Dire Straits was a British rock band, formed in 1977 by Mark Knopfler (guitar and vocals), his brother David Knopfler (guitar), John Illsley (bass), and Pick Withers (drums), and subsequently managed by Ed Bicknell. Although the band was formed in an era when punk rock reigned, Dire Straits worked within the conventions of classic rock, albeit with a stripped-down sound that appealed to modern audiences weary of the overproduced stadium rock of the 1970s. In their early days, Mark and David requested that pub owners turn down the amps so that patrons could converse while the band played — indicative of their unassuming demeanor. Despite this oddly self-effacing approach to rock and roll, Dire Straits soon became hugely successful, with their first album going multi-platinum globally.
The band's best-known songs include "Sultans of Swing", "Romeo and Juliet", "Tunnel of Love", "Telegraph Road", "Private Investigations", "Money for Nothing", "Walk of Life", "So Far Away", "Brothers in Arms" and "Calling Elvis".
Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler have sold in excess of 118 million albums to date.
The group's second album, Communiqué, followed in 1979. Communiqué went to number one on the German album charts with Dire Straits simultaneously at number three. Singles released included "Lady Writer" and "Angel of Mercy". The album continued in a similar monochromatic vein as the first album, if somewhat more polished sonically. Within a year, however, this approach would change along with the band's lineup.
Although Mark played on one track on his younger brother David's first solo album, the two men have not reconciled over the years.
Keyboardist Alan Clark and Californian guitarist Hal Lindes joined the lineup for the fourth studio album, Love over Gold, which was well received on its release in September 1982, and reached #1 in the United Kingdom. The title was inspired by graffiti seen from the window of Knopfler's old council flat in Deptford, SE London. It was also the first Dire Straits album produced solely by Mark Knopfler. Its main chart hit, "Private Investigations", gave Dire Straits their first U.K. top 5 hit single, reaching the number two position despite its almost seven-minute length, and became one of the band's most popular live songs. In other parts of the world, the single "Industrial Disease" was the album's calling card, particularly in Canada where it became a top 10 hit. Love over Gold reportedly sold two million copies in the first six weeks of its release. Shortly after the release of Love Over Gold, drummer Pick Withers left the band for a jazz career. His replacement was Terry Williams, formerly of Rockpile.
In 1983, a four-song EP titled ExtendedancEPlay was released. It featured the hit single "Twisting By the Pool" which reached the Top 20 in the UK. Dire Straits also embarked on a world tour. This was followed in 1984 by the double live album, Alchemy, a recording of two live concerts of the group at London's Hammersmith Odeon in June, 1983, and reportedly was released au naturel, with no studio overdubs on the live material. At the time, the concert was also issued on video.
During 1983 and 1984 Mark Knopfler was involved in other projects. He wrote the music score for the films Local Hero (released in 1983), and Cal (released in 1984), the original soundtracks to both of which became available immediately on album.
Brothers In Arms went on to become the biggest-selling album of 1985 in the United Kingdom, and was a huge hit internationally. It spawned several chart singles: "Money for Nothing" (which reached number one in the United States and number four in the United Kingdom), "So Far Away", "Brothers In Arms", "Walk of Life", and "Your Latest Trick". The song "Money for Nothing" was the first video ever to be played on MTV in Britain, and featured guest vocals by Sting from The Police. It also won a Grammy for the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with a Vocal in 1985 at the 28th annual Grammy Awards.
The album's title track is reported to be the world's first CD single. It was issued in the United Kingdom in two separate singles as a promotional item, one distinguished with a logo for the tour, Live in '85, and a second to commemorate the Australian leg of the tour marked Live in '86. Containing just four tracks, it had a very limited print run. Meanwhile, "Walk of Life" was the band's most commercially successful single in the United Kingdom, peaking at number two. "Money for Nothing," "Walk of Life" and "Brothers In Arms" all went on to become regular live favorites.
The commercial success of Brothers in Arms was greatly aided by the fact that the album was one of the first fully digitally recorded and produced albums available in the then new Compact Disc format, leading early adopters of the new technology to consider it a "must buy" album in a limited landscape of available music in CD format. The Brothers in Arms CD was one of the first CD albums to contain material not found on the LP equivalent; it featured the full 12" version of the "Money for Nothing" cut, rather than the version that appears on the LP. In fact, the CD includes extended versions of all tracks featured on side one of the original LP, with the exception of "Walk of Life". The new compact disc offered an excellent showcase for Knopfler's meticulous production values on the group's previous albums, leading many existing fans to repurchase the group's entire back catalogue.
The 1985–86 world tour which followed the album's release was phenomenally successful. While playing a 13-night residency at Wembley Arena, the band moved down the road to Wembley Stadium on the afternoon of July 13, 1985 to appear in Live Aid. Their set included "Money For Nothing" with Sting as guest vocalist. The tour ended at the Entertainment Centre in Sydney, Australia, where Dire Straits still holds the record for consecutive appearances (21 nights). The last show of this extended stay in Sydney was recorded and broadcast on Australian and New Zealand television, and is well known for the one-off calypso rendition of "So Far Away" and the band's impromptu attempt at the famous Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda". In a two-year span, Dire Straits played 247 shows in over 100 different cities.
Brothers in Arms was similarly successful in the United States, where it peaked at No. 1 on Billboard magazine's Top Pop Albums Chart for nine weeks, going multi-platinum, and finishing at No. 5 for 1986.
Brothers in Arms was certified nine times platinum in August 1996. In 2005 it was re-released in Super Audio CD format and DualDisc format, to mark the 20th anniversary since the album's original release. The 20th anniversary edition won a Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album. A recent poll conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that Brothers in Arms is the 5th best-selling album there of all time.
Dire Straits then went on a lengthy hiatus. A greatest hits album, Money for Nothing, was released in October 1988 and reached #1 in the United Kingdom.
During 1990 Mark Knopfler and Guy Fletcher worked and toured with The Notting Hillbillies (who had a minor hit single Your Own Sweet Way from their sole album Missing...Presumed Having a Good Time). In January 1991 Dire Straits reformed again, but without drummer Terry Williams, who had departed from the group in 1989.
Dire Straits now comprised four key members: Knopfler, John Illsley, and keyboardists Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher. For the recording sessions Williams' place was taken by the highly respected American drummer Jeff Porcaro from Toto (who after recording was offered a full-time role in the band, but declined due to recording commitments to Toto). Accompanied by other part-time musicians including Paul Franklin, Danny Cummings, Chris White, and Phil Palmer, the group began recording tracks for a new album. The result was the band's final original studio album, On Every Street, which was finally released in September 1991, six years after the release of Brothers in Arms.
On Every Street was a widely anticipated release, but met with mixed reviews and moderate success. It was regarded by some reviewers as an underwhelming follow up and produced only minor hit singles, including "The Bug", (which contains backing vocals by Vince Gill who also turned down an invitation to join the band full time). Although the new album did not sell as well as its predecessor, it still hit #1 in the United Kingdom.
The 1991–1992 world tour that followed On Every Street was not as successful as the previous 1985–1986 tour, and by this time Mark Knopfler had had enough of such massive operations. The last concert in this tour (and the final concert of the group on tour) took place on October 9, 1992 in Zaragoza, Spain. A live album, On the Night, released in 1993, documented that tour, in which Chris Whitten played drums. As with On Every Street, the On The Night release met with mixed reviews, and was regarded by some reviewers as an inferior successor to the group's other live album, Alchemy.
Following Dire Straits' dissolution, Knopfler immediately launched his solo career, of which Guy Fletcher has been associated with almost every single piece of work to date, and percussionist Danny Cummings has also appeared frequently. Knopfler also started writing movie scores once again.
During 1996 the entire Dire Straits catalogue was remastered by Bob Ludwig, and re-released on CD in most of the world outside the United States. The remasters were released in September 2000 in the United States. Three 'Best of' albums have been released: Money for Nothing (1988) was followed ten years later by Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits.
In 2002 former Dire Straits members John Illsley, Chris White, Danny Cummings and Guy Fletcher joined with Mark Knopfler for four charity concerts. Brendan Croker joined Mark during the first half and they playing mainly material from The Notting Hill Billies, then Croker left at half time and John Illsley replaced him, for a Dire Straits Session, towards the end of which, at the Sheperd's Bush concert, at least, Jimmy Nail came on to provide backing vocals for Why Aye Man.
The most recent compilation is The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations, released in November 2005 Comprised of material from the majority of Dire Straits' studio albums as well as Mark Knopfler's solo and soundtrack material, it was made available in two editions: a single CD (with a grey cover) and also as double CD (with the cover in blue). The only previously unreleased track on the album is All The Roadrunning, a duet with country music singer Emmylou Harris. The album was, surprisingly, an underground hit and did exceptionally well, considering Dire Straits had broken up over 10 years prior to its release.
2005 also saw the limited edition release of the 20th anniversary edition of the Brothers in Arms album, which was also a success, winning a Grammy award for Best Surround Sound Album. Notable Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler fans include the late Douglas Adams, the late Princess Diana, Lancaster University politics guru Robert Patterson, eminent historian Sophie Dover, Quentin Tarantino, and the band The Killers, who performed a cover of Romeo and Juliet for the Live from Abbey Road series. Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar is another Dire Straits fan. The band System of a Down sometimes plays a part from Sultans Of Swing on their live concerts, as an intro for their song called Aerials, and even Metallica played Brothers In Arms live on a the 21st Annual Bridge School Benefit.