John Illsley

John Illsley

John Illsley

John Illsley was the bass player with the legendary 120 million album selling Dire Straits and contributing vocalist to their Communiqué, Making Movies and Brothers in Arms albums until the group dissolved in 1995. John also released two albums of his own, Never Told A Soul in 1984 and Glass in 1988.

Until recently, John had retired from music and moved to rural Hampshire with his family to focus on his other passion, painting. He bought a local pub, the East End Arms, and The George Hotel on the Isle of Wight, and began exhibiting his art around the world.

Everything changed when he met the Irish rock group Cunla in a pub in Leicestershire. This was in March 2005, when Greg Pearle was their singer, and the vibe was so intense that John took to the stage for the first time since 1993, joining the band to play a couple of Dire Straits’ numbers. John recalls: “I was asked to play a few tunes with them. I liked their attitude and the fact that despite the large quantities of Guinness that had been consumed they could all play very well.”

To coincide with an exhibition of his art in Les Baux de Provence, John was asked to perform some Dire Straits songs.

“The Mayor of the town asked me and it’s not done in France to refuse the Mayor. I asked Cunla if they could learn some Dire Straits songs and it turned out that Greg was a big fan and knew a lot of the songs already”.

John and Cunla played at the Festival des Alpilles, performing to 1300 people in the Cathedral D’Image in Les Baux de Provence. The show was recorded and John was “pleasantly surprised” by the results. “I initially wanted the band to have a record of their French experience but several people heard it and encouraged us to release it.”

John and Greg became friends and John discovered that Greg was a songwriter. “We spent some time knocking his songs into shape then began recording them in Mark Knopfler’s fabulous studio in Hammersmith. Wait ’til you hear them. Greg writes brilliant songs and has an amazing voice.”

We don’t know much about Greg Pearle, the man who’s inspired John to find excitement in recording and playing live again. Taking his mark from greats such as Tom Waits, Van Morrison and Chris Rea, Pearle’s gravelly tones are infused with emotion from a well-travelled life. Is he an eccentric recluse, or simply a man who finds satisfaction in the music he makes and has no need to self publicise?

Reproduced with permission from