Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook discusses tour with Psychedelic Furs, recording plans, more

by JAY LUSTIG
GLENN tilbrook interview

DANNY CLIFFORD

Squeeze clockwise from far right, Glenn Tilbrook, Steve Smith, Simon Hanson, Melvin Duffy, Stephen Large, Chris Difford (top) and Owen Biddle.

The double bill of Squeeze and The Psychedelic Furs — which comes to the Stone Pony Summer Stage on Sept. 10, as part of an approximately five-week tour — may seem strange. But Squeeze — with its catchy melodies and intricate wordplay, and the sweet-and-sour harmonies of guitar-playing co-songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford — is such a unique band that the combination of it with virtually any other band might seem like an odd mixture.

Tilbrook and Difford have kept the band going for nearly 50 years now, with many different bandmates; since 2020, the lineup has included keyboardist Stephen Large, bassist Owen Biddle, steel guitarist Melvin Duffy, drummer Simon Hanson and percussionist Steve Smith.

Squeeze was initially part of the new wave movement and reached its commercial peak from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s with hits such as “Tempted,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Hourglass.” Though the band has not released a full-length album since The Knowledge in 2017, it did put out a six-song EP, Food for Thought, last year, that benefits the British hunger charity Trussell Trust, and whose title track (listen below) is a new song that directly addresses the issue of hunger.

“Robert waits for his turn, no fuss/The wage he earns is not enough/The help he gets from the Trussell Trust/Gives his family breathing space … it’s simply a disgrace, their needs cannot be met,” sings Tilbrook. (The EP also includes re-recordings and live versions of five older Squeeze songs.)

ROB O'CONNOR

GLENN TILBROOK

I talked to Tilbrook recently, in a Zoom call from his home in London.

Q: How did this tour with The Psychedelic Furs come about? Do you have some history with them, or anything like that?

A: We don’t have a history, but after we did the Hall & Oates tour (in 2021), I think we got a lot of people on that tour who weren’t necessarily Squeeze fans before, and I think the idea of touring with them (The Psychedelic Furs) … they’re a good band, I love their work. And it seems like another opportunity to try and widen your net of supporters.

Q: Although, honestly, they don’t seem like a band that you have a tremendous amount in common with, musically.

A: I know what you mean. Perhaps we don’t have that in common, but what we do have in common is coming from a similar time, and I think our demographic circles will overlap, in quite a few places, without being exactly the same.

Q: I guess that was kind of the deal with Hall & Oates, too. You’re not really the same type of band, but you should appeal to a lot of the same people.

A: Yeah.

Q: Are there any bands that you’ve toured with in the past that you thought were a particularly good match, or a particularly bad match?

A: We did a tour in 1990 with Fleetwood Mac. I love Fleetwood Mac. But where we were at the time, and their audience, didn’t really square with us at all (laughs). It was actually a pretty textbook version of a not-good match for us. It was a situation where multiple things were happening to us that weren’t good: We were in sort of a career-negative spiral, as far as our live work was concerned although, weirdly enough, we did Play, which is one of my favorite albums, after that tour. But commercially, we were not really having a great time.

DANNY CLIFFORD

Chris Difford, left, and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze.

Q: To go back a second … why didn’t it work well with Fleetwood Mac? Besides the fact that Squeeze maybe wasn’t in the best place. Was it something about the mixture of the two groups that wasn’t good?

A: No, I don’t think so. I just think their audience, with a few exceptions, were plainly not interested in what we had to offer (laughs). And they made that very obvious, for the most part.

Q: I saw you, many years ago (in 1982), with R.E.M. opening …

A: Oh, right. Yeah, yeah.

Q: … and The English Beat. But R.E.M. was just starting out. Do you have any memories of R.E.M. opening those shows, all those years ago?

A: Yeah. It was lovely. When we did our first (United States) tour, they printed up and handed out flyers for us, and came along to the show, which was pretty great. They were a fantastic band, and I think sort of fully formed from the word go. It was great to meet them then, and I love the fact that they got away from (IRS Records founder) Miles Copeland. I feel like one of those prisoner-of-war films where someone manages to get out of the clutches. It isn’t you, but you still feel glad (laughs).

Q: I’m not that familiar with the history but I guess you didn’t have the greatest experiences with (Copeland). Did you just have a bad deal with him?

A: Yeah, it was a bad deal. It’s one of those things: You sign a deal when you’re 18, you have no advice, and you live with the consequences of that, still, to this day. He did do some good things for us. But he was also tremendously distracted. Who wouldn’t be distracted, with The Police? I understand that. But it wasn’t great for us.

The cover of Squeeze’s “Food for Thought” EP.

Q: So the Food for Thought album, what was the thinking behind releasing that as an EP, instead of waiting for a full album?

A: I started working with a (U.K.) food bank called the Trussell Trust. They’re actually a nationwide network of different food banks, working together. And the work they do is pretty incredible. To me, that was the real impetus for us to record some stuff, write a song, and make sure the entire profits from that went to them.

So that’s what we did over here. I’ve love to do that in America, but it’s different, because there isn’t one centralized person you can deal with. I would love to be able to do that in the future; I don’t think we can do that on this tour.

But at the end of this tour, we’re going to hopefully stay in Los Angeles and record two albums, one of which is an album of new songs, and one of which is an album of 50-year-old songs that Chris and I wrote pretty soon after we got together, but never recorded. “Food for Thought” will be on (the first album), albeit in a re-recorded version.

Q: What was it like to go back and listen to those 50-year-old songs? Were they better than you thought they might be, or different from how you remembered, or had you forgotten them totally?

A: I remembered the songs. There was a tremendous enthusiasm, when we were first together, of just writing and writing and writing. But there was nowhere for it to go. It’s not like we were getting gigs. The songs that we’re gonna do (on this album), we actually rehearsed at the time, but then we wrote more songs, so we played them for a while, until had written more songs. And by the time we actually started making records, they were three years old. So they were the last thing on your mind.

You know, the fact is, there’s a set of songs that we did that are really very good, and I’m happy to record them now, pretty much as they were, and I think they stand up. And I think the comparison will be between what we did 50 years ago, and what we do now, and I think that’s an interesting point, for us to be able to reach that milestone and still be functioning.

The cover of Squeeze’s 1981 album “East Side Story” (shown from left, John Bentley, Gilson Lavis, Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook and Paul Carrack).

Q: Fans always love to hear “lost albums” or “lost songs.” It’s a fascinating thing.

A: Yeah. So I’m looking forward to doing that. At the end of the tour, we should have our chops completely together, and it will be a great time to record. And recording in America … we’ve done very little of that. So that will be good for us, because we’ll all be together, and we’ll just have a record to do, and nothing else.

Q: Do you have a producer in line, to work with?

A: Yeah. Two producers, in fact. Steve Mandel, who works with The Roots, and Owen Biddle, who’s our bass player now, but he was in The Roots. And I’ll be buzzing around in the background. So far, the plan will be that we’ll do tracks in the U.S., and then we’ll go back to my studio and fiddle around with it, but not too much.

Q: The current lineup of the band … what are its strengths, to you, compared to other lineups of the band?

A: I think if I listen to the classic Squeeze lineups, which I’ve done every now and then … particularly live, we used to play everything at three times the speed that it was (on record), certainly through the first couple of versions of Squeeze. And it worked, because we were all that age, and we all thought in that sort of tempo, and paid scant regard to the records, really. Where we are now is a completely different place. I couldn’t wish for a better band to have, and to have the control that we have to utilize technology in the way that we have, to keep us moving forward, and to pay attention to the shows, and not get sort of blasé about it, which we did for a time, I think, in the ’90s. We tailed off our enthusiasm for rehearsing and preparing, and it sort of showed. And worse, I didn’t know, until I looked back, that that’s what we were doing.

Q: The fans still enjoyed the shows, I’m sure.

A: It wasn’t bad. But I know, from the reaction that we get now, that people know we’ve paid attention, and it’s a different thing. And the level of appreciation for our shows now is unlike anything we’ve had since … really, since we first got big. It’s like we’ve transformed into something else. We’ve walked through three magic portals.

We pay attention. We’ve gotten old enough for people to respect us more. The periods of success and failure all melt into one, and we’re left with a catalog of songs that were highly successful or not, but I’m very, very proud of … most of them, and we can choose from all of those things, and it sort of doesn’t matter whether it was a hit or not. People love hits, I know that. But we can carry them on a different journey as well. And I’m proud of that.

Q: So with “Food for Thought,” the song … of course Chris mainly writes the lyrics. Did you go to him and say, “I’d like to do a song with this theme,” and he then wrote the lyrics, or did you write the lyrics together?

A: We worked together on that. And I think, over this period of time of recording … we made albums in 2015 and 2017 … our writing underwent something of a transformation, in that I could bring something, lyrically, to the table that I wasn’t able to do before. And furthermore, writing with Chris in that way was actually fruitful, because we brought quite different approaches to the table, and the two of them together make something different for us.

Squeeze’s lineup from the mid-’80s to the late ’80s included (clockwise from top left) Keith Wilkinson, Gilson Lavis, Chris Difford, Jools Holland and Glenn Tilbrook.

Q: The shorthand on the writing partnership is that you do the music and he does the words, but I imagine, many times over the years, you’ve had input on the lyrics and he’s had input on the music. It’s not that clear-cut, probably.

A: No, it’s not that clear-cut. I think that as we’ve gotten older and our focus has shifted a lot, it’s brought out a different sort of writing in us. And I like that. You wouldn’t want to be the same as you were when you were in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. All of that stuff lends experience. Plus, I don’t listen to the same music I listened to when I was young. My music taste has grown and expanded, and I’m really influenced by a lot of stuff I hear now. But my job is to digest that and then do a Squeeze interpretation of that.

Q: When you say you’re listening to new stuff … could you give me a few examples of things that you’re interested in?

A: There’s a really vibrant jazz scene in the part of London where I live, and there’s a college here, and it’s churning out brilliant musicians, and it seems to me that that music is where things are really happening. So there’s a lot of that that’s going on.

I’m not jazz and I never will be jazz. I come from a different place. But I love what they’re doing.

I saw a band, a three-piece — I think they’re from Ghana, called The Cavemen — play. And it was the most crazy, beguiling mixture … it actually weirdly reminded me of The Police. But it had nothing to do with how The Police were. It had everything to do with the interplay that they had.

Lyrically, I love people like Stormzy, and I love Kae Tempest. I love what hip-hop has brought to the table. It’s got a very specific kind of lyricism that just knocks me sideways. It really does impress the hell out of me.

Squeeze and the Psychedelic Furs will perform at Radio City Music Hall in New York, Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m.; the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m.; and The Met Philadelphia, Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Visit ticketmaster.com.

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