Dire Straits formed in 1977 and originally featured Mark Knopfler on guitar and vocals, his brother David on rhythm guitar, Pick Withers on drums and John Illsley on bass. Their style of music was rather at odds with the punk rock that was popular in the late seventies. However, the band achieved greater success and more longevity than most of their punk counterparts.
The band signed with Phonogram Records in 1977 after getting ‘Sultans of Swing’ - a track from their first EP - played on BBC Radio London. The following year, they were in a recording studio with their producer, Spencer Davis Group legend Muff Winwood, creating their eponymous first album. An A&R rep at Warner Brothers, New York spotted their potential and Dire Straits were soon invited to be the opening band on the 1978 Talking Heads tour. They released their debut album during the same year to worldwide success and acclaim.
As the band moved into the eighties, the Dire Straits sound evolved into something more complex and experimental. The 1980 album ‘Making Movies’ featured their smash hit ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and live favourite ‘Tunnel of Love’, which is also name-checked in the fourth novel in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’. This new intricate style continued with the band’s next album ‘Love Over Gold’ which spawned the hits ‘Private Investigations’ and ‘Industrial Disease’.
Dire Straits embarked on a world tour in 1983 which was followed in 1984 by the release of the live double album ‘Alchemy’. The band had already sold over a million albums worldwide, but nothing could have prepared them for the success of their next album ‘Brothers in Arms’ in 1985. The band achieved many firsts that year: the album was the first CD release to sell over a million copies, the title track became the first to be released as a CD single and the hit single ‘Money for Nothing’ (featuring Sting on backing vocals) was the first music video to be played on MTV when it launched in the UK. The album outsold copies of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in the UK to become the best-selling album of 1985. As well as a hugely successful world tour in 85-86, Dire Straits performed at Live Aid inbetween their 13-night residency at London Wembley Arena.
Mark Knopfler went on to pursue solo projects in the years after ‘Brothers in Arms’ although the band reformed in 1991 and released a new album ‘On Every Street’. They embarked on another worldwide tour until October 1992. The band dissolved in 1995 but performed for a few charity events and John Illsley’s wedding in later years. Knopfler has dismissed any talk of a reunion, having declined Illsley’s offer to reform the band.
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