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John Illsley: The Life & Times Of Dire Straits
An evening of chat and music that will entertain and educate you about one of the world's biggest rock bands
By Michael Burland
John Illsley is best known as the bass player in megastar band Dire Straits. In fact he's more than that. A founder member of one of the biggest bands – recording and live – in rock history, Illsley was there with Mark Knopfler from the very beginning (their meeting in a council flat in South London, with Knopfler having fallen asleep on the floor cradling his guitar) all the way through their extraordinary career. As such, he knows the whole story, and now he's sharing it with fans on a UK theater tour that combines music, chat and a Q&A session where the audience can submit their own questions.
The evening is split into two halves, each starting with a conversation between Illsley and his old friend and former Dire Straits co-manager Paul Cummins. Cummings is a genial host, handing John some easy questions designed to let the musician tell his entertaining tales of how he met Knopfler, how they wrote some of the most famous, familiar and beloved songs in the rock canon, and life on the road in in studios from London to New York and Montserrat to Nassau. But Paul also throws some curve-balls, testing John's memories of obscure dates and meetings. Following the chat, members of John's touring band join him on stage to play some of those amazing Dire Straits songs including 'Money for Nothing', 'Brothers in Arms', 'Romeo and Juliet', early number 'Wild West End' and 'Sultans of Swing', as well as some of his own solo tunes, which add a reflective edge to the set. (John's new album Coming up for Air has just been released.) And what a band they are – Robbie McIntosh (of The Pretenders, Paul McCartney, John Mayer, Roger Daltrey, and Norah Jones) on amazing guitar, playing all Knopfler's solos as well as adding his own touch to the music, the talented Steve Smith on keyboard/vocals, and on acoustic guitar and fabulous backing vocals, Hannah Robinson. All worth seeing in their own right, and all there on the night to serve the songs faithfully. Illsley's voice is uncannily like Mark Knopfler's – not identical, but carrying the sound and feel of the Straits numbers.
In the interval you can meet and chat with John, buy his records and photos and get them signed, and maybe even buy him a pint of Guinness.
So, what brings John Illsley, used to playing some of the the largest venues in the world in front of millions of adoring fans, to an arts center in Melksham, Wiltshire? Assuming it's not for the money, it seems that although Dire Straits no longer exists as a band, he still loves the music and the memories and delights in sharing it with a like-minded audience. If you've ever loved Dire Straits, this evening will expand your knowledge of the band and its backstory. Highly recommended.
The tour ends on March 25th. Click here for details and tickets.