thu 25/07/2024

On Drums Stewart Copeland!, BBC Four review - no drummer, no rock'n'roll | reviews, news & interviews

On Drums... Stewart Copeland!, BBC Four review - no drummer, no rock'n'roll

On Drums... Stewart Copeland!, BBC Four review - no drummer, no rock'n'roll

Former Police sticksman delivers a guided tour of the percussive universe

Stewart Copeland (right) with John Densmore, veteran drummer of The Doors

On Drums was inhabited by a parade of fine-looking young and middle aged multi-ethnic anglophone drummers, all introduced by Stewart Copeland, the American drummer of the Police.

In vintage film and contemporary interviews his chosen musicians seemed almost invariably fit and trim whatever the substances ingested in the past. Presumably touring schedules and the sheer physical effort (only temporarily supplanted, it turns out, by Roger Linn’s 1980s invention of drum machines) of banging the instruments kept our musicians in good nick.

Copeland suggested that percussionists, sitting behind their kit at the back, were usually given all too little credit, yet were absolutely indispensable. Copeland himself was a wild enthusiast, arms continually outstretched, a presenter on a pogo stick, coming down to earth to give his interviewees hugs. He recalled that as a boy he turned to the drums as he wanted the noise, the banging, the power: a skinny kid could turn into King Kong and feel seven foot tall.

Edward "Dee Dee" Chandler, the New Orleans drummer at the turn of the last century, was the founding father of drumming, and Copeland did a tell-and-show for New Orleans as the birthplace of all modern American music. In 1896 Chandler invented the foot pedal to play the bass drum: that mean hands were free, and you could bring in the snare drum, and then the drum set, three instruments played by one man, and then continually expanded with multi-tasking drummers. Copeland then leapfrogged the first half of the 20th Century to tell us that rock'n'roll was born on 10 December 1949 in New Orleans, natch: "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino is the first rock'n'roll record for Copeland. His narrative helped us hear Earl Palmer's bass drum leading on the down beat, and the snare on the up-beat or back beat.

Copeland's first contemporary hard-drumming rock star was Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters, ready to jam with our peripatetic presenter. He was a grinning blonde wearing that ubiquitous American accoutrement the reversed baseball cap along with patterned Bermuda shorts, at home in his studio on what looked to be an American dream mini-estate.

Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers went through rock to funk to hip hop and informed us that left-handed Ringo Starr’s originality put The Beatles on the music map. John Densmore of the Doors gave us "Light my Fire" for the psychedelic age. John Coltrane's interplay between his saxophone and Elvin Jones's drumkit had helped create call and response improvisation, and Densmore held the same kind of conversation with Jim Morrison's vocals. Jimi Hendrix shrewdly recruited drummer Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker was the powerhouse of Cream, and Led Zeppelin was fuelled by the mountainous John Bonham.

And finally the women, who also seemed to be plugged into special sources of youthful energy, whatever their age now. Bobbye Hall (pictured top with Copeland) had worked with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and her take was that percussion was the final rhythmic ingredient that brought the track to life. The euphoric Sheila E (pictured above) , who used to be Prince's music director, demonstrated how ghost notes inserted into a pattern make it funky – you had to have the discipline to know when not to play. The space between the pattern was the most important part of rhythm. As so often, less is more.


He wanted the noise, the banging, the power: a skinny kid could turn into King Kong and feel seven foot tall


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Forgive my blatant appeal to you Police and Stewart Copeland fans, but if you are interested, I have recently recorded an in-depth interview with Stewart Copeland which was the inaugural episode of my new podcast, Backstage with Robert Emery. If you'd like to hear this, please do visit and take a listen to Behind the Scenes with Stewart Copeland: Why dumb shit makes me happy.

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