It all started with an advert in a Blackheath sweet shop in 1973. Now – 45 years and 14 albums later – Squeeze return to their roots with a headline performance at ONBlackheath festival
Lead image by Rob O’Connor
The story goes that back in 1973, Chris Difford placed an ad in a Blackheath sweet shop window looking for a guitarist for his band. He only had one response from a young man called Glenn Tilbrook – and the rest, if you’ll forgive the cliché, is history.
Forming Squeeze right here in south east London, the pair have gone on to see the band through 14 albums, countless members and iconic hits that defined a period including Cool For Cats and Up The Junction. It’s also why when I catch up with each of them, they’re emphatic about how much it means to be back at ONBlackheath, this year headlining the Saturday line-up.
‘It’s like a full stop to a long career that started in Blackheath,’ Tilbrook explains. ‘Difford and I met, as is well known, through an advert in a now defunct sweet shop in Blackheath Village, and we wrote our first songs in Lindsey House on the edge of Blackheath and we rehearsed in Blackheath, so you know that was a long time ago but it’s still tremendously poignant to be headlining that festival all these years later.’
‘Blackheath was a kind of place where we could hang out and drink beer and sort of lay around in the sun, and go back to each other’s houses and write songs,’ Difford agrees. ‘So I guess Blackheath was the tablecloth that kept us all together in those early days.’
In their early years, performing with Jools Holland, who Tilbrook knew from school, and Paul Gunn, the band performed in venues all around Greenwich and Deptford, where they grew up.
Their song writing partnership received great acclaim and they became a firm fixture on the new wave music scene – and were even dubbed by music journalists at the time as the new John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Their song writing partnership received great acclaim and they became a firm fixture on the new wave music scene, dubbed by music journalists at the time as the new John Lennon and Paul McCartney
‘I think it was a head spinner for both of us,’ Tilbrook admits. ‘It was complimentary, it was a reference point that many people latched on to and it’s a way of communicating how our partnership worked.
‘And literally, although there are many differences, the fact that we have worked together for so long means that we have seen immense changes in the way that we work and the fact that we can still work together I think is really great.’
It’s a partnership which has seen them through 47 years, and while they admit there have been ups and downs, with the band splitting up and rekindling a number of times, it’s been an incredibly successful one.
‘Like any marriage that’s been together for 47 years, it’s had its high points and low points, but generally speaking I think we’ve delivered some great records and fantastic different band members,’ Difford explains. ‘I think we’ve generated enough greatness for one lifetime.’
The pair admit that they do look back at those early days with a sense of nostalgia, defined by the music that represented the experience of growing up in working class south east London at that time, especially given the many changes that have happened in the area since.
The older you get, the more you look back on your youth, it just seems like it was a different world then. There were twice as many pubs, probably three times as many places to play
‘The older you get, the more you look back on your youth, it just seems like it was a different world then,’ Tilbrook explains. ‘There were twice as many pubs, probably three times as many places to play.’
And for Difford now living in the Sussex Downs, he feels the south east London of his youth has become something of a ‘beautiful memory’: ‘My memory of everything in those days is heightened by the songs that represent the period of my life,’ he adds. ‘I’m very lucky to be able to look back and own those days with a great amount of love.’
But if anything is clear, it’s that Greenwich, Deptford and Blackheath will always be important to the pair. Tilbrook still lives in Charlton with his family, where he’s also set up his own studio. ‘It’s great,’ he smiles. ‘I love being around here and I love the connection. A big through-line throughout my life has been this area and I feed from it for my writing.’
Living in different parts of the country means that the pair have also led separate lives away from the band as well. Difford has had a successful career as a songwriter penning lyrics for Elvis Costello, Elton John and most recently Paul Carrack, while Tilbrook has released his own albums, playing venues around the world.
Squeeze has always been something for the pair to come back to, but they are wary of becoming a mere tribute to their previous hits: ‘I think if Squeeze was just a regurgitation of what we’ve done in the past we’d be absolutely fine, we could coast on that, but the fact that we don’t is what singles us out from a lot of older bands now,’ Tilbrook says.
Part of this is releasing new music, like their latest album in October of last year, The Knowledge, and their great line-up at the moment, including Yolanda Charles, Stephen Large, Simon Hanson and Steve Smith.
So with that in mind, what can fans expect from the performance at ONBlackheath?
‘An hour and a half of mesmerising music,’ Tilbrook smiles.
ONBlackheath returns to Blackheath from 8-9 September 2018, with Paloma Faith, Billy Brag, The Divine Comedy and De La Soul also on the billing. For tickets, see onblackheath.com