He is one of the UK’s most successful musicians. A legend. Yet writing songs for a new musical version of the beloved film ‘Local Hero’ put doubts in the mind of even Mark Knopfler.
A surprise, perhaps. Knopfler, whose band Dire Straits sold millions of records, has also enjoyed a successful solo career after all.
Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film is finally being brought to the stage in the form of a musical, with new songs written by Knopfler, a story adapted by David Greig and Bill Forsyth, and directed by John Crowley. He penned the soundtrack to the original film. Yet he admitted he was initially uncertain whether he could write songs for a musical.
Knopfler said: “It has got to have the theme in it, or is not Local Hero is it? But I couldn’t just ape the film musically. I didn’t even know if I could do it, at all. Maybe I can’t, you may very well judge that. I really enjoyed doing it, I just found that – because I love the film so much and because I never stopped loving it, it moves me – it wasn’t too difficult to get into the characters.”
As it turned out, the songs flowed, and along with instrumentals, including its famous plangent main theme from the original film, there are, according to Crowley “some heartbreaking ballads, and very funny, character-sketch songs” in the show, which opens on March 23.
The musical, being produced by the Lyceum and the Old Vic in London, is set in 1983, and the plot follows the plot of the movie which sees conflicted Texan Mac visiting the Scottish village of Ferness to acquire it to build an oil refinery.
“The final script was so delightful to work with, so it was natural to be able to do that, and with the respect for the film that we all have, our approach was pretty much on the same page,” he said.
“I was dubious about being able to do it and I made a tentative start, but I found that the energy that got released on it was great, and the feeling, that initial energy and optimism was justified. Musicals aren’t my thing, so I was going to feel doubtful about it. It is great never to have done it before: if I was an old hand at musicals I would have started going wrong straight away.”
Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow in 1949 and moved to Newcastle when he was seven, revealed he drew on his Scottish childhood musical memories for the more than 20 songs he has written for the show, which will debut at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh next month.
The production stars Damian Humbley as Mac, Katrina Bryan as Stella, Matthew Pidgeon as Gordon, the hotel owner, and Simon Rouse as oil baron Felix Happer, and there will be a live band on stage.
Knopfler, whose records have sold more than 100m copies, said putting the musical together had been “like a Rubik’s cube, but more complicated.”
He said: “Being a new boy, having never done anything like this before, it has been great. It is refreshing. You can make all kinds of fool of yourself, but I am just really glad I do not have David (Greig’s) job, it is much harder than it looks to make something that looks easy.”
Greig said: “The music takes in American music and elements of folk music, and just as a listener, there is something identifiable and particular as being very ‘Mark’ about it. You just know that they are Mark’s songs: it is quite hard to pinpoint what that is. It’s a very Scottish thing to have a bit of a foot in both sides of the Atlantic.”
Knopfler said that “the trans-Atlantic Blues” is a key feature of his music. He added: “I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. It is not too hard for me to find a way into Celtic music, because the first time I heard people singing music together would have been ‘Scotland The Brave’ or something, because my childhood was Glaswegian.
“I used to listen to records when I was very, very small, probably before I was two: I was listening to the radio and my mum singing. So it’s natural to me. So when people sometimes say to me: ‘How do you write that, or where does that come from, they sound a thousand years old?’ I think it is partly coming from Glasgow, and from being in Scotland, and from the north east, where my mother’s family is from. There are huge links between the Geordies and the Scots,” he finished.