By the time he brought the concept of I.R.S. Records to the
folks at A&M Records, Miles Copeland was already a savvy producer/promoter/manager
having produced albums by Renaissance, Wishbone Ash and others; running his own management
firm (BMT) and managing his brother Stewart's band, The Police. But our story
begins long before that...
Miles Copeland III was the oldest of three brothers, born to Miles Copeland Jr. who was
one of the first members of the CIA (which was the OSS until after WWII). Ian Copeland
was son number two and Stewart Copeland, number three. Miles Copeland Jr.'s travels
and assignments around the world gave the Copeland children a "real world view" most
Americans can't experience or understand until well into adulthood, if ever. In fact, Stewart has
said in interviews, "I've been American my whole life, but I've never lived there."
(Not entirely true, but we won't hold him to it).
It was while their father was assigned as bureau chief to the CIA's middle-east office in
Lebanon that the Copeland children began to take an interest in music. While they all
pursued music proper, only Stewart stuck with it, finding himself mesmerized by percussion
in particular and world music in general. Miles III and Ian became more interested in the
production, marketing, and performance end of the musical spectrum. Their individual
careers would pursue these different paths, but they were paths that would continue to
cross for decades...
In the 1970s the Copeland boys' musical interests took them to Europe
where they became involved with a number of different bands. Miles' skills as a producer
developed and he produced albums by Wishbone Ash and Renaissance. Ian went
to work for a few management firms and then headed even further west to New
York to refine his skills and launch his own booking firm (more on this in part two).
Stewart joined a band called Curved Air.
By 1975, in the UK where Miles and Stewart were living and breathing the music life, the
stirrings of a new musical undercurrent were growing. The result of disaffected youth and
others tiring of the status quo in the kingdom, a form of social rebellion began, appearing
first in street art and fashion (more specifically a lack of fashion) and then in music, in
large part by the already established "pub rockers" who witnessed the social developments
from the other side of their guitars and microphones (and the haze of a Bass Ale or Guiness
Stout)... By 1976 there was a name for this new, raw high-energy "angry" music:
The Copeland brothers, circa 1979. L to R: Ian, Miles III & Stewart...
Also by 1976, Curved Air was but a memory and Stewart began forming a new band,
taking advantage of both the new music fad and his musicianship. That band became better
known as The Police. And big brother Miles stepped in to manage the fledgling act
(which was also briefly known as Strontium 90 as it flip-flopped from trio to a
quartet and back two more times).
Unable to get his brother's band signed to a UK label, Miles decided he had enough
experience "behind the scenes" to launch his own label, Illegal Records. The
Police' debut single, "Fall Out"/"Nothing Achieving", sold out its initial
pressing and went on to sell about 70,000 copies -- an unprecedented feat for both an
independent label and an "unknown" act. This only helped the punk music phenomenon to
grow in the UK. The popularity of the new music and the demand for new product led Miles
to launch several more labels (all under the blanket name of "Faulty Products"). In
addition to Illegal, the other labels included Deptford Fun City,
Step Forward and Total Noise. Meanwhile, brother Ian had set up a successful
booking firm in New York, called "Frontier Booking International, or "FBI" which, besides a
few mainstream acts, started signing punk and new wave bands and booking them into US venues, such as
CBGBs among others. This tendency to name business units after various governmental bodies
would grow to ridiculously amusing extremes over the history the "Copeland Empire" (Of course, use
of "CIA" would remain exclusively with their father, for obvious reasons!)...
Three of Miles Copeland's Record Company logos, all distibuted under his "Faulty
Products" Banner (UK)...
Thanks in part to the publicity surrounding a punk band called The Sex
Pistols (named for a slang term for male genitalia) and the success of both Illegal
Records and another newcomer, Stiff Records, the music establishment in the UK
woke up and realized that if they didn't jump on the "punk" bandwagon they were going
to soon be left in the dust. Surprisingly, Miles was still unable to get a major label
interested in The Police. However one label, one with a penchant for embracing all
things independent, showed enough interest (though they rejected the original offer) that
Miles decided to pursue a deal. That label was A&M Records, the most successful
independent label in the world at the time (and one whose success as an independent has
yet to be rivaled). Miles changed the offer asking for higher royalties instead of a
higher advance. A&M had a lot less to lose (so they thought) and signed the band.
This sort of business savvy and the resulting payoff so impressed A&M honchoes Herb
Alpert, Jerry Moss and Gil Friesen, that when Miles decided to launch an American version
of his Faulty/Illegal operation in 1979, A&M was the only logical
choice for a manufacturing/distribution agreement...