I love the early Squeeze records but my favourite is probably Sweets from a Stranger (1982). Although lumped together with all the other 80s ‘new wave’ bands, Squeeze were/are basically 60s pop revivalists with erudite lyrics/sophisticated melodies being the main emphasis. Check out a video of the band playing “Points of View” below.
Formed around the songwriting nucleus of Chris Difford (lyrics) & Glenn Tilbrook (tunes), the duo were hailed as the Lennon-McCartney of their era and deservedly as well. Following Squeeze’s second breakup in 1999, Tilbrook embarked on an acclaimed solo career. Tilbrook will be performing in Singapore at Hero’s on 29th November and I caught up with him via a short phone interview.
First, I commended him on his latest album – Happy Ending – observing that it was one of the finest Beatlesque albums in recent memory. “I wasn’t aware when I made Happy Ending that it would sound like that” Tilbrook emphasized.
Happy Ending is distinctive in having many songs with names for song titles eg. “Ray”, “Rupert”, “Kev and Dave” etc. According to Tilbrook, his original intention was to fill the album with songs like this but decided against that idea. “Having character songs was something else to write about” he explained, “they were all character-driven”. When queried about whether these character songs were based on real people, Tilbrook remarked, “Most of them are, some are a couple of people into one”.
“Dennis” in particular was written about the late Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. “When Squeeze first broke up in 1982, we played Soundsmash with the Beach Boys,” Tilbrook recounted, “and Dennis came up to me and told me that the band should just enjoy life and not split”. (Tragically, Wilson passed away a year later). This obviously left an impression on Tilbrook as evidenced in the heartfelt lyrics found on “Dennis”.
As always, I tried to have a discussion about songwriting processes (especially with a songwriter I admired greatly!) but I discovered that for Tilbrook the process was quite random. Despite the passage of time since the 80s, the process remained the same. ” (it) comes from the same place”, he said, “I’ve had the music in me since I can remember. It’s something beyond my control. I’m lucky, I guess”.
But he did attempt to address my queries about how he decided what songs would be recorded on albums. “I trick myself by writing lyrics on different platforms – in my laptop, iPad, notebooks – and then I would worked on the melodies myself,” he elaborated, “I call everything in and then see what works”. Again, the word that comes to mind is “random”.
Despite this current spontaneity, the songwriting for Squeeze was quite regimented between Difford and Tilbrook, in the sense that the duo kept strictly to their particular writing strengths and never crossed the line. Tilbrook never considered writing lyrics in those early days because “Chris had a turn of phrase that was amazing” but when Squeeze split that second time in 1999, he started writing lyrics, deeply influenced by Difford.
Considering how strong the duo’s solo material has been in recent times, surely a Squeeze album of new Difford-Tilbrook compositions cannot be far away. Thankfully, Tilbrook confirmed this – “We are recording new material next year which should be released at the end of 2015”. Good news indeed!
When pressed about his setlist for his Singapore performance, “I make it up as I go along” was Tilbrook’s response though I did request for “Points of View”, which he promised to play. So come on down to Hero’s on 29th November to see whether he does or not! You will not want to miss this, PoP fans!
Tickets available from www.dashtickets.sg.
Thanks to Victoria Barker and Hero’s Bars Singapore Pte Ltd for making this interview possible.
… still there’s more …