Saturday, August 15, 2009


I sat on the sofa late last night just before heading off to bed, idly flicking through the TV programmes we had recorded on the Sky Box. A Mark Knopfler concert caught my attention from the list. Now Mr Knopfler, and his band, Dire Straits have been one of my three favourite bands through most of my adult life. I’ve got all of their CDs, and have seen them in concert several times. He is one of the greatest guitar players ever, as well as writing some of the most distinctive and evocative pop songs I know.

Private Investigations, Tobacco Road, Tunnel of Love, Romeo and Juliet, Walk of Life, Money for Nothing – what a collection, two of which are in my all time favourite Top ten Songs.

The concert was recorded recently in Basel in Switzerland, and, I have to say, was a bit of a disappointment to me. Too laid back, no passion, and too many new songs, which didn’t seem to mean that much.

Now it must be a real pain if you are a singer/songwriter, when you play your latest set of songs, and get polite applause, only to see the difference when you bring back one of the Oldies, which the audience has really come to hear. You must feel a sense of utter frustration, standing up there thinking “Listen to this one, you miserable lot. I’ve just written it and This is Me. Here and Now. Those old songs have gone. They’re the past, and I’m sick of singing them.”

Of course the audience doesn’t think like this, and so goes mad when the Old Songs make their appearance. And so it was here. “Brothers in Arms” with its deceptively gentle introduction floated into existence, and the audience changed from polite applause to Full Attention.

I have to say that, to these ears, Knopfler’s rendition of the song was not that great. It was so laid back, it was untrue. This is a serious song, with an important message, and a gentle feeling to it does it no favours at all. Knopfler had his 60th Birthday 3 days ago (Happy Birthday, Mark!), and you have to wonder whether, like all performers, whether he will ever recapture the power and passion he had when he was younger. Maybe it’s me, because I’m not getting any younger, or maybe it’s him, because he’s got less to say today than he had 20 years ago. Probably a bit of both. I just don’t know.

But just listening to him, my mind flashed back over 20 years. Nelson Mandela was still in jail, and the pop world had got together in London to pay their own tribute to this remarkable man. It took place in front of 75,000 people on 11th June 1988 at Wembley in London, and was the most political pop concert ever staged up to that time. The aim was to raise the world’s awareness of Mandela’s plight, and to put pressure on South Africa to release him, which they did 18 months later.

The concert included many of the more politically aware pop singers, with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Simple Minds, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and – Dire Straits.

Dire Straits were last to perform, and their 45 minute set was the work of genius. I’ve never seen or heard them play better than that night.

It was filmed very atmospherically and movingly and I still watch it with great affection and admiration. Two of the songs on it, Romeo and Juliet and Brothers in Arms will live in my mind for ever. It is this performance of Brothers in Arms which lasted some 9 minutes, and had Knopfler at the peak of his powers which jumped into my mind last night, in comparison to the one which he gave on the TV recording. I’ve dug it out on YouTube, so you can watch it. The atmosphere that night was electric, and you can get that feeling coming across even though the video is not of the best quality. You can feel the power, feeling and conviction pulsing through Knopfler’s body and pouring out through his hands as his fingers played the guitar. He’s literally in another world, and it brings me up in goose bumps every time I hear it.

Such a simple song. Simple words, hardly any clever chord sequences, just a pure, straightforward message put over so poetically and powerfully. Perhaps that’s the key to such great pieces of music.

Off goes my mind again. Devotees of this blog (please tell me there is one out there!!) will know of my love of “The West Wing”. One of the best series television has ever produced. Each series ends with a cliff-hanger, and the one in Series 2 is an absolute blinder. I won’t give the game away if you’ve not seen it, but the last few minutes are simply TV drama at its very best.

And guess what music they choose to use for the closing action. Mark Knopfler singing “Brothers in Arms”. It is as good a mix of drama and music as you will ever find, in film or anywhere else.

The shots of Bartlet striding through the West Wing to the critical Press Conference, the Storm, Charlie taking his coat off to match the President, the shot of the perfectly and very theatrically lit Negro janitor cleaning the Cathedral up after the President to the line in the song “… There’s so many different worlds …” (Don’t even try to tell me that wasn’t deliberate), the way Martin Sheen puts his hands in his pockets (flashback to the younger Mrs Landingham), Leo’s whispered “Watch this …”, and CJ’s deliberately ignored “Front Row on Your right” aside as Bartlet strides past her. And just look at the last shot, with Bartlet framed against the Union Flag. Wow.

It’s pure Wagner with leitmotivs galore and allusions threaded through it all.

And to end it all, the bastards who produced the show cutting you off 1 second before you hear Bartlet’s reply to the question that’s set all this up over the last dozen or so episodes, so you’ve got to wait 6 months to find out how he replied. Thank God for the Box Set DVDs.

To my simple mind, 5 minutes of the most utterly perfect drama I’ve ever seen. Every time I watch it, I get a lump in my throat. And playing in the background – Brothers in Arms. Whoever chose that song for that moment will go to heaven.



Whitenoise said...

What, no "Twistin' By the Pool?"

Anonymous said...

Very well said, indeed. That clip from the Mandela concert is truly riveting. Thanks for sharing

Newbie said...

Thank you for a simply wonderful piece. I've taken the liberty of putting the link to your post on mine

Unknown said...

This is a better video to the same :

Unknown said...

I like to get up early to go out and breathe fresh air. I feel that it is good for health and a good habit