Glenn Tilbrook, singer songwriter and guitarist with Squeeze chats with Kevin Cooper about his friendship with Dennis Greaves, working on Cradle To The Grave, his solo album Happy Ending and his forthcoming tour of the UK
Glenn Tilbrook is the lead singer and guitarist of the English band Squeeze, a band formed in the new wave period of the late 1970s and continued recording successfully in the 80’s and 90’s. He generally wrote the melody for Squeeze’s songs, while his writing partner, Chris Difford, wrote the lyrics. Writing such successful hits like Cool For Cats, Up The Junction, Take Me I’m Yours and Hourglass, they were hailed as ‘the heirs to Lennon and McCartney’s throne’, during the peak of their popularity.
The group first broke up in 1982 but then reformed in 1985, and then subsequently disbanded again in 1999. The band reunited for tours throughout the United States and United Kingdom in 2007, and this touring version of Squeeze has continued. Their album, Cradle To The Grave, was released after their music was used in a BBC drama of the same name, which was based upon Danny Baker’s autobiography.
Whilst busy getting ready for his tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Glenn how are you?
Hi Kevin I’m very well thanks. How are you today?
I’m good thanks and before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
That’s fine it’s an absolute pleasure.
It would appear that I am working my way through Squeeze one by one. After today I will have finally interviewed Chris (Difford) Jools (Holland) and your good self.
So you are trying to collect the set (laughter).
You could say that (laughter). I first saw Squeeze when you supported The Police at Milton Keynes Bowl on Saturday 26th July 1980.
Gosh, I remember that very well. We had a monsoon as I recall (laughter).
Yes, you are correct, it was a very wet and dull day but I am sure that a good time was had by all for the princely sum of £6.00 (laughter).
Bloody hell, is that all it cost (laughter).
Yes it was, and when you consider the line-up that included The Police, Squeeze, UB40, Tom Robinson’s Sector 27 and some strange American bloke called Skafish it was great value despite the awful weather (laughter).
Skafish bless him, I wonder what happened to him?
I have absolutely no idea and I think that is probably the best way (laughter).
Thinking back I think that you are probably right (laughter).
So how is life treating you?
Really good actually. I have just got back from an American tour with Squeeze and I think that it is one of the best tours that we have ever had. It was just amazing actually. It was really good.
You are currently preparing to go out on the road here in the UK with your Best Of Times Tour. Are you looking forward to that?
Very much so, yes. It has been a long while since I have toured by myself. It brings something different to the table. It is a show that sort of evolves and right now it is about fifty percent acoustic and fifty percent electric and I am currently going through a period where I absolutely adore playing and singing. I feel that I am the best that I have ever been so that is really a fantastic place for me to be coming from.
You are playing here in Nottingham at The Glee Club on Thursday 3rd November. What can we expect?
What you can expect is something from all points of my career. Something from the beginning to the very latest stuff. It is amazing at this point that we have had the most successful Squeeze album ever with Cradle To The Grave. We have had amazing responses from the crowds at all of the gigs that we have played and in particular Glastonbury was amazing. We have just got such a lot done this year and last year which has propelled us forward. For me I am really grateful to be able to be in that place now.
You have mentioned Cradle To The Grave, what was it like working with Danny Baker whose autobiography was adapted for the BBC series?
It was great fun, it really was. I remember distinctly that I was at home in bed getting over the flu and I was searching for something to read and I didn’t at that time have any books. I saw that Danny’s autobiography was out so I downloaded it, read it and thought this is mad and that it would make a great musical. I called Danny and said “look, have you thought about doing a musical” and he said “no, we haven’t thought about doing a musical but we are doing a TV show, why don’t you come down and do a few songs for that”. So really it was a fortuitous call.
It gave us a great focus for the writing of the record and I think that Cradle To The Grave as an album is more backward looking with regard to the subject matter, moving from childhood to teens. For me to have the excuse to write for that in terms of Danny’s life being very similar in upbringing to how mine was, I knew the source material very well.
And as I recall you and Chris had a cameo appearance in the show didn’t you?
(Hysterical laughter) yes we did, however, my phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook since then with offers of other acting work, I must say (laughter). It was fun being on the set and seeing the process; it was great.
Back to your tour, you are going to be playing forty-one dates. So quite obviously you are not having any thoughts on slowing down just yet?
No, no, keep on going, keep on pushing. I think that it is amazing to be at this stage and have all of these dates. I am really looking forward to it. It’s great, I am in good shape physically; my vocals and my guitar playing are better than they have ever been. I think that it will really be a great evening.
I’m coming down to The Glee Club to photograph and review the gig and I have to say that I am really looking forward to it.
Excellent. I am really looking forward to being back in Nottingham.
You and Squeeze have played here many times haven’t you?
Yes that’s right we have. Yes indeed. I personally love playing up there in Nottingham. It’s a wonderful place.
You have got Steve Smith from Dirty Vegas opening for you on the tour. I understand that you are a fan of his work?
I have known Steve since back in the 90s and he has such a great vibe about him. Chris and I were doing a duo tour last year over in America and we saw Steve because he lives near to Boston where we were playing. He came onstage and played with us and he was absolutely fantastic. It was then that I told him that if he ever wanted to do some stuff with me then I would do my very best to make it happen. What I am hoping will happen is that we will eventually work up to doing some stuff together as well as him opening for me. That’s one of the things that I like about touring; you can forge new relationships which can sometimes come from unexpected directions (laughter).
You mention you and Chis touring together on the duo tour. Is that likely to happen again?
Yes we will. I think that is something that we can do every now and again. The format of it is that it was almost a theatrical tour. We had beds, tables and chairs on the stage and Chris and I came on stage wearing our pyjamas (laughter). It was funny and people got it. We are not comedians but we like a laugh (laughter). It all went to set a really nice tone for the evening.
Is touring what it is all about for you?
Touring is one half of what I do but it is the most entertaining half. The other half is obviously writing and recording and I love doing that but that is harder work, but when it works it is brilliant and really satisfying. So you could say that I have two jobs really (laughter).
Back in 2014 you released your fifth solo album Happy Ending. Were you happy with how it was received?
I was happy with how it was received although being in Squeeze, of course they have sold many, many more copies than I sold of Happy Ending. In a way I view Cradle To The Grave and Happy Ending as being companion pieces because they were written around the same time and many things from Happy Ending finally ended up being used on Cradle To The Grave. It’s not like I cut myself in half; everything I do I give it one hundred percent. It was also special for me to once again work with Laurie Latham on both Happy Ending and Cradle To The Grave.
After the forthcoming tour will you be working on a new solo studio album?
Right now, where I am at is that I am putting all of my energy into the next Squeeze record. Squeeze are in a really good place at the moment; the relationship between me and Chris in so far as working together and writing together is really great. We have got a fantastic band and it is all that I ever wanted really. My solo projects and tours were caused by Squeeze splitting up so I don’t want to ever walk away from that. But as a vehicle for songs, Squeeze is what I am concentrating on at the moment.
Do you have a release date in mind?
It is early days but at this moment in time I think that we will be releasing an album around September or October next year.
You mention the current line-up being the best ever, well I have to say that the last couple of times that I have seen Squeeze here in Nottingham, the band feels so much more rounded. Does that make sense?
Yes it does, and I personally feel that we have got the best version of Squeeze that we have ever had. I know that a lot of people still prefer some of the older versions but for me the current line-up is simply the best band ever. The feeling together with the camaraderie that we have when we are on stage it just feels the best place in the world to be. That is a fantastic feeling to have.
You have written and co-written some fantastic songs over the years; which one has given you the most pleasure?
Right now I am going to say that it is a song called Everybody Sometimes which is on Happy Ending because it is a really sweet pop song that has a message about where I think that society is and it is all going wrong. Very loosely speaking it is about the ‘Old Boys Network’ and about things being a closed shop, people helping each other out through back channels which is where a lot of today’s stuff is going wrong. I believe that free markets will never look after people.
If you could have written one song, what would it have been?
I would have loved to have written Pulp’s Common People because I think that it is such a perceptive song. It is also a smart and funny song.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Wow, what a question. Well, now here’s the thing, the last thing that made me cry was listening to David Bowie’s album. What a brilliant piece of art. I don’t think that anyone has ever done that before, to write about their own demise. That is an incredibly powerful statement. It is a bold and beautiful move to give to us all. I just started crying, it is very moving.
When I interviewed Chris I asked him about the time that you were being referred to as the new Lennon and McCartney. Chris said that in his opinion that comment hindered your writing rather than helping. Would you agree with that?
To be honest, I think that it did both in equal measures. The positive thing is that it made people sit up and take more notice of us whilst the negative thing is that it made Chris and I regard ourselves in a different way. Our writing got worse for around a year after we had first heard that statement. However, we gradually drifted back down to earth and all was fine.
I was recently interviewing a good friend and neighbour of yours, Dennis Greaves from Nine Below Zero and he told me that you are responsible for them recording their 13 Shades Of Blue album.
Oh no, I think that Dennis is giving me far too much credit there (laughter). I absolutely love Nine Below Zero and they are one of my favourite bands. Their album is just fantastic and it is just so inspirational to me. If I am honest, I think that me and Dennis bounce off each other quite a lot but only in a good way (laughter). I like where Dennis comes from, his work ethic, his playing, the whole band, they are just great.
Can you really say that about Dennis as he is a Spurs fan and you are a Charlton fan?
(Hysterical laughter) that is the only thing that we disagree about (laughter).
You collaborated with Nine Below Zero on the Co-Operative album. How was the experience?
It really was a fantastic experience and I would like us to do another album. I think what was great about the Co-Operative was that as musicians we were coming from different places and we sort of met in the middle and produced stuff that wouldn’t normally come out otherwise. It is a great thing for me to be pulled in another direction like that.
Are there any ambitions left for you to achieve?
To be honest with you I am achieving my ambitions now simply by being in the place where I am. I just love this thing and I feel very lucky and gifted to have had a career in doing the thing that I enjoy the most. I just want it to continue.
What was the first record that you bought?
It was Last Train To Clarksville by The Monkees.
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
That would have been T. Rex at the Lewisham Odeon London way back in 1971.
Who has musically inspired you?
I am inspired by so many different types of music, but I guess that the bedrock of what makes me the writer that I am is growing up in the sixties and absorbing the pop music of that time. Whilst I don’t actually listen to it much, it is always at the core of what I do, I think.
What was your first experience of Top Of The Pops like?
At the time I was living in a bedsit and a Daimler turned up outside my bedsit to pick me up and take me to Top Of The Pops (laughter). It was a surreal experience. We were finally on the telly after years of watching it. After the show the Daimler took me home again and then some months later we found out that the band had paid for it all (hysterical laughter). But it was great, I had all of the neighbours looking at me. I felt very, very chuffed.
On that note Glenn, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been great and I will see you here in Nottingham.
Thanks Kevin and make sure that you come over and say hello. You take care and bye for now.