Sting has posted a touching tribute to his tour manager Billy Francis, who has passed away after a battle with cancer.
We’ve been friends now for over four decades, and I may have spent more time with you than I’ve spent with my wife or my kids, literally thousands upon thousands of gigs, trekking from city to city, country to country, and enough long haul flights across the planet to reach to the moon and back.
It was you, the tour manager, who got us all there safely. We never missed a gig, always on stage promptly at whatever time we were advertised, two hours on stage, into the van and on to the hotel for a drink in the bar and a night’s sleep, and then up early the next morning for another round and yet another destination. This has been our life for over forty years.
You’re a big man billy, that always helped, with that distinctive white head of your’s leading us through the chaos of airports and railway stations like a straggling line of ducks chasing their mother.
None of us were ever late, we didn’t dare to be late, we knew you’d leave us stranded there if we were to fall behind. Surely you wouldn’t leave me, nonetheless even me, the de facto boss, was unwilling to take the risk.
You’re a tough man Billy Francis, but you never raised your voice or your fists to command respect, you didn’t have to.
That’s the discipline of an army, and we were like an army, a tight little band of guérrillas, no excess baggage, no fat, no bloated entourage of camp followers, just the bare minimum of personnel, no frills. These were your rules, and we gratefully accepted them.
It has to be said though, that this toughness was always leavened by a subtle sense of humour that could in truth veer towards the wicked at times, and the stories of your ‘lessons’ became the stuff of legend, ingenious, salutary and head-shakingly hilarious.
So now we are following you again, to a new destination. A destination none of us have visited before, your obedient ducklings once again lined up behind you. As always you’re up there ahead of us dealing with ground staff, emigration formalities, customs, handling agents, but this time with no baggage, not for this one. No more lugging or weighing of heavy cases, only the passport that declares a life lived, a life lived to the full, of joys, of sadnesses, successes, the odd failure but all of them acknowledged with that resolute discipline of yours, and that unflappable humour.
As ever we are watching, watching and learning, for our own exits will follow yours as surely as night follows day, you’re just a little further down the line than we are. I’m watching you now, drinking in your courage to fortify myself for the journey that I too must take.
I couldn’t have had a better teacher, big brother, protector, mentor, confidente, or companion for life than you my friend. I love you, I’m immensely proud of you and the friendship we’ve forged together over the years.
Know this, I’ll be with you until kingdom come, until that great cosmic gig in the sky, the gig to end all gigs.
How the Hell did we get here?… we’ll ask. Billy got us here, no one else could have done it.
Earlier this week, Sting appeared with Shaggy on an installment of Rolling Stone’s In My Room IGTV series, and now, the artist and former Police frontman is back with his own video, where he called in from his home in Wiltshire, England.
“I’m lucky enough to have a recording studio here, where I can work everyday,” he says. “I’m very fortunate; I’m very grateful. I’m also grateful for our healthcare workers, who are doing an extraordinary job, risking their lives everyday on the front line. The best thing that we can do is to help them, and not to get sick, and not to add to their workload, because we are all in this together.”
Don’t expect Sting to be next in line for a big-screen biopic. “Absolutely not,” the 68-year-old rock legend says of getting the Rocketman treatment. “I’m telling my story in an artistic way.”
You stepped in as a performer in the Broadway version.
I did. It’s a difficult subject. It’s not your standard Broadway [fare]— you know, they usually do fairy tales or Disney [adaptations]. This is the most difficult thing to do — an original musical about a serious subject. So we had trouble selling tickets and then the producers said, “You have to go in the play.” I had no intention of going in the play. But I agreed, and when I did I was very happy that I’d done it because I felt, well, one, I could do it. And two, it was so much fun. Even though the subject is a serious matter, it’s actually really fun.
Does acting feel comfortable to you?
I acted almost by accident, but I’ve made lots of movies. The last time I was in a play was on Broadway in the ’80s. I played Mack the Knife in Threepenny Opera. I’ve learned a lot on the job. I’ve also acted with some amazing actors. When you work with the best, you get a lot of gifts.
How do the vocal requirements compare between a Sting rock show and a musical like The Last Ship?
Well, I wrote this character for a baritone. I didn’t write it for me.
What are you?
I’m a tenor. So I’m exploring the lower registers of my voice, which aren’t normally explored in my rock show. But I actually find it a little less athletic. I can sing more in this range.
Do you mind if I throw out a few of your movies and see what memories they bring up?
Quadrophenia was the first movie I did. I was in it long enough to make an impression, but not long enough to blow it.
How did you get cast in that?
Just by going along to an audition and having the right look.
Were you the character you played in it — a mod “It” boy?
I was slightly too young to be a mod. But I remember the era. I was 12 when the mods were happening. But I had the right look.
And were you in a band at that point?
Yeah, I was in The Police. But we hadn’t broken yet. And then our first hit coincided with the opening of Quadrophenia in London — so it was a perfect storm. It vaulted me into super fame very quickly. Luckily I was 26 or 27 at the time, so it wasn’t like I was a teenage sensation. I was a school teacher, so I had my feet on the ground, as it were. Otherwise I think I would’ve gone crazy.