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“Punk Opened The Way”: Stewart Copeland On The Rise Of The Police

From being “reviled” by punks to filling stadiums around the world, Stewart Copeland reveals why The Police are “a Prada suit made out of barbed wire”.

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Together with his bandmates Sting and Andy Summers, drummer Stewart Copeland was part of one of the most singular bands in rock’n’roll: The Police. Since their formation in 1977, the UK power trio embodied the punk spirit while simultaneously being incredibly dynamic musicians. Last year, their career was celebrated with the release of the exhaustive, 6LP box set Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings, which chronicled their rise from raucous club act to one of the biggest groups of the 80s. In an interview with uDiscover Music, Stewart Copeland recalled his fateful encounter with Sting, The Police’s meteoric rise and what makes the perfect Police song.

“Other punk bands didn’t even know how to get to the gig”

Having emerged on the scene during the height of punk in the UK, Copeland says the band’s experience with the scene was a double-edged sword.

“Punk had opened people’s minds to the idea that you don’t have to sound like ELO, ABBA or any of the huge commercial successful acts of the day,” he says. adding that The Police were “reviled as fakes in the punk world for capitalising on our ‘superior musicality’ thanks to our three to four extra years of musical experience. All the other punk bands didn’t even know how to get to the gig.”

Part of what made The Police unique is how they were able to successfully pull together disparate threads of sounds to create their own style, utilising everything from Sting’s jazz background to Summers’ psychedelic roots and Copeland’s early prog days.

“That guy’s a rock star!”

It was during this time, when he was playing with prog-rock band Curved Air, that Copeland first met his future frontman one night in 1976.

“We were playing a gig in a Northern town outside of London and saw a band called Last Exit, who were a pretty slick jazz band. But jazz didn’t impress me – the bass player did,” he says.

“There was a bass player who could sing, but apart from that there was noticeable golden shaft of light coming from heaven upon his magnificent brow,” Copeland continues. “‘That guy’s a rock star!’ None of us realised how he could sing until later.”

“That’s Sting wearing the gorilla mask…”

Before striking success with the band, Copeland also talked about his first “appearance” on the UK TV show Top Of The Pops, performing his hit ‘Don’t Care’ under the moniker Klark Kent.

While The Police were considered “extremely uncool” by the press at the time, Copeland enlisted Sting and Summers, along with the band’s tour manager, Kim Turner, and original Curved Air drummer, Florian M Pilkington-Miksa, to appear on the BBC disguised in masks.

“That’s Sting wearing the gorilla mask, Turner on guitar and me on bass,” Copeland recalls.

Their days of disguising themselves were numbered after scoring massive hits such as ‘Roxanne’, ‘Every Breath You Take’ and ‘Message In A Bottle’, which Copeland describes as the perfect Police song.

“It has a lot of the favourite ingredients of The Police,” he explains. “It has a driving beat, that arpeggiated guitar – which Sting was really good at writing, and Andy would just kill those things – and that reggae-ish, four-on-the-floor beat.

“I’ve often described The Police as ‘a Prada suit made out of barbed wire’”

As the band graduated from small clubs to stadiums, tensions ran high and the recording process grew to be difficult.

“Though we love each other dearly, admire each other and realise what we all brought to the party, it was not an easy fit,” Copeland says. “It was a strange dichotomy. We could feel the power of the music we were making together but fought our way to get the result.

“We were very fortunate that we had the inner fortitude to part ways right when everything was going our way.”

Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings is out now and can be bought here.

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