Spotting The Difference With Squeeze

Squeeze co-founder Glenn Tilbrook reminds us why this is one band you do not want to miss.

Photo: Danny Clifford
From left to right: Stephen Large, Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Simon Hanson.

Whether you call the band “new wave,” “power pop,” or “blue-eyed soul,” since forming Squeeze in 1974, songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have done an incredible job matching melodies with lyrics. With songs like “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell),” “Cool For Cats,” and “Black Coffee In Bed,” Squeeze helped fashioned the sound of the early ‘80s, delivering Brit pop with a generous dollop of cool.

Sure, there have been changes. Original members Jools Holland (keyboards) and Paul Gunn (drums) are long gone. But the center of the Squeeze universe has always been Tilbrook’s music and vocals blended with Difford’s lyrics.

This summer Squeeze is touring with two other top-flight concert bands. The group appears with Cheap Trick July 9-19. Beginning July 21 and running through Aug. 3 the band will spend its evenings with The English Beat.

Squeeze isn’t touring empty-handed this summer. The band’s new CD is called Spot The Difference, a challenge giving you a hint as to what’s behind the title. On Spot The Difference, Squeeze dug into its catalog not to reissue original recordings, but to re-record the songs in an attempt to match the originals down to the note.

“In my heart of hearts I’d never dreamt of going back and doing that,” Tilbrook told Pollstar from his London studio where the band was rehearsing for its upcoming tour. “However, Universal, which controls the catalog, does not want to play ball with us at all about giving us any rights to re-release or deal with our own back catalog in any way, shape or form.

“It’s very sad for us because we’re proud of what we’ve done. It’s their business, they have their own agenda. They won’t release it themselves, but they won’t let us do it either.”

Saying the only thing the band could do to regain control of its catalog was to re-record the songs, Tilbrook said it wasn’t all that easy to recreate the magic, even though they’ve been playing the songs live for more than a quarter century. But then, Squeeze was never a band for reproducing live a song note-for note exactly as it was recorded decades earlier.

Over the years the concert side of Squeeze has played with those songs, sticking close to the original arrangements and sounds, but giving audiences that something extra that can only be found on the concert stage.

“This record has been really hard to make,” Tilbrook said. “It’s not like when you approach something as a new project and you have ideas. You’re examining what you’ve done and recreating [it] and that’s a different head to being creative.”

For Tilbrook and Difford, recording Spot The Difference also meant combining their more than 30 years of experience with where they were when they made the original recordings.

“The way we approach something like this is we all work with the original track,” Tilbrook said. “It’s not like we’re going into the studio and play together.

“How did we do this? We’ll get the drums, we’ll get the bass, we’ll do the guitar. What did we use? What guitars? What amps? I’m lucky. I’ve got all my old gear. The mood on “Slap and Tickle” is the same mood that’s on the new ‘Slap and Tickle.’

Photo: Grace Difford/
“For the first five years you’re taken on this ‘roller coaster.’

But not everything during the Spot The Difference sessions turned out identical to the band’s first time with these songs. Tilbrook said there were also a few opportunities where they “could do better than that.”

“‘Black Coffee In Bed,’ I think, is a better version on Spot The Difference than the original,” Tilbrook said. “It’s not changed in the arrangement. The instrumentation, everything is the same. I can just sing it better.

“When people have a record they find it pretty hard to think of it being any different. But [with] ‘Black Coffee In Bed,’ we’ve managed to get the sound of the original plus the vocals are better. It’s a better record. It’s a more even record.

“There are a few tracks like that where I think we’ve done better. What we’ve done is we recreated the original sound but in some ways better than it was. But there were other tracks – ‘Is That Love,’ ‘Another Nail,’ ‘Pulling Mussels…’ that sound identical. What was an extremely difficult record actually becomes, at the end of it, a joy. I’m really proud of it.”

But recreating Squeeze’s hits also meant reaching outside of the current lineup in order to bring one person back to the fold – Paul Carrack, who sang on only one of the band’s albums, East Side Story, which contained one of the band’s biggest hits – “Tempted.”

“Paul’s a great bloke,” Tilbrook said. “It was really nice to work with him. I’d work with him again.”

For Tilbrook, the passage of time was also an element in the Spot The Difference sessions. In the early ‘80s Squeeze released an album a year, which means the band was working on new material even as their latest recordings were on the charts. Re-recording the songs meant bringing all those second-sight moments into the studio, those times when Tilbrook and / or Difford listened to the old hits thinking, “If we were to do it today…”

“An album a year, in those days, was normal,” Tilbrook said. “And that comes from the 1960s when you released three albums a year. Your career trajectory might be three or four years and you’d have 12-13 albums in that time. An insane schedule. At that time, an album a year was sort of a luxury.

“For the first five years you’re taken on this ‘roller coaster.’ You’re young, you’ve got tons of energy, you’re offered stuff, you say yes, and that’s great. We had five years of doing that and at the end of five years we were totally burned out, I think. We were not a happy group. It was the only time in my life that I stopped enjoying music.”

Needless to say, the period Tilbrook stopped loving music was short-lived. What’s more, the artist is keeping up with technology, listening to Internet radio and music discovery services.

“I’m mostly listening to Dublab,” Tilbrook said. “It’s like someone tapping you on the shoulder, saying, ‘Have you heard this?’

“And in most of the cases, it’s no. They have smart people working for them. Pandora does a great job. Spotify, which you don’t yet have in the States, is equally amazing. When we’re on the road we play Spotify DJ, where one selection leads to another. They have an amazing catalog.”

These days Tilbrook has plenty to keep him busy as the artist nurtures his solo career as well as working with songwriting partner Difford on keeping the Squeeze legacy alive. Times may have changed, but he continues to move forward, looking ahead while not forgetting his past.

“I think it’s about the balance of enjoying a career. With Squeeze it’s lovely we’re back playing large venues. It’s great and I love it. My solo career, I’m playing much smaller venues, but I get as much out of that as I do playing bigger shows. I learned in 1989 that for me, being a musician isn’t only about the set or status. It’s enjoying what you do.”

Squeeze appears with Cheap Trick beginning tonight in Columbus, Ohio, at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion, plays the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Ill., July 10 and Cleveland’s House Of Blues July 11. Other stops with Cheap Trick include New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Gilford, N.H., and New Brunswick, N.J.

Squeeze hooks up with The English Beat beginning July 21 in Milwaukee at the Pabst Theater, and plays Apple Valley, Wis., Denver, Las Vegas and California towns Saratoga, Napa and San Francisco before wrapping this portion of the tour in Seattle at Showbox At The Market Aug. 3. The band also plays the Festival of Friends in Hamilton Ont., Aug. 8.

Spot The Difference is scheduled to be released Aug. 3.

For more information about Squeeze, click here for the band’s website.