This autumn Squeeze are heading out on the road with The Difford And Tilbrook Songbook Tour, enjoying a renaissance and on a high after a very successful trip to America.
“Yes, we’re looking forward to it very much indeed,” melody maestro Glenn Tilbrook told me. “We’ve just finished touring in America and the reception we got over there was amongst the best that we’ve ever had. Our audiences are up and they’re going mad. It’s a weird thing, we’ve got younger people coming to gigs and I can only think that it’s the effect of playlists, Spotify and such like that are turning younger people in our direction. It’s mystifying but lovely!”
And this year marks the 40th anniversary of the seminal Squeeze album Cool For Cats. Being of a similar age to Glenn, this album was so relatable to me back in 1979 and remains a firm favourite of mine.
“Thank you, that’s great to hear,” Glenn replied. “They’re remastering that record so I sat down, last week, to check the mastering was OK and it’s the first time I’ve heard that record in ages. I was amazed, actually, and proud. I was amazed at the scope of writing on that record, something I’m really proud of and it feels like it has nothing to do with me any more, because I’m 62. But it was really good to listen to it because of the enthusiasm that the band had at that point.”
Cool For Cats was the big break through for Squeeze. Like so many other young artists in the ‘70s, they found it hard to get a deal until the advent of punk opened the door for so many other bands in the new wave movement.
“It was hard,” he admitted. “Chris (Difford, lyricist) and I met in 1973 and we started writing within a few weeks of meeting up. We had a band before Squeeze, that didn’t last very long, and formed what became Squeeze in 1974.
“Squeeze had just three gigs in an 18 month period. Each gig was a big event and you’d long for more but it was just about getting known. When you’re 15 or 16, getting people to take you seriously was hard. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t succeed, I always felt very optimistic about that.
“Eventually we got some support slots with people like Curved Air and Renaissance, the Climax Blues Band and Dr Feelgood, which was amazing, We began to make an impression. We could see that we were going down well with audiences although we were very different to most of the bands we were supporting because we were playing three minute pop songs. It took a while for us to find our audience but we started playing in three local (South London) pubs from 1976 which was where we really started honing our skills.
“Make no mistake, although we were pre-punk and writing before any of that happened, it definitely energised us. By the time it happened I was still 18, 19, it was a tremendous influence and suddenly everything began to make sense for us. We were a new wave band but we could really play.
“Our first album, in name, was produced by John Cale but it was an odd debut album. Only Take Me I’m Yours and Bang Bang, the two tracks we produced ourselves, with John Wood, were representative of us and because Take Me I’m Yours was a hit we had the opportunity to work out for ourselves how we should sound.”
With the line up of Tilbrook (lead guitar, vocals), Difford (rhythm guitar, vocals), Jools Holland (keyboards), Harri Kakoulli (bass) and Gilson Lavis on drums, Cool for Cats spawned four hit singles: Goodbye Girl and Slap And Tickle together with the title track and Up The Junction, both of which hit number 2 in the singles chart. It was impossible to ignore Squeeze in 1979 and their infectiously melodic take on the trials and tribulations of love, life and growing up.
Glenn Tilbrook, Photo Danny Clifford
“Cool for Cats felt like our first proper album and that album was probably the most experimental album that Squeeze did, certainly out of our first five albums. We defined ourselves in a number of different ways and we weren’t tied down by any particular genre. That wasn’t by design, that was just because of the way that we were writing and the scope of what we were listening to, all sorts of different stuff spilled out.
“I remember thinking when we made Cool For Cats that, in my very limited world view, it felt like we’d summed up the experiences that we were having at the time, and not all of it great, but certainly worthwhile.”
After such an explosive start Squeeze continued to pour out a catalogue of memorable hits including Another Nail In My Heart, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), Tempted and Labelled With Love. Was there additional pressure on Difford and Tilbrook as they set about trying to follow the success of Cool For Cats?
“I’ve got to say no,” says Glenn. “I think the first time we felt that pressure was after the East Side Story (1982) album. That’s when we felt the weight of what we’d achieved sort of bearing down on us slightly. But we had three albums in a row where we developed and grew up a bit and each of those records really captured the essence of where we were at at the time.”
In the following years Difford and Tilbrook would work on a joint album project, reform Squeeze and leave again to pursue solo projects before reforming Squeeze primarily as a touring band. Then in 2015 they released the critically acclaimed Cradle To The Grave, their first album since Domino (1998) to include new songs, giving Squeeze their highest ever album chart placing at number 12. This was followed, in 2017, with The Knowledge and these albums have helped spark the renewed interest in Squeeze.
“I’m very proud of both of those records,” says Glenn, “particularly The Knowledge which, for us as writers, we’ve really moved ahead of where we were before. I think some of the best songs we’ve ever written are on those records.”
Glenn also explained how The Difford And Tilbrook Songbook Tour will aim to raise food, funds and awareness for the Trussell Trust network of food banks. “We are putting up multiple collection points and have a dedicated worker to collect everything that is brought to the shows and give them to local food bank charities. This came about after I did some touring earlier in the year and had Trussell Trust collection points. It was humbling to meet the people involved in making the food banks work. It’s a situation that’s becoming increasingly difficult for people and I feel ashamed that we’re in this situation where they’re needed but the Trussell Trust do such a magnificent job. It could be anyone that falls on times, so thank goodness we have them. The government should help these people out but they’re not.”
And so, with Squeeze having such a wonderful back catalogue, what can we expect to see on this tour? “Chris and I took a long list of songs and came up with a selection of songs that covers our entire 45 years career,” Glenn explains. “We have such a great band at the moment, we are now a seven-piece, and I think we sound the best we’ve ever sounded. We have the breadth of what we’ve done over the last 45 years and, crucially, the ability to play it!” he laughs. “We didn’t always have that when we were a bit younger but we had tons of enthusiasm!
“The great thing about where we are is that we are really enjoying our time, now, we’re enjoying the creativity that the band has, enjoying our ability to work and enjoying audiences discovering us in a way that I don’t think they ever have done before. We have a wonderful catalogue to look back on and that’s really what this tour is about, picking out some songs that maybe not everyone will know.
“I know, from what we’ve done in America, that the reaction to us has been amazing and I really never thought it would happen like this again.”
For more information and tickets for Squeeze, The Difford And Tilbrook Songbook Tour, with special guests Heaven 17, please visit https://www.gigsandtours.com/tour/squeeze/
Audience members planning to bring donations to the Trussell Trust food bank collection points are asked to check https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/ to see what supplies are needed at local food banks.