He’s one of the most famous rock guitarists - but to the boss of a South Yorkshire firm, former Dire Straits rocker Mark Knopfler is just a “boring” bloke he used to buy guitars from!
The star, best known for classic anthems including Money For Nothing, Sultans Of Swing and Romeo and Juliet, will take to the stage in Sheffield this Sunday, having sold millions of albums worldwide and establishing himself as one of the globe’s greatest musicians.
But to Tony England, a boss at a Swallownest air conditioning firm, he’ll forever be a quiet, unassuming Leeds shop assistant who he used to chat to about the world of music back in the early 1970s.
Said Tony: “Back then, when he was studying at Leeds University, I was a kid and I used to knock around all the music stores in the city, browsing and looking at the instruments.
“He worked at Kitchen’s music store. I only knew him as Mark and he was probably only about four or five years older than me but his knowledge was amazing and he was a really nice bloke.”
Born in Glasgow in 1949, Knopfler arrived in West Yorkshire as a journalist - recruited by the Yorkshire Evening Post as a junior reporter, where he spent several years honing his craft with a notebook and pen but at the same time, developing a burgeoning interest in music.
He decided to further his studies, enrolling as a graduate at the University of Leeds studying English, where he first crossed paths with Tony.
“It would have been about 1970-71, that kind of time,” he said.
“As a budding musician I was hanging around the shop all the time and he always had time to talk and offer advice. He recognised that I had all the enthusiasm and none of the cash to buy the classic guitars they had in the shop!”
But Tony, aged 59 and a director at air conditioning company Airmaster, never had the chance to hear the man who would go on to become one of the greatest guitarists of all time do his stuff.
“I never heard him play,” he said, “But everyone else who worked there said he was a really good guitarist.”
However, while Knopfler might have been a star with the guitar, he wasn’t such a wow with the ladies.
“A friend of mine worked at the Yorkshire Evening Post at the time and he took her out. She said he was boring and only ever talked about his band! Nothing surprising there then!,” he joked.
After his studies concluded, Knopfler continued to pursue a career in music, forming Dire Straits with his brother David in 1977.
Initially, their debut album failed to make waves, but when Sultans Of Swing became a huge hit in the Netherlands, the die was cast for a career that made Knopfler and the band one of the biggest and most popular live acts of the Eighties.
“I remember seeing him years later and realising that it was Mark from the music shop,” said Tony. “It was a bit of a revelation seeing how far he had gone.”
Indeed, the group’s fifth album, Brothers In Arms, is classed as one of the greatest of all time, selling more than 30 million copies around the globe and spawning hit songs such as Money For Nothing and Walk Of Life.
The group disbanded in 1995 but Knopfler continues to wow audiences all over the world – and in a poll by Rolling Stone magazine, he was voted 27th greatest rock guitarist of all time.
In this Sunday’s appearance at Sheffield Arena he will become the first artist to perform at the venue’s newly created Steel Hall, a 4,000 capacity hall which allows showgoers to be up close to the action on stage. He last played there with Dire Straits in 1991 during a tour to promote the group’s sixth and final studio album, On Every Street.
Speaking earlier this year about the concert, Knopfler said: “The thing about the old Straits songs is these things are signposts for people’s lives. Obviously I’ll play things differently here and there to keep it alive and meaningful to me, and away from a cabaret thing.
“But there are things, like the twiddly bits at the end of ‘Sultans,’ if you don’t do your twiddly bits, the world’s not right for people. I like playing the old songs. I wrote them and people like to hear them, it’s as simple as that.”
However, Tony, who plays guitar in local band X-Roads and who has Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster instruments in his musical collection, won’t be there to see his old shop assistant pal in action.
“His music isn’t really my cup of tea,” to be honest. “I’m not really a fan.”
n Tickets purchased online at www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk and through the ticket hotline on 0114 256 5656 are priced £55 and £49.50, including booking fee. Tickets purchased at the venue box office are £52.50 and £47.25, including booking fee.