There’s no little irony in the fact that although Dire Straits are still reviled in some quarters as the very epitome of 80s enormo-dome/MTV naffness and indulgence, singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Knopfler actually represents the polar opposite of that whole syndrome.

An Evening with Mark Knopfler resembles nothing so much as spending time with a music fan who’s happened to become very, very successful and is really, really enjoying running through a bunch of tunes he just happens to have written, with a bunch of his musical pals who just happen to be among the best musicians in the world. Some of those tunes, like Sultans Of Swing and Romeo & Juliet have been big hits, while others (sadly, like pretty much anything from his mostly excellent post-Straits albums) have more than likely slipped through the cracks, at least in terms of shifting gazillions of units. But he doesn’t really distinguish between them. Despite the inevitable few numbskulls who could be heard afterwards bemoaning that he “did all that Irish stuff” instead of stuff they happened to know (do these people spend decades not actually listening to any music?), that Dire Straits guy with the fluorescent headband is very much “missing, presumed having a good time” these days, to nick the title one of his own Notting Hillbillies albums.

Mark Knopfler

It wasn’t long after the demise of Dire Straits that he ruefully observed “success I adore, but I detest fame. It interferes with what you do and has no redeeming qualities at all”. From this perspective, it’s easy to see why he would choose to kick off the evening with Broken Bones from his latest album Tracker, transparently paying tribute to one of his heroes, the late, great J.J. Cale, and why, throughout the evening, he seemed more than happy to demur to his rather fabulous band, including Manchester’s own Michael McGoldrick on flute along with John McCusker on fiddle, the storied bassist Glenn Worf, long-time lieutenant Guy Fletcher and Jim Cox on keyboards, guitarist Richard Bennett and drummer Ian Thomas.

The wonderful Ruth Moody, of her own band and The Wailin’ Jennies, put in a few guest appearances as did saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock. But substantially, this looked and sounded like a high-quality version of the sort of old-school gig that you might happily stumble across any night of the week in the best music bars around the world. That’s alright with me, I hasten to add,

Mark KnopflerIn fact, there were actually a fair few Dire Straits songs in there, including lengthy takes on So Far Away and Telegraph Road, showing that Knopfler has lost none of his winning ways with a bit of wide-screen guitar. But his path has taken him down some rootsier ways since, allying him with the likes of Chet Atkins and Emmylou Harris. Thus McGoldrick and McCusker proved especially valuable on stage, injecting just enough wildness to save their boss from his occasional tendency towards earnestness when he starts to explore the worlds of his roving heroes. And, let’s face it, he is one of the music world’s least likely-looking frontmen.

Moody, who joined the band for a couple of tunes including a jaw-dropping take on Kingdom of Gold just when I’d given up spotting the Northern Soul Editor’s favourite at all, also upped the visual ante a bit. But it’s really the music that matters at a Knopfler gig and he’s got some great tunes to make up for the lack of flash and big screens. Postcards From Paraguay was a personal highlight, as was Shangri-La, a tune I’d somehow managed to nearly forget about until it cropped up during the encores. Moody reappeared for a bewitching take on Wherever I Go from Privateering and, tellingly, the equal of any song he’s ever written.

At almost exactly two and half hours running time, An Evening with Mark Knopfler really is time well spent.

By Kevin Bourke