Marshal’s strange introduction to John Illsley’s flat mate Dirk, (Mark Knopfler) had roused the poets suspicions about his invite back to the council house in Deptford, London. He had gay friends but they never acted the heavy gangster, in fact they were the opposite, and Dirk’s (Mark Knopfler) statement, “Is this the guy whose going to make me a millionaire,” still worried him for he and Illsley had spoken about the use of drugs in the music industry, so as far as the poet was concerned it could have been a old bill set up.?
“John says your a lyricist,” Knopfler suddenly asked, in, a are you sure manner, and when the poet nodded his head in agreement, he added in a almost hypocritical and disbelieving voice,’Then show me,”….
With his heckles raised by Knopfler’s challenge, Marshal rose from the chair putting aside the guitar, inwardly feeling like a cowboy from a Western whose bluff had been called for a shoot out. “Have you got paper,” he replied looking questioningly around the room that seemed lacking in even a envelope,”We will need plenty paper,”? he stated in a don’t piss me off voice.
“We are students,” Knopfler told him, and headed into what seemed to be a bedroom and returned with a small bundle of writing paper,”Students always have paper,” he chided, “And other things,” he said smiling for the first time…
And before a line of Cocaine had been chopped, or a warrant card had been produced Marshal had written what he called the bands opening number. Southbound Again. Its fast and straight to the point no messing about message of the poets continuous trips North, and his long trek South over the Tyne that the Scots see as the English border, the journey down the old A1 always taking him further and further from home and his loved ones.
The short verses in the lyric forced Marshal to add two extra parts to it that really has no part at all in the song, ” But it fills the gap”, he told the watching Knopfler who took what he had written over to Illsley, who seemed taken up with other things, and took little interest, a bit like a father with two children in the room.
All groups need a song that they can call their own Marshal explained, and he began to write Sultans of Swing kneeling on the floor while Knopfler went over to the top of a old dresser top, and do what a mans got to do, if the party is to keep going. Putting a line of Cocaine together.
The lyrics of Sultans are based on Marshal’s own experiences in London, and Manchester, where brown baggies and platform soles were the norm up North, and where guitar George was a actual member of a band that regularly played in a venue called the, Stoneground. But Marshal was telling Knopfler that it would take more than just knowing guitar chords that would get him on the music scene, he would have to make it cry and sing. And of course George rhymes with chords.
And Harry who was not a friend of Mark Knopfler’s, was a member of the poet’s own family, his brother in law, who was a person who knew everything, and never stopped telling you to get a job, and would actually go to where Honky Tonk music was played, usually on a Friday night.
Where the jazz went down was at the Old Londoner, a huge pub in Limehouse, now sadly demolished, the other venues in London who had jazz venues were in the West End and you could get ten Dexedrine for a pound note. And the Sultans of Swing is a hypothetical name for a band, that could have been called Swinging the Lead, or just Two Chancer’s in a Room Writing lyrics, there was never a band of that name, it was fictitious and made up lyrically by Marshal.
When Knopfler returned Marshal had almost finished the lyric, and that seemed to finally break the ice, as did the intake of drugs, and the poet found he was warming to this strange looking guy who said he was from Newcastle, but what Newcastle?.
When Knopfler asked how the poet found the words, Marshal began to write Water of Love, using the buildings around the house for the picture, and the feelings of actually being in the dark interior for the mood. High and dry in the long hot day, Lost and lonely every way, Got the flats all around, sky up above, All I need is a little water of love. This impressed Knopfler who again went over to Illsley, who the poet states took no part in the use of stimulants of any kind, and is just a Straight in that department anyway.
So it came as a complete surprise to Marshal after Knopfler had left them alone in the sitting room, that Illsley six feet four in height warned the startled Poet, “To back off,” as he didn’t like the way his flatmate and Marshal were bonding,”I don’t know what your game is,” he added getting a blank look from the confused Poet,”He’s with me,” he informed him with a narrowed stare as Knopfler entered the room breaking the ice that Marshal claims you could cut with a knife.
Knopfler had sussed something had gone on between the two but made light of the friction, as he was more concerned with the writing of the lyrics. But again when Marshal and Illsley were alone, the Poet was pulled up again,”Look into my eyes,” Illsley demanded in a aggressive tone,”You do understand what I was saying earlier,” he said glaring down at the now enlightened Marshal, who now understood the big twits problem. Illsley and Knopfler were twosome a couple of Gay guys and he was trespassing on Illsleys patch so to speak. “We are just writing lyrics,” Marshal answered wondering if he was going to have to deck the jealous lover.
That if he had would have been the end of any band called DIRE STRAITS, but he claims that was one of the reasons he declined Illsley’s offer of returning to the flat in Deptford South London. That on a Tuesday was a open door and Punk night for young would be guitarists, where Illsley has said he tuned their guitars. It was when Marshal was leaving the house and Illsley informed the Poet that his friend Knopfler had a brother who was out at the moment and should be back soon, sort of like Marshal’s lyric,”Here Ive got Mandy for you.” It was then that the Poet decided to exclude himself from the company and get on with his life as a Novelist, and leave the threesome alone in their own Dire Straits, that Les Boys on the Communique album seemed to prove that it was not the Rock band that Marshal had in mind, but a Gay band that still seemed to be dominated by John Illsley the Boss?. Hence the reason for Marshal’s long delay in contacting Mark Knopfler…
The two things that John Illsley did do for DIRE STRAITS was introduce Marshal to Mark Knopfler and give the Poet the idea for Wild West End. The story in the lyric about their meeting earlier that fateful day. But to consider himself worth 15 million pounds, that he grossed being the bass player beggars belief.?
Those Mist covered Mountains was written to show Knopfler the various types of lyrics Marshal could write, one for Folk the other for Rock and Roll, Here comes Johnny was just another hook coming from the Poets days in the sixties, when words like Be Bop A lula, and songs like Johnny Be Good and Peggy Sue were the rage. The poet just took the meanings a little bit deeper, including prostitution where the woman is down in the tunnels trying to get some pay, and when its all over, you do the walk you do the walk of life.
Brothers in Arms, These Mist covered Mountains, is a Scottish folk lyric one of many Marshal has written, and with the poet having been a serving soldier in the Royal Scots, the Royal Regiment. He had a artillery of hooks and knowledge of soldiering, as well as a family history, that stretches back to the Norman landings of 1066, and clan castle called Dunottar where at one time the Scottish Crown jewels were held in safety.
After the 1714 uprising the Marshal’s either went to France, or were given useless land in the lowlands. With David Knopfler not being in the house when the lyrics were written, it has nothing to do with the Knopfler brothers. Who starts theses myths…..This is part one of Marshal’s first meeting with Mark Knopfler and the writing of the lyrics, and is a extract from Marshal’s novel, National Dried Milk