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Mark Knopfler was once an English lecturer and a journalist.
And he has left to his successors in those professions
a perfect definition of what irony means -
starting a band called Dire Straits
that became one of the most profitable acts in musical history.
The group, whose hits included Sultans Of Swing,
Money For Nothing and Romeo And Juliet,
originally comprised Knopfler as guitarist and singer/songwriter,
Pick Withers, John Illsley and David Knopfler, Mark's brother.
He left the group before the super-selling Brothers In Arms in 1985
helped to launch the then revolutionary listening method of CDs.
The remaining band dissolved in 1995
and Mark Knopfler's solo work has included numerous albums,
several movie soundtracks, from Local Hero to Wag The Dog,
and working as a producer and tour support act with Bob Dylan.
In one of your most popular songs, Money For Nothing, an ordinary guy in a store, he sees a rock star
on TV and he expresses contempt for him.
Have you ever at any point thought of yourself as a rock star?
Well, that's...that's one of things to...
Certainly one of the more unhealthy aspects
of the thing.
Obviously, it's what you want when you're a youngster, you know.
You're thinking in terms of trying to get there.
You spend a lot of time getting there
and then you have to make a judgment as you...as you grow up.
Yes, I think...
I think of...
I had a great time with the band, and that's what we...
That's what we were aiming for, I suppose.
And...I would recommend success to anybody.
I mean, I think it's fine. It's given me this studio, for instance,
which is just my big paint box, and I love it.
I love the place.
So, for many, many reasons, it's been...it's been fine.
And it's enabled me also to be able to have freedom in the way that I work now.
Although it's always fascinated me, that song, because it's almost as if...
I know it's based on something you actually saw,
but it's almost as if this guy is standing outside and he's commenting
on you, in a way, and then you later use that
with heavy irony.
I see Money For Nothing as the title for the Best Of collection.
And there was a kind of slight unease about the whole business to me, in that.
I mean, you've never... We've seen people taken over by it.
You've always seemed to have that slight scepticism about it.
Well, yes. I mean, obviously, it's ripe for fun,
for having fun with.
The whole thing is ludicrous, in many ways.
But the guy himself was a meat-head.
You know? And he was just doing some deliveries to the shop.
# Look at them yo-yos That's the way you do it
# You play the guitar on the MTV
# That ain't working That's the way you do it... #
He didn't even know I was there,
and I found myself spying on him behind a row of microwaves.
Because what he was saying was so classic.
And I don't think, if I'd been seen to be...gazing incredulously at him,
then some floor manager would have come up and said, you know...
"Back out to the truck!"
But actually, I had to go and ask for some paper and a pen,
and I sat down on the kitchen display unit in the front window and started writing it all down.
Some of those lines...
And that's like a situation song,
where conditions all seem to be converging to create the song,
just like Sultans Of Swing was,
or when you're in a place and there are a number of things going on
somehow it flags up for you. It resonates with you, in a way.
And off you go.
But both those songs - Money For Nothing and Sultans Of Swing - they have real speech in them,
which is your reporter side. We'll talk about this later,
but you were a newspaper reporter.
But the guy in the store - you took it down in shorthand,
which journalists don't have any more, but your generation still do.
Well, shorthand was something I learned on a journalism course
and I found that when I got to the Evening Post in Leeds,
who offered me a job when I was a teenager,
They sent me down to the court, to the town hall in Leeds.
I did a lot of court reporting there,
and that was a big life lesson.
But court reporting is pretty serious, isn't it,
because if you get one word wrong from the evidence,
you are technically in contempt of court.
Well, I must have been in contempt plenty of times!
But it was...it was a, um...
It was a...
It was an interesting time.
The news editor used to call me up. They used to call out into the newsroom,
"Mark Knopfler, come over!"
And you'd go up there and he'd say, "There's been a bloody accident.
"Go bloody down there, get a bloody taxi. Get the bloody name, get the bloody age, get the bloody address,
"get your bloody hair cut."
So, your shorthand... When you were in that store... So, the famous line,
"Look at that yo-yo - that's the way to do it, he plays the guitar on the MTV" -
they're pretty much verbatim, those bits of speech, are they?
In fact, he said the best stuff.
I wrote the worst stuff.
You know, "You play the guitar on the MTV" - I mean, I wrote that.
But he said things like, "Maybe get a blister on your little finger"!
And "What's that - Hawaiian noises?"
# What's that? Hawaiian noises
# You're banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee
# That ain't working
# That's the way you do it
# Get your money for nothing Get your chicks for free
# We gotta install microwave ovens
# Custom kitchen deliveries... #
He was very entertaining.
But I'm not so sure whether I actually write those kind of smarty-pants songs any more.
As I got older, I think I was much more tending towards preferring
a song like You Are My Sunshine,
which is very, for want of a better word, straightforward.
All those... Right through -
we're going to talk about your whole career... But right through the career,
story songs, I mean little short stories, incidents...
There's a lot of narrative in your songs right across your career.
Yeah, I've probably done far too much of that.
I...I think, um...
It can be a kind of a bonsai thing, where you're taking a...
For instance, in a song like Sailing To Philadelphia,
for instance, where I'm thinking of miniaturising...
..something that's a massive book.
I mean, the book is as big as a radiator. It's got hundreds and hundreds of pages.
I just happened to be reading it
and got interested in the two guys, the two characters
Here's another thing about convergence,
where what Mason and Dixon did
was they sailed to Philadelphia by boat, obviously, from the west coast of England,
to do a job, actually. Just a...
It was just a dispute between two families,
essentially two states, about a border.
Of course, the Mason-Dixon Line then symbolised a great deal more than that
later on, but I was sailing into Philadelphia through the clouds on a plane.
# I am Jeremiah Dixon
# I am a Geordie boy
# A glass of wine with you, sir And the ladies I'll enjoy... #
And thinking about... It's only really been a very short time
since Mason and Dixon sailed up into here
and look what's happened in this time.
Um, but when you reduce a story like that to three verses or something,
you really are chopping away at it.
So probably that's one of the interesting things to me about songwriting
and going back to looking at it again,
so at any given time now, I'll be doing that with about 50 songs.
And the question that is always asked about songs,
even when different people writing the words and the music,
is the order - which comes first?
For you, it can be either, presumably?
Yeah, it can be.
But I find myself looking at the lyrics, probably...
and wanting them to...to...
wanting them to be able to stand up on their own, in many ways.
I think that's probably shifted a little bit.
Sometimes there is a simultaneous thing.
And with some forms and some, say, blues or things like that,
it can be much more immediate
and, you know, the musical thing and the lyrical thing will happen
much more together, very often.
And that then makes you realise that there is no formula per se,
and if there was a formula, I promise you I'd tell you what it is.
For both kinds of songs.
And do you ever have a lyric awaiting a tune or a tune awaiting a lyric?
That, again, can be part of the problem.
For instance, I remember when
I was touring at the time with the band
in the early days, when John Lennon was murdered,
and I was being pestered by this, um...
very odd German guy in a raincoat,
specs and briefcase,
A very, very, very strange man who would be at the airport when you'd arrive,
he'd be at you hotel when you got there.
You'd get to the place where you were playing, and he was there.
When you went in and when you went out.
his name was Rudiger.
And I wrote a song called Rudiger at the time.
And, in fact, I never changed the words,
but the music just didn't want to materialise.
And I think I waited about 13 years with that lyric before...
And I'd actually left...
I'd started going solo in about '95,
and I think it just came together then, really.
I was trying to move forward a bit musically.
So who was Rudiger? Did you ever...?
He was this German man.
But what was his role? Why was he always at hotels and airports?
-I'm sorry. He was an autograph...
-Oh, I see.
Yeah, he was an autograph hound.
Has he ever responded to the song?
I met him subsequently
and I said, "Well, what do you think now, Rudiger? You know there's been this song about you."
He said, "Ah, no, you are the star."
Yeah, but he's a very odd man.
So that's another of those given songs -
things that happen around you that can turn into a song?
Yeah, it can. It can be something that you say. It can be something that you read.
It can be a fragment.
And sometimes I think,
I actually think now, that you don't really know why,
what it is that has led you there.
You're feeling your way sometimes.
And you only find out afterwards.
I always wonder about this with people who have written a lot of songs.
Your, um...predictive powers as to what the response will be.
I mean, the ones that go huge, have you generally - you wouldn't have known the exact response -
but have you generally thought, "I've got one here"?
I'm not so conscious of that at all.
I think you're just making another record.
And all I want to do is try to write a good song and try to make a good record.
That's all that I want to do.
That is literally all that I really want to do.
At any time, if you ask me, "What are you trying to do?"
"What do you think you're doing?" in other words!
"What are you doing?!"
I'm trying to write a good song and trying to make a good record.
And going in to fail.
You know, you go into your...
I go to write a...
I open the laptop, you know,
in a way, to fail. I'm used to it.
what happens is...I don't panic about that.
I just let it be.
And come back to it and have another look.
I'm not madly disciplined that way.
Love Over Gold is unusual in having only five tracks.
That was the album of the epic song, wasn't it,
because they range in length from six and a half to 14 minutes on Telegraph Road.
Was that...? I mean, that was a conscious decision to go...?
No. I remember once saying to an engineer in New York...
I said, "Tell me, why are my songs so long?"
He must have been eating a sandwich at the time,
and he looked at me and he said, "You got a lot to say."
We'll talk more about CDs and Brothers In Arms and so on,
but famously, it was a key CD, Brothers In Arms,
in the technological revolution of that time.
There have been so many since - downloads, and, um...
the reluctance of a generation of music lovers to actually pay for the material.
Are you glad that you started when you did,
rather than, say, now?
I think it's always been hard to be an actor or to be a writer
or to, you know, get going in music...
And I don't think that'll ever change.
It's always going to be an overcrowded area.
But there's one thing that I do know about all this.
It's that everybody gets their shot.
If you've got the motor to get your songs going somehow...
That's all I wanted. It was looking for a little platform
just to get the songs going.
And, if you can't get a gig,
then you kind of organise your own.
And you just start from home.
And if people want to see you...
If people want to watch it and be part of it,
then the little queue starts to grow,
grows down the stairs, then into the street and down the road and round the corner.
And things just pick up and carry on.
it's like a snowball.
And if you've got that, whatever that is...
It's got nothing to do with good looks.
It has to do with something else.
That's how it did start, whereas now, notoriously, people can go on the X Factor or a similar show
and they can be Number One by Christmas,
within a few weeks.
Now, musicians of your generation differ on this.
Some get fantastically angry about things such as the X Factor,
and others are just mildly amused and watch with their children.
Where are you on that spectrum?
I disappear when that stuff's around.
You know? I just...
go in the other room.
Er...the kids watch it sometimes.
There's always been...
To me, there's always been bubblegum. There was...
..in decades gone by.
There was always that aspect of entertainment.
And so I'm never too bothered by it.
But what I am bothered about by those shows
is that it seems to be conveying that it's great to be famous.
You could be talking to some kids, and they say,
"It must be great to be famous". And I say, "Would you like to be famous?" And they say,
"Oh, yeah, it must be dead cool for be famous!" And you say, "What for?"
"Famous for what?"
And they don't quite know.
What that's perpetuating is a situation that's completely the wrong way round.
Fame is actually a by-product.
If you can think of anything good about it, I'd like you to tell me what it is.
But rather than finding what you love and trying to be good at it,
there just seems to be this instant fix.
And I think that's a disaster.
And I think that those shows are...
Quite apart from all the other issues of manipulating poor people
and doing all the things that, um...
rubbish television does, you know?
It's not so much different if all the tears
and all the taking people who are quite clearly not terribly good at what they're doing
and making them fail in front of... Taking people almost there and...
And all this so-called "good television"
I think is just really, really detrimental.
And sometimes - you say it's bubblegum music and TV, and it is -
but sometimes they're using the songs of great songwriters. I mean, Leonard Cohen.
Yeah. It's funny, actually,
Yeah, I saw a lad...happened to be, just because the kids were watching.
-You see, you do watch it secretly, don't you?
-No, I was actually going by!
And I was, "That's a Bob Dylan song. That's one of Bob's songs."
It was a lad singing.
And I just wondered how many people in the studio audience,
or even the people working on the show, actually knew...it was a Bob song.
Because that's where we've arrived at now.
Have you had yours done on those shows?
I never let them use them. Whenever they want to do something, I've just never let them use it.
This is another interesting area about songwriters - how much control you have,
because you don't have total control.
I mean, various things happen. There are adverts, aren't there, and the so-called "songtages" -
where at the end of Casualty, or...Holby City,
the characters all walk around slowly to a song in the background.
And then there are the talent shows.
But you don't have total control over what they do with your songs, do you?
No, not always.
No, you can't...
If a Lithuanian band wants to record one of your songs
and they've rewritten the lyrics but they're about something else,
again, that's not something that I'm very keen on.
-Has that happened?
Well, not Lithuanian!
I don't know why I said it!
But, um...you can't stop people playing your stuff,
and you can't stop... That's fine.
You have to make decisions... I have to make decisions every day about...or every other day...about
whether you give sync licences for people to use your stuff for other purposes.
And I think it has changed somewhat over the years,
where now, because the world has become so much more corporate,
and because, um...
people are looking for ways to exist now,
just to get out on the airwaves.
I think people now are much more liable -
creative people, writers - are much more liable to accept that kind of exposure now.
Do you have rules about commercials?
We used to have. We used to have things about alcohol,
we used to have things about tobacco.
I can't remember what else.
# We will go... #
If a beer company or somebody wanted to use a song, I'd probably think about it for at least ten seconds
To just get the stuff out there?
Just to get the stuff out there, yeah.
And also, something like that, for instance,
I'm not saying I WOULD do it,
but something like that, if you want to think about it in solid terms,
that would pay for your trucking on a whole tour,
or it could certainly pay for your ground transport.
It could certainly pay for your band,
or a good bit of your band,
or what your band would cost you for that three months of touring or whatever it would be.
So that would be a heck of thing.
That would be big sync these days.
For somebody who was touring
and looking at the enormous costs of touring,
I think these days you'd probably find somebody accepting something like that.
Because you simply can't make the kind of money out of recordings that you did in your day, for example.
No, you simply can't.
And...it's the same as my studio.
My studio's obviously going to lose a lot of money
by being such a great studio.
So the only way that it can exist is
by being supported somehow.
Sailing To Philadelphia we mentioned earlier.
I've always been very interested in this song. It's clearly biographical.
I think it's also autobiographical,
Because - I was amazed to discover this, I only knew it from your song -
Jeremiah Dixon, one of the architects of the Mason-Dixon Line,
solving that Pennsylvania dispute,
was a Geordie, who, um... And that clearly, that's a personal identification, isn't it?
As we can hear in your...
Yeah, I liked that I could relate to him.
The other guy - I heard James Taylor's voice.
I thought he was perfect. As soon as he started singing that character, there he was.
# But I had other dreams instead
# This baker's boy from the West Country
# Would join the Royal Society
# We are sailing to Philadelphia... #
Again, a very good example of the story song.
It is like the short story. It has different voices
and all the rest of it.
It's one of those character songs.
Character songs, and a place.
It's again, looking out of the plane,
reading, having the book...
So there's a...
Things converge...and there it is.
You're technically Scottish. You could have played football for Scotland,
though it's probably too late now.
But in every other way, it's the northeast, isn't it?
It's the northeast, yeah.
My dad was working in Glasgow,
so I lived the first eight years up there.
And, um...and I'm glad that it was, in many ways,
because I probably heard quite a lot of Scottish music.
But then you would in the northeast anyway, because
my mum's family are all Geordies, and her brothers were big into things Scottish then,
and they wore kilts, and joined the Army and played the bagpipes,
and all of those things.
So there was a big Scottish influence in the northeast of England, anyway,
and there's always been a big tie-up between the Geordies and the Scots.
There are a lot of Scots came down to Tyneside for the manufacturing and all the rest of it.
So there was a lot of movement of labour around.
And the whole Geordie culture and language, which is immortalised in your song Why Aye Man,
but that whole... My grandparents were from the northeast,
and it's an extraordinary language. I remember when I was first taken there and heard it.
But that's partly what Why Aye Man is about. But it is fantastically distinctive, isn't it?
And it beats me why people can't understand it!
People gaze at them... Incomprehension.
And, actually, whenever I go up there,
I actually became more...
In five minutes, I think I become slightly more Geordie than I was when I...
You know, an hour before that.
So has your...? As you travelled south, your accent, um, changed, did it?
If we'd met you when you were a schoolboy,
-you would have been significantly more Geordie?
Just as we are, when I was a little boy in Glasgow,
I was broad Scots, yeah.
So...so that, er...
That's the way we are!
Your rather was an architect. He was a political exile and emigre,
but at what point, growing up, did you understand his history and what had happened?
Oh, well, from very, very early on.
I think it's great to have somebody in your family who has another perspective.
but then, as you go through life, you realise that everybody has other perspectives.
It's only very few people live in complete complacency
and don't question anything.
Because you're either too fat or you're too small
or you're too thin...and you go to school and you get bullied for something or other.
you could have a speech defect, or...
Who knows what it is?
And it's all good, because it's all sensitising,
or it's all good for creative people.
Because it makes you observe instead of just accept.
I think it gives you another...
..another eye, somehow.
And presumably, among the Charltons, the Robsons, those kind of names,
your name stood out on school registers, did it?
It absolutely would do.
And it's funny being down in London now and looking at the names at our daughters' schools,
and it's just like the United Nations.
And really exotic.
And, in fact, my name looks positively anonymous
in there, really. One of the more quiet ones, you know?
There's lot of names with really enormous flourishes
on these school lists down here.
But growing up in Newcastle,
it was...it was a talking point, presumably, your name, was it?
Oh, I don't think so, really.
Not too much. I think there were a couple of kids with foreign names at school -
Polish names, and so on and so forth.
The Scots and the Geordies are a really friendly people.
And you only notice that when...
-You come south?
-You come south.
Or the southwest
and out there you realise that people are more self-contained.
And, you know...
there will be various theories about all this.
There are nice people everywhere, of course.
We all know this.
There's one thing that I think that my mum certainly
mentions every time I go to see her -
that she...because she came south when my sister starting having a family,
she would miss the, what she said, the canniness of the people in the north.
That's a great northeast word, canny, isn't it?
Which is a great tribute, a great compliment, to be canny.
Yeah. "He's a canny lad."
On your vast global world tours,
you're played Hungary, presumably, have you?
And my dad was expelled from Hungary, actually, for political reasons.
It must have been bizarre.
Because of your family background, when you played Hungary as a musician,
presumably it felt like there was some kind of emotional aspect to that?
No, it didn't affect me in any way, shape or form.
It struck me as being quite amusing, in a way,
-that, you know...
-They kicked your dad out.
-Kicked my dad out.
making some sandwiches for me, yeah.
Did he talk a lot about what happened?
No. He just got on with his work.
He didn't really talk about it very much,
but he did... He was a...
Back then, he was a...
a young firebrand, a communist.
But of course, millions of people were.
You know, they sort of saw communism as being...
And being a Marxist was maybe to see the only solution to the problems of the world.
That this was going to be the big...
This was going to save the world from all the horrors of war
and all the other injustices that were going on.
And, of course, as soon as he realised what Stalin was up to,
he and hundreds of thousands of others
just handed their cards in, and he was done with it.
Um... Once he saw what the truth was
about how this...the revolution was...
How it was playing out, you know, with Stalin and the rest.
So, you know,
he had no illusions about it after that.
Is the Jewish part of your identity through him, is that significant to you?
I don't know anything about it.
Because he was pretty much a Marxist atheist,
he never bothered, and he married out of his...out of the religion.
And so I never...I never really knew anything about it.
The first time I actually went into a synagogue was for my accountant's son's bar mitzvah.
and then the second time was for his daughter's wedding.
So I've never... It's not something I'm familiar with.
And you didn't feel a great sense of homecoming on either of those occasions when you went?
No, not at all.
The '50s... Lots of books now about the '50s, and it's presented as this appalling, drab decade
in which Britain was recovering from the wounds of the Second World War
and it was all kind of horrible and dull. And it was your childhood.
Were you conscious at the time of how depressing it was supposed to be?
I was. I do remember the '50s as being a rather odd period,
because it was rather...it was...
I mean, the girls would wear twin sets and pearls - they'd dress like their mothers.
And a lot of the boys did too,
but I just kind of missed...
What, dressed like their mothers?!
But thankfully, I was too young for the...
I'm glad, in a way, that I missed all the trad jazz.
Thankfully, I hit rock and roll just at the right time.
The first guitar that I pointed to and said that I wanted was a white plastic one
with a picture of Elvis in the head of it.
It was probably more of a toy than a proper guitar.
I never got that.
And the guitar, it's been such a huge part of your life -
that first guitar.
Where did that instinct come from to want a guitar?
Yeah, I think that's where it begins.
It's a really instinctive thing...
"This is for me."
-But you'd heard... It was from hearing guitar...
It was probably from hearing it, hearing the freedom of that music.
And it would probably be on songs like Freight Train and things like that,
where it was...
And I didn't know what the names of these things were.
I think they called it skiffle originally,
in England, but they didn't call it that in the States.
er...and so, really, country and western kind of songs
and blues. A mixture of blues and country.
# One evening as the sun went down
# And the jungle fire was burning
# Down a track came a hobo hiking
# And he said Boys, I'm not turning... #
But I didn't know what those words were.
I mean, I would be a tiny little thing.
Even crawling around on the floor,
listening to Listen With Mother on the radio every day,
you'd hear songs like, um...
Big Rock Candy Mountain.
I mean, I still know all the words.
# On the birds and the bees And the cigarette trees
# The lemonade springs Where the bluebird sings
# In the Big Rock Candy Mountains... #
And I really remember really liking it, but I didn't know what a hobo...
I mean, I didn't know it was a hobo song.
And I didn't care. I think when you're young like that, you don't care whether a song's happy or sad.
You just like it.
Or the sound of guitars on.
And pointing to that first guitar ultimately led
to being selected as the 27th greatest guitar player of all time in one poll.
But did you...? I mean, clearly you are a natural guitarist,
but did you take to it immediately when you started playing?
No. I think it's quite hard.
You've got to make your fingers go into places they don't want to go.
I think you've really got to want to do it.
It's a hard instrument to learn. I've taught people to play,
quite a lot of people.
it's really...it's not easy,
and I don't find it's terribly easy NOW, necessarily, to move forward.
You're still making your fingers go places where they don't want to go.
If you want to move forward,
being a songwriter doesn't move me forward very much
on the instrument.
If I'd had to live by the instrument,
I would have made sure I'd gone a lot further.
If you want to... I mean, I think the band...
are very understanding and quite forgiving of me as a musician, really,
because that's what they do,
that's their instrument.
That's what they do.
And of course, they do it so well, but...
They probably let me off quite lightly.
"Oh, well, he's a songwriter. He can make a mistake."
..Eventually leading to an eight-liner.
I suppose so.
I did make an effort to try and improve...
..once I realised I was getting into this thing seriously.
I was in this world, and I didn't really know what I was doing.
I'd got the songs going, but I didn't really feel as though I was any kind of a player
or knew, really, what it was about.
I was just this little Brit strummer, really,
who was writing songs,
but I didn't really feel as though I'd got very far.
And so I did make a concerted effort to try to figure out a bit more about it all.
And I think now I might occasionally get onto that...
music thing, but it's a...
But the songwriting keeps interfering with that.
The songwriting is what I'm really about,
and so I'll come back...
So that might involve quite a lot of simple playing, if you know what I mean.
You know, it's going back to that.
So, essentially, the folk and the blues influences in my background
always keep coming back.
And probably prevent me from...
you know, from getting too technical.
And the fact that you play with your weaker hand,
was that always the case, from when you first started?
Well, I'm left-handed, and I've got to play right-handed.
Oh, so you play with your...? So it is your weaker hand.
-It's your non-writing hand.
But that actually started... I was playing with a tennis racquet,
cos I didn't have a guitar, of course, for a long time.
And Ruth, my older sister, said... I was playing this way, and she said...
"You turn the tennis racquet round and you play it that way."
they tried to teach me violin at school
Very unsuccessfully, I should add!
I could get notes out of it, but, again, you have to learn to play the violin that way.
So it was natural for me then to pick the guitar up,
after that, this way.
And it's actually...it has its advantages, in a way.
-Well, there was a strong left hand on the neck.
Being around a lot of folk musicians and stuff like that, I learned how to finger-pick.
That opened up a whole lot of extra stuff, because you're kind of orchestrating.
Once you start to do that, you're learning.
It's taking you to different places that a little piece of plastic wouldn't.
# A love-struck Romeo
# Got his serenade
# Laying everybody low
# With a love song that he made
# Finds a street light
# He steps out of the shade He says
# You and me, babe
# How about it?
# Juliet says Goodness me, it's Romeo
# You nearly gave me a heart attack
# He's underneath the window She's singing
# Hey, la, my boyfriend's back
# You shouldn't come around here
# Singing up at people like that
# Anyway, what you gonna do about it?
# The dice was loaded from the start
# And I bet
# And you exploded in my heart
# And I forget
# I forget
# The movie song
# And when are you gonna realise
# It was just that the time was wrong
# Juliet... #
But that little piece of plastic, by the way,
which I then started to neglect after a while,
is actually one of the best things about the guitar, you know.
It's the biggest amplifier for the guitar.
It sends the cleanest signal.
I still like to play with a pick every now and again.
I try not to forget. I played that way for years
and it's really important to be able to do that.
And it's a lot faster, as well, than all these fingers.
The pick...it's actually Mr Lightning as well as Mr Loud.
Although some people are snobbish about it, aren't they?
I mean, for years, people would say with pride that you were a finger-picking guitarist,
but, in fact, it's a snobbery that people have.
Finger-picking starts in quite a simple way.
It's one step at a time.
I only moved...
I'm only...I'm pretty far down the food chain
as far as all that goes, I should think.
I mean, I think, when I got playing with Chet Atkins,
I think he just took pity on me,
because I was a finger-picker.
I think he was sort of inclined towards finger-pickers...
..as opposed to much else.
But he'd taken all that to a whole different level.
So, after graduation, you went to London.
But was that pursuing the rock dream?
Was that the idea?
Yes. I mean, the day that I finished university,
I got a Melody Maker and...
found the biggest ad for a guitar player
and left and went for London.
I think that day or the day after.
And I just found the biggest ad for a guitar player that was in the paper
and I just went. And I actually happened to pass that audition.
There was this trail of guitar players coming from the station to the pub!
And I passed some of them on the way back.
So I was hired by this band called Brewer's Droop
and promised £25 a week, which never really materialised, actually.
And they were on their last legs at the time.
So that only lasted two months.
And then I was back up north, working on a farm and...
You know, back to trying to figure out a way to survive.
And then back in the south, you were a college lecturer then?
Getting the college job saved me.
Because a friend's mother rang up and said,
"There's a vacancy in the English department down here.
"Would you like to come and try for it?"
I came down and tried for that and got that.
And, actually, that was fantastic for me.
It was on the outskirts of London, in Essex.
It was on the Central Line.
So I used to, um...
I used to...
I actually earned more money in teaching than I'd ever earned in my life.
And it enabled me to get a motorcycle
and it enabled then to...then I bought my dad's old car,
so I could carry guitars in it.
And start, really start really thinking in terms of trying to put together a little band
that could play the songs.
Because the songs...
I started three years of teaching and during that time,
I started to put the songs together.
I went to America. I could afford to go on a Greyhound bus round...
I got a Greyhound bus ticket in '76
and I went around America on my own.
and was writing
and starting to put together the first sets of songs.
And so, it enabled me to do that.
And that's how teaching saved my life.
It absolutely did.
And subsequently, did any of the students you taught, did they say,
-"Hang on a minute, you were that guy who...?"
Yeah, every now and again.
But thankfully, they passed their exams,
they can't reproach me too badly, I hope.
Um...but I was teaching everybody
I used to have shoulder-length hair and a blue velvet suit
and, um, red basketball boots.
And that's what I used to teach in quite often.
That's how I started doing... It was all first names.
And I had a great time.
And it was great just to be able to get a place
and be able to turn around.
And that's what actually really was the foundation of being able to
get the beginnings of a band going,
to start to write the songs.
And bands always have a creation story, which are often disputed among the members.
But the creation story of Dire Straits - whose idea was it?
Well, I wanted to have a platform,
a little vehicle, if you like, that I could use... There - I've said "vehicle"!
..for...for the songs.
And I was playing with my brother, who was...who had a flat in Deptford.
And his flatmate, John Illsley, was playing bass
in another group.
And I'd go down, and had started playing these songs.
I just thought, "Well, this is great. John's a really nice guy."
So there's me and David, and then there's John -
we just need a drummer.
We didn't really have any money,
because all the money... I was buying my first Fender Stratocaster
and was buying... We were buying gear.
And John, in fact, had £200
or £250 left. That's all he had,
in a savings account that his mother had given him or something
and that went to pay for the demos
that we recorded at Pathway Studios up in North London.
Before we worry about that bit, can we go right back to the start?
Starts with the chorus, does it?
It starts with that chorus thing?
# Action, action
# Making movies... #
We know from the Gallagher brothers and Everly Brothers that siblings in a band can be difficult
and you have that experience with David.
In retrospect, is it not a good idea for brothers to be in a...?
Oh, it's a perfectly good idea.
You know, as long as it works.
I was just...
I was in a hurry, and I knew what I wanted.
And I was...
For instance, you know, now, I mean, I...
Working with the musicians that I'm working with,
they're not... It's not...
You don't get a situation where I'd tell anybody what to do.
Just like a good director wouldn't tell a good actor what to do.
"I want you to sit down there and put your elbow on the window sill."
You wouldn't do that.
Some of them do, apparently.
But in those days, you would. You were in charge of Dire Straits.
I think I...yes, I probably was, to a certain extent.
Not so much with Pick, because Pick had done some recording and probably knew a lot more about it than I did.
So I think that was going to be a little bit tricky,
because I think David was still learning, you know,
a lot of those... His guitar playing was...
I mean, I don't know how far really advanced we were,
short of major chords and a few licks.
We'll just do it, the three of us, then you come in.
I'll show you what I mean.
Was it painful?
Well, I think with any situation with a band,
it actually doesn't make any difference particularly if it's a sibling thing,
because my experience with...
It came as a real shock to me with this band Brewer's Droop,
when I first joined from university.
I thought that...I thought...
When I was a kid, I thought that everybody had to really love each other in these bands.
And I realised that they all hated each other, and it was a real shock to me.
Often in these cases, the songwriter...there's a division between the songwriter and the band
and other members of it, partly because songwriters in most cases made more money.
Was that an issue in Dire Straits?
No. The financial thing was never... That wasn't it.
We didn't have any money, because they didn't give us any money for 18 months.
We were always Number One all around the world,
but the way that the accounting goes, when you sign up, you know,
you have to renegotiate all of that.
So I think our accounting was 18 months.
I think 18 months later we started to get some money coming back.
So it wasn't... We didn't have any money, anyway.
That's how that works!
And I started to realise actually even then that's how...
People in the performing arts generally don't have as much money as people think they do.
# Are a home now for me
# But my home is the lowlands... #
You went from playing in pubs to these huge industrial stadium tours.
That was one of the shocks of Dire Straits.
It went huge very quickly.
It was a shock to the system, presumably, for you?
It's really tough, doing a lot of that stuff. You've really got to want to be there.
And particularly for the times when you're not well,
and particularly for times when you really are under pressure.
Then the desire has really got to be there.
Just like the desire has to really be there to want to learn to play the damn thing.
To learn to play that well - doesn't matter what it is.
Whether it's a violin or anything. You've really got to want to do it.
# ..brothers in arms... #
Some people just don't have enough motor, you know?
They just don't have the will that's required.
But some people famously give up performing because they're...
The power of the crowd can be a scary thing.
But you've never had stage fright in that way?
You want to have a little bit of adrenaline.
A little bit, when you're up and doing that.
But you don't want to have so much that you're just incapacitated.
I think, um...
People who...people who can't hack it,
just can't cope with it, then you'd be best go off and find something else to do.
You seem from the outside to be a natural collaborator,
because you've produced other people, including Bob Dylan. You've supported him,
recorded with Emmylou Harris...
# This is us down at the Mardi Gras
# This is us in your daddy's car
# You and the missing link
# I'd had a little too much to drink... #
With Emmylou it was lovely,
because I was thinking of songs that were a male-female shape,
so that was all great.
Except that I would have loved with Emmy to have been able to have had a proper swing at it.
Instead of recording little dribs and drabs here and there, just a few little sessions,
we didn't really get a proper extended period in the studio.
But I think probably in the end, all these things, it keeps life interesting.
It certainly did all that.
Doing all the Dylan stuff and everything.
But I think I'm probably best, you know,
best just hanging around the house writing my own ditties and going out and recording them.
# Could never tell the story
# Spinning unheard
# In the dark of the sky
# But I love you
# And this is our glory
# If this is goodbye
# If this is goodbye
# If this is goodbye
# If this is goodbye... #
Finally, you work very hard still, supporting Bob Dylan recently on that tour.
There were 20 songs on your most recent solo album.
I assume financially you don't have to do it, so what is it that keeps you working?
What do you think it is?
I think you're driven to do it, aren't you? I mean, it's what you do. It's inside your head.
Yeah. I think it has to be.
And in your heart. It has to be... You have to have the desire to show up and do it.
Inspiration is always wonderful,
but it's not all that.
A lot of the time, you're just working to finish it,
or you're working to get it somehow into a shape that you can do something with it.
But all I want to do is try to write a good one.
And hopefully then to actually translate that on to a record, get that on to a record.
To write a good song and try to make a good record.
That's it. It doesn't get any more complicated than that.
Mark Knopfler, thank you.
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