In the 1970s, when British rock band Squeeze began to show promise with a growing catalog of catchy and engaging songs, Rolling Stone excitedly dubbed its songwriting duo, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, “the Lennon and McCartney of their generation.” That drew some scrutiny from lots of music folks, including one of the Beatles.
“I used to live next door to Paul McCartney, so I’ve met him quite a few times and he always asks me which one he thinks I am, so I always say I’m Ringo,” Difford shared. “Gets me off the hook.”
That long-ago declaration might have put undue pressure on Difford and Tilbrook to live up to lofty expectations, but if they were bothered it didn’t show. Their response was simply to churn out hit after hit, tracks like “Take Me I’m Yours”, “Tempted,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Cool for Cats,” and “Up the Junction.” Those songs and others from the band’s 45-year career are at the heart of The Squeeze Songbook 2019 Tour, which visits Warehouse Live on September 18.
Difford had just landed in the United States ahead of the kickoff for the American leg of the tour when we chatted by phone. He was holed up in a New York City hotel and was in good spirits when we asked if he begins a new tour with any specific rituals or routines.
“Every time I get into a dark room I just try and eat it up like a great big dinner and try to make the most of it because it’s going to be noisy from here on in,” he said. “Arriving in New York and finding a quiet hotel room was genius and I’m just sitting with some air conditioning on, thinking about the tour, rehearsing stuff in my head and looking forward to going places we haven’t been in a while, like Houston, for instance, and Austin. We haven’t been in that neck of the woods for many years, so it’s going to be interesting to see if people will come and see us.”
The band has built a fan base from five decades of music, songs from 15 studio albums, all penned by Difford and Tilbrook, who also share duties on guitars and vocals. Squeeze has, over the years, boasted members like Jools Holland and Paul Carrack. Current band members include Dirty Vegas’s Steve Smith and bassist Yolanda Charles. No matter who lines up with Squeeze, the objective remains the same at the start of each tour.
“I think it’s just about individually everybody preparing notes and making sure they know what parts to play. It’s like being in the theater, I think, being in a band, you’ve got to know where to stand at a certain point and what lines to deliver and do your best to be that guy,” Difford said.
Squeeze isn't content to rely on its older hits. Its prolific songwriters keep creating new material, including 2015’s Cradle to the Grave and 2017’s The Knowledge. The band has performed at Coachella and has had contemporaries cover their songs, including a recent version of “Tempted” by Erykah Badu.
“Squeeze songs are so individual I can’t imagine many people covering them,” Difford said. “I’m just lucky that we cover them.”
While the band continues to produce new music and will gain new fans from a tour which will take them from the United States to the U.K. and on to Australia and New Zealand in 2020, they’ll certainly share tales from their past along the way. They might reflect on how, in 1973, Difford placed an ad for a guitarist in a bakery window and how Tilbrook was the only person to respond, as if their partnership was fated. Or how, according to the legend, Difford wrote the whimsical lyrics to “Cool for Cats” while eating beans on toast and flipping between a Western movie and Benny Hill on television.
Difford’s recently published memoir, Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out of Squeeze, recalls some of his personal and career milestones. Asked if writing a book was vastly different than writing Squeeze’s songbook, Difford said:
“It was a different kind of process, obviously, because you’re writing a memoir and you’re remembering things that you’ve done and it’s quite a different challenge, but a very sweet challenge in many ways. I worked with some really nice people on the book so it wasn’t that taxing. I’m looking forward to maybe writing another one at some point.”
Since they’ve famously shared writing duties, we asked Difford whether he believed Tilbrook might someday recount the Squeeze story from his perspective.
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“Well, Glenn is a really great reader and I’m sure he would be an amazing writer. He’s much more the historian than I am, he’s good at facts,” Difford said. “I think he would be very factual, very honest. I’d look forward to it, I think it would be a very honest read.”
Their partnership has fueled Squeeze’s success. So, Difford said, one reason Squeeze has thrived and endured might come as a surprise to fans, particularly the adoring critics who once crowned them heirs apparent to the Beatles.
“The fact that we give each other a lot of space when we’re not on the road is kind of helpful,” Difford shared. “You know, we’re very different people, we have very different interests and lives and I think that’s probably what keeps the songs interesting. Glenn’s much more of a detailed songwriter than I am, I think. I’m prepared to make mistakes and let things happen, Glenn less so maybe. That’s how our relationship seems to work best.”
The Squeeze Songbook 2019 Tour, with special guests X, September 18 at Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. All ages, $49.50 and up.