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| 20 July 2018 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Glenn Tilbrook brings Squeeze – best known in Australia for their 1979 hit Cool For Cats, released here under the moniker UK Squeeze – back down under for the first time since 1980, appearing at The Astor Theatre on Tuesday, 1st May with ‘punk poet’ Dr John Cooper Clark in support.

Founding member along with long-time songwriting partner Chris Difford, Tilbrook has juggled the revamped Squeeze with his solo work for past decade, and recalls his last visit to Perth – solo – was when the world changed.

“Wow! Do you know what, the last time I was there was September the 11th, 2001…” he realises with a gasp. “I remember it very well. Yeah… it was a great gig [at the Fly By Night Club in Fremantle], but a weird time…”

Through a forty-five year career Tilbrook is no stranger to the ups and downs of the music industry, and although Difford isn’t making the trek to Australia, Tilbrook says their relationship has endured.

“I think it’s very important to have passion about what you do, and to be open and honest – I think that comes through in some of the work we have done. Our friendship is not an issue, I think the work is where our issues are, and they’re all good. We’ve had our off years. I think we definitely, definitely need time apart – and Chris has issues with flying, and some other issues as well, [so] he doesn’t travel well. But, we’ve done this before, [and toured] when Chris has not been on the road with us, and we’ve functioned like Brian Wilson can function without the Beach Boys. We can still put on a great show.”


While Tilbrook and (most of the time) Difford have remained constants in Squeeze, many other bandmates have come and gone over the years, including Jools Holland, Paul Carrack and – according to Wikipedia – twenty others. Does each new musician provide a breath of fresh air, or can it be a hindrance to have to start from scratch with someone new?

“No, it’s not a hindrance,” he insists. “I mean I’ve been working with Stephen Large and Simon Hanson, our keyboard player and drummer, for 18 years so, they’ve been the backbone of everything I’ve done this century. So, they’re now in Squeeze along with Chris Difford and Yolanda Charles and Steve Smith, and we have an amazing chemistry. I think we’ve captured that on our records, which will be predominantly recorded live, and then overdub the vocals and strings and horns – that sort of stuff comes afterwards, but we have an energy.”

There’s no denying that Squeeze’s music bears the unmistakably organic sound of a real band sparking off each other, not just session musicians doing what they’re told note-for-note.

“We used to try to be a bit more, sort of dictatorial about arrangements,” he explains managerially, “but I’ve learnt that if you give musicians space they respond well to that, and [if you] treat them as grown ups, that people return the favour – that the best way to deal with people is to play to people’s strengths.”

Although Cool For Cats was the band’s only real hit in this country (reaching Number 5), they racked up a swathe of Top 40 hits at home in the UK, including Take Me I’m Yours, Up The Junction, Slap & Tickle, Another Nail In My Heart, Is That Love?, and more. It’s a level of success which has lent itself to longevity, whilst avoiding certain pitfalls.

“I guess like any sort of longstanding institution, we’ve had our ups and downs and now we’re on an up. It feels really good to be in that space – we’re a proper band, we’re not just resting on our laurels, we’re delivering proper shows. We’re respecting our past, we’re respecting our present and the future. It feels great and the audiences that we play to tell us that we’re on the right track.”

‘Not resting on our laurels,’ is right. Squeeze have released fifteen studio albums, two in the past four years, Cradle To The Grave and The Knowledge. This is in addition to the four live albums, six solo records and one as Difford & Tilbrook.

“It feels to me like we’re doing stuff now as writers that we have never done before,” Tilbrook says, “and that’s always a lovely feeling to have when you feel that you’ve hit the mark. I remember feeling that when we did Take Me, I’m Yours at the beginning, and I feel it now still with what we’re doing. So, that’s a lovely feeling.”

With such a strong melodic backbone to the band’s work, and so many fan favourites in their repertoire, we would imagine that seeing Squeeze live would be a pretty joyous experience.

“It is,” he confirms enthusiastically. “Yeah, one of the things I’m proud of about our back catalogue is that it stands out, and audiences love our past, but there has to be a spark to the band. We’re not just reading the dots, there’s a passion to it, and that comes across I think.”

That passion goes hand-in-hand with the legacy Tilbrook and the band leave behind. At one time allowing the labelling of him and Difford the ‘new’ Ray Davies or Lennon & McCartney to go to their heads, now they concentrate more on nurturing their gift.

“It did [put a lot of pressure on us] at the time,” he admits, “I think we went off the rails a bit when that first starting surfacing, but to be honest, it’s now something I don’t really think about anymore. It’s all about the quality of what you do now, and the past can take care of itself. It’s about pushing forward for me.”

As they push forward, they have begun to realise that their influence has been felt – often in unexpected places.

“It’s interesting when you hear a band quote us as an influence, quite a few bands now. The Roots actually have been involved in a tribute album to us. It’s still not come out, but you know, you think that we have definitely as a band crossed lots a genres, and that comes out in a diverse amount of people that cite us as an influence, which is lovely. Well it’s one of most precious things ever to plant seeds in other people’s minds.”

Squeeze originally formed in 1973, with their debut self-titled album coming in 1978, right after the UK punk explosion of ’76 and ’77 planted seeds in disaffected youth across the Empire. Was that wave of musical anarchy a big influence?

“Well, it was something that we could identify with, that’s for sure,” says Tilbrook now. “I remember vividly, the first time we got to play support gigs was in 1975, and we were supporting Renaissance, Climax Blues Band, Curved Air – all sort of prog rock bands, and the audiences were all sitting down and smoking dope and not really engaged.

“Then we supported Dr Feelgood in September ’75 and finally, we find a band that were doing three minute songs, which is what we were doing. We were pop, they were more R and B, but it felt like that was the first moment when I thought, ‘there is a bit of life out there at last!’

“And then with punk and new wave, it just energised our generation. I think that’s what happened.”

Dr John Cooper Clarke, their support for the tour, is an old friend from those heady, chart-topping days.

“Yeah, we first did gigs together, I think, in 1980, and we did a tour here in the UK three years ago,” Tilbrook recalls, before waxing lyrical, “he’s just… he’s amazing, he’s brilliant, he’s smart, funny, perceptive. He’s got a massive heart, and he’s a nice bloke to have around. It’s going to be such a great double bill, and look, our audiences love it ‘cos it’s so different, us and him together.”

Category: Interviews

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