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Dire Straits

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Originally a band, "Dire Straits" soon became interchangeable with the name of its leader: singer, songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler. For a while, the Straits were at the forefront of a then-new kind of rock and roll: intelligent, slick, and subtle. Detractors might categorize the Straits - and Knopfler's later solo work - as the music of choice for patrons of such cultural meeting-grounds as Borders Bookstores and Starbucks coffee houses. Fans of the music would likely just order up another vente latte and enjoy the soothing sounds.

Knopfler came with postgraduate academic credentials and a demonstrable knowledge of music, working as a rock critic for the Yorkshire Evening Post while studying English literature at Leeds University. Following graduation, Glasgow-born Knopfler taught English by day, and played in a pub-rock band at night. As the '70s drew to a close, the band included Knopfler's brother, Dave; bassist John Ilsley; and drummer Pick Withers. Influential disc jockey Charlie Gillett began playing the band's original "Sultans of Swing"; before long, the group was signed to Vertigo Records in the U.K., and Warner Bros. in the States. A re-recording of "Sultans of Swing" and the band's first album, Dire Straits, caught the public's imagination on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the next several years, the band released Communiqué, Making Movies (with Hal Lindes in for the departing Dave) and Love Over Gold, after which Withers left, to be replaced by former Rockpile drummer Terry Williams.

Concurrently, Knopfler began to expand his artistic horizons, scoring the films Local Hero. Cal and Comfort and Joy; producing albums by Aztec Camera, Willy DeVille and Bob Dylan; and writing Tina Turner's international hit, "Private Dancer."

Summer, 1985, saw the release of Brothers in Arms, an album that would eventually sell well over than nine million copies in the U.S. alone. In addition to the quality of the material on the album, it was deemed to be the first recorded with the new compact disc medium in mind - immaculately recorded, and with a playing time of nearly an hour. A wry single, "Money for Nothing," tipped its hat to MTV, with guest star Sting singing the music video cable channel's slogan "I want my MTV." Its clever, animated video received wall-to-wall play. Co-produced by Knopfler and engineer Neil Dorfman, the album featured keyboardists Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher, and percussionist Omar Hakim, in addition to the regular line-up.

That was certainly the band's high point; in fact, they went on an indefinite hiatus following the tour promoting the album. Knopfler produced albums for Joan Armatrading and Randy Newman; and scored films including Last Exit to Brooklyn and The Princess Bride before re-forming the band (with Ilsley, Fletcher, Clark and various studio players) for the album On Every Street; subsequent two-year tour; and live album, On the Night.

Since the mid-'80s, Knopfler had been moonlighting with a pub band known as the Notting Hillbillies, who finally got around to releasing their only album - Missing---Presumed Having a Good Time - in 1990. Personnel in the band varied; on the album, it included Dire Straits' Guy Fletcher; the band's manager, Ed Bicknell, Brendan Croker, Marcus Cliff; and Nashville steel guitarist Paul Franklin. By the time of the album's belated release, pretty much everybody involved had other projects to pursue.

Knopfler finally (for now) discontinued the name "Dire Straits," and has since alternated between albums of original material (Sailing to Philadelphia and The Ragpicker's Dream among them) and soundtracks to films including Wag the Dog.

© 2004