Mark Knopfler

TrackAlbum
Done With BonaparteGolden Heart
Sailing To PhiladelphiaSailing To Philadelphia
One More MatineeSailing To Philadelphia
The Last LaughSailing To Philadelphia
Quality ShoeThe Ragpicker's Dream
The Ragpicker's DreamThe Ragpicker's Dream
Old PigweedThe Ragpicker's Dream
Stand Up GuyShangri-La
Postcards From ParaguayShangri-La
Whoop De DooShangri-La

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Contributor: Roger Woods

This is a very limited selection from Mark Knopfler’s extensive catalogue. I could have chosen ten tracks from any of the latter three albums as my all-time favourites. His song writing is prolific and continually of an extraordinary high standard.

If he ever had to enter a witness protection programme, perhaps, say, relocating to some small town in Finnish Lapland, Mark Knopfler better not take his guitar. His fingerpicking rock style is so distinctive that the game would be up immediately. Sami rock lovers would queue round the block outside his wooden house in the forest. To date, as far as I know, he hasn’t recorded a song about relocating into a witness protection programme but it’s the sort of event he’d be quite likely to write about. He’s written about criminals and hit man victims (Postcards From Paraguay and 5.15 AM on Shangri-La). Look at some of the sometimes picayune and unique circumstances he’s described in song. The Scaffolder’s Wife (Kill To Get Crimson, 2007) outlines the life of – well, the wife of a scaffolder. From the same album, Secondary Waltz details the circumstances of an all-male secondary school PE teacher coaching his class in ballroom dancing back in the early sixties. In Border Reiver from Get Lucky (2009) the life of a Scottish truck driver is sampled.

Since the break up of Dire Straits in the early 1990s Mark’s music has taken on a distinctive folk-oriented Celtic flavour with pipes, whistles and fiddles much to the fore. The distinctive narrative style however was no less prominent back in the days of mega-selling albums like Brothers In Arms. Think of Dire Straits playing Sultans Of Swing where the biography of the eponymous band is laid out for us, or the big chart hit (as so many) Romeo And Juliet. Play a Mark Knopfler album and you’ll travel a far reaching journey from the foot of the gallows in 18th Century London (Madam Geneva’s on Kill To Get Crimson), listening to a Napoleonic soldier’s lament (Done With Bonaparte on Golden Heart, 1996) to Don’t Crash The Ambulance (Shangri-La, 2005) presumably featuring George Bush (senior) offering advice on statesmanship to offspring George W (“…watch and learn son, watch and learn…”).

Some songs and albums work better than others and while some are stronger, none are weak. Like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen or Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler could play a completely different concert several nights running and still send his (extremely loyal) followers home more than satisfied. And you don’t have to go to a concert to watch him. To see almost all of the songs I’ve mentioned being played in one concert or another, down the years and round the world, just head for YouTube. He isn’t precious, as so many artists are, about people taking photos at concerts. On his website the Recording Policy proscribes video recorders and cameras but cameras and personal audio recording devices are made welcome.

There are imperfections of course. In such a large body of work there’ll be the occasional mistake. On occasion the material comes across to me as somewhat contrived (although Mark himself has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t know where the songs come from and that there are thousands of them in his song store). Amongst the worst lines I’ve heard in song is one from Get Lucky (on Get Lucky, 2009) “… if you’ve got a Truffle Dog, you can go truffling…”. No matter. There’s so much more to enjoy. Three albums stand out for me. I don’t know which I’d take to a desert island but it would be one of these: Sailing To Philadelphia (2000), The Ragpicker’s Dream (2002) or Shangri-La (2004). I’ll buy the next album as soon as it’s released and I’ll be right at the front at a concert on the next tour.

Mark Knopfler website

The official Mark Knopfler News website

Dire Straits – Toppermost #311

Mark Knopfler biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #162

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jan 11, 2014

    Great list of a great artist. He tends to be forgotten by the mainstream. But this is a good thing.

  2. Ilkka Jauramo
    Feb 6, 2014

    It is a pity that Mark Knopfler did not reform Dire Straits. John Illsley’s dramatic concert in 2006 at Cathedrale d’Image in Les Baux de Provence France showed how much he still had to give to this band.

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