The Police and their Hatfield debut of number one hit ‘Message in a Bottle’

THE POLICE 1983: Rock band The Police, who released their first album for over a year, 'Synchronicit

Did you know 'Message in a Bottle' by The Police was performed for the first time in Hatfield? - Credit: PA

During the late 70s and early 1980s, The Police hit number one time and time again. Their first chart topper came in 1979 with ‘Message in a Bottle’, but lucky Hatfield gig-goers had heard the song long before anyone else.

Like most great rock bands, The Police struggled to settle on a line-up before finally hitting the big time.

The group started with Sting on vocals, Stewart Copeland on drums and Corsican musician Henry Padovani on guitar, but things quickly changed when Andy Summers became involved.

A veteran of the music industry and a decade older than Sting and Copeland, Summers had played guitar with The Animals.

Summers impressed Sting, who was becoming increasingly frustrated with Padovani's rudimentary playing, and asked him to join the band. Summers agreed, but on the condition that they remain a trio – unusual for bands of the time.

Despite staying loyal to Padovani and playing two gigs as a four-piece, he was eventually dismissed, with The Police’s power trio line-up performing live for the first time on August 18, 1977.

Less than two years later, they would appear at Hatfield Polytechnic – now the University of Hertfordshire – and debut a new single that would finally see them reach the chart summit.

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The band had seen limited early success, with their 1978 debut album, ‘Outlandos d'Amour’, going to number six in the album chart, while ‘Can't Stand Losing You’ was the only single to chart, peaking at 42.

A new picture of the rock group, The Police.

Sting (centre), Stewart Copeland (left) and Andy Summers. - Credit: PA

Their show in Hatfield was being filmed for the BBC’s Rock Goes to College, a series that showcased up-and-coming acts performing live from small venues, with the gigs broadcast live on TV and radio.

Taking to the Hertfordshire stage on February 21, 1979, The Police played through classic hits now considered to be among their best by fans.

They started with ‘Can't Stand Losing You’ and played ‘Roxanne’ as the penultimate number, but it was the sixth song that would help rocket the group to fame.

‘Message in a Bottle’ had been written for the trio’s upcoming second album ‘Reggatta de Blanc’, and exemplified the reggae rock and new wave style of early Police records.

The song had yet to be released or performed live, but they took the risk and unleashed their new song in front of the BBC cameras in Hatfield.

Thankfully, the crowd were already onside, as Marion Cook remembered when she spoke to the Welwyn Hatfield Times back in March last year about the gig.

“Back in the 1970s, my mum worked as PA to Sir Norman Lindop, the director of Hatfield Poly,” recalled Marion.

“Having decided he didn’t want to go to the concert himself, tickets were offered last minute to my Mum for myself and my brother.

“My brother was 19 and I was just under 17. Together we went to the first ever concert I’d been to and the first concert I’d been to with my brother.

“It was a great venue, brilliant atmosphere, upbeat, happy and unintimidating for someone so young at a concert.”

The crowd cheered loudly as The Police finished ‘Truth Hits Everybody’, with Sting pausing before introducing the band’s new song.

“This is a tune, it’s the first time that it’s being played in public,” he said.

“This is a sort of baptism. This is called, ‘I Hope That Someone Gets My Message in a Bottle’.”

The crowd bounced along as Sting belted out the now instantly recognisable lyrics, while Copeland and Summers strained to hit every note of their new bop. The song’s conclusion was met with rapturous applause.

Marion remembers that night as a ‘badge of honour’, with The Police becoming stars not long after their Hatfield gig.

“Sting was mesmerisingAt the time The Police were a new band, with records just coming to everyone’s attention,” she said.

All set to fly Concorde from London's Heathrow airport are The Police pop group (left to right), And

The Police in 1980. - Credit: PA

“Little did I know what a formative concert that would be and that so many years later I would still remember the mood and the main songs played.

“For the next few years mentioning that I’d seen The Police live at Hatfield Poly was always seen as a badge of honour.”

‘Message in a Bottle’ would hit number one later that year – their first of five chart topping singles – as would ‘Reggatta de Blanc’, starting a run of four consecutive albums reaching the chart summit.

Critics would go on to call The Police ‘the biggest rock band in the world’, but they might not have been without that gig at Hatfield Polytechnic.