Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Interview with Chris White of The Straits

SOUTH London boasts many famous alumni but surely somewhere towards the top of the list must be the legend that is Dire Straits. The band, who've enjoyed phenomenal success around the world, and had their fair share of staff comings and goings, played their first gig in Deptford back in 1977. They even have a commemorative blue plaque at the original birthplace of the group, Farrer House in Church Street, such is their fame.
Between 1977 and their split in 1995, they sold more than 120 million albums worldwide, played to packed out arenas across the globe, performed at Live Aid in 1985 and won numerous gongs including four Grammys and three Brit Awards.
Now they are back – albeit under a new name, The Straits, and with an altered line-up - and coming to the Albany in Douglas Way as part of a small UK tour.
Speaking ahead of the gig, saxophonist Chris White says the band is looking forward to coming home.
"It's great to be back in Deptford where it all began," he says. "We are really excited about it."
Appearing with Chris will be Alan Clark on keyboards, drummer Steve Ferrone, Mick Feat on bass, singer Jamie Squire, guitarist Adam Phillips and lead singer Terence Reis.
But what of founder Dire Straits members Mark Knopfler and John Illsely?
"Alan (Clark) was asked if we'd like to do a charity gig a couple of years ago at the Royal Albert Hall," explains Chris.
"Although we all still keep in touch, John was doing solo work and Mark didn't want to play Dire Straits stuff anymore so we put the band together without them, gave ourselves a new name, and did the concert.
"Afterwards we thought that was it but it went so well we've been together ever since playing across Europe and South Africa. 
"We're even working on some new material. 
"From one gig it's turned into quite a thing," he laughs modestly.
Originally from Bristol, the 57-year-old took up the sax by chance.
"I dabbled with the violin at primary school but although I could play I didn't really like it. When I was about 13 I remember seeing someone play sax on TV and I was sold. "I went to school the next day and said I wanted to play it and the teachers found one in a sack in a cupboard.
"My maths teacher gave me some lessons and within a month I knew that was it. I was so lucky I found it otherwise it could all have been very different for me," he laughs.
Leaving school he headed to college in London, eventually meeting Mark and joined Dire Straits in 1984 living for the best part of 20 years in and around Brockley and Sydenham.
The rest rest, as they say, is history and – in the 30 years since then - Chris has performed with virtually everyone who is anyone in music, including Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Ray Charles.
"I've been lucky to work with some great people," he admits.
"I played Knebworth with Robbie Williams. That was huge. I think he's a great entertainer.
"One of the highlights with Dire Straits was playing Romeo & Juliet in Israel at sunset and everyone got their lighters out. That was pretty special."
Live Aid too holds a place in his heart. "Going out on stage at Wembley to do Live Aid was amazing," he enthuses. "It was my 30th birthday and such a fantastic day. So many people were there and the feeling of goodwill was amazing.
"I was living in Sydenham at the time and I watched it on the TV before we went up to Wembley. It was a unique event."
Not only that, after their set they went to the arena next door and did another gig - as part of a tour the band was in the middle of.
"There were lots of people drifting in and out after they had finished their Live Aid sets. Sting, Francis Rossi, and Hank Marvin all dropped in and played with us that night. It was great." But now his thoughts are very much back with The Straits and their upcoming Albany gig.
"It's fantastic to be playing in Deptford again. I live in Berkshire now but still come back here quite a bit as it's such a great place to be, really buzzy and lively and I've got fond memories of living and working here.
"Being at the Albany again will be amazing, too. You are up close and personal and can see people's faces - it's quite nerve-racking!" And although they are now very much The Straits, fans will recognise most of the music.
"Mark wrote some stunning songs - Brothers in Arms, Romeo & Juliet and Telegraph Road - they are all amazing and we'll be doing them all - pretty much how Dire Straits did them back in the day. But there will also be some surprises.
"It's going to be fantastic," he promises.
The Straits played at the Albany in Douglas Way on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

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