Taking the 1996 album Golden Heart as the official starting point, Mark Knopfler‘s solo career span easily outstretches the time he spent at the helm of Dire Straits. But even before that staging post, and during the band’s active service, he made frequent forays into the world of film composing.
The first such project is one that became so dear to his heart, he returned to the theme some 35 years later to write for a musical with the same inspiration. The proposed June 2020 opening of Local Hero at London’s Old Vic, threatened at writing by the coronavirus pandemic, follows the warm critical and public embrace of a fringe production at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in 2019.
Listen to Local Hero right now.
Between ‘Love Over Gold’ and ‘Brothers In Arms’
Prolific as ever, Knopfler was writing for that new presentation at the same time that his ninth solo studio album, Down The Road Wherever, was taking shape. The original commission came as Dire Straits were en route to a reluctant role as global ambassadors of British rock, in the wake of their Love Over Gold set and before Brothers In Arms. His original, self-produced score for director Bill Forsyth’s charming comedy-drama saw his own name on the UK album chart for the first time on 16 April 1983.
The singer, songwriter and guitarist worked on the soundtrack in 1982 sessions at New York’s Power Station and at the now-defunct Eden Studios in west London. The latter’s Chiswick location was a ten-minute drive from the facility he now owns proudly, British Grove Studios, Knopfler’s regular, latter-day recording base.
The release of the Local Hero album was previewed by a single that has become uniquely associated with the Glasgow-born, Newcastle-raised musician. The charming instrumental ‘Going Home’ had memorable lead saxophone lines by the late American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker. It has especial resonance for fans of English football and in particular those of Knopfler’s home town club, Newcastle United, as it’s played as the team runs out before every home game. It also remains the valedictory closing song of his live set.
The ‘Going Home’ single made a modest UK chart showing in March 1983. The album also featured Knopfler’s acoustic guitar interpretation of the melody on the equally delightful ‘Wild Theme.’ The tune recurred again on the deeply atmospheric ‘The Ceilidh & The Northern Lights’ and ‘Smooching.’ Another memorable moment was provided by Gerry Rafferty’s unmistakable guest vocals on ‘The Way It Always Starts.’
Forsyth’s film, produced and brought to the screen by David Puttman, won the director a BAFTA Award and starred Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson and Fulton Mackay. Its stunning settings were filmed on the Aberdeenshire coast and on the beaches at Morar and Arisaig, on Scotland’s west coast.
The score worked, and works, just as well as a companion piece to the picture or as a delightful listen in its own right. It also served as something of a preview of the Celtic themes and pronounced folk inflections that Knopfler has explored at length in his solo catalogue. Fellow Dire Straits co-founder John Illsley played bass on ‘Freeway Flyer,’ with bandmates Hal Lindes, Terry Williams and Alan Clark among the other contributors.
“I feel very close to it”
Said Knopfler in 2018, as he continued work on the new songs for the musical bearing the same name as the cherished movie: “Everybody knows it’s a great film, and I was very honoured and glad to be a part of that. I feel very close to it and I have an awful lot of affection for it. But I think the musical should try to be something that can stand up by itself on the stage, rather than a copy of the film.”
When the stage production had its short fringe run in Edinburgh in 2019, four- and five-star reviews ensued, with The Times noting its “magical blend of Celtic folk and blues.” Knopfler had been inspired by its endearing story of Local Hero all over again.
Local Hero can be bought here.