Searching for Squeeze’s roots, Garry Bushell ends up in a pub as usual- but not in dreary Deptford as planned”
by Garry Bushell
“She used to do a topless/Down at the Surrey Docks/With tassels on her wotsits/She did a t’riffic job/Of raising all the eye-brows/Of every lunch time mob” – SQUEEZE, “It’s Not Cricket”
“Jesus always loved us/Scattered us in stardust/I have waited a whole lifetime for you/Singing Hare Krishna” – SKYCO
“Allo, wanna drink?” Chris Difford, Squeeze’s ace word-wriggler, sits on the high bar stall by the antique phone in the Rose And Crown (aka Lousy Brown) at the bottom of Crooms Hill, Greenwich, two minutes away from his attic flat and a one note hackney carriage ride from the towering concrete jumble I call home and the council so lovingly christened The Ferrier.
“Cheers. Pinta lager.”
We shake hands and I introduce him to my wife who’s come along as a fan.
“You must by mad,” he grins and before long is picking our brians about the cost and convenience of church couplings.
24-year-old Chris, it transpires, is tying the noose, sorry, knot, himself soon to an American lady and is planning two weddings this Spetember (unbridled masochism), one in the States and one in Greenwich, hopefully with a reception in the Albany. “With a couple of decent bands, a free drink every ‘alf hour, a stripper… You oughta come.”
I tell him I was coming over to the States to see Squeeze t’other day, but blew it out for Sham’s farewell fling (and I called him a masochist!). We marvel at my stupidity and sit in a corner under some handsome-looking muskets with water turtles swimming round behind us in a flash fish tank and Max Wall’s luvly mug looking over us (well, we are next door to Greenwich Theatre, dear).
“Anyway I thought Squeeze’d make more sense in your local,” I say, noting that the place ain’t exactly the Gor Blimey and pass the whelks emporium I’d imagined.
“Yeah well,” Chris grins, “I wrote ‘Cool For Cats’ in here,” he says patting the notebook he carries round with him.
“Yeah? You’re looking ‘slightly rough’ now as it happens.”
Chris is tired and flops back with his budding beer belly bulging nicely. “Yeah, I just flew back from the States yester-day morning. I’d been away from the flat virtually three-and-a-half months and I got back to find fleas everywhere. ‘Ad to ‘ave it disinfected. So I’ve bin decorating all day,” he laughs, “I should have sued.”
Over here for a while now are you?
“Yeah. They wanted us to go straight back and do the States again but we told ’em to stick it up their arse. The band feel strongly that we haven’t really covered England enough as a head-line band and there’s a lot of places, including Scotland, where we really wanna spend some time. So we got a 50 plus British tour starting on October 8.”
And they won’t be playing Hammersmith Odeon – no non-dancing venues, thank God.
Slattery bundles in noisily so I get a round in before Squeeze tunesmith Glenn Tilbrook arrives with his entourage who sit to one side gathering other friends. Without wishing to be rude you can’t help noticing they ain’t exactly Lorraine Chase/ Jim Davidson sounda-likes, if you follow my drift.
Perhaps this was one of the Squeeze ironies that needed to be brought up later… But first things first, and now I’d got the both of ’em – howsabout those hippy-length barnets and ultra-silly Skyco lyrics (quoted start of article) as recently exposed in a rival music paper famous for its threatened circulation and the amazing number of pseuds and self-seekers in its employ.
“Oh dear. That.” Chris grins. “I saw that in Canada on the Saturday and me first thought was to ring and say ‘How much to keep it out’ then I thought sod it, it don’t matter.”
Was you really into Hare Krishna?
“I was heavily into religion at the time,” Glenn confesses with a twinkle in his eye. “I shaved me head straight after that photo was taken.”
They claim that Skyco (aka Captain Trundlow’s Sky Company) was a basic rock and roll band, though I must admit I find it difficult to envisage those particular lyrics on top of a 12 bar workout.
Still, Skyco wasn’t their first incarnation. Chris and Glenn’s original band was called Cum, “But we had to change it,” Chris admits, “‘cos we never thought we’d get on Top Of The Pops with a name like that.”
They got together after 15-year-old school-leaver Glenn spotted an ad Chris had put in a shop window in Blackheath Village (the up-market end of the SE axis where Glenn now has a flat). It said “Lead guitarist wanted for a band. Recording soon”. A blatant lie as there was no band and no contract, but they did decide to work together.
After the Cum and Skyco periods, the name Squeeze was adopted some five years ago, though they didn’t really start getting gigs till the end of ’75. In ’76 they started playing the Bricklayers Arms in Greenwich, ending up playing a three-nights-a-week residency there.
Punk opened the London club doors and with a ‘New Wave’ tag the band released their first single Packet Of Three on the Deptford Fun City label.
I must admit I never saw them in this period, spending most of my time with chaps in the easterly end of the city and believing Squeeze to be just another ordinary rock band. An impress-ion confirmed from a casual hearing of the first album imaginatively called Squeeze on A&M. I certainly thought of “Take Me I’m Yours”, the March ’78 Dirty Thirty ditty, as very much a flash in the pan.
But just over a year later the band had another hit single, the fabulous Filthy Five smash, “Cool For Cats”: a joyous bouncy beauty with a nice line in Duryesque lyrics. The album by the same name which the single inspired me to blag featured more tales from the Smoke in the shape of the saucy “It’s Not Cricket”, the spot-on next single smash “Up The Junction” and the less than complimentary if sadly accurate “It’s So Dirty”.
Glenn had matured as an ace pop composer while Chris was dipping into his own background and environs for some London life luvlies. I was impressed.
And though one might reasonably question the cockney quotient of say Hudson-Ford and other post-Dury dropped-hatch money-spinners, Chris passes the old street-cred, local-lad-maked-good doodah with flying colours.
Born and raised in Greenwich, he attended West Greenwich Comprehensive (or was it a secondary modern then?), and worked in scrap metal yards, the building trade, lorry-driving…
We were soon swapping mutual landmarks: Chris had been at Hiltons where my father-in-law had worked, Glenn was at Eltham Green the same time as my brother-in-law (“Did he hit people? His fist has probably known my face”). Y’know, that sort of thing.
But the inherent ironies of documenting your background when you yourself are heading for an entirely new reality, in Chris’ case superstar status, doesn’t arise in Squeeze’s case simply becayse Chris intends to move on to new lyrical pastures now.
“I wrote those lyrics last summer when we started hanging around with some heavy characters. I’d worked down at Hiltons before so I knew what it was all about, but at the time it wouldn’t have inspired me to write about it. Anyway, we got mixed up in that again last year – people who run late pubs, y’know. But it’s all written about now, it’s just one theme to write about, I doubt if I’d write about it anymore.”
I tell him that they were the songs that attracted me to Squeeze in the first place.
“Yeah, right. They could ‘ave all been based round the Ferrier Estate, whereas the next single (a remixed version of “Slap And Tickle” due out August 24) could be about anywhere.” Chris looks at me questioningly. “So will you be disappointed if that sort of theme isn’t on the next album?”
I dunno. Not necessarily, but as I say that’s what att-racted me to you in the first place.
“See that’s what I was saying earlier about Ian Dury – you can only say so much about one aspect of life, then it starts to get a bit of a bore.”
Yeah, but Dury’s succeeded so far.
“It’s not his lyrics that are getting like that, but the music definitely is. I saw him last night at ‘Ammersmith… that show. Christ, I nearly fell asleep, it’s almost all disco. Shame, ‘cos they’re a great band, that bassist kills me. Mind you if they’re splitting up with Chas Jankel maybe things’ll be great for them again.”
Have you never felt moved to write about the more political side of the area, like all the jobs that have drained out the borough? 30,000 plus since the war I think. Or the middle class trendies taking over Greenwich?
“Not really. I think Jimmy Pursey does that quite well in his own little way… I mean, I was out of work, signing on the dole for about nine months, so I know what all that’s about. But it’s been sung about so much in the last couple of years it’s not an interesting subject any more to sing about. Perhaps I’d do one about a guy who goes to the social security and has a fight…”
Squeeze go into the studio to work on their new album next week, hoping to finish with adequate time for rehearsal before the October mega-tour (the first dates are tentative, however – just in case) and although they’ve got over 50 new songs written Chris adamantly refuses to give any clues as to what the new themes are.
“There’s loads of different songs but we don’t know what’s gonna be on the album till we’ve finished our quota of time in the studio. I could tell you about X amount of songs on X amounts of subjects but probably none of them’d end up on the record.”
On the musical side Glenn Tilbrook is more forthcoming, however.
“Our music’s changing all the time. We started off quite light-weight and poppy, then when Gil joined the band the whole sound got louder – it got really heavy in ’77. Cool For Cats lightened it up again and I think we’re due to turn heavy now. It’s light and shade all the time.”
“Don’t worry,” Chris smiles, “We’re talking about a prog-ression from what we’re doing now. Not changing into Van Der Graaf Generator or Soft Machine.”
But the band are changing, becoming stars. Working at becoming stars. The hinted-at work with Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, and Chris writing lyrics for ex-bassist Disco Harry Kakoulli are really side-interests for the band’s main itinerary: the new single, the new album, the new tour, America again in February. What are the band’s ambitions, Chris, the hopes, the plans?
“We definitely wanna do a film, or do some television shows.”
What, like the Beatles and the Monkees?
“Yeah. A bit more advanced than that but on the same lines. And we wanna get a number one album and single.”
D’you wanna be huge in the States?
“Yeah, we wanna do it.”
“But we’re not interested in being there all the time, though,” Glenn interjects.
“Nah,” Chris affirms