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Former Police Guitarist Andy Summers Reminisces On Montserrat Sessions In ‘Under The Volcano’

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 15, 2021

In 1979, famed Beatles producer George Martin opened the doors to a recording studio he had built in a most unlikely location on a remote Caribbean island. Soon, his AIR Studios Montserrat, with its state-of-the art recording equipment, attracted some of the biggest names in pop and R&B music including Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett and Earth, Wind & Fire. Other top international acts made their way to the secluded island facility including Carl Perkins, Stevie Wonder and Ringo Starr.

Then came the wave of MTV-driven bands, notably The Police, the British-American trio whose popularity soared with each successive album. Stewart Copeland, Sting and Andy Summers arrived at Martin’s studio to record their fourth album, Ghost In The Machine, which became an international hit and they returned a couple years later to record their final and, arguably, finest studio album, Synchronicity. Though the band subsequently broke up after well-publicized disagreements, the music they created on Montserrat, is a testament to the triumph of musicianship over ego.

The band members, who eventually patched up their differences and even embarked on a successful worldwide reunion tour in 2007-2008, appear along with other rock luminaries in the Gracie Otto-directed documentary Under The Volcano, which will be available Tuesday Aug. 17 On Demand and on Digital, from Universal Pictures Content Group.

Gerry Buckley (America), Jimmy Buffett, Guy Fletcher (Dire Straits), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Midge Ure, Lou Reed, Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran), Roger Glover (Deep Purple), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Verdine White (Earth, Wind & Fire), along with Giles Martin, son of the late George Martin, as well former staffers of the tropical isle studio reminisce during this fascinating documentary at the magical 10 years of the recording studio’s existence. AIR Studios Montserrat and its environs were heavily damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and completely obliterated along with much of that part of the island with a series of volcanic eruptions that began in 1995.

In the shadow of a volcano, this Camelot of music recording not only attracted the biggest musical talent on the planet for that one brief shining moment, it also became the birthplace of mega-hits such as Money For Nothing and Every Breath You Take.

Speaking via Zoom from Los Angeles, Andy Summers spoke about his time on the island, which although scenic and welcoming, had its downsides.

Angela Dawson: When you were recording at AIR Studios Montserrat in the early 1980s, did you worry at all that the volcano could blow at any moment?

Summers: We were vaguely aware of it. It’s rare, in our lifetime, to hear about a volcano, literally, blowing. In my lifetime, it’s happened two or three times. So, it was quite incredible that this happened. We all felt terrible about it because whatever you think about recording on a Caribbean island, we definitely felt affection towards Montserrat. It was a sweet, gentle place that was kind of funky and real. It wasn’t like the more glamorous touristy islands at all. It was like real people on a real island in the West Indies. There was a real gentle and friendly aspect to it that we all really enjoyed.

Dawson: In the film, Sting says something about how it was very “calming.” Did you find it calming?

Summers: No. Actually, I found it disturbing. Only one person in the movie, Lou Reed, says, “I couldn’t stand it. I need the city. I need the traffic. I need the noise,” and, to a point, I agree with him. It was an absolute dream, which means we’ve made it big time, which it did, because very few bands got a chance to get together and record on a Caribbean island. Obviously, what it meant was that you were selling a lot of records. You’ve made it. So, it was a thank you for the endorsement. But for six weeks, instead of being freeing, personally, it felt like a bit of a cage. It also was wonderful because it was very natural. You could run around in shorts for six weeks and look at the butterflies and birds and go down to one of the black sand beaches and all that. But, for the most part, we were in the studio trying to construct something that was meant to sell millions of records. Of course, everybody in the world who had anything to do vaguely with our band turned up on the island. If we had been at Shepherd’s Bush in London, no one would have come.

Our first record (Outlandos d’Amour) was made when we had absolutely no money at all and we could only get Sunday afternoons at this funky little studio outside of London and we slowly, over the course of six months—it didn’t take six months to make it but we only had those Sunday afternoons—to record. The second one (Regatta de Blanc) was recorded in 10 days. By then, we were becoming a hit band and we were absolutely on fire at this point and were gigging practically every night. The third album (Zenyatta Mondatta) was weird because we went to Holland for tax reasons, and we recorded there for three weeks.

We were supposed to be there for a month but after three weeks our management pulled us out to come back and do this music festival in England and Ireland, and then go back and carry on like nothing happened, and it was a complete disruption. And for the fourth and fifth albums (Ghost In The Machine and Synchronicity) we were in Montserrat, so we had a very strange set of circumstances for all this. It wasn’t like we went to one studio where our magic sound was and we got to do it five times in a row. Going to the island and being in another studio, we had to get used to that.  

Dawson: Were the AIR Studios in Montserrat cramped or cozy?

Summers: It wasn’t an oversized studio. There’s one big playing room and I was the only one in it. There’s the control room with the (Neve mixing) desk and everything. Sting plugged into the desk and Stewart, as he says in the documentary, was in the dining room and didn’t like it. So, we were very isolated (from each other). It wasn’t what we were used to. We were used to standing very close to each other hammering stuff out, which is much more musical and much more fun. This was sort of engineer stuff with perfect separation (of the instruments). It meant you’re making a sacrifice. It’s actually harder to play very well when you’re listening to the others through earphones. It’s not as good. Although I was in a fairly large room, I was playing on my own to tracks I was hearing on my headphones instead of really getting into it with the bass player and the drummer. It’s much more difficult to do.

Dawson: The documentary chronicles how you spontaneously jumped on the desk and danced?

Summers: Everything was spontaneous. It was an incredible desk and I just got up there and lightly did a Fred Astaire across the faders, which was all a bit much. But I didn’t damage anything.

Dawson: Did you return to Montserrat after completing Synchronicity and The Police broke up?

Summers: I did. Once we were on our own, I brought my daughter, who was five or six at the time, for a holiday. I suppose I could have gone to Antigua or Barbados or anyplace else, but we went to Montserrat, because I knew it and wanted to take another look at it.

Dawson: Did you windsurf?

Summers: No. I never got into that. Sting did, though, and he was very good at it, a natural.

Dawson: You’ve got Fretted And Moaning, a book of short stories, coming out from Rocket 88 on Aug. 19, as well as new music and other creative projects in the works. How do you find time for everything?

Summers: I know it sounds corny, but I’m creatively driven. Making things is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I sort of can’t help it. I get excited about it. I’m not a guy who likes to mow the lawn or stare at the daisies. I like to be creative in various mediums these days.

Dawson: How did the ideas for the short stories come to you?

Summers: I had a few stories that I wrote sort of for fun around 2012 and eventually I showed them to people who told me they liked them and that I should do more of them and write a book—the usual stuff. I was encouraged so I wrote some more. Somewhere around 2017, I read a couple of them onstage and they were received very well. So, about three years ago I decided I was going to (collect them into a book). I had made notes over the years with other ideas for stories. The thread of the book is that there’s a guitar in every story.

I have spent my life as a guitarist so I was able to draw on and amplify these various events in my life and fictionalize them—which is not that easy. You have to write them very well and construct great sentences and write prose that makes sense. Everything has to mean something. So, I did it, and I built this whole collection and started looking around to see if I could get some action on it.  You can find out about it at

Dawson: What else is on your plate?

Summers: I’m waiting for the pandemic to be over because it’s really killed everything. There are some days when you’re down and then you think, “It’s not me. It’s the pandemic.” Right now, I’m finishing up a big photography book. I’ve connected with an amazing printer in the U.S. So, the past few weeks I’ve been doing that. Today may be the last day where I want to change one thing. It’s like making a movie because there’s a lot of sequencing you have to do on the computer. Then I might start recording.

I have a photography exhibit in London on Oct. 21 and a new CD to be released on Oct. 8. So, stuff is coming out. I’m involved in quite a lot of activities.

Dawson: You’re quite active on social media, right?

Summers: I am. It’s like the only gig now. What are you going to do? Go completely silent? It’s like being six feet under (otherwise). I’m heavily encouraged by the people I work with, managers and agents. You almost have to have a healthy social media profile now if you want to be in the entertainment industry. You can’t not be. Luckily, the three of us in The Police have such a fantastic backlog that we do indeed have quite a large following.


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