The Police

Sting and Co play their way into history at Stormont Castle

Now I know that this is no time for soundbites, but I feel the hand of musical history upon our collective shoulder...

On the mammoth Stormont stage, Scottish songstress KT Tunstall does her best to coax and cajole the static 15,000 strong crowd into letting their greying hair down, but she has her work cut out.

The majority of tonight’s audience are here for one thing and one thing only. It’s the first and the last time that The Police will play Norn Iron. All else is irrelevant.

The younger audience members amongst us can’t help but feel a little sorry for Tunstall, who nevertheless rocks her set with characteristic gusto. She’s full of good cheer and pleasant banter, and you feel that she’ll remember tonight (despite the crowd’s apathy) as one of the highlights of her career thus far.

Closing with the infectious ‘Suddenly I See’, Tunstall wishes Belfast a ‘brilliant night’ and bounces off the stage like she’s just played Madison Square Garden.

Unlike the fading demigod that is Eric Clapton, who drops a serious clanger in Dublin’s Malahide Castle the following night with a self-indulgent set of obscure blues numbers that nobody knows or cares about, from the off The Police show that they know how to please an expectant audience by opening with a big and ballsy version of ‘Message In A Bottle’.

It’s evident that The Police have come a long way since their 1988 split. After their opener, the bearded Sting is quick to introduce his fellow band members, the ‘legendary Andy Summers’ on guitar and ‘the magnificent Stewart Copeland’ on drums. They might not be washing each other's backs tonight, but on stage they’re the best of friends. We feel the love.

When they began this reunion tour in New York with an understandably shaky set, the critics had their knives sharpened. However, since then The Police have honed their 21st-century act to within an inch of perfection.

There is the odd downbeat moment, when album tracks like ‘Deathwish’ (although tight and no less enthralling than their numerous chart-toppers) fail to inspire mass participation and ass-shaking. But nobody begrudges The Police a little self-indulgence of their own.

Drawing back the years, Copeland thumps and thwacks his kit and accompanying assortment of symbols and cowbells like a man possessed. 

Playing an old, beat-up bass, Sting shows that his recent foray into Elizabethan lute music hasn’t detracted from his love of thick, steel guitar strings. His slapping technique (in which he deploys the use of his ring rather than index finger) leaves many a bass playing audience member catching flies.

On guitar Summers fills in beautifully but occasionally loses his way (and hits the odd bum note) during the band’s frequent improvisational forays. He plays his parts admirably, however, nailing his trademark staccato chords and licks on old favourites ‘Roxanne’, ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ and ‘Walking On The Moon’.

Everybody’s happy when Sting takes the time to recall his days as a schoolteacher in the nearby Whitehead. It’s difficult not to feel a lump rise in one’s throat when he introduces the once banned single 'Invisible Sun'. ‘I wrote this song about Belfast,’ he recalls, ‘but now it’s about something else.’

A mesmerising performance of the song follows, accompanied by images of downtrodden African children on the stage’s three screens (photographs taken by Sting associate Bobby Sager). The armalite threatens the people of Northern Ireland no more, but they're the lucky ones.

At the top of an astonishing fourth encore, the inevitable ‘Every Breath You Take’ closes the show. After such a rip-roaring, high octane performance, it’s a little too soppy for some, and a slow trickle of ecstatic punters make their way to the leafy exit, safe in the knowledge that they were there when The Police finally stormed Stormont. 

Whether they did it for money or for the sheer joy of revisiting their back cataolgue, tonight The Police have justified the hype. Elton and Luciano would be proud.

Lee Henry