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by Oscar van Duijn
Dire Straits is beyond doubt one of the world's biggest bands ever, led by a man with a gruff voice but who makes up for it with his magnificent guitar playing and songwriting capability: Mark Knopfler. This month his second solo album will see the light of day, "Sailing To Philadelphia".
Mark has chosen to take a step back from all the pressure and hectic times Dire Straits used to bring and now makes his music in the comfort of a solo career. The big stadiums filled with tens of thousands of people have been replaced with smaller venues and TV and radio studios.
Many wonder what holds the success of his music, and to date not even Mar himself can give an answer to that question.
Contrary to the busy life as foreman of a million-selling rock band, Mark Knopfler actually is a very shy man. More than once he has been referred to as the quiet man of rock 'n roll. This side of his personality comes out best in his 'other' music.
One of the less well-known sides of Mark is his talent for film music. In 1982 he composed music for the film Local Hero, a low budget movie. Although the movie never was a best seller, this particular music reached millions. It is common knowledge amongst the fans that no Dire Straits or Mark Knopfler concert is finished without the theme from Local Hero as a closing number.
In the autumn of 1983 Mark composed for two more British movies, Cal and Comfort and Joy. In the years that followed Mark recorded and produced music for the movies The Color Of Money, The Princess Bride and Last Exit To Brooklyn. In 1998 Mark wrote music for the movie Wag The Dog, probably the most popular he has written for to date. Also that year the Metroland soundtrack, produced by Mark, was released.
Over the years Mark Knopfler has also become a wanted guest guitar player for many artists.
He has played on and produced albums of artists such as Willy De Ville, Randy Newman and Chet Atkins. And of course he has played extensively with Eric Clapton. In the late 1980s Mark re-established contact with Steve Philips and Brendan Croker, two guitar friends from the time he was a teacher in Leeds. They decided to start making music together again under the name Notting Hillbillies and 1990 saw the release of an album called "Missing ... Presumed Having A Good Time".
In 1996 Mark embarked on yet another adventure. His first solo album entitled "Golden Heart" was released. The album has a slightly different sound from the past Dire Straits albums, perhaps best described as soft rock. The Dire Straits line-up has been replaced by musicians whom were all hand picked by Mark himself: Richard Bennett (guitar), Glen Worf (bass) and Chad Cromwell (drums) were but a few of the many artists that contributed to the album.
The first single to be released was "Darling Pretty". Similar to the album, the song reached only a modest position in the charts, while the second fared even worse. It didn't seem to bother Mark, since he had come to a point in his life where he just wanted to make his own music without having to worry if it's commercial enough or not.
The album was followed by a European tour, which avoided the big football stadiums and settled for the smaller halls and theatres. This way of making music probably better suited his way of life.
Mark has been married three times and two years ago he and his wife Kitty Aldrige - he dedicated Darling Pretty to his darling Kitty - became the parents of a lovely daughter named Isabella. From his second marriage Mark has twin sons named Benji and Joseph. His favourite activity nowadays is therefore spending time with his family and/or riding his bike. The fancy life of a pop star with all its glitter and glamour never seemed to get the better of him.
Where numerous other bands and artists with not even half the success as he does fall into a decadent way of life stardom tends to drag people into, Mark remains his own self. Is it because he is immune to the effects fame can have on people? Or is it just that he likes to do things differently? Perhaps the answer lies in Mark's affinity for the common man. In an interview he once said: "I've always felt an affinity with America, Americans. It's because America's made up of Everyman - in some ways I feel as though I'm made up of a little bit of Everyman, too."
The music Mark composes and even more importantly the lyrics he writes, all tell a different story about common people. "The Sultans Of Swing" tells the story of a starting music band, "Private Investigations" is about a detective and of course "Brothers In Arms" is a song of a soldier dying on the battle field. The song is king for him, so Mark tries to get as close to 'the real thing' as possible in his songwriting. He likes to observe people and what they do and then make a song out of it.
The song "Money For Nothing", for instance, he wrote while in an electrical appliances store. He borrowed a piece of paper and started to write what he heard. Although he wanted to use the slang that he really heard he knew he would be misunderstood. In an interview he once said about this: "There is no way that I would except people to receive all that in the spirit in which it was intended. They'd probably think I was just being vulgar."
This is very different to the music that some of the artists record nowadays. Many think they should have the right to sing whatever words they like, only to find they're being banned from radio and TV for the use of foul language. The fact that Mark knows the boundaries and limitations might have significantly contributed to the fact that he has been in the business for so long.
This month Mark's second solo album, "Sailing To Philadelphia" is being released, together with its first single, "What It Is". The album has twelve new songs on it and Mark has succeeded in finding a couple of renowned artists to play with him. Most notable is no doubt the collaboration with Van Morisson on the track "The Last Laugh".
An extensive promotion has been scheduled for this album, including TV and radio performances, interviews the press and more. To date it is not known if this album will also be followed by a tour. At the same time Mark is currently working on the soundtrack of yet another movie, A Shot At Glory.
So although there hasn't been any new Dire Straits material for quite some time, Mr. Knopfler has been very busy these past couple of years. Anyone who loves Dire Straits' music should give his solo work a try. You will almost certainly not find chart-topping songs or up-tempo fast-beat dance music. What you will find is well-considered and balanced music. Mark's songs will definitely not stay in your mind at a moment's notice, but given time, you might find you've grown addicted to it!
Mark Knopfler & Dire Starits - Brief History
It all began in 1977 when Mark Knopfler (12 December 1949, Glasgow) was sharing an apartment with his younger brother David Knopfler and John Illsley. After previous jobs as a journalist, Mark had the job of a teacher at that time. The Knopfler brothers, both guitarists, and John Illsley, being a bass-player, started to rehearse some of the songs Mark had composed.
They soon found they needed a drummer to make the sound complete. They found one in Pick Withers who had been playing professionally already for a while at Dave Edmund's Rockfield studios. A friend of Pick Withers was interested in the band and when he saw their financial situation, which was not very bright at the time, he suggested they call themselves Dire Straits. They used the name for their second gig, a support act for a band called Squeeze at the Albany Theatre.
Soon after a demo tape was recorded and sent to BBC radio. The tape was put on air in the Honkey Tonk show presented by Charlie Gillet, an important talent scout of that time. Within a matter of days Dire Straits were signed to the Vertigo record label. Ed Bicknell was asked to manage the band, and he agreed as soon as he saw them perform. He would remain their manager for the next two decades to come.
In the spring of 1978 Dire Straits recorded their first, self-titled, album. It included the songs "Water Of Love", "Six Blade Knife" and all-time favorite "Sultans Of Swing". The album did not reach the top of the charts, instead it stayed in the bottom half, now and then dropping out only to re-enter a short time later.
During the winter of 1978/1979 Dire Straits recorded their second album, "Communique". All of a sudden their first album was being heard by a large audience. It reached the No. 1 position in Australia and topped the charts in Europe and North America. During the entire year 1979 Dire Straits extensively toured North America, Europe and the UK.
David Knopfler left the band to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Californian guitarist Hal Lindes. Alan Clark joined the band to play keyboards. During the months that followed they again toured North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
During the spring of 1982 Dire Straits recorded the "Love Over Gold" album. This album featured "Private Investigations" which, despite its length of seven minutes, was their greatest hit ever. Another song, "Private Dancer", omitted from the album, was later picked up by Tina Turner who used it to get her career going again.
During the winter of 1984/1985 the band recorded the "Brothers In Arms" album. Some world famous songs were the result, including "Walk Of Life", "Money For Nothing" (featuring Sting as vocalist) and of course "Brothers In Arms".
The album topped the charts around the world and "Money For Nothing" hit the No. 1 spot in the US charts. As with almost all Dire Straits albums, this one was followed by a world tour. The tour sold more than 3 million tickets over 248 shows and took them well over two years to complete. Meanwhile they were making incredible runs, such as playing 23 straight nights.
After the tour ended in April 1986 things became quiet around Dire Straits. Mark and John joined for the Princes Trust concert and the group performed at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Party at Wembley Stadium, with Eric Clapton on second guitar. During the autumn of 1988 the aptly titled album "Money For Nothing" was released, which was nothing more than a greatest hits compilation of songs that had been already released.
During the summer of 1990 Mark Knopfler decided it is time to get back to Dire Straits. It was said that he and John Illsley had came together for dinner and during the meal Mark proposed the idea of a new album and obligatory world tour.
That winter the sixth Dire Straits album was recorded: "On Every Street". Singles included "Calling Elvis", the video of which led to a short revival of legendary British puppet series Thunderbirds. In August 1991 Dire Straits began what was probably the biggest world tour ever.
In the space of two years they gave around 300 shows, entertaining a crowd of approximately 7 million people all over the world. Recordings from performances in France and The Netherlands were mixed, creating the second live album entitled "On The Night".
In 1998 another compilation album was released, "Sultans Of Swing". A special silver clipped release of this album contained a second disc with live recordings from a concert Mark Knopfler gave in the Royal Albert Hall in London during the "Golden Heart" tour.