By Hilary Porter

WITH his band Dire Straits he gave us unforgettable tracks like Romeo and Juliet, Money for Nothing and Sultans of Swing.

John Illsley was a founder member, bass player and contributing vocalist to the 120 million album- selling Dire Straits who spent a staggering 1,100 weeks in the album charts.

The band broke up in 1995 and the multiple Brit & Grammy award winner embarked on ‘a quiet life’ in the New Forest with partner Stephanie.

Today, apart from owning and running his local pub - the East End Arms at Lymington, which he saved from development, keeping his promise to retain its rustic charm, he continues to enjoy a sporadic music career as a solo performer alongside his other life as an exhibiting painter.

Now he is set to perform this Saturday at the Curious Arts Festival in the glorious grounds of Pylewell Park– just a short distance from where he lives

John headlined the festival two years ago and has only just agreed to perform again this week after a late request.

He will be guest vocalist with with the London Whoredogs and explained:“I just got an email from John Nixon saying I’m being a bit cheeky but do you fancy doing a couple of songs on Saturday night for us. I’m usually more pragmatic and organised than that, so, it’s just me doing a couple of songs with him as far as I know. "

John promises to include some Dire Straits classics and adds:”The festival is just down the road in the most beautiful setting – it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s such an interesting festival with its mix or literary and music talent.”

Chatting in his charming country pub - its walls filled with his art works and photographs of music stars, John told me he is close to completing his seventh solo studio album but says it is a work in progress .

Having experienced life in the music industry fast lane, relentlessly touring the globe, he enjoys being creative and working at his own pace:

The last album, Long Shadows, was , he says: ” 18 months from the initial conception of doing a record taking all the snippets I'd done on the iPhone playing guitar. I also keep a notebook for every album and write ideas in it. With all these little ideas sometimes I can wake up at 6 am which is really irritating and have to go down stairs and write something down - which also irritates my wife but sometimes ideas come early in the morning and I try and write them down as quickly as possible.”

Long Shadows saw John undertaking lead vocal, acoustic guitar and bass duties on all of the eight tracks, and his unmistakable sound, approach to arrangement and song writing is paired with his faultless lyrical storytelling. It's a departure from the previous album’s themes of personal trials and tribulations and he says the lyrical content reflects “the obvious political and social elements which have always concerned me.

“'In the Darkness' for example is a take on the internet and how it seduces us all in some ways, but particularly those young people who get influenced to join radical religious groups like Isis.”

So does he miss being in Dire Straits and is it true he tried to get them back together?

"I didn't try and get them back together I was trying to sound out if it would be possible as I thought if we were going to do it we shouldn't leave it too long but Mark [Knopfler]and I both think it should be left alone. If we tried to repeat what we achieved in 1992 which was an incredible experience to do that again and have that energy would be very difficult. It's much more constructive to move forward. Having said that when I tour I play at least seven or eight Dire Straits songs because I really like playing them, but I'm more interested in playing and writing my own songs. I don't want to be my own tribute band - there are plenty of Dire Straits tribute bands around! It's better to write new music and have new things to say, but the old songs sit comfortably with the new.”

This autumn will see John embark on his solo tour with his own established band, including a return to The Brook in Southampton on November 11.

John enjoys alternating between his music and painting careers. He says painting is a passion he has developed over the last twenty years, and he has now had solo exhibitions around the world. “For me art and music are interlinked - you start with a blank canvas and work away until you are satisfied that you have made something which is as close as it can to be to what you are trying to achieve. There is a great element of mystery in both processes which can surprise you and upset you in equal measure.”