Monday 5 March 2018

Dire Straits: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Cover Versions

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


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Dire Straits had an interesting live career. They became very big very quickly (well, after they got together and started using that name at least) and went from being nobodies to becoming a headline act to filling stadiums in less time than it takes most musicians to put on a head-band. This is also one of those AAA bands who tended to keep to the same setlist throughout a tour without any changes, either in songs or arrangements, so although the band played around 880 gigs (a lot considering they were only an active live unit for fourteen years) that and the fact they released two live albums (a quarter of their entire back catalogue) that doesn't leave us a lot of space for 'special' gigs this article around. So we've kept to the early years for this list back when the band were the 'Sultans Of Swing' rather than the years they were more 'Stadiums Of Bling'!
1) Where: Farrer House, London When: July 9th 1977 Why: First Gig? Setlist: Unknown
The first 'actual' Dire Straits gig was an unglamorous affair, world apart from their final monster gig in 1992 (see the end of this list!) Mark, David and John were still staying at the Farrer Flats on the Crossfields Estate in Deptford and there was a tiny courtyard at the back of their apartment block. Wanting to hear how they sounded in the open air, they plugged the amplifiers into John's first-floor flat, dangled the cable out the window and plugged in outside, hoping it wouldn't rain. The setlist is unknown but probably consisted of a few jammed oldies and some of the songs from the first Dire Straits album, hastily being written by Mark at the time. Nobody complained (amazingly) so they decided to try it again for 'real' at the end of the month with the first 'proper' Dire Straits show taking place at the nearby Albany Theatre on July 28th that year. Who, either taking part or watching this impromptu show, would have guessed that almost a year to the day after this first 'gig' Dire Straits would release one of the highest-rated debut albums of their era?
2) Where: Roundhouse Theatre, London When: January 29th 1978 Why: First Big Gig? Setlist: [5] Southbound Again [4] Six-Blade Knife [7] Eastbound Train [3] Down To The Waterline [8] In The Gallery [1] Water Of Love [6] Setting Me Up 'Real Girl' 'Me and My Friends' [2] Sultans Of Swing [9] Wild West End
The 'real' cult following for the band though took place after a six-month hiatus where the band took time off to work up and perfect their setlist - which is also the period when Radio London DJ Charlie Gillett plugged their demo tape on air. The band's third gig was at Manchester University's Student Union on January 21st 1978 that went down well - and this gig barely a week later, when they finally hit the big-time as the opening act for up and coming band Talking Heads at one of London's bigger venues of the day. Amazingly audio of this gig still exists (the earliest we have by far - it's thought a Talking Heads fan taped the opening act to 'test' his tape!)  and is fabulous. Admittedly the band are rough around the edges, keep pausing to re-adjust tempos and get back in synch with each other and are clearly nervous, playing with a manic energy quite unlike their future more laidback selves. The echoey venue is also not really built for their distinctive sound. Forget the problems though: this gig is still fabulous with Mark sounding even crosser and more bitter than he did on the 1977 demo tape. The band play a full eleven songs in their set - impressive time for an opening act - and have already written everything from their debut album, along with a couple of interesting oddities. 'Real Girl' is a snarky, angry put-down never released on album, 'Me and My Friends' is a rollicking 1950s throwback with some thunderous noisy drumming from Pick Withers and 'Eastbound Train' a preview of the first Dire Straits B-side. The highlight, however, is the (intended) finale 'Sultans Of swing', extended to six minutes despite  being so much faster than the record and already getting whoops of recognition from the keen local crowd. More than any other version of the track around, this is how the song should sound - manic, exciting and full of life, the band getting lost in the music for the sheer hell of it. The band went down a storm - the more low-key Talking Heads were reportedly not that happy at being shown up by these young upstart unknowns - so the band came back on try out a rough version of what was then mark's newest song, the laidback 'Wild West End'. Given the venue setting and the 'wild' performance that was a very apt choice indeed! Admittedly the sound is very woolly as it stands (and the echoey hall means it will never sound perfect) but if someone can spend some money cleaning up this tape it would make for a great collector's release one day!
3) Where: Paradise Rock Club, Boston When: February 23rd 1979 Why: First American Gig Setlist: [3] Down To The Waterline [4] Six-Blade Knife [11] Once Upon A Time In The West [14] Lady Writer [18] Single-Handed Sailor [9] Wild West End [13] Where Do You Think You're Going [7] Eastbound Train  [5] Southbound Again [16] Angel Of Mercy 'Nadine'
Here we are, just a year on, but so much has changed. The debut album has been released to big success and critical plaudits, a second album is halfway finished (with five songs in this set list - none of them ever played on any future tour so particularly interesting to hear) and Dire Straits are enough of a hit in Britain for America to give them a go. This is the band's first gig Stateside, as the 'end of the first third' of a year-long international tour (which starts in Rotterdam and ends with the filmed gig at the Rockapalast in Germany at the end of the year). Dire Straits played two shows in Boston, both of which went down a storm, before playing two a night for most of the rest of the tour (one taped in Philadelphia on March 6th exists on bootleg and is a fine - and fiery  - performance). All the American dates were sell-outs, just 13 months on from playing - literally - in their own backyard. Most notable in the setlists in this era is the final encore 'Nadine', a Chuck Berry song that the band never played on record but will turn up occasionally in their shows through to 1989. Mark probably included it as a 'homage' to the American songs he loved in his youth now that he was playing in the States himself, a country he never dreamed he'd get to after a decade of performing without much success in his homeland. Another gig played a week later in Los Angeles is notable too - Bob Dylan is in the audience and is impressed enough to ask Mark to work on his 'Slow Train Coming' LP.Dire Straits have arrived - and how!
4) Where: Wembley Stadium, London When: June 11th 1988 Why: Memorable Gig Setlist: [39] Walk Of Life [2] Sultans Of Swing [22] Romeo and Juliet [38] Money For Nothing [45] Brothers In Arms 'Wonderful Tonight' [26] Solid Rock
Though it was a month early (Nelson Mandela didn't turn 70 until July 18th that year) this birthday concert broadcast all around the world has a major part to play in the history of the world in general and South Africa in particular. Mandela had served 25 years in prison for speaking out against the apartheid regime and generally being a thorn in the side of the strict Government, locked up on Robben Island. To his loyal supporters his calmness and humanity in the face of oppression made him a noble figure and there was a movement growing across the 1980s to get him released. This birthday concert was a major part of the plan to put pressure on the Government to release Mandela and was broadcast around the world - though heavily censored in some countries (including Fox's broadcast in America). As one of the most politically conscious bands of their era Dire Straits were an obvious group to ask and was the climax of a three-gig 'return' after some time off post 'Brothers In Arms'. The band were joined by Eric Clapton as 'second guitarist' and ended up backing him on one of his songs ('Wonderful Tonight', written for Patti Boyd) as well as performing seven of their own which all sounded subtly different with Mark and Eric trading solos (exuberant finale 'Solid Rock' sounding particularly good). This gig was one of the band's biggest, thanks to being beamed around the world and was all in all a good day's work - Mandela's release less than two years later was linked to the pressures started by this show which raised Mandela's plight greatly in the Western world's consciousness. Perhaps oddly, it's the only charity gig the socially aware Dire Straits ever played, barring 'Live Aid' three years before.
5) Where: Estadia De La Romareda, Zaragoza, Spain When: October 9th 1992 Why: Last Gig Setlist: [46] Calling Elvis [39] Walk Of Life [52] Heavy Fuel [22] Romeo and Juliet [50] The Bug [29] Private Investigations [2] Sultans Of Swing [40] Your Latest Trick [47] On Every Street [35] Two Young Lovers [28] Telegraph Road [38] Money For Nothing [45] Brothers In Arms 'Going Home - Theme From Local Hero'
Released in part on last official 'Dire Straits' release 'Night After Night' and in full on bootleg, by 1992 the band have travelled the world multiple times and come to the end of a tiring tour that saw them play 229 shows on pretty much every continent except Antarctica! By most accounts (and the aural evidence) this tour had become sadly robotic by the end, with Mark and John the only founding members left in the band and not much variation in the setlists, which consisted of old favourites and four new songs from the 'On Every Street' album. Spain was an odd choice for the band's last gig but was big news locally and the band ended up playing to one of the biggest stadium audiences of their career with 43,000 fans attending and the concert selling out within hours of being announced. It was a suitably big farewell gesture and the show ends with Mark's humble words: 'This is the last one so thankyou very much. On behalf of the band here I want to thank very much everybody on ther crew, all the production people, all the catering people and most of all you for coming out to see us!' With that and the Spanish crowd going mad shouting 'ole!' at the tops of their voices, the show plays out with a sad, slow, muted version of 'Going Home' - a fitting choice in the circumstances, given that Mark will rarely play this far from 'home' again and certainly never in this kind of an extravaganza again!


Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) Dire Straits have a strangely small pile for such a high-selling prestigious band and perhaps not surprisingly most of these covers date from the 1980s when the band's fame was at its peak. As you'd expect there are quite a few covers of classic songs like [2] 'Sultans Of Swing' [23] 'Romeo and Juliet' and [39] 'Money For Nothing' out there, which between them fill out the lion's share of the Dire Straits covers in the world. However we've plumped for three more obscure songs that are all given their own distinctive twist by the musicians involved. Personally I'm waiting for the day a band is brave enough to tackle a cover version of [29] 'Telegraph Road'!
1) Eric Clapton [7] Setting Me Up ('Just One Night' 1980)
Captain Slowhands  sounds oddly right tackling Mr Headband, even though this song is hardly a natural fit for rock's biggest chameleon or a 'typical' Knopfler song. Slowed down slightly and given a softer rendition o the riff, nevertheless the pain and hurt in this song still comes over loud and proud and it sounds more like a blues song than ever. Eric, traditionally as fluid a guitarist as they come, even has a good go at nailing Mark's Chet Atkins style finger-picking - Albert Lee, of Ten Years After, fares less well with the vocals mind. Still, this is a hot live cut from 1980, which comes impressively early in the run of Dire Straits' career before many people really knew who the band were (I may have missed a few somewhere, but I think this date makes it the earliest Mark Knopfler cover I know of). Sad that so far Eric and co have only ever performed a live version of it, but then I guess that's why he called the record 'Just One Night'!
2) Fausto Pappetti [30] Private Investigations ('My One and Only Love' 1982)
First up, full marks for bravery  I didn't think anyone would be courageous enough to tackle this complex, unusually structured song but Italian classical saxophonist Fausto has actually covered it twice on a song well suited to his strengths (slow, atmospheric and with great uses of dynamic tension). Personally, though, I think the saxophonist should have given the credit to his un-named guitarist, who does a great job of nailing the tricky flamenco flourishes of the original. I'm not sure the same atmosphere quite comes off without the words to follow and the 1980s percussion is far more laboured than Pick Withers' superb playing on the original, but if nothing else this sleepy instrumental version shows off what a gorgeous melody is lurking on this song. This was one of the last recordings made by Fausto before his retirement and a surprisingly 'hip' choice for the times ([2] 'Sultans Of Swing' is surely the more obvious song to choose) and his records (especially the packaging) feel like they belong in a different age nowadays. For example, fans who label all of Fausto's albums by the semi-nudes on the cover will know this as the 'one with the blonde in the green bikini'. No private investigation needed there - indeed, no cover up at all!
 3) The Everly Brothers [42] Why Worry? ('Born Yesterday' 1985)
As we've said already, Mark wasn't one of those stuck-up, keep-to-himself kind of stars - he was thrilled to meet and greet the people he admired from his childhood and teenage years and eager to work with seemingly anyone who asked him. He was especially pleased to be invited by 1950s stars The Everly Brothers to take part in a re-recording of his lovely song from 'Brothers In Arms' (then a red-hot album and a brand new release). Mark plays an almost identical guitar part note-for-note again but sadly doesn't sing. Then again he doesn't need to - The Everlys may have hated each other's guts when they made their two 'comeback' albums in the mid-1980s but they still sing like telepathic angels and this is one of their last great recordings. The arrangement is subtly different to Dire Straits' too, less percussion-heavy and a little more 'countrified'. The song ends with the same elongated synth riff but sadly cuts before Mark's guitar cuts back into the song with fire and passion, determined to put things right. The result isn't quite as uplifting as when Dire Straits take a positive out of thin air, but it's still a great version and easily the best Dire Straits cover version I've heard (the only one that comes close is Art Garfunkel's cover of the exact same song - which we've missed out here for the sake of repetition and because it gets its own entry in our forthcoming 'Simon and Garfunkel' book).

Other Dire Straits related malarkey from this website can be found at: 

A Now Complete List Of Dire Straits Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

‘Dire Straits’ (1978)
'Communiqué' (1979)

'Makin' Movies' (1981)

'Love Over Gold' (1983)

‘Brothers In Arms’ (1985)

'On Every Street' (1993)
Surviving TV Appearances (1978-1991)

Unreleased Recordings (1978-1991)
Non-Album Songs 1977-1991
Live/Solo/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part One (1977-1999)
Live/Solo/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part Two (2000-2014)
Mark Knopfler’s Guest Appearances
Essay: From ‘Dire Straits’ To ‘Mass Consumerism’
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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