Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 11:01 UK

Talking Shop: John Illsley

John Illsley
Illsley recorded Beautiful You with Greg Pearle in Mark Knopfler's studio
As the bassist in Dire Straits, John Illsley was at the heart of one of the biggest British bands from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.

But when the group disbanded, Illsley retreated from music and turned to art.

He has now returned to the studio, and the stage, for the first time since Dire Straits split, teaming up with Irish singer Greg Pearle for an album called Beautiful You.

Illsley explains how Pearle inspired him to return to music and reveals he would now like to get back together with Mark Knopfler for a Dire Straits reunion.

Did you retire from music?

I don't think one ever really does retire. But I had a break from it because it was necessary at the time to put a little bit of distance between me and the rather extended amount of work that we were doing in the early '90s. It was just becoming a bit too much for everybody. Mark and I both agreed we ought to give the Straits a rest for a bit.

How did you meet Greg Pearle?

I met Greg by chance - he was playing at a friend's party at a pub in Leicestershire with a covers band. I ended up playing with them that night after a couple of pints. There was no pressure, and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much. I went over to Ireland quite a few times and played with them in pubs and bars and it was a serious amount of fun.

How did he inspire you to get back into the saddle?

Greg Pearle and John Illsley
Pearle and Illsley will be touring Ireland next month
He's got a pretty unusual voice, which you don't come across very often. Life has not been easy for him - it's been quite a struggle to keep playing music and stay alive. So those two things coupled together, the voice and the history, give Greg quite a character, and this comes out in his singing.

How have you found returning to music?

I have to say I'm absolutely loving it and really enjoying playing again. We're playing in quite small places and you're really very intimate with the audiences. You can get a real relationship, rather than being 50 yards back from the nearest person. Which is also fantastic.

Is it right you're giving away songs on your website?

We're giving away a couple of downloads for nothing. I have to say I'm guided by other experts in this field, but I think that's what's happening.

Dire Straits famously put out the first CD single, so is it an attempt to stay ahead of the curve?

Oh gosh, this is an incredibly big subject because what's going on in the delivery of music is so complicated. It's really reaching a very interesting period. I find this downloading for nothing business just bizarre because it's like me walking into a sweet shop, saying 'I'll have that today, thanks', and the guy saying: 'That's cool man, that's no problem at all'.

It's basic theft, whichever way you look at it. Unless somebody says 'you can have this for nothing', if you go and take it for nothing, you're stealing. I don't care what anyone else says about it. I'm just trying to get people to listen to the music - but that's my choice.

Dire Straits were also famous for their music videos. What do you think of videos today?

John Illsley
Illsley says he will play "the odd Straits song" on the road
They're just necessary tools. When we did the Money For Nothing shoot in 1984, that was such a revolutionary thing to do, with computer graphics and all the rest of it. There was only one station and that was MTV - there wasn't what you've got now. We've got satellite and I don't know how many music stations.

Do you watch any of them?

I have to say, not very often. Usually by accident. I'd rather see a band live any day of the week.

What are the chances of us seeing Dire Straits again in the near future?

I'm very, very open to doing whatever's suggested. I think we've definitely got one more tour left in us, and probably another record left in us, but really that's left entirely up to Mark.

Have you spoken to him about it?

We touch on it from time to time, and he says: 'Oh, I don't know whether to start getting all that stuff back together again'. I say: 'Go on, just a short one'. But he's doing different kinds of music now. Mark and I were the only two left in '93, so it's really up to him and I if it happens at all. But he's doing incredibly well as a solo artist, so hats off to him, it's fantastic. So does he need to put the Straits back together again? Not really. If you think about it from his point of view, it's not really necessary because he's having a perfectly good time doing what he's doing.

John Illsley was speaking to BBC entertainment reporter Ian Youngs. Beautiful You is out on 13 October.

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