Forty years ago, I would quite possibly have considered walking over broken glass to get to a double concert featuring Dire Straits and Supertramp. That was then of course, and this is now: For Dire Straits tonight, read bassist and co-founder John Illsley. For Supertramp read Co-founder, writer, arranger and singer Roger Hodgson. Maybe not Dire Straits and Supertramp then at Kunst!Rasen – but certainly, for the latter at least, worth walking over broken glass whilst wearing sturdy shoes. In the event, no broken glass, just very dry grass was underfoot for the penultimate concert by the Rhine in 2018.
At a jumble sale In the mid-70’s I acquired a mysterious yellow badge asking ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ in dramatic red lettering. It was to be two years later that a friend brought Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ to my house for a listen. What was that for a voice? It didn’t fit my expectations of Rock a la Ian Gillan or Robert Plant. I just didn’t ‘get’ Supertramp and consigned them with Genesis and Jethro Tull to my ‘old curiosity shop’ of musicians who clearly had something but I had no idea what it was.
Dire Straits though I ‘got’ straight away. At least in the early days. ‘Sultans of Swing’ was simply a pop number about a London pub band. Later, they too got a bit ‘curiousity shop’ with tracks like ‘Private Investigations’ and ‘Telegraph Road’. The former number is still a part of John Illsley’s interpretation of the band, and interpretation is actually a good thing since Mark Knopfler’s voice and distinctive guitar sound are an integral and irreplaceable part of the originals.
Not that the guitarist post has been abandoned with no hope. Ex-Pretender Robbie Macintosh retains Knopfler’s melodic sound in a more mainstream way, and Illsley’s vocals are neutral if sometimes slightly rasping (maybe all that dry ice wafting around the whole set doesn’t help here?). The overall result is a sound that retains a lot of the original charm but enough difference to stamp this out as more than a glorified cover band, and Illsley has a good helping of charm and charisma, not to mention presence as original bassman and co-writer with Dire Straits, in his favour.
With an excellent band of musicians and top-rate songs, you can’t really go wrong – and both are present here in abundance. Numbers like ‘Sultans of Swing’ and ‘Money for Nothing’ can’t help please of course, but there is plenty to enjoy in less ‘famous’ Straits numbers as the bouncy ‘Calling Elvis’ amply proved.
Illsley recalled the day that ‘Brothers in Arms’ was written as a time when neither he nor Knopfler, dreamt just how much effect on the pop world of the time it would have. He admitted though that “I must have played it over a thousand times now – but it still gives me goosebumps”. A number for holding lighters/cellphones aloft in the darkness if ever there was one. It came mid-set when daylight made those lighters superfluous but nonetheless it was still as much a ‘goosebumps’ moment for us it was for John Illsley. Indeed, for those of us (most of the audience probably) from the time that Straits were musically World conquerors, the whole set, outside of a couple of Illsley’s own newer compositions like ‘In the darkness’ was one long goose-bump moment.
Roger Hodgson’s set was of course guaranteed to prolong those goose-bumps.
“I want you to look at those trees over there,” announced Roger Hodgson, pointing out to the edge of the arena, after stepping onstage to thunderous applause. “I want you to leave whatever worries you have amongst those trees. Leave them for the next couple of hours…” With that said, he smiled, placed a neatly typed set-list next to his keyboard, took a quick glance in the rear view mirror attached to that keyboard to see the band were ready, and began to play. The opening notes of ‘Take the long way home’ wafted out into the warm Summer air and all worries were instantly forgotten by some 3,500 people.
Rather like the previous Dire Straits set, this one too seemed to be hit after hit from a time when lyrics were agonized over and music meticulously crafted. The best numbers seemed to be those that came after the sun dipped down and the lights created a magical world framed on the big stage in front of us. ‘Death and a Zoo’ with its jungle background sounds and Hodgkinson’s question beforehand: “Imagine you’re a wild animal. What would you choose? death, or life in a zoo?”. Stunning.
If the zoo animal conundrum was difficult to answer, easier was Hodgson’s next question: “Who is still a dreamer amongst you?”. One of those songs that are more than just an aural memory from one’s past, more a tangible piece of fabric from those student days when we were all dreaming of how we would change the World. The hundreds of voices singing in unison to every line tell me I’m not the only one thinking so.
Of course, we went on to discover the reality – that the World would in fact change us. ‘Fool’s Overture’ is Hodgson’s opus to that theme of dreams versus reality. It was, he revealed, a number that took five years to complete and, rather like ‘Dreamer’ is a snapshot of a Great Britain that was fraying at it’s social and political seams. To the chimes of Big Ben, Churchill is resiliently announcing “We will never surrender” and of course we still haven’t – Britain doesn’t need Europe – it’s got everything it needs. forty years on from the songs origins, and heads are still stuck, ostrich like, in the sand. It’s a long piece of music and was created with an orchestra in mind and it’s a credit to the excellent band this evening that ‘Fool’s Overture’ still moves listeners so many years later. Special and deserved mention here for Michael Ghegan whose multi-instrumental duties really gave the band an orchestral depth of sound.
It seemed hard to believe that we hadn’t heard all the hits, even after so many great songs, but still there was time for two encores of extra quality in ‘Give a little Bit’ and ‘It’s Raining Again’.
Over at the VIP tent, a gentleman named Fred Durst was celebrating his birthday. The next day he appeared on this very stage to close the 2018 season of Kunst!Rasen with his Rap band from Florida Limp Bizkit. I know there will have been lots of adrenalin-fuelled rock riffs flying at that one, but will there be even one song of the quality we heard all evening tonight? Time to go out and finally buy a copy of ‘Crime of the Century’. – finally I ‘get’ it.