The Dire Straits album, ‘Brothers in Arms,’ came out on 13th May, 1985 when I was just a few months short of my 18th birthday. I asked for this album (on vinyl) as one of my presents and waited patiently for its delivery to me. We hadn’t lived at Latham, near Radcliffe for very long. While we lived at our previous home just half a mile away, I’d spent hours and hours listening to folk rock, but also Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Enid and Marillion – all full volume on my struggling, tinny record player.
I still loved these bands when we moved house (I still love them all now!) but I was aware that my mates weren’t into prog rock to the extent that I was. I loved the long, operatic concept albums, comprising 50% classical and 50% rock. Most of my friends, however, were more into what was known as 1980s glam metal or glam rock. Not the short fringes and platform shoes of Slade in the 1970s, but the long tousled hair, make up, tight jeans, flowing scarves, and pursed-lip posturing of Alice Cooper, Whitesnake, Guns N Roses, Van Halen, Cheap Trick and Bon Jovi, to name just a few.
We’d all attend headbangers’ balls (one Friday each month) at Heywood Civic Hall, and I would be totally in my element and happy as Larry when they played heavy metal and prog rock. I even liked some of the glam rock tunes – but what I couldn’t come to grips with was the love my friends had for middle-of-the-road rockers – Status Quo and Dire Straits, to name just two.
I’ve never been interested in music as a symbol of coolness and wasn’t particularly bothered that my music preferences would mark me out as a member of a particular youth tribe – my hair and dress did that well enough. I could have listened lifelong to Mantovani and still be known as a hippy rock chick! But, I was interested in expanding my listening range, and they’d played a few Dire Straits tunes on the radio that I thought were ok.
So, I waited patiently and the requested albums turned up on my birthday… I can’t remember most of them now, as they were quickly integrated into the rest of my collection and listened to regularly. But I do remember ‘Brothers in Arms’. The album cover is sky blue with pink-peach writing and a single picture on the cover – a floating 1937 National Style “O” guitar that Mark Knopfler bought in 1978. It is distinctive – a nickel-plated brass guitar, with its palm tree etchings around the edges and on the back, and was used on many of the band’s best tunes.
At the time I was intrigued by the simplicity of this cover, having been accustomed to lurid, fantastic gatefold covers of the prog rockers, and the brashness of the metal bands’ posturing. It was almost as if Dire Straits were allowing their music to speak for itself. Hmmm, that was a new concept.
I am more than aware that what we get from art and music is very subjective, and even more aware that it is almost impossible to describe how it makes you feel. All I can say is that I listened to this album nonstop for a month – and have never listened to it since. Until yesterday. I saw it for sale, secondhand, on CD, and I decided to give it a try. It was a mystery as to why I’d given up on listening to it, apart from, perhaps overkill.
I began listening to ‘Brothers in Arms’ with a few thoughts in my mind – mainly how my newly-discovered family members on the West coast of Scotland told me that my birth mother absolutely loved Dire Straits, and particularly adored ‘Brothers in Arms,’ the title track of this album. I obviously had loved this too, many years ago. But hadn’t thought about it since. So, I began playing the music. I wanted it to whisk me back to sitting in my teen bedroom with incense burning and friends chattering, but it didn’t. I wanted to become engrossed as I had been all those years ago, and to lie on the bed, eyes closed with a blissed out expression on my face. I didn’t. I really wanted to remember how it used to make me feel. I didn’t.
All I felt was the mild disappointment you might get from revisiting a past you remembered as being better than it actually was. The past can be revisited, of course it can, and there’s no harm in re-listening to an old favourite album after thirty years. Dire Straits’ twangly guitar and sonorous sax solos can be re-heard, but they don’t mean what they used to mean. In the past they indicated a step towards the mainstream and towards normality. Stability. Acceptance. All of that and more. Now they’re banal. Dated, even. And they leave me cold.
I listened to the end of the album and ejected it from my CD player. I replaced the CD back into its case and slotted it onto the shelf, but I’m not sure I’ll ever listen to it again.
Instead, I popped a new favourite into the CD player. Paloma Faith. It’s good to move with the times occasionally. Next on my play list – Jethro Tull, then Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. Some things really don’t change.