The Police: Censored in Their Prime?
In the early '80s The Police rose to become the biggest band in the world on the strength of such tunes as Roxanne, Don't Stand So Close to Me and Every Breath You Take. But according to Dave Wakeling of The English Beat -- who toured extensively with the trio comprised of Sting (whose real name is Gordon Sumner), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland – the band was kept on "an incredibly short leash" and "banned" from speaking their minds by none other than Stewart's manager brother, Miles Copeland III.
"Touring with The Police was an odd situation -- they were ruled by fear by Miles Copeland," Wakeling tells me. "They were not allowed to speak their minds. They were heavily contained, and we felt very sad for them really, because they did have ideas and opinions that they were banned from being able to say."
Wakeling, who is currently on tour in support of The Complete Beat box set and Keep the Beat: The Very Best of the English Beat, worked with Miles and reveals the cryptic message behind Sting's choice to sport The English Beat logo in one of The Police's most famous videos: "I think that was one of the reasons that he went to such extremes to wear English Beat T-shirts, like in the Don't Stand So Close to Me video and photo sessions: He was trying to, like, bear allegiance to some of the things we were saying that he was not allowed to say by Miles Copeland."
"It was really The Monkees of punk, you know? It was the Punkees: We're too busy singing to sing about anything that's really going on," he continues. "And that was awful sad, because they were decent folks, especially Gordon."
Miles Copeland formed his own label, I.R.S. Records, through A&M Records in 1979 and signed artists that included R.E.M., The Go-Go's, The Bangles and Gary Numan. Wakeling calls the man "a wonderful rogue" and "fun, but exacerbating." He adds that Copeland "wanted to be secretary of state."
The Police were one of rock's most successful bands, formed in 1977 and putting out five hit albums (Outlandos D'Amour, Reggatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta, Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity) through 1984 before Sting set out on a solo career, essentially dissolving the band. Contemplating the output of The Police, Wakeling's unique behind-the-scenes perspective sees the once-promising artistic trajectory of the band taking a turn for the worse due to such tight control, once again likening them to The Monkees.
"They sort of eviscerated the end of punk, didn't they, to make it like it was pure pop entertainment, which was a bloody shame. And they got away with it, which is even worse," says Wakeling, whose own band rose at the same time from ska, reggae and punk roots. "Like the Monkees, [The Police] had some great tunes, but you knew they had a lot more to say, and we knew exactly how they were banned from saying it. They were on an incredibly short leash."
He adds, "This was about making millions of dollars as quickly as you could, which I thought was very sad, because I thought their art was worth more than that. I was very pleased when Sting went off on his own and managed to speak up a bit more, and I admired him for taking the chance when he could."