As a kid I was brought up on a mix of Dire Straits, Cliff Richard, Neil Diamond, Eddy Grant and Harry Chapin, not really having a musical choice of my own until those Sunday mornings when The Roxy would play on the TV, or the family would all gather in the lounge after an episode of the original Robin Hood television series ended and we switched on the radio to listen to the Radio 1 chart show. 1987 was the year Michael Jackson released Bad, my very first cassette tape - I had to wait until Christmas to get my copy and I was seriously miffed because my best friend, Paul, got his copy for his birthday in October.
At that point in my buck-teethed, bowl-cut hair life I had no idea who The Police were. Their last album had come out in 83 and they'd split up soon after. At that time I was 4 or 5 and more interested in moving from playgroup to the infants and primary school, and whilst their Singles album had come out in 86, it hadn't touched my radar.
It wasn't until another year later, in 1988, that I first came across them and my musical appreciation changed forever. I was 8, approaching 9.
On and off over the years I'd spend time with my nextdoor neighbour, Chris, often playing on their Atari - that old classic Out Run, or Ranarama - discussing or swapping Fighting Fantasy gamebooks or playing with his parent's spanking new hi-fi equipment, reading funny stories to each other with a golden-headed microphone and making funny noises with the effects for our own amusement. We'd met proper at primary school. At the time Chris had a best friend called... Chris, and my first foray into their world was a crazy playground sing off, with them assailing my ears with Michael Jackson's Beat It (as a way of trying to clear me off their patch of grass) and me returning their 'diss' with the strains of Bros's I Owe You Nothing (oh for the love of God, how embarrassing)!
Fortunately we became friends because I desperately needed someone to show me right music from wrong music.
And so it was in 1988 that one day I knocked on Chris's door and he invited me in with such enthusiasm that I thought we'd (as in his dad) had bought a new game for the Atari (Leisure Suit Larry was on the horizon), but no. Chris wanted to show me firstly his parents' new CD player (the first I ever saw), and notably one of his Dad's first albums: The Police's The Singles. He wanted me to listen to his favourite song - Every Little Thing She Does is Magic - and whilst I struggled with the notion of choosing the track you wanted to listen to instead of having to fast forward and rewind, finding first which side of the tape you were trying to listen to before choosing direction (I wouldn't get my own CD Player until late in 93) he played one of what I thought was a truly phenomenal song - that building open of keyboard and guitar, the dash of hi-hat, the drop out followed by a carribean chorus sound, was like nothing I'd heard before, and Crikey! I'd been on this planet for some 8 years.
We sat on his parents's lounge carpet for most of the day skipping back and forth through that album, him always returning us to Every Little Thing, and me pushing for Message In A Bottle.
I think that what struck me most was the drumming. I'd had no previous experience in the music I'd listened to previously of a drummer playing an active role. In the majority of songs I'd listened to the drums seemed to follow a simple set pattern that was repeated adinfinitum, but in Copeland's drumming there seemed little uniformity and it was as if Sting and Andy Summers were rushing to the chorus so that Stewart could unleash himself.
The songs all sounded so different (I'd no idea they spanned 5 years and 5 albums or that these had each been a hit) and yet they went together like a strange story I'd no real concept of - I wouldn't properly understand Roxanne until my parents explained prostitution, that Invisible Sun concerned Northern Ireland, what the hell The Scylla and Charybdis were, referred to in Wrapped Around Your Finger or the irony of Don't Stand So Close To Me (my brother would end up in a similar situation some 15 years later).
The whole album was alive, every instrument playing as if to assert itself over all the others, and Sting's voice, and his lyrics drawing it all together, making it all real.
Somehow I managed to buy a tape copy, whether from my own pocket money or begged off my parents, and that tape sat solidly in the tapedeck for years to come, accompanying us on holiday in the car tape player, or when my family grew bored and wanted to listen to my brother's Billy Joel album, I'd pop it in my walkman. Either that or Dad' would turn it off because he found the gorgeous King of Pain too depressing.
I pored over the lyrics until I had them down and I sang and sang. Dad would later ruin Roxanne for me by squealing the title as Sting did just to annoy me (at the time I was going out with a South African girl, funnily enough called Roxanne - yes, we were quite young), and long after we split up and I was in emotional turmoil over my loss, Dad would remind me: "rrrrrrrrROCKS-ANNNNNN". I wonder what ever happened to her? She moved to the States the year I went to secondary school. *SIGH*
Message in a Bottle I'd ruin myself, only this year in fact - with the release of Guitar Hero 2. Those damn chords are just too quick to play without breaking my middle digit.
Anyhoo, they're back! And tonight, the first of the UK concerts, starts in Birmingham, and - YAY - I'm gonna be there, 14 rows from the front on the floor in front of the stage.
14 rows! They can sweat on me!
So, this is a big thanks to Chris for giving me musical sense and helping me fall in love with the greatest rock band in the world... in my opinion ;)