The Police Newcastle City Hall 28 April 1980 9.15 (late) show
By 1980 The Police were one of the biggest bands in the world. In 1979 they had released their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, which topped the British charts for four weeks and included the UK number-one singles “Message in a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon”. They headlined the first night of the Reading Festival in 1979, and, along with Thin Lizzy, were the highlight of the August Bank holiday weekend. So when Sting and Co returned to Newcastle in 1980 it was as triumphant heroes. They announced two shows at the City Hall, and early and late show on 28th April. Tickets went on sale by postal application only and the shows were massively over subscribed. I managed to get tickets for both shows, and Marie and I went along to the late show, having passed on the tickets to the earlier show to friends. We had great seats right down the front. Anticipation for the gigs was high, and The Police put on a great high energy show, to a rapturous reception from the home crowd. This was the last time I was to see The Police in a small venue. Other gigs from here on were outdoor shows at Milton Keynes Bowl and Gateshead Stadium. Setlist: Next to You; So Lonely; Walking on the Moon; Hole in My Life; Truth Hits Everybody; Bring on the Night; Driven to Tears; The Bed’s Too Big Without You; Message in a Bottle; Roxanne; Can’t Stand Losing You
The Police Newcastle City Hall 28 April 1980 9.15 (late) show
The Police Newcastle Mayfair 14 June 1979
The next time I saw The Police was at Newcastle Mayfair. By then they had hit the charts with Can’t Stand Losing You, So Lonely and Roxanne, and had built up a strong following. They were on the brink of the mega-stardom which was to follow, starting later that year when they hit No 1 in the UK with Message in a Bottle and Walking on the Moon. I was spoilt for choice this night. Dire Straits were playing the City Hall, and The Police at the Mayfair. Which gig to go to? Well I tried to go to both, as I often did in those days. So my mate and I saw Dire Straits at the City Hall, and then raced down to the Mayfair for the Police. I’ve already written about the Dire Straits gig which was sold out and great; this was the first time they had played the City Hall and it was at the time of Sultans of Swing. For once the timings worked. We arrived at the Mayfair in time for the Police’s set having missed support acts The Cramps and Bobby Henry. The Mayfair was packed, and the Police were just great. Sting was on top form and was getting heavily into his Yo..Yo..Yo.. reggae cum jazz / scat singing at the time. It was very clear that this band was much more than a punk band, and were a great pop act. I always found it strange going into a gig late. Its like arriving at a party where everyone has been drinking all night and you come along sober. When we entered the Mayfair it was packed, hot, sweaty and the Police were just coming on stage. Sting was wearing his boiler suit, Andy was chopping out some great guitar rhythms and Stewart was at the back pounding away on his drums. A great night. The next time I saw the Police was when they returned to play two triumphant shows at the City Hall.
I’d seen Sting several times in Last Exit and the Newcastle Big Band, and knew that he had gone down to London with Last Exit. The next thing I heard was that he had formed a punk band called the Police and was supporting an American punk singer called Cherry Vanilla who was touring the UK. The first chance to see this pairing was at a gig at Middlesbrough Rock Garden in early 1977. Cherry had been David Bowie’s USA publicist, and relocated to London in 1976. The set up for the tour was the Police as support act, with Sting and Stewart Copeland also playing in Cherry’s band. The Police line-up at the time was Sting on bass and vocals, Stewart Copeland on drums, and Henry Padovani on guitar. I remember thinking it a strange set-up. Here was the drummer from the prog-rock band Curved Air, a jazz bass player and an unknown guitarist supporting an American new wave singer. It didn’t seem that authentic at the time compared to other punk and new wave acts. I’d always been impressed by Sting in Last Exit, liked Curved Air, and was interested in the punk scene, and hence wanted to see Cherry Vanilla, so Marie and I went to the gig at the Rock Garden, which was on 12 March 1977. As it happened Cherry Vanilla didn’t turn up for some reason, and the Police headlined that night. Their set was pretty straight ahead punk as far as I can recall. The only recored output from that period was the single Fall Out. Their set at the time include Grand Hotel, which was a Last Exit song and Clouds in Venice, which was written by Stewart Copeland and his then wife Sonja Kristina (from Curved-Air). I recall the music as fast-paced typical 1977 speed punk. The Cherry Vanilla / Police pairing appeared at Newcastle Polytechnic on 6 May 1977. and Marie and I went along again. This time Cherry Vanilla did perform with Sting and Stewart in her band, the Police played their own short set, and the evening was opened by local band Penetration who were starting to gig around the region at the time. I was a big fan of Penetration and although their songs were just forming at the time, they were the highlight of that night for me.
Before Sting formed the Police and started his journey on the road to mega-stardom, he could be found playing jazz-rock in a small upstairs room in a pub in Gosforth. The pub was the Gosforth Hotel, and the band was called Last Exit. Last Exit consisted on Sting on bass and vocals, drummer Ronnie Pearson, guitarists John Hedley and keyboardist Gerry Richardson. They existed for a couple of years in the mid-70s, and made quite a name for themselves playing around the Newcastle Area. They had a residency at the Gosforth Hotel, and also often played in the bar of the University Theatre (now the Playhouse). I saw them in both venues, and have strong memories of a couple of great gigs at the Gosforth Hotel. I went along with Marie, having read about Last Exit in the local press, and a write-up in Sounds. I also remember hearing a set they recorded for local radio. The room where they played was pretty small, and on the occasions we went to see them, the audience was quite small. The material was very jazzy with some great guitar work, and Sting’s vocals stood out. Their set included some early versions of songs which would later be recorded by the Police including “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”. Last Exit released a single in 1975, “Whispering Voices” and in 1977, they moved to London to look for greater success. However, after a few gigs most of the band returned to Newcastle, leaving Sting in the capital to pursue fame and fortune, which he was soon, of course, to find. I also saw Sting perform a few times as bass player in the Newcastle Big Band which was a large jazz band of around 20 musicians who played saxophones, trumpets, trombones, etc. They had a residency on Sunday lunchtimes in the bar of the University theatre, and I went through a few lunchtimes to catch their set. A very rare locally pressed lp exists of the band which was recorded in 1971 and features them playing standards such as Macarthur Park and Hey Jude. Sting was very recognisable in those days, and was always wearing his trademark striped sweater from which his name came. Marie and I would often spot him at gigs at Newcastle Poly Students Union in the mid 70s.
The Orchestral Tubular Bells with the Northern Concert Orchestra conducted by David Bedford with support from Last Exit Newcastle City Hall 26 October 1975
This concert featured the Northern Concert Orchestra, conducted by David Bedford, performing Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. The event opened the A1(M) 1975 – 1976 season which also featured concerts by Philip Glass (wish I had gone to that one), Derek Bailey (solo guitar improvisations) and workshops in “experimental and electronic music”. The concert did not feature Mike Oldfield, but did feature Andy Summers (soon to be of the Police) on guitar. The programmes tells me: “Tonight’s guitar soloist is now a member of the Kevin Coyne band, after a very varied career in rock”. The concert is of particular interest because the support act was local up and coming band Last Exit, which featured one Gordon Sumner, also know as Sting, and also soon to be of the Police. I don’t know if Andy and Sting met that night, but it is reported that Andy did watch some of Last Exit’s set. There is also a story that Stewart Copeland was playing with Curved Air at Newcastle Poly (I think I will have attended the gig; I certainly saw Curved Air at the Poly) and he went along to see Last Exit (but I think that may have been on another night, and the Last Exit gig was likely to have been at the Gosforth Hotel, but thats a story for another day. The programme tells me of Last Exit: “Formed one year ago (the birthday was celebrated with their regular audience a few weeks ago) Last Exit play electric jazz and jazz-rock; both their own material and a well chosen repertoire of other peoples’ music, not all of it well known…this is their first concert hall appearance. Last Exit are: John Hedley – guitar; Gerry Richardson – piano; Gordon Sumner – bass; Ronnie Pearson – drums”. The gig was not well attended. My ticket says I has a balcony seat, but I recall going and sitting right at the front, as the hall was pretty empty. As far as I can remember the orchestra performed Tubular Bells in two parts, with Last Exit playing a set in the interval between. I went along partly to see Last Exit who I had already seen once or twice, and also to hear Tubular Bells, and to see David Bedford who was well known for his recent work with Roy Harper and others. It was very different from the rock gigs that I was used to attending at the time, and I found it a very welcome change. However, the concert goes down in history as the first time that Andy Summers and Sting were in the same hall, and performed (sort of, although not actually) together. I’ll write a little more on Last Exit and early Sting gigs (pre Police) tomorrow.
The Bedrock Festival Newcastle June 1979
Yesterday I wrote about the 1977 Bedrock festival. The event obviously ran again in 1979, as I have a ticket stub for a show which took place at Newcastle Guildhall. I don’t recall whether or not there was a Bedrock festival in 1978. Once again, the festival showcased local rock talent. The Weights grew out of the ashes of Harry Hack and the Bog G after they split. White Heat were fronted by Bob Smeaton, who went on to be a very successful film director, directing the Grammy-award winning Anthology series on the Beatles, and many other music-related films. At the time, White Heat had quite a following locally, and released a couple of singles, and an album which is quite collectable nowadays. Their music was based in new wave, but more of the power pop or new mod variety. Bob was a great front man. I recall seeing the band at Newcastle Mayfair one night; the place was packed and their was a feeling that we were witnessing the next big thing. Their single “Nervous Breakdown” is great; there is an excellent video on Youtube of them performing it live. Disguise were another band who seemed poised for big success, which alluded them. They came from Hartlepool, and were also of the power pop genre. They had some quite catchy songs. As well as this gig at the Guildhall, I remember going to see them at the Bell in Horden which ran a series of Sunday night gigs at the time.
The Bedrock Festival Newcastle July 1977
I’m going to jump out of sequence now and then over the next couple of weeks, as I want to cover a few punk and new wave acts that I am writing on for another project. Apologies for that; I’ll return to the letter I soon (lots of Iron Maiden gigs to cover). Today I’m going to blog on The Bedrock Festival which took place over the fist weekend of July in the year that punk broke, 1977. The full line-up was: Friday lunchtime: Penetration; Harry Hack and the Big G; Friday night: Southbound; East Coast; Steve Brown Band; Scratchband; Saturday lunchtime: Sidekick; Harcourt’s Heroes; Saturday night: Pete Scott Band; Arbre; Hot Snax; Sunday lunchtime: Kip; Moonlight Drive; Sunday night: Young Bucks; Michael Ford’s Limousine; Junco Parters. I went along to the Friday lunchtime session and on Sunday evening, although I only have a ticket stub for the Sunday gig. I definitely remember the Friday session because I went especially to see Penetration who I was a great fan of at the time. I can only assume that I paid on the door for that session, and hence didn’t get a ticket. The event was part of broader Newcastle Festival activities, and was a weekend devoted to local rock talent. The venue for all the concert was the University Theatre, which is a small hall sited next to Newcastle University. It is now called the Playhouse Theatre, and is the home of Northern Stage. The venue for the Friday lunchtime gig was changed at the last minute to the dining hall of nearby Newcastle Polytechnic, because the University Theatre took a policy decision to pull out of any punk rock gigs, which just shows the paranoia which surrounded punk at that time. The venue wasn’t full, and the audience was a small grouping of punks, rock fans and students who had gathered on a Friday lunch time to enjoy the music of a couple of local punk bands. Harry Hack and the Big G were up first followed by Penetration, who were starting to build up their own following. Both bands put on a good show, but my memories are of Penetration who had assembled a set of strong, self-penned songs, which became the tracks on their first album, Moving Targets, which was released the following year. I remember my early favourites were Duty Free Technology, Silent Community, Firing Squad (which was to become a single) and Pauline’s great treatment of Patti Smith’s Free Money. Great stuff. The Sunday night was headlined by Michael Ford’s Limousine. Michael Ford was also known as Mick Whittaker, who is a great soul singer in the mould of Joe Cocker and Paul Rodgers. He was great that night, and there was a feeling that this guy was going to go on and make it really big, which never happened, and is a great shame.