good as possible. You know, the performances, I think they appear on DVD: it was pretty fierce. I am particularly satisfied with Kyoto’s performance. We really are like no one else. It was a very exciting time and you know we were three young [traveling] approximately [and having a] have a good time in all these countries and play with our asses every night. What’s not to like?
The film presents the band in a little-known light. You used the word “fierce”, and I think that’s quite appropriate.
You know, the band had this incredible energy. We were very determined to make every show a killer and try to win over every audience. Like most people starting out and wanting to have a career in music, they want to “succeed,” as we call it. That’s what we had to try to prove it with, and we were really good at it. Obviously, it was some kind of miraculous event that the three of us met and it produced this thing called the police. You know, a different guy and it would have been a very different band that probably wouldn’t even have been a band. You can’t say, “Oh, well, I could do that. You can’t formulate that. Turns out that was the one thing that happened with the three of us.
There are pictures of you with Sting and Stewart in India. You play the sitar. Was it your first time playing one?
No, I was good friends with an Indian music teacher in London. He taught me and I actually had a sitar and used to play it. I listened a lot to Ravi Shankar, Allauddin Khan and other people. I loved Indian music so it was another extra treat for me to go there. But I probably look like the most knowledgeable of the three of us, because actually I got a little into it.
What are you really happy this movie captured?
Well, you know, it was a good time and a great time, when it’s still reasonably innocent. There are not so many [of us] competetion [for] position. It came later – you know, [where] we’re all too famous to even travel together. The typical stuff that settles at the level we got to, which was kind of crazy. I like the kind of innocent quality that we all have a good time. We all seem to get along, and we’re really trying to kill with the performances for this band to exist. We were one, if you will, back then.
The concert in Egypt seems difficult to achieve.
It was hard. I don’t remember exactly what was going on in Egypt at the time, but you know, the Copelands – Miles in particular and their dad – had worked for the CIA, or whatever, and there were certainly ties with the Middle East. Miles had to dig deep into his phone book and get this phone number, which was enough to get us through the bureaucracy and whoever was in charge opened the doors, so we could get our gear out. Now we have the gear and we’re all stuck looking at the Giza pyramid and various camels and all, waiting to [see] if we can play. We played at Cairo University, but nothing worked out and it was like, ‘This concert won’t happen’. Everything is being filmed and here we are, all ready to go. Eventually, somehow, I don’t know if they imported anything from the Suez Canal Dam, but we eventually got electricity so we could do the show. It was kind of a tense moment.
It was mentioned that there will be a series of re-releases of Police over the next 10 years. What else is in the pipeline?
I mean, we haven’t made that many records. We made five records that were all No. 1s all over the world – more than most bands. So we have an extensive and very popular catalog that has never gone away. The whole thing is kind of miraculous because here we’re still talking about it all these years later. The music never seems to go away, which makes you feel very good – that we didn’t just make something that appeared and was never heard from again. You know, we continue. I can only say that over the next 10 years, [there’s a lot planned]. I know we’re going to do a documentary; there will be a traveling exhibition. These things will be different. Obviously they keep repackaging things and doing stuff with the hardware so I don’t really know but Stewart and I have a very smart and energetic manager who intends to make sure this continues in various forms. I think the next thing will be the documentary, an amazing documentary, made by a very talented person. We have yet to understand this.
There are these CBGB records that were recently discovered. Did you figure out what you would do with these?
Yes, thanks for reminding me. I’ll write this down and ask our manager. [Laughs.] I’m amazed because it was very innocent. It was the first gig we played in the US at CBGB’s. It was then the mecca of punk. Sting and I flew in from England; Stewart was already in New York. We got off the plane and got in the cab at Kennedy, went straight to CBGB and got on stage. It was amazing and we weathered a storm. I’m absolutely amazed to hear that someone filmed part of it at this point. Who knew? We’ll see what we can do with it.
Top 100 Live Albums
Rock’s Top 100 Live Albums are more than just concert memorabilia or stage documents from that awesome show you saw last summer.