published: 14 /
Paul Waller speaks to Squeeze front man Glenn Tilbrook about his band's musical history and legacy, recent solo tour and forthcoming album, 'Happy Ending'
Glenn Tilbrook is, of course, most famous for his time spent fronting Squeeze, a band that by 1979 had released their second album, the masterful ‘Cool for Cats’, and scored two number two singles on the trot with the title track and ‘Up the Junction’. The dawn of the 80s held further musical successes, but as with all highs there are lows dealt out as well. For Tilbrook these included the dissolution of Squeeze multiple times yet today the band are still functioning, playing shows and as recently as 2010 releasing new music. Come January 2014, the long wait for ‘Happy Ending’, the new Glenn Tilbrook solo album will be over. Fans are expecting great things.
Pennyblackmusic caught up with Glenn as he began his most recent solo tour. The day before our conversation he got himself hitched and he still made time for us. The man is nothing short of committed to his trade, that’s for sure. We had to ask; surely he should be on honeymoon somewhere with his new bride?
GT: It’s all good, I’ll be okay; we’ve been together for 20 years now, so it’s about time.
PB: Well, congratulations. I first heard of you and Squeeze thanks to a friend who made a tape for me, which included songs about my home town of Margate and the seaside. As well as the token Chas ‘n’ Dave tunes there was this track by Squeeze called ‘Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)’. I fell in love with it, and he then dubbed me a copy of your album ‘Argybargy’. From that moment I was hooked. So, if I can ask, can you tell me a little bit about that song that introduced me to Squeeze?
GT: Well, what I can tell you is that when I got that lyric from Chris Difford it just felt wonderfully evocative. When I grew up everybody went to Margate for their holidays and pretty much that was it. It was just a place where I went for my holidays when I was little which was the case for most south Londoners in the 60s. I used to have a great aunt who lived in Margate, which made it the destination for us anyway.
PB: What was your earliest musical memory? Was it from that time?
GT: Um, well… It’s got to be ‘Summer Holiday’ really. My mum took me to see it at the age of five, I think. I remember that I loved the actual song, and I saw that Cliff Richard and the Shadows looked like they were having such a great time hopping out of a bus and playing and then getting back in the bus and travelling around which is what I wanted to do, and, look now, here I am, in a bus, travelling around and then I hop out and I’m playing. It made a big impression on me.
PB: Did you think when you first picked up a guitar and strummed the
strings that this is what you might be doing with the rest of your life?
GT: No, I never thought that. I was obsessed with music, so it wasn’t like I made a choice to do it. You just want to do it, and it’s all I ever wanted to do. The fact that it has happened when there were so many things along the way that could have gone wrong, and there are so many ways that my dreams may not have come true is incredible. What I had going for me all that time was my obsession.
PB: So Squeeze got together and recorded the ‘Packet of Three’ EP. When that arrived and you held it in your hand for the first time, did it confirm for you your instincts and obsession were well founded?
GT: By that time I thought we were the best thing since sliced bread, and we were just waiting for the whole world to catch up with us. I had a lot of youthful arrogance, and I think you need that to carry you through.
The moment I first held that record? Hmmm…I do remember the moment vividly when I first heard it on the radio. It was about twenty to seven one evening, and it was Roger Scott on Capital Radio who played ‘Cat on a Wall’. I was in someone’s car driving up Blackheath Hill, and I have to say it was the most incredible thing that had ever happened to me.
PB: And here you are today, many moons later, about to embark on a huge tour. If you look at the schedule of venues you are about to tackle to promote the forthcoming album ‘Happy Ending’ there is a huge list of venues, It’s a massive tour. What can fans expect that they haven’t seen previously from these solo shows?
GT: Well. just the fact that I’ve moved on a bit. ‘Happy Ending’ has a new set of lyrics. and I am very proud of that. There are a couple of songs that deal with the balance of power, about our freedom to do things. There are some serious subjects that I managed to cram into three minute pop songs. I hope that it is very attractive to people and at the same time hopefully thought provoking. Maybe that all sounds a bit weighty, but that’s why I write songs and I’ve had time to consider exactly how I want to say it.
PB: The front cover of ‘Happy Ending’ is my personal favourite front cover that you have been involved with, except for maybe the debut Squeeze album. It’s so full of ideas yet it’s uncluttered. It’s a thing of real beauty.
GT: It really is. I am so proud of the artwork. That’s my hook to grab people; you just need to look at it. The attention to detail on it reflects the same attention to detail that has gone into the lyrics and music inside. However dead or redundant it may be as an art form today, it is still an important thing to me.
PB: With a huge back catalogue behind you, an observer may think that you could be raking it in to this day, but I’ve found that when I am speaking to artists in your position that increasingly illegal downloading and the minimal income from streaming sites such as Spotify doesn’t allow the artist enough cash to feel free to experiment. Does that affect you and if it does then are you frustrated by it?
GT: I don’t think like that, I think there are many, many advantages in the way that things are now. Today I have complete control over my career, and I have done now for about fifteen years, and those have been the happiest years of my entire career. I’ve been so much happier since I have been adrift of a label, and I have no desire to want to go back there. I like to work on my own terms, and, yes, I may have to work that bit harder, but it really is worth it.
PB: So, you have effectively done it yourself! You must be proud of that?
GT: Yeah, plus I don’t think there has been any drop in quality of my work since I’ve been out of a major label. In fact, I think the quality has gone up and not down, plus I don’t have to show songs to an A&R man, and have to rewrite it fifteen times because it is not commercial enough for them.
I know in the past I did all that willingly, but it was ultimately fruitless and never worked. When any work ends up going through fifteen sets of ears by its very nature, it is being diluted. You don’t make art like that and that is where the record companies went horribly wrong, and yet they are still doing it. I am so very glad that I am no longer a part of it.
PB: With this vast back catalogue of work you have in Squeeze. I find it really odd that there are no lyric sheets on the inner sleeves of your LP’s designs and artwork. Why was that?
GT: Do you know in all honesty I can’t say why that was; I can’t tell you what the answer is. We just never did.
PB: If you had written more of the lyrics yourself, would that have interested you in putting them on there?
GT: It’s like saying what would you think if the sun was blue? I just could not honestly say. The reason why I didn’t write lyrics until I was forty though, and I didn’t write any more lyrics after I met Chris Difford was that his lyrics by far out stripped anything that I’d ever written. It was really easy for me to say you know what; I’m hitching my wagon to this guy because he’s brilliant. But I knew that I had something to offer too because I could write a tune. That’s what I could do.
PB: And that turned out to be the magic formula.
GT: It worked out really well. Perversely when I stopped writing with Chris when I was 43, that was the catalyst for me to start writing lyrics. and even now when I am writing lyrics the first person that I think of is Chris because he has been such an inspiration to me. I wonder what he would think of it, and of course he never tells me.
PB: ‘Argybargy’ stands out for me. It’s my favourite Squeeze album, although the reasoning behind this is not apparent when I think about it. It’s the record I always come back to though. There must have been a lot of pressure on your shoulders to follow up the massive hit that was the ‘Cool for Cats’ single and LP. Looking back today how do you feel about it, and do you personally think it’s as strong an album as its self-titled predecessor?
GT: Yeah, I do, but it didn’t have the single successes that ‘Cool for Cats’ had on it. But as an album, well, we made three albums on the trot in ‘Cool for Cats’, ‘Argybargy’ and ‘East Side Story’ that I thought were really great and they were all entirely different to each other, but I have to say that I am very, very proud of ‘Argybargy’. They are my three favourite records from early Squeeze.
PB: Once again thank you for giving up your time so shortly after your wedding. I’ll let you get back to your journey into wedded bliss
With that Glenn’s infectious laugh rings in my ear as he hangs up the telephone, leaving this music journalist hungry to hear the new record and eager to give my battered copy of ‘Argybargy’ yet another spin.