Music Interview: Chris Difford of Squeeze—on Being “At-Odds”
Friends since childhood, composer Tilbrook and lyricist Difford formed Squeeze in 1977; there have been two full-fledged breakups and reunions since then.
By Brett Milano
The UK pop group Squeeze has had many different lineups over the years. But when they play The Wilbur on Thursday there’ll be just two: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the songwriting team who’ve been the voices and faces of Squeeze all these years. The tour is dubbed “The At-Odds Couple,” a title that celebrates their sometimes-rocky musical partnership and the fact that it remains intact.
Friends since childhood, composer Tilbrook and lyricist Difford formed Squeeze in 1977; there have been two full-fledged breakups and reunions since then. “After 42 years as partners we’ve gotten divorced a couple of times and split up the record collection, so to speak,” Difford said this week. “But we’ve learned to understand the difference between us, to respect each other’s space and give each other the oxygen to try different things. And to be gentle with each other.”
The lowest point came in 1998, when Difford abruptly bailed on the morning a tour started and left Tilbrook to front the band on his own. “We never really discussed that. I just went off into rehab, which was the single best thing I’ve ever done aside from forming a band and getting married. I still can hardly remember anything about my younger career, that’s how bad it was. Right now I’m happily married with a wonderful extended family, so there’s a strong foundation in my life that I didn’t have before. I’m like the Tony Bennett song ‘Give Me the Simple Life.’ I love that song and really relate to it.”
That would explain the upbeat feel of Squeeze’s new album, Cradle to the Grave, which harks back to their ‘70s heyday of Argybargy and East Side Story. Its songs were actually written for a British TV series about aging children of the ‘70s. “They gave us the scripts and then told us to ignore them, so that’s what we did. But we tried to keep the ‘70s in mind, musically and lyrically. We needed an impetus to make a record and the TV show gave that to us. As for the music, we tried to keep it in its simplest form. Glenn was very skillful at making it sound like a real Squeeze album. Part of that was getting me to sing more, so we had that octave thing going on, which seems to be a hallmark of Squeeze. It seemed that whenever there was a chorus or a B-section in a song, I was kindly escorted to a microphone.”
The retro theme extended to the recording of four cover songs, the first on a Squeeze album. “We did it diplomatically, Glenn and I each chose two. I picked Lou Reed’s ‘Hangin’ Round’ because we used to play that one when we were kids, when we started doing clubs and didn’t have enough songs to fill a set. And it’s Lou Reed, so it’s in my vocal range.”
While Squeeze plans to carry on for awhile (and will tour with the electric lineup next year), both leaders have other projects going. Tilbrook makes solo albums, writing his own lyrics. “If you listen to his last solo album you can hear that he doesn’t need support from anybody else, even if it’s me. My own solo records gave me the confidence to sing again, which is something I was really frightened to do. ” And Difford has tried his hand at playwriting for the first time. “I’ve just written one for the Edinburgh Festival next year—It’s the story of one man’s midlife crisis. It’s supposed to be dramatic but I think it came out really funny.”
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat. His latest book is Don’t All Thank Me At Once (125 Records), a biography of the unsung pop genius Scott Miller, who led the bands Game Theory and The Loud Family.