Dire Straits’ John Illsley Shares What He Learned From Mark Knopfler’s Songwriting

Dire Straits bassist John Illsley recently joined the Mitch Lafon and Jeremy White podcast for an interview and revealed what Mark Knopfler‘s songwriting taught him.

Apart from his career in Dire Straits, John Illsley also pursued a career as a solo artist. He produced two albums with Mark Knopfler, who worked as a guest musician and helped him with his solo projects.

Before Dire Straits’ disbandment in the late ’80s, Illsey released two of his solo records; the 1984 album ‘Never Told A Soul’ and the 1988’s ‘Glass.’ Knopfler made contributions with his guitar playing for both of these records.

In a recent interview with Mitch Lafon and Jeremy White, John Illsley remembered the time he worked on his ‘Never Told A Soul’ album. He stated that he started by playing piano and improving his ability to write songs.

Moreover, Illsley said he learned the structures, phrasing, and chords from Mark Knopfler’s songwriting. He then recorded the album and worked with Knopfler on some songs.

Speaking to the Mitch Lafon and Jeremy White show, John Illsley said the following:

“I had these songs, and I had some time on my hands. It was the first time since 1976 and 1977. We had a break after Love Over Gold tour and took some time out before starting the ‘Brothers In Arms’ thing. I had some time on my hands, and I bought myself a piano and taught myself how to play it.

I can still play a few chords, but I never get beyond a certain point. I write on the piano. So I tried to improve, in a sense, my ability to write songs. Living with a great songwriter like Mark, you learn something. You learn about structures, chords, and phrasing.

He then continued:

“So, I thought, ‘Well, I have these songs, and I just literally worked on them with a local piano player down in Sussex, where I lived. Somehow, I thought I might as well record these. So, I got Mark, and he came and played on some of the tracks. Then one thing led to another, and then I did another one after ‘Brothers In Arms.’ Once I got started, I’m on my eighth solo album, which’s crazy to think about.”

After learning about Knopfler’s songwriting, Illsley continued focusing on his solo career. He has eight albums, the latest being the 2022 album ‘VII.’