■ The former Police drummer, 66, on knee-high boots, schooldays with Osama bin Laden and having secret-service parents
You’ve made a film for BBC Four about the history and art of drumming. What’s your favourite drummer joke?
What were the drummer’s last words before he got fired from the band? ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a song.’ Like in any company, the employees like to joke about the boss. And everybody knows who the boss really is in a band — the drummer. We are the train upon which they all ride.
What does it feel like when you’re playing live and the crowd is going wild?
There’s voodoo in it, a power going beyond the niceties of society. When you’re driving a beat and you see the people dancing, you are on an elemental level, down into the part of our psyche beyond words. In our DNA is rhythm.
The Police were a band with amazing musical synergy but who hated each other. Is that right?
That’s the opposite of the truth. We love each other. Always have, always will. We are brothers forever. Musically, we were on different pages. We get along great until somebody talks about music. With great admiration in our hearts, we recognise that musically we drive each other nuts.
Before The Police you were in prog-rock band Curved Air. What outrageous clothes did you wear?
The most embarrassing sartorial decision would have to be the boots. I had these knee-high lace-up sneakers made for me. The only problem was that when I went out on tour for the first time, my muscles grew so much that my legs doubled in size and the boots wouldn’t fit any more.
In the documentary, Taylor Hawkins, drummer with Foo Fighters, says he pees on his hands to toughen them up. Ever done that?
That’s a trade secret.
You grew up in Beirut. I heard Osama bin Laden was in your class at school.
He went to the same school, it is said, but he was much younger than me. If he had been there while I was there I would have kicked his ass.
Because everyone’s always so interested in your father’s career as a senior CIA officer, we never hear much about your mother Lorraine. Can you tell me about her?
She was from Leith, Edinburgh. She was an archaeologist. While my father was installing and maintaining dictators, cut-throats and the structure of politics in the Middle East, she was out digging up 200,000-year-old homo sapiens in the Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian deserts. My mother used to take us out into the desert to see abandoned cities.
Am I right in saying she was a spy before that?
She was in intelligence during the war. She was in the Special Operations Executive. They’ve recently been lionised as the women who saved the West. They were figuring out all the train schedules and routing RAF bombers. That’s probably where she met my father.
Before the CIA, didn’t he play trumpet with Glenn Miller?
Yes, to his embarrassment. He considered Glenn Miller the pop music of the day. He was more proud to have played with others who were more important culturally to him. He was the first white musician to play with black jazz bands down in Alabama. I’ve still got his trumpet. It’s a 1928 Conn Coprion, a fancy instrument. We’ve had three wildfire scares this year in Santa Monica and every time that trumpet’s been put in my car. My Stratocaster, my daddy’s trumpet and my hard drive: that’s what I would save.
Not your drums?
Maybe this snare on which I played the Police hits [beatboxes and hits the drum]. Doo-doo-BAP-dun-doo-doo-BAP. Got it? That’s Every Breath You Take.
After The Police split, you got into writing for film and TV. You composed the classic theme tune to The Equalizer…
I also had a cameo in the show, playing a pickpocket. Edward Woodward was such a bad-ass. He was intimidating. I look scared s***less. I wasn’t acting.
Is it true that you played a fundraising gala for your kids’ school with other rock-star parents?
I call it The Grateful Dad. Stephen Stills, me and Gene Simmons. A hell of a line-up. Bob Dylan was supposed to be in it but he bailed. Gene Simmons and I are both into the Old Testament. How’s that for a backstage scene? The bass player from Kiss and the drummer from The Police arguing about theology.
You feature many women in the show. Sheila E, who drummed with Prince, plays incredible stuff.
Sheila E came over here and took me to school. There are lot of really great women drummers. It takes stamina to play the drums but not brawn.
On Drums… Stewart Copeland! is on BBC Four, tonight, 9pm