The Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are filled with unforgettable moments, but the 2018 ceremony was memorable for what didn't happen. Dire Straits was finally inducted that year, but frontman and guitar virtuoso Mark Knopfler refused to attend and none of their songs were performed during the concert. To make things even stranger, bassist John Illsley wound up delivering the induction speech, so he became the first person to induct himself. It was all very "odd," as Illsley admitted in a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock this week.
When asked what the ceremony was like for him, three years later, Illsley said it was "interesting." Knopfler's absence was totally expected, but Illsley knew someone had to be there to acknowledge Dire Straits' induction. Six musicians who played with the band during its history were inducted, but only Illsley and keyboardists Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher showed up. Illsley was the only founding member there, as drummer Pick Withers and Knopfler's brother, rhythm guitarist David Knofler, also skipped the ceremony.
"To me, it was sort of a prestigious thing to be offered to the band, no matter what you think about it. It's a recognition of something and fairly important. I didn't want to let that go. I wanted to celebrate it in a way as best we could under the circumstances," Illsley told UCR. "But it was a little odd, having to induct one's self into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'm not sure whether that had ever been done before."
Illsley and Clark were prepared to at least perform part of "Sultans of Swing," but that didn't even happen. No all-star jam like the iconic performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at the 2004 ceremony developed. "I would have been very happy to do that. But it became sort of a political football, and I didn't really want to kick it around too much. I just thought, 'How can we actually retain some sense of calm and civility in the situation without trying to do something?' I would have loved to have played," Illsley said. When the whole thing was over, Illsley was "relieved" and went to New York to "recover for a few days," he said.
Illsley and Knopfler are still good friends, though. The guitarist wrote the foreword for Illsley's memoir, My Life in Dire Straits: The Inside Story of One of the Biggest Bands in Rock History, which will be released on Nov. 9. Dire Straits began in 1977 and had their first big hit with "Sultans of Swing" in 1978. They only released six studio albums before Knopfler broke up the band for good in 1995. Some of their other hits include "Romeo and Juliet," "Private Investigations," "Twisting by the Pool," "Money for Nothing," and "Walk of Life." Their 1986 album Brothers in Arms made history as the first album to sell 1 million copies as a CD.