The songwriter talks to Chris Titley about the ‘stupid’ days of the split, the excitement of songwriting and the wonders of York
They are music’s odd couple. Dark, gravel voiced Chris Difford, and tousle-haired, soulful Glenn Tilbrook.
They should never have worked. They should never have lasted. And yet, after creating some of the greatest pop songs of the last 40 years, the mainstays of Squeeze are together again, delighting two generations of music lovers with a new tour and talk of a new album.
Grand Opera House
Mon Nov 17 @ 7pm
Difford and Tilbrook bring their At Odds Couple tour to the Grand Opera House on Monday, November 17. As the title implies, the pair have not always seen eye to eye…
“There was a period of seven or eight years when we didn’t see each other,” Chris says.
“I don’t think it’s a thing we laugh about. It’s not something that we had a particular sense of humour about in the first place. We look back at it in awe that we did such stupid things.”
They last did a tour as a duo in the Nineties, he says. “I have to say we probably didn’t connect then. We’re definitely connecting now.
“So far it’s turning out to be a fascinating way of getting the two of us back together on the same stage, and we’re talking about our lives and our songwriting and really having a great time.”
Quite rightly, the pair who brought us classics including Up The Junction, Labelled With Love and Black Coffee In Bed are “very proud of our songwriting history.
“And that’s what this tour is about – it’s about showing off songs that people have not heard before, songs that we’ve written prior to having a record deal.
“Then there’ll be the obvious hits here and there. And then there’ll be some songs that people wouldn’t expect.”
‘We had to start from scratch’
How do the songs stand up which pre-date their first album Packet Of Three, released in 1977?
“The actual songs that we wrote that got us a record deal in the first place were all kind of quite poppy songs. And then we went into the studio to make our first album and our producer didn’t like any of them so we had to start from scratch.
“So all those songs got buried. But now I listen back to them and think, ‘Oh yeah, actually they were really great songs’, and when we play them together they seem to gel.”
They have always written the same way: Chris penning the lyrics which he gives to Glenn to set to music. Why does it work so well?
“It was just a mystery. It was really exciting actually, waiting to hear what Glenn would do.
“When Glenn turns up with a song for the first time, and you hear it in its barest form, it is a really great feeling.
“I remember very fondly the days when we would write lots of songs and I would have to wait for a cassette to turn up with all of them on. I’d stick them on the machine and feel ever so proud.”
He wasn’t always immediately convinced that Glenn had got it right.
“There was often – I wouldn’t say disagreements, but there was often surprise in the way some of the songs came back. I have to say the right songs ended up on the right albums.”
These days, Chris says, the songwriting takes longer. “I have to say it doesn’t matter what rate you work at as long as the end material’s good. So far the stuff we’re writing for the next Squeeze album seems to be coming up trumps.”
And he can still spot a winning track.
“There’s a kind of internal valve that opens when you hear something that you think is good. And then some of them creep up behind you and hit you on the head at a later date.
“Some songs that I didn’t particularly get on with when I was growing up in Squeeze are songs that I most like now, which is kind of strange.”
Which have stood the test of time for him?
“Take Me I’m Yours is a personal favourite. Some Fantastic Place is a wonderful song…
“We do Pulling Mussels From A Shell and we do a lot songs that people won’t know. And there’s two sets in the middle, one that I do my solo stuff in, and then Glenn does his solo stuff. It’s a varied show.”
‘York is a great place’
The style of the songs varies dramatically but they all share a timeless quality. Chris agrees. “The timeless element of our songwriting is down to two things really. It’s down to the fact that we’ve never been in one genre or another.
“Secondly the production of our songs has been, not basic, but very us. We don’t sound like any other band that I know.”
He enjoys coming here on tour. “The further north we go, York included, we always get a very warm, rapturous, loving appraisal of our work.
“That’s why we’re coming back there – it’s a community of like-minded people: people that like music, they buy music, they come and see a show like this, and hopefully they go away feeling like they’ve actually taken part in it.
“I know York very well. I’ve played there a lot. I’ve played there with Jools Holland, with Squeeze and by myself.
“I know the Minster extremely well, it’s a great place and I like it there.”
‘The industry’s changed’
Chris loves listening to new musicians. He works with a “stunning band”, The Stripes, as well as supporting “a guy called Dominic Harrison from Doncaster, who is 16 and has got a whole pocketful of great songs”.
“I think we came through at exactly the right time. I’m so lucky,” he says.
“When I work with young bands now who are trying to beat a path to Madison Square Garden, it’s bloody hard work. The industry’s changed beyond all belief.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Squeeze is the way Glenn and Chris’s very different vocals work so well together. How come?
“I don’t know. We both fell out of the sky at the same time. Many people have tried to do a similar approach – but it always ends up sounding like Squeeze.”
Or like a pale imitation. There’s only one Squeeze, and there’ll never be another partnership quite like Difford and Tilbrook.