As the super group celebrate their 40th anniversary, the bass guitarist explains the band’s serious financial fix in the 1970s.
John Illsley who was with Mark Knopfler from the beginning till the end of the band story, revealed how he first met Mark Knopfler – when the singer was lying in a “crumpled heap” on the floor of his council flat.
Mark and John, together would go on to sell more than 100 million albums around the world, including their “Brothers In Arms” album, which topped the charts in US and UK in 1985, and scoop four Grammy’s and three Brit awards along the way.
But it was a long way from their first encounter in the run-down apartment in Deptford in London.
For The Scottish Sun, John explains: “I had been out on the tiles for most of the night and come back very early in the morning. I didn’t even know Mark was coming to stay. I walked into the council flat where his brother David and I were living in a pretty dodgy part of south-east London.”
“He was in the lounge, just this figure lying in a heap on the floor asleep with a guitar over his legs – he’d fallen asleep on the spot where he was playing. But there was something about the flat and the area which was a mixture of students, writers, musicians and poets living with working-class people that gave us such an original flavor”, added John.
But John, who will tour Scotland with his own band later this month, admits: “I still haven’t got a clue why the Knopfler’s were in Scotland in the first place.”
They formed Dire Straits with Mark’s younger brother David on rhythm guitar and drummer Pick Withers – although John says their name perfectly summed them up.
He says: “The name came from a friend of the drummer, who said – ‘Well Pick, you’ve been in music all your life and you’re still in dire straits, why don’t you call it that? Pick came into rehearsals the next morning with the name and we all went, ‘That’ll do’.”
Their fortunes would soon change when they recorded three demo songs, including Sultans of Swing, which landed them a major record deal and gave them their first international hit the following year.
He says: “I think it took us by surprise. When we were first signed by Phonogram Inc, they gave us a five- album deal, which was very rare even back then. They even said to us, ‘Look, we don’t expect you to start selling records until at least the second or third album’. Suddenly we moved from playing in front of 50 people to 500 then 5,000 in a very short period of time. That puts a lot a lot of strain on you.”
That stress proved too much for David, who quit in 1980 while recording their third album, Making Movies. Relations have remained strained between the two brothers, but John believes he and Mark were peas from the same rock pod.
He explains: “Mark and I were very close and both pretty much agreed about how things should go. That is probably the reason why we saw the whole thing through from beginning to end.”
They became global superstars with their MTV inspired song Money For Nothing, with guest vocals from Sting, it was the first song to be played on the satellite channel when it launched in the UK in 1985.
At the same time tech giants Philips developed the CD player, with their album Brothers In Arms becoming the first to sell more than a million copies on the new format. But 68-year-old John puts it all down to luck.
He says: “When I look back on it, an awful lot of things that happened just seemed to be coincidental. Such as the fact we were doing Brothers In Arms at same the time as Philips were developing the CD player with Phonogram with all this new technology. To us it was just another record. Everyone was going a bit bonkers about it, but we were really nonchalant.”
The bassist now splits his time with second wife Stephanie and his four children between homes in Hampshire and Provence in France.But although he would be up for reforming Dire Straits for a third time after they disbanded in 1988 then again in 1995 — he doesn’t believe 68-year-old Mark wants to hit the road again.
He says: “I would rather preserve my relationship with Mark right now. If Mark hadn’t crashed at my flat, Dire Straits wouldn’t have happened and I would probably still be living in a council flat to this day”, finished John.
Source: The Scottish Sun