The Stables – Wavendon – Milton Keynes
Almost forty years ago, a friend of mine suggested I went along to the Odeon on New Street, Birmingham to check out a new band he had heard were `quite good` called Dire Straits. I knew nothing of the band but as I was a regular visitor to rock concerts in the city, I splashed out my £7.00 and got myself a ticket.
The Odeon, Birmingham was one of the countries best known concert venues at the time and I had already seen Van Morrison, Steve Hillage and a number of other acts at the venue. I was full of anticipation and looking forward to seeing another new live band. I became a fan of the band immediately and continued to invest in their albums until the band finally split, for the second time in 1995.
I recently went to The Stables in Wavendon, Milton Keynes to catch up with one of the founding members of Dire Straits, bassist John Illsley. John was on his first tour of the UK in over three years, with a brand new band including Robbie McIntosh and Paul Stacey on guitars. The Stables gig was the ninth venue on a seventeen date tour, taking John and the band the length and breadth of the UK.
Robbie McIntosh has legendary status among his fellow musicians. His career to date includes spells as guitarist with Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Tom Jones and Norah Jones. McIntosh was also a member of The Pretenders from 1982 until 1987. In 1988 he began doing session guitar work for Sir Paul McCartney joining his band full-time until early 1994.
Paul Stacey is a British guitarist and producer, best known for his work with Oasis, The Black Crowes and The Lemon Trees (with twin brother Jeremy Stacey on drums)
I wasn’t sure how the familiar Dire Straits classics would sound without the `fingerstyle plucking`of the guitar strings and distinctive voice of Mark Knopfler. I should not have worried because Illsley has obviously been strongly influenced in his vocals presentation and song writing by the band he has spent most of his life in. Even when he sang his own penned songs there was an obvious Dire Straits mood about them.
The two guitarists, Robbie McIntosh and Paul Stacey were excellent and had no trouble replicating and adding their own touch to classics such as Sultans of Swing, Where Do You Think You’re Going, Brothers in Arms, Money for Nothing and Tunnel of Love.
Apart from playing many of the much – loved Dire Straits classics the concert was suitably interspersed with other songs from John’s recent albums Long Shadows and Testing the Water.
“The new songs fit very comfortably next to the Dire Straits classics which we keep alive with the right energy and feeling; this is not a tribute band, we leave the note for note playing to others.”
Alongside Dire Straits, Illsley has been the recipient of multiple BRIT and Grammy Awards and a Heritage Award. As one of the founding band members, with guitarist brothers Mark and David Knopfler, and drummer Pick Withers, Illsley played a major role in the development of Dire Straits’ sound.
By the time the group disbanded in 1995, changes in personnel meant that Illsley and lead singer Mark Knopfler were the only two founding band members to remain in Dire Straits right through from 1977. During their time together as Dire Straits they sold over 120 million albums and toured extensively across the world.
They remain close friends and recently produced a programme “Guitar Stories” for Sky Arts. In October 2017 Dire Straits were nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Vote here!
A wonderful concert at a great venue. It is always great to listen to the musicians at close quarters and watch the expressions on their faces, without the help of a large screen! Despite having performed at all of the world`s biggest rock venues with Dire Straits, Illsley appeared at home, remarking at one time that, `It was good to be back in familiar surroundings`
All photographs courtesy of John Illsley Band, The Stables and elsewhere.
I take no credit.