Rock concert listings have in recent years become increasingly surreal, filled as they are with the names of reformed bands from the distant past — Genesis, The Police, Steely Dan, The Cars, Wet Wet Wet, The Stranglers, Squeeze, and even Led Zeppelin. If Doctor Who were to appear on TV as well, the illusion of the past overtaking the present would be complete. What’s that? Oh dear.
It’s easy to be cynical about these backward-looking band reunions because, so far, no reformed band has made a credible claim to superseding the artistic achievements of their heyday. Big bucks, rather than music, appear to be the motive in most cases, but I sense that there’s more to it. For starters, most people find an opportunity to turn back the clock and attempt to revisit the intensity and aliveness of adolescence hard to resist. In addition, many of the above-mentioned bands went through a period during which they were derided as dinosaurs. Quite a few have since been rehabilitated as venerable living rock legends, so why not go out and enjoy the adulation?
The most critically acclaimed reunion has arguably been the 30-year anniversary tour of The Police. The reason for this may be that they were one of the few big bands to escape a period of critical censure. When The Police burst onto the international stage in 1977, they rode the coat-tails of the trendy post-punk movement. Eventually becoming the biggest band in the world, Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers were wise enough to quit at the height of their success in 1984, before they had descended into too much Spinal Tap-like excess. During their tenure, The Police were responsible for a large number of respectable hit singles — ‘Message In A Bottle’, ‘Roxanne’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’ — as well as five widely acclaimed studio albums, from Outlandos d’Amour (1977) to Synchronicity (1983).
The massive commercial success of The Police Reunion Tour 2007/08, with stadium-sized gigs selling out in minutes, 1.5 million tickets sold worldwide and a gross revenue of £80 million, has nevertheless taken many by surprise, even the band members themselves. Visit www.thepolice.com or YouTube, and you’ll find guitarist Andy Summers telling of his fear that nobody would turn up. He had probably spent too many years playing jazz clubs and releasing relatively obscure experimental and jazz-tinged solo albums to instantly tag on to the difference in scale between the commercial appeal of his solo work and that of The Police.
But the punters are en masse laying out serious money for tickets. As a result, Summers, 64, is now in the middle of a year-long Police reunion tour, being worshipped by tens of thousands of delirious fans and seeing his bank balance swell by millions. One would imagine that he is flying high and bubbling with enthusiasm. Not so, it appears, on the morning that I interview him on his hotel phone. Such is the guitarist’s current profile that he has taken to registering in hotels under a pseudonym. Having just called the hotel, the unusual name is still lingering in my mind and I ask Summers about it. In reply, the guitarist barks, “Well, if I told you and you printed it, there would be no more point in using it, would there?” Silence. OK, that didn’t go down too well, so best ask him about something that will make him smile. “How are things going with the tour?” I ask, sweetly. But Summers is having none of it. “What kind of question is that?” he snarls, “I can’t answer that. You have to ask me specific questions.” The press officer who arranged the interview admits later that Summers has a reputation as a difficult interviewee, with the caveat that since he is The Police’s guitarist, he has “probably deserved” [sic] the right to be awkward.