8th December 1980
Like many folks of a certain vintage I suppose, my first exposure to Dire Straits came with their 1978 OGWT performance, where we witnessed four unassuming looking individuals (individuals for whom the word “blokes” could have well been created), performing some quite extraordinary music: an infectious striding-pace piece, showcasing some particularly dextrous picking by the singer/guitarist, all about some third rate jazz band.
Fast forward almost three years, and Dire Straits lie on the cusp of greatness, having survived the so-called “Second Album” syndrome to record IMO their masterwork: Making Movies.
From Tunnel of Love’s opening few bars, borrowed from The Carousel Waltz, to the closing notes of the delightfully silly Les Boys, the album is an almost perfect kaleidoscope of moods, emotions and musical textures. Knopfler would never again reach such heights with his song writing, not even in the ultra lucrative Brothers in Arms days.
The opening track, the aforementioned Tunnel of Love, is an achingly nostalgic funfair ride in itself, full of vivid lyrical imagery drawn from Knofler’s own youth on Tyneside. (Around 1999, I actually took a wee detour off the A1 once to see for myself The Spanish City in Whitley Bay, and have to say it all - certainly from the outside - looked more than a touch dilapidated, but that perhaps is as it should be.)
An equally wonderful composition was the first single from the album: Romeo and Juliet
– a more introspective piece boasting an occasionally tongue-in cheek lyric, playfully referencing Shakespeare, West Side Story and Sixties girl-band The Angels. All of the above serving to underscore a rather darker message; one which I am sure many of us can relate to with regard to failed relationships from our youth
“When you gonna realise, it was just that the time was wrong”.
Even now, just a couple of notes from Knopfler’s National Style O Resonator can instantly transport me back to those heady days of 1980. Skateaway is perhaps a bit too Brucie for my personal tastes, but every one of the songs on side 2 still delight.
All of the new album except Hand in Hand was performed this particular evening, although the set opened with some guitar doodling which we knew heralded either Down to The Waterline or Once Upon a Time in The West – it was in fact the latter, although the former soon came along.
Sultans of Swing put in a surprise appearance around two thirds into the set, and after the song Knopfler related how he had first seen The Sultans of Swing in a pub in south London, and that “they weren’t very good”, which I remember being a touch surprised about at the time. I had, rather naively assumed, such a majestic composition could only have been inspired by an equally majestic band.
Knopfler then went on to give a witty and rather lengthy introduction to the song Les Boys. Of how the band, looking for a meal after a gig in
, were directed to the disco in the hotel they were staying in. The cabaret for the evening were three transvestites of limited talent: the titular Les Boys. Germany
New keyboard player Alan Clark prefaced the song with a few bars of Lili Marlene, whilst during the performance three of the band members linked arms and treated us to a brief high-kicking dance – similar to a can-can, but rather slower. Twas quite a sight to see six-foot plus John Illsley cavorting thus.
Two songs from the Communiqué album followed; Portobello Belle and Angel of Mercy. Just a word on this album here, for I really feel it is a sadly overlooked entry into the Dire Straits canon. Perhaps the title track and Follow Me Home never quite come alight, but the remainder of the collection are superb examples of restrained, economical song construction, and I have always felt Communique to be vastly superior to the band’s debut album.
The rather un-Dire Straits-like rocker Solid Rock closed proceedings, and I recall being quite surprised and not a little disappointed that Lady Writer had been dropped from the band’ repertoire so early in their career.
This, however, was a very minor blemish on a quite unforgettable evening.
Once Upon a Time in The West
Down to The Waterline
Romeo and Juliet
In The Gallery
Sultans of Swing
Angel of Mercy
Tunnel of Love
Where Do You Think You’re Going?