With the A59 submerged in places that afternoon, there was a worry that we might not even reach Clitheroe on Saturday night. But if Glenn Tilbrook could get across from a Newcastle Opera House date with Wilko Johnson in that beast of a motorhome of his, it was clearly possible.
To paraphrase Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford on Glenn’s set opener, he came across from Tyneside to greet us with a smile, and by the time we reached York Street he’d taken up several spaces outside the venue, a great night ahead of us in the company of the 61-year-old South-East Londoner and support act, Charlie Austen.
I was playing Nine Below Zero’s 13 Shades of Blue through the puddles on the way over, that 2016 LP recorded at Glenn’s 45 rpm studio in Charlton, with Charlie guesting on two great tracks. What’s more, she’s back there with former WriteWyattUK interviewee Dennis Greaves’ outfit between live engagements right now, a new LP expected later this year.
She also sings and plays bass for DIY indie outfit Lux Lisbon, and as well as a number of dates with Glenn, supports Bryan Ferry this summer. Her star is ascending, and rightly so judging by her short set at The Grand, an artist described as a purveyor of ‘finger-picking folk-soul music with carefully-crafted lyrics and a blues-infused vocal’ well received.
Respect to the audience there too. Many a time I see crowds talk (loudly) over a support act, but there were enough taking it all in here, and that must help increase an artiste’s confidence.
A couple of songs in, she explained the ’Charlie Austen Music’ light box at her side, possibly not so much an aide-memoire as a way to distinguish herself from the similarly-named Southampton striker. Besides, she reckons she plays more often, prone as he is to injury (and suspension).
A winning smile and easy between-song banter help, while Charlie’s fret and vocal work – the tracks ‘Slave to Chemistry’ and ‘Traces of You’ standing out – impress. I’d like to think we’ll hear more of her soon.
On the subject of the headliner, as my co-traveller and fellow long-time Squeeze fan Jim put it on the night, you know what you’re getting with GT. That’s not to say he’s a safe option. His set is unpredictable, and he’s hardly likely to trot out tired identikit versions of the same songs (great as they are) every night. But you’re guaranteed entertainment from a gifted guitarist and master singer-songwriter who still has such a great voice, four decades after emerging on the scene.
It took me until the Some Fantastic Place tour in late ’93 to finally see Squeeze live (Jim was well ahead in that respect, catching them at Salford Uni in late ’79), and I first caught Glenn on his own at Manchester’s Hop and Grape seven years later, preceding his debut solo LP. And he never disappoints.
The sound was great, clearer than for his support role with Wilko Johnson at Warrington Parr Hall two weeks before, the clarity of his guitar runs spot on. He started with Squeeze’s debut 45, ‘Take Me, I’m Yours’, now 41 years old, then 2004’s solo album Transatlantic Ping Pong lead track ‘Untouchable’ (how was that never a hit?) and the sublime ‘Is That Love?’, the benchmark truly set.
A co-write with son Leon, ‘Schadenfreude’, was next, one of two tracks aired from Trussell Trust EP fundraiser, ‘Against UK Poverty and Hunger‘, then from his Fluffers’ LP, Pandemonium Ensues, we had a song about Tilbrook home life a decade ago, ‘Little Ships’.
I was impressed by his take on ‘(There Is) Always Something There to Remind Me’ in Warrington, and this time it sounded even better, the spirit of Sandie Shaw already channelled by fellow oft-barefooted performer Charlie Austen.
From 2004 there was ‘Hostage’, then from 1981 a crowd-pleasing ‘Labelled with Love’, the band and solo selections continuing with the impressive Ben Jones-penned ‘Other World’ and the mighty ‘Up the Junction’, always a delight.
At that point he swapped acoustic for electric guitar, two 2015 Squeeze tracks following, ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Cradle to the Grave’, from the album of the same name. Again, I’d heard him tackle Dave Edmunds’ ‘I Hear You Knocking’ before, and it works so well, memories of early Fleetwood Mac following on Squeeze’s ‘Albatross’ from last year’s Squeeze LP The Knowledge, then a cover of the Peter Green-led ‘Oh Well’.
Further EP track, ‘0-60’ got a good reaction, and he was again note-perfect with voice and guitar on the tricky ‘Hourglass’, impressively duetting with himself. And talking of Squeeze reworks, ‘Tempted’ was commendably constructed by this one-man Squeeze jukebox, the audience in good voice too, late-50s Huey ‘Piano’ Smith rock’n’roller ‘Sea Cruise’ following.
Glenn has a reputation for inviting all manner of fans up on stage, my travelling companion among them before now (taking on ‘The Truth’ and ‘Crowded House’s ‘Weather With You’), and we winced as two eager audience members joined him on ‘Cool for Cats’, Chris Difford’s role played first by a female suddenly all too aware of what she’d taken on, bowing out after a couple of lines, then a fella who soldiered through, doing well with the words (albeit with prompts from Glenn), even if performing in a key all his own.
From there we had ‘Piccadilly’ from East Side Story, then a mighty closing run, ‘Another Nail in My Heart’, ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ and ‘Pulling Mussels From the Shell’ prompting more raised glasses and crowd singalongs.
There was enough time for 2009’s ‘Still’ before rapturously-received finale, ‘Goodbye Girl’, our distinguished visitor back where he started, in 1978. We half expected an encore, but on reflection there was no need. I looked around to find him, but he’d gone … to sign this and that in the foyer, seeimngly as fresh as he was at nine. And there’s stamina for you.
For all the latest from Charlie Austen, head to her website and keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Glenn Tilbrook’s solo tour, with Charlie Austen supporting on each date, next calls at: 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’s also supporting Wilko Johnson’s band at: 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. For more ainformation, head to his website and keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Food donated at venues during all Glenn’s dates this year (including the Wilko Johnson dates) 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 needed.