Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dire Straits in Deptford

Deptford Dame notes that this Thursday the Performing Rights Society are planning to unveil a plaque for Dire Straits on the Crossfields Estate in Deptford to commemorate the band's first gig there back in 1977.

Most of Dire Straits actually lived in a flat on the first floor of Farrer House on the estate at the time. At one point in the 1970s it looked as if the estate would be demolished. After a campaign to save it, the Council decided that it was unsuitable for families and allocated the flats instead to young people -which is how quite a few musicians and artists came to be living there.

According to Mark Knopfler's website: 'The band's first gig took place on the open space at the back of the Farrer House flats, the electricty provided by a power cable running from the stage into a socket on the wall of John's first floor flat'.

Not everybody foresaw their potential in these early days. A review in the Mercury of a local gig in 1977 was far from flattering, with writer Jad Adams asking: 'Would Dire Straits by offended if I called them a poor man's JJ Cale? They are a good support band playing easy, laid back country rock which everyone appreciates but no one gets very excited over. From the Crossfield Estate, Deptford, where they recently played a community benefit, they are all intelligent, competent musicians. The line up: bass player John Isley, who has just taken a sociology degree; social worker Dave Knofler [sic -the paper mis-spelt the name] on rhythm, his brother Mark, a college lecturer, on lead; with Pick Withers, who "scrapes a meagre living" as a session musician, on drums' (Mercury 4 August 1977).

Way on Down South London Town

I was never a fan of Dire Straits in their period of 1980s stadium excess, but have to admit now that they actually wrote some good songs. My favourite remains their early hit ‘Sultans of Swing’, and not just because the 'Way on Down South London Town' setting for the song was a local pub. In an interview Mark Knopfler recalled: 'It was a little deserted pub in Deptford where we were all living at the time - the pub was semi-deserted and the band were down at heel and it was just playing these Dixie standards of Louis Armstrong things, the way they always do. They're an interesting make up, those kind of bands in that they're blokes who do all sorts of things, aren't they? They're postmen, they're draughtsmen, whatever, quantity surveyors, teachers, different things and they were expressing themselves. I mean that's one thing that struck me that whatever I might have felt about it they were expressing themselves and when the guys said "Thank you very much", you know, "We are the Sultans of Swing", there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren't. You know they were rather tired little blokes in pullovers.'

Not sure exactly what pub it was - The Duke has got to be a possibility as a (then) music pub close to Farrer House. Maybe if anyone from the band turns up next week somebody can ask them.

Of course there's already the Dire Straits inspired Love Over Gold mural on Creekside, which aritst Gary Drostle did with local kids in 1989.

Update: According to Pete Frame's book Rockin' Around Britain, the Sultans of Swing pub was actually The White Swan, in Blackheath Road, Greenwich.


dominicellison said...

I had always been told it was Royal Albert, which for a long time was the Paradise Bar and was once the Six String Bar.

Apparently the song was a tribute to their open jam night

. said...

Yes the Royal Albert would also be a candidate as a music pub of the time, so perhaps would the Birds Nest (then called the Oxford Arms)

Unknown said...

I am almost certain that the Sultans of Swing is about what used to be the White Swan, on Blackheath Hill, next to the curry house and near the law court buildings there. It's changed hands so many times since then that I've lost track of what it's called or what it even is now. I remember it was called the Polar Bar for a time.
I played my first gig there, 15 years ago, when I was fifteen and in a school band and it was still the White Swan. It was a bit of a bikers pub then, with live music most nights. I remember the infamous Brain of Morbius were live regulars there. It was in truth a dive, but a wonderful one with dirty carpets and often people rather openly smoking weed, and kids of my age getting served rather easily. I recal being told around that time that it was the place imortalised in the Dire Straits song. Anyone remember the White Swan? We always thought of it as being in Greenwich, which I don't suppose it is quite.

. said...

The strange world of pub folklore - people at the Duke, Royal Albert and the (former) White Swan all have the Dire Straits story. According to Deptford Dame, Mark Knopfler is coming to the unveiling of the plaque in Deptford tomorrow round 11:30 am. I will be working, if you get the chance do ask about the Sultans of Swing pub and report back.

Anonymous said...

no idea about the pub, but check the photo of the outside show:

Unknown said...


Maybe this has already been answered but...
I could have sworn that it was the Crystal Palace Tavern at the top of Tanners Hill.
Many bands played their including A.T.V. & Jools Holland (thou not sure if it was with Squeeze).
The Pub Had the unique Late opening till 12 p.m. Not so Unique today.
Almost everyone from, The Oxford Arms,The Duke,The Royal Albert,Deptford Arms,The New Cross Triangle of Pubs & Our Particular Haunt The Kings Head (Next to the Old Albany Empire,Creek Rd which was a favourite of us Punks at the time)
would converge at The Crystal Palace at Around 10.30 p.m. Any Later & you had a hard blag to get in.
The bar almost always filled up around this time of night with the biggest hotch potch of people from Hippys to Bikers to rastas with rarely any trouble as everyone was on the same trip.
Another Late venue if you missed the opportunity to get in was The Goldsmiths Tavern, Then run by a man everybody knew as The Sherriff (he always wore a Sheriff Star badge)
A well connected Jamacian,
Although a blind eye was taken to us tokers he would have words if he caught you in the actual process of skinning up or being blatant & mutual respect was the order of the day.
Here you could listern to Reggae Till the early hours whilst toking, Oh Yes.
I have many memorys & perhaps some old photos of the time that i will post should they ever turn up.


JH said...

Quote from Mark Knopfler in the book "Dire Straits", author Michael Oldfield, pub. Sidgewick & Jackson 1984: "'Sultans' was written quite a long time before the band; I hadn't met John then. Dave was living somewhere down in Greenwich and we just went out to the pub - I think it was called the Swan, something like that, in Greenwich High Road - and had a game of pool and a couple of pints. There was a jazz band playing, and there was nobody there except us and a couple of kids in the corner."


JH said...

Follow-up: The pub was demolished in 2014.

Anonymous said...

There was only one band that played in the White Swan at that time. They had residency fri, sat and Sundays. Headed by a guy called Rex who played sax, the bass player worked in Len Stiles and my mate Lance was on Guitar. I believe they were called Sax appeal and didnt play dixie style at all more funk jams. So the White Swan was not the pub in Sultans of swing.

Jim Moores said...

The White Swan on Blackheath Hill and The White Swan on Greenwich High Road are different pubs, although very close to one another. The one referred to in the song seems to be The [White] Swan on Greenwich [High] Road, which has now been demolished (square brackets are because bothe the name of the road and pub seem to have changed) (White Swan in Greenwich High Road) but the one on Blackheath Hill is still there but appears unrelated to the song.

Martin Royle said...

I was living in a house in nearby Guildford Grove in the mid 1970s with a changeable group of friends and we used to go to The White Swan on Blackheath Road SE10, usually on Friday evenings I think, for the regular band there were great. The stand out sax player was the main attraction, which seemed to be the source of the Sultan title for him with other regulars in the always dense crowd. Later I moved to a town house in Ashburnham Grove two streets away when a planned communal house plan fell through. We found the sax player and his band had moved to the Oxford Arms and became regulars there. One evening there, my house mate got chatting to two other enthusiasts about the band and other music we liked in common. She invited them to our house to hear some music on my hifi after closing time. I think both of them had more interest in her than my records. They were polite as I showed off my personal best liked albums as amplified on my Cambridge P100 fed to JBL Century L100 loudspeakers. She only told me years later that the two lads were Mark and David and she wanted to chat up David. I thought that there was an obvious adverse tension between the lads and they left after a final coffee. It may have been my choice of records that precipitated their departure, but they remained very polite and friendly to us both.
The next time I saw them was on stage at a gig at The Albany Empire a few years later where they headed the bill as a tribute to the whole of the Deptford area after becoming successful in the USA as Dire Straits.

Martin Royle