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Dire Straits Legacy - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 23 / 5 / 2022

Dire Straits Legacy - Interview

“There are lots of Dire Straits covers bands around,“ reflects Alan Clark, “but none of them play the music of Dire Straits properly in the way that Dire Straits played them and would play them now. Of course, as this band consists of members of Dire Straits, this band plays the music of Dire Straits extremely well, and at times better I would say than Dire Straits did.” Alan Clark was the keyboardist in the guitar rock band Dire Straits for fifteen years. By the time he joined the group which was led by guitarist/vocalist and songwriter Mark Knopler in 1980, they had already released two commercially successful Top 10 albums, ‘Dire Straits’ (1978)’ and ‘Communiqué’ (1979). Their next two albums ‘Makin’ Movies’ (1980) and ‘Love Over Gold’ (1982) also did similarly well, but their fifth album ‘Brothers in Arms’ (!985) lifted them to a much higher level, selling over four million copies. reaching number one in various countries including spending fourteen weeks there in the UK and proving to be the bestselling album of 1985. Dire Straits spent three years touring stadiums with 'Brothers in Arms' before going into hiatus in 1988. They reunited thee years later to record and tour their sixth and final the album, the country-influenced 'On Every Street' (1991) before finally breaking up permanently in 1995. Clark is talking to Pennyblackmusic about his covers project Dire Straits Legacy, which unusually for a covers band includes several former members of the original group. As well as Clark, Dire Straits Legacy also features guitarist Phil Palmer and drummer Danny Cummings, who played on the 'On Every Street' album. Guitarist Jack Sonni worked on 'Brothers in 'Arms' and saxophonist Mel Collins on 'Love Over Gold' . Infamous producer (ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones and Simple Minds) and one-time Buggles and Yes frontman Trevor Horn meanwhile is the bassist. Dire Straits Legacy also ahs in its line-up two Italians, vocalist Marco Caviglia and keyboardist Primiano Dibiase. Alan Clark spoke to us about Dire Straits Legacy, their forthcoming show at the 02 Indigo in London and his years in Dire Straits. PB: How did you become involved with Dire Straits back in 1980? ALAN CLARK: I became involved because they were looking for a keyboard player. I was their first keyboard player, and they asked around the business. I had been playing with Gallagher and Lyle at the time and was recommended. and I went along to a rehearsal and never came back. PB: There are eight of you in Dire Straits Legacy. How easy is it for you to meet up and play gigs? AC: It depends upon what everyone is doing. We have to take pot luck really with who is available. If the opportunity for a show comes in, we are usually quite lucky in that respect. It just depends on the situation. Sometimes someone has to drop out because they are doing something else and we have to find a replacement. PB: How did Trevor Horn become involved? AC: Trevor Horn became involved because he met myself and Phil Palmer and said, “Do you think that I could join the band?” He wanted to get back into playing the bass which is how he started out in the music business before becoming a producer. He liked the challenge of playing all the Dire Straits stuff, which takes a bit of learning. PB: And who is your frontman, Marco Caviglia? AC: Marco started all this because about fifteen years ago he invited John Illsley (former Dire Straits guitarist - Ed) and myself to open a ski resort in Italy with his band, and that led to us doing one or two other shows. Then Phil Palmer became involved, and one by one other people from the band became involved, and that was how the band evolved really. PB: Dire Straits Legacy put out their own record, ‘Three Chord Trick’, under the name of Legacy. What does your current set consist of? Do you play material from that album at all or is it entirely Dire Straits material? AC: it is pretty much entirely Dire Straits material, although we do play ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ because Trevor Horn was in Yes for a year or so and sang that. So, we play that one and sometimes we throw in one from the Legacy record, but it is predominantly all the Dire Straits hits. PB: As you say yourselves on your website you can never really have the Dire Straits without Mark Knopfler. Has he given hiss seal of approval to Dire Straits Legacy? AC: I have never spoken to him about it, but he knows that his music is in excellent hands I don’t know how he feels about Marco taking his role (Laughs) but he knows that we are making a very good rendition of the Dire Straits’ songs. PB: ‘Making Movies’ and ‘Love Over Gold’ did well, but were any of you prepared for the overwhelming success of ‘Brothers in Arms’? AC: Prepared? I don’t know how you prepare for something if you don’t know that it is going to happen, but it was very welcome when it came, and it was a great era for the band. You can never anticipate if an album is going to be a huge success. None of us knew that it was going to be a huge success, but we just hit the right note at the right time. We hit the sweet spot right with ‘Brothers in Arms’. PB: Why do you think that you hit the ‘sweet spot’ then because in many way the Dire Straits were completely out of sync with a lot else which was going on in the 1980s? AC: It is good that the Dire Straits never went with trends. Mark made the point of never doing that. I think ‘Brothers in Arms’ was just another direction for him basically. It was a good time in Mark’s life when he was writing the songs for that. He had just got married. He was living in New York and having a great time, so his music was happy then. generally speaking,, and, of course, he is a brilliant writer, so all credit must go to mark for hitting the sweet spot with the material. PB: Mark said that when he first split the band in 1988 that it had become an “accent on popularity rather than on making music.” Do you think in some ways the band just became too big to sustain? AC: Not particularly, no. We had a great time with ‘Brothers in Arms’. I think that it was a good idea to take a break, but I have to say that I was a member of the band and nobody told me that the band had split up in 1988. Literally no one told me at the time. I think that is a retrospective historical addition really. In 1988, I joined Eric Clapton’s band, but I was also Tina Turner’s musical director around that sort of era, so we all went off and did our own thing for four years or so, and Mark actually joined Eric Clapton’s band for a while. While I was in it, I actually suggested Mark as the second guitarist for the band and asked him if he wanted to do it (Laughs). So, we were all doing other things but I think that the history of Dire Straits has been rewritten really because, as I say, nobody had told me that the band had split up. When Mark said, “Okay, we are going to make another album,” I left Eric Clapton’s band and re-joined the Dire Straits. PB: ‘On Every Street’ wasn’t as well received as ‘Brothers in Arms’. Do you think that it was by default always going to pale in comparison to ‘Brothers in Arms’? AC: It would be very difficult to do as well or better than ‘Brothers in Arms’ because very few records in the history of music have ever done that. I think Mark had different periods in which he went through different musical influences, and right then he was in love with Nashville. He spent a couple of years in Nashville, and he was into that whole Nashville thing so that was where his head was at when he was writing ‘On Every Street’, hence we had the pedal steel guitar in there and there is a definite influence of country rock in that album. Perhaps that was a direction that didn’t hit that sweet spot. PB: All six studio LPs are all recognisably Dire Straits records but they don’t really sound like each other at all, do they? AC: Mark told me that after the first album, the ‘Dire Straits’ album that the record company wanted him to emulate that because it was pretty successful so with ‘Communiqué he made the mistake of trying to emulate the first album. He vowed to me that he would never try to do that again, so every studio album thereafter was markedly changed from the previous one. PB: Last two questions. You worked with Bob Dylan as well. What was that experience like? AC: It was very good. I really enjoyed it. I found Bob to be a very friendly man with a nice smile. He was easy to work with, different in that he did things on the spur of the moment without a great deal of planning, so it was a “be ready or you won’t be on the record” kind of thing. There was one instance when I nipped out to the loo, and I came back and he had started the tune, and that is a song on his recent ‘Bootleg’ album which came out a couple of months ago ('Springtime in New York' , a version of ‘Blind Willie McFell’. We did three versions of it, and I am not in the first verse because I was in the loo, and he was finishing the first verse and I was walking quietly across the studio, and Bob saw me and you can hear him laugh when he saw me. When I got back to my keyboards I didn’t even know what key the song was in, so you can hear me as the second verse starts feeding with the volume pedal and the Hammond Organ chord. I was actually trying to find out what key it was in. It fortunately worked quite well. I can’t remember if it was Robbie Shakespeare or Sly Dunbar, but they said to me, “That chord you played, it was fantastic.” It was an accident. PB: You have also just brought out a solo album, ‘Backstory’. What is on that? AC: It is me playing the piano and songs that I have been associated with in my career. There are two Bob Dylan songs. There are four Dire Straits songs. There is a Tina Turner song, and there is one of mine on there. It was all recorded solo on a big, beautiful piano in Real World studios n two sessions, one before lockdown last year and then one between lockdowns in the summer of 2020. It is just me on piano, and is entirely instrumental. PB: Thank you. Dire Straits Legacy are at the O2 Indigo, London on 1st July 2022.

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Dire Straits Legacy - Interview

Dire Straits Legacy - Interview

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Keyboardist Alan Clark speaks to John Clarkson about covers project Dire Straits Legacy, their forthcoming show at the 02 Indigo in London and his years in Dire Straits.

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