It could be contended that The Leisure Society and Mark Knopfler are an unusual combination to include together in a review. There is, however, a valid connection beyond the fact that markontour had the pleasure of seeing both perform in London this week. The Leisure Society are Burton on Trent’s finest and Mark Knopfler’s old band, Dire Straits, is rumoured to have played the back room of Veli’s Kebab Shop in Burton back in the 1970s. There, that’s got everyone hooked on this blog. Read on for further revelation..
Let’s start with the Leisure Society, who graced the Union Chapel in Islington last Saturday at the end of a tour to promote their wonderful new album, ‘Arrivals and Departures’, a record which had provided an apposite soundtrack for my two day train journey back from Oslo, arriving just in time for the gig. If the band were tired they didn’t show it and I left the Union Chapel a few hours later thoroughly revived.
Indeed, smiles abounded on and off-stage, even when singer-songwriter Nick Hemmings, broke a string during ‘Save it for someone who cares’ and had to execute a snappy guitar change. While the bass player generously fitted a new string, the rest of the band continued with ‘Last of the melting snow’, a gorgeous song about moving on.
Three albums in, the Leisure Society still exude a sense of genuine gratitude that people are paying money to come and watch them. It’s not the only self-deprecation – introducing one song Hemmings says “This is the hardest chord in my repertoire and I can only play it kneeling down. See you later!”.
The only real surprise, however, is that it took these musicians until their mid-thirties to achieve success. Hemmings has that knack of writing melancholic lyrics to melodies that can’t help but make you happy. The band sound incredible on stage, with each musician demonstrably contributing something definitive and taking cracking album tracks up another level in live performance.
Mark Knopfler also achieved success relatively late for rock musician, although he made up for lost time, with over a hundred million album sales in the decade after Sultans of Swing first charted as he was turning thirty. It’s been over twenty years since Dire Straits last performed together, however, and Knopfler introduces himself to the vast O2 Arena as “old bloke” who still loves playing guitar.
When I was a teenager and Dire Straits were massive they were already Dad-rock and me and my mates were definitely out of synch with our peers in listening to them so obsessively. Now in late youth, I went to see Knopfler with the same friend who introduced me to them thirty years ago, and we were still among the youngest in the audience, although my 19 year old godson (who, incidentally, can play Knopfler’s guitar solos like he wrote them himself) was possibly in a class of his own.*
Who cares, though, when you’re treated to Once Upon a Time in the West, Romeo and Juliet, Money For Nothing, Brothers in Arms, Latest Trick and Local Hero all in one night? Knopfler’s guitar playing continues to be extraordinary and, unlike Guitar George, he absolutely makes his guitar cry and sing.
It wasn’t all about the Dire Straits’ songs either. I’m a big fan of Knopfler’s later output and particularly enjoyed Matchstick Man, a story of the time he tried to hitch-hike home from Penzance to Newcastle on Xmas Day, and Sailing to Philadelphia, a tale of Jeremiah Dixon, one half of the Mason-Dixon line.
There were no breaking strings for Knopfler, but it would hardly have mattered – he got through at least 7 different guitars over the course of the night anyway. Similarly, while the Leisure Society made clear before leaving the stage at the end of their set that they were easy to entice back out, as though still harbouring a doubt that we would wait for an encore if it was too much effort, Knopfler did the full bowing to the crowd, shuffle off, have a power nap, make them scream before coming back on thing. Twice.
I’m not even going to consider which gig was best, that’s not the point, music is about joy and both the Leisure Society and Mark Knopfler served up a generous portion of that very necessary dessert for markontour this week. So thank you both and looking forward to the double bill at Veli’s.
I’m counting the fourth of our party, LJB, in the oldster category. He might want to complain, but I moderate the comments on this blog, so I’ll make sure you won’t be bothered by it, dear reader.