South East Side Story – Review *****

Since Squeeze split in the middle of the tour to promote their 1998 CD Domino, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have been like a loveable but petulant old couple of warring neighbours engaged in a boundary dispute. Glenn Tilbrook has already blown on the charred embers of Squeeze and rekindled the greatness he had previously achieved, with tour after tour with The Fluffers, rampaging like a forest fire across small venues in the UK and USA. So now where does songwriting partner and lyricist Chris Difford stand? Whats the point of having two touring versions of Squeeze, one an octave lower than the other? Don’t we already have enough versions of the classic Squeeze songs already?

On the face of it, it sounds a great idea. Film a homecoming gig at South-East Londons Squeeze homeland, The Albany in Deptford, scene of many important Squeeze occasions – such as Jools Holland’s final gig with the band in 1980 and the musical Labelled With Love in 1983. But Chris Difford solo live? Chris Difford, the gruff, deep-voiced one. Could that be any good?

Well, I’ll tell you.

I’ve just spent the entire evening listening to the ten-track CD and, oddly enough, considering Im such a Squeeze fan, I learnt something new about the songs and that is, just how good they are and I mean exceptionally good. Stripped down to simple acoustic arrangements, the ten studio recordings allow the storytelling to shine brighter than it ever has before, like an old diamond re-cut and placed in a new setting. The leading track Up The Junction works least well, but is followed by Labelled With Love which has simply never sounded so country, with the brilliant Melvin Duffy on pedal steel lending a mournful, doleful and atmospheric tinge to the sombre story of a life ending in despair. Next, Slap & Tickle enlivens proceedings with a chunky rhythm guitar that drives it places where back seats have never been before and the performance peaks with Dorie Jackson’s sublime harmonies complementing Chris’ gruffness perfectly on Hourglass. However brilliant you think Squeeze were, they lacked one think vocal harmonies. Chris and Glenn naturally fell into a pattern of singing an octave apart and stuck to it as a signature of their vocal style. Dorie Jackson has an extremely distinctive voice that effortlessly brings a wealth of character to the whole of Hourglass. It burns brighter than it ever has before.

Then there’s Tempted, sung in an I was that man way by the man with the toothbrush to prove it. The eerie mystery of the journey in Take Me Im Yours is more vividly brought to life than ever before, becoming a strange dislocated fantasy. Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) enlivens the arrangement with a new melody while Black Coffee In Bed brings the strange feeling that for the very first time youre hearing the true voice of the man who sat at his desk writing at the end of a relationship gone sour and wrote about what he saw in front of him. The obligatory Cool For Cats ends proceedings on a high. Well? Its brilliant. Doubters? Never!

The packaging. This CD / DVD combination gets a luxury double digipak design by Stylorouge with screen-printed discs and a packaging background of notebooks, pulp fiction and beloved Penguin book covers, playing heavily on the literary theme. Inside, a foldout booklet features photos from Chris’ live shows and the musicians involved. It’s brilliantly put together and feels like a big budget, classy piece of work.

The DVD includes 16 tracks including two from his solo LP I Didnt Get Where I Am, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Lamas Fayre. The filming is unobtrusive and the performance engaging.

The answer is yes, not just yes, but YES. What was the question? Should I buy it?

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