JOHN Illsley, founder member of Dire Straits alongside brothers Mark and Dave Knopfler, says that it was his sister who saved his life after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

The bass guitarist had just turned 50 and recently married his wife Steph when he got the devastating news and underwent chemotherapy, but eventually the leukaemia came back and his only option was cell transplant.

Fortunately for John, his sister Pat was the perfect match and without hesitation she offered to be the donor.

John said: “She was amazing. She had Parkinson’s and at that time came in to give stem cells on a walking frame. It was ironic. She was so gallant and gave me back my life.”

Thanks to Pat, the musician, who now lives in the New Forest with Steph and their four children, is back in the saddle with his own band, and will be performing in Swindon on Thursday, October 19.

“For me at this stage of my life it is all about playing great music with great musicians. We will mix it up, playing some Dire Straits numbers in with our new stuff, but while tribute bands play note for note, I don’t. We never play anything the same twice, we just let it rip, so it stays fresh and organic,” said John, who is still close friends with Mark Knopfler, who only lives half a mile away from him.

“Mark and I were in the pub the other night,” he said.

The pub is the East End Arms which John bought 25 years ago to save it from closure.

“We bought it almost by accident – it was a spontaneous thing but it was only three miles from our house and is a true local pub so we love to go there,” said John.

It was Dave Knopfler that John met first in 1977. They shared a flat as costs were high for renting in London. Dave wanted to set up a band and Mark had just split up from his wife so Dire Straits was born, and the musicians notched up hit after hit including Sultans Of Swing, Money For Nothing and Brothers in Arms.

John said: “Nobody knows where life will take you, certain times and certain choices and you have to take a chance.”

He said that now he is a father himself, he understands why his parents were so concerned when the musicians gave up their day jobs to go professional.

Mark and John were the only two from the original line-up who stayed the course with Dire Straits right through to when the band split in 1995, having won numerous Brit and Grammy Awards, playing for such luminaries as Nelson Mandela and being part of the Live Aid concert with Bob Geldof.

John is bringing his own band, including Steve Smith on keyboards, Stuart Ross on drums, Robbie McIntosh on guitar, Paul Stacey on guitar and Jess Greenfield on vocals to the Arts Centre in Devizes Road, Old Town at 8pm. Tickets are £23 from 01793 524481 or visit