hugely successful, with their first album going multi-platinum globally.
Throughout the band's career Mark Knopfler was the songwriter and driving force behind the group. The band's best-known songs include "Sultans of Swing", "Lady Writer", "Romeo and Juliet", "Tunnel of Love", "Telegraph Road", "Private Investigations", "Money for Nothing", "Walk of Life", "So Far Away", "Brothers in Arms", "On Every Street", "Your Latest Trick" and "Calling Elvis". Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler have sold in excess of 120 million albums to date.
Mark Knopfler, his younger brother David Knopfler, John Illsley, and Pick Withers formed the band in 1977.
Dire Straits (a name given to the band by a musician flatmate of drummer Pick Withers), recorded a five-song demo tape which included their future massive worldwide hit single "Sultans of Swing" during 1977. The now famous demo tapes of five songs were "Wild West End", "Sultans of Swing", "Down To The Waterline", "Sacred Loving" (a David Knopfler song) and "Water of Love". They took the tape to DJ Charlie Gillett, who had a radio show called "Honky Tonk" on BBC Radio London. The band simply wanted advice, but Gillett liked the music so much that he played "Sultans of Swing" on his show. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with Phonogram Records. The band's success came too late for original drummer Patrick Scott, who quit the band in the mid-1970s, believing that they would never break through.
In October 1977 they recorded demo tapes of "Southbound Again", "In The Gallery" and "Six Blade Knife" for BBC Radio London and in November demo tapes were made of "Setting Me Up", "Eastbound Train" and "Real Girl".
The group's first album, Dire Straits, was recorded at Basing Street studios in West London in February, 1978, at a cost of 12,500 f. Produced by Muff Winwood, the album had little promotion when initially released in the United Kingdom on Vertigo Records, a division of Phonogram, and was not well-received. However, the album came to the attention of A&R rep Karin Berg at Warner Bros. Records in New York City. She felt that it was the kind of music audiences were hungry for, but only one person in her department agreed at first. Many of the songs on the album reflected Mark Knopfler's experiences in Newcastle, Leeds and London. "Down To The Waterline" recalled images of life in Newcastle; "In The Gallery" is a tribute to a Leeds sculptor/artist named Harry Phillips (father of Steve Phillips); "Wild West End" and "Lions" were drawn from Knopfler's early days in the capital.
That same year, Dire Straits began a tour as opening band for the Talking Heads after the re-released "Sultans of Swing" finally started to climb the UK charts. This led to a United States recording contract with Warner Bros. Records and, before the end of 1978, Dire Straits had released their self-titled debut worldwide. They received more attention in the United States and landed at the top of the charts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Their debut album eventually went top 10 in every European country.
The following year Dire Straits embarked on their first North American tour. They played 51 sold-out concerts over a 38-day period. "Sultans of Swing" scaled the charts to number four in the United States and number eight in the United Kingdom. The song became one of Dire Straits' biggest hits and was a fixture in the band's live set. Bob Dylan, who had seen the band play in Los Angeles, was so impressed that he invited Mark Knopfler and drummer Pick Withers to play on his next album, Slow Train Coming.
Recording sessions for the group's second album, Communique', took place in December 1978 at Compass Point Studio in Nassau. Released in June 1979, Communique' was produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett, and went to number one on the German album charts with Dire Straits simultaneously at number three. Featuring the single "Lady Writer", the second album continued in a similar monochromatic vein as the first, if somewhat more polished, and displayed the expanding scope of Knopfler's lyricism on the opening track "Once Upon a Time in the West". In the coming year, however, this approach began to change, along with the group's lineup.
Dire Straits set about recording tracks for their third album, Making Movies, from July to August 1980, for release in October of that year. During the recording sessions guitarist David Knopfler left the band to pursue a solo career. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar and keyboardist Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. The album was produced by Jimmy Iovine with Knopfler also sharing credit. After the recording sessions were completed, keyboardist Alan Clark and Californian guitarist Hal Lindes joined Dire Straits as full-time members for tours of Europe and North America.
The 1985 - 86 world tour which followed the album's release was phenomenally successful. The tour began on April 25, 1985 in Split, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). While playing a 13-night residency at Wembley Arena (and the 10th of July concert was issued in 2005 on Wembley does the Walk DVD), the band moved down the road to Wembley Stadium on the afternoon of July 13, 1985, to appear in a Live Aid slot. Their set included "Money For Nothing" with Sting as guest vocalist. The tour ended at the
Entertainment Centre in Sydney, Australia, where Dire Straits still holds the record for consecutive appearances at 21 nights. The last show of this extended stay in Sydney in April 1986 was recorded and broadcast on Australian and New Zealand television and is well-known for the one-off calypso rendition of "So Far Away". The band also made an impromptu attempt at the famous Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda". In a two-year span, Dire Straits had played 247 shows in over 100 different cities.
In 1987 Mark Knopfler concentrated on solo projects and film soundtracks. Dire Straits regrouped for the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert in 1988 at Wembley Stadium, in which they were the headline act. They were joined for their set by Eric Clapton who performed his hit "Wonderful Tonight" with the group and played rhythm guitar on "Romeo and Juliet" and "Sultans of Swing". Soon afterwards, Williams left the band.
In September 1988 Dire Straits disbanded, at least temporarily. The tremendous success of the Brothers in Arms album and the tour that went with it left the band members under a significant amount of stress, and Knopfler announced the group's official dissolution, saying that he "needed a rest". A greatest hits album, Money for Nothing, was released in October 1988 and reached #1 in the United Kingdom.
In January 1991, Knopfler, John Illsley and manager Ed Bicknell decided to reform Dire Straits, which now comprised four members: Knopfler, Illsley and keyboardists Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher.
The band members began recording tracks for a new album, this time accompanied by other session musicians including steel guitarist Paul Franklin, percussionist Danny Cummings, saxophonist Chris White and guitarist Phil Palmer. Highly regarded American session drummer Jeff Porcaro played drums for the sessions, but turned down an invitation to join the band full-time because of his commitment to Toto.
The result was the band's final original studio album, On Every Street, which was released in September, 1991, six years after Brothers in Arms. On Every Street was a widely anticipated release, but met with mixed reviews and moderate success. The opening track "Calling Elvis" was the first single release in the United Kingdom (the video for this song being based on the 1960s television show Thunderbirds), peaking inside the Top 30 in the singles charts. There were three further tracks released from the album as singles, the last of which was "The Bug", which contains backing vocals by Vince Gill, who was also invited to join the band full time and declined. The new album was regarded by some reviewers as an 'underwhelming' follow-up and did not sell anywhere near as well as Brothers in Arms; however it still reached the # 1 position in the United Kingdom.
Dire Straits released one last album in 1995 before disbanding. Live at the BBC was released as a contractual album release to Vertigo Records. The group's third and final live album was a collection of live recordings spanning the years 1978-81, which mostly featured the original lineup of the band.
Mark Knopfler quietly dissolved Dire Straits in 1995. He had previously expressed a desire to give up touring on a big scale which ultimately led to the band's final breakup. In 1996 he began his career as a solo artist.
In 2002, Mark Knopfler was joined by John Illsley, Guy Fletcher, Danny Cummings and Chris White for four charity concerts. Brendan Croker joined Knopfler during the first half, playing mainly material composed with The Notting Hillbillies. Illsley came on for a Dire Straits session, towards the end of which, at a Shepherd's Bush concert, Jimmy Nail came on to provide backing vocals for Knopfler's solo composition "Why Aye Man".
In October 2008, John Illsley told the BBC he would be interested in a reunion tour for Dire Straits. Yet he also suggested that Knopfler does not have any interest in reforming the group at present due to his continued success as a solo artist. Knopfler declined when Illsley asked him to reform Dire Straits.