A Newcastle wag – he may be serious – has proposed that there be a statue erected in Newcastle to Mark Knopfler, very late of Dire Straits. He’s set up a Facebook page, and, as of the time of writing, there were about 180 people signed up (small beer in Facebook terms). You might be forgiven for thinking that MK has dropped off the map, but not a bit of it. He has a very successful career, not only as a composer of film-scores, but also with eight or nine albums of his own, including a duet album with Chet Atkins (it’s not as good as Les Paul’s) and a duet with Emmy-Lou Harris (it’s not a patch on Jack White’s collaboration with Loretta Lynn). He is still selling well.
He almost certainly got out of Dire Straits just in time. It is hard to think of a musical outfit which was so cleverly out of touch with the time (it flourished in the era of the punks and the ‘New Romantics’ and techno), but still rose to the top of the heap. It’s well documented that Dire Straits appealed to the CD generation: they were more or less the first to benefit from the surge of the format. And they had a killer first song, ‘Sultans of Swing’, which MK must surely have long since tired of. Knopfler had (has) a melodic guitar sound, and a soothing way of flickering across the keyboard; and he had (has) a voice modelled on Dylan, only more likely to be in tune (not necessarily a good thing). I did actually see him twice, once before his fame, with a band called Brewer’s Droop, a support act whose star moment was a song called ‘It Ain’t the Meat, It’s The Movement’ (a cover of a 1951 hit by a forgotten group called The Swallows); and later with the Notting Hillbillies. He was better out of the stadia, I suspect: all that noodling through long songs like ‘Private Investigations’ was protractedly soporific, even if he did eventually hire Terry Williams, one of the best drummers in the business (part of the Welsh extended family of the group, still going, called Man, who have easily crossed the 40 year mark).
Dire Straits are a good example of a global phenomenon – unsurpisingly the last main act at the Mandela concert – which suddenly evaporated in public esteem, as if there was a collective sense of ‘We might have got that wrong’. (I am probably exasperating Dire Straits enthusiasts as I type.)
But a statue? It’s odd how we cling to these approximations to reality as ways of staving off the future. I also think tecnology has come sufficiently far for people to be thinking instead of a square where a hologram could be turned on. And the Geordie who is thinking of a stone effigy of Mark Knopfler is surely looking at the wrong man, even if MK is 60 this year. Has he never heard of another Geordie called Hank Marvin?
The similarity of the guitars is not an accident. MK was a big Marvin fan.