Sting with Eberhard Schoener, 1986
The Police were always very proud of their musicianship—all three members were top-notch musicians. For years the band’s line on the subject was that they found themselves in a punk scene in the late 1970s where lack of musicianship was held up as a virtue in and of itself, which made it a bit confusing for the guys in the Police because they could actually play. Obviously this wasn’t too much of a problem for them—in very short order they became the biggest musical act in Britain, a position they would occupy for a few years before breaking up in 1986.
Shortly after the Police formed, a project came their way that provided an ideal venue for their chops, if perhaps an unexpected one. The Police are associated with punk and reggae, not German experimental music—in any case, in the first year or so of the band’s existence, Sting and Summers recorded about a full album’s worth of music with Eberhard Schoener, who was a respected German experimental composer who had released a number of albums; his music was more or less comparable to Tangerine Dream. At some point in 1978 and 1979, after the Police had garnered some success, the members of the Police supported Schoener on some live dates and sessions that were broadcast on German TV.
It’s surprisingly difficult to nail down details about how this came about, but it seems that Andy Summers had made some arrangements to work with Schoener before joining the Police, and somehow his new situation led to Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Summers all recording with Schoener in that early Reggatta de Blanc phase. Some material was released in 1977-1978, and some was re-released in 1981, in part to capitalize on the Police’s remarkable chart successes.
It seems clear that Copeland was the least involved of the three. On Schoener’s 1978 album Video Magic, Sting and Summers are credited but Evert Fraterman is credited on the drums. On the 1981 compilation pictured above, it appears that Copeland may have played on 5 out of the 7 tracks, at least according to Discogs. If I had to guess I would speculate that Copeland only toured with Schoener and the other two Police guys and did TV dates, in other words never did proper studio work with them.
Here’s a summary from the indefatigable George Gimarc’s Punk Diary:
The Police kept a promise they made back in October of ‘77 to Eberhard Schoener. Before they had made it, and were living from gig to gig, they agreed to play the role of backing band for German electronic musician Eberhard Schoener. The sessions went well and Eberhard invited them back for a second the next year. They needed the money and did the job. The results of these sessions came out in Germany as Eberhard Schoener albums and disappeared into the musical swamp of cut-outs and returns. Now those sessions have risen up to haunt the Police on their home turf. The Schoener album “Video Flashback” will give you an idea of what the police would sound like without their songwriting and an additional member. ... The Police are augmented by an avant-garde orchestra and Sting handles all the vocals. Odd to say the least.
I like the music Schoener and the Police dudes put out together, but I am hard pressed to say anything about it aside from the obvious, which is that it sounds like high-quality German experimental music from the 1970s. Schoener had a knack for coming up with funny and somewhat stiff titles for his compositions—examples from these Police-ish sessions include “Video Magic,” “Flashback,” “Code Word Elvis,” and “Trans Am,” all of which endears this material to me even more powerfully.
I don’t know if this is true or not, but in his book 1000 UK Number One Hits, Jon Kutner explains that Sting wrote “Walking on the Moon” after enduring a late-night Schnapps crawl with Schoener:
In January 1979 Sting was visiting German avant-garde composer Eberhard Schoener. One night they went out on a Schnapps drinking session. The next morning, Sting awoke and tried to clear his head. He began pacing up and down the room, humming and muttering to himself, “Walking round the room… I hope my legs don’t break… walking round the room.”
In 1979, the four men performed on Bavarian TV—here is “Trans Am/Rhein-Bow Medley”; both songs are off of Flashback:
Here’s a very interesting clip for “Video Magic” involving some early computer visual effects and also the work of a mime named Andy Geer:
Here’s a lengthy compilation with the early output that included Sting and Summers: