My introduction to Dire Straits wasn’t special. It happened when I first heard ‘Sultans of Swing’ on MTV and for the next few days the tune lingered in my mind – I kept humming it to myself when I realized, that just didn’t cut it. I needed to get their album. That was nine years ago and I still haven’t had enough of them. Dire Straits are not my favourite band but they’re on a pedestal upon which I place few others.
Eventually, more music filled my hard drive, several new bands came into existence, genres of rock started to diversify and I listened to Dire Straits less frequently but somehow, they never got old. A few of my older neighbours, used to talk about the ‘experience’ of listening to Dire Straits, with distant visions of memories clouding their eyes. They used to dreamily talk about how they can never forget Mark and David Knopfler’s magic.
So when I heard about UK’s oldest Dire Straits tribute band Money for Nothing’s performance in my city, I was filled with an urge to watch them. I told myself that a tribute band that has been playing their music for 11 years will have to do since I can never have the real thing. If they’re number 1 in the UK, they must be incredible. With a leap of hope and an eager stride, I headed to UB City where the gig was to happen. The rain gods showed no mercy and it was quite frustrating to stand there in anticipation. I looked around as I waited. Sure enough, there were people lining up in the front to watch a tribute band that showed immense promise. Their faces were eager and earnest. There were excited murmurs, impatient ramblings and feet tapping the ground as if they were clocks ticking at each passing second.
“I hope they play ‘Walk of Life’ dude”
“Can’t they just start already?”
“F*&% these rains! If they don’t play the entire set list I’m going to be pissed”
It was amply clear that everyone was restless and they needed the band to have started fifteen minutes ago!
After what seemed like eons, the band finally arrived on stage. Not surprisingly, the crowd cheered, hooted and howled. Without wasting any time on introductions and fanfare, they began to play. I froze in my spot. Their debut song was ‘Calling Elvis‘. A single thought came to my head – so THAT’S why they’re UK’s number #1 Dire Straits Tribute Band! It was actually that good a cover. Aled Williams, the vocalist, sounded freakishly similar to Mark Knopfler. They played ‘Sultans of Swing’ next – even better. Surely, it wasn’t an exact copy of the original and it wasn’t as good as their first song but I wasn’t expecting genial work from them when it comes to the most popular Dire Straits song. It was still very precise at some places. Only the solo was improvised, and some purists in the crowd whined gloomily at that but not for long.
They then played ‘You and your friend’. It was with this song that things started spiraling downwards. The songs that came afterwards were mostly rushed. The rains are partly to blame but it was disappointing to see a band that was doing well so far suddenly lose all charisma and technique. There were several issues – the guitars weren’t tuned properly so they had to be tuned in between the performances, the backup vocals ruined Aled’s perfectly synced voice, the keyboard playing was dismal when they played ‘Walk of Life’ and even their signature song ‘Money for Nothing‘. The famous riffs and rhythms that define both songs shouldn’t be difficult to play for a band that has been playing Dire Straits for 11 years. Yet, they didn’t get the basics right. That’s where I was a little let down.
Despite all of these hiccups, the crowd seemed to enjoy the evening and the music. Even the rains didn’t send them back running for cover. To be fair to Money for Nothing, it wasn’t a terrible gig. If you haven’t heard Dire Strait songs, you’d never have thought that they messed up (asides from the dreadful backup vocals – that was just unforgivable). Paul Guy played a fantastic bass and Derek Bisset was spot on with the drums. Also, I doubt if most people actually went to the gig expecting to see John Illsey and Pick Withers reincarnates and Jack Sonni clones.
As my eyes drifted from one person to another in the crowd, I saw a group of rather ebullient old men, raising their hands up to the heavens and singing along to every song. One look at them told me that their hearts were brimming with emotions that I could never fully comprehend.
Tribute gigs are often opportunities for cynical people to lash out at bands and point out just how pathetic they are but for the rest, they’re extensions of memories. They’re a panacea for pain stemming out of nostalgic remembrances of things one might never get to experience again. Tribute gigs such as this one, pull chronicles of the past that once enthralled some people, out from some cherished corner of their hearts. They bring out those moments of joy alive. There is a gap in how that same emotion is conveyed now, from how it was back then but the feelings and the songs remain the same. In some evolved way or form, those sensations continue to pass through people and generations and time. In the eyes of those old men, I could see the same essence that I saw in my neighbours’ as they told me how they felt about listening to Dire Straits. It’s a connection I made subconsciously but it unified them nevertheless.
I’m a Generation Y kid who will never get to see Dire Straits perform but I’ll settle for a band that makes a consistent endeavor to keep their legacy alive.