Alan Clark had all the right ingredients for a great Dire Straits reunion –
except the main one. The former keyboard player for the 1980s supergroup led by
guitar and songwriting virtuoso Mark Knopfler had been asked two years ago to
form a group to perform his old band’s music at a charity event at Royal Albert
Hall in London.
The 59-year-old musician made some inquiries and found
great interest from old band mates like bassist John Illsey and saxophonist
Chris White, but he knew better than to ask the founder of the band – Knopfler.
The gifted guitarist had disbanded Dire Straits in 1991, after having sold more
than 120 million albums including the 1985 blockbuster Brothers In Arms,
preferring a low-key solo career consisting of rootsy folk and country and movie
Clark made some attempts to locate a replacement for
Knopfler, but in the end he, White and other players who had some tangential
connection to Dire Straits performed at the benefit without a front man or
bassist Illsey, who had fallen ill, playing old classics like “Tunnel of Love”
and “Sultans of Swing.” And to Clark’s surprise, he loved it.
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,” said Clark last week from his
home in England.
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
But Knopfler wasn’t only the voice of Dire Straits, he provided
a distinctive sound to its music with his tangy, finger-picking guitar style.
Clark knew that for an audience to take a new band playing Dire Straits music
seriously, the person filling Knopfler’s role was going to be the
Luckily, through the magic of YouTube, there were countless
Mark Knopflers available from the scores of Dire Straits tribute bands that have
proliferated around the world. However, there was also a downside.
didn’t find anybody who was even remotely good enough to fill Mark’s shoes,”
said Clark, adding that the best of the bunch was a Japanese guitarist who could
replicate Knopfler’s guitar licks, but didn’t sing. Clark tired of the search,
but his partner Sheila didn’t give up.
“About 18 months ago, I heard this
voice and guitar coming from the other room, and I went in and asked Sheila,
‘who is that?’” said Clark. “His name was Terence Reis and 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, ‘ok, you’re our man.’”
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 without being a carbon copy. Combined
with a rich voice that hints at Knopfler’s without aping it, Reis proved to be
the missing link for new group, christened 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 past year, the band has
been performing their two-hour sets chockfull 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 ok, but it won’t be like it was – how
could it without Mark?’” said Clark a day after returning home from a series of
shows in Russia with the band.
“But they go away saying ‘wow, that was
absolutely, astoundingly good.’ Everyone is just so happy to hear this music
That includes Clark himself, who never thought he’d be playing
Dire Straits music again. Even though Knopfler has concluded that the band had
gotten too big for its own good, with 40 trucks worth of equipment and staging
employed for every sold-out show, Clark had mixed feelings about walking away
from the group.
“Mark wanted to his own thing on a smaller scale, but I
didn’t find the situation we were in to be too big. I could have dealt with it
being even bigger, if that was possible,” said Clark.
“But by the end, I
admit that I was ready for a break and was quite happy when the band stopped
touring. Although we never officially talked about it, I just knew it was the
end of the band. Mark was pretty adamant about doing his own thing, which he was
already doing before our last record, with movie scores and playing with other
people. I didn’t play any Dire Straits music again until I got The Straits
together. Sometimes it seems like the craziest dream I ever had.”
DIRE Straits dream began in 1980, when days after finishing recording the band’s
third album Making Movies, Knopfler called the keyboard player and asked him to
join up. He was already an in-demand musician, performing with British acts like
Splinter, who released an album on George Harrison’s Dark Horse label, and
pastoral folk-rockers Lindisfarne.
With Making Movies, Knopfler had moved
away from the bluesy, guitar-oriented material of Dire Straits’ first two
albums, and inspired in part by Bruce Springsteen’s expansive, cinematic
approach to music making, wrote an album heavy on drama, imagery and textures,
provided mainly by the Boss’s piano player Roy Bittan.
“Mark decided he
needed to do that, otherwise he was in danger of just repeating himself,” said
Clark. “He realized he had done that with the second album Communique, and even
though it was what the businesspeople wanted since the first record was so
revolutionary, he knew it was a mistake, and he vowed never to do it again. He
wanted to expand the band’s scope beyond guitars and he brought me in to do
Clark became Knopfler’s right-hand man over the next decade and
Dire Straits’ phenomenal mid-1980s success, acting as the band’s unofficial
musical director. The two would arrive at recording sessions before the rest of
the band and work up the arrangements of the songs together.
“By the time
the rest of the band arrived, we’d have a good idea where the song was going.
Mark usually presented his songs in a very basic format, and I’d bring in the
introductions and instrumental sections,” said Clark.
Clark and Knopfler
took their partnership outside of Dire Straits in 1983 when they went into the
studio with Bob Dylan to record the Knopfler-produced album
However, their working method veered sideways when faced with
the notoriously improvisational Dylan.
“Mark and I spent a few days with
Dylan going over the songs so we’d have a good idea of what we were going to do
in the studio,” said Clark. “Then we had to leave for a three-week tour of Japan
with Dire Straits.
When we got back and went into the studio to record,
Bob had changed just about everything – the melodies, the chords, some of the
lyrics – it was kind of like starting over again. In the studio, it was very
impromptu. If you happened to go to the bathroom when Dylan came into the
studio, then you didn’t appear on that song.”
With Dire Straits, the hits
kept coming, from “Love Over Gold” to “Brothers in Arms” through their swan
song, “On Every Street.” After the band’s demise, Clark continued to tour and
record, including being part of Eric Clapton’s band, but eventually he turned to
movie and television scoring and occasional session work. Finding himself
touring in sold-out arenas with The Straits proved to be an unexpected turn in
his career and life that he’s relishing – especially the chance to revisit some
locations of Dire Straits’ greatest conquests, like a return to Israel for a
show on November 13 at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv.
The last time Clark played
Dire Straits songs in Israel was in 1985 at a performance in Jerusalem at
Sultan’s Pool. He remembers the visit, which was captured on film and became
part of a Dire Straits documentary, like it was yesterday.
“I had a
really lovely time in Israel. We rode through the Old City on donkeys and
playing in Sultan’s Pool was a really memorable experience,” said Clark. “In
fact, I played there a second time a few years later when I was in Eric
Clapton’s band. That may be some kind of record.”
resurrected one of the most popular rock bands in history without the benefit of
its superstar, Alan Clark’s ability to break records shouldn’t be