The Police Around the World
Photo: Courtesy of Mercury Studios

The Police Tried to Re-Invent the Concept of a “World Tour” in 1980

Longtime fans of the Police should view the CD that comes with The Police Around the World set as an indispensable addition to their collections. 

The Police Around the World Restored & Expanded
The Police
Mercury Studios
20 May 2022

At the end of a concert that the Police played in Hong Kong in February of 1980, bassist/frontman Sting bids the crowd farewell by saying, “Thank you, Hong Kong. Bye-bye, [we’ll] see you again who-knows-when.” Fans old enough to remember will likely recognize this sequence from its original 1982 release as the long-form VHS/Beta video The Police Around the World. Out of print for many years, the video has finally been released on Blu-Ray and DVD. Most crucially, fans can now enjoy an accompanying set of live performances on CD and vinyl for the first time. (The collection is available in DVD/CD, Blu-Ray/CD, and DVD/LP configurations, while the CD draws from recordings that don’t entirely line up with the ones featured in the film.) 

The Police never returned to play Hong Kong, not even on their historically high-grossing 2007-2008 reunion, so they never fulfilled their promise to the Hong Kong crowd. Indeed, we’re left to question whether any popular music act has picked up on that promise in a broader sense. Nevertheless, to anyone paying attention back then, the legendary pop-rock trio opened the door to the idea that Western acts might be able to venture beyond the established touring circuit. To this day, when American, Canadian, or UK-based artists embark on what we call a “world tour”, it most often entails an itinerary of dates in the US/Canada and Europe, with the occasional forays into Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. But in 1980, the Police attempted to tour the world in more of a literal sense, hitting Hong Kong, Christchurch, Mumbai, Cairo, Athens, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires that year.  

Part concert video, part tour travelogue, and part slapstick comedy, The Police Around the World captures the band a few months prior to recording their third album Zenyatta Mondatta—which is to say, at a point in their career where they’d scored some hit singles but hadn’t quite shifted into high gear on their ascent to superstardom. As Guardian contributor Chris Campion wrote in 2007, original manager Miles Copeland “managed [the band] through an ingenious mix of bootstrap individualism and guerrilla capitalism,” qualities that no doubt played a role in the band booking the shows highlighted in this video. 

It’s been well-documented that Copeland, the founder of IRS Records and drummer Stewart Copeland’s older brother, possessed no small measure of initiative and drive. In both 1978 and 1979, Copeland sent the band on low-budget touring jaunts across the US, throwing them into the trenches in an ultimately successful campaign to break the group in the States before they’d established a foothold on American radio. By contrast, The Police Around The World depicts the band being received like visiting royalty before rabid, if not yet huge-sized, crowds. And the performances certainly benefit from the enthusiasm of the audience. 

A lot of what we see in The Police Around the World reflects Miles Copeland’s vision of what would then have represented a new kind of cross-cultural economy and infrastructure. Having grown up in the Middle East as the sons of a CIA officer, the Copeland brothers’ upbringing gave them a particular axis point from which to view the globe. It’s hard to imagine the Police traveling off the beaten path without Miles’s sense of vision to guide them. As guitarist Andy Summers explains in new liner notes, the elder Copeland brother drew on old connections to free up the band’s equipment when it got locked up by authorities in Cairo and to smooth things over with an Egyptian official when Sting refused to apologize for insulting him. 

That altercation isn’t captured on film, but the Police’s boorish manner is on full display. You don’t have to be in a touring rock band to experience what it’s like to be out of your element—and to have to choose between amplifying who you are versus tamping yourself down to blend in. At times, the Police appear to carry themselves with little to no sense that their demeanor is totally out of step with their surroundings. Even the seemingly worldly Summers engages in inanities like mimicking a Japanese accent while talking to a dog. Some of the cringe-worthy interactions amuse nonetheless, if for nothing other than the curiosity of watching what happens when you hurl people into unfamiliar environments via the moving vehicle of celebrity. 

Many of the scenes are played for laughs on purpose, like Summers’ bout with a sumo wrestler about three times his size. Other segments are unintentionally funny, while others just fall flat. Do even diehard fans need to own the tongue-in-cheek sequence of the band lip-synching to “So Lonely” while smirking their way through the Hong Kong subway? Probably not. But that’s not the main attraction here. Aside from the dialogue-free audio on the CD—worth the price of admission for its punchy, clear, open-air sound quality—the video contains several musically satisfying interludes: ambient soundscapes from Summers, a blues jam between Summers and Sting, a nascent, spaced-out instrumental version of “Canary in a Coalmine” from soundcheck, the whole band jamming on classical Indian instruments, etc. 

Warts and all, The Police Around the World reminds us that the world is still a big place—much more vast and incomprehensible than we can imagine, even in an age when footage from faraway places has become routine. Over the last four-plus decades since the Police did their best to sail off the edge of the earth, we’ve only inched towards the kind of trans-national touring model that Miles Copeland wanted the band to pave the way for. Watching the film in hindsight, the viewer is certainly transported back in time, but The Police Around the World inspires us to imagine the future just as much today as it did in 1980. Will artists ever be able to tour the actual world? That remains to be seen. 

For now, though, longtime Police fans should view the CD that comes with this set as an indispensable addition to their collections. 

RATING 8 / 10