Whenever I give a tour of WQED’s building, I invariably mention Sting. The British singer/songwriter best known as the frontman for The Police — his real name is Gordon Sumner — got his
nickname thanks to a black-and-yellow-striped
sweater (which a Steelers fan might covet) he
wore early in his singing career as a member
of a Newcastle-based band called the Phoenix
Jazzmen. Some thought the sweater made Sumner look like a bee, and the nickname stuck.
In 1977, at 25, Sting moved to London and
helped to put together a new punk trio called The
Police with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers.
In 1978, they cut their first album, “Outlandos
d’Amour,” and released a song called “Roxanne”
that Sting had written.
In the Fall of ’ 78, The Police flew over for their
first American tour. It was a low-cost, three-week
adventure that had them driving, schlepping
equipment, setting up and performing by themselves. They first played at CBGB’s in New York,
then drove around the eastern United States in a
Ford Econoline van.
They played in Pittsburgh at a club called
Phase Three in Swissvale, one of the first local venues to feature punk bands. I would have
liked to have seen that show — the crowd reportedly booed the band — although Andy Summers
doesn’t mention it in his memoir about those
years, “One Train Later.” Summers does remember
a gig in Poughkeepsie in which they played a full
set for an audience of four people.
By the next year, “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand
Losing You” were hits, and The Police were back
in Pittsburgh on March 20, 1979 for a celebrated
show at the legendary Decade in Oakland. They
were back in 1983 at the Civic Arena; it was their
last Pittsburgh appearance before the band broke
up in ’ 86 (although the reunited band did return to
play at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in 2008).
Sting came to Pittsburgh often as a solo act, in
1991, ’ 93, ’ 96 and 2000, all at the Pavilion (though
Early in the
it was called the Star Lake Amphitheatre for all
but the last of those performances; it since has
changed its name again, to the First Niagara Pa-
vilion). I missed all of those shows; in fact, I have
seen Sting per-
form only once.
morning of July 16,
1993, when his song
“Fields Of Gold” was
new, Sting was scheduled
to perform the ballad on BBC
One’s “Top of the Pops.” Because
he was in town at Star Lake
the night before, the British program’s producers needed a place in
which Sting could be
captured on video
via satellite to the
U.K. They decided
WQED’s Studio A
(where all of the
Neighborhood programs were taped)
was just right.
We WQED employees
were told that no one would
be allowed in the studio during the performance, but I
was a friend of Patty Walker,
who was in charge of studio
rentals back then. She let me
hang out if I kept my mouth shut.
The studio audience was about the
same size as the one The Police faced
in Poughkeepsie in ’ 78.
As I remember, Sting and the band were not
happy to be up early for a performance. The players were to mime with their instruments; the musical track had been recorded early, most likely in
the U.K. Sting, however, would sing live to tape,
broadcast back to England via satellite.
There were a couple of rehearsals and some
audio-equipment problems, but soon, it was
showtime. Sting’s familiar voice sounded strong
and pure. The band members perked up a bit (
although not too much) and the BBC got its fresh recording of a song that was still rising on the charts.
I now tell people how privileged I felt to see one of
the best in the world sing in Pittsburgh on an oth-
erwise uneventful summer morning.
In the early 1990s, Rick Sebak witnessed an exclusive Oakland performance by Sting, frontman for The Police.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO PITTSBURGH
Sting’s Secret WQED Gig
September 2016 27
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