When Stewart Copeland met Sting and the Police were born

When Stewart Copeland met Sting and the Police were born

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Drummer Stewart Copeland has never held back, whether blasting through the back section of “Reggatta de Blanc” or doing an interview alongside his bandmates in the Police. “He runs quiet and deep,” he says of Sting. “I’m noisy and shallow.”

For fans of the now defunct trio, which also included guitarist Andy Summers, Copeland has also always been a hero of sorts. His “deranged” concerts have seen him perform Police songs with an orchestra, and his 2006 documentary, “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out,” offered an inside look — Copeland used footage he shot himself — of the rise and eventual collapse of the band famous for such songs as “Roxanne,” “Message in a Bottle” and “Every Breath You Take.” Now comes “Stewart Copeland’s Police Diaries,” a 304-page hardcover ($55; Rocket 88) that documents the earliest days of the band through his datebooks. Copeland, 71, spoke recently from his home studio in Los Angeles.

Q: I thought this would be like a “dear diary” thing — long, emotional entries. But it’s more like a datebook, with all these facts and then your later reflections.

A: There’s the date sheet with all the facts and figures. But there are those other writings. There’s translation and commentary about that. Then, in 1978, I actually did write Dear Diary — like a paragraph rather than just facts and figures. And so then I kept another element, which is the secret thoughts, which was a book for crackpot theories, get rich quick schemes, grievance nurturing. They’re pretty dark at times. But with 50 years, I can look back and see it as a good laugh.

Q: Because these notes are contemporaneous, there are fascinating moments that are basically unrecognized as you write them down. Let’s go to Sept. 25, a Saturday, in 1976. You write: “Shopping + Tony, splash cym. Shorts, scarf etc. Indian meal, to Phil’s then to see band Last Exit — great, party.” That’s it. But that was a big day, right?

A: That’s a very big day. The bass player in that band, Last Exit, was Sting.

Q: Even though you didn’t write about it in great detail in that moment.

A: But look at that moment. In 1976, that night, I met some guy. He looked really great to me. How was I supposed to know to make a bigger entry in my diary? I had plenty of grandiose schemes and ideas, but I did not yet know that this man would change my life. And further, all of that struggle that we did, this is something that really impressed me when I looked at this material. We didn’t have “Every Breath You Take.” We didn’t have “Message in a Bottle.” We didn’t even have “Roxanne.”

Q: So the first time you and Sting get together to play is when he comes over to your apartment.

A: He calls up from downstairs in a phone booth on the street.

Q: And he comes up and you have a bass there.

A: Our squat in Mayfair, by the way, was a two-story penthouse apartment. It’s the fanciest corner of London. And one of the rooms in this two-story penthouse apartment was full of music. All of my musical equipment, my drums, amps, everything. I could hand him my brother Ian’s Ampex bass, which I still have sitting right over there. And he picked it up and we launched right into it.

Q: And that day, do you feel an instant connection?

A: You know, the way any jam works is you hand him an instrument. He’s going plonky, plonky, plunk, while I walk over and get up behind my drums. By the time I get on the drums, he’s already sort of playing something or I start playing something and he picks up on it. We pick up immediately. We’re off. Yeah, it’s a very sudden and quick ignition.

Q: So we’ve got Sting. We’ve got you. And then we’ve got this guy on guitar, Henry Padovani. He’s the guitarist and he’ll be on the first Police single, “Fall Out.”

A: He was Corsican. And his shades never came off. And he was the cool guy in the band. He was the only bona fide punk. Everybody in the London scene loved him. They were suspicious of Sting and put up their shields when I started talking at them. But everybody loved Henry, including the other bands that we supported and toured with. But music supersedes humanity. And so we had to do what we had to do. The day after we fired him, he was snapped up by Wayne County & the Electric Chairs.

Q: The reason Henry goes is because you find Andy Summers. That moment is documented in the diaries, though it’s short. All it says is it’s a Mike Howlett session, right? Let’s look at it. April 4, 1977.

A: He was super cool. Not a gregarious person. But his playing just immediately was the same as when Sting and I first connected. We heard Andy playing with that clarity, with this huge vocabulary, with his dynamic charisma on guitar. The music coming out of that instrument lit us up. And as the story is told in the book, when we’re driving home, Sting is seething with musicality. He understands that we’re flying a flag of convenience. We’ve got to do this punk crap to get gigs. But man, we had had a day of actual music. We’d forgotten what it’s like to be playing actual music.

Q: So, first, you have to get him in the band.

A: I had forgotten what a dance it was. We were scheming about how we could get Andy and I knew we would never get Andy.

Q: Why?

A: We can’t afford that guy. He’ll quit after two weeks. Why would he join two fake punks going nowhere. In fact, I did ask him about this years later and I said, “What were you thinking?” He said, “I dunno, mate. I should have stuck with Barry Manilow.”

End of carousel

Q: As I read this, I get the sense that the Sting who sings at the start is not like the Sting who we know best.

A: No, he’s shouting.

Q: Did you know he had that sort of, I don’t know if we’re going to call it falsetto but, you know, he had that range?

A: I knew he had the range, but it didn’t occur to me that it was range. It was just somebody singing something on the mic. We need a bass player, a guitarist and somebody’s got to sing. He’s singing. Check.

Q: But then in Germany, you heard it. What is it that you hear?

A: A soaring, beautiful, melodic and yet rhythmic ostinato thing. De day-yo, yo, yo, yo. Anyone who’s been to a Police concert knows what I’m talking about. Call and response. Just beautiful, soaring musical. And on the other side of him, Andy and I are in the shadows going, “holy s—.”

Q: The last element has to be the songs. I’m looking at the set lists you published of the early days and that’s striking. The songs are mainly yours. No “Roxanne.” No “Can’t Stand Losing You.” No “So Lonely.” I know these would be recorded and released under the name Klark Kent with you playing all the instruments, but eventually Sting starts to write.

A: Did you notice that the last one of the set lists is in his handwriting? Because it’s now his band.

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