Horsham and Southampton gigs as John Illsley puts illness behind him

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Multiple Brit and Grammy award-winner John Illsley is on the road on the back of the release of his first new album for four or five years.

And given what’s been happening in those years, it’s hardly surprising that the former Dire Straits bassist counts Testing The Water amongst his most personal recordings to date.

“I have been through a lot of hospital stuff about three years ago,” says John who plays The Brook, Southampton (Saturday, October 4, 023 8055 5366) and The Capitol, Horsham (Sunday, October 12, 01403 750220) among his dates.

“It was fairly major. It stopped me doing anything much for two and a half years. I had a stem cell transplant for leukaemia. It was quite a major journey, but I suppose, like most people when you are faced with something like that, you just try to deal with it. I was very fortunate that my sister was a donor. We got her stem cells and after about a month in hospital, they let me go, saying to take it easy for 18 months.

“I am one of four siblings. They reckoned that there is about a 25 per cent chance of one of your brothers or sisters having a match. If that hadn’t worked, I would have gone through Anthony Nolan which is worldwide.

“They pump some pretty nasty stuff into you before they give you the transplant, and it leaves you susceptible to things that are going around. Your immune system just gets fairly compromised, but I am now feeling extremely well.”

And buoyed by the positive response to the album.

“Something like that changes your outlook, though. It makes you think a bit deeper and a bit darker. Three of the tracks were written in hospital whilst I was there. Adversity does seem to produce creativity, though I am not sure it is the best way to do it!”

For the album, John collaborated with his old Dire Straits mate Guy Fletcher. a reminder of those great days with the band.

“I have to say that so much time has elapsed. It seems a long time ago, but I am reminded, whenever I play a Dire Straits song, just how strongly people related to them. I think we left a pretty good legacy.

“I think it’s quite a subtle thing. I think the band just played its own music throughout its career. It was not affected by changing fashions, by punk or new romanticism or whatever. It was just about playing good music and playing good gigs. You have got to have good musicians, but the most important thing is the songs. I think Mark just had a great ability to synthesise the energy.”

And it’s a past John is happy to acknowledge. You’ve got to give the fans what they want: “I will be doing about 50-50, half my stuff, half Dire Straits songs.”