A-Z of Dead Man Singing: K

A-Z of Dead Man Singing: K

76 days ago

K is for Knopfler, Mark. A man who – through no fault of his own – plays a crucial role in Dave’s early downfall in Dead Man Singing. It’s easy to forget just how huge Dire Straits were in the 80s, although I think Dave would have favoured the sparseness of their earlier work rather than what he would have regarded as the overblown production that came later.

I’ve had a mixed relationship with Dire Straits over the years. I loved the double live album Alchemy in the early 80s, but found myself drifting away to other bands after a while. I can definitely hear something of Richard Thompson (among others) in Knopfler’s playing, and for this listener that’s a comparison that can’t go well for any would-be rival. That said, listening again to Knopfler on Alchemy – ‘Sultans of Swing’ is the obvious go-to track – I’m struck afresh by what a great player he was. It’s all the more impressive that Dire Straits were formed in 1977 and took their rootsy, country-rock/pub-rock sound to success at a time when the white-heat of punk was in full force, sweeping away much of what came before. Dire Straits, unlike musical peers such as Elvis Costello, The Jam, The Boomtown Rats, etc, sounded untouched by punk. With the possible exception of Kate Bush, they are the only major act I can think of to emerge in punk’s immediate aftermath who sound like they could have pre-empted it. If punk’s role was to burn away the dross, leaving only refined, purified gold behind, Dire Straits survived that process pretty much intact. I doubt that they’ll ever again be among my favourites again, but I allowed myself to forget and dismiss them for too long; I’m glad to be rediscovering them now.

I never saw Dire Straits, but I did see Mark Knopfler live on a couple of occasions as part of Eric Clapton’s band. He was good (though not as good as Eric, and not as good as Richard Thompson, obviously).

Who are the forgotten artists from your musical past – the ones who you used to listen to a lot but who have now faded into the background for no apparent reason?

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