Putting On The (UK) Squeeze
Trouser Press, October 1978. by Jim Green
"Hey, you guys are great! Now which one of you is Bill Bruford?" That's the kind of reception UK Squeeze got on their American tour. Nobody'd heard of them before in, say, Texas, except some wit who'd got them pegged - as UK, the Bill Bruford, John Wetton, Eddie Jobson, Alan Holdsworth band. In Limeyland they're just Squeeze, plain n' simple, but there's this bar band from Connecticut or somewhere that's got the name registered in five states here and threatened to sue in all of 'em if they didn't change the name. Thus, they added "UK".
But the reaction to their music is much the same on both sides of the Atlantic- people get up and jump around, holler a lot and generally have a grand 'ol time. In England, their single, "Take Me I'm Yours", was quite a smash, and they found themselves playing large venues like the Lyceum. Arriving Stateside as a relatively unknown quantity, they were able to obtain bookings in the South and West in small halls and large clubs, were pleased to find themselves generating quite a bit of excitement, and amazed at some of the forms it took.
Singer and rhythm guitarist Chris Difford: "Jacksonville was an amazing gig-" "Yeah, just crazy," piped in drummer Gilson Lavis. "People were jumping out of windows, dancing on tables, on the bar..."
"D'you remember in Texas, San Antonio or something, people were shaking our hands?" recalled keyboardist Jools Holland.
You might say that UK Squeeze are a dance band with a difference. Not everything they play live is, strictly speaking, boogie for body-wiggling; for instance "Strong In Reason", about the decadence of body-builders showing over-developed muscles for money, ain't primo booty-shaking material, though it is (ahem) a strong number. But the majority of their set is tough, fast-paced rock n' roll that causes heads to start bobbing and feet twitching (rock therapy for sedentary souls).
Not too threatening is it? Even if it is jungle music that insidiously subverts bodies. But some promoters were initially put off because the band had been labelled new wave. "We've got a lot of the energy that the punk bands have," said Jools, "and we were doing a lot of the same gigs."
"We were playing the Roxy when the Pistols and the Clash were playing there, so we were regarded in somewhat the same way," explained Chris. "As it was, some of those bands we got along with, but a lot were pretty snotty characters, center-of-attention types."
Said Gilson, "John Cale also- when he produced us"- their Packet Of Three EP on Deptford Fun City and their first album on A&M- "the associations he has with the new wave kind of rubbed off on us." They got together with Cale through their manager, Miles Copeland, who also co-owns and administers various small labels under the Faulty Productions umbrella; Illegal, which put out Cale's Animal Justice EP is one, and Spy, Cale's own label, is another. Copeland went from managing and promoting straight-er, big name acts like Renaissance, to working with new wave artists out of disgust at the sterility of the music scene. "His accountant saw us at the Marquee and that was the beginning of our relationship," said Jools.
It hadn't been easy for them up to then. "There was a certain unsavory element," said Jools. "Teenage thugs and disappointed footballers would say, 'Let's go down to the Marquee and beat up some punks,'" remembered Gilson.
Chris' memories were equally lurid. "Sometimes they'd throw glasses of piss at the band on stage, and once this geezer had a shot-gun and wanted to blow me leg off 'caused I'd yelled at 'im."
Chris, Jools, Glenn Tilbrook (vocals and lead guitar) and Harry Kakoulli (bass) had been playing together "since school days." About two years back they were gigging at a pub, and their drummer went off to the "lav" to relieve himself, only to land in a fight. Gilson, who just happened to be there, not only helped carry the poor fellow out to be carted off to the hospital, but accepted an offer to fill in for him for the remainder of the evening, after which he was "in". Gilson had been doing back-up jobs for the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, and was ready to join a "real" band but wasn't bold enough. "Cost me a lot of money to set up that fight," he quipped slyly.
There were some fruitless sessions for RCA before Copeland lined them up with Cale and A&M, but working with Cale was an educational experience. Packet Of Three was just three dance numbers, part of the stage act; the album was another story. "He'd change the whole emphasis of a song," said Jools of Cale. Gilson was quick to explain that "he didn't put anything in, but would latch onto something we'd overlook, and build it up.' They've got Richard Gottehrer in mind to complete their next album, some of which is already in the can. Squeeze themself display recording savvy of their own on the two tracks they self-produced; both are mainstays of their performances, and one, "Take Me," became a hit in Britain.
A hilarious staple of Squeeze's live set is rather explicit in its significance. It's called "Deep Cuts," and is about, well, naughty phone calls. They recorded a version of the song during the LP sessions but it was "a bit too smutty for A&M- though they'll let us put it out on Deptford Fun City" (one of Copeland's small labels).
Chris, who leads the heavy-breathing brigade onstage in contemplation of spreading peanut butter over choice parts of the female anatomy, said, "We've got a lot of versions of it, and might put out a live one since it's evolved onstage. And we did record loads of dirty phone calls - for the B-side; we swapped lists of friends and called each others' up. We've got some great ones."
"Lots of hanging up and 'I'll call the police,' but a lot of 'em thought they knew who was calling. 'Is this Michael?' 'Robert, is that you?'" said Jools.
One thing's certain: next time they come over, many more will know who UK Squeeze is.