Monday, July 15, 2024

Stewart Copeland: ‘The Police’s recording sessions were very dark. We beat the crap out of each other’

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Why is [the Police’s 1983 album] Synchronicity being reissued [as an expanded box set] now? Dmitry-S
The Police had an epiphany courtesy of the Beatles’ documentary, Get Back. Each of us learned, in our separate ivory towers, that the final master isn’t in any way diminished by showing the sketches or demos along the way. Ghost in the Machine [the previous album] had taken us into stadiums and then Synchronicity made us even bigger, but the recording sessions were very dark. We beat the crap out of each other. We’ve laughed about it since, but going back into that black hole isn’t something we tended towards. But it was such fun listening to the demos and songs that didn’t make it, so there will be more reissues. We’re starting at the end and working backwards, like Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

A publicity shot for Synchronicity, 1983. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

What was your relationship like with Sting and Andy [Summers, guitarist] during the height of your success? Do you still have regular contact? eternal-sceptic
We had a great bond, which wasn’t strong enough to make recording together very easy. We tore each other’s throats out in the studio but those two motherfuckers came up with incredible stuff and we got on really well on stage, in the van, on the plane. To this day we still send each other dumb Instagram clips. It’s a myth that Sting and I fought all the time. I broke his rib once, but we were play-fighting.

We’re now aware of I’m Blind, but could you tell us about other songs that you or Andy brought to the table for Synchronicity which Sting turned his nose up at? JohnMcAleese
It wasn’t so much Sting that turned his nose up as that we all did. We’d all turn up with songs but every time Sting pulled one out they were such fucking good songs. Occasionally I’d land one, like Darkness [on Ghost in the Machine] but my material wasn’t really the Police, particularly the lyrics. At the time, I might have been disappointed, but the songs of mine that didn’t make Synchronicity turned into the score for the Francis Ford Coppola film Rumble Fish, which got me a Golden Globe and Grammy award nomination. I’m very proud of the Police but life outside was better. Now I write film scores, symphonies, I’m on my eighth opera and I still practise drums four hours a day. I’ve achieved a certain amount of small success in almost every form of music except pop.

Will we ever see Klark Kent [Copeland’s early solo project] again? reteucooper
Ah, my one very small success with a pop song [his track Don’t Care was a hit in 1978]. I had some songs which weren’t Police songs for the reasons mentioned, so I recorded them myself using a guitar and an early drum box which just had settings such as “rumba or “samba”. Driving home listening to those tracks was one of the happiest days of my life. The first time the three [Police] blond heads were on national TV were as Klark Kent’s backing band, doing Don’t Care on Top of the Pops.

Was keeping diaries [released in 2023 as Stewart Copeland’s Police Diaries] and filming initially just for fun? What’s your favourite footage? Misty62
They were such exciting times; I really wanted to grab some of them. I’d no idea it would be of interest 40 years later. My tiny diaries were mostly full of things like how much we got paid or how many people came but also innermost thoughts such as grandiose schemes – hey, if I could get a Klark Kent deal I could make £7,000 a year! – and grievances, dark stuff. My favourite footage is at Birmingham town hall where we were supporting Albertos Y Los Trios Paranoias. Their manager told us they should have charged us to be on the tour as it was sold out. Well, we soon found out why it was sold out. We mounted the stage to this high-pitched shriek of pubescent females. After our struggles as a fake punk band and working constantly, suddenly we were on the front of all the girly magazines and were a teeny bopper band. That night we had to fight our way through a mob to get to the cars.

Before you had a drum kit, or even any sticks, did you pretend to drum using knitting needles? Marshallofcharlton
I used the bars from wooden coat hangers, so my dad’s suits would fall off, but I had sticks. I was a squeaky anaemic 12-year-old but whenever I got dissed at my boarding school in Somerset I would imagine a huge drum break that would crack the prefect’s head wide open. When I hit the imaginary drums I became an 800lb silverback swinging through the trees. My other instrument was a tennis racket guitar. I’d stand in my room listening to Jimi Hendrix through headphones, blazing away. One day my dad tapped me on the shoulder, Jimi vaporised and suddenly I was a skinny little kid playing a tennis racket with a tablecloth around his shoulders.

‘If got dissed at school I’d imagine a huge drum break cracking the prefect’s head open’ … Stewart Copeland. Photograph: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Did your father [Miles Axe Copeland Jr] ever suggest joining the CIA to follow in his footsteps? Bauhaus66
He did not, but he sure liked it when people spotted that my band were the Police and my brother Ian’s company [Frontier Booking International] were called the FBI and thought it was all a CIA plot orchestrated by padre. The band name was originally Fuck the Police but I chickened out. My dad was a jazz trumpeter playing with people like Glenn Miller but the war broke out and he ended up in intelligence [becoming a founding member of the CIA]. Books about him say he told colourful stories, but then their research would find out they were true. One day my brother Miles came home from the American community school in Beirut and asked, “Dad, are you a spy?” To which my father replied: “Who wants to know?”

Did you ever encounter Sex Pistols live in those heady early days? DaveJMel
I encountered the individuals at gigs and parties, but never saw them live because they didn’t play many shows. I saw the Clash, the Damned and others and loved the DIY aspect of punk. I was drumming with [prog band] Curved Air when the Sounds journalist, Phil Sutcliffe, took me to see Sting’s band, Last Exit, in Newcastle. He could sing and play bass, and had such magnificent charisma. I’d seen this new scene happening but had to call him and persuade him to come down to London to start a band, and the rest is history.

The Police: still not dead … Photograph: Brian Ach/WireImage

Did you really squat in Mayfair in the 1970s? Or just share someone’s flat? Kellysahero1970
My father knew a socialite who had this huge gothic two-storey penthouse and took in lodgers to help with the rent. When she wanted to give up the apartment the lodgers wouldn’t leave, so my dad said, “You can’t kick them out, but there’s nothing to stop you from inviting my two snarly sons and [Curved Air singer] rock diva Sonja Kristina to move in, as well as my son’s drum kit.” So we moved in and they moved out, apart from Lady Colin Campbell, who’s worth a Google. My brother Ian threw the wildest parties. When Sting came up to meet me he must have been impressed. We jammed and later did the first ever Police photoshoot on the roof.

Before the start of On Any Other Day, on Reggatta de Blanc, you can be heard saying: “The other ones are complete bullshit.” What were you referring to? EddieChorepost
I had a bunch of dumb lyrics before turning them into a sensible song, but when I started to lay that down, they said that the first lyrics were much better. I said, “Oh, the other ones are complete bullshit.” But we used them, so they turned out to be not such bullshit after all.

Was there ever any attempt to record any new Police material beyond the 1986 versions of Don’t Stand So Close to Me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da? Mr_Datadude
Sting’s idea was to go back in the studio and re-record all our hits, now that studios were better and we were better musicians. Then I was in a polo game, my horse slipped and did a somersault and I broke my collarbone. I couldn’t play drums, so we had my Fairlight CMI music computer up against Sting’s Synclavier. We spent two weeks screaming at one another. I thought the results were cool, but the world was pretty much united in agreement that the new arrangements sucked.

What are your memories of making [1985 album and film] The Rhythmatist? Keepst
I went to Africa in search of the origins of American music. They had no idea who I was. Up the Congo river in the deep triple-canopy jungle, people there had never even seen white people before. They’d never seen themselves, not even in a mirror, so we gave them a Polaroid of the group. We threw a party for 400 people and to them it was like the martians had landed. The director – the same guy that took Sting to the Amazon – and I argued all the way across Africa but the film has some great shots of me serenading lions in a chicken cage. It’s the dumbest movie ever made but with a little hindsight it’s actually pretty funny.

Reckon you could have pulled off the winged underpants in Dune better than Sting? VammyP
Oh no! Sting has magnificent pecs and can’t wait to show them. I still have a skinny bony chest.

‘We tore each other’s throats out in the studio’ … the Police in Montserrat. Photograph: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

How did you get on with the Cramps when they supported you on your 1979 tour? Bhunabhoy
I loved the Cramps. They were really strange. You’d go into their dressing room and they’d be hanging from the ceiling like bats, with the lights out. Audiences hated them. After their set the stage would be covered with beer, glasses, rotten eggs, tomatoes, whatever. My other favourite opening act was the Go-Go’s, five women who lit up the stadium, so when we came out we were rocking.

If you could have been in any other band, back in the 70s and 80s, which one would you have chosen? original
If I could play guitar, the Ramones … on drums, could I go back even further? Could I play with Jimi?

What memories do you have of the live arena production of Ben-Hur from 2009? VerulamiumParkRanger
Oh God, such a drama. This crazy German [Franz Abraham] had assembled all these forces to produce this humungous show. Then the stock market crashed and all the money went, so we had to lie and cheat to get the show to open. At the O2 Arena [in London] Sean Connery declined so I got the job as narrator, on horseback, in front of 18,000 people and 400 Romanian and Ukrainian extras. My voice was prerecorded, so I was miming, but the horse took off in a flat out gallop. It looked great, but was what you might call an urgent exit.

The reissue of Synchronicity (in 6CD, 4LP, 2CD, 2LP, picture disc and digital versions) is released 26 July.

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