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My Favourite Things : Mark Knopfler

To view the accompanying video click here.

22nd June

Continuing the production of the "MY FAVOURITE THINGS" series that I have been posting on YouTube I moved swiftly onto Mark Knopfler and so, because I'm a stickler for details and a good amount of waffling, I thought I'd do a little story about how Mark Knopfler first came into my life and how he continues to influence me.....

Looking back I can tell you now that I remember hearing Brother in Arms. I would be really small - maybe 5 or 6 - and being sat in the car - oh, how much of my future musical career would be born in long car journeys, towing the caravan to such exotic place as....Matlock Bath. I must have been really small as I have an image of me being sat in the back seat of Dads Ford Sierra with the front seat towering in front of me. I remember hearing So Far Away, Walk of Life, Money For Nothing....but at the time just thinking they were unconnected songs. It wasn't until MUCH later that I realised they were all a) by the same artist and b) on the same record!

But, to fast forward.....

I can give you the specific date that Mark Knopfler properly first entered my life. And I mean in the 'I really want to hear more of this....' kind of way. It was 6th May 1996. How do I know? Because I first laid eyes on Mark Knopfler when the TV show "Later...With Jools Holland" screened a special studio performance by Knopfler, who at the time was about to begin a tour in support of his debut solo album "Goldenheart".

By that point I was already playing guitar - as detailed here in a previous blog - and well and truly wrapped up in Pink Floyd-land. Dad had said on more than one occasion that I was "obsessed". I was, it's true. I still am. I LOVE Pink Floyd......Tangent? Oh, yeah. Back to the point....

I'm not sure whether or not my parents knew about this broadcast and made sure I watched it, something like.... "If you like guitar players, you need to listen to this guy...." Or if I meandered into the living room whilst it was on. I remember most of the family being in the room....Who knows?!

Considering I've grown into the kind of human being who is rather chatty, quite gregarious and (it's often remarked) quite loud; its hard to imagine that there was ever a time when I'd have rather stayed quiet! But, yes I was that kind of teenager who was more than a little...erm, surly. I think that's how I'd describe it. Hard to imagine I know! But the broadcast must have had an effect on me as I must have said something along the lines of "that was alreyt (sic) that. Did we tape it?" (Anyone born in this century might want to research what "taping" a programme means.) But, as the credits rolled, I have a vivid memory of the voice over artist telling us that the broadcast would be repeated later in the week with, very exciting, an additional 15 minutes of tracks! Isn't it strange what you remember? Anyway, Mum then commented "there you go." Or words to that effect.

This broadcast was eventually released officially on video (more research required for you younger readers!) as Mark Knopfler A Night In London including even MORE songs: heaven.

I still have that video!

Just on the side I have to say that it irritates me no end that the 2003 DVD version of this concert was subsequently edited of classic tracks such as Sultans and Money ....I mean c'mon!!?!?!

And so I entered a period where I stopped listening to Pink Floyd - I remember actually feeling GUILTY about this, can you imagine that? Guilty that my allegiances were changing!! Dad provided me with his vinyl copy of Alchemy which I thoroughly gorged myself on and bought on VHS. To this day I firmly believe it's one of the greatest live albums ever recorded - spoilt only by the fact that (at the time of writing) it's still not been released in full.

It didn't take long for the rest of the Dire Straits discography to come my way either.

All of this, of course, was played regularly on guitar: David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler; you have to admit that, as teachers go, they're not too bad! However this change of guitar playing influence did pull me up sharp in some way.

David Gilmour may be a wonderful guitarist - quite possibly the MOST wonderful guitarist - but he certainly doesn't fill his solos with an abundance of notes. He's all about lyrical playing over flash. By this point in my guitar playing learning I'd been exclusively playing David Gilmour solos, which must have filled me with a false sense of confidence about my abilities as, by that point, I hadn't come across any songs and solos that I couldn't master with practice. Well......when I saw Calling Elvis on the On The Night video my mind was blown away with the awesome guitar mastery on display. Those twiddly bits of playing simultaneously confused, astounded, impressed, terrified and frustrated me in a way that no Gilmour solo ever had. Knopfler has such a mastery over scale positions and modes that there are always one or two notes that make me thing 'eh, what's that all about?' To this day. I never properly managed to learn how to play the solos in Calling Elvis....not till this anyway.

In a way MK has never gotten back to that playing level again. He was on FIRE on the Alchemy & On The Night records. His playing these days is much more subdued and, like Gilmour, very deliberate and lyrical. But then, so is his song writing these days.

It took me a long time to fully appreciate Knopfler's full solo discography. I've always had a soft spot for Goldenheart as it was the album that first drew me to Knopfler: and Rudiger is my all time favourite Knopfler composition. And Sailing To Philadelphia is a great album as well! But as a young, impressionable, idiotic kid learning to play guitar I tended to see the mastery of an instrument as all about the flash more than anything else, and I couldn't reconcile the idea that Knopfler was no longer playing like he did in Dire Straits. As I said above, Knopfler's solo material is so much more subdued and it just didn't connect with me on the same level when I was younger. It wasn't until I would be around 30 and really starting to appreciate my influences as 'musicians' that the solo stuff would click with me. Now, I love it and can't get enough! Maybe you've just got to be....erm, more mature?

Anyway, I digress.

I did get the chance to see MK live on 30th September 1996. The Notting Hillbillies performed a charity show at Sheffield City Hall. I remember Dad bringing home a newspaper with an advert for the show in. So off we went.

I'd visited the (sadly no more) Wavelength Music and had the seeds of an idea sowed in my brain. As part of the charity show Knopfler had signed a Strat - which Wavelength had donated - and it was being raffled off at the show. They mentioned that, if i was willing to wait, then it'd be a good idea to hang around the back stage door as you might get an autograph. This had never occurred to me before. In my teenage head, such guitar playing Gods didn't exist in the "real world": they just magically popped into existence on stage. The idea that i could actually MEET him.....Wow.

So I bought a program and took up my post at the back stage door. There was only a few people milling about and we waited for an hour or two. Nothing seemed to be happening though and it was getting quite close to show time when Guy Fletcher walked round the venue and approached the stage door. And so I asked him if he'd kindly sign the program - which he did. I asked him if there was any chance that Mark might come out and he said "No, not likely I'm afraid." Just as my heart began to sink though he offered to take my program backstage and get it signed. Which he did. I've still got it. Here it is.

I knew nothing of The Notting Hillbillies at that stage so most of the music went right over my head but they did play Why Worry and Local Hero Wild Theme so I recognised a few tunes. A great little moment did happen right at the end of the show just as they were auctioning the signed Strat. The band had encouraged the audience to move to the front if we wanted and so Dad and I were standing at the stage lip. The auction was drawn, I didn't win it, but the young lad who did win couldn't hoist himself up onto the stage to collect the guitar. So Knopfler, being a thoroughly nice guy, wandered over to lift him up. He wandered right over to where we were stood. Right there. It was Mark Knopfler. NEXT. TO. ME. What a moment.

So far I've not seen MK live again. As I mentioned above it took me a long time to fully appreciate his solo work so I let the opportunities pass me by. Yes, I kick myself now because between '96-'19 he toured fairly frequently. There is a little more sense of urgency now as he repeatedly mentioned throughout his 2019 tour that he is starting to think about retirement so, and I'm guessing here, I think it's more likely that he may do only a handful of shows, maybe even a residency, in the future rather than than physically tour. Who knows?

I do have one other reason for really wanting to go and see him in concert....

A certain amount of time ago I turned a certain age....Actually I don't know why I started that sentence like that. Age has never really bothered me. I try to live with a 'It's not how old you are, it's how you are old' kind of attitude. So, to start again, in 2020 I turned 40. Boom. And so, to cushion the blow that, if I'm honest, I didn't really feel, I hatched a plan to buy a guitar. It was either going to be a Gibson Les Paul of some sort or a Fender Telecaster. This plan was hatched a few years earlier so I'd had plenty of reasons - not that I ever need a reason - to trawl around the nations guitar shops and try loads of guitars. How horrible for me(!). After a LOT of experimentation, trying a LOT of guitars in a LOT of combinations, I finally settled on a Les Paul and, thanks to a monumentally generous cash injection from my partner, I was actually able to buy my dream Les Paul - an R8: to the guitar uninitiated that's a Custom Shop reproduction of a 1958 original. By wonderful coincidence it's the exact model that Knopfler plays....although his is an original 1958.

Here he is: Rudiger.

As Knopfler is my favourite Les Paul player, and Rudiger is my favourite song of his, any Les Paul that I was to buy could only ever have been called "Rudiger". He's a wonderful guitar and I love him.

I do hope, one day, that I can update this blog with a wonderful story of how I managed to get Knopfler to sign the rear headstock of Rudiger......Fingers crossed.

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