I’m nursing the last couple of tracks to better health for my next Autumn release studio album. It’s going to be called either “The Gift of Life” or “Last Train Leaving” subject to whatever my mood of the moment is. I don’t want to leave these last couple of “under construction” tracks off if I can help it and it’s not like I’m working to any deadline, so, I’m doing battle and winning... I think. Sobering fact: I might press a thousand copies. That’s going to make recoupment a bit tricky. Back in the eighties labels saw selling under 250,000 copies of an artist as effectively a commercial failure. C’est la vie. People don’t even have CD players any more - certainly my overpriced MacBook doesn’t. It’s kind of shocking to see it sitting in a folder called CD18 though. Can it really be 18? That’s quite a body of work and quite a time stretch from 1983 to 2019. This is all prompted because I just watched, a few mins ago, a superior documentary about CSNY made two decades ago (Exec’ producer an old pal of mine, Bill Flanagan) where they were already looking pretty damn old (!) and there was no escaping the fact that those first two albums were at the apex of the zeitgeist of that era. I like to think (well actually I know and you are free to disagree) my best work is absolutely what I’m doing now even if it still sounds a bit like some of it could have been recorded in the seventies - but then what do I know, as a pensioner, stumbling on my trick knee towards the long goodnight, wondering where I put my damn glasses again and forgetting to make myself dinner. I would also have lost my phone by now if I weren’t typing this on it. Hey ho. And what the hell am I doing awake at 3.30am?
Songwriting is mostly a bit like your basic carpentry ... as long as you have some kind of idea about structure, the art usually seems, for me at least, to take care of itself. When a song I’m writing and recording falls down (and it still happens about one time in six or seven), it’s usually because I’ve deviated too far from basic code. Robert Frost, the renowned American poet, once wisely said that writing blank verse was a bit like playing tennis without the net. It’s important to learn some rules to have something to deviate from than be a monkey with a typewriter and hope to deliver Shakespeare. I tend to keep my song structures very old school and very simple: Intro 8 bars Verse Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Middle eight Instrumental verse Breakdown verse Chorus Outro Something roughly like that usually gets me home in about four minutes. It’s instructional to listen to a few of your favourite songs and just jot down their structure - some might have bridges - some might plump for a middle four some will have the odd extra bar here and there - but, unless it’s Bob Dylan doing Titanic, which both delightfully and perversely has about 57 verses and nothing else, most will approximate to recognisable verse/chorus structures. If you plan to be like Bob you’d better get a reputation as a genius first. I know that modern song writing offers other possibilities like a chorus followed by a bigger CHORUS with everything louder than everything else but I find loud tiring not exhilarating.. I stopped finding it exhilarating about thirty years ago. If I were recommending a trick, like fools-mate in chess, for someone embarking on their first ever composition, I’d get them to focus on a hypnotic stoner’s groove of two bars of 4/4 at a tempo that settles you down rather than riles you up and repeat it for 3 mins and then see what you can do with it to add a songs structure around it. It’s a trick Springsteen, a supreme songsmith, seems to employ from time to time... “Nothing Man”... “Philadelphia.” Check them out. The hypnotism is the repetitive heartbeat of the songs. Melody, harmony, counterpoint and lots of other clever stuff remain to be honed but as I say, go about it with a sensible structure and some sort of instinctive plan and it’s less likely to wind up in the failures folder. I haven’t lost my enthusiasm or love for discovering new songwriting skills whilst regularly losing my way in labyrinthian possibility. Usually I make a rueful return to structure because it’s the nearest thing to bullet proof. In about forty years time, if you stay really dedicated to the art and craft of it, you might even start to think you’re getting quite good at it and you might even not be entirely deluded about that. Learn the basics first and one day you too could be starving jazz musician. Have at it. Go get ‘em.
Having noticed that one of the Dave Gilmour auction guitars was a ‘71 Martin 12 string and that it went for the insane sum of $531,000 dollars, I got my identical model out of its case for the first time in about twenty years. It’s certainly got something going for it even if mine is worth many multiples less:
Despite the risk that Brexit will make touring, for all but the biggest draw UK artists, unviable, I’m planning to tour Germany and anywhere else within European striking distance in March 2020 and beyond. If you are a promoter or an agent who has booked me before and knows you’ll get a sold out venue, or any other serious promoter with a solid track record and you’d be interested in booking me, please contact my Agent in Germany, Dirk Ballarin to make it so: Kontakt / Contact: [email protected] Mobile: 0049 174 8254892
It seems Apple have approved my first podcast. It can be found here https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-knopfler-podcast/id1469647233
My first crack at creating a podcast https://knopfler.podbean.com/e/themidnightshaker/
Until CDBABY get their act together and sort out their technical problems I am selling my brand new Heartlands CD into the US and Australia directly from my website at the same cost as a UK or EU purchase https://www.knopfler.com
So, my new album will be physically arriving in bulk on my doorstep any day now. Next problem... I need to figure out the best way to physically sell them and I need some kind of basic plan for marketing and promotion. I have no real enthusiasm for the business side of things it has to be confessed. CDBABY is sadly no longer the company it was and for me at any rate, barely fit for purpose. They have stopped replying to emails from their Artists who supply their product. Its founder, Derek Sivers, would be spinning if he knew what they’ve done to it. What to do for best?
I have a number of fabulous top drawer sponsors for Guitars and other equipment I use. I just wanted to give a shout out to Carlos Juan whose acoustic pickups are in most of my guitars. I’ve been in the studio recording for a few months now and I just wanted to remark that as often as not I prefer the tone, sound and convenience of working with his pickup as with a mic. There can’t be too many pickups you can say that about can there?
I added a bass to a track last night. The strings on it haven’t been changed since 1977. Sounded great. Then I added a snare drum that I bought at the local municipal dump for £1.50 and with its brand new skin, and previous owner’s skill at tuning. It sounded great too. Then I added a cymbal... well you get the idea. If I had a bigger studio I’d pick up the free harmonium I see offered in the local ads.
It’s rare these days that it happens but I woke up with an old Dire Straits song running around my head, tonight. It was among my favourite Mark Knopfler compositions from that 1970s era. “Single Handed Sailor” has a nicely sketched out, emotionally satisfying, lyric and a quite demanding tune to perform too, with some jazz influenced inflections. I probably wouldn’t be able to figure it all out now. Mark brought it, pretty much fully formed, to rehearsals and I think, had written it overnight. I don’t believe the slightly quirky and busy, rhythm part I added, after Mark showed me the trickier chords, really met full approval from either Mark or later our Producer, Barry Becket. I’m pretty sure if I’d been a session player, they would have insisted it was tidied up more and delivered something a little more consistent, spacey and disciplined but they generously let it go and it survived to make the cut, for better or worse. If memory serves, and often these days it doesn’t, it was still performed in the live set when I left the band. It had a kind of rhythmic pace and economy that was simpatico to the sentiment of the song. Maybe I also liked it, in part, because I also found the river Thames at night, with its quiet barges moving, almost invisibly, through the dark, so quickly in and out of view inspirational... a place of excitement and beauty. And there was also the not unremarkable skill for just one person to be handling such a boat. I don’t suppose those long sand barges are still around these days performing their industrial deliveries. That economical, almost romantic “Eng-Lit” and half-journalistic style of narration worked for me. It wasn’t commonly used by lyricists in the gracelessness of the punk era either. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark wouldn’t have tipped a nod to the way Ray Davis could mine treasure from the battered grime of Waterloo Station and bridge. I guess we made a decent noise for four people. It never felt at the time like we had enough men onboard to do the job but maybe that was part of the skeletal charm; that like most four piece bands, you couldn’t disguise much in the arrangements.