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28 October 2014

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The Police back on the frontline

In 1986 The Police left the stage as the biggest rock band in the world. Now they're back for a special mammoth reunion tour. BBC Radio Berkshire's Phil Kennedy chats to guitarist Andy Summers about going back on the road.

Still playing: Andy Summers
Still playing: Andy Summers

Listen to the interview in full here:

audio Andy Summers interview >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

You can read excerpts from the interview below.

Preparing for your big world tour then?

"We became the hottest band in the world almost overnight in that era - I wonder if you could do that anymore."
Andy Summers

"Well we're getting there, we're practising. We were rehearsing up until last weekend in fact. We're taking a little break this week and then we're back after the weekend."

You had a bit of a break in between...

"Oh that slight interruption you mean!"

...of about 20 years!

"Oh well, that feels like five minutes actually."

I got the impression it felt like unfinished business - the whole thing with The Police. You suggested that at the end of the book (Andy Summers' memoirs, called One Train Later), that there was more still to come.

"Yeah, it is unfinished business. It took longer than I thought. I'd certainly passed the point when I thought it was ever going to happen because certainly Sting has in many many years said he'd never want to do it again.

They're back: The Police
They're back: The Police

"But during the course of 2006 something changed in the atmosphere.

"I did see Sting a few times in the year and of course I had the book out and Stew (drummer Stewart Copeland) had his movie out. I was talking to Sting in New York - just one thing after another seemed to lead to the point where he was prepared to get back into it."

When you look at your life, it is bizarre the way you ended up in The Police.

"It is yeah, the more I talk about it in the book, the whole one train later metaphor, but thank God that train turned up because maybe there wouldn't have been a Police and all our lives would have been different.

(Andy is referring to the chance meeting he had with Stewart Copeland, owing to a delayed train. If either had caught a different train one afternoon in the mid-seventies, The Police would never have formed.)

"Maybe it was just destiny."

When you were growing up - you obviously did love music didn't you.

Back in the day: The Police
Back in the day: The Police

"I guess by about 11 there was some sort of seed in me. I could feel something about music but I couldn't articulate it, I didn't know what it was. And then it sort of went beyond that when I got a guitar shoved in my hands. That was it, it was sort of an obsession from then on."

About the whole punk scene, there were questions of 'is it real or is it fake'. But punk also allowed a whole lot of talented people to come through, like The Police, Like Elvis Costello, like Ian Dury, Squeeze...

"That's right, the so-called punk era - the costumes weren't really genuine, in our case we weren't really punks. Stuart always calls it a flag of convenience, which in many ways it was.

"Basically if you're a musician in London in the late 1970s - unless you were a punk you were basically out of the business. You 'had' to go there, that was all the record companies were interested in. That was absolutely the prevailing wind at the time.

"For me it was odd, I'd been to America and studied music at college and everything. I had to toss all that out the window to join this punk band called The Police."

From having no hope, in no time at all suddenly you were number one in the late seventies. Then there was what became a Police 'industry' rather than a band - that must have been weird.

Photo shoot: The Police
Photo shoot: The Police

"It was. Once it started to happen it went very quickly. We became the hottest band in the world almost overnight in that era - I wonder if you could do that anymore.

"But in a strange way it was like 'to the manor born', we all took to it fairly quickly, we were good at being rock stars. It suited us."

Every time you had a new album did you seem to gain more hangers on?

"Yeah,the entourage just seemed to grow every week. We were just the centre of the cyclone, particularly on tour of course and it'll be that way over this next year."

The endless touring, does it get to you in the end? Is that why bands start getting fractious with each other? Is it just the life style rather than the actual personalities, or is it both?

"Yeah you get kind of locked into that, and even apart form all the great stage shows, it is a grind.

In their prime: The Police
In their prime: The Police

"We're about to launch into this massive tour - 92 shows and upward wondering 'how am I going to survive this mentally? Phsyically? What disciplines am I going to I have to get me through all the next year?'. Apart from the fact that I've got to play guitar very well and be on stage every night.

"There's a lot of down time and coping with your own boredom - how do you make it all the way through? And people do break up."

Which Police songs are you really looking forward to playing again?

"Most of them really. We're playing around with them but mostly we can't change them radically because people expect to hear them a certain way.

"For instance we've been playing Bring On The Night, we've just come up with a fantastic new way of playing the chorus of that song, which we'd done originally. It sounds so cool what we're doing with it now.

"We don't really have to relearn the old songs because we know them. It's more about really gelling as a band and getting back into that really emphatic way of playing together so that it's all sort of instinctual.

"You know, playing around with the arrangements here and there to make it fresh and interesting for us, I think actually we're going to play these songs better than we've ever played them.

"Hopefully the public will find it interesting as well."

last updated: 04/04/07
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kory kraft
I saw them in July 2007 in St. Louis, they were great. The crowd was into it, and it was such a good vibe. Their musicianship was very good. Andy Summers is one of the most under rated guitar players on the planet. He rocks! To be 66 and be able to do what he does is unreal!

This guy is light years ahead ahead of the rock guitar fraternity. A national treasure!

Dear Mr. Summers,I saw your reunion tour in Phoenix, Arizona. I was in the second to the last row, so I couldn't read what your guitar strap's message was. I really want to know. Thank you for putting this show together for all of us. It's flipping fantastic! Sincerely,Rebecca

Jose (from Lima - Peru - South America)
I felt the same like SJK, my instincs were telling me THE POLICE will reunite again and Bingo!! Also I expected the same set list of the rehearsals at Whiskey a Go Go, the DVD, two new songs and a new album. Hoped to see them at Peru, for the very first time, cause I am not have the chance to fly abroad to see them live. If it not happen to me, I'll become the real "King of Pain". Great interview and great responses from the outstanding and charismatic guitarist Andy Summers. By the way, THE POLICE is considered in PERU as legends and one of the great bands of Rock n'roll history

Johnny Beane
Great interview Phil!Looking forward to seeing Andy on stage again!!JB

SJK (from Boston Ma.)
Growing up in the 1980's, I've been a long-time fan of the Police -in fact, my favorite band of all-time. My instincts were telling me that something is sure to happen down the road -they finally got back together. I held out hope that they would get back together and so they did. I can only imagine how other Police fans feel of this but I am certain we had to be patient through the years for this moment to happen. I have tickets to go see them for the first time in Boston Massachusetts July weekend.

Jayne Hawkins
Andy Summers... guitarist in the best band in the world, and an interesting and intelligent interview as usual.

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