Some 30 years ago, Alan Clark and Chris White were the sultans of swing. Today the former members of Dire Straits are still doing the walk of life, reviving memories of decades past with The Straits. Their handpicked group of  veteran musicians is coming to Little River Casino in Manistee on Feb. 28.  The concert is is the kickoff for the band’s first U.S. tour.

Clark on keyboards and White on sax were mainstays of the chart-topping band, which was fronted by guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Mark Knopfler. When Knopfler decided to dedicate himself to his solo career in the early 90s following the album On Every Street and subsequent tour, Dire Straits had seemingly come to an end.

But that was then, and The Straits is now. “It came about for two reasons,” Clark said from England, where he’d just returned after recording in Los Angeles. “I discovered Terence Reis, the singer who’s replaced Mark Knopfler. About the same time, I was offered the chance for a Royal Albert Hall charity show.”

So Clark (keyboards) and White (saxophone and flute) enlisted Reis and recruited four other players: Clark’s pal Steve Ferrone on drums, Mickey Feat (bass), Adam Phillips (guitar) and Jamie Squire (keyboards). “Every member of the band was hand-picked,” said Clark. “It was a luxury to be able to put the band together.”Apparently that assessment was not Clark’s alone. The reception for that first show was completelybeyond their expectations. “The reception at Albert Hall was extraordinary,” said Clark. “We had so much fun. It’s been like that for every show. People have said the band plays every bit as good as Dire Straits.”

Clark said Reis has done a great job standing in for the departed Knopfler. “Replacing Mark’s an impossible task. I didn’t know anyone who could pull it off successfully.” He’s as effusive with his praise for the other members of the band. “Steve (Ferrone) and I go way back. We joined Eric Clapton’s band between Brothers in Arms and On Every Street.” Ferrone has been a member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers for 20 years, and will be in the studio with Petty during this tour. He’ll be replaced by Andy Treacey, who has played with Dido, Ron Wood and others.

Clark originally tried to recruit fellow Dire Straits alum John Illsley on bass, but Illsley was facing some health challenges. So he turned to Mickey Feat, with whom he’d played in Tina Turner’s band, and who had played with David Gilmour, Alvin Lee, and Van Morrision, among many others. Adding Phillips on guitar and second keyboardist Squires rounded out the band. “Seven is the perfect number for Dire Straits songs,” said Clark.

The Straits performs the hits made famous by Dire Straits in the late 70s and early 80s. So audiences that thought they’d never hear “The Sultans of Swing,” “Brothers in Arms,” “Walk of Life” or “Money for Nothing” again are in for a treat. “If anyone had said three years ago I would be performing Dire Straits songs … I would have lost a lot of money,” said Clark. “But the opportunity arose, and it sounded like fun.

“It’s very emotional for people in the audience,” he continued. “My lawyer was tearing up” at the first show. “People were so appreciative we were doing it. We thought, we’ve got to keep this going.” The show at Little River Casino on Feb. 28 is the kickoff for the band’s initial U.S. tour. The group will spend the next month on the road for 19 dates, criss-crossing the country. The show begins at 9 p.m.


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