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Stewart Copeland on Passing the Torch to U2, Reuniting The Police, and Spying on His Dad

on October 29, 2020, 5:00pm
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Your first film score was for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. How close did you work with the director? 

It all came from Uncle Francis, who is such a generous man, not only in his social interactions but with the art. He spots a talent he believes in and then gives you free reign. And to start the journey into film music with such a man was just one of the great blessings of life. He encouraged innovation. He, you know, he didn’t want to hear the same old, same old. That’s why he called me and just gave me plenty of rope to hang myself with. And he was very encouraging of the result.

I didn’t know how to score a film. I had no idea, but I worked very closely with him on the mission, which was Steven’s scene. Here, we need to feel the fact that he’s going into a fight. I need to feel that even though he’s here with his girlfriend, his mind is elsewhere. She loves him. He’s trying to keep her sweet, but he’s on his way to the big fight and the tension is building, and I need to feel that in the scene. Okay, I don’t know how [to do that]. But I need some kind of tension and danger. And I just kind of made it up and came up with something that kind of worked. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, but that’s sort of why he hired me. And so his creative generosity is what really set me off on the good foot.


In John-Pierre Dutilleux’s The Rhythmatist documentary, you played drums in a cage surrounded by lions. I imagine this was one of many wild moments during this time. Did you see this as a spiritual retreat for yourself?

I don’t know about spiritual. Adventurous and adventure-rich, I guess. It was all completely crazy every day, but we had about two weeks of shooting that we stretched out over two months. Because my buddy the director, the intrepid Belgian Indiana Jones, the real deal J.P. Dutilleux … he stretched it out, and he wouldn’t just go check into the hotel. He would find in the other ends of the village the cheapest place out there, and he’d chisel the guy down to like three, you know, whatever it is.

So, we set our budget and crossed the equator on our hands and knees pretty much and had one heck of an adventure. The lion booth was one. The night we spent in jail in Zaire. That was an adventure. There were all kinds of things. The two or three days I spent chasing giraffes on horseback. That was an adventure for which I think we got 26 seconds of film with Serengeti, giraffes, and me in the same shot. Getting arrested in Kinshasa was weird, though, unsettling being handcuffed…


Amnesty International A Conspiracy of Hope. You leave the stage for U2. At the time, did you see this as a passing of the torch as Bono stated? 

Oh, we all made a big passing-of-the-torch moment out if it because that gives it a bit of drama. It’s showbiz, after all, and the joke among the bands was that Andy [Summers] was under a lot of pressure to hand over his guitar to Edge out of tune. Needless to say, he was too much of a gentleman for any such dastardly deed. And it was great. To this day, I’m still very, very tight with the U2 guys, good buddies. We had actually met them many, many years previously in Ireland, at the Leixlip Festival, where they were some local band way down the bill. But you could tell backstage that they had a vibe. They were going someplace, those guys.

So, when we did the Amnesty thing, I guess that was what felt appropriate. It was a funny moment, though, because I handed over my drumsticks to Larry [Mullen Jr.], and I went up to the front of the stage, and there’s three blonde heads on the mic, singing some song to which I do not know the words. And then I feel a nudge on my shoulder. I look over, and it’s Elton John. Oh, okay. And then I feel another nudge. Oh, it’s Mick Jagger. So, I guessed I had to make some room for actual singers, so I kind of weeble off the stage somehow.

And I get around to the side of the stage and look back, and the drum set now has five drummers on it; everybody was hitting a cymbal or something. There’s a keyboard over there, and there’s like five guys on the keyboard; everybody gets half an octave. Ten guitars plugged into, god, I didn’t even know there were that many jack sockets on stage. At the front of the stage was a row of the top celebrities of the time all singing their hearts out. But from behind, I was looking at the backs of all the heads, and there’s some record company executive and his wife getting a selfie. And I think, Wow, that is a cool shot. You know? Yeah, that guy got a memory there.

You broke your collarbone while working on a sixth album — do you ever look back on that and wonder what if? Was there ever a point you felt like a sixth studio album was realistic?

No, there was never going to be a sixth studio album. Looking back on it, I’m grateful that we got five albums. Because beginning with Zenyatta … Sting writes great music. He’s a master musician on every count, on every side of music: with his fingers, his dexterity, his ear, his composition, his lyrics … a complete deal. Playing in The Police, we were all very opinionated and very earnest about expressing ourselves in this band, which meant that for him, he had to have his songs go through the mill of judgments and change and compromise and dealing with some other intrusions on his already perfect idea. There were many songs that he wrote for The Police where his demo was absolutely something, a guaranteed smash or whatever. The guy knew what he was doing, and less and less did he feel like putting up with other opinions being imposed upon his work. But he stuck it out for three more albums, for which I’m grateful.


How did the improvised set at Sting’s wedding go down?

Ah, it wasn’t improvised. We played “Roxanne” and some other Police song. And it was awkward. It was kind of expected of us, but it was awkward. I was glad when that moment was over, so we could go back to having a great time at what was a particularly wild party. Sting and Trudie [Styler] did throw the best parties.

Keep going to hear stories about Oysterhead, the Police reunion, and his father the spy…

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