Magazine article The Spectator

Secret Admirer

Magazine article The Spectator

Secret Admirer

Article excerpt

When life becomes slightly too challenging, I'm sure I'm not alone in leaning towards comfort music. You don't want anything too jagged, or awkward, or dissonant, or glum. Nothing that makes the veins in your forehead throb. It needs to be something you know backwards but, ideally, haven't played for years and years. And it might be something you will only consider playing when everyone is out, curtains are drawn and all covert listening devices have been safely neutralised. We are speaking, obviously, of Dire Straits' 'Sultans of Swing'.

This is a generational thing, I understand. Middle-aged men are more embarrassed about liking Mark Knopfler and his old band than anyone else. Last weekend I was playing cricket and the opposing captain had to leave early to go to a Knopfler concert. His teammates jeered at him, but I'm sure most of them would happily have gone in his place. Meanwhile, my friend David announced on Facebook that he had 'made a handy discovery today: Dire Straits make superb running music. First, they play at a nice, joggy sort of rhythm and, second, Knopfler's solos go on so long that by the time they're over you've covered half a mile without really noticing . . . ' Because it would obviously be too embarrassing to say straight out that you really liked their records and played them all the time.

My rediscovery of 'Sultans', though, came via a CD of bits and bobs another friend of mine had burnt for me. 'But it's Dire Straits, ' I said to her. 'So what?' she asked.

The version she had included was a live one that may have been a B-side of an early single, and unlike their later live albums could be pleasurably listened to more than once.

It sent me straight back to their first two albums, Dire Straits (1978) and Communique (1979), and from there into a couple of days of total Knopfler immersion. And a fascinating experience it was.

The first two albums, I think, are still the best. They were recorded in a vacuum of obscurity. Communique had already been recorded by the time 'Sultans' became a worldwide hit and propelled the band to stadium live shows, silly headbands and daylong guitar solos. It's an intimate, introverted, wryly humorous record, full of oblique observations on British life and wonderful understated musicianship. …

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