Cats & dogs
In a packed Greenwich pub, I share a few pints with Chris Difford. I always seem to talk to members of Squeeze in packed pubs. And you know something? Neatneatneat. Dat’s Squeeze. Sweetsweetsweet. Dat’s Squeeze too.
They’re the doyens of cartoon-strip situation rock. Each song a two-inch-square excursion into the crazy caper world of big noses, dangling fags, words frozen in blurb balloons and painful domesticity.
Yet at the same time they’re as slick as a Sassoon quiff, as succinct as a silicon chip.
Squeeze are artifice with substance. Their dexterity is sometimes quite devastating, sometimes only partially successful due to an occasional lapse into Fantasy Land (a trap they have avoided on the new album Cool For Cats) and very rarely 24-carat oopseroonie.
But, then, a perfect Squeeze would be intolerable. Imperfection is half the fun.
A year ago the Deptford dickie-bow merchants clocked in with the hit single, ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ and clocked out with nothing more than a five o’clock shadow and a few strangled dreams.
A series of indifferent reviews followed, interspersed with downright venomous assaults on the band’s capabilities, too easily dismissed as lightweight and shallow. Then there was an album that made about as much impression as a hooker in an old people’s home.
‘You learn by your mistakes.’ Chris Difford, lyricist, singer and guitarist, grips his pint like Steve Austin and raises it above the sticky beer mat. ‘After the hit we decided, erroneously in retrospect, to try and break America.’
When Squeeze returned from their Stateside sojourn they found themselves back at cartoon strip square one. ‘The press seemed to resent the fact that we’d stayed in America for so long. But I guess the press have never really been on our side. They don’t regard us as being hip enough, a Human League or Gang of Four. That’s fine by me because we see ourselves in the same bracket as the Faces or the Stones. Just good time rock ’n’ roll. When we played Hammersmith with the Feelgoods we got an encore. That meant more to me than anything we’ve done so far. It was more important than a hundred rave reviews in the papers.
‘Christ, we’re doing seven nights at Hammersmith with the Tubes. If we get an encore every night I think I’ll retire.’
And so to the ‘cheeky, schoolboy humour’ (an Anne Nightingale Old Grey Whistle Test special) of ‘Cool For Cats’, which, by the way, was doctored by Top of the Pops.
‘A few minutes before we were due to appear they told us to substitute "blinkin’" for "bleedin."’ I was absolutely petrified because I really didn’t want to do it. But really the joke’s on them ’cos they haven’t sussed yet there are far worse lines in the song – like "Give the dog a bone", for example.’
Chris reckons he got the inspiration for the song while in a boozer, surprise, surprise. ‘In the course of an hour if you’re on your own having a drink your mind will wander over at least five or six different subjects. That’s all "Cats" is, five unrelated images linked by the same phrase.
‘We just get fed up with the acceptable structures for songs. Squeeze are influenced to some extent by Kraftwerk and there is a happy medium between the average rock sound and "Showroom Dummies".’
It’s arguable that they occasionally went overboard with the dummies on the first album, but Cool For Cats is more yer strictly roots beer foam Bensons 33.
‘It’s a London album. The next one will be European. After all, life is just a railway track – once you’ve been to Scotland you’ve got to come back.’
He never said a truer word, although I’d have gone for Newcastle.
The album is not exactly complimentary to the fairer sex. Chris’s songs are littered with earthy references, so women become ‘it’ or ‘dog’. ‘We call ’em trouts round here. My songs are simply observations and you find men often refer to women in such terms.’
One thing young Chris thinks about is his ever-increasing folio of songs – around two thousand at the last count. ‘I’ve sent some to lan Dury because I think he’s the best social writer around. I’d love to team up with him because I’m sure we could become the Gilbert and Sullivan of rock and write a new Threepenny Opera.’
Squeeze have got a new drive, a new bassist, a new series of cartoons, a new confidence. They’ve also got a first-class return ticket to Scotland. What more can you ask?
The Daily Record version of that meeting that I did leaves the Squeeze PR Versa Manos livid. ‘Chris is furious because his words were misconstrued and it shouldn’t have appeared like that.’ I do appear to be rubbing interviewees up the wrong way these days. One in particular hits very hard, causing a landslide that blocks the way to the biggest money-spinning opportunity of my life.
And all thanks to that Debbie Harry interview nine months ago…
(Difford and Tilbrook kept the Squeeze box going until 1999 when they both started to pursue solo careers. In 2007 the pair re-formed Squeeze − minus Jools Holland and drummer Gilson Lavis – and toured the US. Live At The Fillmore was issued on iTunes and as a limited-edition white vinyl double-LP in April, 2012. Last year, Glenn Tilbrook confirmed that Squeeze would be recording between January and March 2014. The songs would feature on an ITV 6 part series based on the autobiography of Going To Sea In A Sieve by Danny Baker. Two songs per week would be featured in each episode).
Next: Blondie bombshell
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
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