The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Musical Groups
Dire StraitsDire Straits

In 1977, Mark Knopfler was an English teacher, his brother David was a social worker, and John Illsley was a timber broker pursuing a sociology degree at the University of London. Together, the three men moonlighted as a pub rock band called Brewer's Droop, with Mark on guitar and lead vocals, David on guitar, and John on bass. In the summer of that year, they joined with studio drummer Pick Withers and recorded a five-track demo tape as Dire Straits. One of the songs on that tape, "Sultans of Swing," was played by London DJ Charlie Gillet on his BBC show Honky Tonkin', and the foursome suddenly went from playing music on the side to being a full-time band.

The group's first album, Dire Straits, was recorded at Basing Street studios in West London in February 1978. Produced by Muff Winwood, the album had little promotion when initially released in the United Kingdom on Vertigo Records and was not well received. That same year, after the re-released "Sultans of Swing" finally started to climb the UK charts, Dire Straits began a tour as the opening band for the Talking Heads. This led to a United States recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, and by the end of 1978 Dire Straits had been released worldwide. Thanks to the Top Ten hit "Sultans of Swing," Dire Straits was a major success in both Britain and America, with the single and album climbing into the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and the album selling about 11 million copies worldwide.

Recording sessions for the group's second album took place in December 1978 at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. Released in June 1979, Communiqué went to #1 on the German album charts and to #5 in the United Kingdom, but produced no significant singles.

While Dire Straits was recording its third album in October 1980, tension between Mark and David Knopfler led David to leave the band in favor of a solo career. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar and keyboardist Roy Bittan (from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band). After the recording sessions were completed, keyboardist Alan Clark and guitarist Hal Lindes joined Dire Straits as full-time members. Despite the lineup changes during its recording, Making Movies went gold, thanks to the hit singles "Romeo and Juliet" and "Skateaway," and stayed in the UK Albums Chart for 5 years, peaking at #4.

Dire Straits' fourth studio album, Love Over Gold, was well received when it was released in September 1982, going gold in America and spending four weeks at #1 in the United Kingdom. Its main chart hit, "Private Investigations," gave Dire Straits their first top 5 hit single in the United Kingdom, where it reached #2 despite its almost seven-minute length. Drummer Pick Withers left the band shortly after its release, and was replaced by former Rockpile drummer Terry Williams.

In 1982, Mark began exploring musical avenues outside of Dire Straits, scoring the Bill Forsyth film Local Hero and playing on Van Morrison's Beautiful Vision. Apart from releasing the Twisting by the Pool EP early in 1983, the band was quiet for the majority of 1983 and 1984, as Knopfler produced Bob Dylan's Infidels, as well as Aztec Camera and Willy DeVille; he also wrote "Private Dancer for Tina Turner's comeback album. In the spring of 1984, the band released the double album Alchemy: Dire Straits Live. Also in 1984, John Illsley released his first solo album, Never Told a Soul, to which Mark Knopfler, Alan Clark and Terry Williams contributed.

Brothers In ArmsBy the time Dire Straits began recording tracks at Air Studios Montserrat for their upcoming fifth studio album, at the end of 1984, they had added a second keyboardist, Guy Fletcher, who had previously worked as a session musician with Roxy Music. Guitarist Hal Lindes left the band during the recording sessions and was replaced by Jack Sonni; Andy Kanavan also joined briefly on drums. Released in May 1985, Brothers In Arms entered the UK Albums Chart at #1 and spent a total of 228 weeks in the charts. The album was similarly successful in the US, peaking at #1 on Billboard 200 for nine weeks and going multi-platinum. The biggest singles to come from the album were "Money for Nothing" (#1 US, #4 UK), "Walk of Life" (#7 US, #2 UK), "So Far Away" (#19 US, #20 UK), "Brothers in Arms" (#16 UK), and "Your Latest Trick" (#26 UK).

The 1985-1986 tour which followed release of Brothers in Arms was immensely successful. Once the tour was completed, Dire Straits went on hiatus while Knopfler produced records for Randy Newman and Joan Armatrading and scored films. The band regrouped (minus Jack Sonni) for the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert staged on June 11, 1988 at Wembley Stadium, in which they were the headline act. Williams left the band soon after that performance, and Knopfler announced the official dissolution of Dire Straits in September. A greatest hits album, Money for Nothing, was released in October and reached #1 in the United Kingdom. Also in 1988, John Illsley released his second solo album, Glass which featured Mark Knopfler, Alan Clark, Guy Fletcher and Chris White.

In 1989, Knopfler formed The Notting Hillbillies, a country-focused band whose lineup featured Guy Fletcher, Brendan Croker, Steve Phillips, and Ed Bicknell. The Notting Hillbillies' one album, Missing...Presumed Having a Good Time, became a British hit upon its spring 1990 release.

In 1990, Knopfler reconvened Dire Straits, which now featured John Illsley, Alan Clark, Guy Fletcher, and various session musicians. The band released On Every Street in the fall of 1991 to great anticipation, but failed to generate a hit single. The tour was also a disappointment, with many tickets going unsold in both the U.S. and Europe. The live album On the Night was released in the spring of 1993, but Dire Straits disbanded for good in 1995

Rolling Stone

Talking Heads

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Musical Groups

This page was last updated on 06/22/2017.