Squeeze returned to Los Angeles for a triumphant sold out performance at The Orpheum on September 13th. Led by founding members Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the tour, dubbed “The Difford and Tilbrook Songbook,” aptly paid testament to the timeless quality of their rich catalog. With both Glenn and Chris in top form, Squeeze delivered a powerhouse performance touching on their four-decade career, drawing from key albums Cool for Cats, Argy Bargy, East Side Story, Sweets From a Stranger, Cosi Fan Tutti Fruitti and Babylon and On, among others.
Opening with two deep cuts, “Footprints” from 1987’s Babylon and On and swiftly followed by “Big Beng,” a splendid reworked rendition of a track culled from their 1985 album Cosi Fan Tutti Fruitti, the well-paced set showcased the group’s musicality and diversity, essaying the pure pop punch of “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Pulling Mussels (From A Shell),” “Another Nail From My Heart,” “Is That Love?” and “If I Didn’t Love You,” alongside quirkier material like “Slap and Tickle,” ”Hourglass,” and “Take Me I’m Yours.” An airing of the spectacular “Love’s Crashing Waves,” a silky smooth Philly soul styled gem from the Difford & Tilbrook album was a highlight. Recent tracks, “Please Be Upstanding” and “Cradle To the Grave” offered unassailable proof that Messrs Difford and Tilbrook continue to forge new ground as writers. Tilbrook’s jaw-dropping virtuoso solos on “Another Nail From My Heart” and “Black Coffee in Bed” in particular demonstrates how underrated the Squeeze frontman is as a lead guitar player. In an era where great songs are often in short supply, Squeeze proved their mastery both as songwriters nonpareil and seasoned stage performers worthy of their legacy.
Join us for a conversation with Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford.
Squeeze toured the States on a shoestring for a few years until gaining a foothold. What are your most vivid memories of those struggling times?
Glenn: Well, it was amazing. I always wanted to go to America; a good deal of the music I loved was American. To be there and to see everything in context was amazing. We went there first in ’78 and it was as if we got to see the mythical America . When we first went there that was fantastic and incredible and really inspirational. The economic climate in the UK in 1978 was not good; it was completely different. There was no sense of optimism other than within us ‘cause we thought we were a great band. But in the country it was pretty depressing. To come and see a land of possibility, which is what America was to us, was amazing. We traveled in a very small van with our luggage crisscrossing all over the place. It was a dream come true to tour America. I always wanted to come here. A large part of my influences came from America. Also, when we got here, we spent two or three months booking gigs as we went along, just finding places that would have us play. It was quite interesting when we played Texas we were promoted as a punk band, which we never were. People came out of curiosity to see what a punk band was like and then they were quite surprised that we could actually play.
Chris: Sitting in a van wearing a hangover and looking out the window at cowboy land, it was wonderful to be young and on tour there was nothing between the stage and the dreams I had dreamt along the way.
Was it preferable that Squeeze’s entree into the States was a gradual build that you could handle rather than, bam, you’re playing Madison Square Garden?
Glenn: I don’t know that I can really comment on that. That’s just the way that it happened. I remember at the time thinking I wished we had bigger hits and sooner or even a hit. (laughs) From that point of view it was slightly frustrating.
Did you feel the band would eventually break through in America?
Chris: Yes, I was happy all the time knowing we would break through, I think we did.
Glenn: I thought it was inevitable but that shows you what I know because it was by no means inevitable. I think we were lucky to achieve what we did and the stars didn’t always align at the right time. There’s that combination of luck, talent, push, management, record company, booking agency; all that stuff has to work and all of them worked but not always at the same time.
Can you pinpoint Squeeze’s big break in the States?
Chris: It was a blur so not really, the step up from smaller venues to theatres would be the most obvious. And then up to the stadiums. And being on MTV, which I would say launched us around the country.
Did it come as a surprise that America embraced the band given its decidedly British sensibility and values?
Glenn: You know, I don’t remember worrying about it and I certainly think now that we were lucky. I can’t speak for Chris ‘cause he was writing the lyrics but I always felt that even if people didn’t know specifically what some of the words were or what the references were, you get it in the same way that I get American music; sometimes I don’t always know what the specific references are but you get the overall picture and the overall picture is what is attractive.
Retro-Active is written by Ken Sharp, who can be reached directly at email@example.com or 818-986-9715. ©2019. All rights reserved.