AHEAD of his performance this weekend at the Assembly Hall, bass guitarist John Illsley, one of the founding members of the legendary band Dire Straits, talks to Melksham News.
This Sunday, 17th March, John will be entertaining an audience with a night of music, memories and a question and answer session. He will be joined on stage by musicians from his band to play Dire Straits hits including ‘Money for Nothing’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Brothers in Arms’ and ‘Sultans of Swing’, along with some of his more recent compositions.
What are you looking forward to when you visit Melksham? “I’ve never been before, so it’s a new one on me, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve performed in many small towns before and they always seem to have art centres or performance halls that they are deeply proud of, and they are really lovely to perform in. They lend themselves well to an intimate evening like mine, chatting about the life and times of Dire Straits – the Assembly Hall will be perfect for that.”
What can the audience expect from the show? “A chronological journey through the band’s history – where we played, the records we made, concerts, people we met, and people that played with us – a real mixed bag.
“I want to try and open up the rough workings of a rock n’ roll band for the audience and share moments that I was fortunate enough to experience – there were lots of highs and thankfully not too many lows. In the second half I will invite questions from the audience and play songs with my band.”
How are you feeling about inviting the audience to ask you questions? “This is something I’ve never done before – there will be a box in the foyer somewhere for people to submit questions as they arrive and during the show I will pick questions at random. There is potential for this to go on for hours as there is so much to talk about – so we will have to restrict ourselves or there will be no time for music! I have a fine collection of musicians to play Dire Straits songs and songs from my new album ‘Coming Up For Air’.”
Describe your new album ‘Coming Up For Air’. “This is something I have been working on for a while. The songs are a reflection of what’s going on around me and inside me – which is what songwriting is all about – life and how you experience it. One song, ‘Old Amsterdam’ is about the first place where Dire Straits really got recognition in 1977. We were still living in a council flat at the time we got the call that we had sold 35,000 copies of our album in Holland and we were invited to perform in Amsterdam, which was extraordinary. So Amsterdam has a special place in my heart – and that’s where songs come from, the heart.”
How did it feel to go from living in the council flat to touring the world? “It felt pretty good to get out of the council flat! Mark, myself and David were living there – there are some wonderful memories there, but working together was intense. Recording and touring together – you needed some separation at the end of a tour. So it was nice to have one’s own space, which we could afford – living in the flat we were flat broke!”
Not many people will know, but you are also an artist – tell us more about your painting. “I have a real passion for painting. I had an inspirational art teacher when I was younger who showed me how to look at a picture, and how to respond to it. As a consequence I became a painter and when I’m not on the road I am painting. It’s very solitary compared to life on the road. It’s very much you and your brush and whatever comes out of that.”
Any final words for the people of Melksham? “It’s going to be fun. A very unique evening for me and for the audience as it is something that I’ve never done before. The band and I will be playing songs that people love in a different, intimate way – in an acoustic way, which works beautifully with the songs.
“There will be lots of memories about a band that enjoyed a wonderful journey .”
John brings his show to the Assembly Hall this Sunday, 17th March. Tickets cost £25 and are available from the Assembly Hall on 709887, Melksham TIC in Church Street or visit www.melkshamtown .co.uk/assembly hall.