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Stewart Copeland on The Police

Drummer breaks down band in new book, live show

By Kelli Skye Fadroski, The Orange County Register
Published: March 30, 2023, 6:04am

ANAHEIM, Calif. — As he sifted through the hours and hours of Super 8 footage for the 2006 rockumentary “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out,” The Police drummer Stewart Copeland knew he needed familiar music from the band to go along with the film.

But he didn’t want to play it straight. Instead, he found recordings of “obscure moments, improvisations on stage and wild jams” to create alternate versions of Police material for the movie, which he dubbed “derangements.”

“I started carving up these songs and as soon as the scalpel came out, the orgy began,” the 70-year-old drummer said during a recent phone interview from his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He’d also just collected his latest Grammy award at the 65th annual ceremony in Los Angeles for the “Divine Tides” project with Ricky Kej, which features music from all over the world.

The pieces of music he’d hacked up for The Police film came in handy once more as Copeland — who has now long composed popular film, television and video game scores and worked with orchestras for live performances all over the world — decided to take the cuts of these Police hits and create orchestral arrangements for them. He’s performing this music, dubbed Police Deranged for Orchestra, live in several spots overseas, and played a one-off gig in Southern California at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio on March 25.

Dissecting the originals

The show includes Copeland on drums, a band and a full orchestra performing songs such as “Walking on the Moon,” “Roxanne,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” All of these songs, he said, were ones he more easily transitioned into usable tracks for the film score and orchestral treatments.

“Message in a Bottle,” however, was a challenge.

“It’s like a diamond,” he said of the band’s 1979 hit. “You just can’t cut that song up. I will not subdivide and you just can’t improve on the original form. I did orchestrate it, but the form of the song is what it is, always has been and ever shall be.”

Aside from the song “The Equalizer Busy Equalizing,” which he composed for the ’80s TV series “The Equalizer,” the rest of the set is solely dedicated to The Police.

“People know it and they like it,” he said. “An important ingredient in liking it is knowing it. Familiarity is a big ingredient for burning down the house. There’s a reason for that, which is memory and music are so intertwined and a part of what music does is inflame memories, nostalgia and emotion in a way that almost nothing else does.

“I did a documentary for the BBC about what is music and why and this connection, the emotional connection, between music that we all know and the social bonding. When there’s a song people know and can sing along to, it just lights the place up. When those songs — “Message in a Bottle,” “Roxanne,” et cetera — play and you know everyone knows them, whether they want to or not, whether you’re a Police fan or not, they were on the radio, and so they have a lot of emotional baggage and that’s a really good thing.”

‘Yelling over basslines’

Copeland’s new book, “Stewart Copeland’s Police Diaries,” which is currently only available for preorder, will be published by Rocket88 Books sometime in the near future. And he’s proud of it. Though other members of the band — guitarist Andy Summers, vocalist-bassist Sting, former manager Miles Copeland — and various authors have written books about The Police, Copeland said his offering, which covers the very early years of the band between 1976 and 1979, is the real deal because “I’ve got the receipts.”

In fact, he has shoeboxes filled with small notebook diaries he kept during the band’s formation, as well as flight and tour bus schedules, photo contact sheets, actual receipts for truck and PA rentals and more.

“I was basically the manager of the band,” he said of the time. “I formed the band and hired Sting and Andy … or, wait, Andy hired us. But I did all of that stuff. I designed the posters, too, and I didn’t realize I still had it all until I was looking at it and what a slog it was. Wow! The day in the life of a 26-year-old aspiring rock star. Geez, in my 70th year, I want to take a nap looking at all of that. Man, that kid was driven!”

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Something that struck him as he was scanning back through his writings and doodles that “absolutely no one should try to psychoanalyze,” was how tightly he bonded with Sting early on and how Summers insisted on joining the band even before Sting had written songs like “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Every Breath You Take.”

“He hadn’t written any of that yet and we were doing my crap songs, all of my basslines with yelling, to try to fit into the punk scene,” Copeland said with a laugh. “We cut our hair and we wore the punk uniform because that was the only scene there was and the only employment for bands because the old way was dead. But we weren’t really a part of it anyway. We struggled for about a year and a half and I’ve asked Andy this since, but I said ‘What were you thinking? Two fake punks with no material?’ It’s interesting that we bonded musically before we even figured out what music to play.”

Looking back, Copeland said the band was very ambitious, but probably overly optimistic.

“All bands, I think, are very optimistic and if they weren’t they’d get a job,” he said. “Every band, as far as I can tell, thinks or assumes beyond certitude that they will one day dominate the world because they are the coolest. We thought so. Looking back I thought, ‘Why were we so optimistic?’ I guess because with Andy, I knew I was in the right company. We knew we were going to kick everyone’s asses and not just our own.”

To go along with the book, Copeland released a rare early demo of the song “Clown’s Revenge,” a song featured in The Police live sets back in the late ’70s. The crude cut features Copeland and his brother, Ian, “yelling over my basslines,” he commented. The demos were something he unearthed while working on the book.

“There will be more releases, certainly a handful and probably too many of them, with the book,” he said. “But they’re not as much for listening pleasure as they are for historical reference. I don’t think there’s a sleeper hit buried in there. But the miracle of this material is that when I called Sting up and I said ‘Hey, I got this band, come down to London, it’s all happening and I can promise you the universe,’ he believed me. He gets down there and I said ‘Here’s the material I got and this is what we’re gonna play’ and then I play him this (crap) and he didn’t run! He stuck around! So that’s a miracle right there that he didn’t run and head for cover upon hearing these songs.”