Mark Knopfler: “I'm done with live.  Bob and Van?  They're tougher."

Mark Knopfler: “I'm done with live. Bob and Van? They're tougher.”

“Watch me go babe, watch me gone”, sings Mark Knopfler in one of the most beautiful songs of “One deep river“, his tenth solo album just released: it is the story of a musician who leaves everything behind, because one day he hopes to “go on tour with Bob and Van”.
It happened to Mark Knopfler: “I have made many dreams come true, I consider myself one of the few lucky individuals who have managed to make this type of life work”, he tells Rockol via zoom from his studio in London.

We too now see him in a similar situation: he has definitively left behind a part of his life, his career on stage. “I'm done with touring,” he confirms. “It's something I loved, I know my music was written for that too. But I'm at a stage in my life where I need to think about how to best use my time, because there isn't so much of it anymore.” The 2019 concert tour – which ended shortly before the pandemic and also passed through Italy with several stops – was a sort of farewell tour. “Bob and Van are tougher than me in this way” – he says of the two colleagues mentioned in the song and who continue on their “neverending tours”. “They're great in the studio, but they don't like this dimension as much as I do. I can't wait to enjoy studying with my band even more, writing and recording songs.”

One Deep River

In short, Mark Knopfler has no intention of retiring from music: we expect new albums, but no more concerts. “Today I consider myself more of a songwriter than a guitarist or a performer,” he explains.
One deep river” already reflects this decision: it is a 25-song work that shows a songwriter in a state of grace. The main version includes 12 songs, to which 9 are added in two different deluxe versions; and there is an EP, of four songs , “The Boy,” which will be released on Record Store Day.

It all started during the last tour and continued during the pandemic: “In the hotel, in the middle of the night, it was easy to see me walking down a corridor looking for a chair without armrests on which to sit to write a song. This is an album that started on the road, but in the future I hope to do the same thing without leaving London,” he says.

“One deep river” is an album strongly rooted in the American tradition, even before the English one – as often happened in his career. An Englishman who became one of the best interpreters of the American sound: “I grew up listening to that music on the radio, without knowing who played it or what it was about, I only discovered it later. In my late teens I was interested in playing the electric blues of the masters and I was also lucky enough to meet Steve Phillips who had a huge collection of country and blues records.” Years later together they would form the Notting Hillbillies, an adventure in American sound dating back to 1990, in the Dire Straits era. Knopfler talks about how his guitar style was deeply influenced by fingerpicking and folk: “I think I was very lucky to know that music: if you don't have that tradition in your writing you kind of lose a little bit of depth.”

The river and the passing time

The title track of the album unites America and England through the metaphor of the river, symbol of the passing of time: “'Old man river' by Ray Charles is one of my favorite songs: the river has always been an important feature of the cities of my life, the Clyde in Scotland, the Tyne in Newcastle and then the Thames in London, the Hudson in New York… With age you look at things from the other end of the telescope. You can't stop looking back: if you're enjoying life, as luckily I am, then time passes quickly.”
“I never know where the inspiration for a song will come from,” Knopfler continues.

“It can be anything at any time. There are songs that are born in specific situations like 'Money for Nothing' or 'Sultans of swing' and others that are born perhaps while in a pub: you see a detail or hear a conversation that suggests a history”.

Guitar Stories

“One deep river” is a gallery of stories and characters out of time: Knopfler may feel primarily a songwriter, but his guitar – in particular his Stratocaster – can be heard on the album: “I still like playing the guitar, I love the instrument but first of all I am a lover of songs: I use it for their service.

I can't tell you what my favorite guitar is today, it really depends on the song: I like finding the right acoustic guitar, I use the Les Paul and the Strat a lot: a few years ago Fender made some replicas but I'm also lucky enough to own one original from '54 that I sometimes use on a record.” .
The love for the guitar is also evident in the 10-minute version of “Going home”, recently released together with the greatest guitarists of his generation, and not only: “An incredible experience: the first to come to the studio was Pete Townshend, I love his sound. Then came David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, while one day Bruce Springsteen sent me his part… really, a crazy experience.”
Knopfler recently put a good portion of his collection up for auction: “In some cases it was hard to let them go, but they were guitars that needed new homes. I have often given guitars to the people I have played with over the years: it seemed to me that it was the most beautiful thing you could give to a musician or a songwriter… I like to think that there is a song in almost everything, in every guitar: it is waiting there somewhere…”

The future

“I hope to become a better songwriter, but that's not for me to say,” Knopfler concludes. A sort of “Beatles phase”, only studio and no stage? “I don't know… but the songs keep coming and as long as that's the case I'll go into the studio with my band to record”.