Mark Knopfler Biography

Review The Artist (26)

Mark Knopfler-photo
Mark Knopfler was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on the 12th of August 1949. He was around seven years old when the Knopfler family moved to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North-East of England. Mark attended Gosforth Grammar School. As a young boy Mark was inspired by his uncle Kingsley's harmonica and boogie-woogie piano playing. Later, in his teens, he set his heart on an all too expensive flamingo-pink Fender Strat, just like Hank Marvin's, but in the end he had to settle for a £50 twin pick-up Hofner Super Solid and £50 was a lot of money in those days. Like lots of other guitar-toting schoolboys of the 1960s, he served an early apprenticeship by forming and joining anonymous schoolboy bands and listening to guitarists such as Scotty Moore, Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt and James Burton. At sixteen he made a local TV appearance as half of a harmony duo along with school-friend Sue Hercombe.

At school Mark had demonstrated a flair for English and in 1967 he went to study journalism for a year at Harlow Technical College. At the end of the course he secured a job in Leeds as a junior reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post. After two years he decided to further his studies and commenced a degree in English at Leeds University. It was whilst Mark was living in Leeds that he met a local blues singer/guitarist by the name of Steve Phillips.

Mark wrote newspaper articles and reviews on the music scene in and around Leeds. By an odd coincidence, Mark's boss was another man by the name of Stephen Phillips. This has caused some confusion over the years and a number of Steve Phillips biographies have claimed erroneously that Steve himself worked as a journalist. Mark and his boss - the other 'Steve Phillips' - went to see Steve playing in Leeds. Steve fondly recalls how Mark's first words were "Steve Phillips, meet Steve Phillips."

Steve and Mark found that musically they had much in common and they went on to form a duo called The Duolian String Pickers. By day Mark continued working as a reporter and, later, as a full-time student, while Steve took a job restoring paintings and furniture at Leeds City Art Gallery and Temple Newsam House. They played together on and off over the next five years. Some of their work is featured on Steve's 1996 Just Pickin' album. "He was a good guitar player", Steve says wryly of the young Knopfler, "in a B.B.King sort of way." Steve was to have a profound affect on Mark's guitar playing introducing him to the intricate lead technique of black blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson and the subtle skills of country blues guitar, the elements of which Mark was eventually to weave into his own unique style of guitar picking.

This was, in fact, a very important stage in Mark's development as a guitarist. He was later to tell Jack Sonni that it was not until he began to finger-pick that he found his guitar 'voice'. While living in Leeds Mark made his first record. It was recorded in a room that had been converted into studio in a house in Pudsey. The song was called Summer's Coming My Way and it featured Steve Phillips on twelve-string guitar.

On graduating from Leeds University in 1973 Mark decided to go to London and try to break into the rock scene. He scanned through the music press and finally answered the biggest advert he could find in Melody Maker. That led him to an audition and a two month stint with a blues band called Brewer's Droop. Mark played guitar on three songs they recorded at Dave Edmunds' Rockpile Studios in Wales. The band's drummer was a guy called Pick Withers. Pick had turned professional at the age of seventeen and was a very experienced drummer.

Having left Brewer's Droop Mark took up a job as a lecturer at Loughton College in Essex where he remained for two years living in a rented flat in Buckhurst Hill, sometimes giving guitar lessons at Staples Road School. Then brother David came to stay for a few weeks en route to London. The Knopfler brothers would often sit up late into the night playing songs and, without knowing it, to some extent laying the foundations of what was to become, in time, Dire Straits. It was the mid-1970s, David moved on to London and Mark went on to form a working band with friends at Loughton College. They called themselves the Café Racers.

David came to share a flat at Farrer House on Deptford's Crossfield Estate, South-East London, with a Leicester-born bass player by the name of John Illsley. John recalls first meeting Mark. "I'd been out all night and came in about ten in the morning. I walked into the kitchen, started making myself a cup of tea, walked into the lounge and there was this guy lying on the floor with his head propped up against a chair. He was fast asleep, fully clothed in denim with leather boots. He had a guitar slouched over his waist." David had often spoken to John of his guitar-playing brother and John guessed correctly that the guy sprawled out on the lounge floor was indeed Mark.

It wasn't long before John found himself on stage with Mark. One night the Café Racers' bass player was ill and John was asked to stand-in. Mark and John immediately struck up a great working relationship and both realised that, despite having built-up a good reputation on the local pub scene, the Café Racers had a limited future. In April 1977 Mark gave up his flat in Buckhurst Hill and moved in with David and John.

John quickly realised that not only was Mark a talented and excitingly different guitar player, he was also a gifted song-writer. During the summer of 1977 the three musicians found themselves playing and rehearsing Mark's songs. Yet, something was missing - a drummer. Mark, recalling his brief stint with Brewer's Droop, said he knew of a drummer who would be ideal for the sort of music they were developing. Mark had been very impresssed with Pick Withers back in 1973 and so Pick was invited to the Farrer House flat and the four musicians began doing gigs together under the name of Mark's old band, the Café Racers.

John recalled that "playing with Pick Withers was fantastic...I'd never played with anybody as good as him." Later, a friend of Pick's suggested a new name for the band - Dire Straits. The die was cast. The band's first gig took place on the open space at the back of the Farrer House flats, the electricty provided by a power cable running from the stage into a socket on the wall of John's first floor flat.

Punishing rehearsals and live gigs followed. There was just enough room in the back of John's estate car for the band's equipment and they earned just enough money to pay for PA hire and a round of beers. On the 27th of July 1977 Dire Straits recorded the now famous demo tapes of five songs - Wild West End, Sultans of Swing, Down To The Waterline, Sacred Loving and Water of Love. In what was probably October they recorded Southbound Again, In The Gallery and Six Blade Knife for BBC Radio London and, finally, on the 9th of November demo tapes were made of Setting Me Up, Eastbound Train and Real Girl.

Many of these songs reflected Mark's experiences in Newcastle, Leeds and London, and were to be featured on the first Dire Straits album the following year: Down To The Waterline recalled images of life in Newcastle; In The Gallery is a tribute to a Leeds sculptor/artist named Harry Phillips, father of Steve; and, Lions, Wild West End and Eastbound Train were all drawn from Mark's early days in the capital.

The demo tapes were given to BBC Radio London DJ Charlie Gillett. Charlie played the tapes calling upon record company executives to sign this new band: enter John Stainze and Ed Bicknell. It is said that Phonogram A&R man Stainze was in the shower listening to the radio when he first heard Dire Straits. A few weeks later he signed the band to Phonogram's Vertigo label and Mark secured a publishing deal with Rondor Music. Towards the end of 1977 Ed Bicknell was working at the NEMS agency when he got a call from Stainze asking him to fix up some gigs for Dire Straits. Ed was invited round to Phonogram's offices in December where he heard the Charlie Gillett demo tapes. He was then taken to Dingwalls Club in North London to meet Dire Straits. The date was the 13th of December, 1977, and as he walked into the club they were playing Down To The Waterline. Ed recalls, "The first thing I noticed was that it wasn't necessary to stand at the back of the room; they were very quiet.

I'd just done The Ramones, who were deafening......The second thing I noticed was that Mark was playing a red Stratocaster, which immediately made me think of Hank Marvin, who I had idolised in the sixties." After hearing two or three numbers Ed decided that he wanted to manage the band. He was organising a tour for Talking Heads and was able to put his new band on the bill as the support act. Dire Straits were paid £50 per night for the Talking Heads tour; a ten-fold increase from their fee at Dingwalls. The rest - as is often said - is history.

I once asked Ed Bicknell's former assistant, Liz Whatley, when it was that she realised Dire Straits were going to be really big. She replied that it was the first time she heard Romeo and Juliet. By the mid-1980s Dire Straits had released Brothers in Arms, one of the best selling albums of all time, and had been tagged 'the biggest band in the world'. By that stage the recording and touring personnel of the band had changed more than once. David left.

Hal Lindes, guitar, and Alan Clark, keyboards, joined. Then came Tommy Mandel, keyboards, and Mel Collins, saxophone. Pick left and was replaced on drums by Terry Williams. Keyboard player Guy Fletcher became a member of Dire Straits for the Brothers In Arms album. Jack Sonni, guitar, and Chris White, saxophone, were brought in for the subsequent world tour. By the time Dire Straits commenced the 1991/92 On Every Street tour Mark, John, Alan, Guy and Chris were left from the mid-80s line-up. They were joined on stage by Phil Palmer, guitar, Paul Franklin, pedal-steel guitar, and percussionists Danny Cummings and Chris Whitten. Others who have been featured on Dire Straits' recordings include Roy Bittan, keyboards, and Joop De Korte, drums.

The Brothers In Arms tour saw Dire Straits play 234 shows in twelve months to combined audiences of about 2.5 million. Within a couple of weeks of the tour finishing Mark was producing Tina Turner but, at the same time, felt he needed to get back to his roots. Long-time mates Steve Phillips and Brendan Croker had teamed-up to form a duo shortly after Mark had left Leeds in 1973. In 1986 Steve was in London and called in to see Mark who said he fancied coming up to Leeds and sitting in with Steve and Brendan on one of their gigs. This resulted in the three of them playing together at The Grove pub in Hunslet, Leeds, on the 31st of May, 1986. The following year Mark offered to produce Steve's next album but Steve suggested that a new album should feature both himself and Brendan. Guy Fletcher was brought in to help out on the technical side. From this evolved the Notting Hillbillies.

Ed Bicknell is an accomplished drummer in his own right and during a meal in a Notting Hill wine bar, Mark sat next to him and said "OK, Ed; we've formed a band, and you're the drummer." Paul Franklin joined on pedal-steel guitar. There followed an extensive UK tour to promote the 1990 release of the multi-platinum selling album Missing......Presumed having A Good Time. Also in 1990 Mark was able to release the Neck and Neck album, a joint project with the greatly admired Chet Atkins.

Mark brought Dire Straits back together for the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert which featured Eric Clapton who was standing-in for Jack Sonni as Jack had just become the father of twin girls. Mark, John, Alan and Guy appeared on stage at Knebworth in June 1990 along with, among others, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ray Cooper and Phil Palmer, to help raise funds for the Nordoff Robbins charity. Then came the On Every Street album. The resulting extensive world tour, which played to more than four million people, was punishing and exhausting. After it was over Mark felt that he needed to take a break from the pressures of live performance and studio schedules.

In 1996 Mark began his career as a solo performer with the release of the Golden Heart album. The album was simply a step forward in the evolution of his music, "It's just moving forwards...", he said, "...Just trying to be better." In addition, he has scored the music to a number of films. First came Local Hero in 1983 followed in 1984 by the Cal and the Comfort and Joy soundtracks. These were followed in 1987 by The Princess Bride and two years later came Last Exit To Brooklyn. Further soundtrack work has seen the release of Metroland and Wag The Dog both of 1998. Mark's second solo album, Sailing To Philadelphia, was released in September 2000. His soundtrack album to the film A Shot At Glory is due for release in the not too distant future. To date, Mark Knopfler/Dire Straits have sold millions of singles and over 105 million albums.

Over the years Mark has collaborated with many artists. He has at one time or other worked with people such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, Buddy Guy, Tina Turner, Phil Lynott, Willy DeVille, Eric Clapton, Waylon Jennings, Chet Atkins, Phil Everly, Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Paul Brady, The Chieftains, Ben. E. King, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Joan Armatrading, Scott Walker, Jeff Healey, The Judds, Jimmy Nail, Bryan Ferry, Aztec Camera, Steely Dan, Sting, Sonny Landreth, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

He has also devoted a great deal of time to charity work for institutions large and small. Dire Straits did a total of three concerts for the Prince's Trust in front of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. They appeared at the 1985 Live Aid Concert and the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert. In 1995 Mark was featured on the chart-topping Dunblane single Knockin' On Heaven's Door and in September 1997 was one of the artists who performed for Sir George Martin's Music For Montserrat Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The Notting Hillbillies, too, have performed many charity concerts helping to raise money for a range of deserving causes. Mark has been the recipient of countless awards and accolades, not least among which was the conferring in May 1993 of an Honorary Music Degree by Newcastle University of which he is justly proud.

Mark Knopfler has always been a songster, to him the song is king. It is said that he has never really understood why his music is so popular. In this he is not alone. When reviewing the Sultans of Swing compilation album in November 1998, the writers of Mojo magazine commented "overwhelming sales testify to Mark Knopfler's song-writing ability and guitar expertise, and there is certainly something intimate and friendly in that smokey voice and fluid guitar, though the scale of Dire Straits' success remains mildly baffling." Some have tried to answer this by arguing that Mark's music has an instant appeal. Perhaps a better explanation comes in Robert Sandall's liner essay for the Sultans of Swing compilation.

Sandall noted, "As the fires of punk raged around them, they made no secret of their love for styles of music which the cultural commissars of the day had recently declared irrelevant....What part could this lot possibly play in the brave new world of anarchy, media manipulation and anti-musicianship? Apart from their consummate skill as performers, it was their complete disregard for all the fashionable nonsenses of the moment that rescued Dire Straits from the fate which swiftly overtook most of their punky contemporaries. While others lived and died in a blaze of publicity and disappointing record sales, they took the world by stealth....Dire Straits were, above all, superb communicators.... The heartfelt simplicity of their music - chiefly derived from Mark Knopfler's gruff vocals and elegantly burnished Fender guitar tone - came across in songs that sounded both fresh and timeless, and which also possessed a breathtaking accuracy."

There is another side to Mark Knopfler, a very private side. By the mid-80s Mark was being referred to by some as the "quiet man of rock and roll." He is shy by nature and gets embarrassed when fans tell him how much they have been affected by his songs and how his music has changed their lives. It is a matter of public record that Mark has been married three times. His second marriage produced his twin sons, Benji and Joseph, born in 1987, and more recently his third marriage to Kitty Aldridge has been blessed with a daughter, Isabella, born in 1998. After more than twenty years at the top of his profession, Mark Knopfler is now a family man who loves to spend time with his wife and his children.


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Brothers from 49... | Reviewer: Tom Heath | 7/22/13

Having been a fan forever, my first live concert was may 29, 2013 at Royal Albert Hall with Ruth Moody as opening act...I will be back next year travelling from Florida...these trips are like spiritual journeys...Mark and I are both born in 1949 and like mark I have spent a lifetime thinking about history, war, soldiers, pretty women, fast cars and the messages he conveys when he write The chisels are calling, its time to make sawdust...while writing I have always listened to Marks musings and its no surprise that even at a funeral a few years ago, I used his line about having a bag packed to either thanks for the great live show and like Dylan, Mark is still writing and performing some of his best like Mark, I cannot seem to stop playing Ruth Moody on my playlist...

The Light Let his Eyes | Reviewer: stuarth44 | 3/10/13

I was MK,s greatest fan
But the light has gone from his eyes, years ago
IMO he should stop giving interviews as mainly he comes across as being totally bored
IMO he needs to go sailing, or hiking(not back to Philly either)
because he is aging faster than his years
Sadness, ? do not know
He is the greatest composer since Mozart
But although I love his music, the man no longer appeals

Been Listening for three weeks (Live at the Atrium, and London Concert. Also duets with Chet Atkins | Reviewer: Robert Maxwell West | 9/17/12

It's hard to know what to say. I use to hear Money for Nothing back in 1985. I thought it was a little different and was driving rock & roll.

The past three weeks I've been listening to "Live at the Atrium" and the London Concert.

The first song on the Atrium concert was "Sailing to Philadelphia" attractive I thought. Then I listened to the concert again and again and began to see the subtleties in the Lyrics and how the story was unfolding. Jeremiah Dixon, They cut me out for Baking bread, but I had other dreams instead. They call me Charlie Mason, A stargazer am I, seems like I was born to chart the evening skies. "And join the Royal Society (the most famous society of Scientists in the world in England. Sir Issac Newton was president for a time. "To make my mark upon the earth. What was that mark? The Mason Dixon Line, which to my knowledge was surveyed by Mason and Dixon. "A Stargazer am I" later, "How your star should guide us here". Then there are some English, perhaps Scottish Idioms to be looked into. What a fascinating slowly unfolding story with many links to tie it together. "Philadelphia", the seat of Americas early government, "freedom and liberty". From what I understand, Mason and Dixon surveyed parts of New England, and made their mark upon the earth with the Mason Dixon Line which was the line separating the Slave States from the non Slave States and later separating the North from the south. These lyrics are packed with all kinds of goodies, and the music perfectly sets them off in song. Simple, no pretension. Is Mark the real deal? Is their something unusual in our midst. I work with the idioms and see what they bring out.
I'm a little afraid of how strong the impact of his style is. Trained as a Classical Guitarist with a Master's in Composition, I listen to Mark Knopfler and his music sticks to my ribs, and runs through my head. I'm a little afraid of Idolatry because I'm a Christian. But even Calvin, a pretty hard liner, said that it seems like much of the arts are not always covered by Christians and these Non Christians seem to get closer to heaven then we do. Well,he said, "all truth is God's truth.

a short one | Reviewer: Robert Maxwell West | 9/17/12

Don't want to hog the forum but needed to say a few more things about Mark Knopfler. The seeming simplicity of his guitar parts, either finger picking, or using a plectrum: these are perfect for his songs. And yes he plays melodies on an electric instead of flying all over the fingerboard (I'm sure he could if he did so choose). His virtuoso work can be heard while playing with Chet Atkins. His musical development seemed to flow in a fairly smooth way. The concerts on youtube that I mentioned are: Mark Knopfler, and Evening with Mark Knopfler (Live at the Atrium, running about 56') and his London Concert running over an hour. It is easy to see how he could manage and score films.

Mark the man with GOD given talent | Reviewer: matthew joganna | 6/30/12

Theres a saying that goes"Many are called but few are chosen". And Mark is one of them chosen to change peoples lives with
the kind of music that he writes and plays. It will be an honor to meet u someday but untill that days comes, your music is the food of love so play on.

Inspiring | Reviewer: Phyllis Hoffman | 2/6/12

I've always loved the band and Mark, particularly. I'm retired now and have returned to my passion of painting. Golden Heart played constantly as I painted my most recent work and it was a wonderful experience - one of my best paintings.

Breathtaking experience. | Reviewer: AnthonyC | 12/30/11

The 1986 brother in arms tour in Sydney was my first live experience of this breathtaking band. Simply great. My brother waited for hours to get tickets, thanks Ang. My favorite was" industrial disease" a classic. Thanks mark & dire straits for impacting my life positively.

Mark's early days in Leeds | Reviewer: Dave Johnson | 8/30/11

In 1970, Mark asked me to join his new band, as bass-player. We didn't have a name for it, but Mick Dewhirst the singer and I came up with the name "Silverheels". Mark was absolutely fantastic, even then. About this time, Mark wrote "Summer's coming my way", which we recorded at Harding's Studio in Pudsey, Leeds, in April 1970. The "Studio" was the attic of Mr Harding's house. Mark played Steve Phillips's National guitar and handled the vocals, Steve played 12-string, Paul Granger was on drums, and I did the bass part. Even then, Mark was keen to get it just right, and we must have done about 18 takes. I still have the single-sided demo disc. Afterwards, we all went for a pint to 'The Daisy', which was a good pub just round the corner. Happy days. If ever a guy deserved his success, it's Mark.

Once in a life time legend | Reviewer: Vasant Kudva | 8/18/11

It is said that once in every 500 yrs a genius is born. And so on the 12th of August 1949 it was Mark's advent into the world.
His Style, approach and his music sets him as a breed apart.Crooning while playing the lead is a rare combination and Mark is the undisputed king of that world.Back here in India there are millions of fans wanting to kiss the earth he walks on.
I consider myself fortunate to be born in an era where I breathe the same air that he does.Hoping to see Mark do a tour of India some time soon.

Six blade Knife | Reviewer: Anonymous | 7/21/11

Mark Knopler is da best i got to love his music in an hour played by a friend of mine an six blade knife was the best song dat made my nite da nite. Now i lesson Mark Knopler music when happy,stresd, tired n when doing some house hold core.the music is fantastic never loses value.

love the sone metroland | Reviewer: kaelin | 3/15/11

i love the metroland theme song-instrumental... it is one of the most moving peices i think i have ever heard... i listend to it 3 times before i could quite now im writeing a piece on it for music class...!!! hope i do well...

Man from passage of heaven | Reviewer: Anonymous | 10/29/10

Mark is a gifted guitar man from heaven. His voice is ok but his guitar sound is unmatched by anyone.
I never get tired of listening to his "sultans of swing" and is the most touched and most beautiful
guitar ever. Thanks you MK.

MY FAVORITE BAND & GUITARIST | Reviewer: SunnyBoy | 9/14/10

...loving their music anyways, I saw DIRE STRAITS live-1991 ON EVERY STREET tour in Munich. The extended Sultans of Swing guitar solo ended, with a 21 or 22 minute applause/stomping the floorboards in the MUNICH OLYMPIAHALLE ( I timed it). That's my best memory for my best band.

Simply the best | Reviewer: Walter | 2/9/10

Ever since I heard Dire Straits for the first time in Holland it was I just loved it.
The guitars and his voice are match made in heaven.
I feel very glad that 2 years ago I had the chance of seeing him on stage live for the first time in Rotterdam and since then I just now he simply is the best.
See you in Amsterdam later this year...

The simplicity of life... | Reviewer: Júlio | 8/23/09

... is translated to music by Mark.
I believe that this, more than anything, is the reason why so many people loves his music.
His compositions are so personal and actual, no mather your age, your religion or beliefs.
Mark's music stroke my when I was 11 in a radio commercial of the release of 'Brothers In Arms' album. I was on the school bus, returning home and, besides all the noise of the old bus engine and all the kids speaking at the same time, time just stopped and that incredible song just took over my senses.
It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard and still as one of my favourite songs of all time.
Being portuguese and not speaking english (and far, far away from these days of instant information with the internet) I started to read all I could about Dire Straits. I asked my father the BiA album but it would only happen on my 16th birthday. From that day on, I never stopped buying every LP and later CD from DS/MK.
Listening to Mark's songs and music makes me believe that there is a God in heaven and He keeps us in touch with Him through his angel's music. Thank you Mark for bringing me happiness for all these years.

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