Squeeze frontman and co-founder Glenn Tilbrook will be keeping himself busy these next couple of months, not only supporting Wilko Johnson’s band on the UK leg of their tour, but also filling a few gaps with his own solo dates.
And on both sets of shows the esteemed South East London-based singer-songwriter will be promoting awareness of and inviting donations to The Trussell Trust, supporting a network of foodbanks around the UK.
At most venues there will be drop points and collection boxes, Glenn also donating profits from his merchandise – including an exclusive four-track EP – to the charity.
As he put it, “It is shameful that in the 21st century there are people that can’t afford to put food on the table. Anyone, from any walk of life, can fall upon dire times, and I hope that by doing this tour it will remind people that there is a very real need. Most of us can do something to help – be it giving some food or a little money – and I hope people coming to the shows are inspired to donate.”
There’s been a long link between Glenn and the headliners, his band Squeeze having opened for Dr Feelgood – the legendary Canvey Island outfit where Wilko made his name – as far back as September 3rd, 1975 at St Albans Civic Hall.
“They were the only band I’d ever seen besides us who were doing short concise songs and hitting you between the eyes. They blew my mind. I’m so happy to be doing this tour with Wilko and his extremely talented band, and I’m pleased he has accommodated support for The Trussell Trust on this tour.”
This isn’t just some loaded musician digging deep for the poor, out for shameless photo opportunities while propping up the Establishment, complicit in silently backing a draconian Government more intent on passing off poverty as a concern for charity rather than the state.
Glenn’s about far more than that, and not one to shy away from political confrontation, as proved three years ago when he made headlines for switching the words to the title track of 2015 Squeeze album Cradle to the Grave while playing live with the band on BBC One current affairs show The Andrew Marr Show, then-Prime Minister David Cameron squirming on the sofa.
There was a sense of pride that Sunday morning for this lad from a council house background who acknowledges his life would have been be so different without a free NHS, social housing, and all that, as Glenn sang:
“I grew up in council housing, part of what made Britain great;
There are some here who are hellbent on the destruction of the Welfare State.”
And he certainly has no regrets.
“In a nutshell, my belief – and it’s almost an old-fashioned belief now – is that the role of taxation and Government is to provide these things for people, so this sort of situation doesn’t happen. As a society we’re slipping backwards to an older time where there were poorer people who were despised, thought of as lesser people, and rich people who may or may not deign us with their magnificence.”
I see Glenn and Chris Difford as great examples of successful products of the post-war (I know, they’re not quite that old, but …) Welfare State, I tell him.
“Very much so. And if I look back on my life now … growing up as I did and as Chris did in council housing where we had space to play and they were well maintained … that was the ’60s, and in many ways that was the golden age of the Welfare State.
“I don’t look back on things and get nostalgic very often, but about that I do. There was still Cathy Come Home, there was still private landlords milking poor people and being heartless, just as there are today, but the problem is that all that stuff is growing now.”
We saw a bit of that nostalgic look back on the past on the afore-mentioned 2015 Squeeze LP, songs from which also featured on the soundtrack of Danny Baker-penned ITV drama Cradle to Grave. Friend of the band Danny’s writing seemed to transport them back to their own experiences during that era.
“Yeah, it was interesting. I read Danny’s book and thought it would be great for us to get involved. And around the same time I read Alan Johnson’s autobiography, This Boy, and thought that was really great – him recalling the poverty he grew up in. There was no self-pity. The descriptions of what he and his sister went through themselves are enough.
“Danny’s book was almost the polar opposite of that. He views everything through an extremely cheerful … I’m not saying it’s rose-coloured, it’s just the way he is. I think our album at the time sort of reflected that. By the time we got around to (follow-up LP) The Knowledge, that was slightly more gritty. And I’m really proud of both records.”
Quite right too, and that brings me on to the subject of the three early-‘90s Squeeze albums – Play, Some Fantastic Place and Ridiculous – that made me realise all the more what a great band they were, not just a singles or live band, but an albums band too, capable of true depth as songwriters.
And while I loved everything that led up to it, the darker Play truly resonated. To this day, if I hear it I’m transported back to a winter’s afternoon spent with my better half at Greenwich Market, probably in early ’92 (a few months after it was released), the songs in my head that day due to the geographical link to that area, dropping the needle on side one, track one, ‘Satisfied’, on my return back down the A3, back in my bedroom.
I know the album came out in summertime, but I get the feeling those songs were borne out of winter. Do you recall the kind of mindset you were in at the time?
“Yeah, it was written over a period of time. It was also the last album I wrote at home before going into the studio. It was winter, and I wrote some of it on a ski-ing holiday with my then-wife and lots of other people. I didn’t ski – I stayed in and wrote during the day. I also remember writing ‘There is a Voice’ … yeah, it was quite a dark record,”
It was, but there were those chinks of light, as there always are with Squeeze. I won’t go too deep into that record here, but advise you to read the book Glenn and Chris wrote with Jim Drury, 2004’s Squeeze Song by Song. That tells you all you need to know about where each was at back then. And thankfully they both made it through, in tact.
Bringing us right back up to date, Glenn’s first engagement of the year is his support slot with Wilko Johnson’s band at Buxton Opera House on Thursday, February 28th, followed by a date a little closer to my patch at Warrington Parr Hall on Friday, March 1st, before heading to the South Coast to play Bexhill-on-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion that Saturday, March 2nd.
Those will be his first public shows since one at the Union Chapel in Islington, North London, back on December 1st. Has he been travelling overseas during that period?
“No, I’ve just had a bit of time to contemplate, think about writing, and get ready for this year really. My father’s nearly 90 and not been that well, so I’ve been spending some time with him as well.”
We were talking about your London roots before. Are you still hands on with your 45 RPM studio in Charlton?
“Oh, very much so. In fact, I’ve just had another political battle there. I own my studio and the land it’s on, but it’s in an industrial estate, the rest of which has been bought by developers who want to build these terrible flats and deny my proper entrance (I have my bus and stuff). A long battle followed, ending up going to City Hall, with us making our case in front of (Mayor of London) Sadiq Khan, who actually denied the builder the right to build this monstrosity.
“That was a real inside lesson on how democracy can work, when I was thinking it wouldn’t. But I set this studio up as I wanted this to be the last place I would work before I stop, and it’s everything I wanted it to be. I’m so happy there.”
“Ah, come on, they’re local! And they make great records.”
Absolutely. I’m waiting for the next album, having loved 2016’s 13 Shades of Blue.
“Yeah, and I think they’re going to do one.”
Great news. And are you busy in there in the meantime?
“I’m in and out of there, yeah.”
It’s five years coming up since your most recent solo album, Happy Ending. When we last spoke in late 2016 you said your energies were channelled on Squeeze. Is that still the case?
“Yeah, but actually last year I did an EP, which I’m going to be selling on this tour, for the Trussell Trust. It has four tracks on it and everything from that will go to them. My focus has been on Squeeze, completely, but for this tour I’ve found that it’s really important to step out of all that, and solo stuff for me really informs what I bring back to the table with Squeeze.”
I bet, and I’m sure it’s the same with Chris and his work outside Squeeze, not least his dates with Boo Hewerdine.
Then in mid-October, 45 years after you first answered Chris’ advert in a sweet shop, it’s back to Squeeze duties, and The Difford and Tilbrook Songbook 2019 tour. It’s a fairly extensive one too. Since we last spoke, Yolanda Charles (who previously played with the likes of Paul Weller, Dave Stewart, Robbie Williams and Mick Jagger, replacing Lucy Shaw on bass) and Steve Smith (percussion, ex-frontman of Dirty Vegas) have come on board. Is it good to keep things fresh like that?
“Do you know, the change in the band has been pretty constant, but the one thing I think we’ve done – and this has been since we got back together after five years as ‘the best Squeeze tribute band’ and then started writing – and I was really clear on this, is that I didn’t want our albums to be after-thoughts. If we were going to make records we were going to make proper records, amongst the best we’ve ever done.
“I think we have done that, and the band line-up has been consistently strong. We’ve had some changes – some of which have been forced on us and others which we chose – but having Steve Smith and Yolanda Charles in the band now has propelled us onwards and upwards.”
So is there a 16th album on the go, after The Knowledge?
“No, at the moment I think we’re all thinking about what making a record means, and having the studio I think we’re more inclined to just now see what it’s like to release individual songs at different times, then maybe collate those for an album at the end of it. That seems to be more of a way to reach people, but as an album it takes so much effort and to be honest the time when those things are important for any other reason than artistic ones have gone. So we’re struggling to make the best of it commercially whilst realising that records for us are probably a loss-leader. But they’re also a thing that keeps us together and vibrant.”
Well. I’m all for that. And how far does Chris have to walk now to post his lyrics under your front door?
“Ha! You’d have to ask him that question, but it’s a fair old drive, I think. But he does it. Bless him.”
Glenn is a special guest support with Wilko Johnson’s band at: Opera House, Buxton – February 28; Parr Hall, Warrington – March 1; De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, March 2; Cliffs Pavilion, Southend – March 8; Engine Rooms, Southampton – March 9; Alban Arena, St Albans – March 10; The Robin, Wolverhampton – March 13; Picturedrome, Holmfirth – March 14; Opera House, Newcastle – March 15; Yarm Princess Alexandra Auditorium – April 11; Stockton Queen’s Hall – April 12; Edinburgh Fibbers, York – April 13; Junction, Cambridge – April 25; Tramshed, Cardiff – April 26; Town Hall, Cheltenham – April 27.
Meanwhile, Glenn’s solo tour calls at: The Grand, Clitheroe – March 16; St Mary Magdalene Church, Cobham – March 21; Revelation, Ashford – March 22; The Pavilion, Hailsham – March 23; Komedia, Bath – March 28; Acapela, Cardiff – March 29; St Mary’s Parish Church, Kingskerswell – March 31; The Wharf, Tavistock – April 2; Lighthouse, Poole – April 3; St John The Evangelist Church, Oxford – April 5.
Glenn Tilbrook last starred on these pages in a November 2016 feature/ interview, linked here, and prior to that in December 2013, linked here, while Chris Difford was featured in August 2015 (link here). Alternatively, type in ‘Squeeze’ in the search column (towards the top right of this page) and feast your eyes on a few other options, including an appreciation of the band from October 2012, linked here.
For more information on Glenn Tilbrook, head to his website. You can also keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And for Squeeze, try their official website, follow them via Facebook and Twitter, or follow Facebook’s packetofthree page.
Food donated at venues during all Glenn’s dates this year will be collected and distributed to the nearest Trussell Trust foodbank, offering nutritionally-balanced, non-perishable tinned and dried foods. Items in a typical food parcel are cereal, soup, pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes/pasta sauce, lentils, beans and pulses, tinned meat, tinned vegetables, tea/coffee, tinned fruit, biscuits, UHT milk and fruit juice. If possible, check with local foodbanks to see what supplies are currently needed.