Monday, 27 April 2015

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds "Chasing Yesterday" (2015)



Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds "Chasing Yesterday" (2015)

Riverman/In The Heat Of The Moment/The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes/Lock All The Doors/The Dying Of The Light/The Right Stuff/While The Song Remains The Same/The Mexican/You Know We Can't Go Back/Ballad Of The Mighty I

"Somewhere in the crowd she heard me jingle-jangling, like a memory that fades"

I've been wondering for the past four years now what the second flight of the former Oasis guitarist's sequel might sound like - and I wasn't expecting this. To recap slightly the world went 'mad fer it' (i.e the first album) in 2011, with every superlative under the sun even though the album was largely full of...nothing, six new songs that were easily the worst Noel had written in his career surrounded by four truly gorgeous Oasis outtakes that fans have long treasured on bootleg and which were either left unchanged ('Stop The Clocks') or ruined beyond repair ('Everybody Is On The Run' 'If I Had A Gun'  - OK 'Record Machine' wasn't too bad). It's still the worst Oasis-related record in my collection (and yes I do own 'Be Here Now'!) and yet the world seemed to love it, which only goes to show that you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time (insert topical David Cameron joke here). For four years now I've been fearing that Noel - not one to take compliments lightly - would end up stuck in the same box for the rest of his career. Namely sounding 'stupidly modern' rather than 'modern with a Noel Gallagher twist', for despite Noel's claims in interviews to hate modern music with a passion even greater than mine who truly would have been able to tell that first album apart from the likes of an Ed Sheeran or a Miley Cirus had those vocals and guitar solos been removed, those four older Oasis outtakes apart? With that Oasis wall of noise turned from the axe of old that used to cut through all things bland and artificial and songwriting going from pioneering to something tacky best described as 'safe', that record seemed a long long way from 'Don't Believe The Truth' never mind 'Definitely Maybe'.

Thankfully second album 'Chasing Yesterday' is...something, though I'm not honestly sure what. The record sounds at first to be very similar to its predecessor: the same bland thud going through all the songs, clattering drumming that's not a patch on even Tony McCaroll's from the first Oasis line-up and that same let's-insert-a-chorus-right-here! mentality that's been dogging Noel ever since Oasis Mark Two were born circa the year 2000. There are again six songs that I can't stand, leaving a similarly disappointing 40% listenable rate, but to be fair all of these half a dozen songs at least try to do something that's a little bit different and new and fail rather than try something totally bland and safe and fail as per last time. This time though the other four songs really are worthy of the Noel Gallagher name and are the first 'new' Noel songs to build up a bit of genuine excitement for a decade now. Even the expected ho-hum 'contemporary' recording, which is going to sound way more passé than the 1990s Oasis recordings within about five years I reckon, can't hide the excitement that's in the room - yes Noel still sounds entirely 'wrong' in most of these settings, but this time he sounds as if he wants to be there, rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the generation that's crept up behind him the past two decades.

The biggest surprise of all is that most of these new songs aren't born from Oasis' past or present but from an entirely new and unexpected direction: jazz! Yes, ever since the sarcastic tag added on to the end of classy 'Whatever'  B-side 'It's Good To Be Free' ('Jazz...nice!') we've assumed that the genre was one that Oasis would never touch. After all, in many ways it's the antithesis of the adrenalin-fuelled aggression of their early rock sound or the pristine clarity of their ballads, with 'Be Here Now' proving how badly things can unravel when the band get carried away and have too much of a good thing. However that's the only word that can describe album highlights 'Riverman' and 'The Right Stuff' (ever so nearly the same song , but as it's a good one we'll let that pass). That covers two highlights and the album's biggest surprises, but even the other two new classics don't go anywhere near old territory or for that matter most new territory: 'In The Heat Of Moment' is the closest Noel has come to writing a Eurovision entry (like the other week's review, not meant as the insult many readers may take it to be), insanely catchy and sung somewhere between mischievous and parody (it's a lot better than our own woeful entry this year, with which we deserve to come last again - unlike last year's which bucked a declining decade trend to be almost enjoyable). And finally 'The Dying Of The Light' does return to pastures old, but only as old as the last CD, with a second song about the fear of death and growing old written from a much 'older' perspective than the (still better) 'Stop The Clocks'.

All four songs would have been highlights on any of the second half run of Oasis albums - which only pains me all the more because we have to put up with six songs that aren't even good enough to be filler. 'The Girl With X-Ray Eyes' is a dead crib off fellow AAA band's far more convincing rocker 'The Girl With The Hungry Eyes' from their 1979 'reboot' album 'Freedom At Point Zero' - and if it seems unlikely that Noel should have been listening to a by-then washed up prog rock outfit five years past their best trying to become punk rockers then remember that Noel got his band name from a recording by their first incarnation Jefferson Airplane. 'Lock All The Doors' is a middle-aged man's memory of what it used to be to rock, played by a woefully unconvincing band (just compare this back to back with Oasis B-side 'Headshrinker' or for more casual fans classic 'Rock and Roll Star' - this energy is false and repetitive and even Noel's stronger-than-average vocal can't save it). 'While The Song Remains The Same' is a third jazz song that's simply one too many, with the least memorable melody of the trio and very overwritten lyrics. 'The Mexican' is a so-called comedy song about 'taking crack' and smuggling drugs with a ploddy riff and a weird 'woah woah woah' chorus that sounds like the Paul McCartney Frog Song Chorus smoking illegal substances. Noel admitted was a last-minute addition to the album to 'lighten' the mood - despite the four excellent songs this is a record that painfully needs to be deeper, not lighter. 'You Know We Can't Go Back' is the kind of noisy thrash pop song that tends to be Noel's 'default' setting whenever he needs a song in a hurry, but this one isn't even up to 'Mucky Fingers' or 'Turn Up The Sun' (though it is, mercifully, an improvement on 'Get Off Your High Horse Baby'). Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the album closer 'The Ballad Of The Mighty I', which starts off as the sort of thing Abba would do in the modern world with all the modern trickery, an instant classic pop melody with a terrific and typical Noel Gallagher build - but then it stops, goes backwards to where it began and then limps its way into one of the most unmemorable Noel Gallagher choruses ever (I'll find you, yes I'll find you, If I gotta be the man who walks...I'll find you, yes I'll find you, if I gotta be the man who walks the Earth alone!') As Noel's expletive-filled DVD Commentary self would put it, 'absolute nonsense!' Sadly a dull sounding record, which sounds as if it's been polished with Mr Sheen for a good year, with a band who never quite get it together (the keyboards aren't bad to be fair, adding a mystical twinkly affair throughout, but the rhythm section is hopeless) can't even make the most of the worst tracks - or make the really good ones sound as perfect as they deserve to be.

So what do you make of an album that somehow simultaneously avoids most of the taps you had been dreading it would fall into - and yet still gets so many of the songwriting basics wrong? I mean just take the name 'Chasing Yesterday' (a title Noel came up with in a hurry and has since said he 'detests' - it's not too bad, certainly more interesting than 'High Flying Birds Volume II', but really doesn't suit what is a very forward thinking record. The album cover too is bland and unworthy even of a mixed album: I think it's meant to look like the Jam's 'All Mod Cons' sleeve (all those stripes and bold typeface, though without the same punch - then again every typeface and font going has been recycled by somebody by now). At least 'High Flying Birds' tried to be 'different' with its green neon-lighted garage look; curious too that after a career spent moaning about having his picture taken (which results in merely the band in small on 'Be Here Now' and the odd single sleeve) Noel has now appeared on 100% of all the releases under his own name; yes that's what solo singer-songwriters are meant to do nowadays but since when did Noel do what everyone else did? (Beady Eye have kept the Oasis tradition of appearing at best in shadowy pics in a CD's inner sleeve, though even 1995 period Oasis would never have been as bold as to use the bare-chested female model on 'Be').

Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this album though is how much further on this record is from Oasis' sound without eradicating everything from it. Interestingly while the 'other' half of Oasis in Beady Eye all but drop the 'wall of sound' from their albums from day one (a couple of rockers on the first record aside), Noel - the chief architect of that sound - has been keen to maintain it. Though there was more of it on the first record, the fact that it's still here at all, a last bastion of 1990s excess amongst a modern contemporary sound that's more cut-down and sparse, is welcome. There's plenty of guitar solos too, the one thing that Beady Eye haven't quite been able to match on their twin records (despite the fact that Gem was drafted into Oasis in 2002 to all intents and purposes as the lead player, with Noel moving to rhythm). Less remarkable but still a neat touch are the many 'humanisms' Noel's been using on and off since 'Morning Glory' - a cough here, a count-in there. It all helps to soften the blow of the roboticness of the surroundings and is perhaps more useful in this context than ever before, as well as a charming nod to older fans that newer fans won't notice ort care about. You have to say too that Noel has kept much more of a 'pop' sensibility, with the catchy singalong melodies of 'Live Forever' and 'Wonderwall' cropping up occasionally (which is not an insult either: one of the main reasons Oasis and Beatles comparisons are forever turning up are that both right on the bubble between pop and rock, as light or as heavy as you want them to be and thus appealing to a wider audience than bands which are merely one or the other. It's a hard thing to pull off too: hardly any bands have managed it since the 1960s and those that have tend to be one thing then the other, not both simultaneously). The signs are encouraging - if only Noel can be persuaded to stop thinking he's competing with the modern artists whose sound is alien to him now (as it is to anyone else, like Noel, rapidly approaching their fifties) the third High Flying Bird record might yet soar like an eagle instead of float like a butterfly (this record) or sink like a turkey (the first one).

Noel does seem to have taken one criticism a bit too much to heart, though. The mutterings from many people, Oasis fans or not, on the band's 2008 split was 'perhaps they can drop their 1960s influences altogether at last and become a proper band!' Terrible logic as I'm sure most people reading this largely 1960s-centred site would agree with: the reason Oasis kept coming back to that sound wasn't just because they liked it but because it suited them. The Oasis years 1994-1997 where everything they touched turned to gold are brushed through with the same breezy optimism of the years 1964-1967 and the two fit like a glove, despite the fact that 1990s audiences still tended to prefer music that was harder-edged, aggressive and more cynical (as was inevitable for a decade coming after the artificial 1980s). Equally the Oasis albums from 1998-2005 play nicely on the melancholia of the 1968-1970 years, where dreams are just about kept alive but music alone isn't enough to change the world, even for rock and roll superstars. Beady Eye, typically, went 'no!' to the criticisms and if anything became even more 1960s than the end of the Oasis period, their first record 'Different Gear, Still Speeding'  reflecting 'The White Album's eclecticism and the second 'Be' reflecting the slightly-more-polished-but-still-with-surprises sound of 'Abbey Road' (although we compared both records to Paul McCartney's first three records 'McCartney' 'Ram' and 'Wildlife', full of the bitterness of the disputes of old mingled with the joy of ever-widening horizons). By contrast 'High Flying Birds' and even more 'Chasing Yesterday' sounds like Lennon's anaemic comeback album 'Double Fantasy' : it cares too much what people think of it, what other 'modern' trends are doing, slides uncomfortably between youthful and middle aged points of views in the lyrics and while occasionally encouraging and sometimes beautiful is a poor substitute for the daredevil ways of old or even the 'Lost Weekend' phase (it's worth pointing out that the gap between albums from Noel is only one short of Lennon's entire 'househusband phase', but then record contracts to tend to work that way more nowadays than in 1980). For the record, while there's less 'wrong' with 'Double Fantasy' than, say, the newspaper politics of 'Sometime In New York City' that record still gets a lower mark from me courtesy of not trying (or, in something of a website catchphrase, 'its offensive in its very inoffensiveness').

The irony is that had Noel recorded his songs with a little more of the sixties swing and had the under-rated Beady Eye been slightly more prepared to go modern on their promising but slightly undercooked seconds album 'Be' then both halves of Oasis would have been in a stronger situation. Imagine an Oasis record with the better half of 'High Flying Birds' ('If I had A Gun' 'Everybody Is On The Run' 'Record Machine' 'Stop The Clocks') with the best of 'Different Gear' ('Millionaire' 'Three Ring Circus' 'Kill For A Dream' the glorious 'Wigwam'): not bad eh? Even with the 'missing' songs filled in at random that's one heck of an album to be reckoned with. While not quite as good the best halves of 'Be' ('Flick Of The Finger' 'Second Biter Of The Apple' The Noel-referencing 'Don't Brother Me') with the four highlights from 'Chasing Yesterday' ('Riverman' 'In The Heat Of The Moment' 'The Dying Of The Light'  'The Right Stuff'): again pretty good eh? The trouble is both halves of Oasis have got so used to having merely half a record to play with each that they seem to have struggled coming up with a full classic LP between them (though 'Different Gear' came closest): consider 'Yesterday' as a 'core' four song album with some B-sides and it starts to make more sense.

I've been trying hard to study this album for a 'theme' - something that's always harder to do with new releases than records I've played endlessly for twenty odd years (though saying that I bet I've heard 'Chasing Yesterday' more than most people have heard any Oasis CD already). The closest I can find is one of waiting to be rescued from something, or more usually someone, often while the weather is doing weird things with, interestingly, a few lyrics that seem to hint that Noel himself feels he's fallen short of his lofty goals recently (despite all the usual bluster in the press). Usually AAA members mean 'God' or 'inspiration' when they talk about the weather (Ray Davies and George Harrison in particular do it all the time) but I'm not sure either applies here - usually Noel is pointing towards a 'mood' in his songs like 'Cast No Shadow' or 'Turn Up The Sun' although he's never used the metaphor as often as he does here - perhaps it just rains a lot near Noel's house these days! 'Riverman' starts 'I travelled all this way to make amends' and finds him 'waiting in the rain' for something to happen: he spots a girl who 'electrifies the storm', building up the rain around him, but soon she's gone thinking of him as just a 'memory' (Oasis fans may remember a similar story in the fan-speaking 'Talk Tonite'). 'In The Heat Of The Moment' has the narrator surrounded by 'lightning and thunder' protected only by 'you at my side'. 'The Girl With X-Ray Eyes' features the same idea as 'Turn Up The Sun' and 'If I Had A Gun', a love story with a sadder ending this time ('She shot me to the sun, like a bullet from a gun'). 'Lock All The Doors' has Noel's narrator 'lost and lonely on the shore' before being saved by a 'girl with a star-shaped tambourine'; though I'm tempted to see this as Liam its more likely Noel's returning to 'Talk Tonite's idea of fans, perhaps merging his old flame with second wife Sara McDonald (the pair married in 2011, shortly before 'High Flying Birds' came out). 'The Dying Of The Light' has Noel 'running for the mountain' he's been trying to climb his whole life, only to find it further and further out of his grasp (come on Noel, the album's not that bad!) 'The Right Stuff' takes the opposite tack: an angel visits promising wealth but Noel stays behind, with his frayed jeans and his frayed life, because he and his missus are made of the 'right stuff'. 'While The Song Remains The Same' is largely a happier song too and yet still features the narrator 'lost... miles from home' searching for the 'sun' to shine through the 'rain'. 'The Mexican' is a mock-'preachy' sort of a song, trying to tell the world what it 'needs' and thinks of the world in general as 'raining on the inside, lost in a fog'. 'You Know We Can't Go Back' is the one reference to the past (well, other than a brief 'chasing yesterdays' in 'The Song...') and cites not the weather this time but that other old Gallagher favourites the stars for guidance and comfort, a grumpier companion to 'Stop Crying Your Heart Out'. Finally 'Ballad Of The Mighty I' tries to wrap the themes of the record together, with the narrator this time reaching the end of his long tiring journey 'to the end of the world' , realising that the most important venue of all is 'right outside your window'. A vow of devotion, this song promises to be there 'come heat or rain' and leaves Noel 'waiting' for the next chapter - whatever that might be. Hopefully there'll be a rainbow of some sort after all that changeable weather!

Overall, then, is this record any good? Well, not yet, or at least only in bits, and had that first solo album been skipped altogether I'd still have considered this often wet album a comedown from what Noel was doing in Oasis. The good news is though that its only a bit wet, not sodden like that first record, and I'm far more hopeful about Noel being able to get back to where he once belonged sometimes in the future'; I just hope that others feel that too and we can come back from this curious blind alley we've flown down recently that left Noel sounding dangerous close to becoming like everyone else. There was a laughable interview recently, with the usual good humour of the Gallagher brothers, where Noel genuinely tried to pass his first record off as being as 'important' as 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Morning Glory' before showing perhaps something of his real self when he admitted that he didn't know where this album 'stood up' to the others because it was so 'different'. In truth I'm not sure either: early indications (and I'm writing this review the week the CD came out even though I'm a few posts ahead of myself as usual, so not many are in yet) are that people like and admire it without quite the same lavish devotion spent on the first album. That sounds about right to me - certainly more right than the 'born again' sales and reviews that greeted the last atrocity; hopefully from here onwards the way forward for the High Flying Birds is up and onwards!

'Riverman' has a slinky groove and already the ghostly air of the album's other jazzy style songs. While still repetitive, there's something to get excited about in the lyric at last as the narrator walks around the world after an argument and pauses to hear what his lover (or possibly soon to be ex-lover) has to say next, 'cause heavy in the air are the words she left hanging'. In contrast with the angst and agony he's been feeling since their last argument she acts as if she can barely remember who he is - a 'memory faded' that 'slipped away again'. She doesn't even invite him inside to what presumably is the family house, leaving him outside to wait in the rain, longing for a rainbow that never comes to put an end to all this watery onslaught.  Together with the spooky manner of the opening (which sounds like the guitar riff from 'Wonderwall' being played in a minor key - something famously the elder Gallagher refused to use in his early work as it was too 'unhappy'), this track reads like a sequel to the sighing frustration of 'Where Did It All Go Wrong?' As the music unravels, though, it quickly turns into another of those Gallagher epics that little bit by little bit reaches out for hope and finds it in the form of a joyous blistering guitar solo that's one of Noel's best of recent years. As composition this is already light years ahead of the 'new' songs from 'High Flying Birds' and bordering close to the excellence of 'Stop All The Clocks', the re-made Oasis 1990s outtake on that album. However, that guitar solo and a brief mournful sax part aside, the performance really lets the song down. The musicians never sound as if they're playing in the same room and are all just chugging about in their own separate ways. Even Noel's vocal is too delicate, too soft for the world opening up for him here. So far I've not really missed Liam's presence on Noel's songs but this sounds like one he'd have really got his teeth into and snarled ('elec-tre-ofaaaaaahs the storm!') Still, all in all this is promising.

'Drop me into the gap!' Noel orders his engineer at the start of 'In The Heat Of The Moment', an apt line as it will turn out as this is another song about looking to the future and papering over the cracks in the present. The single catchiest solo song Noel has written so far, bordering on manic ('Nah nah nah nah!' chatters the chorus of mocking multiple Noels, so different to the other times Oasis have used the famous coda of Hey Jude as per 'I'm Outta Time' and 'Love Like A Bomb', this time not so much with the weight of the world on its shoulders so much as guilt) this track does the typical Noel trick of old of building up layer by layer from a serious track to a singalong. For all the catchy surroundings, though, its the lyrics that make this one with more thought gone into them than most. Noel's reaching out to someone he used to be close to whose going through tough times, telling us that once they 'touched the face of God' together but now 'you have a rope around your neck'. Noel is still in distant contact, 'talking to him on the telephone' but his misguided former partner is still convinced he's a 'Rolling Stone' even though his audience have upped and left. Is this song about Liam and Beady Eye by any chance, dead in the water after their second record while this album was being written? (Till now most of the references have been left to Liam: 'Did you shoot your gun, get your number one?' from the wittily titled 'Don't Brother Me' plus what we think is going on in 'Three Ring Circus' where 'Noel's tent only has a star of one). What's interesting is that this reference comes halfway between the digs and the genuine friendly gestures of some Beady Eye tracks (mostly peacemaker Andy Bell's), not quite crowing but not exactly sympathetic either: it is what it is, with Noel always sure things would turn out that way, but Noel cares too much to let his brother fall too far from grace and worries about him, even though according to most reports they never meet and rarely speak to each other. Huh, families, eh?!  There's even a hint at a reunion ('The more you need it, the more you see it, the more you'll be by my side' although both halves are still adamant it won't happen (it is a bit too soon I think - the world still hasn't quite realised how much it misses Oasis yet, but give it another few years of Justin Bieber and co and it might). A fascinating song then, with much more happening than I assumed at first with that pure Eurovision power pop chorus, but Noel handles the situation well, teasing us with that catchy chorus several times before finally plunging us headfirst into it. Only another slightly uninviting performance that yet again Liam would have done better lets the song down. Presumably this is the reason why, at the time of writing, this sensible choice as the album's first single is languishing at a mere #26 in the UK charts when it really deserves to thrash all the singles released from 'High Flying Birds'.

'The Girl With X-Ray Eyes' isn't too bad either, it just sounds naggingly familiar somehow, with some cascading 'Strawberry Fields' style mellotron, a walking pace tempo and an idea and melody lifted wholesale mostly from Jefferson Starship until the end of each line where the 'i-e-ise' hiccup is pure Buddy Holly. By now, too, the songs have followed a pattern that desperately needs to be broken but Noel is back using his favourite template again, the song rising and falling piecemeal until we finally get to a delayed chorus. As a result this song is more successful when I hear it singly, nestled amongst other AAA gems on my mp3 player's 'randometer', than it does as track three on this album. While the melody gets boring quickly anyway, as per the first album, there's another good lyrics going on here with Noel once more unusually passive during the course of the song. This time it's 'him' in freefall, quoting an old Oasis B-side as he's 'going nowhere...down a hill' and the fact worries him, leaving him 'shaking like a leaf'. However there's a girl with 'X-Ray Eyes' who sees through his 'disguise' and follows all the 'clues' he's left, seeing beneath the false bravado and sending words of comfort in his hour of needs, bucking up his confidence to take on the mad world alone while the vulturous mellotron and a scary 'Magical Mystery Tour' style guitar part squeaks alongside him. She sounds very much like the fan in 'Talk Tonight' who gave Noel the faith to carry on with Oasis during one of their earliest and nastiest breakups, seeing every layer and promise in the songs that Noel confesses he thought no one else would get. This could even be a memory of those same events, the pair talking long into the night and 'swallowing all space and time' because she has to be somewhere else the next day ('In the morning she was gone'). However her work was done - the narrator feels much happier about things and finds new inner strength, Noel's best vocal on the album building in confidence with each passing verse until fading out on a far more comforting final mellotron note that sounds like the taming of a wild beast. This lyric isn't anywhere near to being as inspired or as heartfelt as 'Talk Tonight', one of my favourite Oasis pieces (which is what suggests to me it might be a memory rather than a second encounter) but still has its moments including the best couplet on the album: 'Life, it stretches on for miles - the truth is on your stereo' (hmm that might have to become a new website banner!)

'Lock All The Doors', though, is a pointless remake of those huffing and puffing Oasis rockers of old, performed by a band who don't really have the drive or hunger that made these early pieces so enjoyable (huh and Noel was being rude about Beady Eye trying to sound like 'Beatles and Stones'!) At least the lyrics start well, with another mysterious girl with a 'star shaped tambourine' 'prettiest girl I'd seen' standing lonely on the shoreline staring at him, wondering what went wrong (Liam? The 'Talk Tonight' girl? Someone we haven't met yet? A figment of his imagination? I'm still tempted by the former, as unlikely as that sounds, thanks to this tracks' opening haunting mellotron riff playing exactly the same note as Liam's 'Born On A Different Cloud', a song we supposed on this site to be 'about' Noel, as if a compliment is being repaid thirteen years on). However the chorus is awful, an irritating wannabe pop song shout of 'Lock all the doors! Maybe they'll never find us!...Get down on the floor!' that makes no sense in the context of the song. We never hear who the narrator is hiding from, who he's hiding with (the mysterious girl was still left on the shore last time we met her) or what the narrator 'could be sure, like never before, this time' of. Is this Noel hiding from his brother? (it sounds like something an elder brother would do to a younger sibling, denying his existence and blocking him out while 'still feeling you under my skin'). Is it an ex looming from the surfaces of his memory while he leaps into his barricaded family home for comfort? ('We might never live to meet again!' he cries, as if fearing the danger outside). Alas what might have been an interesting song is a verse away from making sense and the performance isn't interesting enough to make you want to care anyway. Even so, as much as I unlikely this song, at least it doesn't suffer from the woeful pretentiousness of the 'High Flying Birds' album - as opposed to delightful pretentiousness as per some of our wordy AAA favourites including some Oasis classics (D'yer Know What I Mean?' may have one of the most pretentious lyrics of them all, but it still makes perfect sense because we do in fact 'know what yer meant'. Pretentious, moi?)

'The Dying Of The Light' is an interesting sequel to 'Stop The Clocks' that again worries about death and what changes the narrator may see ('But if I'm already dead how will I know?'), nowhere near as powerful and far more glossy but a welcome return to a subject big enough to be explored by both these songs and the equally excellent 'Masterplan'. Noel worries about all the paths he missed, that he should have crossed but didn't and in another classic album couplet argues that 'I tried my best to get there but I couldn't afford the bus fare' - that things got big and out of hand so quickly it robbed him of the momentum he needed to get to his wanted destination under his own steam. It's the kind of thing he worried about on 'Shoulders Of Giants' with the sighing despair of 'Sunday Morning Call' and 'Where Did IT All Go Wrong?' with a similar nagging mellotron part to both that chimes away like a bell, going 'ding ding ding' to remind the narrator that time is running out. However this isn't an unhappy song: the narrator's desire to get 'there' at all expense ('There was no time for getting old when I was young') still rages within him, but it's been tempered by other goals, by delightful sideways sojourns that he never expected when he was young. Now that he knows what love truly is, and has a family, the narrator can finally face 'the dying of the light' with a modicum of peace, realising that will it might not be 'the' dream at least 'a' dream special to him came true. Alas another truly exceptional lyric is let down by a melody that's simply unworthy of it, doddering around from A to B which may be thematically apt but doesn't have that wider sense of 'journey' and realisation that a song like this needs. The performance too is awful: this isn't a band that understands this song at all and are simply playing all the notes, without the feelings of emptiness, longing and eventual hope that ought to be there. Oasis in either classic line-up would have picked up all this up by osmosis, without any words needing to be spoken. With tracks like this, it doesn't matter how clever the driver is or how excellent the 'map' he's drawn is if the car he's trying to get the mountain in is an old jalopy with a clapped out motor.

Thankfully everything comes together on 'The Right Stuff', the last of the album's classic tracks and perhaps the highest moment. The High Flying Birds sound strangely 'right' playing jazz in a way that they never do playing rock or pop: brothers Paul and Jeremy Stacey lock into a groove on bass and drums that's haunting and hypnotic, especially wrapped around a mellotron (probably played by Noel - there's no guitar here which must be a first!) Jim Hunt's delightful sax playing and best of all Joy Rose's backing vocals, which wrap their way round Noel's sleepy lead as if dragging him on. There aren't many lyrics on this track, but it doesn't need them, the short haiku like phrases saying all they need to say very quickly. An 'angel' turns up with an offer (we don't find out what for - possibly it's for an Oasis reunion) but Noel's narrator quickly sees them for the 'devil' they are and rather than hand over his 'soul' (a major thing in Oasis songs, from 'Cast No Shadow' on down where it tends to refer to 'personality') he sends the angel packing 'because you and I got the right stuff'. A rare song of confidence on an album that runs low on it, the realisation that Noel still has the power to decide his own future has a delightful effect upon him, causing his sub-conscious to pierce through the song's hazy dreamscape with one of his best middle eights in years. 'When your heart gets shattered and your jeans get frayed and you change the morning at the end of the day!...' he yells, venting all the problems of the past few years without the band as a comfort blanket (trapped by homelife and keeping 'regular' hours, aging - Noel's talked a lot recently about approaching 50 and fearing losing his hair ion particular - and losing not just a band and way of life but a 'real' brother and two 'honorary' brothers) and yet finding that, despite all that, he'd never trade his current life for a second: he's happily married, loves his home life over life on the road and knows he's on to a good thing. The song sounds like it too, with all the 'danger' that Noel used to feature in his writing regularly in the early Oasis years but which hasn't been heard for ever such a long time to the fore again (2002 or 2005 depending on whether you consider 'The Importance Of Being Idle' as a breakthrough song or a rip-off from a different eras of The Kinks for a change). Another stunning guitar solo, haunting and yet brimming with confidence, shows just how much this song 'means' to Noel and having a band 'in tune' with his ideas for once brings out easily the best performance of his solo career so far, pushing him on to new heights. With this track Noel had indeed found the ';right stuff' - let's hope there's a lot more songs like this one on the next run of albums! (It might be worth mentioning the abandoned 'Amorphous Androgynous' remix album here - planned to fill the gap between albums but abandoned late in the day because it 'wasn't working', this project would have seen 'High Flying Birds' re-styled in a form approaching this, elongated and moody; interestingly that very team of remixers get a credit on this album but not for any specific track - though I'm almost certain it's this one they worked on).

'While The Song Remains The Same' is a return to the old days and a song that could easily have graced any Oasis album of their career. Unfortunately its one of those plodding repetitive Noel tracks that almost always turned out to be the worst ones - the tracks written simply to 'sound' like Oasis and give the fanbase something to boogie to between experiments rather than with any great design. The usual clumsy Noel lyrics are out in force on this one - though to be fair it's for the first time across the album - as he sings a bunch of jumbled up phrases about 'fireflies on an empty road' 'a place where the sun shines through the rain' 'taking you back where I was born' and 'finding pleasure in the pain'. All we're missing is a 'meeting with my maker' and something about wanting to live forever and we'd have the whole set in our patent pending AAA game of 'Noel Gallagher Bingo' (available in no good toy stores and a few bad ones). The melody too sounds like lots of old favourites stuck inside a blender: the 'on and on and on' chorus recalls 'Hello', there's a touch of 'Don't Look Back In Anger' about the melody and a drum shuffle straight from 'Love Like A Bomb' (admittedly a 'Liam' song but one based around getting Zak Starkey to play a 'typical' Alan White drum part). Even Noel's guitar solo sounds second-hand in this one. A bit of a lapse.

'The Mexican' has a lot of the old clichés too: crowds singing about 'revolution' while lots of young hippies take drugs. However at this one sounds good, with a nice purr between the guitar and bass and some of the best drumming on the album as well as more backing vocals, this time from Vula Malinga which again are highly impressive (who'd have thought Noel's voice would have gone so well with female vocals an octave higher after so many years hearing him singing in fourths or fifths above his brother's snarl?) The guitar burst is also genuinely thrilling in an Oasis style way. So why don't we consider this song one of the better tracks on the album? Well, the lyrics are a bit mean. This track is basically a put down of hip young wannabes trying to do everything Oasis once did. Nothing wrong in that as such, but rather than warn them about the traps Noel fell into himself (drugs, excess, believing your own press, doubts and insecurities) he spends most of the song seemingly laughing - or at least that's what the 'wah wah wah wah' chorus sounds like to me, an ungenerous unsettling chortling noise. Noel sounds as if he's laughing at his fans a bit too, especially those who stills party like it's 1995 and haven't grown up yet - perhaps missing the point that after turning thirty in 1997 when his drug-taking was at its peak he probably has less right to laugh at teenage posers with bad habits than most. Noel's admitted that this song was a last minute extra he didn't know was going to make the album till the last minute but kept in to 'lighten the mood'. In truth, only the boogieing power pop riff lightens the mood  - the lyrics about people too young and stupid to realise they're dicing with death doesn't lighten the mood at all but is instead uncharitable and unbecoming of a writer whose talent has rarely if ever been used to put people 'down' before now (interviews yes, songs no): Noel might not want to be the 'father figure' but surely a song about the dangers a la the glorious Oasis B-side 'Cigarettes In Hell' is a much better way of putting the message across than a laughing 'wah wah wah wah wah'. The equation between Mexicans and drug taking is also unworthy of him (for the record this song could be set anywhere and there's no real mention even of smuggling drugs across a border as the song implies; what's wrong with naming this track after the chorus 'lost in a fog' which nicely sums up coke-driven confusion and white clouds?)

'You Know We Can't Go Back' isn't as bad, but isn't exactly special either. It's another Oasis style pop-rocker that sounds naggingly familiar and doesn't come close to the dangers of the best of the album songs and features another truly awful performance, with some questionable clattering drums that make Tony McCarroll sound like Keith Moon, but a strong tune and a pleasing Noel lead vocal will make this a winner as a single if the band get as far as releasing a third. Interestingly the lyrics again start off miserable and sad, with Noel unusually insecure, waking up in 'silence' for the first time - the music having deserted him - and calling to himself that actually 'it's alright'. Has Noel been suffering from writer's block? The four year gap and this song's lyrics certainly suggest it, while the fact that in total Noel has released only 24 new songs (and four re-workings of old ones) in seven years is far below his 'old' workrate (to be fair he's also been busy as a husband and father, something guaranteed to slow creativity down as many previous AAA bands have proved). The 'yes I'll find you' chorus is particularly saddening, without the many layers the young and hungry Gallagher would have given the song. After hearing this and the comments made about his own writing Ed Sheeran must be giggling his socks off!

The album tries to go back to what worked so well on the first half with another bluesy beaty hypnotic epic closer but 'The Ballad Of The Mighty I' doesn't quite come together somehow. Once again the performance is sloppy, even with special guest Johnny Marr adding a touch of characteristic Smiths style guitar grunt, while Noel's shrill vocal is tough to interpret. Not that the lyrics are that great when you do, with what could have been an interesting song gets lost in there somewhere, turning into another mush about following stars as he 'strikes up the band for one last time'. The song seems to be a return to the scene of first track 'Riverman' but where that track tried something a bit different, waiting anxiously in the rain for an answer that might never come, this song's affirmative 'yes' is just more lazy songwriting as Noel touches on all the 'optimistic' songs he's ever written without ever sounding as if he believes it, promising to walk the ends of the Earth again in joy. The music does the normal twist of reaching from the depths of despair to greatness via  tremendous build - but then does nothing with it, teasing us over and over before finally hitting one of the most anti-climatic choruses of Noel's career ('Ahhhh'll faaaahnd yoooooo! Yes I'll faaaahnd yooo!') that once again demonstrates that Oasis were at their worst when confusing Slade's simple stupidity for The Beatles' brightness and treating both the same. There's even the return of the dreaded pretentious song titles AKA what the hell was going on during the first LP, which is a shame (is this song in fact an outtake from that LP? It sounds more like 'High Flying Birds' to me, clunky and unfinished, as if several promising pieces of a song have been stapled together at random). What a shame that, after such a promising start, things come undone so quickly and so badly across the second half of this album.


Ah well, at least the first half is still there, with four songs that are deeper and stranger and better than I feared Noel; might ever be again after the hopelessness of the first LP. Any album that adds new styles and does them well to an album that doesn't forget the glories of the past is an album to treasure and had the core quartet from this album come out as an EP rather than padded out as an album I'd be the first Oasis fan out there with my flag flying saying that Noel G's done it again for the first time in decades. Once again I curse the fact that Oasis are no more, simply because this half of an album added to the Beady Eye half on album might have been the best thing the band had ever made - but then again given what was going on in the first album would Noel have even realised what the best half of this album was anymore? (Would we just have had all the songs that sound most like 'AKA What A Life?') Would Beady Eye? (most of the best tracks from their second record were written during the making of the first and would have made it an even stronger LP). Only time will tell is this is a 'real' stepping stone back to greatness the way that 'High Flying Birds' was treated as but fell woefully short of or whether Noel again listens to all the publicity and can get away with recycling Oasis songs again for the next time. I hope though that the jazzier tracks from this album aren't a cul-de-sac and instead open the doors towards what could be a brilliant future with Noel's pull on modern music as strong as it ever was. Based on the best of this album, where things finally slide into place, that third album could well be a treat. 

Other Oasis related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Be Here Now' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/oasis-be-here-now-1997-album-review.html

‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/oasis-heathen-chemistry-2002.html

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/oasis-dont-believe-truth-2005.html

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/oasis-dig-out-your-soul-2008_31.html

'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-119-noel.html 

Dire Straits: Surviving TV Appearances 1978-1991





You can now buy 'Solid Rock - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Dire Straits' by clicking here!








The AAA patent-pending all-singing all-dancing all-headband wearing Dire Straits youtube playlist is now up and running! Visit 
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlzWxNlf9PORvAEaeAAeW3Oaa-iX50wGN

Just when you thought you were safe from an article all about an AAA band's TV appearances, here is another one! Dire Straits might not have been the most photogenic of bands - they tended to let their music do the talking and rarely appeared on random TV programmes plugging their wares like some AAA bands (especially those brought up in the sixties). However of all the bands we cover they were perhaps the biggest pioneers in music videos behind The Monkees, creating some of the most adventurous and certainly longest music videos of our entire collection. What's more they recorded videos for just about every single released from 1981 onwards, taking full advantage of the popularity of MTV (seriously: 'Your Latest Trick' and 'Why Worry?' are all that's missing from albums three to six). Usually these lists would have documentaries, concerts and TV shows interspersed within this list, but a brief dalliance with the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1979 and a popular gig at Live Aid aside, Dire Straits weren't really that sort of a band, so this article will be a little different to the usual ones we cover, complete with set-listings.
The really good news is that, thanks to their birth in 1978 (round about the same time the UK started properly cataloguing and hanging onto its archives) this Dire Straits lists is pretty much complete, with no performances lost forever in the ether (although, as with all these lists, there's a good chance we've missed some obscure release broadcast on some network somewhere, so feel free to post a message on the website and we'll update this book if we ever re-issue it in the future). 

The other good news is that almost everything on this list is available to view officially somewhere (the 'Sultans Of Swing - The Best Of Dire Straits' DVD, for instance, features every single promo video - which is quite some going!) so for once our 'Dire Straits' youtube playlist looks a little lonely (however feel free to follow us and have a roam around this and all our other ones still at https://www.youtube.com/user/AlansArchives - where else are you going to find clips of singing dogs nestling against Beatles cartoons and a Pink Floyd fridge?!)  Note too that we haven't bothered with releases that are available 'complete' which should, hopefully, end up in our DVD section at one point (that's basically the concerts 'Alchemy' - 1983 - and 'On The Night' - 1993 - we've given the music videos also collected onto disc and the Live Aid set special dispensation to remain or this article would be a bit short!) Also while we're at it, we're only including releases that use the Dire Straits name in our list: those interested in Mark Knopfler's solo career might be interest in the following, all available on Youtube at the time of writing: music videos for 'Going Home - Theme From Local Hero' (on which Alan Clark appears too), 'Darling Pretty' 'True Love Will Never Fade' 'Silvertown Blues' 'Cleaning My Gun' and 'Piper To The End', plus a Jools Holland 'Later...In Concert' show from 1997, the 2011 documentary 'A Life In Songs' and the BBC produced 2013 interview 'Mark Lawson Chats To Mark Knopfler'. There are also promos for the Notting Hillbillies singles 'Your Own Sweet Way' and 'Feel Like Going Home'. Right, now the official business is out the way it's onto our list which includes everything from TV salesmen to intergalactic phone-calls with puppets to Mark Knopfler looking cool with a headband...

1) The Old Grey Whistle Test (UK TV 15/5/1978)

Sultans Of Swing/Wild West End/Lions

Dire Straits are at their youngest and hungriest here, being one of only two places where you can see the original line up (Including David Knopfler on nicely aggressive rhythm guitar). Amazingly this performance also remains the only non-live version of 'Sultans Of Swing' around so it's forever turning up to represent the band on various DVDs/documentaries/'I Love 1980s/rock/headbands' type programmes. It's a good one too, Mark seeming right at home as he stares down at his feet before pulling off peal after peal of classic guitar. The whole band play well in fact, with John Illsley and Pick Withers setting up the mother of all grooves behind (note the fact that there are no keyboardists yet, later one of the big ear-catching parts of the Dire Straits sound). 'Sultans' is clearly already the highlight but the other two songs - rarer album tracks from the debut eponymous record - sound good here too, far too good to throw out of the setlist a mere year later. 'Wild West End' features a lovely David Knopfler introduction and the band sound nicely at home on a ballad, Knopfler leaning into the mike to whisper and grinning his head off at something going on stage left (what on earth is whispering Bob Harris up to now?!) This performance surprisingly popped up alongside 'Sultans' on a BBC4 compilation 'Guitar Heroes At The BBC'. 'Third song 'Lions' however has to the best of my knowledge never been re-broadcast: a shame because in many ways it's the best performance of the three, taken at a slightly faster lick than the studio original and with an even better clearer sound on Knopfler's guitar (even if his vocal is noticeably rougher than the other two).  A nice find with Dire Straits exactly the kind of band The Old Grey Whistle Test was meant to showcase: one who could really play live, had charisma and charm and came with something to say. In retrospect that they only ever came back once more.

2) Rockapalast (German TV 16/2/1979)

Down To The Waterline/Six-Blade Knife/Once Upon A Time In The West/Lady Writer/Single-Handed Sailor/Water Of Love/In The Gallery/Follow Me Home/News/What's The Matter Baby?/Lions/Sultans Of Swing/Wild West End/Where Do You Think You're Going?/Eastbound Train. Footage of a rehearsal take of 'Sultans Of Swing' also exists.

There's a case to be made that Germany had all the best TV. Take 'Rockapalast', a classic live show that took place late at night most weeks and featured a huge array of talent over the years - usually bands on the up before they found mega-stardom. The only full-length concert known to exist from these early years, it's not as slick and professional as 'Alchemy' or 'On The Night' but is a lot more exciting than both, with Knopfler muttering inaudible asides into his mike between songs and the band tackling lots of rarer material from their then-new album 'Communique'. The band aren't on as great a form as at the OGWT but are still super-fast and super-ready for the fame coming their way, with Knopfler pulling off some stunning guitar work throughout the set. Note too the presence of rare track 'Eastbound Train', demoed by the band in 1977 but skipped over for the first album; it's presence here in favour of most of the first album songs suggests that the band may have been toying with reviving it for 'Communique'. Highlights of the set include a nice, almost reggae-fied version of 'Six Blade Knife' and a funky 'Water Of Love' that sounds much more upbeat and aggressive than the album version. The band play with a harder edge all night, much like the sound of this second album, which will come as a surprise to the fans who don't know it; in many ways actually it's a shame that this show didn't come from slightly later as hearing the stronger  'Makin' Movies' rockers played with the same fire as here would have been quite something. One problem though: there seems to be something up with the lighting, with Dire Straits playing in the dark for most of the set and there's a slightly fuzzy tone to the quality (although this last case could just be the only extant copy I've seen). There's also a slightly annoying echo on Knopfler's voice which takes the blunt edge off a lot of these early songs which badly needs it. Still, this is a nice oft-forgotten performance (sometimes repeated in Germany but rarely elsewhere, sadly) long overdue for a DVD release.

3) The Old Grey Whistle Test (UK TV 29/11/1980)

Tunnel Of Love

Returning to the OGWT to promote album number three 'Makin' Movies', the band are much more confident although surprisingly they only seem to have taped one song. This performance features Alan Clark and rhythm guitarist Hal Lindes in the line-up for the first time and both seem to be having fun, with the elder Knopfler looking round at his colleagues much more than normal. Musically this is a slightly faster take of the album favourite, complete with the organy opening from 'Carousel', but sounds simplified a little too much with Knopfler reduced to almost speaking the lyrics in an attempt to keep up. The solo in the slower, middle section is exquisite, however. 

4) Romeo and Juliet (Music Video 1980)

Oddly the first Dire Straits video eschews the very obvious visual signals in the song for some peculiar mind-games about the characters getting lost in a huge overgrown maze. This Romeo is a weedy bespectacled Cassnova - not what most fans were imagining - while Juliet looks like a 1980s version of a blonde bimbo (brunette, shoulder pads, very red lipstick and a horrendous taste in fashion). Along the way we somehow end up at the cinema (still within the maze), Romeo falls from a 'balcony' cut into the maze and the pair make out in silhouette. Definitely one of those videos where the director was thinking too much! Perhaps tellingly, the band don't make an appearance in their first video, not even Mark Knopfler! (Presumably this is to cover the fact that David has been thrown out the band, but Dire Straits haven't announced it yet).

5) Skateaway (Music Video 1980)

This one is more like it, though no less weird I have to say. Clearly using the same set, this time the 'maze' is seen from different angles and is painted over with 'arrows' and made to resemble a 'road' as per the lyrics of this song. Not that many fans are looking at the background anyway, given that a whacking great rollerskater in a mini-skirt is taking most of the screen most of the time. She actually looks more like the 'Juliet' I had in my head, modern and sassy in a very 80s way, with a walkman on her back. The lines 'she's makin' movies on location' also leads to a fun section where we break the fourth wall and see the 'clapper board' and various extras breaking into shot too early! The band - Mark John and Pick - only appear right at the end in silhouette on a revolving platform down the end of a corridor (actually that maze again with a bit cut out of one wall) before awkwardly dancing slightly closer to the camera over the last minute or so - by the way we're going to see more of that platform in the next video!

6) Arena (UK TV BBC Documentary 1980)

One of those moody elongated documentaries that are the hallmark of 'Arena', complete with inane-yet-suddenly-by-turns-fascinating interview snippets and a chance to see the band at rest and play. Mark messes around with his acoustic guitar (to not much interest to be honest), Pick chats from behind his drum stool (and makes some rather good band noises, replicating what his school band used to sound like!) and David, looking old and sad before his time with almost a full beard, doesn't talk about leaving Dire Straits but does reflects on a 'tiring two years' and sounds depressed about having lost touch with all his pre-fame friends. There's concert footage from the early days interspersed too (is there a missing gig from the 'Communique' period?) While clearly a puff piece for third album 'Makin' Movies' this is - occasionally at least - a revealing little programme that says much without saying a great deal (very Dire Straits in fact!) Though not yet repeated (not in recent years anyway - it was on twice in the same year), Mark must be proud of having earned the right to be on one of the BBC's flagship programmes: the video on the internet was uploaded by none other than Mark's official Youtube channel!

7) Tunnel Of Love (Music Video 1981)

My favourite of the Dire Straits videos, this third single from 'Makin' Movies' features the bonkers imagery of the first two videos with more natural shots of the band performing (well, miming) to the song. The band are a three-piece again, with no explanation given for whose playing the keyboard opening (Alan Clark will officially join the following year) and only three of them appear on the video's famous 'revolving band' image over the opening (making good use of the revolving platform hired for the last video shoot). The un-credited director still clearly loves his silhouettes, though thankfully this time they're played by extras rather than the band, not to mention girls in very 80s makeup (blue eyeshadow this time round).

8) Romeo and Juliet (Top Of The Pops 1981)

Perhaps surprisingly the only Dire Straits appearance on the UK's premier music programme, this much repeated clip features a very short-haired Mark showing off his new National Guitar (the silver one that's about to appear on the front cover of 'Brothers In Arms' in four years' time). What's odd is that the band are plugging this song, which had fallen out of the charts by this time and plugging a song that was going down rather than up was against TOTP policy in those days (did someone not have the heart to tell the band they were meant to be playing 'Tunnel Of Love'?!) Alas most repeats of this clip cut it short to two or three minutes but the original runs as long as the record.

9) Private Investigations (Music Video 1982)

An atmospheric video to match an atmospheric video, this one is clearly more 'serious' than the last three and yet doesn't have quite the 'bonkers' distinction of the past three. Once again here Knopfler has created a wonderfully lurid, visual premise (a tiring spy trying to track down his own wife's extra-marital affairs) which is treated rather clunkily and boringly, with lots of shots of walking feet, searching in drawers and 'blinds on the win-ders'. In a sign perhaps of how the band were becoming viewed, only Knopfler appears for the first half of the song doing the most random things: writing at the spy's desk, peering through his window-blinds and blowing out candles (as well as, more reasonably, playing the Spanish guitar solo at the heart of the song). The others only appear in close-up near the end. The sudden mood switch in the middle (including Clark for the first time, although we don't see very much of him - which must have been a huge disappointment for him at the time!) - when the song gets electric and nasty - is well covered though, with the scene suddenly switching without warning from night into day on the first throb of Illsley's bass guitar. Oh and the big finale? Erm, a toy clown falls off a shelf. No I don't understand that one either...

10) Platengala International (Dutch TV 1982)

A rare TV appearance from the period with the band miming and alternately looking over-intense and serious or giggling when they catch each other's eyes. 'Investigations' is a rare song to see performed at all - it's very long and cumbersome, great as it is - and seeing this video, with the band standing round looking bored during the hushed dramatics during the second half, explains why. Still nice though.

11) Live Aid (13/7/1985)

Money For Nothing/Sultans Of Swing

Live Aid was intended from the first as a commercially-driven enterprise, with only the biggest acts of the day allowed to take part. In previous years you sense Dire Straits might not have got the invite. However 1985 was their year and they had to be there, premiering their new single 'Money For Nothing' with a guest appearance by co-writer and fellow Live Aider Sting, who wanders around the stage looking lost while mugging 'I want my MTV' at all the cameras (it is, perhaps mercifully, the only time he ever re-created his part on the song, which live was generally handled by Clark and Illsley together). The new song is near-enough perfect for the event, a reminder that even in the money-loving 80s there are more important things than commerce and Knopfler's 'look at them yo yos' comments seem oddly prescient given that the band followed U2 on stage (at 6pm British time). The new song goes down almost as well as a new-look 'Sultans Of Swing' which has by now been tripled in length to better resemble the other songs in the band's set, complete with saxophone solo and five-minute guitar break at the end. Excessive, maybe, and not a patch on the OGWT version of the song, but 'Sultans' copes with the changes remarkably well and sounds far perkier than later versions of the song from the 'Alchemy' and 'On The Night' DVDs. In all, Dire Straits did a great cause proud.

12) So Far Away (Music Video 1985)

By 1985 Dire Straits are well known enough to be granted the right to actually appear in one of their own videos. 'So Far Away' is compared to the earlier clips almost extraordinary in its sheer ordinaryness: this is the band 'playing' (actually they're miming again) without any funny business: no mazes, no extras daubed in make-up, not even a silhouette. As a result, is it just me or is it really boring too? It's also slightly disconcerting to see the usually sombre Knopfler smiling quite so much, usually all too obviously falsely. Look out, though, for the first use of the iconic 'National' guitar silhouette right at the end of the song a few months before it appears on the front of the 'Brothers In Arms' sleeve.

13) Money For Nothing (Music Video 1985)

The most inventive and certainly the most famous Dire Straits music video was directed by Steve Barron features electronic digital shop assistants speaking Knopfler's sarcastic lines (the idea is that he's trying to sell the unseen narrator a TV in a TV repair shop and is commenting on all the 80s 'faggots' on the TV screens). Dire Straits, meanwhile, appear on a TV screen at the back of the shop which the assistants pass, zombie-like, during the course of the song. Modern viewers can't watch this video without thinking of the retro-graphic game 'Minecraft' (the characters share the same 'Lego-block' style shapes) but actually this was cutting edge for 1985. Hilariously Sting's part in the middle (the beginning is rather glossed over) is sung by a tall, thin, weedy shop assistant! Sadly, though, the director chickens out of showing us just what exactly the peculiar euphemism 'Hawaiian noises' are! Often voted in 'top 100 music video' polls this video created  a huge splash at the time, although it's actually dated worse than the 80s costumes in the earlier videos.

14) The Walk Of Life (Music Video 1986)


Alas this third video has the band running out of ideas. Dire Straits' most 'American' recording (it's basically a collage of all the mid-50s Americana rockabilly records Knopfler used to own), this video is more or less equally split between shots of the band grinning again and, erm, American Footballers, basketball and baseball players  ('He got the action, he got the motion, that boy can play!' - yes I see that now, but what about the lines 'Here come Johnny singing oldies, goldies' surrounded by footage of Michael Jordan?!) All too clearly an attempt to crack the coveted 'American' market, this results in a rather hackneyed video which somewhat failed - after scoring a #1 hit with 'Money For Nothing' in the US this single fell back to #7 despite peaking at #2 at home.

15) Brothers In Arms (Music Video 1986)

The best of the 'Brothers In Arms' videos, this moody black-and-white Raymond Briggs-style scribbled promo by director Bill Mather manages to fit the loose idea of Knopfler's words (visions of peril and thunder across the sea) without ever being too literal (there are no soldiers, for instance, although there is inevitably a 'mist-covered mountain'). The shots of the band interspersed within the song (using a black and white lens and a charcoal filter by the looks of things to make things even darker) works really well and at times you can't see the join (sometimes there isn't one., the illustrators actually physically drawing the band just to keep you on your toes). The result is one of the band's better videos on a song that on paper at least seems like one of the hardest to pull off, full of nuances and layers that are difficult to get across in videos, even one as long as a Dire Straits' always are.

16) The Nelson Mandela Concert (UK TV 11/6/1988)

Walk Of Life/Sultans Of Swing/Romeo and Juliet/Money For Nothing/Brothers In Arms/Wonderful Tonight (backing Eric Clapton)/Solid Rock

In 1988 our fellow AAA monikered organisation (Artists Against Apartheid) decided that Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday marked an excellent chance to both celebrate his life and achievements and help put pressure on the African Government of the day to free him from prison. In the end it took another 20 months and a lot of controversy (the BBC were widely condemned for giving it so much screen time, while the Americans took the easier decision of simply editing out anything even vaguely political and just keeping the music) but this high profile concert ('a political Live Aid') was a big deal at the time and featured several big names. Dire Straits were an obvious choice to ask to appear having broken the album sales record with 'Brothers In Arms' and were both the headliners and the first act to be asked to play (they were used as 'leverage' to get other bands to sign up). However the band nearly came unstuck when they asked for the not unreasonable step of being able to rehearse inside the arena before the event - after two years off the road they were a little rusty (and sounding it too, it has to be said). In the end the Dire Straits performance was one of the low points of the evening, without the controversy surrounding other guests (such as Stevie Wonder, who walked off with ten minutes to go when a machine 'ate' his pre-taped backing or Whitney Houston who complained at being asked not to mention anything political on stage). Knopfler did however jam with Eric Clapton and Dire Straits added their unique 50s-80s fusion onto one of the better performances of his 'Wonderful Tonight' song written for wife Patti Boyd.

17) Live In Knebworth (UK TV 30/6/1990)

Solid Rock/I Think I Love You Too Much/Money For Nothing/Sultans Of Swing (Mark Knopfler also guests with Eric Clapton and Elton John's bands)
There have been lots of live concerts at Hertfordshire's Knebworth House since 1975, but the 1990 shows was by far the biggest with TV-streamed performances by Paul McCartney, Queen, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo - oh and Dire Straits, then breaking a two year silence that had seen Mark Knopfler play with The Notting Hillbillies and boogie on a duets album with Chet Atkins. Playing a short set by their standards, a slightly slicker and less exciting Dire Straits started off by going back to the past with a rather lumpy 'Solid Rock' before playing the set's biggest surprise, an Eric Clapton-guesting version of 'I Love You Too Much', a song Knopfler wrote but wasn't sure who to record it with (he'd tried it out with The Notting Hillbillies but it was too 'blues' for them - it didn't suit Dire Straits either judging by this performance and in the end he gave it to musician friend Jeff Healey for his solo album 'Hell To Pay'). The band then exit to the strains of two of their bigger and most popular classics, although neither charge along quite as well as in the past. With Dire Straits disbanding for another year, it seems that they 'failed' Knopfler's litmus test at this concert and forced him to re-think where to take the band next.

18) Calling Elvis (Music Video 1991)

The silence of 'what next' was broken by an eagerly anticipated video. Figuring that the music business had been using them like a 'puppet', Knopfler collaborated with Thunderbirds creator Gerry Andersen on a music video that would re-launch both their careers. The video 'worked' for Thunderbirds, who went on to an enjoy a renaissance all out of scope with the programme's worth (I'm a 'Stingray' man myself - they had better characters and plots), although Dire Straits never really recaptured their earlier glow (this song peaked at a disappointing UK peak of #21, although the Americans seemed to like it more). The video is fun, with Thunderbirds-style puppets of all the band (with Illsley's spiky hair and Knopfler's headband especially spot on) while the Thunderbirds crew both appear in stock footage and 'working' the stage (where Brains does the lighting and Lady Penelope seems to be the stage manager). There's also a weird sub-plot about Thunderbird 4 (the yellow submarine one) submerging in a lady's bath (she looks not unlike the model seen in 'Skateaway' although unhelpfully no sites out there will tell me who either of these women are). All this is pretty neat, but has absolutely nothing to do with the song which yet again takes a very visual image (Mark calling up his old idol in Heaven) and promptly ignores it, with perhaps one institution too many taking part in this simple video. There's also a confusing tagline with puppet-Knopfler mumbling something into a microphone that sounds like 'that's us - we're out' (although he could equally be saying 'what the?!? Help! OUCH!!!')  Oh and the performances are pretty 'wooden' too - and we don't mean the puppets!

19) Heavy Fuel (Music Video 1991)

This is more the sort of video fans were expecting, a neat reflection of the lyrics of one of Knopfler's more sarcastic songs. Just as 'Money For Nothing' worked by putting the 'words' in the hands of a character, so this one is mainly about a mealy-mouthed roadie who bosses everyone (including the band) around. A clever use of colour means that we sonly see 'his' black-and-white world with swirls of colour every so often and the band are clearly having fun with the 'new wave' of early 90s pop and boy-bands (the roadie dressing up in a backwards baseball cap and shorts).The promo ends with everyone friends again, he roadie coming out on stage to correct the microphone and being co-erced into an uneasy looking group hug live on stage - until a fan breaks through the crowds and runs in screaming anyway (would you believe it, she looks like the 'Skateaway' model yet again...)

20) The Bug (Music Video 1991)

An odd place to end this list and in fact an odd end to the Dire Straits discography full stop. Taking the line 'it's one step forward then it's back you go' a little too literally, this song tells the story of a 'Romeo and Juliet' style pair of lovers who love and hate each other, but jumps back and forth through their time zones more often than a timelord. Somewhere along the line she grows up to be a model and he becomes a racing driver. Meantime a Nashville-suited Knopfler leads the band through this quirky sounding song with a nice lot of close-ups of all the band members this time. Like most of the videos on this list I haven't got a clue what it all means...



A Now Complete List Of Dire Straits Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:
‘Dire Straits’ (1978)  
http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/dire-straits-1978.html
'Communiqué' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/dire-straits-communique-1979.html

'Makin' Movies' (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/news-views-and-music-issue-5-dire.html

'Love Over Gold' (1983)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-82-dire-straits-love-over-gold.html

‘Brothers In Arms’ (1985) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/dire-straits-brothers-in-arms-1985.html

'On Every Street' (1993)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/news-views-and-music-issue-79-dire.html
Surviving TV Appearances (1978-1991) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/dire-straits-surviving-tv-appearances.html

Unreleased Recordings (1978-1991) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/dire-straits-unreleased-recordings.html
Non-Album Songs 1977-1991 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/dire-straits-non-album-songs-1977-1991.html
Live/Solo/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part One (1977-1999) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/dire-straits-livesolocompilation-albums.html
Live/Solo/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part Two (2000-2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/dire-straits-livesolocompilation-albums_25.html
Mark Knopfler’s Guest Appearances https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/aaa-extra-mark-knopflers-guest.html
Essay: From ‘Dire Straits’ To ‘Mass Consumerism’ https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/dire-straits-essay-from-dire-straits-to.html
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/dire-straits-five-landmark-concerts-and.html