The Dire Straits Experience are about to return to Australia for their third tour in recent years. The man driving the project is original Dire Straits saxophonist, Chris White, who is very much enjoying his involvement in the tribute show that snowballed from a one-off charity event.
“It’s great,” White says speaking to The Upside News from London. “The whole thing is a bit of a surprise, in a way. It came about because of a charity event here, which we thought would be just one event. But it carried on from that. It’s great to be doing it, I still love playing the music. We try to do it as it was with Dire Straits, which was that no two nights were the same.
“I’m very happy because they’re great songs and really this is about a celebration of the music. They’re great songs and people want to hear them. I think Mark (Knopfler) is a great, great song writer and what he did in Dire Straits was pretty stunning, and ground breaking in some ways.
The outfit is now finding the material is attracting a whole new audience.
“It’s amazing how here in Europe we’re getting a lot of younger people actually coming to our gigs. Late teens, early twenties. I have people come up to me and say: ‘You know, I wasn’t sure if I knew any Dire Straits stuff, but actually I knew most of the songs you played.’ It’s kind of found its way into the ether somehow I think.”
Along with playing in Dire Straits during the band’s height of popularity in the Brothers In Arms era, White has a very impressive resume. As with many musicians, though, the spark was first lit as a teenager.
“I started playing the saxophone when I was 14, and in about a month of playing it I knew that was all I wanted to do. So, I just became obsessed with it. Which I think is the way for lots of musicians. And then I moved to London trying to get into the music scene. I got lucky and worked with lots of great people quite quickly. I started doing recording sessions and then got called for a stint with Paul McCartney, and met Mark (Knopfler). Mark called up asked me to do a film session, and it just kind of rolled on from there. I’m still doing it.”
Over this prolific career White has found himself working alongside many legends of the music industry.
“I’ve been very lucky to work with lots of great people. I spent a while with Joe Cocker, that was a lot of fun. Working with Paul McCartney was great because, as a kid, I was a real Beatles fan. Actually the first time I worked with him was the only time I remember being star-struck. I got very lucky once; I got called to go and do a gig in Paris with Ray Charles, who is one of the icons for me.”
In putting the show current together, the Dire Straits Experience use arrangements that reflect the different eras of the original band, while also enjoying the freedom to mix things up a little.
“We do a couple of four-piece scenes, which we strip back to the very original version of the band. For the rest of it we looked at some of the things that I played on when I got involved in ’85, so those arrangements. And there are a couple of things we’re thinking of doing slightly differently now. We’ll see if that works. It sort of feels like maybe we have permission from the fans to do that now.
“There are some things that we have to play every time we come out. There are songs like ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Telegraph Road’, ‘Private Investigations’ and ‘Sultans of Swing’. When we strip it down to a four piece, we do things like ‘Where Do You Think You’re Going’ or ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’.
“There was a unique version of ‘So Far Away’ that developed in Australia when I was there with Dire Straits and we’re looking at resurrecting that one.”
So what are White’s memories of touring Australia in past years?
“I love Australia, I love the climate, I love the people. It’s just such a happy place to be. People are really generous audiences. People aren’t afraid to have a good time. I did want to move to Australia after my first visit, but that didn’t come off,” he muses
In fact, until Ed Sheeran toured here earlier in the year, Dire Straits held the record for the most tickets sold on any tour of Australia and New Zealand for more than 30 years.
“Yeah that was the Brothers In Arms tour. I remember getting towards the end of that and the promoter coming out and saying: ‘Guys can we extend it for another week, back to Sydney and do some more?’ I think we had been in Australia for about three months at that point. But everybody was happy to go back to Sydney and do more.
“I heard that Ed Sheeran broke the record there. We’ll have to see if we can nick it,” he laughs.
Written by Matthew Trainor