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Guitar Heroes: How Mark Knopfler assembled the world’s biggest supergroup for a charity single

Guitar Heroes: How Mark Knopfler assembled the world’s biggest supergroup for a charity single

When Mark Knopfler announced an all-star cover of “Going Home (Theme From Local Hero)” – his theme from the 1983 Scottish comedy-drama – many questioned the logistics of pulling off a song with such a venerable ensemble.

Would Joan Jett really work on the same track as Nile Rodgers? Could David Gilmour fit into the same song as Brian May?

The answer is, simply, yes. This is not USA for Africa’s chaotic 1985 studio recording of “We Are the World”, where a blank-faced Bob Dylan seemed to question his life choices while surrounded by preening rock stars. Nor is it a live performance where a dozen creative egos fight for space on the same stage.

Knopfler’s supergroup, named Guitar Heroes, comprises 54 musicians who joined forces to play on “Mark Knopfler’s Going Home: Theme Of The Local Hero”, proceeds from which will raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Among the stars who contributed to the instrumental track are Slash, David Gilmour, Joan Armatrading, Sheryl Crow, Ronnie Wood, Joe Bonamassa, and even the late Jeff Beck.

The special recording also includes The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, honorary patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust, on harmonica, The Police singer Sting on bass, and The Beatles’ Ringo Starr on drums.

L-R:  Guitar Heroes bandmates Joan Armatrading, Mark Knopfler, Slash and Sam Fender (Getty)
L-R: Guitar Heroes bandmates Joan Armatrading, Mark Knopfler, Slash and Sam Fender (Getty)

It is an extraordinary display of technical and creative brilliance, and of how artists who have mastered the guitar are able to permeate its sound with their own personality. Much of the fun of this track stems from trying to work out who is playing when, and, as the artists involved said in an interview this week, it’s not always that easy.

“When David Gilmour came in, he played loads of stuff, but there were certain licks that were just absolutely Gilmour,” producer Guy Fletcher, Knopfler’s longtime collaborator and former Dire Straits bandmate, told The Times.

“Same with Ronnie Wood, instant Stones. Joan Armatrading played it all the way through, and just wailed. You’d never think it’s Joan.”

“That first Pete power chord, man,” Knopfler said. “We were in that territory and it was just fantastic. Eric came in and played great, just one tasty lick after another. What we’ve had is an embarrassment of riches. The whole thing was a high point.”

Artwork for the single was created by Sir Peter Blake, the artist behind the legendary cover of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and features a collage of the contributors, plus the Local Hero stars Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster, in front of Hanks, the famous guitar shop on Denmark Street in London.

“What I really want to do, more than anything else, is just to thank each and every one for this sterling response,” Knopfler said in a statement announcing the track earlier this year.

“I really had no idea that it was going to be like this. It hit Guy and I quite early on that we had to extend this piece somehow, to take in the number of people who joined in.”

Who plays on the track?

The full list of contributors is as follows: Joan Armatrading, Jeff Beck, Richard Bennett, Joe Bonamassa, Joe Brown, James Burton, Jonathan Cain, Paul Carrack, Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Jim Cox, SteveCropper, Sheryl Crow, Danny Cummings, Roger Daltrey, Duane Eddy, Sam Fender, Guy Fletcher, Peter Frampton, Audley Freed, Vince Gill, David Gilmour, BuddyGuy, Keiji Haino, Tony Iommi, Joan Jett, John Jorgenson, Mark Knopfler, Sonny Landreth, Albert Lee, Greg Leisz, Alex Lifeson, Steve Lukather, Phil Manzanera, Dave Mason, Hank Marvin, Brian May, Robbie McIntosh, John McLaughlin, Tom Morello, Rick Nielsen, Orianthi, Brad Paisley, Nile Rodgers, Mike Rutherford, Joe Satriani, John Sebastian, Connor Selby, Slash, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Zak Starkey, Sting, Andy Taylor, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Ian Thomas, Pete Townshend, Keith Urban, Steve Vai, Waddy Wachtel, Joe Louis Walker, Joe Walsh, Ronnie Wood, Glenn Worf, Zucchero.