Mark Knopfler’s favorite guitar ever is Stratocaster. That is a guitar with a lot of history. Over his career, Mark spent so much time on that guitar nearly five decades and it brings us distinctive trademark tones from Dire Stratis, and also classics such a “Sultans of Swing”, “So Far Away” and “Tunnel of Love”.
Also Mark played on that guitar many time on tours that he had for his solo career. He even has a Strat named after him. But, there’s another instrument…that is famous Fender logo that has a special place in the Mark’s heart. It has pride of place in the west London studio where Knopfler spends a lot of his time. It’s a clock.
“It used to hang in that guitar shop in Newcastle”, says Knopfler. When he moved to Tyneside from Glasgow when he was eight years old, as a teenager he spent many hours in that shop, dreaming of one day putting it to good use.
He explains: “The clock was for dealers. They used to get a clock. It was a blue and yellow diamond with the word Fender on it. I used to think it was the coolest thing, and I used to think there was no way you could ever own something like that, because you have to own a guitar shop to get one.”
Over the years, Mark found one of the Fender timepieces and said that to anyone else it’s just a daft old clock, but for him…it’s a connection and he still like to keep that stuff alive.
On his solo album Tracker which is released in 2015, it has many Knopfler’s nostalgic segments from life. From beginning to the end within the walls of British Grove Studio, which Mark built more than 10 years ago as a monument to past and future technology, collection of vintage cars which he drives and exhibits, his studio is his passion. He said that he is there only when he has something to record. And he should be there more time.
The journey through 11 songs of the album Tracker, encompasses points of Knopfler’s life. From the 15-year-old copy boy working on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle (Basil) to the veteran songwriter and musician touring across Europe 4 years ago with his friend Bob Dylan (“Silver Eagle” & “Lights of Taormina”).
“Lights of Taormina” has a very interesting story of create. It has direct connection to his Bobness.
“I was on tour in Europe, and Bob had been to Taormina just before we were there. I stayed in the same hotel room he had stayed in. It was right up next to the venue, and ancient amphitheater. I stayed out on my balcony for a long time, and after we’d done the show it made me think of a whole lot of things. Then next morning I read some material that said Bob had spent a long time out on the balcony as well. I just knew it was the same kind of experience. I don’t know that I could have written that song without that experience. “
In between there are more observational and introspective pieces, such as “Broken Bones”, “Long Cool Girl” and “Mighty Man”. There’s also pretty beautiful “Beryl” song, which is written for English writer Beryl Bainbridge, focusing on the fact she received acknowledgment from the Booker Prize committee only after her death in 2010. The album is full of that special Celtic folk, country, Rock n’ Roll, and already the most known famous Knopfler sound for music.
Song “Basil” is inspired by Basil Bunting, a crotchety subeditor on the Chronicle but also a respected poet. “When I was still at school I was playing folk music with a girl from the lower form. We were a folk duo. Her big brother was a reporter on the Evening Chronicle and I thought that was quite glamorous”, Mark explain.
Thus the young aspiring journo found himself working as a copy boy on Saturday afternoons, sending sports stories down the line to the printers and trying to avoid Bunting’s wrath:
“He calls for a copy boy, grumpy as hell
Poets have to eat as well
What he wouldn’t give just to walk out today
To have time to think about time
And young love thrown away”
“He was very grumpy and he fascinated me,” Knopfler says. “I didn’t speak to him. He would have addressed me very gruffly as ‘boy’ and that would have been it. Somebody told me he was a poet. While I was there he had a poem, Briggflatts, published and that allowed him to leave the Chronicle and he went to America as an academic. He was writing about time and now I’m at an age where time is more important to me too.”
Mark learned some of his skills as a songwriter during his short career like a journalist in Leeds before Dire Straits. He said that he worked as a junior reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post after studying journalism at Harlow College in Essex.
“I was glad that I did journalism in my life, because that teaches you something that could be helpful for you over the years. If you have done a lot for reading you can make sense to read that pretty quickly. As a songwriter, I now realize how much that was important to me. You know, this can help you to use normal numbers of words in a song, even if you’re dealing with a big subject. I would not have called myself a journalist, I was just a cub reporter,” add Mark.
After Mark moved to London in 1973, he cut his teeth in a handful of bands before forming Dire Straits with his brother David, drummer Pick Withers and bassist John Illsley in 1977. At the time “Sultans of Swing” was somewhat to the punk frenzy in London. Across the next years, albums such as “Communique”, “Love Over Gold”, many tours and gigs worldwide, the band made one album that marked one era of music. That album was “Brothers in Arms” back in 1985 when it started to sold extremely quickly worldwide, and became one of the highest sales of more than 30 million copies.
Years after good work with Dire Straits, Mark decided to start solo career and also to continue to played all Dire Straits songs. He said: “If we do something like “Sultans of Swing” I like to do it the way we did it originally, as a four-piece, really stripped down”.