I saw him first in 1979. A hungry, starving face. A falling mouth, eyes carved a long way into the skull, hollow cheeks hanging to high cheekbones. He looked like he had something urgent to say. Something urgent to play. It was music down to its bare bones. And his Ferrari red Stratocaster flashing on the stage. No filter, just the fingers picking the strings and a sound like pure, fresh water. Mark Kopfler was talking. He spoke about the river Tyne, Newcastle, about the sound of « a foghorn blowing out wild and cold » about a band playing Dixie in a punk world.
I saw him then with a headband and a wristband, a tennis player playing guitar. The face was rounder, heavier, and so was the music. There were arrangements, there was some fat sticking to the bones. There was too much noise over the guitar chords. The red Fender was still there, but there were other guitars, other sounds. Noise. Stuff. Mark Knopfler was still talking to his microphone, but his voice could barely be heard. His songs were overstretched, overdubbed, but still there were moments when he would switch off the power and play and talk to the microphone, talk straight from his throat, muttering Geordie words in his Geordie voice.
I saw him then without Dire Straits. No more headband, no more hair. The voice had gone deeper, lower. His face ageing and melancholy looming in his eyes and in his notes. Mark Knopfler had been looking for a Golden Heart « and she took a loop of leather for around her neck. » The music was different, quieter, his Geordie soul connecting with a country soul, a long way down South.
I saw him then with Emmylou Harris and country it was. We were a long way away from Newcastle. Mark Knopfler was singing, surprisingly the man can sing. And Emmylou can sing too. So there were good moments, duets, and his signature touch sometimes, his fingerpicking underlining the voices, leaving enough space for silence: since the beginning and with the exception of the stadium years, Mark Knopfler has always left enough space for silence between his notes.
During all those years, I’ve driven many hours to see Mark Knopfler.
Yesterday, I took a walk to the lake road, a 5 minutes bus ride and I was in Montreux. Mark Knopfler was playing in my backyard and it was the strangest thing, almost like going out to see an old friend of mine playing in a local club. I felt like coming home. The concert was scheduled for 7:45 pm prompt, as the ticket said. We are not talking sex, drugs and Rock’n’Roll here. In his last record Mark Knopfler speaks about Monteleone, a guitar maker, a wood chiseller, using tools from the past to assemble a mandolin. A craftsman, someone like him, in fact.
It is almost 8 pm, the hall is packed, the lights have come off and he appears on the stage, sitting on a stool and I see the red Stratocaster flashing. We are silent. And in one moment, in one second, I’m gone from this world. I’m back 30 years ago. For the very first time I see those fingers picking the strings, letting those fluid notes flow like pure water straight into my heart. All I can see is the Ferrari red guitar and the fingers picking. Maybe the man on stage is old, maybe his back hurts and he has to sit on that stool. Maybe the man is tired or sad. Maybe I’m old.
But that SOUND and that SOUL do it for me. I hear him for the first time. I hear his music for the first time and it brings tears to my eyes.
I’m 48 and I’m eighteen for two hours.