The Police’s Stewart Copeland Takes a Sledgehammer to Their Hits

Police: Deranged reconfigures the band's biggest songs in a madcap orchestral performance.

Alex Galbraith Arts & Entertainment

Police: Deranged will present the hits of Copeland's band in way you've never heard before. 

The real bugbear of any historical moment is the inability to gain any sort of perspective. No one is allowed to stand outside history. There’s no hill we can stand on to look down on time as we’re experiencing it. 

That’s why we, as a species, invented record-keeping. Starting from cave paintings, working our way through the written word and on to photography and music, it’s all meant to give us something to look back at once we’ve finally summitted. 

Stewart Copeland knows this better than most. The legendary drummer of The Police also served as the chronicler of the band’s “starving years.” The longtime Angeleno spent the early years with Sting and Andy Summers writing down and filming everything he could, astute enough to know that a blur of platinum plaques and world tours can wash over a person like so many typical Tuesdays and trips to the grocery store. 

“I’m kind of a pack rat, I guess. From all the way, from long before, when I was in boarding school, I had kept diaries,” Copeland says. “For some reason, I was enjoying life so much that I wanted to keep it and put it away to check out later. And [it was] the same with the movie camera. It was such an adventure that I just wanted to scrape it off and put it in my suitcase and take it home with me.”

That role as unofficial historian of The Police has served Copeland well. For one, he’s turned his home movies and diaries into a documentary (Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, 2006) and a book (Stewart Copeland’s Police Diaries, 2023). For another, it’s given him a unique perspective to play with the hits while playing the hits. And that’s exactly what he’s done with his tour Police: Deranged.

Copeland borrows a motto from a considerably less famous U.K. post-punk act, ripping the songs up and starting again — with the help of an orchestra and a lack of reverence for the source material that can only come with being there at its creation. But he’s not some outsider throwing his name and weight around. Copeland came by his orchestral experience by living through it. 

“I’ve been playing with orchestras for a long time. I received an involuntary education in orchestra by virtue of 20 years as a film composer, hired gun,” he says. “An artist follows their instincts, but a professional does as he’s told. And so I learned how to work with orchestra and developed a great love of the orchestra and the power, the majesty, it can soar, it can dig deep, it can rage, it can love.”

Copeland would play concerts of his original compositions, throwing a bone to the Police fans in the audience on occasion with one-off performances. 

“I always played a couple of Police songs, the obscure ones that I wrote, and they always just went over so well that it occurred to me: Why don’t I play the Police hits and see what happens?” he says. “What happens is that it burns the building down.”

When the time came to create a full set of Police songs for the orchestra, Copeland went at his band’s mega-hits and album cuts with the verve of a mad tinkerer.

“I think that what makes my arrangements better than if we had hired a professional is the disrespect. And I say that with great respect and love in my heart, but I haven’t got a client beating me up. So I can fuck it all up, which is what I’ve done,” he shares. “The big hooks are there. You’ll recognize the important parts. But other places, I go off on tangents.”

While Copeland talks of dragging his muddy boots all over The Police’s biggest songs, the project has revitalized his respect for his bandmates and their songwriting abilities. To hear him tell it, the band always had quite a few years and “way more chops” than their punk contemporaries on the London scene. 

“[The] critics spotted us as carpetbaggers right away,” he continues. “Musicians like the Clash, the Pistols, the Damned, they would come to our shows at The Hope and Anchor or the Marquee and they would cop licks. I remember Paul Simonon talking to Sting about bass technique, saying ‘Don't tell the boss.’ He … didn’t want Joe Strummer to find out that he gave a shit.”

One listen to the albums from The Police’s heyday shows that they clearly gave a shit. The three-piece produced such dense and gorgeous music that Copeland saw no way to replace them without a small army.

“There’s no way to replace Andy Summers, but with a big-ass orchestra,” he says. 

On Sting, Copeland gained a new appreciation for his craftsmanship. 

“I did discover something quite unexpected. Man, that guy can write some songs. Back in the day, I was at the back of the stage banging shit, and all I ever saw was the back of his head. I don’t know what he was yelling about,” he says. “But getting into these songs, digging into them, and arranging the vocal parts for the three piece and so on, I have a much deeper appreciation now than I did in the old days for his songwriting, melodically and harmonically, but also the lyrics. As a drummer, we don’t listen to lyrics.”

Some of those songs were so well-composed that Copeland couldn’t find a crack to pry them open, even with his mission statement of derangement. 

“They’re not all messed up. ‘Message in a Bottle’ is like a diamond and cannot be subdivided or compartmentalized. It was unbreakable.” 

Though Copeland is approaching all his arrangements from an oblique angle and jokingly says he comes from the “Mickey Mouse school of conducting,” he’s not looking to put a stick in the eye of Police fans. “Deranged” is ultimately a way for fans and performer alike to revel in the band’s legacy. 

“[Fans] fell in love. They got fired. They had their life’s highs and lows with these songs playing, with ‘Roxanne’ playing. And so when I play these shows with the Police songs, it really does have an emotional impact,” he says, “and that’s what us stage performers live for.” 

Stewart Copeland will perform Police: Deranged at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio on March 25. Tickets and other information are available here.