67 years old co-founder and ex-member of Dire Straits John Illsley said that his perfect weekend is being in his country pub making music and recovering from cancer with his love of painting. Usually he spends Friday evening at The East End Arms pub which he bought in New Forest, Hampshire, England – 25 years ago which is just a few minutes down the road from his house.
John said: “There’ll be a whole crowd of us there – my wife Steph, our two younger children, Hary and DeeDee will be home from school, my older daughter Jess who is a painter and musician like me will be down from London with her husband Moses, and my son James will probably be there too with his wife Bev and our first grandchild Elenor.”
The East End Arms was pub who John spontaneously bought. The pub had been for sale and John was worried that someone else would come and destroy the charm of pub. He liked the idea of a reliable place where he can eat those days when he didn’t feel like cooking.
The local people asked John not to change the public bar in any respect. So he didn’t change although he painted it in the same colour so no one noticed.
People tend to eat early in the countryside and Saturday is always an early start for John. He must have to deal with the dogs. He has two dogs a Labrador – Bella and a labradoodle Lily who is far too bright for her own good. While they run outside he checks that the fox hasn’t gone to the chickens during the night and then he makes a pot of green tea and browses through some notebooks around the house to see if there are any ideas. As Leonard Cohen said: “If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.”
John said that Dire Straits separated in 1993 but he is still actively involved in music. Music is like a “drug” for him. His solo albums who in the past 3 years came out, were his “drugs” for working on another album and gigging with his band.
“I’m self taught, like most rock & roll musicians of my generation, and I think that’s why our music had a freshness and diversity to it.” – John Illsley ex-member of Dire Straits.
“I like most Rock & Roll musician of my generation, I was born into quite a middle-class household in Leicestershire and first picked up guitar when I was 14 or 15. I felt a connection to the blues and rock music being played at the end of the Fiffties. When I was about 22 after working for a timbler importer in south-east London for a few years and becoming interested in politics. At Goldsmiths where I read sociology, music became a part of my life. David Knopfler was my flatmate and we used to hang out and play music together, and then I met his brother Mark. My music career started to evolve into something bigger than I could ever have imagined.”
“Every boy dreams to have played in a rock and roll band or to be a rock guitar star. You know, today is even harder for that to happen. These days you don’t get a record deal unless you have 10.000 Facebook Folloers or something like that. It’s a chicken and egg situation. In the 70’s everything was different – record companies would take you on and help you to do your musical journey. When we formed Dire Straits in 1976 – we simply recorded a demo tape with a few songs and we gave it that to Radio London where DJ Charlie Gillett played on his show “Sultans of Swing”… then the story started. Everything changed. Months later we were on the top music lists in every European country. We sold more than 120 milion albums and we won four Grammy Awards and 3 Brit Awards, spent more than 1.100 weeks on the top list all around in the world and United Kingodm. Touring with Dire Straits was hard work. Weekends merged into weeks. Sometimes I had to consult where we been, in which country I was in, and what day it was. It’s a pretty extraordinary.” said John.
Dire Straits played the Live Aid gig with Sting in 1985, and then they played at Mandela’s birthday in 1988 with Eric Clapton. In 1993 Dave, Mark and John agreed that Dire Straits was out of control and they stopped. They had done 40 sellout shows in a row and were emotionally exhausted. John then moved to New Forest and started painting. His style is quite abstract and generally works with oils.
It was such a relief not to be in the band any more but then in 1999 when John was 50, he found ot that he had leukaemia. It’s been quite a journey since Steph who he married that year kept the news completely under warps. “I was prescribed some pretty strong chemotherapy from America, which gave me seven years clear, and then the cancer came back and I had some more chemo, which gave me another three years. Then a stem cell transplant was the only option.”
John was incredibly lucky, his sister Pat proved to be a perfect match and she came up in London to be his donor. Despite the fact that she’s got Parkinson’s Disease. John lost his hair but the transplant worked and he is a 100 per cent healthy for four years now.
Back to his perfect weekend he enjoys to eat crab or lobster or spaghetti vongole. Kids enjoy getting involved with the cooking. Sometimes there’ll be six people around the kitchen all creating different dishes. All have their own speciallity, John and Steph just stand back and let them get on it with it. Afterwards they all go for a long walk with the dogs by the sea and have supper at home. John prefers is to be in front of the telly which is everyone else’s preference.
On Sunday morning Harry will be cooking the most massive English breakfast. The whole house smells of bacon, John rides his bike and Steph goes to the pub for a drink before lunch.
John said that he likes Sunday evenings because it is possible to go into the studio and play on the piano sometimes. John really loves what he is doing now, he is just painting pictures and making music until physically he can’t anymore.