Graham Reid | | 3 min read
When former Dire Straits man Mark Knopfler came to New Zealand to play in 2005 I read the interview in the Herald about his terrible motorcycle accident . . . and burst out laughing.
Not because of his injuries but about how he was described.
He sounded like he was still the same miserable, awkward cuss I had met a few years previous.
The hilariously unintentional subheading in the article said that after his accident 18 months ago in London Knopfler had had time to reflect on what makes him happy.
Nothing in the piece -- other than some small comment about his teenage kids -- suggested he was anything other than the same morose, tight-lipped man I had met in Edinburgh.
My story starts in Auckland however with promoter Ian Magan who had been a longtime friend of Dire Straits' manager Ed Bicknell. Knowing that Knopfler had a new solo album coming out and that I would be in the UK for a week or so I asked Ian if he could contact Ed and see about an interview with Mark. It seemed like a great idea: my colleagues at work couldn't recall ever seeing an interview with him.
Ian made a call and gave me Ed's number to ring in London, which I did. He was terrific, told me enough hilarious and scurrilous stuff over the phone for a dozen stories and then invited me round to the office the next day. Mark was in Edinburgh preparing for a show but he was sure he could talk him into doing an interview.
And so I went to Ed's office, a lovely building in which he occupied a long and virtually empty room. The walls boasted a few autographed celeb photos but not much else, and his desk was scrupulously tidy with only two piles of paper: one for signing and the other signed. He had two old-fashioned handset telephones and that was it.
Oh, and the couch about halfway down the room where you could sit and see him in the distance.
He was long out of the touring game and was just signing off royalty cheques for the then-retired Dire Straits, a band he had helmed from bars to stadiums and taken CD technology with them. They were the first true CD band and they must have made a fortune.
He told more hilarious stories. I especially remember the one about how Willy De Ville was so out of it during the recording of an album in New Orleans that Mark was producing that the drummer had to wave a flag to signal him to start singing. Willie could only manage one line before he fell over. Then he snorted another line.
It was a very pleasant afternoon and then the phone rang. The roof had fallen in on Mark's concert. Literally.
The ceiling at the venue in Edinburgh had collapsed and the promoter was arranging a new venue. Ed never flinched, it was as if such things happen every day.
But I should have taken it as an omen.
On arriving in Edinburgh I called Knopfler's minder and a time was arranged. I turned up and so did he, and that was about the end of it.
He mumbled reluctantly, and looked like a man with piles who had just been told the cancer had come back. We muddled through our conversation and, despite the odd flicker of a smile or some answers which ran more than a few sentences, I was glad to get out.
I could describe him as 'rather mellow' or 'nonplussed' as Judith Woods did in her recent Herald article. But I know what she means: boring and emotionally disengaged.
Anyway we shook hands and arranged that my partner would take some photos at the gig that night.
We assumed it would be the usual thing, first three songs and gone, but Ed had said she could stay down the front for the whole gig. She needed to.
From the moment he appeared onstage and spotted her he would wilfully turn his back whenever the camera was pointed at him, he would scowl or look utterly bored.
She wearied of it after a while and went outside for a cigarette. When she came back she didn't pick up the camera but just stood and watched him.
To be fair it wasn't a bad show -- a little short on the jollies but then again you go for his guitar playing not his banter. Towards the end she started to dance a little and he flashed her a smile, so she picked up the camera and with just minutes to go he turned directly towards her and smiled again. Click. The perfect photo.
So the article subsequently appeared and I padded it out with details of the new album, some account of the stuff Ed had mentioned, the roof caving in and some details about the concert. I also managed to distil his words into something which looked lengthy, coherent and informative.
But of that day and night all I can remember was what a glum and unhappy millionaire he was, a real dour Geordie I thought.
Oh, but we also had the best fish'n'chips we'd ever had when we stopped at a small cafe after the show. We took our food on a drive to hill overlooking Edinburgh and thought what a beautiful city and a wonderful night.
We never spoke about Knopfler then, or ever again.
As with him, there seemed nothing to say.