Blackheath Halls, London, 14/12/2013
published: 14 /
Anthony Dhanendran watches Squeeze front man Glenn Tilbrook play an excellent set in front of a group of dedicated fans at Blackheath Halls in london
Musicians and groups from the 1970s and 1980s, no matter how small – and Squeeze were certainly not a small band – seem to attract a hard core of the most utterly dedicated fans who will follow them anywhere.
A couple of years ago at an exhibition of Queen memorabilia, a Japanese woman turned up, excitedly explaining to the staff that she’d flown in that morning from Tokyo and was planning to see the exhibition and then return to Haneda Airport on the next available flight.
Here in the genteel surroundings of the Blackheath Halls, nobody appears to have come quite that far, but the front seats have been bagged by a gaggle of Italian fans who’ve arrived early to get just the right spot. One gets the impression that, as Squeeze might themselves have said, they have form in this area.
The handsome barrel-roofed venue, built in 1895 and claiming to be London’s oldest purpose-built cultural venue, has been segregated for the evening, with groups of seats on either side of the hall split by what’s described on the signs as a standing and dancing area, which seems appropriate.
Glenn Tilbrook, Squeeze’s frontman through thick and thin, arrives alone on the large stage, sporting a brown jacket and trousers along with an electric guitar. Most of the gig is performed on the acoustic instrument, and despite the lack of instrumentation there’s no lack of stage presence.
Tilbrook’s voice is the same as it ever was – at 20 he sounded like a world-weary traveller and 35 years of actual travelling and touring have only added to its depth. Tufts of long fair hair float theatrically up and down with his guitar playing, which is also still quite remarkable – it’s easy to forget, for most of this homecoming gig, that there isn’t a band backing him.
As with all the shows on this tour, the set is sprinkled with Squeeze hits (written, of course, with lyricist Chris Difford), solo work and songs from the new record. Difford, Tilbrook and Squeeze seemed to specialise, in the same vein as other talented suburban songsmiths such as Paul Weller, in examining the smallest of lives in a way that made them relevant to everyone. Classics such as ‘Up the Junction’ of course get an airing here, and are as fresh and as relevant as they were when they were first recorded – and the fact that Tilbrook’s voice hardly seems to have aged doesn’t hurt either.
The descending arpeggios of ‘Another Nail in My Heart’ provoke the biggest cheers of the night, and hits such as ‘Tempted’ and the bluesy singalong ‘Labelled With Love’ also go down well, but so do the newer songs such as ‘Best of Times’ or ‘Through the Net’, both of which are from 2009’s ‘Pandemonium Ensues’.
We also get a sparkling ‘Wichita Lineman’ and on the old blues track ‘I Hear You Knocking’ his versatility comes to the fore as he sounds like a Geno Washington-style soul shouter.
In the encore we find out that the musical talent continues through the generations as Glenn’s young son Leon joins his father on stage for a few duets including a sprightly ‘Take Me I’m Yours’.
The newest song, ‘Everybody Sometimes’, is introduced by way of an anecdote involving a haircut in a tiny village in Scotland last week: “I think the barber recognised me. He whipped out a karaoke machine – bear in mind it’s just me and him in there – and asked me to sing 'The Frog Chorus'. I just had to say, ‘No, mate, no’. After he finished the haircut he said to me, ‘You look just like David Cameron’. The trouble is, I could see where he was coming from’”.
“Everybody sometimes falls down,” he sings, exhorting the subject of the song to “take some time off… learn to paint” and it’s easy to wonder whether he’s preaching to those younger than himself, or in fact to himself now.
Either way – whether he’s playing the hits, getting the crowd to practice the chorus of ‘Best of Times’ before he plays it or apologising to the kids in the audience for swearing (“Sorry - don’t say those words, kids”) – Glenn Tilbrook is impossible not to like.