The secret at the heart of Dire Straits revealed.

In 1975, a chance meeting between  (penniless poet/lyricist Robert Marshal) and bass player John Illsley in a coffee bar in the West End of London led directly to the creation of a band who became one of the most successful acts of the 1980’s. His story has never been told until now.

Back then, Dire Straits wasn’t a band, it was the state of both the UK and also of , an Edinburgh lyricist and poet, hopeful for success in the music industry. He had ideas, good lyrics, and a wealth of street aptitude, and had been mixing with well known musicians in London for several years, looking for a break.

Illsley was aspiring to be a musician and invited Marshal back to a house in Deptford as he had promised him some incredible lyrics. Shortly after they arrived, Mark Knopfler ( introducing himself as Dirk)walked in and he and Marshal spent the next 10 hours thrashing out songs on an old bass with two strings. They took turns  strumming the bass and chanting Marshal’s  lyrics in a rhythmic fashion, Marshal being no musician but a talented wordsmith rapped of the hooks as  Knopfler scribbled down the words in shorthand as one after another story that would become songs were  reeled them off. These words eventually formed the debut Dire Straits album (including Sultans of Swing) and most of the Brothers in Arms album including “Money for Nothing” which Knopfler recorded on a tape machine just as he was about to leave.

These lyrics were crafted on the spot during one mammoth session and are based upon Marshal’s extensive  experiences of London, where he worked as a barrow-boy in Berwick Street, a bus driver on the number 19 bus, and was squatting in a house in Bow when he met Knopfler. He showed his mastery  at writing lyrics by mixing  in that days experience of his meeting with Illsley and Knopfler, a chance meeting that became (“Wild West End”). He gave the stunned Knopfler a songwriting masterclass, a mentoring session and before he  left, gave the band to be the name “Dire Straits” before disappearing into the night. As he left, John Illsley had just about time to scribble down his name and the words “Straightjacket Music” for any share of  monies should the band be formed and have any  success. He believed the lyrics he had written could only have filled a good sixteen song L.P, and told Knopfler and Illsley not to use Money for Nothing. Of course they did and though it became one of the greatest hits, with Knopfler trying to inveigle Sting to take the credit for writing the lyrics with him it didn’t happen…  but Marshal never received the credit for writing the lyric or any share in the money it made, however British Grove Studios was built on the capital from Straitjacket Music.

Though Marshall has spoken to both Mark Knopfler and John Illsley, they have yet to make public his part in Dire Straits, and since there has been no denial from them or Libel suits its obvious he is telling the truth.

The Law on Admission States.

An admission may be express, such as written or verbal statement, by a Person concerning the truth, or it may be implied by a Persons conduct. If  someone fails to deny assertions which, if false, would be denied by any reasonable Person, such failure indicates that the Person has accepted the truth of the allegations.

Today, Marshal still writes lyrics,  poetry, plays, novels and radio stories under a variety of pseudonyms, but he still has hope that one day, Knopfler and Illsley will acknowledge what he has done for them make amends.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kenster on February 11, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Hope so, I can’t believe they would oust you like that. :/


  2. Well David Happy New Year. First of all there are Libel laws in Britain to stop people telling untruths about individuals on the Web, Newspapers etc. I’m afraid that there is not a Libel case here, and there is evidence that I wrote the lyrics that sent Dire Straits on their way to being a very famous group. I just do not have the money to take them to the Law Courts, though I have been personally in touch with Knopfler and Illsley regarding my part in D.S. That leads me to why you use the word dignity, I also want to know why Mark Knopfler and John Illsley have chosen to remain quiet about me, something to do with money maybe… Oh I hope that’s not another Libel pun, sorry David the music industry is just full of crooks that I wrote about IN the Gallery, on the first Dire Straits Album. Lyrics by Straitjacket Music, that’s money was used to build British Grove, dignity give me a break…..


  3. Posted by Paul on July 23, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I have to say, im a huge DS and Knopfler fan, enough to be inspired to learn to play a guitar for 30 years, im really saddened by this blog and kind of hope is all untrue, that said, I suspect its not, your position is awful and i sympathise completely. I cant imagine how it must feel to be treated that way…… But !!, the lyrics came out of you, thats a great talent, why dont you write some more. i’ll play them for you if need be but get them out there mate for sure, you have fans too !! Theres enough success to go around and I for one would buy them…..

    All the best mate

    Paul C


    • Thanks mate I’m glad Dire Straits were your inspiration,for they are a great band and Mark Knopfler a great front man and guitarist. Though I’m sorry to say,that what I have written is the truth, and both Illsley and Knopfler know that in the long run they will have to acknowledge it. So why not now, my writing the lyrics wont change their popularity just their bank balance, so is it just about money. Or While the dealers they get together,and decide who gets the breaks,and who gets to be in the Gallery.


  4. Posted by Paul on July 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I would imagine it would sink them both now to pay royalties of that amount. Plus it would be an admission if they dropped you even a quid, can open, worms everywhere !!!… All this deceipt and I still really want an autograph !


  5. Posted by Gary on December 1, 2017 at 6:06 am

    Hi Robert, interesting case you have here. If this is the truth then I am truly sorry this has happened to you. However, I would like to a see a little bit more evidence, you should make some youtube videos or something, unfortunately not much will stand in a court of law without some kind of hard evidence. At this point you could be anyone making this website, but I would be interested to hear a bit more about this as I can’t stand to see people not credited for their work.


    • We live in a world where you will be sued for calling a shovel a shovel. And I think this blog proves my point, if I didn’t do the things Ive said, I’d be in court on libel and defamation charges. And next year it will be Knopfler and Illsley who will be in court, something I still think is unnecessary, [so here is another defamatory statement]but when your dealing with a person who has managed to split up two brothers for his own gain, and I’m talking about John Illsley, his crippled mind is definitely going to try and make sure the truth is not told, for he is the one causing all the problems, he threatened me twice I should have gone to the polis, he’s a creep and obsessed, and I don’t need to tell you who with, so libel, no pal the truth.


  6. Posted by Phil Abbott on April 21, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    So you wrote Money for Nothing in 1975? Even though its clearly about MTV which didn’t exist yet. Clever Guy.


    • So you’ve found out the secret of the M.T.V. and your correct I didn’t write that, I take it that was Mark Knopfler, for I wrote I.T.V. However there are quite a few lines of the lyrics on the Brothers in Arms album, that Mark did write, for I left a lot of them with the story started but unfinished, but the amazing thing about that album, apart from the lack of material, was that I was showing him how to write Folk songs, and he turned them into what can only be described as a Rock album, now that’s a Clever Guy.


  7. Posted by sabrinapage on March 1, 2021 at 12:53 am

    Mark has long stated that he gets his ideas from an off comment he has heard somewhere. I wonder if it is more like this, talking into the night exchanging ideas while drinking, He had been writing songs or parts of them for years it seems while being a journalist. So some of the conversation made its way into the music. He was also playing folk music as early as 16, so perhaps you helped, but he was exposed to it years earlier.


    • I’m glad you think I had a little bit to do with mark’s rise to fame, when we were getting the lyrics for the D.S. album written, the experiences that made the stories were mainly mine, and I believe with his talent to put the words into the music and songs, proved the guy has a gift, and his fan base is proof of that. However like the snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan he knows all the right shots to play, but he’s lost his touch, and needs to go back to the basics, and find that enthusiasm that made him great, and not be the champion who just turns up at the venue and go through the motions.


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