It’s not uncommon for oncefamous bands to regroup with only a couple of pivotal members in tow. But lately, the trend has expanded to encompass the absence of the main cogs as well.

Whether it’s The Doors touring with a Jim Morrison clone, INXS finding a replacement for Michael Hutchence, Queen recording with Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers instead of Freddy Mercury or The Faces reappearing with Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall trying to outrasp Rod Stewart, it’s become apparent that no band member is indispensable, despite what Bono would have you believe.

But what happens when the MIA band leader was not only the voice of the group but provided its uniquely identifiable sound as well? The Straits, a recently formed not-quite tribute band /not-quite reunion band, featuring former members of Dire Straits, seem to have found an answer. They’re recreating the 1980s magic of the Mark Knopfler-led British super group with the talents of Terence Reis, a young South African guitar player and singer they discovered online who steps into the Knopfler role like he’s been studying the master all his life.

“About 18 months ago, I heard this voice and guitar coming from the other room, and I went in and asked my partner Sheila, ‘Who is that?’” recalls Alan Clark, the 59- year-old former keyboardist for Dire Straits and main engine powering The Straits.

“His voice was amazing, so I got in touch with him and asked him to send me a couple tracks – just him playing acoustic guitar and singing. He sent me the song ‘Communique,’ and it was amazing. It was enough for me to say to him, ‘Okay, you’re our man,’” adds Clark, speaking from his home in England the day after returning from a tour of Russia with The Straits.

Clark had been on the prowl for a Knopfler sound-alike ever since he was invited last year to put together a Dire Straits show for a benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Knopfler, who has enjoyed a low-key solo career since the band broke up in 1991, wasn’t interested, and Clark wasn’t able to find a suitable replacement, but he put together a band anyway. He had such a good time playing the band’s classic songs with old mates like saxophonist Chris White after a 20-year gap, that he decided to try to keep the vibe alive.

“For that charity show, I thought, ‘We’ll just wing it and somehow we’ll get through,’ but I realized after that the band had so much potential, I thought we couldn’t just let it die, let’s see where we can go with it,” says Clark. “But I knew that because it wasn’t just a one-off, we’d have to find a good replacement for Mark. The person who was going to fill in for him was the linchpin.”

The first place Clark looked was online, where he found a Japanese guitarist who was able to replicate Knopfler’s distinctive guitar twang, but he didn’t think that a Japanese Knopfler was the answer.

“I started searching for Dire Straits cover bands on YouTube and found scores of them, some better than others,” says Clark. “But I didn’t find anybody who was even remotely good enough to fill Mark’s shoes. It was a gift from God almost, beyond my expectations when Sheila found Terence.”

Born in Maputo, Mozambique, Reis grew up playing the guitar in the idiosyncratic style of the local finger-picking street musicians, a style that was surprisingly similar to that of Knopfler’s without being a carbon copy. Combined with a rich voice that hints at Knopfler’s without aping it, Reis, who also enjoys a parallel career as an actor, proved to be the missing link for The Straits.

Rounding out the band with Clark, White and Reis are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ drummer Steve Ferrone; bassist Mick Feat, who has appeared on Knopfler’s solo albums; keyboardist Jamie Squire; and guitarist Adam Phillips, who has played with everyone from Rod Stewart to Richard Ashcroft. For the last year, the band has been performing their two-hour sets chock full of Dire Straits classics like “Tunnel of Love,” “Money for Nothing,” “Brothers in Arms” and, of course, “Sultan of Swing” to appreciative fans around the world.

“I’m sure most people come along thinking, ‘Yeah, it will be okay, but it won’t be like it was – how could it without Mark?’ But they go away saying, ‘Wow! That was absolutely, astoundingly good.’ Everyone is just so happy to hear this music again,” says Clark.

The Straits will be performing November 13 at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11. For more information, visit www.hangar11.co.il



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