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Mark Knopfler
Mark Knopfler is one of the most respected and influential guitarists in the world today. There are many reasons for this: the phenomenal success he achieved with Dire Straits, his speciality of finger-picking strings, his unique guitar tone, his proven track record as a musician and composer, and his solo albums. He was ranked #27 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Knopfler’s latest record, Kill to Get Crimson, is scheduled to release this month. For Knopfler’s fans, and for anyone who knows what it takes to get a guitar tone like his, it is time to take another lesson from the sultan of strings.

During the 60s, Knopfler paid his dues by playing with many school bands while listening to guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt and James Burton. At 16 he made a local TV appearance as half of a harmony duo along with school friend Sue Hercombe. Knopfler studied journalism for a year at Harlow Technical College. At the end of the course he got a job in Leeds as a junior reporter in the Yorkshire Evening Post. After two years he decided to study further and took up a degree in English at the University of Leeds. He also worked as a lecturer. Knopfler moved to London and joined a band called Brewer’s Droop. One night while spending some time with friends, the only guitar available was an old acoustic with a badly warped neck that had been strung with extra-light strings to make it playable. Even so, Knopfler found it impossible to play unless he finger-picked it. He said in a later interview, “That was where I found my ‘voice’ on guitar.” Soon after, he made his first record in a London studio. The song was an unreleased demo of an original song, Summer's Coming My Way.

Dire Straits
In 1977, Knopfler formed Dire Straits with his brother David on guitars, John Illsey on bass and Pick Withers on drums. Dire Straits’ first sessions were done under the name of Knopfler’s earlier band, Café Racers, but they soon changed it. Mark Knopfler took on the duties of frontman, playing the guitar and singing. A year after they were formed, Dire Straits released their self-titled debut. The album was different from what was coming out at that time. It was an era when disco was yet to fade out and punk was rearing its head. Dire Straits’ stripped-down classic rock sound didn’t hit off immediately with the listeners. The album, which was released on Vertigo records in the UK, got very little airplay.

The album caught the attention of Karin Berg, an assistant in the artists and repertoire department of Warner Bros. Records in New York City. She felt that this was the music that people were waiting for, but not many saw her point of view. Here was a band so unassuming that it reportedly asked club owners to turn down its sound so audience members could talk during its sets. Their songs tended to be more concerned with vibe than hooks. No wonder then Berg had to lobby to get the band signed on. But the band had a few things going for it, too. Dire Straits offered a clean, relatively concise alternative to the overproduced songs of the era. The album’s charms may not have been immediately obvious, but that was sort of the point. The album hit top spots in the US charts. Sultans of Swing, the first single, reached the top 10 in both the UK and the US, and helped drive sales of the album.

The Solo
A year after Dire Straits disbanded, Knopfler released his first solo album, Golden Heart. The album featured fourteen folk-tinged tracks and its first song, Darling Pretty, was featured on the soundtrack of the film Twister. Knopfler also recorded the soundtrack of the film Wag The Dog.

Crimson King
Kill to Get Crimson is already generating a buzz. The new album contains a high proportion of traditional instrumentation. Featured players include accordionist Ian Lowthian, with whom Knopfler collaborated on the soundtrack to the 2002 movie A Shot At Glory, and fiddle player John McCusker.

Knopfler is enthusiastic to take his new album on the road. Speaking about his new album, Knopfler says, “For the [album] cover, I’ve chosen a picture painted in 1958, it has a West Indian girl who wants to buy a red scooter. This is pre-mod, and the L-plate hasn’t changed to this day. I’ve got a red scooter, and it’s amazing, it looks pretty much exactly the same. That time was very interesting from the point of view of a musician, a kid at that time. A lot of the record is picking up strands from there. I don’t like to get too specific talking about songs, because a lot of times you’re reaching for something you’re not quite sure what it is. Or you’re conscious that while you’re trying to explain it, you’re unravelling it in some way. But there are strands that sometimes I can look at and realise what I’ve been doing. Sometimes it only starts to make sense to you afterwards.”

The first single is inspired by a tattoo artist from a book by Sarah Hall called The Electric Michelangelo. “I’ve always been fascinated by [tattoos] since a child. You know, I was a victim of the fairground and always a bit interested in the carnival and that side of things.” The song is called, sort of tongue in cheek, True Love Will Never Fade.

You can read the rest of our feature on Mark Knopfler in the September 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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