Stewart Copeland: The Police’s Drumming Genius

The Police Live album with Sting jumping, Stewart Copeland drumming, and Andy Summers
Mr. Sting, Mr. Copeland, and Mr. Summers.

Some praise for The Police’s drummer today. The American in an English group? Don’t let that stop you—his unique style is furious, complex, and legendary.

Stewart Copeland

Channelling the energetic playing style Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell popularised, it’s obviously the latter where Copeland took most inspiration.

Mitchell was Jimi Hendrix’s drummer. Kind of says it all. A genius we’ll get round to eventually, for now Copeland is the man.

The Police’s unique brand of music allowed the drummer to draft in elements of rock, punk, reggae, and other stuff Copeland invented.

Notably, he’s one of few modern drummers from popular music who still uses traditional grip—that’s how Buddy Rich and other jazz greats play.

Yet Copeland merged traditional drumming techniques with innovative chops, with remnants of punk and post-punk thrown in.

He stays away from the snare drum quite a lot, instead focussing in on the high-hat and tom-toms. It’s pretty propulsive, like Jaki Liebezeit of Can.

The result for The Police was a ferocious mix of complexity, hard hitting, and innovation.

It’s exhausting just watching him in action. You’ve got to be incredibly fit to play like, night after night, and he seems a naturally energetic chap.

Really, there are very few drummers who can stand out on this instrument. You have to be something else to do so.

Copeland was also a big fan of Ginger Baker, who had the natural brilliance to ensure bands functioned around him.

And in the comments sections on YouTube for The Police’s live performances, it’s full of people not discussing how good looking Sting is. Or how great his voice is. Or how catchy the songs are.

It’s all drumming fans singing the praises of Stewart Copeland. And it’s worth focussing on Message in a Bottle as a fine demonstration of his style.

It’s a bizarre mishmash of various styles that just works. But he also blasts in and out of different beats at various times.

It’s furious, it’s fast, but it’s also melodic. Throughout, the energy of punk music is there. But you need a great deal of skill to manage it.

Copeland is now 67 and still actively drumming. He also produces soundtracks for films and video games, such as with the Spyro series.

So, yes, he’s also a composer—but he stills spends most of his time drumming.

He was touring in 2020 with The Police Deranged for Orchestra. Obviously that’s on hold for now, but it’s good to have a bloody genius out and about still in action. Well, man. Keep at it!

The Police

An addendum here for the British band. The Police was one of the top ’80s groups, emerging as a post-punk talent with many big hit singles.

Researching this piece, we were surprised by just how many hit singles Sting wrote.

Copeland formed the band with Sting in 1977. He’s from Virginia over in the US and was born in 1952. His family actually moved to Egypt in his early years, so he grew up in the Middle East.

He then moved to England in 1967 to attend a boarding school in Somerset. Then he went to a college in California for a few years, before legging it back to England in the early 1970s. Hectic stuff, eh?

Sting (Gordon Sumner) is from Northumberland in the far north of England—he was working as a teacher, performing jazz in the evenings, before legging it to London to have a go at the punk music lark in early 1977.

With his good looks and husky voice, he seemed destined for rock star status—even if the music had been rubbish.

But it wasn’t. And in the post-punk aftermath, that led to all manner of hits.

The band was decidedly older than most punk groups of the day. At the band’s peak in 1983, guitarist Andy Summers was 41.

This seems to add an extra musical maturity to The Police’s songs and performances.

And, well, it’s enduring stuff. We can’t imagine their hits dimming in popularity in any time soon.


  1. A great drummer and a fab band. Just listening to Don’t Stand So Close To Me. They should re-release that song with a new video. It’s a perfect song for this time of Coronavirus!

    Liked by 1 person

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