For Dire Straits bassist John Illsley — the only full-time and continuing member of the band along with frontman Mark Knopfler — being elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is “like joining a rather large executive club. It’s a rather beautiful thing.”
The British group, which has been dormant since 1992, will be inducted into the Rock Hall on April 14 in Cleveland, joining Bon Jovi, the Cars, the Moody Blues, Nina Simone and “Early Influence” Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The group finished third in fan voting behind Bon Jovi and the Moodys and appeared on the Rock Hall ballot for the first time this year.
“It sort of fills me with a lot of pleasure, I must say, to be recognized and to be included in the thing that we love doing best, which is making music and playing rock n’ roll,” Illsley tells Billboard. “I still consider (Dire Straits) to always be a rock n’ roll band; First and foremost that’s where we came from. So to be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is like ticking off a pretty large box.”
Keyboardist Alan Clark, who joined Dire Straits in 1980, adds that, “I never really made that big a fuss about it, but it’s nice to be recognized for your contribution in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t doubt that one day it would come around. I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs waiting for it to happen, but I figured it’s bound to occur at some point or another, and sure enough it has.”
The big question now is whether there will be a Dire Straits reunion at the induction ceremony, and there’s no firm answer yet. “Mark is quite sort of restrained about things like this,” Illsley notes. “We have spoken about (the induction), and we just said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ I think it would probably be important if Mark and I were there. I’ll definitely be there, and I’ll definitely talk Mark into coming as well. It’s essentially up to him if he wants to do anything, and I completely respect his feelings about it. He doesn’t want too much white light.”
Clark, who’s now in the band Legacy with several other former Dire Straits members (its debut album, 3 Chord Trick, came out in November), says he’s reserving his commitment to attend the ceremony until the group’s plans are determined. “I’ll go if there’s a reason to go, if Mark decides he wants to go and put something together and go and perform there,” Clark explains. “Jump back to 1992, the last gig we played in Spain, I said, ‘That will be the last gig we ever play.’ When people say, ‘Will the band ever get back together, I always say no. But will we get together for this? I don’t know. I’d be totally into the idea of it happening.”
And while Dire Straits has been on ice for 25 years now, Illsley says it is not, in fact, formally broken up. “We just basically sort of called it a day as far as making records and touring was concerned,” the bassist says. Knopfler has guested on some of Illsley’s solo albums, however, and the two meet occasionally to discuss Dire Straits business. “As an entity playing together, no, it doesn’t exist any longer,” Illsley concedes. “Whether it will actually make any music in the future, I have no idea. Right now it doesn’t look like it, but stranger things have happened.”
During its active tenure, Dire Straits released six studio albums and, of course, had its greatest commercial success with 1985’s Brothers In Arms, a nine-times platinum worldwide chart-topper that featured the hits “Money For Nothing,” “Walk Of Life” and “So Far Away.” Illsley — whose new concert DVD Live At The Brook features several Dire Straits songs — says the Rock Hall election is a mark of the group’s impact as well as a sign to potential future fans for the band.
“One of the most interesting things about the Internet is getting voices from around the world,” Illsley says, “people come onto the site — a 19-year-old guy from China or a 20-year-old guy from South Korea or somebody from Brazil or Argentina. It’s a constant appreciation of people getting involved in the music long after the band stopped playing as a band. That’s the most interesting thing for me — it still seems to have legs.”