Stewart Copeland Examines How the Police Survived Early Years
The drummer, composer and filmmaker is gearing up to release Stewart Copeland’s Police Diaries 1976-9, which includes reproductions of the pages of his logs from the band‘s early days. It also includes a selection of previously unpublished photos.
“I remember the atmosphere,” Copeland tells UCR of the backstage image, “which was something like: Sting and I were very chuffed that we had managed to hornswoggle the mighty Andy Summers – premier quadruple-scale session guitarist – to join our fake punk band. ... The main thing I’ve learned from looking back is how we stuck together. Sting and I suffered for two years – we starved – and then Andy joined us in our starvation. This was before ‘Roxanne;’ before Sting himself had any idea that he could write those big songs. So what was it that kept us together? Sting had everybody whispering in his ear, saying, ‘You don’t need those guys – come and join my band!’ And yet we stuck together through thin and thinner!
“The miracle is that we were bonded musically together even before we’d discovered what music we wanted to make. I asked Andy recently, ‘What were you thinking?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, mate; I don’t know. I should have stuck with Neil Sedaka!’”
Memory, Copeland accepts, can be “very flaky.” “There have been occasions where somebody writes how many times we played a song live, and I go, ‘We never played that song live!’" he explains. "And they go, ‘Yes you did, and we have the recording!' Which is why the diaries are so illuminating. In preparing this book I did consult the other books – Sting’s book, Andy’s book, [early member] Henry Padovani’s book, my brother [and the band's manager] Miles’ book. And they’re all inconsistent with each other.” He jokes that his account is most accurate because “I’ve got the receipts!”
Then there’s the fact that an entire world of alternative accounts is available due to the scale of the Police’s success. “There are people who can see any photo of the band and figure out when it was taken, what show we were playing and what the set list was that night – and they figure this out by looking at the clothes we were wearing: ‘God, Stewart wore that same shirt for a week!’”
While the band members “just lived our lives,” he reflects, just how they lived became “very important” to many others. “If I’m feeling a little depressed, a little worthless here on the planet, all I need to do is get on the Google machine and find videos analyzing the genius of Stewart Copeland,” he laughs. “There’s one whole video about the use of the towel on the side of the snare drum and how it affects the sound of the drum. This deep analysis – however, that towel was taped to the side of the drum to protect my knee! ... I’m full of humility for the phenomenon – I have to have respect – but I’m just a guy who wakes up every morning, just like everybody else.”
He describes the act of keeping a diary as “more of a twitch than a discipline,” noting, “And I still do it, by the way. I feel remiss if I haven’t logged what I was working on, what calls I made, who I had lunch with. I feel like I want to hold on to my life as it goes by – which is why I got a Super 8 movie camera and filmed everything of the Police adventure. I wanted to scrape off the adventure, stuff it into my suitcase and keep it for later.”
Watch the Trailer for Stewart Copeland's Book
In moments of looking back, people often think about what they’d tell their younger selves, and the answer is usually “worry less.” “That’s exactly what I would tell my younger self," Copeland admits. "Except, if my younger self had accepted my advice, none of this would have happened. It’s anxiety that drove me. I practice my drums before a show; it’s not discipline – it’s fear. So that anxiety drove me on, and as I look at those diaries, I’m impressed by the energy and the perseverance.”
Stewart Copeland’s Police Diaries 1976-9 will be published by Rocket 88 Books and is available for pre-order in various versions at the book's website. The signature edition, limited to 500, includes previously unreleased recordings of Copeland music from the late ‘70s, some of which later became Police tracks. The ultimate edition is bound in recycled leather and comes with a signed print of an early band photo. Limited-time customization options are also available. Copeland’s current musical project, Police Deranged for Orchestra, plays at the London Coliseum on April 28. Tickets and details can be found on his website.