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Thursday 13 December 2018

I planned to write Finnegan's Wake, the opera - Copeland

IRISH EYES: From Joyce to his son's wedding in Kildare, Police drummer Stewart Copeland tells Cormac Murphy why he's always wanted to have Irish connections

THE former drummer with The Police has a curious relationship with Ireland.

Stewart Copeland said he has an obsession with James Joyce and even planned to write an opera about Finnegan's Wake.

And this summer he "got to make the father of the groom speech" at his Irish son Patrick Guinness' wedding in Co Kildare.

He has been involved in Patrick's life from the moment he "was aware of his existence", he told the Herald.

Patrick, a descendant of the famous brewery family, married Michelle Bristol, from Santa Monica in California, in Leixlip Castle in July.

This was actually where Stewart met Patrick's mother Marina Guinness, 33 years ago at a festival. Four years later he discovered he had a son.

"It's kind of poetic," he said.

Stewart has seven children and Patrick is "boy two".

"Boy one came with the first wife. He is adopted, so Patrick is my first-born," he explained.

"He was actually born in Santa Monica but soon went back to Ireland and went to school there.

"We have been involved in each other's lives from the moment I was aware of his existence. A fine lad. I didn't know about him until he was four."

US-born Stewart said he enjoyed the clash of cultures at the wedding.

"Mike, the bride's father, he's a great guy - an ex-marine, a real what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy. He looks like Ed Harris, the actor. He's an absolute straight-up guy," Stewart said.

"The father of the bride is in charge of the ceremony, the whole event, but the Guinness family graciously offered their hospitality. He had to go deal with that and watching the Irish concept of organisation against the American marine concept of organisation was fun to behold.

"It was an unbelievable event and it went perfectly. The combination of Mike's organisation and just the Irish flair and the congeniality, the natural easy-going charm and beauty of the place carried the day."

Born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1952 to a CIA officer father and a Scottish archaeologist mother, he spent his formative years in the Middle East as a "diplo-brat".

CULTURAL

When he returned to the US as a teenager, he found all his cultural references were different to kids his own age.

"There is an episode in The Sopranos where all these Mafiosos talk about the 'old country'. And they get there and they hate it," Stewart said.

"They try their New Jersey Italian and nobody can understand them. That could be what happened to me when I got to America."

In the mid-1970s, he was the drummer for 'prog rock' group Curved Air.

Then, in 1977, he founded The Police with Gordon Sumner, who went on to become known as Sting, and guitarist Henry Padovani, who was soon replaced by Andy Summers. The band became one of the most influential of the late 1970s and 80s with hits including Roxanne and Message in a Bottle.

When the Police effectively disbanded in 1986, all members went on to pursue solo ventures.

For his latest project, Stewart was commissioned to write a concerto for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, entitled Poltroons in Paradise.

"It is a concerto for percussion and orchestra. It is actually the first instalment of a larger piece," Stewart said.

"The combination of my work in orchestra and also my work before that banging on s*** makes me a choice for such a commission."

His interest in classical music dates from childhood, but once he heard Jimi Hendrix he said it "kind of put Stravinsky on hold for a minute".

"My father actually raised me to be a jazz musician but as soon as I heard the electric guitar through a 150-watt Marshall amp that pretty much dried up my interest in saxophones and trumpets," he added.

He admits he has a "very loyal following, not just a Police following".

When his concerto was performed in Liverpool, his fans were "outnumbered by genuine patrons of the arts.

"They didn't know me from Adam - some American composer amongst these lions of British art," he said.

He said playing music in a band and composing a concerto for an orchestra are "almost unrelated".

"They each feed different parts. I am a biological entity. I have a heart and viscera, base urges that need expression, for that there are drums," he said.

"But, also, I'm a very sensitive, evolved being with a conscience and a mind and curiosity - and for that there is orchestra."

Stewart's "obsession" with James Joyce makes him wish he had Irish ancestry.

"I wish I did have a stronger Irish connection. I'm obsessed with Joyce and I want to write the opera of Finnegans Wake. In fact, I've half written the libretto," he said.

"I was having a discussion with a buddy about the king's new clothes in art. We were talking about works of recognised art that were rubbish and he brought up Finnegans Wake."

His friend described the book as "utter, utter, utter gibberish".

"I bought the book…I read it myself. There is something there behind all those adventures with language. There's a very poignant story. The only way to tell the story would be in opera," he said.

"Watching it on stage and set to music - it starts to make sense. It's music. You have to speak it aloud. It really is a powerful piece.

"I got as far as speaking to Stephen Joyce, the heir to the Joyce estate. We talked for hours and I managed to gain his trust. It got as far as negotiating with the opera company but he had rather an exaggerated idea of what opera can pay. That's where it fell apart."

While there is always a "possibility of [another] reunion with The Police", only time will tell, he added.

Poltroons in Paradise, performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, will be featured in the National Concert Hall's International Concert Series on September 17

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