As I’ve said elsewhere in these pages, I strongly believe that the music you’re brought up with stays with you, be it for better or worse. When I was a kid, Dire Straits would provide the soundtrack to every car journey we ever went on, whether it was 200 miles to the coast or 2 miles to the supermarket. I loved it then and I love it now. Even though Dire Straits haven’t been a band since 1995 (even then it’s debatable to what extent they ever were a band, as much as a transient collection of session players filling in the gaps in Knopfler’s songs), the public appetite for his brand of world-weary storytelling and subtle, brilliant guitar playing is undimmed and the great songwriter has embarked on a prolific, eclectic and wildly successful solo career.
Tonight marks the last of a sold-out six night run at the legendary old Hall, which, while many venues can easily top it in terms of capacity, none can touch for it’s historical significance or regal splendour. As a consummate professional and frequent visitor, Knopfler appears as comfortable amongst all the grandeur as you imagine he may be in his own living room. He shuffles on to rapturous applause, flanked by stalwarts of the folk scene, John McCusker and Michael McGoldrick, as well as longer-term cohorts including Richard Bennett, Guy Fletcher and Glenn Worf.
The presence of McCusker and McGoldrick, who have been in the touring band for 5 years or so, means that crowd-pleasers like an opening ‘What It Is’ and ‘Hill Farmers Blues’ have traditional influences seamlessly woven through them, be it from flute, fiddle, whistle or mandolin or a combination thereof. It only serves to accentuate the diversity of Knopfler’s solo output, which has covered old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, blues, country (his duet album with the late, great Chet Atkins is essential for guitar fans) and folk. Many of these genres are represented tonight as he delves right back into his catalogue, as far as ‘Father and Son, a pipe-led instrumental recorded for the soundtrack to the movie ‘Cal’. It’s particularly poignant since I’m accompanied to the show by my Dad, who is ultimately responsible for my love of this music and thus, I guess, music in general.
Unsurprisingly perhaps it’s the Dire Straits songs that are greeted most fondly and there are many, Romeo and Juliet, Sultans of Swing, So Far Away and an epic Telegraph Road all getting an airing. Other highlights are a version of the title track of the new double album ‘Privateering’ which begins as a Knopfler solo hoedown before exploding into a full-band shanty, a rendition of ‘I Dug Up A Diamond’ from the ‘All The Roadrunning’ album, with support act Ruth Moody taking on the role of Emmylou Harris and the traditional closer of ‘Going Home’, accompanied by the saxophone of Nigel Hitchcock.
To some, Knopfler is the Antichrist, a man who made his fortune peddling faux rock n roll to salesmen and continues to do so to this day. To me, his work represents my introduction to guitar music, which has since blossomed into an obsession. I can think of few better lyricists and very few better guitarists and while the glory days of Dire Straits may be gone, he has refused to stand still, seeking out new styles, new collaborators, new challenges. Last night’s performance was a celebration of 35 years of songwriting, from the iconic to the relatively obscure, and when performed so breezily yet so precisely, was a joy to behold.
For the record, my Dad had a great time, too!
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