Mark Knopfler was born in Glasgow on 12 August 1949, before relocating with his family to Blyth, Northumberland at the age of seven, where he attended Gosforth Grammar School with his younger brother David. Both brothers were enchanted by music: Mark joined various school outfits and David was singing in folk clubs by his mid teens. In 1967 Mark studied journalism at Harlow Technical College, and subsequently became a junior reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post. At the turn of the 1970s, Knopfler went to study English at Leeds University. It was during this period that Knopfler and Steve Philips formed a duo, The Duolian String Pickers. Relocating to London, Knopfler joined Brewer's Droop after answering an advert in Melody Maker. He recorded with them and made the acquaintance of their drummer, Pick Withers. While Knopfler taught at Loughton College, he kept his hand in with pub band, Cafe Racers. David Knopfler, who had been to Bristol Polytechnic, came to London to work as a social worker.
In April 1977, Mark Knopfler moved to Deptford, South London, to join David, and his flatmate, John Illsley, who was proficient on bass. With Knopfler's stockpile of songs they enlisted Pick Withers on drums, and were christened Dire Straits by a friend of Withers. A unique mixture of rock, country, soul and funk, they were championed by BBC London DJ Charlie Gillett, who heard their five-song demo tape and played it on his Honky Tonk show. On the strength of the tape, by October 1977 the group had signed with Phonogram Records, enlisting veteran producer Muff Winwood to produce their first album. Dire Straits emerged at the time of new wave, and to the untrained eye, looked hardly any different to the premier art-punk bands of the day, Television and Talking Heads. The group supported Talking Heads on tour, and Straits' chippy, angular take on artists such as J J Cale chimed with the times. A review of one of their January 1978 gigs, by Chas DeWhalley in Sounds, quickly spotted Mark Knopfler's greatness, saying he "leads his four piece band twisting and turning his body, jabbing his elbows and bending his fingers into the most fearsome of chordal inversions and then slipping in and out of the rhythms like an escapologist extraordinaire."
Released in mid 1978, their self-titled debut album seemed somewhat out of kilter with the times, and indeed, after a modest beginning, did not initially perform strongly in the UK. It was only when Warner Brothers became interested in the band in the US, and their concerts over there were well-received, that word began to spread back to their home country. The re-released 'Sultans Of Swing' became an enormous hit, and increasing numbers enjoyed the mellow jaggedness of the group's debut. The album reached No. 5 in the UK charts and stayed on the listings for a remarkable 132 weeks. In the US they became a critical and commercial sensation. Such was their success that Bob Dylan invited Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers to play on his Slow Train Coming album.
Produced by R&B legend Jerry Wexler, Dire Straits' second album, Communique, is the great, unearthed gem in their catalogue. Although a sizeable hit at the time, it has been somewhat overlooked because of the scale of what went before and what was to happen next. Wexler had been impressed, as he wrote in his autobiography, "Mark Knopfler is a remarkably versatile guitarist and a luminous musical mind - Dire Straits was an example of how funky Englishmen can be when they pay attention.
David Knopfler was to leave the group in 1980 during sessions for their next album, Making Movies. Recorded with Jimmy Iovine, the album contained Knopfler's next classic, 'Romeo And Juliet', a perfect everyman love song that became a worldwide hit, as well as stage favourites 'Tunnel Of Love' and 'Solid Rock'. The group's sound was becoming more expansive, and the presence of keyboard player Roy Bittan added a touch of Bruce Springsteen's sound into the mix. Love Over Gold showed the group developing further. Releasing an album with a 14-minute opening track in 1982 was not exactly fashionable, but then that was something Dire Straits never worried about. Dense, atmospheric and unusual 'Telegraph Road' demonstrated how far outside the mainstream Knopfler was happy to work. The album's lead single, 'Private Investigations', a moody, seven-minute semi-spoken piece, became the group's biggest single hit to date, reaching No. 2 in the UK charts. After the album sessions concluded, Pick Withers left the group to pursue individual projects. He was replaced by ex-Man drummer Terry Williams. The worldwide tour that followed spawned the much-loved 1984 double live album, Alchemy, recorded at Hammersmith Odeon the previous year. But nothing could compare to what happened next.
It had been a tremendous journey. For Knopfler, the way to follow up such a multi-million hit was simple: do nothing. Aside from playing the Nelson Mandela birthday concert in June 1988 and a chart-topping greatest hits collection, Money For Nothing, the group was mothballed until 1991. Knopfler had fun with side project the Notting Hillbillies, and he issued an album with one of his musical heroes, Chet Atkins. In 1991 Knopfler and Illsley reconvened with long-term keyboard players Guy Fletcher and Alan Clark and a variety of musicians to make On Every Street, which was released in September 1991. Had it been released by anyone else, it would have been a much-loved and well-received album. In the wake of Brothers In Arms, comparisons were out before a note of music was heard. It reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 12 in the US. Singles 'Calling Elvis' and 'The Bug' were interesting and sprightly but failed to connect with a mass audience. The supporting tour certainly did however. Over seven million people saw the group on the tour, which started in Dublin in August 1991, concluding in October of the following year in Zaragoza, Spain. The experience left Knopfler drained, and as a result, Dire Straits were finally laid to rest, with the live album, On Every Night, from May 1993, a closing souvenir.
Aside from a couple of charity reunions of Knopfler and Illsley, that, so far, is it. Mark Knopfler has gone on to release a series of well-received solo albums, and regularly features Dire Straits material in his live set. An album of the group's BBC sessions in June 1995, and a collection that spanned the best of Knopfler's and Dire Straits' catalogue, The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler - Private Investigations, was released in 2005, alongside the 20th Anniversary SACD of Brothers In Arms, which garnered a Grammy for Best Surround Sound.
The craft and majesty of Dire Straits lives on. It is impossible not to hear one of their high-period songs emanating from a radio or on the television on a weekly basis. Brothers in Arms is ingrained deep in the popular psyche. Mark Knopfler is one of the world's most enduring guitarists and songwriters. If you haven't enjoyed some of their tracks beyond the hits, Dire Straits are a group with a heritage ripe to discover.
Brothers in Arms brought the atmospheric, jazz-rock inclinations of Love Over Gold into a pop setting, resulting in a surprise international best-seller. Of course, the success of Brothers in Arms was helped considerably by the clever computer-animated video for "Money for Nothing," a sardonic attack on MTV. But what kept the record selling was Mark Knopfler's increased sense of pop songcraft -- "Money for Nothing" had an indelible guitar riff, "Walk of Life" is a catchy up-tempo boogie variation on "Sultans of Swing," and the melodies of the bluesy "So Far Away" and the down-tempo, Everly Brothers-style "Why Worry" were wistful and lovely. Dire Straits had never been so concise or pop-oriented, and it wore well on them. Though they couldn't maintain that consistency through the rest of the album -- only the jazzy "Your Latest Trick" and the flinty "Ride Across the River" make an impact -- Brothers in Arms remains one of their most focused and accomplished albums, and in its succinct pop sense, it's distinctive within their catalog. Mercury released a 20th anniversary limited edition version of Brothers in Arms in the Hybrid/SACD format.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Dire Straits' minimalist interpretation of pub rock had already crystallized by the time they released their eponymous debut. Driven by Mark Knopfler's spare, tasteful guitar lines and his husky warbling, the album is a set of bluesy rockers. And while the bar band mentality of pub-rock is at the core of Dire Straits -- even the group's breakthrough single, "Sultans of Swing," offered a lament for a neglected pub rock band -- their music is already beyond the simple boogies and shuffles of their forefathers, occasionally dipping into jazz and country. Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album. While a few of the songs fall flat, the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron had played together over several decades by the time this CD was recorded, one of many duo dates they've done. "Who Knows" is not one of Thelonious Monk's better-known works, but their aggressive and very playful approach to it should invite other musicians to explore it as well. On the other hand, "Blue Monk" is more reserved, with Lacy testing the limits of his instrument and Waldron's bluesy solo. A strident take of Charles Mingus' "Peggy's Blue Skylight" is immediately followed by his rather obscure "Smooch," a haunting ballad made even more so by Lacy's plaintive tone. Their treatment of another overlooked song, Elmo Hope's "Roll On," is also inspired. Each musician also contributed originals to the date. Waldron's mournful "No More Tears" and Lacy's repetitive but infectious blues "Wickets" invite repeated listenings, while each man has a solo feature as well. Like all collaborations featuring Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron together, this Soul Note CD is highly recommended.
Words - Ken Dryden
Without second guitarist David Knopfler, Dire Straits began to move away from its roots rock origins into a jazzier variation of country-rock and singer/songwriter folk-rock. Naturally, this means that Mark Knopfler's ambitions as a songwriter are growing, as the storytelling pretensions of Making Movies indicate. Fortunately, his skills are increasing, as the lovely "Romeo and Juliet," "Tunnel of Love," and "Skateaway" indicate. And Making Movies is helped by a new wave-tinged pop production, which actually helps Knopfler's jazzy inclinations take hold. The record runs out of steam toward the end, closing with the borderline offensive "Les Boys," but the remainder of Making Movies ranks among the band's finest work.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Adding a new rhythm guitarist, Dire Straits expands its sounds and ambitions on the sprawling Love Over Gold. In a sense, the album is their prog rock effort, containing only five songs, including the 14-minute opener "Telegraph Road." Since Mark Knopfler is a skilled, tasteful guitarist, he can sustain interest even throughout the languid stretches, but the long, atmospheric, instrumental passages aren't as effective as the group's tight blues-rock, leaving Love Over Gold only a fitfully engaging listen.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There is an interesting contrast on this 94-minute double-disc live album (recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon in July 1983) between the music, much of which is slow and moody, with Mark Knopfler's muttered vocals and large helpings of his fingerpicking on what sounds like an amplified Spanish guitar, and the audience response. The arena-size crowd cheers wildly, and claps and sings along when given half a chance, as though each song were an up-tempo rocker. When they do have a song of even medium speed, such as "Sultans of Swing" or "Solid Rock," they are in ecstasy. That Dire Straits' introspective music loses much of its detail in a live setting matters less than that it gains presence and a sense of anticipation. Alan Clark's keyboards help to fill out the sound and give Knopfler's spare melodies a certain majesty, but Dire Straits remains an overgrown bar band with a Bob Dylan fixation, and that's exactly how the crowd likes it. "Love Over Gold," which adds a needed change of pace to the otherwise slow-moving first disc.
Words - William Ruhlmann
It took Mark Knopfler more than six years to craft a follow-up to Dire Straits' international chart-topper, Brothers in Arms, but although On Every Street sold in the expected multi-millions worldwide on the back of the band's renown and a year-long tour, it was a disappointment. Knopfler remained a gifted guitar player with tastes in folk ("Iron Hand"), blues ("Fade to Black"), and rockabilly ("The Bug"), among other styles, but much of the album was low-key to the point of being background music. The group had long since dwindled to original members Knopfler and bassist John Illsley, plus a collection of semi-permanent sidemen who provided support but no real musical chemistry. This was not the comeback it should have been.
Words - William Ruhlmann
On the Night is the second live album by the British rock band Dire Straits, released on 10 May 1993 by Vertigo Records internationally, and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States. The album features many of the band's later hits, including the singles "Walk of Life" and "Money for Nothing". On the Night was recorded in May 1992 at Les Arenes in Nîmes, France, and at Feijenoord Stadion in Rotterdam, The Netherlands—concerts that were part of the On Every Street Tour, which included 216 shows in Europe, North America, and Australia, and sold 7.1 million tickets.
Exactly ten years after Dire Straits' first compilation, Money for Nothing, appeared in the stores, their second, Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits, was released. A decade is a significant span of time, and the average band would have produced enough material for an entirely different collection, one that shared no similarities with its predecessor. Dire Straits is not the average band, however, and during those ten years, they released exactly two albums -- 1991's On Every Street, their first studio album since Brothers in Arms in 1985, and 1993's On the Night, a live album culled from tapes of the record's supporting tour. Not quite enough new material for a new greatest-hits album, but it had been years since Dire Straits had released an album of any sort (a compilation of BBC sessions snuck into the stores in 1995) -- hence the birth of Sultans of Swing. Unsurprisingly, it covers much of the same ground as Money for Nothing, containing all the essentials ("Sultans of Swing," "Romeo and Juliet," "Tunnel of Love," "Private Investigations," "Twisting by the Pool," "Money for Nothing," "Brothers in Arms," "Walk of Life"), with the exception of "Telegraph Road," which was left on the earlier compilation. A live "Love Over Gold," "Lady Writer," and "So Far Away" replace "Down to the Waterline," "Where Do You Think You're Going," and a live "Portobello Belle," which is really just a trade-off, since they're all equal in quality. Then there are the three hits from On Every Street ("Calling Elvis," "Heavy Fuel," "On Every Street"), all of which are pleasant re-creations of the Brothers in Arms sound; a live version of "Your Latest Trick" from On the Night, and, inexplicably, Mark Knopfler's "Wild Theme (Theme from Local Hero)." Fine tunes all, but none of them are reason enough to replace Money for Nothing with Sultans of Swing. But for casual fans or curious listeners looking for an introduction/sampler, it's the better choice, simply because it covers more ground and contains more music while remaining quite listenable and entertaining.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
This 22-cut double-disc set finally gets at it. Issuing a single disc of Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler would be a silly thing at best and a hopelessly frustrating one at worst. When the band burst on the scene with "Sultans of Swing," there was a lot happening in rock music, but most of it was under the radar and remains forgotten except in the historic annals of music fanatics. Knopfler and his band were full of rock & roll romance and proved it through their first four recordings time and again. They couldn't help but become superstars and mainstays of MTV. But there is another story told on this best-of, which begins with "Telegraph Road." The story-songs Knopfler wrote were always the best anyway, and this set is full of them, from "Sultans" to "Romeo & Juliet," "Skateaway," "So Far Away," "Walk of Life," and (of course) "Brothers in Arms," which made for the most dramatic marriage of the little screen and rock music when it was featured in the closing sequence of an episode of Miami Vice.
But there are many other stops along the way, like "Private Investigations," "Sailing to Philadelphia," "Going Home" (from Local Hero), and "The Long Road" (from Cal). But "On Every Street," "Calling Elvis," and "What It Is" are here, too, making for a wonderfully rounded if argumentative best-of collection that goes the distance and explains sonically what all the fuss was about in the first place. There's the guitar sound that's as much Tony Joe White as it is J.J. Cale and Billy Gibbons, and the elegance of James Burton and Chet Atkins. There is soul, pathos, drama, and a bittersweet memory that Van Morrison first evoked on Astral Weeks and Saint Dominic's Preview. There is a new cut here as well, a duet with Emmylou Harris called "All the Roadrunning," taken from an upcoming collaborative album, and it's nice -- beautiful, in fact -- and keeps the line of continuity and excellence in perspective. This is not only a fine collection for fans because of its wonderful sequencing, but the best introduction to the man and the band that one could ask for.
Words - Thom Jurek