Drummer extraordinaire Stewart Copeland is a busy man. Currently preparing himself for a series of shows that will involve an orchestra, three vocalists and a guitarist from Paul McCartney‘s sacred stable, he will be performing The Police’s repertoire live, albeit with a twist.
In his interview with Far Out, Copeland highlighted his need to keep busy, engaged, and different. He’s not one for repetition, and although the tunes his band are set to play are familiar, he needed to present them in a style that was more contemporary and with fresh insight into his creative process.
Which is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his favourite Police album is the giddily inventive Regatta de Blanc, which pivots from the kinetic aestheticism of ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’, to the blinding instrumental passages that make up the title track. Best of all, the album features ‘Message in a Bottle’, a hybrid number that is considered by many, including Copeland, as the band’s creative peak.
“Regatta de Blanc was more dependent on the band’s cohesion,” he exclusively told Far Out. “It was more dependent on the band who had discovered each other playing two, three sets a night across America.”
He has a point, because it is the band’s masterpiece as a rock outfit. From the clattering cymbals on ‘Walking On The Moon’, to the choppy bass strokes that cement ‘Bring On The Night’, the album presents a triumvirate of musicians keeping close eye on what the other is playing. They were too accomplished to be considered punk, but ‘It’s Alright For You’ does have elements of punk flashing through it, not least because Sting spends much of the tune shouting, determined to make his voice heard over a crowd focused on the beer in their belly, and the cigarette in their hands.
“We were stretching our material,” he continues, “And as a result of stretching our material, we had to improvise, and by virtue of improvising, we discovered all the cool stuff that each other could do. So, when we went in to record Regatta, Sting hadn’t had time to write the new album by himself, so some of it we made up on the spot. Some of them were songs of mine that got in there, and that’s my favourite album because of the atmosphere. I think Sting continued to write better and better songs but some of his best songs are on that album. It was just his quantity that was lacking rather than quality.”
Regatta de Blanc is their artistic zenith, although the power trio would enjoy greater success with Synchronicity, a monster album bolstered by the success of ‘Every Breath You Take‘, The Police’s most successful work. Sting was writing songs of a more autobiographical nature, which probably explains his desire to pursue a solo career by the mid-1980s.
Copeland was down a band, but in an act of courageous defiance, he reinvented himself as a film composer, as he worked on the themes to Rumble Fish, Wall Street and Ken Loach opus Riff-Raff. Guitarist Andy Summers returned to his proggier roots with a series of ambient albums, written with King Crimson bandleader Robert Fripp. Copeland and Summers performed ‘Message in a Bottle’ with Sting at the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
It was satisfying, albeit brief, leaving younger fans praying and crying for a full-fledged reunion tour that would give them the chance to hear their favourite tunes in their original context. In 2007, the band agreed to perform a series of shows that spanned Europe and America. The shows were triumphant, and the power trio felt satisfied to call it a day in 2008. They have no plans to perform together in public again.
But Copeland is happy to carry the torch as a drummer, and joked that it took three singers to replace Sting, and an orchestra to fill in for Summers. And in his own way, he’s staying true to the band’s original formula, to let the material speak for the band. By producing it in such an unlikely manner, he’s giving the songs a fresher, more distinctive quality to them, and anyone who wants to hear ‘Message in a Bottle’ in its original form, can simply turn to their copy of the single.
“I have three soul sisters on the microphone singing those songs, and they really deliver,” the drummer reveals. “They’ve turned me into a real fan of The Chiffons, The Supremes, The Shangri-las: all these groups. I’m really inspired by them. They just have a great vibe, and bring a great power to the songs. And there’s the mighty bass player Armand Sabal-Lecco, and Rusty Anderson on guitar, on loan from Paul McCartney. When Sir Macca calls, I will lose him”.
When Paul McCartney speaks, everyone listens-even Stewart Copeland. Return to Far Out Tuesday, February 15th, to read the full interview with Copeland.