Classic Singers 8 – Mark Knopfler

So, people of my vintage will know Mark Knopfler, he is best known as lead singer of Dire Straits, for a time the biggest band in the world. In 1978 Sultans of Swing sent them into the Top 10 in the UK charts and the album Dire Straits followed suit. The next album Communique didn’t produce any hit singles but made No 5 in the charts. I think this is a great album. What followed after this were more hit albums Making Movies, Love Over Gold (reached No. 1), the live album Alchemy, and then the monster, Brothers in Arms. These albums brought in more sophisticated production and contained some of the more well-known tracks like Romeo and Juliet, Tunnel of Love, Private Investigations, Brothers in Arms and Walk of Life. A little known EP was also released in 1983 called ExtendedancEPlay which contained Twisting by the Pool. This contains one of my favourite tracks, more of that later.

Mark Knopfler then went on to the Notting Hillbillies, a country/folk band and released an album Missing, Presumed Having a Good Time. I like this album, it’s gentle on the ears and very laid back. I even did a rendition of the track Working on the Railroad when called upon to sing by the locals on a trip through Mongolia. It was easy to remember! He also composed soundtracks for the films Local Hero and Cal. He also wrote Private Dancer¸ a hit for Tina Turner.

After a brief resurrection of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler went solo with his first album Golden Heart  in 1996, and has been going ever since, working with numerous artists including EmmyLou Harris, with whom he collaborated on the album All the Roadrunning. I am a real fan of some of his solo work, as he tell stories in the songs – and Mark Knopfler’s song writing has always been thoughtful and of good quality. Sometimes I don’t think he gets enough recognition for that.

Anyhow, onto the songs. I struggled to choose only five, as usual, and they’r probably not the ones you’d expect, but here goes:

1.  Follow Me Home, from Communique is one of my favourites. It has a lovely beach feel to it. It ebbs and flows like waves washing along the shore. The sultry feel of a Caribbean island infuses the sound. I can feel the humidity, the sensuality. And why wouldn’t it, it was recorded in the Caribbean at Nassau in the Bahamas which probably influenced the ‘vibe’. It’s a little bit dark too and strangely hypnotic.

2. Badges, Posters, Stickers & T-shirts. What? I hear you ask. Well this was off the ExtendedanceEPlay EP. I love it. It’s a jazzy song and was the b-side of Private Investigations in the UK. I don’t think Mark Knopfler has done anything else like this, and that is a shame. The foot-tapping insistence of this track just takes you along with some great piano and drums to complete the jazz feel.

3.  Private Investigations – If you ever want a soundtrack for reading Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane novels, this is it. It was a big hit in the UK (No. 2) in 1982; the downtrodden, underpaid, private eye comes through in spades. The guitar work is sublime. It’s dark, brooding, and there’s a feeling of futility in the lyrics heading towards a lose-lose result for the investigator and all involved, but that doesn’t matter; there are always expenses to claim and some whisky to drink. It makes me think of Phillip Marlowe.

4. 5:15am  – this is from 2004 off Shangri-la, one of Mark Knopfler’s solo albums. It’s a great story, set in the 1960s about a chancer who is found dead in his car one morning. It is not, perhaps, as complex  musically as some of MKs work, but I love the story-telling, something that he has done more of in his solo career. I also think that this song brings out his voice better than voice than many other songs. For me, this is a song that flows along smoothly and is a pleasure to listen to.

5. Monteleone –  This is a gentle song off the album Get Lucky (2009) that had me with the use of strings in the intro. It’s all about making a mandolin, a story of woodworking that brings out the love the instrument-maker has for his craft. Not a lot more to say, but it’s a smooth, and soothing ride; the sort of song that makes you stop what you are doing to listen.

Limp handshakes

This is me being grumpy again – just a short post, but a subject that irks me.

Why do so many people have limp handshakes? Is there anything worse that feeling a a limp, sweaty hand in yours? What is the point? When I meet somebody and shake their hand, I want to feel that they are either a) happy to see me, or b) meeting me to conduct business in straightforward manner.

Get it together, use a firm handshake (not a vice!) and look people in the eye at the same time. That’s the end of my grumpy outburst, but unfortunately unlikely to be the end of limp insipid handshakes that make my skin crawl and give me the urge to yell ‘what am i holding in my hand – a bag of mush?’


Under Turgen Mountain

I wrote this on a trek in Mongolia – lovely, peaceful place is Turgen Mountain

Under Turgen Mountain

The icicles plunge,
lose their battle with Spring,
fall two metres to their demise.

They tinkle like glass,
shards melt into nothing,
fade from the earth, forever dead,

never to see the
meadows bloom, flowers smile,
paint a multi-coloured canvas.

Classic Singers 7 – Debbie Harry

I had to change tack on this one. My shortlist of excellent songs just got way too long. I listened to all the albums, reacquainting myself with Auto American and The Hunter along the way. I hadn’t listened to much Blondie for years and I realised what I had been missing. In my youth I sought out the complete back catalogue, so enamoured was I with the music. And it is an awesome collection of classy music. Even the sometimes maligned Auto-American album, which dips into a bit of jazzy slow ballads, just resonates.

The album that really got me thinking and going through my back catalogue was the sublime Parallel lines. I don’t think there is a mediocre track on it – just great songs that combine melody, lyrics, and awesome musicianship with Debbie’s voice. I mean Fade Away and Radiate, Hanging on the Telephone, Pretty Baby – and the rest.  I hate to hark back, but I can’t really equate Debbie Harry’s recent work with this, even the single Maria, which I really enjoyed.

I always thought there was a tension with Blondie between a desire to play old-style rock’n’roll and moving into contemporary punk –inspired theme of the time. If you take a listen their debut album, Blondie, you’ll hear a touch of reggae (almost) in Man Overboard. This confluence of styles is, in my opinion,  what made them what they were. An awesome sounding band with a really talented singer and a distinctive sound. I love her to bits!

To summarise where I got to. There were way too many standout songs for me to whittle down to five (and I’m not going to list them – too many), so I decided to take a different route. I have chosen five songs that I think are not as widely known but for me still resonate with class and melody – and that great voice. And let’s not forget the rest of the band as musicians.

So, the songs

Scenery – a demo recorded in 1976 originally, and I think included on the album Plastic Letters (at least subsequent releases after the original). This is a great 60s feel to it. Might even have been a b-side although this appears to be contradicted by some sources (in those days when we all went and bought vinyl singles – I do miss those days). I wouldn’t mind seeing what Sid’n’Susie made of this one – I think Susanna Hoff’s voice would work well.

11:59 – perhaps not the best known song off Parallel Lines, but my favourite. There is a great sense of desperation here – a race against the clock. But Debbie Harry’s voice is perfect for this song and the classic 70s synthesiser makes a good breakdown point at the end of verse two. The drumming is sublime too. It just rocks.

I Didn’t Have the Nerve To Say No – This is from Plastic Letters, the second Blondie album. I’m not sure how I’d describe this style. It’s a sort of hybrid with 50s & 60s rock and pop with a great little guitar part and some 70s synthesiser.  I love listening to this.

Accidents Never Happen  – off Eat to the Beat, released in 1980. A great song and a good live performance to go with it. There is a dark undertone to this track and some excellent guitar work and drums (I love listening to Clem Burke’s drumming).

I’m Not Living in the Real World  – this was also off the album Eat to the Beat and has more than a smidgeon of punk in it and rocks along nicely. The clip I have included shows the whole band. I am still tapping my feet as I type this.

So, there you go. Have a listen and see what you think. Next up…who knows…maybe a bloke, maybe not.


On the Underground

Vacant staring into space, in this heavy rush-hour throng

Worrying about the morning train, the one already gone

Still thinking of that warm bed, and the one they kissed goodbye

Before heading out once more, under a dull grey sky


His steam-pressed pin-stripe suit, on top of dull scuffed shoes

Staring at the black windows, reflections of commuter blues

Trying not to bump anyone, look no one in the eye

In this still and silent herd, as dull and grey as London’s sky


Packed in tight

they’re clutching dreams,

Reality –

it’s not what it seems,

they’re nowhere-bound

on the Underground


She’s wearing that mini  skirt and boots, they’re sexy, right up her knees

She’s staring at her reflection, I wonder what it is she sees

A meaning to the tedium, of climbing up the corporate steps

Just one within a faceless crowd, adrift within the city’s depths

Classic Singers 6 – Elvis Costello

Okay…let’s talk about Elvis Costello; the man writes a great song. He hit the headlines first with his album My Aim IS True which spawned such sings as Alison and Less Than Zero. Watching the Detectives was on the US release of this album. His visual style and rather unique voice were immediately recognisable. This was 1977 and he was competing with punk and heavy metal – and disco. But he has an ear for lyrics and a good melody; he consequently sold well.

The next album was This Year’s Model  which included such classics as Pump It Up and I don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea. It reached No. 4 on the UK charts. His next album did even better with Armed Forces reaching No 2.  This album had Oliver’s Army on it, which became an international hit. He followed it with Get Happy, another No.2 on the album charts in the UK. This was a more soulful album This was, in my opinion, the peak time for Elvis Costello, and he also produced The Specials first album. He also wrote the song Shipbuilding which Robert Wyatt released in 1982.

He went on with various band changes, releasing an album of country songs (Almost Blue), having more hits such as Every Day I Write the Book and is still singing now.  In 2002 he released the single Tear Off Your Own Head, It’s a Doll Revolution, subsequently covered by the Bangles on their album Doll Revolution. As sacrilegious as it sounds, I prefer the Bangles version (sorry Elvis). Elvis Costello still tours, records and performs. And so he should. The man has built a great portfolio of music.

The songs

Pump It Up This is an awesome piece of pop with a punk / ska influence released in 1977. It is possibly my favourite Elvis Costello song. The guitar riff and excellent backing band (The Attractions) make this an instant toe-tapper. There is no over-production and it just rocks.

She – This was part of the Notting Hill soundtrack – and is a ballad covered by Elvis Costello that shows his abilities in a different style of music. It is a laid back song that starts with a piano and his voice (and some quiet strings). In my opinion this song that really shows Elvis Costello’s voice.

Veroncia – co-written with Elvis Costello, this is pure pop released in 1989. I recall hearing this while I was at university in Plymouth.  Perhaps these guys should write more together. The horn part in this also makes a great contribution and is quite reminiscent of the Beatles at times.

Watching the Detectives  –  being a bit of a sucker for ska and ska influenced music, I love this song. It was one of his earlier ones, and captures the genre with his own quirky influence.

Oliver’s Army – I can’t not include this song. The overall package makes it, perhaps, one of the stand out singles for the late 70s. The melody is great, the lyrics, a bit of satire, and the performance fantastic.

Sister Cynalot (715 – 756) – yet another of the Dregs of History

In the time of King Ethelheard of Wessex, a single-minded nun had a revolutionary idea about how to spread happiness to the population. In 735 AD the deeply religious Cynalot founded the Sisters of Indiscrete Nights, commonly referred to as the Sisters of SIN, with her assistant Sexburg. This was the singularly most unsuccessful order of nuns that has ever been founded.

It was not based on the traditional vows of chastity as Sister Cynalot, who became Mother Superior of the Indiscrete Nights, believed that God had created human beings not to live a life of misery, but one that was full of sociability and joy.

Sister Cynalot was the prime mover of the new order and she devised the design of the first convent, situated outside Tidworth in what is now Wiltshire. A major feature of the convent, in addition to a small chapel and living quarters, was an alehouse. Every second evening they served beer, mead and any alcoholic drink that they could lay their hands on. Cynalot led the table dancing and many of the other indiscrete activities that followed.

The order very quickly had to become nomadic after the local women of Tidworth objected strongly to the type of spiritual guidance that was being given to their men folk. Spreading the good word was one thing, but spreading certain other things was unacceptable.

The order never had more than a dozen members, and after only three years of travelling through the West Country, it collapsed. The sisters gradually became pregnant, renounced their vows of indiscretion and settled down to rural family life. The last known location of the Sisters of Indiscrete Nights was outside Shepton Mallet.

The only remaining written evidence of their existence is a short poem by Cynalot. It has proven to be the first ever limerick, predating Edward Lear’s work by a thousand years or more. It is thought it was written about the leader of the Tidworth village shortly before his wife castrated him.

Pillar of Society

There once was a pillar of society
Who lived all his life with great piety
But one drunk night with a nun
When he sinned and had fun
Put a stop to all thoughts of sobriety



This is an extract from The Complete Dregs of History At this site

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