Dire Straits – arguably one of the most successful rock bands to emerge from Britain during the Eighties and one of the biggest producers of air-guitar (and drum) solos this side of the pond. The often underrated band sold out countless stadiums in their heyday, broke chart records and solidified themselves as our very own rock Angels of the North. But how much do you really know about the Sultans of Swing?
10. Dire Straits weren’t actually in dire straits…
1970s Britain could never be described as affluent, especially for a couple of lads from the North East, so the term Dire Straits makes a lot of sense!
Dire Straits essentially means ‘to be a position of difficulty’ which nowadays we tend to associate with how financially comfortable we are.
However, according to David Knopfler this is pretty much nonsense.
“The notion that the band were literally in dire straits is largely retrospective myth making and not really factually supportable. We all had day jobs until we got a whacking big advance from Polygram.”
All the band members had decent jobs, and Illsley came from a well-to-do family who sent him to private school – so they weren’t exactly ‘hard up’!
9. They weren’t always rock stars (at all!)
Yep, that’s right, rock stars aren’t just born – ya gotta work for it! The four original members were normal guys. Mark Knopfler was a teacher in Essex (and a journalist for The Yorkshire Post before that) and David Knopfler was a social worker in London.
David shared a flat with John Illsley who was studying Sociology at Goldsmiths – fancy!
Fetching outfits lads! Digging the scarf Dave.
Pick Withers was already a professional musician so knew the game inside and out – probably accounting for their relatively swift success a mere 18 months after their establishment.
8. Sultans of Swing was their key to fame
After the band recorded their demo for Sultans of Swing in 1978, they took it to the host of BBC Radio London in the hope for some advice. He loved the song (obvs!) and played it regularly on air.
Smiles all round for the ‘Straits
Due to its rotation over the radio, the record companies soon started rolling in and they were inundated with offers. Dire Straits eventually signed a few months later with Phonogram Records, and later with Warner Bros. Records for their American contract. Not bad!
7. They do NOT like the limelight
Dire Straits are all in agreement over one thing – fame. None of them are too keen on the limelight – particularly the Knopfler brothers. In 2008, Mark Knopfler stated:
“If anyone can tell me one good thing about fame, I’d be very interested to hear it.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone:
“Success I adore. It means I can buy 1959 Gibson Les Pauls and Triumph motorcycles. But I detest fame. It interferes with what you do and has no redeeming features at all.”
3 members of Dire Straits at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The brothers are so averse to the limelight, they even chose to miss their own induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stating that:
“It’s a great honour for us and all the rest of it, and I just can’t get my head around it.”
Fair enough guys, your loss!
6. The Knopfler brothers aren’t the best of friends
Unfortunately, the two brothers, born just a few years apart don’t see eye to anymore. The problems began in the early eighties according to David;
“Mark and I had a different vision of what we were up to. I was building a democracy and Mark was making an autocracy. Everything put a strain on us.”
Happier days in 1979
The brothers no longer speak at all, and as mentioned previously, even avoided attending the Rock Hall of Fame induction together.
“Of course it casts a huge shadow on both our lives and our families. We’ve got cousins who don’t know one another.”
Awkward, but I guess not everyone can be best friends – not even brothers!
5. Princess Di was a big fan
Diana was in her early twenties during the height of the Straits’ career and was a lover of rock music – not that you’d guess! Princess Diana attended their charity concert at Wembley Arena in 1985, alongside Prince Charles.
Royalty meeting, well, royalty
The concert was a huge hit, raising £55,000 and saw the royals let their hair down. According to Hal Lindes (guitarist from 1980-85):
“They told us that they enjoyed it tremendously. In fact we could see them in the balcony, and they seemed quite enthralled by the whole thing.”
According to the Associated Press: ‘Diana danced with abandon in a rare public moment of letting her hair down.’ So Princess Diana was a rock chick – why am I not surprised?!
4. Money for Nothing was a observational song
Mark Knopfler wrote the infamous Money for Nothing after observing two work men in a ‘kitchen appliance store’ that was showing MTV on the wall of televisions. They were simultaneously delivering boxes and making remarks about MTV, which Mark just so happened to catch.
Knopfler jotted down their ‘great lines’, such as “I shoulda learned to play the guitar, I shoulda learned to play them drums” and “That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it, money for nothin’ and chicks for free”.
Sounds random, but he obviously knew what he was doing! The song was a huge hit, becoming their most commercially successful single – not bad going!
3. I want my M-TEEEEE-VEEEE
Now, I don’t know about you guys but I had NO idea about this one. You know the iconic ‘I want my MTV’ line at the beginning of Money for Nothing? You do, obviously. Well, Mark Knopfler offered Sting the chance to add something to the song, so he did.
It has ended up being one of the only Dire Straits songs that wasn’t solely credited to Mark Knopfler – despite Sting’s input being just 4 words that are based on the hit ‘Don’t Stand so Close to Me’. He now gets royalties for the song, though apparently he wasn’t too fussed!
2. Money for Nothing was a trailblazer in the UK
In August 1987, Money for Nothing became the first video to be broadcast on MTV in Europe making it, for want of a better phrase, a big deal. Mark Knopfler was not at all pleased about making the video, and didn’t believe in the ‘concept’. MTV were absolutely insistent though, so it went ahead.
The computer graphics were seriously innovative and were the first of their kind to be in used in videos – and many musicians followed suit.
While they look a tad naff now, back in the day they were ground-breaking. Everything had to start somewhere, right? Plus, it worked like a charm, because it scooped the Video of the Year prize at the MTV awards, plus buckets of nominations too!
1. Brothers in Arms is a record-breaker
Brothers in Arms was recorded as the first CD to sell a million copies – something Mark Knopfler regards as an ‘accident of timing’. But we don’t think so – it went to number one worldwide and became the first album to be certified 10-times platinum in the UK, pretty good going right? To this day, it is still the eighth best selling album in the UK. Its success on release has often been cited as the reason for the rise in CD popularity.
Until recently, it held the honour of having the longest run ever on the album chart in the Netherlands – an incredible 269 weeks. Adele’s 21 beat them to it in 2016. The Brothers in Arms tour also smashed records – until just last year they had the biggest concert tour in Australasian history – selling over 900,000 tickets in Australia and New Zealand alone.
I think it’s safe to say that Dire Straits were one of a kind in the 1980s, influencing countless bands, and giving the working-class heroes a voice. What can we say, we love the ‘Straits.