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Dire Straits

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Dire Straits
Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Albums, Dire Straits have spent over 1,100 weeks on the UK albums chart, ranking fifth all time. Their 1985 release Brothers in Arms is the eighth-best-selling album in UK chart history. Dire Straits won four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards (Best British Group twice), two MTV Video Music Awards, and various other music awards. The band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

Mark Knopfler and his younger brother David Knopfler were born in Glasgow, Scotland. The family moved to Knopfler’s mother’s hometown of Blyth, near Newcastle, in North East England when Mark was seven years old.

Originally inspired by his uncle Kingsley’s harmonica and boogie-woogie piano playing, Mark formed and joined several bands during the 60’s and listened to singers like Elvis Presley and guitarists Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore, B.B King, Django Reinhardt, Hank Marvin, and James Burton. At sixteen years old, he made a local television appearance as part of a harmony duo, with his classmate Sue Hercombe.

In 1973, Mark moved to London and joined a pub rock band based in High Wycombe called Brewers Droop along with future Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers. By the mid-1970s, Knopfler devoted much of his musical energies to his next group, the Café Racers. His brother David moved to London, where he shared a flat with bassist John Illsley.

Mark Knopfler had been working as a teacher at Art College, John Illsley was studying at Goldsmiths’ College, and David Knopfler was a social worker. By 1977 the name Dire Straits was given to the band by a musician flatmate of Withers (it represented their financial condition they found themselves in) and the group recorded a five-song demo tape, which included their future hit single, “Sultans of Swing”.

After being rejected by MCA records they took the demos to BBC Radio London DJ Charlie Gillett, who had a radio show called “Honky Tonk”. The band simply wanted advice, but Gillett liked the music so much that he played “Sultans of Swing” on his show. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with Vertigo records.

The group’s first album, Dire Straits, was recorded at Basing Street studios (established by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records) in Notting Hill, London in February 1978, and was produced by Muff Winwood the older brother of Steve and both former members of the Spencer Davis Group.

That same year, Dire Straits began a tour as opening band for Talking Heads after the re-released “Sultans of Swing” finally started to climb the UK charts. This led to a United States recording contract with Warner Bros. Records; before the end of 1978, Dire Straits had released their self-titled debut worldwide, which reached the top of the charts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Dire Straits eventually went top 10 in every European country.

Inspiration for the song came from witnessing a jazz band playing in the corner of a practically deserted pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced that they were the “Sultans of Swing”, and Knopfler found the contrast between the group’s dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing.

Eventually “Sultans of Swing” scaled the charts to number four in the US and number eight in the UK and became one of Dire Straits’ biggest hits. The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

The group’s second album, Communiqué, followed in 1979, and produced the minor hit “Lady Writer” which stalled just outside the Top 40 in the UK and US. Their third album, Making Movies, released in 1980, moved towards more complex arrangements and production, included many of Mark Knopfler’s most personal compositions, most notably “Romeo and Juliet” and “Tunnel of Love.” During recording the pressures of work took its toll on the brothers, and David Knopfler left the band.

Dire Straits returned to recording at the end of 1984, and began recording tracks at Air Studios in Montserrat for their upcoming fifth studio album to be titled Brothers in Arms

Released in May 1985, Brothers in Arms entered the UK Albums Chart at number one and spent a total of 228 weeks in the charts. It went on to become the best-selling album of 1985 in the UK. Brothers in Arms was similarly successful in the US, peaking at number one for nine weeks, going multi-platinum and selling nine million copies there. The album also spent 34 weeks at number-one on the Australian Charts, and to this day remains the longest-running number-one album in Australia.

Brothers in Arms spawned several chart singles including the US number-one hit “Money for Nothing”, which was the first video played on MTV in Britain. It was also the first compact disc to sell a million copies. Other successful singles were “So Far Away”, “Walk of Life”, and the album’s title track. The band embarked on a 1985–1986 Brothers in Arms world tour of over 230 shows.

After the Brothers in Arms world tour Dire Straits ceased to work together for some time with Knopfler concentrating mainly on film soundtracks.

The follow-up to Brothers in Arms was finally released in 1991 after a six-year break. On Every Street was met with a mixed critical reaction, nonetheless, the album sold well and reached number one in the UK.

Mark Knopfler has since enjoyed a successful solo career, releasing solo albums and a series of film soundtrack recordings along with production duties for the likes of Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Willy DeVille and Aztec Camera.

In 2018 Dire Straits were inducted into the rock’n’roll hall of fame, but the occasion was marked without Mark Knopfler, who chose not to turn up to the ceremony. It was left to bassist John Illsley to except the award and explain his absence. “I’ll assure you it’s a personal thing,” Illsley said on stage. “Let’s just leave it at that. He just didn’t feel like coming, it’s as simple as that.”

Important Dates In The Life Of Dire Straits:

On this day in music
5 Apr 2013
Mark Knopfler cancelled two shows in Russia in protest over what he called the country's "crackdown" on human rights groups. The former Dire Straits frontman pulled out of the gigs in June after Russian authorities searched the offices of organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Critics said the raids were an attempt to crush government dissent.
13 Jan 2005
A report showed that more songs had been written about Elvis Presley than any other artist. It listed over 220 songs including: ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon, ‘A Room At The Heartbreakhotel’ by U2, ‘Calling Elvis’, Dire Straits, ‘Happy Birthday Elvis’, Loudon Wainwright III, ‘There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis’, Kirsty MacColl, ‘I Saw Elvis in a UFO’, Ray Stevens. ‘Elvis Has Left the Building’ by Frank Zappa and 'My Dog Thinks I'm Elvis' by Ray Herndon.
8 Mar 2003
Former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler was injured when the Honda motorbike he was riding was involved in a collision with a Fiat Punto car. The 53-year-old singer and guitarist suffered a broken collar bone and six broken ribs in the accident which happened in London's smart Belgravia district in mid-morning traffic.
13 Jun 1988
The biggest charity Rock concert since Live Aid three years earlier took place at London's Wembley Stadium, to denounce South African apartheid. Among the performers were Sting, Stevie Wonder, Bryan Adams, George Michael, Whitney Houston and Dire Straits. Half the money raised went towards anti-apartheid activities in Britain, the rest was donated to children's charities in southern Africa.
11 Jun 1988
Nelson Mandellas 70th birthday tribute took place at Wembley Stadium, London, featuring Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman, George Michael, Eric Clapton, UB40, The Eurythmics and Simple Minds. The event was broadcast live on BBC 2 to 40 different countries with an estimated audience of 1 billion.
15 Nov 1987
Dire Straits became the first act to sell over three million copies of an album in the UK. Brothers in Arms contained five, top 40 singles: ‘Money for Nothing,’ ‘So Far Away,’ ‘Walk of Life,’ ‘Brothers in Arms’ and ‘Your Latest Trick.’ The album is the eighth-best-selling album in UK chart history.
1 Aug 1987
MTV Europe was launched, the first video played being 'Money For Nothing' by Dire Straits which contained the appropriate line 'I Want My MTV'.
9 Feb 1987
Winners at this years Brit awards held in London included Peter Gabriel who won British Male Solo Artist, Kate Bush won British Female Solo Artist, Best British Group went to Five Star, British Album was Dire Straits 'Brothers In Arms', British Breakthrough Act was The Housemartins, International Solo Artist went to Paul Simon. The Bangles won Best International Group, Best British Video went to Peter Gabriel for 'Sledgehammer' and Best British Single was The Pet Shop Boys for 'West End Girls'.
3 Feb 1986
Dire Straits were at No.1 on the UK album charts with their fifth studio album Brothers in Arms. With ten weeks at No.1, the album is the seventh best-selling album in UK chart history and won two Grammy Awards in 1986, and also won Best British Album at the 1987 Brit Awards. Brothers in Arms also spent nine weeks at No.1 on the Billboard 200 in the US, and thirty-four weeks at No.1 on the Australian Album Chart.
21 Sep 1985
With the help Of heavy MTV exposure 'Money For Nothing' gave Dire Straits their first US No.1 single.
31 Aug 1985
Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits started a nine-week run at No.1 on the US album charts. The album also topped the charts in 25 other countries and went on to sell over 20 million worldwide.
10 Aug 1985
'Money for Nothing' by Dire Straits peaked at No.4 on the UK singles chart. Notable for its groundbreaking music video and a cameo appearance by Sting singing the song's falsetto introduction and backing chorus, "I want my MTV" who also co-wrote the song with Mark Knopfler. The video was also the first to be aired on MTV Europe when the network started on 1 August 1987.
15 Jun 1985
Dire Straits started a nine-week run at No.1 on the US album chart with, Brothers In Arms. The album is the seventh best-selling album in UK chart history and won two Grammy Awards at the 28th Grammy Awards, and also won Best British Album at the 1987 Brit Awards.
25 May 1985
Dire Straits scored their second UK No.1 album with 'Brothers In Arms', also No.1 in the US and 24 other countries. 'Brothers In Arms' was one of the first albums to be directed at the CD market, and was a full digital recording (DDD) at a time when most popular music was recorded on analog equipment. The album won two Grammy Awards at the 28th Grammy Awards, and also won Best British Album at the 1987 Brit Awards, and has gone on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide.
12 Nov 1983
Bob Dylan's Infidels album reached its highest position when it peaked at No.9 in the UK chart. Dylan's 22nd studio album was co-produced with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. Dylan had also approached Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Frank Zappa as possible producers.
8 Feb 1983
Winners at the second annual Brit Awards held in London included Paul McCartney who won Best British Male Solo Artist, Kim Wilde won Best British Female Solo Artist, Dire Straits won British Group, British Breakthrough Act went to Yazoo, International Act was Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Best Selling Single Dexy's Midnight Runners "Come On Eileen" and the Life Achievement Award went to Pete Townshend .
2 Oct 1982
Dire Straits started a four-week run at No.1 on UK the album charts with 'Love Over Gold'.
18 Sep 1982
The seven-minute epic by Dire Straits 'Private Investigations' went to No.2 on the UK singles chart, held off No.1 by survivors 'Eye Of The Tiger'.
29 Mar 1979
After attending a Dire Straits show during their residency at the Roxy in Los Angeles, Bob Dylan asked Mark Knopfler and drummer Pick Withers to play on the sessions for his next album. Slow Train Coming was the album, recorded in Muscle Shoals in May of 1979, with Jerry Wexler producing. Dylan had first heard Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler when his assistant Arthur Rosato played him the single 'Sultans of Swing'.
19 May 1978
Dire Straits released their first major label single 'Sultans Of Swing', recorded on a £120 budget. The song was first recorded as a demo at Pathway Studios, North London, in July 1977, and quickly acquired a following after it was put on rotation at Radio London.
13 Feb 1978
Dire Straits began recording their first album at Basing Street Studios, London. The whole project cost £12,500 ($21,250) to produce. The album which featured the group's breakthrough single 'Sultans of Swing' went on to enjoy a 132 week run on the UK chart. The inspiration for 'Sultans of Swing' came from Mark Knopfler witnessing a mediocre jazz band playing in the corner of a practically deserted pub. At the end of their performance, the lead singer came up to the microphone and announced that they were the "Sultans of Swing."
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mike Smith

    August 31, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    Love it!

  2. Jon

    November 17, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    What about the Love Over Gold album?

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