The Punk Police

Former guitarist Henry Padovani reveals the band's secret history.

Henry Padovani/The Police punk ligger Sting Curved Air reggae REM Go-Gos sex change Thin Lizzy Sex Pistols John Cale Quicken Loans Arena, 1 Center Court 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 16; This event is sold out
In the late '70s, the Police tried to be punk, but they loved prog-fusion too much.
In the late '70s, the Police tried to be punk, but they loved prog-fusion too much.
Los Angeles, 2006: After a lengthy break from music, guitarist Henry Padovani is back in the studio, recording a track for his new disc. His drummer, however, can't nail the reggae feel. The engineer jokes that they should've hired Stewart Copeland.

"Wow. That's a great idea -- I'll call Stewart," says Padovani.

"Fantastic. Let's do it!" replies Copeland. He then suggests Sting could participate.

"He won't do it. You know what he's like."

"For you, he might. You know how much he likes you."

So, for one song -- with Padovani on guitar, Sting on bass, and Copeland on drums -- the Police's original lineup has a reunion.

"You know what, Henry? It's because of you that they reunited," Paul Mulligan, the Police's first manager, later tells Padovani.

"Hah! If that's the case, I'm so pleased," laughs Padovani.

With guitar in hand, Padovani hits London's punk scene in 1976.

Growing up in a strict home on the French island of Corsica, the 25-year-old Padovani needs to rebel. "I embraced that movement. I was with the punk rockers," he recalls.

With the U.K. in a full-blown recession, Padovani starts squatting, like every other punk. He soon meets Copeland, former drummer for the prog-rock band Curved Air.

Copeland has an idea for a punk rock trio called the Police. After finding Padovani, he just needs a bassist with some pipes. A former teacher and jazz-rocker from Newcastle pops up with his wife and baby. "We tried Sting, and he was great. Good-looking -- and he was a singer," remembers Padovani.

In order to make it, the band must cultivate a precarious balance between the members' formidable egos and personal needs. Sting has to generate income for his family, but he also wants to be a serious songwriter. Copeland, meanwhile, desires success in the punk-rock scene.

Although Sting writes songs that Copeland rejects because they aren't punk, both see the massive success of bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie & the Banshees. If these amateurs can thrash about and sell out gigs, they reason, just imagine what musicians with some real talent and taste can do.

But the Police are failures in 1977. In order to feed his wife and child, Sting threatens to join Billy Ocean or even a cruise-ship band. In photos for "Fall Out," the group's debut single, Sting scowls. But is it a fashionable punk scowl, or is he in a foul mood?

"He was a good mate, and we had a good time," recalls Padovani. "[But] he's singing stupid songs with stupid lyrics, playing fast and furious, and just looking stupid. Basically, he was ashamed of us."

Even worse, the punk scene accords the band zero respect. Copeland's reputation as a prog-head precedes itself, while Sting can't shake his roots in fusion. According to Padovani, however, the punks think "the guitar player is cool."

He's right. Padovani is a "ligger." A "lig" is a party, and "the ligger is the guy who knows all the parties, gets in all the parties, gets in for free, knows all the good deals in town." City Limits Magazine names Padovani 1977's no. 1 ligger. He beats out Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Sex Pistol Steve Jones, which is vital.

"Stewart relied on me to be the image of the band," says Padovani. "He wanted to be a punk band. He knew Sting wasn't punk."

Copeland's brother, Miles, manages and promotes bands. Although he considers Stewart and Sting posers, he gets the Police their first big break in the spring of 1977 -- a tour opening for and backing New York glam-punk singer Cherry Vanilla.

When the tour hits Holland and Germany, the audience digs the Police. Outside of the U.K., no one cares how unpunk the Police are.

"If people looked at us with different eyes, they would say that this is a good rock band," says Padovani. "We had energy like anybody, but unlike most of the punk bands, we could play."

With a newfound confidence in its unpunk sound, the band adds a second guitarist, a thirtysomething by the name of Andy Summers. A session musician since the mid-'60s, he hates punk, but likes Sting's songs, which Copeland allows into the band's repertoire.

As Summers meshes with the musicianship of Sting and Copeland, it looks like the band has one guitarist too many. If the band no longer needs the punk scene for validation and commercial success, why hang on to the ligger?

Padovani knows what's coming. "Andy and I were not in a battle. The band was good as a three-piece." After a disastrous recording session with John Cale, Sting tells Padovani the band has decided carry on as a trio.

"Sting was really sad. 'Oh, I love you,' and all that kind of stuff, which I understand," says Padovani. "We were like brothers; we always have been."

After the Police, Padovani joins Wayne County & the Electric Chairs. They are a big hit in Europe, but the band breaks up after County freaks out while undergoing a sex change.

After Pandovani forms the instrumental rock band the Flying Padovanis in 1980, Miles Copeland hires him as vice president for I.R.S. Records, where he oversees releases by Gary Numan, the Go-Gos, REM, Wall of Voodoo, Camper Van Beethoven, and more.

Looking back, Padovani doesn't dwell on what could've been. He's happy for his old mates. "What I like about the Police is the lesson of tenacity that they gave everybody in this business," he says from his home in France. "They deserved everything they got."

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