How George Martin Kept the Police From Breaking Up
In the past, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland had enjoyed piling the pressure on each other, which boosted their creativity and kept them driving each other to greater artistic achievements. But as guitarist Summers wrote in his 2007 memoir One Train Later, this time it was different. Determined to stave off the seemingly inevitable, they came up with a plan to ask a leading light in music production for help.
"[W]e continue playing tricks on one another, trying to fuck each other up," Summers wrote of the scenes at AIR Studios on the island of Montserrat. "Sometimes these antics work and add more edge to the playing. But one afternoon in the torpor of the Caribbean heat, the ionized air of the studio and the effects of simple boredom, we reach a point where we are paralyzed, unable to move forward...we hate being together and are right on the edge of breaking up. Pain fills the room and we look at one another and would like to be anywhere else but here."
Realizing that making the record had become "the supreme ordeal," the band felt the need for a mentor to "point the way forward, save the sinking ship." Summers continued: "And then like a ray of light, it comes to me. The owner of the studio is on the island: the producer of the Beatles, George Martin – what about him? Suddenly it seems like a great idea, a way out of the black funk with the ultimate producer. It's either that, or this, our fifth album, is going to die halfway through – and then what?"
With Sting and Copeland approving of the suggestion, Summers found himself dispatched to Martin's home a few miles away. He decided to walk so he could formulate his thinking during the journey. Amid flashbacks from many aspects of his life, he recalled thinking: "I can't believe I'm doing this – the first time I heard 'She Loves You,' would I have ever thought that I would end up hoofing it across a tropical island under the beating sun to get the producer of the Fab Four?"
By the time he got to Martin’s house he felt he was suffering a mild case of sunstroke. He knocked on the door, asked for the producer and shortly found himself face-to-face with the man himself. "George appears in the gloom of the hallway like a pale white ghost. 'Hey, come on in,' he says. 'Cup of tea?' We go out to the back of the house and sit on the veranda, and over tea he asks me if we are enjoying the studio and how we are getting on.
"I take a deep breath and tell him that the studio is fine, very nice actually, but that in fact we are going through a period of internal friction – basically we are at one another's throats. Can he help, would he like to take over, guide us through the process, do some of the old Martin magic? We could be a great team."
Watch the Police's 'Every Breath You Take' Video
The answer can't have been what Summers was hoping to hear. "'Hmmmm,' says George, 'I'm sorry to hear that you are having a bad time of it, but why don't you just try and sort it out yourselves? I'm sure you can do it.' And he gives me some sage advice about carrying on and pulling through this tough stretch: 'It's typical group stuff – seen it all before. We're English – 'nother cup of Darjeeling?'"
Regardless of his expectations, Summers felt "reassured by his strength and experience" and imagined Martin as Obi Wan Kenobi. "Yeah, we can get past this," he told himself. "We chat for a while longer. I thank him and, with my jaw pushing forward, start marching back toward the studio. I imagine that I hear Sir George calling out behind me, 'May the force be with you.'"
By the time the guitarist got back to the studio, it seemed like Martin's magic had traveled ahead of him. "It was [as] if he [had] waved his wand across the valley; the air seems to have cleared," he said. "Maybe we had to go all the way down before we could come up again. We glide back together with a crisp new courtesy toward one another and continue on toward the completion of the album."
History proves the endeavor was worthwhile: Synchronicity spent eight weeks at the top of the chart, with lead single "Every Breath You Take" making the Police a household name and transforming their tour dates to giant events that sold 50-60,000 tickets a night. While it was to be their final album, it secured their individual futures.
"The press reaction is interesting because the word 'synchronicity' throws them for a moment," Summers said of the first wave of interest in the record. "It is a word that is not heard much in the rock world, and some people think we have invented it. But it is picked up and rolled around the tongue – 's-i-n-k-r-o-n-c-t-ee,' they say – and the word travels around the globe into the malls of the Midwest, the record sections of department stores in Manchester, the mouths of teenage girls as they try to get the word out, the confused minds of mums and dads as they say, 'Sin what? Sting–cron–isn't–he?' Students look it up; hamburgers are named after it."