Review by Dean Pedley, photos by Rich Ward
In the two decades since Mark Knopfler called time on Dire Straits John Illsley, the bands only other permanent fixture, has maintained only an occasional solo career alongside his interests in pub and hotel ownership. 2014 finds him on the road again to mark the release of a new studio album, Testing The Water, and with a band that includes guitarist Phil Palmer, himself a member of Straits for their final mammoth tour in the early 90’s in support of On Every Street. A small but appreciative crowd at The Robin were treated to a set list that featured many Straits classics alongside a few numbers from the aforementioned new album.
Perhaps somewhat taken by surprise at the relatively sparse attendance the band make a tentative start with ‘Walk of Life’ but soon warm to their task. ‘Expresso Love’ bounces along and a sublime ‘Private Investigations’ is highlighted by the delicate call and response of the twin guitars and the room reverberates to Illsley’s throbbing bass line. As a vocalist Illsley is very much up to the job of tackling the Straits material with his understated execution and in an inspired move he also employees the services of soulful backing vocalist Jess Greenfield to help him out. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Sultans of Swing’ remain show stopping highlights and it is a pleasure to hear them performed with much enthusiasm at an intimate venue like The Robin. Elsewhere, Illsley’s own material sits comfortably alongside Knopfler’s, characterised by delicate arrangements and world weary lyrics, and both ‘Railway Tracks’ and ‘Run For Cover’ make a strong impression. And the album that introduced so many of us to the joys of the compact disc back in the mid-80’s is plundered further for ‘So Far Away’, ‘Money For Nothing’ and title track itself, a song that still carries a powerful message some three decades on.
This was a very enjoyable evening at The Robin and hopefully Illsley can be tempted to venture out for gigs more frequently over the next few years.