20 Mark Knopfler Milestones — By Mark Himself

August 12, 2015

As Mark Knopfler and his band take a break from their 'Tracker' tour, we're wishing Mark a very happy 66th birthday today, August 12, with another chance to look back on a remarkable career so far — as remembered by the man himself. uDiscover presents a selection of 20 key events and discoveries in his life and career, as described in numerous interviews over the last two decades with music journalist Paul Sexton.

1. On his early love of records:
“I’d grown up listening to the Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson. One of the first records that really knocked me out was [Nelson’s 1959 hit] ‘Just A Little Too Much,’ which had some tremendous stuff by James Burton on it”

Young Knopfler

2. On how his love of guitars developed as a boy:
“I knew what the Fender catalogue smelt like, what the grain of paper was like, I wanted this thing so badly. I was always in trouble at school. I would be making metallic noises at the back of the class and playing ‘Wipeout’ runs on my desktop”

3. On his first guitar, a twin pick-up Höfner V2:
“I managed to get my dad to buy that, bless him. It cost him 50 quid, which was a big stretch for him. I didn’t have the nerve then to ask him for an amplifier, so I used to borrow friends’ acoustic guitars. Looking back, they were pretty bad, pretty often, but I learned to play on them”

4. On teaching himself to play:
“I learned to fingerpick on acoustic guitars, and playing with a flat pick on the electric, so I had that sort of dual education. Being self-taught, you can reaily go off in the wrong direction for years. It’s a guitar teacher’s nightmare”

5. On cultivating his love of folk music:
“Folk joints were the first places I started to play, just through not being to afford an amplifier. That’s never really disappeared. My sister came home with the first Bob Dylan album when I was 11 or 12, and I’ve just always been into folk music. I’m still listening to it now”

Knopfler Sue Hercombe

6. On how his sound developed from the teenage folk duo he was in with school friend Sue Hercombe:
“For me, a lot of it was to do with experimenting, as I moved on from being in a duo with a girl at school playing folk songs to having a little band with a pianist — wow! Then making things bigger, then coming back around again to a stripped down thing. As long as it’s going somewhere. I don’t like things being static”

7. On the first gigs he went to see:
“Newcastle City Hall is where I went as a kid, that’s where I saw my first shows that made me want to do this in the first place, like Chuck Berry. And I saw my first British rock star there, Joe Brown”

Knopfler National

8. On his love of the American National steel guitar, featured on one of the most famous album covers of all time, Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’:
“I got into Nationals when I moved to Leeds. Steve Phillips [his early creative partner, and later colleague in the Notting Hillbillies] had a Duolian [National]. When he upgraded, I bought his Duolian, the one with palm trees on it. It’s on songs like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and a lot of other records”

9. On his first visit to the USA:
“By the time I got to America, I was on a Greyhound bus ticket and not a lot else, just a shoulder bag. That was in ’76. I was really excited about getting there at last, especially with the music, and not just because I was a complete blues nut. I was really into folk music, but also I was more aware that Irish and Scottish and English folk songs had gone to America and come back. This interaction between the continents always interested me, even from the first songs I was writing in trying to make a parallel”

dire-straits-debutalbum

10. On how a song on the debut, self-titled Dire Straits album was inspired by his own situation:
“‘Southbound Again,’ there’s the mythical journey from the north to the Delta, and there’s the other journey that was always taking me from Newcastle to London. When I was wasn’t hitchhiking, when I was lucky enough to get a train ticket, I would always be looking out of the window looking out over the River Tyne, and it was always the same feeling when you’re going home. All Geordies will know what I’m talking about”

Dire-straits live,jpg

11. On life in the fast lane, at the height of Dire Straits’ success:
“Back in the days of 250-date tours or whatever it would be, I think I was just running. At some point, you’ve got to look at yourself, and decide what’s a more balanced way of being. I think you get a better grip on the pace”

12. On wanting to change to a more intimate way of working:
“It got so big, I just wanted to go another way. I wouldn’t say I felt out of place in it, but I never really felt it was a fix that I needed as a permanent part of my life, and I thought if I was going to improve as a writer and a player, I was going to have to get myself into another situation. I was getting away from being the guy writing the song with his guitar. To me, that’s the centre of the whole thing. I don’t want to get too far away from him, ever”

13. On British Grove, his studio in west London that he opened in the mid-2000s and now records all his work:
“It’s a difficult place to leave at nighttime. The studio is the same size as the bedroom in a little mews house where I used to do a lot of recording, whenever the builders were quiet or there wasn’t an aeroplane going over. It was a frustrating place to work in, so eventually I decided to do it properly and get a proper studio”

Knopfler Emmylou

14. On recording the album ‘All The Roadrunning’ with his friend Emmylou Harris, and their subsequent tour together:
“That was a pleasurable thing from beginning to end. Whenever something is fun, I look for a way to make it last longer. It was the same with the Notting Hillbillies. With Emmy, we thought we’d do some dates. Every night, there’d be something in there that was new and fun”

15. On following an album with an extensive tour:
“I’ve always made a record then gone out and played the songs. A lot of other people would rather be feeding the fish or something. But it’s always great playing around Europe and rekindling the relationship with those countries. Finding new towns is great, and going back to places you’ve enjoyed being in”

16. On playing the old Dire Straits hits:
“People will always want you to play songs from the songbook, that’s part of what you’re doing playing live. You’ve got to please yourself, but at the same time it’s a celebration. You’re all there to have a good time together. I enjoyed writing the songs, I enjoyed recording them so I’m going to enjoy playing them. If I get up there and play ‘Romeo & Juliet’ or ‘Brothers In Arms,’ it’s because I want to play them. It’s important to me that it’s important to people, that you’ve created milestones in people’s lives”

17. On why he remained a songwriter, rather than becoming, say, a novelist:
“I think people arrive at being a novelist and it’s a compulsion. Being a painter or a poet is the same thing. Playing the guitar for me was a compulsion, then realising what I wanted to do was write songs. You have to follow what’s compulsive. I think what you should try to find is not what you can do, but what you must do”

Privateering Knopfler,jpg

18. On what inspires him:
“The things that broke my heart when I was a kid, and I would write songs about, still do now. I still write about the same sorts of things. Essentially ordinary people, Making something of it can be quite difficult sometimes. But I’m eternally grateful for having that as my rather strange occupation”

19. On the compulsion to capture moments from real life in a song:
“Sometimes there are just circumstances that tell you there’s a song brewing, and you’re kind of helpless at that point. If I saw the Sultans of Swing now in a pub in Deptford, I think I’d go off and write about it”

Knopfler tour

20. On still loving what he does:
“My enjoyment of making records has increased with age. I love to write. The feeling of being inspired, for want of a better word, is one of the best feelings you can have”

Listen to uDiscover’s Mark Knopfler playlist on Spotify
Explore our dedicated Mark Knopfler Artist Page

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65 comments

  1. Tom Menard

    I’ve loved Mark’s work from the first time I heard him (and Dire Straits). Every album, all the songs, every one of them are wonderful. I go back and listen after a time and still hear new things, I can honestly say that every song has an appeal that comes forward even if the first time wasn’t as important as the blossom moment.

  2. Bud Blauer

    Despite all the wonderful musicians enshrined there, I will have no respect at all for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until Mark, or Dire Straits, are admitted.

  3. pacífico

    I´m addicted to his work .. it´s a great pleasure, listen to all the stuff .. from Dire Straits days, soundtracks, concerts or whenever he does. Keep on rocking Mark!

  4. Dawn Ball

    Am looking forward to the next album. Adore the story style of Mark’s work & the folk & country influence. Understand how he became suffocated by his involvement as part of Dire Straits but still miss them also. Love all Mark’s solo albums and they are our regular dining in Saturday night accompaniments to fine dining. My grandson Connor Lawlor has just released his first self funded EP “Back to You” and he writes from experience & plays acoustic guitar accompaniment. He just wants to get his music out there & I hope he has the tenacity to see his ambition through. Go from strength to strength Mark.

  5. Faye Campbell

    Love your philosophy, Love your music. 32 of my favourites on my IPOD. I play them over and over and never tire of hearing them. Thank you for the beautiful gift.

  6. Paul granger

    Had many a good night playing music with Mark back in Leeds. We had a couple of bands together and practiced our sets in the village hall at Linton near
    Wetherby.
    I now reside in Florida and have my own band playing local gigs around Pinellas county. I also build guitars, coastline bespoke guitars. Com. Waiting for my big order from my old mate Mark.
    All the best.
    Paul granger ( Pauly gee )

  7. Katy Harvey

    Have become addicted to Mark’s wonderful music over the years. I never grow tired of it. The more you hear it the more you love it. Agree with the comment above about the Rock and Roll Hall of fame; it needs revision with Mark at the top!

    1. Eduard

      Agree 1 million percent with what you write Katy…
      Rock’n Roll Hall of fame without Sir Mark Knopfler, is like the history of literature having no Shakespeare or history of sculpture having no Michelangelo…

  8. nedlock

    I’m not a guitar player,but a good listener of all his musics since The first DIRE STRAITS album, the way Mark plays guitar is really like a gift to make it sing! and show us how to follow the mood of each songs!
    Hoping that someday he makes a concert in Tahiti.

  9. Andy

    I love listening to how Marks song develop over time.
    None of them sound the same now as when first recorded .
    I prefer the newer versions than the originals , especially ‘Sultans of Swing’

  10. Cindy O

    As a musician/drummer, my first influences were the Beatles and the Kinks, the band I most learned how to play drums *thanks Mick Avory). But when Dire straits came along, everything else went by the wayside and I was hooked forever. Mark has always been my favorite artist, seen his shows and actually met him back in 2001. There’s little else to say without making myself sound like a giddy teenager but that’s the effect Knopfler has always had on me. Seriously, why STILL no R&R Hall of Fame?!

  11. Paul

    Your music is such a personal thing for me, through triumph and tragedy it’s always been there like a good friend and companion. It’s sort of part of me in some strange way. Never gets old, never gets stale, and flows along like life itself. So many songs, so many road trips, so great. And Lady Writer, how many times have I listened to that. Countless, and I hear something new every time? I’m on the ancient battlefield, dying with my comrades in Brothers in Arms. I mean I’m THERE. How do you explain that kind of writing and music? Thanks for everything.

  12. Jan P, NL

    Thanks Mark, for creating milestones in my live. Sultans of Swing: I could not believe what I heard, aged 16, went off to buy the record, without having a player. The record player never came, but I do have most of your records. Lifetime companions. Thanks.

  13. Ines

    I’m just now listening your new Beryl.. I listen to it once, twice and again, and again.. Can’t stop..
    You music is what I breath since I wake up until I go to sleep. I feel so grateful to you for creating the soundtrack of my life: first with DS and later on your own, with those sounds that feed my soul.
    When I listen the wonderful music you do, I feel so small.
    Please never stop.
    THANK YOU

  14. john r. luton

    M K music turns my brain into sponge. Once heard , it is in planted and I cant help it but want to sing them all day long. Love them all . My fav. ‘ Ticket to heaven’. class act .
    Love the man. He lets us enjoy in his gift . God bless him again.

  15. Stephane Lajoie

    Mr Mark Knopfler…It was around 1979 in Melbourne, Australia, as a small boy at the age of 8 when I heard Sultans of Swing on the radio…a few years passed and by chance I saw DS on TV at Alchemy…I remember to this day that something happened to me when I saw that footage…I was spellbound and have been ever since.

    I’m 42 now and have been a musician ever since. Thank you for your great music, both in DS and the solo albums….but more importantly thank you for being an inspiration…you saved my life.

  16. Thom Vervalin

    From your first Dire Str through today I have admired your work. I am sure you do not need to be told you are truly gifted. Nothing great is easy and I am sure you have worked hard to get where you are. I just want to thank you, your music has made my life better in so many ways. If you ever stop making music the world will be a poorer place. Thanks again and good luck.

  17. Yanick Vigneault

    My son and I are going to see Mark Knopfler October 7, 2015, in Montreal Place des Arts. This will be the culmination of a dream for both of us. His music is a balm for the soul and it would be a great honor to meet him backstage.

  18. Frank Graybeal

    Happy birthday to my favorite artist. Saw you in May at the Newcastle Radio Arena…..wonderful. I’ll see you in the autumn at DPAC, Durham, NC. Can’t wait. All the best, and thanks for your work.

  19. Andy White

    The best memories of my working life were looking after the trucking for some Dire Straits tours down under especially the big one Brothers in Arms through Australia and NZ and having the opportunity to listen to so many of Mark’s concerts.
    One outstanding night was during a very wet outdoor concert where the show went on in very difficult circumstances, many lesser performers would have not played that night Mark and Jack finished the night without their wet shirts which made for an iconic front page photo in the paper the following day with the pouring rain highlighted by the concert lighting.
    Happy Birthday Mark and thank you for all the great music

  20. Paul Granger

    Contact me Mark. I have a nice Coastline guitar , hand built by me !!!
    Hope you will give one a test drive.
    Many thanks.
    I’m in San Fransisco on a working vacation showing our
    Guitars to some smaller guitar stores.
    Lots of interest because they compete quality and sound wise to 4 and 5 thousand dollar guitars. We can beat them hands down in all areas. Paul.

  21. Ellen Gershenbaum

    mark’s music takes me away to another world. his storytelling in each song mesmerizes me. just saw him in philly, and i wish i could watch him live every week. he is a genius.

  22. Rick

    Mark,

    I just want to thank you for the years of great music. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t listen to something by you or your fellow musicians. Sultans of Swing is timeless…every bit as enjoyable today as those days playing foozball at the local corner lunch during high school. Every album since has been like a new chapter in an amazing story. You have given me and my family endless hours of enjoyment. You are a classic…From the son of a Geordie lass….be well.

  23. Leo woehlcke

    This is, perhaps, the closest I’ll ever come to thanking you in person. One of our fondest memories is coming home to the Shangri La album and dancing to Our Shangri La. To use one of your lines: And if we get to heaven….maybe l’ll see you. Until then, thank you !

  24. scott graham

    MK has been my “go-to guy” since S of S first aired in Seattle in ’78. few pop writers have been able to hold my attention with interesting lyrics and subjects for so long and so completely. and that guitar work!!!!!!!!

  25. caroline jarvie

    This mans dedication to music is Legend!! We watch YouTube clips avidly, we care for a lady with Parkinsons disease and she finds Marks music truly healing-lone may you continue my friend, you bring Joy to us all! Now, when are you coming to New Zealand ????

  26. David Ehrenfeld

    Just retired in Nashville last year. One of my favorite things to do is play the ending of Tunnel of Love, cranked up as loud as possible in my apartment.

  27. Dave r Jotski

    Listing to Dire Straits is like breathing mountain air, I have always known MK is a brilliant guitarist, but it was only when I saw him perform in the ‘Music of Monserrat’ DVD, that I saw his true genius! Fan for ever…………………..totally addicted!

  28. Judy Jones

    Or @trippindaisiess on twitter
    Dearest Mark Knophler,
    Thank you for sharing this. I find it very endearing when an artist, of your caliper takes the time, or let’s the fans in on the ones they admire most or grew up trying their hardest to sound half as good as you, only to finally figure out that there is, and always will be, just ONE of you!
    I have had tickets to see you perform twice, many years ago, but was unable to attend due to deaths in the family both times. I don’t want to die with the regret of having never watched/heard you play, live!
    Regardless, THANK YOU for all the great music, so far, and my wish for you and yours is peace, love and happiness to you and yours, ALWAYS!

  29. brendan kilcoyne

    Oh, man, I don’t know what to say-Mark’s music and his guitar style are like no others. The music is so evocative, so full of imagery; I can smell the coal smoke, I can hear the far-off fog horn, the train whistle, I can see the rough, greasy haired lads stumbling out of the bars, and I can taste the hard-earned ale. Dire Straits are one of the bands I most regret never having seen. Mark Knopfler is a working class genius, and I hope he lives forever.

  30. Luana Bardavid

    A Soul who plays like this – will only ever “share” like this……your Secret was always to feel the moment and not like anything static- as long as it was going somewhere….
    You harnessed your “gift” and…
    PS your voice isn’t too bad either….thank-you for sharing -“human” is one thing “genius” is another….
    Luana

  31. Dave Lewis

    Just before MK got married in Barbados I received a phone call from Gerry Rafferty (who I knew from his visits there) to see if I could find which hotel Mark was staying in. Unfortunately, it was a closely guarded secret. Did Gerry manage to track MK down?

  32. Zehava Gross

    Flew from Israel with my husband to hear you perform in Berlin. Tore my hair like a teenage girl. Would you it again anytime. First row!!! Divine. Intoxicating!
    Dying to meet and interview you.

  33. Tressa

    May you keep writing, recording and performing for years to come! Every time I listen to one of your songs I hear something new. We have all been blessed by your compulsion. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few of your concerts – not nearly enough – and hope for more.

  34. Tom Brabazon

    A true genius who can cross over traditional sounds with rock. Every time I listen to Mark’s music I hear something new. The clear distinct note and tone from his guitar playing reflects the wonderful music tradition that departed Ireland and Scotland for the New World and it has come back again across the Atlantic Bridge stronger and better for the experience styled and played by Mark in his own very unique way. Piper to the End and Telegraph Road accompanied me on my morning run today. What a way to start the day! Keep it going Mark, love those sounds – keep ”em coming!

  35. leon

    when I first heard Marks songs during the Dire Straits days, it was really something like it capture my heart, as he said it is a way of life for people. Later Marks songs is about life, Get Lucky, it seems a story but relates to realistic events in life. His compositions are not mere imaginations but realistic that is why it is appealing to listeners. We need to clone Marks talents, MK is a musical milestone…..

  36. Michael Cooke

    Mark, I would love to have an aleor two with you.

    When next you are in Sydney, Australia, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Thanks

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