1977 is the year when brothers Mark and David Knopfler and friends John Illsley and Pick Withers formed one of the greatest bands in the world – Dire Straits. In 1977 the name of the band was given by a musician and drummer Pick Withers while they were rehearsing in the kitchen of a friend Simon Cowe of Lindisfarne.
There they recorded five demo songs, including their future hit single “Sultans of Swing”, as well as “Water of Love”, “Down To The Waterline”, “Wild West End” and David Knopfler’s “Sacred Loving”.
After a performance at The Rock Garden in 1977, they took a demo tape to MCA in Soho but were turned down. But like everything in life they didn’t stop there. DJ Charlie Gillett at that time had a radio show called “Honky Tonk” on BBC Radio London.
The band went there just for advice, but Charlie liked their music especially “Sultans of Swing” who later played on his show. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with the Vertigo division of Phonogram Inc.
In October 1977 Dire Straits recorded demo tapes of “Southbound Again”, “In the Gallery” and “Six Blade Knife” for BBC Radio London. Already in November, they made “Setting Me Up” (song written by Mark Knopfler), “Eastbound Train” and “Real Girl”.
The first album was named Dire Straits same as the name of the band. It was recorded at Basing Street Studios in West London in February 1978 at a cost of £12,500. Basing Street Studios today known as Sarm West Studios based in Nothing Hill, London it was a really big studio where big names from stage recorded their albums. We can only enumerate a few like The Clash, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, and others.
Album was produced by Muff Winwood, and it was first released in the United Kingdom on Vertigo Records, then a division of Phonogram Inc. The album came to the attention of A&R representative Karin Berg, working at Warner Bros – Records in New York City.
At the time she felt that it was the kind of music where people will be hungry for, but only one person in her department agreed at first. Many of the songs on the album reflected Mark’s experiences in Newcastle, Leeds, and London.
“Down To The Waterline” recalled images of life in Newcastle, “In The Gallery” which is a tribute to Leeds sculptor and artist Harry Phillips’s father of Steve Phillips musician. “Wild West End” and “Lions” were written from Knopfler’s early days in the capital city.
That same year Dire Straits began a tour like a new band, and after releasing “Sultans of Swing” finally started to climb the UK charts. This led to the recording contract with Warner Bros. Records in the United States. Before the end of 1978 Dire Straits released their self-titled debut worldwide.
They received more attention in the USA but also arrived at the top of the charts in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. After that, Dire Straits like a band has gone to the top 10 in every European country.
The following year, Dire Straits made their first North American tour. They played 51 sold-out concerts over in a 38 day period. “Sultans of Swing” was now been to the four numbers on the charts in the United States and number eight in the United Kingdom.
The song was one of Dire Straits’ biggest hits ever and became a fixture in the band’s live performances. Bob Dylan had seen the band in Los Angeles and because he was so much impressed, he invited Mark Knopfler and drummer Pick Withers to play on his next album “Slow Train Coming”.
Recording sessions for the second album of Dire Straits – Communiqué took place in December 1978 at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. Communiqué was released in June 1979. It was produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett and went to number one on the German album charts with the debut album Dire Straits simultaneously at number three.
In UK the album peaked at number five in the album charts. Featuring the single “Lady Writer”, the second album continued similar as the first and displayed the expanding scope of Knopfler’s lyricism on the opening track, “Once Upon a Time in the West”. In the coming year, however, this approach began to change, along with the group’s line-up.