Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland Recall The Police’s Pre-Fame Days

Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers in "The Police Around the World" Mercury Studios

“Because we’d gotten into other things, I think we all came to enjoy The Police and were very proud of the work and saw it as a very closed circle,” Stewart Copeland, the band’s irascible drummer, says when asked about what things were like internally in the run up to The Police’s 2007-2008 reunion tour. “We didn’t want to mess with it and were busy doing stuff. So we were very surprised when we did the reunion tour. We thought, ‘Well, this could be cool, it’ll probably be quite popular.’ We had no idea that stadiums around the world would sell out in minutes! We had no idea — because we’d forgotten about it.”

“I thought that came 10 years too late,” contends Andy Summers, ever on-brand for a band that could seemingly never agree on anything. “That should have come much earlier. It was 20 years after we’d broken up. Like, ‘Why didn’t we do this 10 years ago?’”

Hard as it may be to believe, it’s now been 15 years since The Police reunited for their victory lap tour, which boasted 151 shows across five continents and grossed $362 million. Even more astonishing, this fall will mark 44 years since the release of The Police’s debut, Outlandos d’Amour, and next year will mark 40 years since the release of the band’s final album, the chart-topping, billion-and-a-half-streaming, “Every Breath You Take”-wielding Synchronicity.

“The music’s remained sort of immortal, and it’s still selling really well, which is fantastic,” Summers says. “It continues on, as if we’ve never left. It’s amazing. It’s still a very thriving thing.”

Indeed, legions of fans or not, for a band that felt stuck in a very particular time and place for at least the first two decades after its acrimonious split in the mid-’80s, The Police suddenly feel more timeless than ever.

A great-sounding vinyl reissue of the 1992 compilation Greatest Hits — a “wonderful record of what we achieved,” says Summers — certainly goes a long way toward providing ample reminders of the intense creative heights the trio of Sting, Summers and Copeland reached during their fractious reign as kings of MTV and the pop charts. But it’s the reissue of a spiffed-up version of the 1980s home video release The Police Around the World — which captures the band pre-Synchronicity apocalyptic costumes, hungry and on the cusp of stardom, on a trek across (mostly) the Far East — and a fantastic new live companion album of the same name that are really all the evidence you need that The Police were truly once the greatest bands in the world.

“I was the one who wanted to get it out,” admits Summers proudly. “I literally I had to find it, because all I had was a crappy old VHS copy. But a fan had a LaserDisc, and we slowly worked on the record company into getting it back out there. So I’m glad it’s out, because it came out at the end of 1982, and then it just sort of disappeared. Like, ‘What happened to that? That’s a serious document.’”

The Police Around the World follows the band on their first world tour in 1979-80, traveling on a shoestring, and long before their nascent fame warranted it. But the idea to assume global domination before the band had actually earned it, which came from their manager, the then-budding music empresario Miles Copeland (Stewart’s brother), was an ingenious one.

“It wasn’t about profit,” Copeland contends. “In fact, it was probably more about breaking even. And it wasn’t about opening new markets, because they weren’t even markets.”

Moreover, it was grueling.

“If you look at our schedule from back then, it’s astonishing,” Summers says. “Of course, we were young — or at least the other two were — but it’s amazing that we took the initiative and really went for it, traveling to all of these places where very few people had even heard of us. But it really paid off. It set us on a course.”

“It did pay off, but it sure had its ridiculous moments,” Copeland adds. “We went to a record store in Mumbai, which was called Bombay then, and they said, ‘Ah, your record’s number one!’ And we said, ‘Well, we haven’t got a record deal in India.’ They told us, ‘Oh, that’s okay. We print them ourselves.’”

That commitment — when, as Summers points outs, other English bands were reluctant to tackle lengthy tours of the U.S., let alone go to the heart of India — paid off. The band made fans, not to mention headlines, and they positioned themselves as world-beaters that MTV and U.S. radio had to pay attention to.

And the film, more travelogue than documentary, follows the band through both the heights of some of the best live performances by The Police ever captured on film and the mundane slog of day-to-day life on tour, as they travel the globe with visits to local sights between performances.

“It’s nice to see, because it became an out-of-control freight train,” Copeland says. “We definitely got some vertigo. I mean, it’s what we wanted. We weren’t afraid of it. But it was a little unsettling, the speed, the altitude. And we weren’t really interested in putting down roots, but we felt that if we did, if we tried to hold onto anything, we’d lose an arm.”

Best of all, the physical release of The Police Around the World includes bonus features of four complete live performance in more intimate settings than you’ve likely ever seen The Police. In a word, those early days were scorching.

“It was when we were still hungry,” Copeland says. “It was before we hit the stadiums. We were still playing theaters. We still had two more albums to do after this. We were still working our way in. We were still blazing. Where there was conflict, there was still collaboration and codependence. So, this movie is right in the sweet spot.”

“When you’re all dying to make it, and you haven’t got any money, there’s an extra sort of fervor in every performance,” Summers recalls. “We were very keen to impress people. ‘We’re a great band and one day we’re going to be famous.’ We wanted to make it. We wanted to be very good and play to more people, you know, on the purest level just get more fans. I don’t think we ever really lost that, but the film does really show that intensity.”

And that’s where the live album comes in.

The 1995 release Live!, which coupled unremarkable mixes of a performance in Boston in 1979 captured by the local radio station WBCN with largely uninspired performances from the Atlanta stop on the band’s 1983 Synchronicity tour, was — until the release of Certifiable, the live album and home video which captured the band’s 2007-2008 reunion tour — the only way to hear The Police as the fearsome trio the band was in its heyday. To say that it didn’t live up to the task is putting it kindly.

Now, with the Around the World live album, which features tracks recorded in Japan, Hong Kong and the U.K. on the tour of the same name, you can travel back in time to 1980, when The Police were subsisting as a live act on the superior material of their first two albums, ambitious beyond belief and full of the youthful energy — “we were very physical at that stage,” says Summers — that makes live rock and roll one of the most exciting and transporting experiences that is legal.

“It’s great for people who have never seen the Police to see and hear this,” Summers says. “The performance at Osaka is great.”

“I got tired just watching it,” Copeland jokes. “Like, ‘Damn! Simmer down, puppy!’ I know better now.”

Still, while he does love the live album, Copeland made a confession about the film version of Around the World.

“I only watched about the first 15 minutes,” he says as we wrap up our conversation. “I will share with you a personal human weakness, which is that, unfortunately, in Australia, just before we set off on all the filming, I got the worst haircut in history, and I’m suffering from a bad hair day throughout this amazing adventure. So I’m sorry to confess that I know this is a climb down from my exalted position in the world, but I can’t even look at that hairdo. The pyramids look great, Bombay, incredible, Hong Kong. But man. That hairdo. No can do.”

For Summers, the trip down memory lane was a more positive experience.

“Those early days were the best, no question about it,” he recalls. “We hadn’t got to the limo stage yet. It was very important. There was loads of practice and camaraderie. And we had a great time. I cherish those early days.”

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