SQUEEZE CONCEIVE PACKET OF THREE
I first saw Squeeze supporting The Pirates at the Nashville a few weeks ago. That was enough to get me down to their own gig at the Brecknock the following week for a closer look/listen.
The place was half empty and they could have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon if Glenn Tilbrook, the lead singer, hadn’t decided to pull some more stops out.
“Okay,” he says to the audience of listless Truman’s drinkers, “Let’s pretend this is a fantastic gig – you know – applause and all that stuff…” (I paraphrase).
Immediately the place is jumping and freaking about. The band is laughing, the kids are laughing… the kids are laughing at themselves laughing. The moment is quite historic as far as Wednesday hights at “The Brecknock” go.
The band up there didn’t just play their music – one minute’s respectful silence, please, for all those bands who unpretentiously get up on the stage night after night and “just play their music” – but they actually spoke to their audience! In fact, you could almost say they rapped with them!!!
Squeeze go into their closers – tight, thundering power-chord stuff with names like “Blackjack”, “Night Ride”, “Cat On A Wall” – somewhat reminiscent I think later (in sound at least) of The Who’s mighty first album.
That is to say, of The Who with Nicky Hopkins on piano, because Squeeze have got a first-rate rockaboogie pianist in the shape of Jools Holland whose roots are firmly planted in early R&B. (I mean Joe Turner and Louis Jordan, not The Merseybeats).
After the kids have gone burping home, the band are hanging round the stage area and I go and say hallo. They’ve been playing together for two or three years. They’ve been looking like punks for the last year.
Management deciasion or genuine finger-on-the-pulse?
“We’ve been playing this stuff for at least the last two years,” says Chris Difford, the rhythm guitarist and lyric-writer. He’s been into Lou Reed a long time. He has doffed his shades and the impassive psychotic gaze of “on-stage” is replaced by a friendly, intelligent human countenance… Good.
He tells me they’re doing Dingwalls soon and supporting Cherry Vanilla at the Nashville and Wayne County somewhere else. He fumbles in an inside pocket for something to write a phone number on, a nude playing card drops to the floor. See ya, then!
I catch them at the Dingwalls gig where they turn in an exciting set to a lot of warm support from the crowd there. Weeks later they’re at the Red Cow, Hammersmith and they seem to have drawn an unusually large crowd for midweek.
There is precious little rapport with the audience here tonight however. And Glenn isn’t bothering to do his thing this time.
That’s a pity because the punters look as if the music is getting them but for some reason they’re holding back.
Perhaps it’s the cool detached look of the band. I mean, how can you get off on the music if the musicians themselves aren’t obviously getting off on it?
Or to take the matter a bit deeper – if they were punks we’d be sure to know it and we could scream and pogo without a qualm.
But punks they ain’t and there’s not a safety pin in sight.
On the other hand they’re sporting a lot of black gear and shades and stuff.
“No, we’re not punks – we’re New Wave” says Chris.
What’s the difference?
“We’re not into violence.”
So how come the West Side Story-style choreographed aggravation at the end of each gig?
“They’re New Wave because they do all their own material,” offers their manager’s girlfriend.
Even Gilson Lavis, their normally ebullient drummer, looks fed up tonight.
“Did you see that review of us in Sounds?” he grimaces.
No, I didn’t.
“They said Chris and Glenn had no stage personality.”
The following week I’m invited down to the little 8-track Pathway studio in Canonbury N.5 where they’re recording five numbers with a view to releasing their own E.P.
They’re up to the back teeth with various established record companies blowing hot and cold over them. The debts are mounting up and manager Miles Copeland is paying all the bills.
Is he rich? I inquire ingenuously.
There’s a Welshman pushing all the buttons in the minute control booth. I don’t recognise him immediately without his hood on. John Cale.
He clearly doesn’t like all these people hanging round who have nothing to do with the hard work that’s going on.
It’s all right, John, I’m only freelancing…
They’ve done all the basics and are involved with backing vocals and overdubs.
Another week later and I’m back there to hear the final mixes.
John Cale is slumped out on the staircase just outside the studio door, apparently shunning the crown inside. Really a rather shy geezer and not a bloodstain on him.
He’s done a good job on the tapes after many hours of painstaking re-runs. And he’s modestly managed to keep the tapes faithful to the real sound of Squeeze, despite the obvious temptations of studio wizardry.
Jools Holland and Gilson are some other place catching up on some serious drinking. Gilson no doubt to drown his sorrows – two broken ribs sustained in a Nottinghamshire pub brawl a fortnight ago.
Chris is wondering how long it’ll be before he can go and see his Mum now that he’s had his hair done brown and turquoise (courtesy of roadie John Lee who used to be a hairdresser – clearly a man of many parts).
Glenn is reminiscing about the Nils Lofgren concert the other night – the biggest thing in his life right now since Hendrix. Harry Kakoulli the bass is talking about reggae and Bootsy Collins…
I phone John Cale a couple of days after to sound him out about the band.
“Really tight… versatile… lotta fun… enjoyed the slow one too (‘First Thing Wrong’) and ‘Cat On A Wall’ (one of their more melodic numbers) because it gave the pianist more room. They’ve got a little Nicky Hopkins there…”
So if you hear a sound on your radio soon like Led Zeppelin playing Velvet Underground with an orchestral-sounding piano like, say, Rachmaninov – then you might be hearing Squeeze’s maiden E.P.
It’s tentatively entitled “Packet Of Three”