I went to play my Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms record and discovered I own two of them. I must really like this album…I played it twice…
Brothers in Arms was released in 1985 to stunningly negative reviews: Mat Snow from NME lambasted Mark Knopfler for
“mawkish self-pity, his lugubriously mannered appropriation of rockin' Americana, his thumpingly crass attempts at wit" and the “tritest would-be melodies in history, the last word in tranquilising chord changes, the most cloying lonesome playing and ultimate in transparently fake troubador sentiment ever to ooze out of a million-dollar recording studio”
Eleanor Levy of the Record Mirror dismissed the "West Coast guitars reeking of mega bucks and sell out stadium concerts throughout the globe. Laid back melodies. Dire Straits – summed up... This is like any other Dire Straits album quarried out of the tottering edifice of MOR rock”
Well, yes, I do now remember that it wasn’t my favourite Dire Straits album at the time, because nothing, but nothing could match their debut back in 1978, and probably still can’t, and yes, it was at times a bit poppy and trite. But they played in live at Wembley in 1986 and I’m sure I was there, and then they stopped, apart from a cursory reforming effort in 1991, before the legend was allowed to grow.
And now we are assembled at the Civic Theatre in Auckland 35 years later to put it to the test of time. And devotion. Devotion from a bunch of New Zealand’s finest musicians assembled inspirationally by Simone Williams and her Liberty Stage, and directed by the fabulous Jol Mulholland. Artists considerably younger than me, and possibly more reverent to an album which could if not would have dominated the soundtrack of their youth.
It’s Come Together, the first of three nights ( The Beatles', Abbey Road and Neil Young’s Live Rust are to follow) over the next few weeks where we do in fact come together in devotion and nervous nostalgia to see firstly whether it’s still a good album and secondly can this diverse group deliver a Dire Straits experience.
Simone and Jol have assembled a band of usual suspects and pleasant surprises and its pick them out time as the stage fills up. Jol and Brett Adams (Bads, Mockers, Tami Neilsen etc) on guitars, Mike Hall ( Pluto, Bads, Tami Neilsen, Jol Mulholland Band) on bass, Finn Scholes (Carnivorous Plant Society, Swamp Thing, everywhere else) on keys and trumpet and other mysterious things, Nick Atkinson (Supergroove, Hopetoun Brown) on super sax, Michael Barker (John Butler Trio, Swamp Thing) on percussion and vibes, Alastair Deverick (Lawrence Arabia, Carnivorous Plant Society, Jol Mulholland Band and, wait a mo’, Neil Finn) on drums and Matthias Jordan ( Pluto, Jol Mulholland Band) on Keys and piano.
But wait, there’s more because someone has to impersonate Mark, and tonight it’s the Mark Knopfler quartet and they are all there up front and “So Far Away” and it’s Paul McLaney first, then Mel Parsons, and Laughton Kora and finally Delaney Davidson as chief guru.
And we’re off through the album and one has to quickly adjust to a familiar band sound and an unfamiliar vocal as the four versions of Mark take their turns. but then you quickly remember that Marl Knopfler is an exceptional guitarist but a terrible (well, alright, average) singer so enjoy the extra dimension of four quality vocalists each bringing a new version of Mark to the mic. Paul McLaney has progressive tenor soul, Delaney has a haunted snarl which turns to camp, Leighton Kora brings a cool rootsy feel to the vibe, and Mel Parsons, wow, Mel Parsons transforms into a rock chick with her rich almost baritone, maybe contralto voice soaring above the band.
“Money For Nothing” was co-written by Sting. Yeah, right, that’s him singing ‘I want my MTV’ and for that he gets a credit. Mel sings on “Walk of Life” and the band wind up, incredibly tight, then pull back for “Your Latest Trick” where Nick does a perfect Michael Brecker and Paul sings.
Pretty soon it’s clear that not only does this group of incredible musicians pay perfect credit to the original, they also enrich and embellish. Garth Hudson from The Band was here in 2016 and dropped a comment, which I might have believed at the time, that he loved our musicians but there was a little funk missing. Well, when we “Ride Across the River” into the second side of the record, we are swimming in the funkiest sound the Civic might have heard in a long, long while. Garth, you oughta be here! And I think Finn plays a conch. That's funking brilliant.
I always played my albums right through, but sometimes I think I may have made an exception with Brothers in Arms, because some of side two almost feels forgotten and refreshingly revived tonight. “One World” comes to mind as Leighton on vocals and Finn on trumpet give the song new life. But when Delaney sings "Brothers in Arms" there’s a Kleenex moment and it all comes back. Outstanding.
Brothers in Arms won a Grammy in 1986, is the 8th best selling album of all time in the UK and 351 in Rolling Stones top 500 albums of all time. Not bad for a tottering edifice of middle of the road rock. Oh, the tribulations of a music journalist. Forever wrong.
But wait, there’s more and the show resumes after a break and we’re into the back catalogue and the band favourites. “Telegraph Road” from Love Over Gold gets a standing ovation from the near capacity crowd. There’s dancing in the Civic. They’re making a mosh of it. New Zealand crowds are notoriously quiet in a big setting and noisy in the small venues. Like we’re down under and upside down. But tonight the audience is revelling in their recall and giving every bit as good back to the band. It must be fun up there. Deservedly so. Paul wants to marry us as he remembers taking the number 19 bus up or down Shaftesbury Avenue in the “Wild West End”
Leighton gets the “Sultans of Swing”, the song which was the soundtrack of 1978/9 and the dancing has spread to the aisles. Super spreader song. I’m thinking they just don’t write songs like this anymore. They just don’t. And now the kleenex moment is gone and a shit eating grin takes its place. Jol gets a song, wearing a bandana which makes him look a little like Mark but also Geldof and some tennis player. Delaney camps it up on "Les Boys" and shows us his socks. Mel pops up Shakespeare with another wild reception from the “Romeo & Juliet” crowd and Paul takes us down the “Tunnel of Love” to a brilliant solo from New Zealand’s best guitarist (so many musicians tell me), Brett Adams, and if that is true, and it must be, then Jol Mulholland’s playing isn’t far behind. And it’s finished. Except it’s not, and…
Enchanté!, She’s making movies before she “Skate(s)away” as the encore and then Nic Atkinson gets his moment to tell us it’s time to go home and blasts out one of the most recognised of Knopfler’s instrumental anthems which Dire Straits always used, to end a concert and we’re “Going Home”
Outstanding. Bring on The Beatles!!
Superb sound from Richard McMenamin, and a scintillating light show from Jack Hooper. Hats off ! (although mine always stays on).
P.S. And now I discover I’ve got two copies of every Dire Straits album (except the first). I must be mad…Alchemy…
- So Far Away
- Money For Nothing
- Walk of Life
- Your Latest Trick
- Why Worry
- Ride Across the River
- The Man’s Too Strong
- One World
- Brothers in Arms
- Telegraph Road (Love Over Gold)
- Wild West End ( Dire Straits)
- Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits)
- Down to the Waterline (Dire Straits)
- Once Upon a Time in the West (Communiqué)
- Les Boys (Making Movies)
- Romeo and Juliet (Making Movies)
- Tunnel of Love (Making Movies)
- Skateaway (Making Movies)
- Going Home ( Theme from Local Hero)
Radio 13 thanks and credits Trevor Villers for all the images in this review.