Tracks: 5.15am

He thought the man was fast asleep
Silent, still and deep
Both dead and cold
Shot through
With bullet holes

This is an odd one and probably the least ‘cool’ track on this list which is strange and mumble-worthy in itself… Of all those bands revisited and touted as influences, given the remaster treatment and dusted off in the wake of nostalgia revivals, Dire Straits remained immune. Perhaps it was down to Knoplfer’s unfortunate headband / hair combo during the Money For Nothing era or that Harry Enfield sketch, or the over-presence of Sultans of Swing on the radio but, for a band that shifted over 100 million records (30 million shifted by Brothers In Arms alone), Dire Straits are still one of those bands that are sneered at though I’m sure there’s an awful lot of guitarists and bands influenced by Knopfler’s playing.

I’m willing to bet, though, that Knopfler himself couldn’t give a rat’s arse about it. Likely contributing to that lack of attention is the fact that, having quietly dissolved the group in 1995 having become uncomfortable with the scale of the tours and productions, Mark Knopfler has resisted any and every urge (if he even has them) to revisit the group having forged ahead with his solo career and no calls for the ‘Legend’ spot at Glastonbury are likely to change that.

I grew up with the sound of Dire Straits thanks to my Dad and the same is true of Knopfler’s solo material – it’s one of those common tastes we share. While I’m not a big enough fan to own anything beyond a Best Of comp I do know the songs and will keep an ear out when I hear them, if only for sentimental reasons. That and the fact that Knopfler’s guitar phrasing and tone is an absorbing an beautiful thing all by itself, especially on his solo albums. Shrangri La – Knopfler’s fourth solo record – is a different story though.

Recorded after a seven-month break from the guitar imposed by recovering from a motorcycle accident, I’d state this is my favourite thing Knopfler has put to tape and certainly his most-consistent. The slow-burn, blues tone is dominant, gone are the celtic/folk leanings of his earlier efforts and his laid back phrasing and story telling is leant to a much wider range of subjects including Elvis (Back To Tupelo), the founding of McDonalds (Boom Like That) and those uniquely British tales like the plight of the modern fisherman in The Trawlerman Song and the One-Armed Bandit Murder in what has to be my favourite Knopfler composition; 5.15am.

It’s an atmospheric tune that begins with a gentle strum that builds into a real bluesy tone as it tells both the story of the discovery of “one armed bandit man (who) came north to fill his boots”‘ body and its impact on the local coal-mining community where “generations toiled and hacked, for a pittance and black lung”.

7 thoughts on “Tracks: 5.15am

  1. Haven’t listened to the song yet but just wanted to comment on the bit about Dire Straits being ‘sneered at.’ Is that true over there? Because on this side of the pond, i have zero evidence of that. I suppose there are some people who don’t care for them, just as any band has detractors. But I never met anyone who thought of them in any way contemptuously. They’re pretty well-regarded over here to this day as is Knopfler for the reasons you cite. So, puzzled.

    • Hmm. Perhaps ‘sneered’ isn’t necessarily the correct phrase overall but I believe there are certainly some that do. Then again they were never really the ‘cool’ band, certainly not amongst those media outlets that harp on at such things – they came up while people were still fawning over ‘punk’ and then the whole Money For Nothing era at a time when those same writers were embracing synths, new romanticism etc… so I guess a group of men in their late 30’s with towelling head bands and traditional drums/bass/guitar music were never likely to be.
      Knopfler is certainly held in regard for his playing and I believe his solo music gets solid (mostly, never very positive) press but I don’t think they’re considered with as much regard as they should be or remembered as fondly as many of that era who are given to jumping on the nostalgia tours and reunions. Radio-wise you’ll hear perhaps three tunes – Romeo & Juliet, Money for Nothing and, of course, Sultans… (more ‘local’ radios might dust off Twisting By The Pool which I don’t think helps the cause) but I cannot recall ever hearing / reading an interview with a ‘new’ or ‘current’ artist where DS or MK have been mentioned as favourites/influential.
      I do, however, recall hearing an interview with the Killers (Ryan Adams; “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unfortunately with the exception of the Killers”) on their choice of cover where they said “We’re not overly anxious about Dire Straits, though. We’re not ashamed of covering ‘Romeo And Juliet,’ either. It’s one of the finest songs ever. Brilliant melodies.”
      Why would there be any shame? It’s a very strange thing.
      I for one have been as influenced by Knoplfer’s playing as anyone else’s – it was this video that meant I gave up on using the pick.

      • Interesting. Two factors at work on this side of the pond: One is that ever since the Beatles, British bands get instant credibility and status. So if, e.g, the Clash had been from, say, Ohio, not as meaningful.

        The other thing is that ever since Clapton, we worship guitar gods. So when you have a potent combo in Dire Straits, we are all over them. So, popular, yeah. Remembered and influential over the long-haul? To your point, not sure.

        I know that Knopfler is for sure. I have a Facebook friend who posts his admiration of Knopfler so often I asked him if he was his publicist 🙂

        One of these days I’ll be doing a Dire Straits post or series. And so it will be interesting to think about what their influence has been. But for great tunes, tasteful solos and quality stuff, can’t beat ’em. (Although all that said, I didn’t put them on my top twenty band list. Hmm.)

      • Watched the video, or most of it. Think I have about 10 minutes left. Interesting tour though Knopfler’s guitar history. Cool to see him play his stuff, especially the lick that comes in out of nowhere in the middle of ‘Calling Elvis.’ One of my absolute favorite licks. Thanks.

  2. This is a really cool tune Tony. I never heard it before but i like this kind of Knopfler music. A friend back in the day brought me word back from your side of the first DS album when it first came out. It was and is still a strong record. I hung in for couple more but faded after that. I’ve picked up a couple of his more recent solo recordings and like them. Solid stuff. Good take.

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