Most of Dire Straits actually lived in a flat on the first floor of Farrer House on the estate at the time. At one point in the 1970s it looked as if the estate would be demolished. After a campaign to save it, the Council decided that it was unsuitable for families and allocated the flats instead to young people -which is how quite a few musicians and artists came to be living there.
According to Mark Knopfler's website: 'The band's first gig took place on the open space at the back of the Farrer House flats, the electricty provided by a power cable running from the stage into a socket on the wall of John's first floor flat'.
Not everybody foresaw their potential in these early days. A review in the Mercury of a local gig in 1977 was far from flattering, with writer Jad Adams asking: 'Would Dire Straits by offended if I called them a poor man's JJ Cale? They are a good support band playing easy, laid back country rock which everyone appreciates but no one gets very excited over. From the Crossfield Estate, Deptford, where they recently played a community benefit, they are all intelligent, competent musicians. The line up: bass player John Isley, who has just taken a sociology degree; social worker Dave Knofler [sic -the paper mis-spelt the name] on rhythm, his brother Mark, a college lecturer, on lead; with Pick Withers, who "scrapes a meagre living" as a session musician, on drums' (Mercury 4 August 1977).
Way on Down South London Town
I was never a fan of Dire Straits in their period of 1980s stadium excess, but have to admit now that they actually wrote some good songs. My favourite remains their early hit ‘Sultans of Swing’, and not just because the 'Way on Down South London Town' setting for the song was a local pub. In an interview Mark Knopfler recalled: 'It was a little deserted pub in Deptford where we were all living at the time - the pub was semi-deserted and the band were down at heel and it was just playing these Dixie standards of Louis Armstrong things, the way they always do. They're an interesting make up, those kind of bands in that they're blokes who do all sorts of things, aren't they? They're postmen, they're draughtsmen, whatever, quantity surveyors, teachers, different things and they were expressing themselves. I mean that's one thing that struck me that whatever I might have felt about it they were expressing themselves and when the guys said "Thank you very much", you know, "We are the Sultans of Swing", there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren't. You know they were rather tired little blokes in pullovers.'
Not sure exactly what pub it was - The Duke has got to be a possibility as a (then) music pub close to Farrer House. Maybe if anyone from the band turns up next week somebody can ask them.
Of course there's already the Dire Straits inspired Love Over Gold mural on Creekside, which aritst Gary Drostle did with local kids in 1989.
Update: According to Pete Frame's book Rockin' Around Britain, the Sultans of Swing pub was actually The White Swan, in Blackheath Road, Greenwich.