Thursday, March 10, 2011

Interview for

Hello all,

Before I proceed to let you know of how things have been since I finally relocated to Vancouver…

I was recently approached by a famous Italian music-news website ( for a short interview regarding my experience following Mark Knopfler’s 2010 “Get Lucky” tour in North America and Europe. I had received the editor’s permission to post the English translation of the interview in my blog; I used Google Translate for the translation, which made me introduce very slight modifications to the pre-interview text; for the interview itself, you will find here the original English text that was submitted to the editor.

So for all of you who can’t speak Italian, here we go—

(Original interview, in Italian, can be found here:


Mark Knopfler and Isaac Shabtay: Four Months of Passionate Pursuit of Music

We interviewed Isaac Shabtay, who has followed (Mark Knopfler’s) recent tour of 87 concerts. After Betty Shapiro, Giancarlo Passarella, Andrea Del Castello and others, here is a new book about the legendary Mark Knopfler.

Rivers of ink were used over the years on Mark Knopfler-related writings (as leader of Dire Straits and solo artist). Isaac followed Mark and his band for all 87 concerts across the USA and Europe, and described his journey (sometimes daringly and recklessly) over 415 pages, accompanied by many illustrations and infused with much human sympathy.

We tracked him down in Canada, where he lives and works, for five questions…

Question: Isaac, when and why did you decide to leave your busy schedule to follow Mark Knopfler & the band for all 87 concerts on the “Get Lucky” tour?

Answer: To answer that fully, we have to go back in time. During the summer of 2008, I followed Mark & the band throughout their North-American part of the “Kill to Get Crimson” tour. I can’t remember much of what made me do that, but I remember that my personal situation at that time played a big role in my decision. I needed some air; combined with my passion for travel and my admiration of Mark’s music (primarily his solo work), I could think of no better way to clear my head than going on that one month journey.

That journey turned out to be a milestone in my life; by far the best experience I have had until then. The experience kept resonating as I went back to reality, until September 2009 came along. Mark had a charity gig played at the Hurlingham Club in London; I was able to purchase a VIP ticket, and decided to wrap a short European journey around it. It was an extremely positive experience; two days after the gig, “Get Lucky” has been released. I gave it a listen, and another one… And that was the point when I realized that I am going to follow the entire “Get Lucky” tour, no matter what. “Get Lucky” took me back to the sweet memories of being on the road, listening to the best music this planet has to offer, and of course—the unparalleled experience of documenting my journey and sharing it through my blogs.

I just knew I had to do it.

Question: Before the tour, were you planning on writing a book about your travels?

Answer: Before going on the “Get Lucky” tour—actually, even before going on the “Kill to Get Crimson” tour—I already knew that I was going to share my experiences with the world in one way or another. Documenting my journey was a big part of the entire package, as I seriously wanted to try and see whether I have any “artistic outlet” and, if yes, then how good (or bad) is it.

The idea of coming up with a book, however, is a different story.

During and after the “Kill to Get Crimson” tour, many readers suggested that I should come up with a book edition of the blog. Back then, it seemed like a neat idea but I decided to not pursue it. Then came the “Get Lucky” tour; thoughts about coming up with a hardcover edition of my blog popped up here and there, but the first time I gave it serious consideration was during one of the night-train rides, as I was cramped in a tiny car trying to get some sleep. I discussed it with a friend, and decided to go for it—to come up with a hardcover edition for the blog, and donate proceeds to charity.

During that long night-train ride, I already thought about everything that would be needed in order to bring my online blog to print. Enthusiasm built up quickly, and by the time the tour was over, I decided to dedicate the vast majority of my time for the purpose of publishing the book. For a few months, I worked on it daily, between four and fourteen hours a day—I really wanted it to be perfect.

Question: Mark is a very determined idealist who has overcome incredible difficulties imposed upon him to act his heart dictated… Do you, Isaac, feel like him?

Answer: In many ways, I do. Through my life, I have had my share of idealism and determination and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away any time soon. I may not have achieved much so far, but what I did achieve I owe solely to tenacity, determination and a “whatever it takes” approach. In a sense, this approach is not a luxury to me—I consider it a matter of survival. Growing up where I did, I had to adapt to such mentality if I ever wanted to make something useful out of life.

This tour was a great case in point.

First, other than two people, whoever had first heard of my intention to go on this trip—before and after it started—called it a “terrible, worthless, weird idea” and bothered to mention each and every reason why I should not be doing it, or can’t do it. For me, it was a sign that I’m actually just about to do something exceptionally good.

Second, I had to overcome many challenges being four months on the road. I was sick like a dog in Italy (as a result of severe lack of sleep); the entire Poland experience which had me play “catch-up” with a Polish train while riding a taxi blazing 160km/h from Wroclaw to Katowice; the trouble communicating in non-English speaking countries; losing my luggage in Spain; and so many other incidents. There were a couple of additional elements that made the trip even harder for me—elements that didn’t make it to the blog (and book) due to various reasons I prefer to not elaborate on.

So what do you do when Lady Luck frowns upon you? You take the heat, do whatever it takes and move on. “Giving up” is not only a bad option for the idealist who follows his passion—it’s simply not an option at all. True, there are sacrifices that have to be made but that’s life. You can’t have everything. You have to give some things up, and that burning desire is what gives you the power to make those sacrifices and feel content with it all. It didn’t matter what obstacles I came across during the day… once the evening came, Matt Rollings used to play that gentle A-flat chord—the beginning of Border Reiver—and everything went back to equilibrium and I knew that it was worth it.

When all is said and done, for the hard-working idealist who follows his heart’s desire, “success” is meaningful only when it is earned through hard work and sacrifice.

Question: After this experience, something changed in you?

Answer: Being four months on the road, experiencing so many cultures and facing so many challenges under an insane travelling schedule—well, I did get more than a handful of opportunities for introspection. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience; admittedly, there were those few days during the tour that I was deeply melancholic.

However, in the bottom line, not too many things have changed in me. I sort-of came to the conclusion that I was—and still am—on the “right path”, at least by my definition of “right”. My beliefs, values, dreams and goals didn’t change; but I did learn a couple of useful lessons.

First, I became totally convinced that everything is possible if one is very serious about one’s objectives. Once you decide upon your own inner truth and your own path, the only thing that stands between you and success is yourself (this conclusion sounding poetic and “cliché” doesn’t devalue from its truthfulness). I had presented myself with a huge challenge that, at times, I wasn’t sure I had the power to follow through—but I ended up accomplishing what I was set out for, and as a bonus—had the best time of my life. I have no reason to doubt my own potential anymore.

Second, I finally realized the role that art plays in my life. As my professional career is all around computer software, at times I had doubts whether I do possess any sort of “artistic side”—at least, an “artistic side” worth exploring. No doubt anymore; nowadays, I dedicate more time than before to playing my various guitars and piano, as well as doing some recording. I am working on a cover version for one of my favourite songs (nothing to do with Mark Knopfler), and came up with interesting, original arrangements to a couple of songs… we will see how it all pans out. My home-made “studio” is no British Grove, but I’m trying my best.

Question: You’ve had many expressions of sympathy from the band and a beautiful gift from Mark in the final concert of the tour, and I know that you play the guitar with passion… have you ever dreamed of playing with them?

Answer: If I said “no”, it would be a total and utter lie. Obviously, striking a few chords with any member of this wonderful band would be an unforgettable, powerful experience and an invaluable opportunity to learn and improve (my own personal “kick” would be to play an accompanying acoustic guitar for “Piper to the End” or “Before Gas & TV”. It just seems right to me).

Having said that, there’s one thing that differentiates this band from any other band I have had the chance to listen to: they are just perfect together. There’s perfect chemistry there and, had I ever had the opportunity to perform with them, I doubt I could add any sort of value at all as I can think of no way to further perfect what they’re doing. So yes, it would be great for me but not a huge gain for anyone else.

So… yes, playing with them would be an enormously fantastic experience, but I’d rather have the opportunity to learn from them—keyboard techniques from Guy/Matt, guitar techniques from Mark/Richard. Maybe even a pointer or two for my own composition… overall, that would serve everyone (including myself) better in the long run.

- Isaac Shabtay


Anonymous said...

Hello Isaac, your book is well done! When we listen to your musical composition?

Anonymous said...

Soon enough.

On one hand, I hope I don't make a fool out of myself.

On the other hand, I don't care.

dee said...

in both cases your supporters will stand by you...sure... maybe... slight possibility... at all..:-))