Last Exit...with Sting

The three members of The Police seemed like an unlikely trio to form a reggae-influenced new wave band, when you consider the previous work that each of them had done. Guitarist Andy Summers had a career dating back to the '60's, when he played with r&b outfits (such as Zoot Money's Big Roll Band) and psychedelic bands (such as Dantalian's Chariot). Drummer Stewart Copeland had previously played on two albums with progressive rockers Curved Air.

And what about Sting? The singer and bassist, who was born Gordon Sumner in Wallsend, England, had previously been a jazz musician who played with three bands who recorded for the U.K. Wudwink label. In 1972, Sumner played bass on a mostly instrumental album with a British jazz collective called Newcastle Big Band, as well as on a single with a group called the Phoenix Jazzmen (who were fronted by a singer and trumpeter named Ronnie Young).

After leaving those relatively old-fashioned jazz bands behind, Sumner then co-founded a newfangled jazz-rock band called Last Exit. This band recorded one single in 1975, and an album-length demo cassette that was officially circulated by their label. Sting's bandmates in the original Last Exit lineup were keyboardist Gerry Richardson (who had also played in Newcastle Big Band), drummer Ronnie Pearson (who had also played for the Phoenix Jazzmen), and guitarist John Hedley.

Both sides of Last Exit's 1975 single were written by keyboardist Gerry Richardson, and were sung by Sting. The A-side, "Whispering Voices", could easily be mistaken for a Sting composition. There are lyrical resemblances to future Police songs ("Voices Inside My Head", "Bring On The Night"), and the jazz leanings of the music presage Sting's post-Police solo albums. Sting's lead vocal also foreshadows his work with the Police, although his bass playing shows a bit more aggression on this track than we usually expect from him. The B-side, "Evensong", is a mellow jazz fusion ballad which is even more predictive of Sting's late-'80's solo albums, with noticeable early echos of songs like "Englishman In New York" and "Be Still My Beating Heart". Although the new wave sounds of the Police made Sting a rock star, this single suggests that jazz was where his heart always was.

Also in 1975, the Wudwink label issued a cassette containing nine of the band's demo tracks, described as "A limited collectors issue of Last Exit music" on the plain-looking insert. First From Last Exit... serves up a more generous sampling of sounds from Sting's pre-fame band, including a thinner take of "Whispering Voices", a keyboard-dominated instrumental ("A Bit Of Peace"), and a pre-punk prototype of the future Police song "Oh My God" (the tone and lyrics of which suggest personal sadness, instead of social activist rage). The cassette's other six demo tracks are the ones that show the potential the band had. These jazz fusion tracks are sometimes reminiscent of the work of other bands from that time period, such as Steely Dan and Weather Report. However, "Carrion Prince" and "Savage Beast" sound quite original, mainly because of Sting's unique vocals. Some tracks also display distinctive instrumentation, particularly "Savage Beast" and "I Got It Made", the latter of which has a notably funky guitar sound which now seems similar to those of later alternative bands. If Last Exit had remained active during the new wave era, the quirky qualities of "We Got Something" (sung by a different band member) and "I Got It Made" could have helped those songs translate well into new wave. On the other hand, songs like "Carrion Prince" and "I'm On This Train" had potential for mainstream rock success. One example which illustrates how these songs, if properly finished, could have ended up going either way: "Truth Kills" evidently evolved into the nervy Police song "Truth Hits Everybody", but in its Last Exit demo form, it sounds much more like a mellow Steely Dan-type track in the making. First From Last Exit... certainly poses some intriguing "what if?" questions, making one wonder what might have resulted if Last Exit stayed together longer and released fully-formed albums. Still, I'm personally glad that The Police were what happened instead.

Last Exit - Whispering Voices / Evensong

Last Exit "Whispering Voices" (b/w "Evensong") (Wudwink WUD/01) 1975

Track Listing:

a. Whispering Voices
b. Evensong

Last Exit - First From Last Exit

Last Exit "First From Last Exit..." (Wudwink WUD/C/101) 1975

Track Listing:

1. We Got Something
2. Truth Kills
3. Whispering Voices
4. Carrion Prince
5. Savage Beast
6. I Got It Made
7. I'm On This Train
8. Oh My God
9. A Bit Of Peace