Friday, September 11, 2009

Mark Knopfler’s Prince’s Trust Concert

At 7:30pm, when the doors opened, there were approximately 150 people waiting to enter. I looked around, and the vast majority of people I’ve seen were quite adult, very respected-looking people - “London’s Best” as one would put it.

We were invited into a particularly small hall, maybe 2-3 times the size of my bedroom at home. The room was intended to contain all of the VIP people, and it is where the private concert was to be performed. We were handed some champagne, and the atmosphere really resembled what you would expect from a high-society gathering. As it turned out, the VIP invitees were predominantly people who had close & long-running association with the Prince’s Trust and/or the Hurlingham Club.

As Giuseppe, his girlfriend and myself were standing about a foot away from the 2-feet high stage, a nice woman approached me and asked me for my name. It turned out to be Martina (I hope my spelling is correct). I have heard her name mentioned in the past as a reference to an extremely hard-core Mark Knopfler fan, strongly involved with the abundance of fan forums.

Martina and I engaged in a conversation about the Kill to Get Crimson tour, and then she pointed out some details that I was not aware of. It turned out that Mark’s wife, Kitty, was standing right there beside me, talking with a very important-looking individual. One of Mark’s sons was standing beside her as well.

(My knowledge of Mark’s private life approximates to zero, which is, pretty much I guess, the way that he would have liked it to be)

The very fact that Mark’s family was there, in the same room with us, was an alarmingly clear sign that certainly wasn’t going to be a fan-oriented gathering. The intimacy of the place was also something extremely extraordinary, and whoever knows the first thing about Mark Knopfler knows that he shies away from fans as if from fire, and the only people he feels comfortable surrounding himself with – let alone within a radius of no more than a few meters – are people who wouldn’t be generally categorized as “typical fans”.

I never bet (even in Vegas; ask my friend Jonathan), however I am willing to bet a good portion of my money that, at maximum, ten VIP tickets were given to fans.

The show’s host then entered the room and gave a short introduction. Within a minute, he announced Mark’s name. Looking to my right, I could see Mark entering the room, dressed in extremely simple clothes, and hopped on the stage, sitting not more than one meter away from where I was standing. Guy Fletcher, John McCusker, Danny Cummings and two other band mates of whom I was not familiar with, stood at the door. Guy and John were waving “hello” at me – I guess after seeing the same face for 31 concerts in a row, it remains burnt in some people’s memories. I waved back – it was great seeing them again.

The way the VIP private concert worked – and, as it turns out, the entire performance – was in the form of questions presented to Mark by the show’s host, then Mark providing elaborate answers, often (yet not always) involving playing songs.

The intimacy of the VIP hall was, as I said, extraordinary. Listening to Mark Knopfler speak is nothing less enjoyable than listening to him play and sing – one of the things I like most about this fellow is the way he speaks, the vocabulary he uses and the amazingly sharp sense of humour.

Every question presented by the host was “designed” to lead to a particular song. The reaction of the attendees to the choice of the first song would be a clear way to distinguish fans from non-fans, in the sense that fans would never really see it coming. The song was “Behind with the Rent” from the Kill to Get Crimson album. The host asked Mark about the process in which he brings songs to life, and gave “Behind with the Rent” as an example – a great example as this song really gives you a “personal” feeling and the sense of “stepping into” the song’s subject’s shoes.

Mark then performed “Behind with the Rent”… kind of. Why “kind of”? Well, it was played with a completely different chord set. Same lyrics, but with kind of a jolly melody, in sharp contrast to the “minor” spirit of the original song. This has created a phenomenon that I have never witnessed before. If you follow the lyrics of the song, accompanied by the original melody, you actually get a slight sense of… well… fright. It’s a dark song, full of expressions that would only be used by a stalker of some sort (“This crumpet’s past its sell-by date but they all would qualify / they’re gonna lonely and be happy to comply”). Wouldn’t want to meet this song alone in a dark alley, really. However when you listen to it with the alternative melody, you can’t help but laughing. You get a completely different feeling – basically some sort of pity over an extremely unfortunate guy.

I think that it takes a musical genius in order to achieve such a level of being able to “prime” people with feelings through music, and not only that – but being able to prime them with completely different feelings using the same lyrics but different melody.

After this peculiar performance, the rest of the band joined and they all played the “proper” version of “Behind with the Rent”, which was very special and beautiful.

Then the Q & A led Mark & the band to play “Secondary Waltz” (from “Kill to Get Crimson”) and Marbletown (from “The Ragpicker’s Dream”), the latter including the infamous intermission, as played in the Kill to Get Crimson tour (with less “power” though; remember this wasn’t a full-fledged concert).

As soon as Marbletown ended, the band said “thank you” and immediately left the room. Everybody had disappeared and I found myself standing aimlessly at the VIP hall, the entrance to which was still monitored (as they served food & champagne inside). I was really looking forward to the opportunity to say hello to John and Guy, but that opportunity, unfortunately, never came.

Shortly before the main concert began, my path happened to cross that of Mrs. Knopfler and their son. I was thinking about introducing myself, then decided that I probably shouldn’t – mostly because I couldn’t really think of a smart and/or useful thing to say.

My seat was located at the thirteenth row, right at the middle – good visibility. By now it became clear that this is not going to be a “normal” concert, but rather a Q & A, story-telling-like session involving a few performances. It was a really interesting experience though, to listen to the band talking about all sorts of topics – instruments being used, as well as whatever went through Mark’s head when he composed the songs. Some songs were played in full, and some were played only partially (the crowd went really, really disappointed when the band played about a minute and a half of “Money for Nothing” and then stopped at once, with Mark saying “and so and so on”).

At some point, the host made a reference to the 9/11 anniversary coming up. I was somewhat shocked as I couldn’t see the connection between September 11 and any of Mark’s songs. Then Mark provided some background to a song he wrote about the event (while my mind goes “WTF?!”), and particularly about the last moments of so many of the victims who called their loved ones once they knew they were going to die. An old woman sitting beside me started crying uncontrollably while I still didn’t understand how on earth this is related to anything that Mark had written. Mark went on to say that these expressions of love, through the recorded “last calls” from the victims, signified the victory of harmony and love over those (quote) “barbaric and backward acts”.

While he was saying these things, my mind went racing over the entire Mark Knopfler catalogue and then it hit me in much the same way as if somebody hit my head with a baseball bat. I reached the conclusion just as it was mentioned that this song is from Mark’s duet album with Emmylou Harris (“All the Roadrunning”, 2006) – the song was “If This Is Goodbye”.

“If This Is Goodbye” is a love-song so touching and beautiful that it is very hard to listen to without getting the shivers – especially the guitar solo at the end. The song has been bearing a very special meaning to me during the last 6-7 months due to personal reasons beyond the scope of this blog. I had the impression that this song is about some sort of a break-up, or separation, of a couple. It turned out that I was pretty much the only one to not know that this song was written about the 9/11 aftermath. Listening to this song live for the first time, listening to every word carefully now that I know the true context in which they were written, was one of the strongest emotional experiences I have had in years and, for me, that did the show.

The band played (not in that order) “Sultans of Swing” (only the last verse & solo), “Sailing to Philadelphia” (full), “Money for Nothing” (one verse), “Romeo and Juliet” (partial), “If This Is Goodbye” (full), “True Love Will Never Fade” (full), “Song for Sonny Liston” (full), “Why Worry” (full) and from the new album - “Get Lucky” and “Monteleone” (full).

For encore, they played “Brothers in Arms” (full) and “Local Hero” (full).

The concert ended and we all went our way. I met Daria at the exit, and Jeroen sent me a text message saying that he’ll be waiting for us at the meeting-point we had agreed upon.

On the exit, I ran into beautiful Zuzana again… and so did my camera:


(Fortunately, my mother is not following my blog… and I shall not elaborate any further)

This concert has been an extremely interesting experience and I am happy to have been given the opportunity to attend it. However, that concert had yet another revelation for me in its back pocket – an extremely sad & frightening realization that I prefer to not share (just writing this here as a “mental bookmark”).

Met with Jeroen at the agreed-upon meeting point and we all made our way to Earl’s Court, where Jeroen & myself bid Daria farewell, then hopped again on the underground on our way back to Russell Square.

Went to sleep as soon as got to the hotel as Jeroen and I had to catch an early plane to Amsterdam.


1 comment:

bob said...

Read your blog after watching Mark from the Prince's Trust Concert on the Bio Channel. Didnt know about 'If this is goodbye' either until then even though have listened continually to the album since bought. Look at CD sleeve and you will see the background of Twin Towers. Hope he will include this song in playlist for the tour.