Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook on solo gigs, reunions and getting better with age
- Credit: Rob O'Connor
One of Britain's best songwriters, music courses through Glenn Tilbrook veins, but he confesses it took a long time to feel part of the industry.
Glenn Tilbrook remembers his first gig very well. Aged 12, he entered a talent show at Butlin's, winning a spot in the final and a week's holiday for him and his mum.
'At which point I lost, but it was a great experience,' he laughs.
'I absolutely loved playing to people. I always wanted to do it. When I was a kid I used to knock on my neighbour's door and sing them songs. I don't know if it's attention-seeking... It's just an innate thing with me... I didn't have to seek out music; it came to me and I love it still.'
He admits it took him the longest time to understand why others didn't perhaps feel the same deep connection to music he did. It led to problems.
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'I just thought everyone would be like that because that's how I was. When I was first in Squeeze I assumed we were all the same, that we all understood music, and that led to a lot of me being quite brutal with people because I just assumed we all had the same knowledge and we didn't.'
Formed in 1973, Squeeze made their recording bow with the Packet Of Three EP in 1977 and enjoyed a string of hits like Cool For Cats, Up The Junction and Tempted until 1982. After break-ups, changing line-ups and solo diversions the Ivor Novello Award-winning song-writing duo of Chris Difford and Tilbrook – first brought together by an ad in a sweetshop window – reunited nine years ago to relaunch Squeeze and have been touring, writing and recording together since.
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Last year saw them release their first album of new material in 18 years. Cradle To The Grave – written for the BBC drama Cradle To Grave, inspired by the memoirs of friend Danny Baker – it was met with rave reviews and entered the charts at number 12. The band embarked on a sold-out UK tour, including a
stop at a packed-out Royal Albert Hall.
Their appearance alongside former Prime Minister David Cameron on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show earlier this year made headlines around the world and went viral.
On the spur of the moment Tilbrook decided to protest about government policy and deliberately changed the final couplet of the band's song Cradle To The Grave.
'We're in a great place; one of the best we've ever been. I think it's the best it's ever been now for me; the excitement and the vibe on stage. We're all getting on,' says Tilbrook, who often tours with long-time collaborator Difford as well as solo.
'The thing that tells me we're doing something right is you can't fake audience reactions. The tour we just had in America with Squeeze, the audiences are how I remember when we were first coming up; the level of excitement and going absolutely mad. I'm really proud of it.'
He admits the reason the band get on better now than perhaps in the past may be a maturity thing.
'I think there's some of that. Certainly with me and Chris, I think we know each other and understand each other better than we ever did in the past; and we're very different people, but we recognise that. We're not going to go on holiday or spend Christmas together, but we do love each other and we get on well. When we work it really works.'
Tilbrook never knew if he was going to be a successful musician or not. He's had periods of both.
'It took a long time to stop feeling insecure about being in the music business. After being relatively successful at a young age, your expectations get a bit skewed... What I did know from the late 1980s was that I was in it for life. If I ended up playing in pubs, then that's what I ended up doing and I'd be happy with that.
'Obviously you want people to hear what you're doing; that desire never goes away. I've just played the main stage at Glastonbury for the first time in my life and that's an amazing feeling. We played there with Squeeze in the past but not the main stage. It's right up there with the first time we played Madison Square Garden or our first gig: one of those career-defining moments. We were lucky; we had the weather with us. You don't know who's going to turn up at something like that. I've seen it empty, but loads of people came to see us. It was amazing.'
Now 59, he's very glad for everything that's come his way – even the bad things.
'I don't regret anything. I know this is going to sound a bit like a cliché but maybe it's a cliché because it's true. I've learned such a lot from the times things weren't going well; I learned a lot about myself and how determined I am; how if things go wrong I won't let that stop me. It's good to recognise that. Unbroken success? You may not see that.
'I've been inside and outside of the music business. I was operating on my own for the best part of 20 years and some of those years, although harder, were some of the most enjoyable times I had; just the fact I was completely self-sufficient and the knowledge I don't need anyone else in order to make a living, to prosper and be happy in my work is a real strength to have behind me.' He's seen others
fall out of love with playing live. Being away from home is hard. He can't wait to get on stage every evening.
'We [Squeeze] have had an amazing couple of years: a real big resurgence. We're selling more tickets now than we've ever done. We had a chart album which was really well received, which is amazing, but I've had a solo career consisting of five albums I'm really proud of.
'It seems Squeeze is taking up most of my time so I wanted to take a step backwards and reflect on my solo stuff as well as the Squeeze stuff, because it really informs where Squeeze are at the moment, all the stuff I've learned over the years.'
While it's nice to take a break and do what he wants to do, he's quick to point out it's not an indulgent show. Anyone who has seen troubadour Tilbrook live knows what they're in for. Grin-inducing tales, songs from his and Squeeze's back catalogue, plus impromptu audience requests ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Tony Orlando and Dawn.
'I don't work with a set list and will take requests and stuff. What I do have with me on stage as a memory aid is an iPad with lots more obscure songs I can flick through if I get requests. I don't have all of them but I'm adding to them all the time. I'm proud of the show.'
Tilbrook's Best of Times tour visits Norwich and Bury St Edmunds this week with support from Steve Smith, lead singer of Grammy award-winning electronica act Dirty Vegas.
He and the rest of Squeeze, currently working on a new album, return to the region next year with their Join The Dots UK tour.
Difford says: 'I'm excited... As I put pencil to paper to write some ideas for the next album I have to say how confident I am about our band's future. At last something to look forward to in 2017.'
They're honoured to welcome old chums Nine Below Zero as support. 'Their new album of covers, 13 Shades Of Blue, is one of my favourite albums of this year,' adds Tilbrook.
• Glenn Tilbrook plays Norwich Arts Centre, on December 12, 8pm, £17.50 adv/£12 door, 01603 660352, www.norwichartscentre.co.uk /The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on December 13, 7.30pm, £20 adv/£22 door, 01284 758000, www.theapex.co.uk