by David Dunn
The 11 September 2001 should have been a joyous occasion, memorable for the recording and simultaneous webcast of Sting’s new live album in Tuscany but events of that day in the United States meant that this could not be.
The recording and webcasting of Sting’s new album had been planned for months. Sting’s desire to bring the music he had toured across the world for the last two years on the Brand New Day tour ‘back home to where it was born’ as a thank you to his fans was keenly anticipated, especially as he had promised to reinterpret those songs and to revisit some older material. The recording was to take place in front of a small audience of invited fan club members and lucky competition winners at Il Palagio, his home in Tuscany. The day arrived. The camera crews and sound
engineers were ready. Sting and his band were rehearsed and ready and those ready to make up the audience were full of anticipation.
Then a few hours before the scheduled start of the webcast the news began to filtered through of the terrorist attacks in the United States. As each report became more incredible than the last it was clear that the scale of the unfolding events was unprecedented. The audience members arrived dazed and confused. We had travelled from as far afield as Japan and Argentina to attend this event and many Americans (including several New Yorkers) had also made the journey. On arrival, we were led into a large dining room and were seated at communal tables. The atmosphere was tense and sombre with a range of views amongst us about what should and might happen.
Sting’s manager spoke to everyone explaining that a decision hadn’t yet been made on whether to proceed or not and that Sting was still considering what to do. Guitarist Dominic Miller and trumpeter Chris Botti both came into the dining room and during their conversations made it clear that they and the band felt they should proceed with the performance and that to cancel would be tantamount to ”admitting defeat to the terrorists”. This news lifted our spirits and as food and wine were served the atmosphere gradually changed, turning positive, as we all realised that it would be an act of defiance for the show to proceed.
With still no inkling of what would happen, we made our way outside to the courtyard. A small raised area just outside the front of the house served as the stage, and a few rows of chairs followed by a cluster of tables and chairs and a small standing area comprised the viewing area. Some spare but tasteful lighting illuminated the area and we all took our seats still wondering what might happen. After a few moments, Sting and his band took to the stage. Sting, dressed in black and wearing a woollen scarf around his neck to ward off the chill Tuscan air, was visibly upset. His voice betrayed his emotions as he told us that ”This was supposed to be a very joyous occasion, but because of the horrific events of today it simply cannot be a joyous occasion. We have three choices, one is that the show must go on, the other is not to do anything at all and the band and I came up with a compromise. We’d like to do one number on the web-cast for the rest of the world to see and then shut it off as a token of respect to those who have lost their lives and loved ones in this terrible event, and then it’s up to you. I’d like a minute’s silence after that song, I don’t want any applause I just want us to stand and think about what has happened today. It’s difficult for all of us – I’m angry, I’m confused, I’m frightened and I don’t really want to give this meaningless act of violence any credence. It’s totally and utterly pointless. I’d like to sing this song for those people who’ve lost their lives.”
With that, Sting played a raw but beautiful version of ‘Fragile’. The cries and tears from the audience could be clearly heard as many embraced and comforted each other, finding strength from simply being with each other, united amongst friends. As the closing note was played, everyone remained silent, flawlessly maintaining the requested minute of silence and, as the web-cast was closed down, Sting quietly asked us, ”It’s up to you now – what should we do?”
The response was overwhelming, and to cries of ”Play all night”, ”Play for those who’ve died”, and ”Don’t let them win”, the band [Jason Rebello, Kipper and Jeff Young on keyboards, Dominic Miller on guitar, Christian McBride on double bass, Jacques Morelenbaum on cello, BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar, Manu Katché on drums, Marcos Suzano on percussion, Katreese Barnes and Janice Pendarvis on vocals] picked out the intro to ‘A Thousand Years’. Sting was clearly struggling to contain his emotions during this song and after it was over commented that ”some of the words of the song had made it very tough to perform”. Remembering his father, Sting then performed a poignant version of ‘All This Time’ and before ‘Seven Days’ Chris Botti suggested to Sting that they should play the full, originally planned set (which would have been a generous 27 songs). Sting demurred, saying that he didn’t think he could, but after a few more numbers the mood noticeably started to change as the band took heart from the audience’s sensitive and supportive applause and encouragement.
Old favourites such as ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, ‘The Hounds Of Winter’ and ‘When We Dance’ were dusted off to the delight of everyone whilst other songs were quietly and sensitively dropped from the set as they were considered inappropriate on a such a night.
Old friends such as the late Kenny Kirkland were remembered fondly as Sting performed ‘Dienda’ for only the second time and told a touching story about his old friend. Introducing a sad version of ‘Roxanne’, he told us all that tonight ”his home was our home” and that he had ”really fantastic fans”, and, as he sang the final line ”You don’t have to put on the red light”, he added a whispered ”but she did anyway”. Sting brought the 18 song show to a halt around 10.30pm with a memorable version of ‘Every Breath You Take’ before returning to perform a solo version of ‘Message In A Bottle’, again dedicated to those that had lost their lives that day, before leaving the stage to a tumultuous ovation.
As the crowd thinned, members of the band came out and mingled with fans chatting about the show and the events in the States, expressing their thanks for the part the audience had played throughout the evening. It had been important for the band to play that night, and they appreciated the response they had received. Without any fuss or commotion, Sting also came out into the audience, shaking hands, exchanging kisses and chatting to fans – many of whom he had clearly known for years. The show had obviously meant as much to him as it had to the fans present.
The band recognised how sensitive and supportively the audience responded. They knew that amongst us were people who had family and friends directly involved in the results of the terrorism, that some had not been able to contact home as the telephone system was not working, and that everyone present was gaining strength and comfort from the spirit that was so clearly evident. Proceeding with the show for the two hundred strong audience present showed immense selflessness by the band who united the audience as one and gave many the hope and courage to face the uncertain and dreadful days ahead, several of whom would be stranded in Italy for many days due to the suspension of flights.
Thank you Sting; thank you to the whole band; and thank you to the other fans present for making the 11 September so memorable under such awful circumstances.