21 Sumner’s Tales - Sting at Mt Duneed Estate

Looking way too svelte for a 71-year-old, in a striped tee and his faithful boots, Sting only needs three things to win over this soaked Mt Duneed crowd… his legendary ‘carved-by-use’ 57 Fender Precision bass, those songs and THAT voice.

The ‘My Songs’ tour marks his first time back in Australia since he visited with his old mate Paul Simon eight years ago where they co-headlined each date and this time it is all about the songs that still resonate for him and those he has deepest personal connection to.

Putting the legacy of The Police aside for a moment, as a solo artist Sting has released an incredible 51 singles, and with a back catalogue amassed since 1977 (and recently sold to WMG for a staggering $250 million), it must always be a quandary to cover all bases, but tonight he gives it a great crack, taking the time to showcase what he considers are the real contenders. A 21 song career-spanning set with 9 Police classics woven into the mix.

With an enviable opening three-song’ salvo of ‘Message in a Bottle’, ‘An Englishman In New York’ and ‘Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic’, he masterfully sets the tone of the evening, prowling both sides of the stage, whelping up his crack band and the audience.

‘Englishman In New York’ provides a brilliant showcase for the youngest member of the band, the talented Shane Sager on harmonica who effortlessly carries the breezy lilt of the track. The middle tub-thumping section of the track is the first test of our’ Woooo-oooohs’. We’re on point and Sting nods his approval. We’re off to a stellar start and it bodes well for a great night. As we all sing along, thoughts of the light rain are all but forgotten. “Everything Little Thing’ instantly transports us back to 1981 and with eyes closed it could easily be Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland and Sting onstage.

“Well thank you! Thanks for the weather… I feel right at home here in the rain! (Chuckles)…” Sting takes a few minutes to introduce the band.

A little anecdote to introduce the first of a stream of new songs.

“So you had a few hits there… you were very good, you sang along nicely, got all the words right… I’m very pleased with you! But I’ve got some bad news… I’m gonna play some new songs… I know, I know!… no one wants to hear any new songs… but that’s part of the deal though… you never know… might be a hit one day?… I mean how do you judge a hit right now? So many streaming services, all of these different download things, I don’t know… Here’s my definition of a hit… it’s 1977, and I’m woken up in a hotel room in the north of England… by a window cleaner whistling something that I recognise… My God! He’s whistling ‘Roxanne’… now my friends… THAT… that is a hit! When the working people are whistling your song to get through their day, THAT’S a hit. So with that in mind, I began this song with a whistle…”

‘If It’s Love’ from 2021’s ‘The Bridge’ follows. It’s a sunny vibe with its cheery whistle refrain.

“Thank you… you see… that wasn’t so bad after all… c’mon! So I’ve written many, many love songs in my life… I feel I’m qualified! I’ve been in love, I’ve been out of love… I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve broken a few hearts myself. I’m not some callow youth singing about something he knows not of… I have real estate there! But you know the most boring love song? “I love you and you love me”… That’s a closed loop. There’s no way inside that story… whereas… I love you but you love somebody ELSE… now that’s interesting… It’s painful but it’s interesting… this is one of those songs.”

The brooding, yearning ‘Loving You’ is next and is destined to become a classic in years to come. It’s a showcase for the stunning vocal runs of backing vocalist Gene Noble and is reminiscent of the distant yearning and unrequited love so beautifully embodied in ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’.

The snappy ‘Rushing Water’ is the third new song from “The Bridge’ and keeps things ticking along nicely. It segues beautifully into ‘If I Should Ever Lose My Faith In You’. Familiarity has everyone back in the pocket.

“About 36 years ago… I bought a little house in the english countryside.

It was more of a castle really, but… one of the nice things about it is it’s quite near to Stonehenge… you could walk to Stonehenge from my house… if you’re ever in the area just knock on the door… three miles south, Judy will make you a cuppa tea… I’ll be on tour… the other nice thing about the house is it’s surrounded by barley fields… see where I’m goin’? and at harvest time it looks like there’s a sea of gold all around that house… one day I thought, there’s a song in there somewhere… and this is it.”

The gorgeous ‘Fields Of Gold’ from 1993’s ‘Ten Summoners Tales’ follows with Dominic Miller on sublime acoustic guitar and the video screens now bathe the crowd in a warm gold glow and the backlit crowd sway as one to its romantic muse.

“This next song I wrote for the Millennium. Everybody was getting very anxious about the Millennium, they thought some disaster was gonna happen so I thought I’d write something optimistic… This song is called ‘Brand New Day’… Now, one of my favourite parts of the recording is that Stevie Wonder played the harmonica on the introduction. We have a young man here who seems to be willing to step into those rather illustrious shoes…” To the crowd’s delight, Shane Sager absolutely nails Stevie’s intro.

“This next song is about a professional gambler… he’s also something of a philosopher… but of course, all gamblers become philosophers eventually!”

‘The Shape Of My Heart’ that follows is another masterclass in acoustic meditation and metaphorical seduction. Gene Noble contributes a rapturous snippet of Juice WRLD's ‘Lucid Dream’ mid-section which absolutely stuns.

Next up is the thematically astute, ‘Heavy Cloud, No Rain’. It is a showcase for backing vocalist Melissa Musique who brings her best Aretha Franklin.

“OK… this song is for drummers… 1,2,3,4,5…  1,2,3,4,5…” It’s ‘Seven Days’ which comes across super funky with drummer Zach Jones masterfully delivering the off-kilter backbeat. Sting’s freeform bass licks on this are a delight too.

Things take quite a different turn for the next track and it becomes apparent that tonight really is about ‘His Songs’. Sting introduces ‘What Could Have Been’, a track that he tells us was written for an animated Netflix TV Series called ‘Arcane’. We then watch him perform the track to a projected science fantasy anime clip. It proves a total tone change and palette cleanser from what’s come before. It’s massively cinematic with thunderous drums and long sustained chord progressions. From a visual perspective, the limitations of the two vertically letterboxed cameo screens at each end of the stage probably didn’t do it sufficient justice. My curiosity was piqued and I went back today to revisit the original footage. And my hunch was confirmed. You can view the original footage in its intended 16:9 aspect here.


We’re now in the home straight and a run of Police classics follow. First up is ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ –  this time around radically reinterpreted with an overt reggae swing. Super chill. Super cool. Then ‘Walking On The Moon’… I glance up instinctively at the cloudy thundery skyline and spot the Moon valiantly poking through… It is only visible for a mere minute before the clouds paint it away again, but the moment's significance was noted. Sting beckons the crowd and a call and response ensues for what seems forever… ‘Keep It Up… keep it up…’ this segues brilliantly into ‘So Lonely’… just the firecracker the set needs… the crowd goes absolutely off on each chorus… As the band freewheel the melody, Sting explains this track was heavily based on a much older song… originally written by Jamaican born Tata AKA Vincent Ford, then covered by Boney M and then most famously by the late great Bob Marley. He demonstrates by segueing seamlessly into ‘No Woman, No Cry’.

It’s world music time as ‘Desert Rose’ begins. It’s a classic track and as always with favourite classic tracks, expectations are high. At 71, the great man can be forgiven for what happens next.

Instead of perhaps doing the sensible thing and having his backing vocalists take on the challenging vocal parts of the duet (originally performed by famed Algerian raï singer Cheb Mai) Sting attempts to do everything himself. It’s a gallant play but it’s late in an already challenging set and the cold Mt Duneed evening air proves his decision to be a bridge too far, and at one point a couple of tiny coughs slip out. He shakes the transgression off and the moment passes. We don’t have time to really reflect before Sting’s son, Joe Sumner then joins Dad for two classic Police belters to round out the night.

They trade verses on ‘King Of Pain’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’. Joe is his father’s son and it’s a special moment and a lovely opportunity for the audience to compare apples with apples and train spot the visual and vocal similarities.

That’s the main set over, but the crowd aren’t having any of it and won’t let the evening end just yet. The band dutifully return to perform the one everybody knew he had to play.

Sting jokingly plays the audience... “Well thank you… you’re very, VERY kind… My problem is that I have NO IDEA what you want me to play… (Crowd: ROXANNE… ROXANNE… ROXANNE!!!!) no, no… my voice…. gotta save it… (Chuckles)”

Dominic leads the charge and as those distinctive chords ring out across the night sky, the crowd goes nuts. They love the call and response section and then just when they begin to think they have Sting’s measure and this is gonna be a cake walk, he announces “Same song, different rhythm” and then morphs us in and out of a brilliant version of ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing’.

The band then leave the stage, and just the two backing vocalists, guitarist Dominic and Sting remain.

“So, it’s always my custom to finish the evening with something quiet and thoughtful, so you go home quiet and thoughtful”.

He straps on the nylon string guitar, and we all sense it can really only be one song. As he finger picks the intro to ‘Fragile’ to a silent field of 25,000, you could seriously hear a pin drop. It’s masterful comedown and the perfect finish to a sublime evening.

As the super chill crowd amble slowly but contentedly toward the carpark in the dark, I reflect on just what might keep a man like Sting going. It has been an absolute privilege to witness a craftsman, still at the top of his creative game, not really needing the money but still wanting to follow his muse, commune with his audience, and bring the results to them every night, proving he is still able to climb where the air is thin, and yet, also from those heady heights, retain his perspective and still be able to reflect so intuitively on the human condition, and imbue those reflections into classic songs that get us through our working day.

And then it dawns on me. Unwittingly or not, he already answered my question.

“That my friends…THAT is a hit!”

Sting was supported by James Reyne of Australian Crawl fame and his son, Joe Sumner.

Sting’s band were:

Dominic Miller - guitar
Zach Jones - drums
Kevon Webster - keyboards
Shane Sager - harmonica
Gene Noble and Melissa Musique - backing vocalists

Message In A Bottle
Englishman In New York
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
If It's Love
Loving You
Rushing Water
If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
Fields Of Gold
Brand New Day
Shape Of My Heart (with Lucid Dreams by Juice WRLD)
Heavy Cloud No Rain
Seven Days
What Could Have Been
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Walking On The Moon
So Lonely (with No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley)
Desert Rose
King Of Pain (with Joe Sumner)
Every Breath You Take (with Joe Sumner)

Roxanne (with It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) by Duke Ellington)

Words by Harry Williams
Photography by CarbieWarbie