wed 19/06/2024

Mark Knopfler, Royal Albert Hall review - the Sultan's return | reviews, news & interviews

Mark Knopfler, Royal Albert Hall review - the Sultan's return

Mark Knopfler, Royal Albert Hall review - the Sultan's return

Dire Straits' frontman hits the road for what he says will be his last tour.

'He's the Man': Mark Knopfler

Prufrock might have measured his life in coffee spoons but for many of us it’s rock albums, the money to buy them way back when scrabbled together from Saturday jobs and student grants  –  remember them?

Many in the audience at the Royal Albert Hall last night for Mark Knopfler surely did and we knew precisely where we were when we heard “Sultans of Swing”, which caught the ear on late-night student radio  –  that open-tuning National Steel guitar, the story of George, “who knows all the chords”, delivered in a voice and style that seemed to mix Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. We were out in the world and earning money (though probably not much) when Brothers in Arms was released – the first album to sell a million copies in the new-fangled aluminium-aspic format of CD.

Though it regrouped in the Nineties, Dire Straits was officially dissolved 30 years ago and Knopfler has since worked with a wonderfully eclectic range of artists, among them Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins, the Chieftains, Tina Turner and Bob Dylan, in addition to his own country band the Notting Hillbillies, and he has written a clutch of film scores. He’s pushing 70 now and has said that while he loves the solitary process of writing songs, “the best part is playing them to an audience live”. The current tour – allegedly his last – kicked off in Barcelona last month, winds its way through Europe and hits the US in mid-August just after that big birthday.

“An Evening with Mark Knopfler and Band” as it’s billed features mostly familiar faces: Guy Fletcher on keyboards, Richard Bennett on guitar, Jim Cox on piano, Mike McGoldrick on woodwind, John McCusker on violin and cittern, Glenn Worf on bass, Ian Thomas and Danny Cummings on drums and percussion, plus Graeme Blevins on sax, and Tom Walsh on trumpet. Together they make a beautiful noise though (from where I sat at least) it was a little over-amped, brass and the vast battery of percussion at times too obstreperous, while Knopfler’s vocals were too far down in the mix, his carefully wrought lyrics too often indiscernible.

The set drew from across the Knopfler catalogue, including “My Bacon Roll” and “Matchstick Man” from his latest outing, Down the Road Wherever, which is as much a collection of short stories as an album, each song taking us into a different world and revealing once again his reporter’s eye for detail. His trademark guitar sang out, always precise and tasteful, space between the notes, a myriad influences evident in his playing. Knopfler has talked about his interest in the way music travelled back and forth across the Atlantic and, as the Celtic notes testify, that interest runs deep. There’s blues and jazz, hints of folk and funk, but the canvas is essentially roots rock, thoughtful yet laid back and seemingly effortless – and never flashy. This guitar man doesn’t do histrionics.

The audience was immediately on its feet and cheering as Knopfler, now a tad plump and bespectacled, opened the show with “Why Aye Man”, which was used as the theme tune for Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Its story of “nomad tribes [of] traveling boys” heading to Germany in search of work and decent beer strikes a different note amid Britain’s Brexit crisis. While there was no “Sultans of Swing”, fans nostalgic for the Dire Straits years were rewarded with “Once Upon a Time in the West”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Your Latest Trick”, “Money for Nothing” and, as an encore, “Brothers in Arms”, written during one of Britain’s more controversial wars (the Falklands in this case) yet timeless. “Sailing to Philadelphia” was exquisite, a number from Knopfler’s second solo album, when it was a duet with James Taylor. From Real Live RoadRunning came “Done with Bonaparte”, recorded in 2006 with Emmylou Harris, Knopfler putting aside the Gibson and the Fender for his National Steel, with McCusker and McGoldrick on whistle, pipes and fiddle transporting the audience deep into the country.

The evening closed (of course) with “Going Home”, Knopfler’s first film score, written for the 1983 movie Local Hero which this year came to the stage as a musical.

Liz Thomson's website

The canvas is essentially roots rock, thoughtful yet laid back and seemingly effortless – and never flashy. This guitar man doesn’t do histrionics


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Hiya - nice article! Just a couple of factual points - Sultans of Swing was famously played on Knopfler's classic red Fender Stratocaster (the open tuned National was used on 'Romeo and Juliet'. 'Done with Bonaparte' was originally from his first solo album 'Golden Heart.' in 1996. Cheers! Steve

Thanks, Steve, and apologies - I obviously had 3am brain fade! Not sure how my mind's ear merged those two very distinct songs!

It was a great concert and I agree that Mark Knopfler's vocals were too far back in the mix. This was my only real criticism, which could easily be rectified. This issue was especially notable on the more busy songs, where the words whilst audible, were not clearly discernible. Nevertheless the feeling was there and still an excellent concert with high quality musicians. I think Mark may have been a little fatigued, which is not surprising for a man of his age. As he said, he keeps doing it because he loves the music.

If you mention Chet and Emmi Lou you need to add Don & Phil,

I loved the concert and agree with your observation about the atmos-fear - my good lady was desperate to dance but it seemed to be 'not the done thing' in terms of the set list, as I say I loved everything he did......but compared to other gig's - why no 'Sultans' or 'Brothers in Arms? possibly feeling a bit cheated! mistake - thought this was a different article reflecting on the Newcastle gig on sunday!! Need to learn how to navigate properly

I agree about the vocals, but I think its more than just the mix there are issues with the new sound system in the Albert Hall It was the same with Clapton the week before , with Mark on Wednesday they lost the sound completely from the main stage system we only heard the flying cluster witch was not good at all from where I was sitting.

I thought Auf Wiedersehen Pet had its own individual theme song, which was sang by Jimmy Nail?

I went to see Mark Knofler in Amsterdam at our state-of-the-art facility, The Ziggo Dome and we had the same issue with his voice being to quiet. In many songs you could barely make out some of his lyrics. It might not be then sound system at Albert Hall that is the reason, maybe his age is. Factor.

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