It was Rolling Stone that first dubbed Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook — songwriting axis of U.K. pop-rockers Squeeze — the Lennon and McCartney of their generation. A quarter of a century later, with Squeeze now in the past, the two men whose names were once creatively synonymous are each busy carving out solo careers. Difford’s album I Didn’t Get Where I Am was released on DRT in February, while Tilbrook’s Transatlantic Ping Pong came out June 8th on Compass Records.
Interestingly, both men are collaborating with other writers in the absence of their former partners. “Collaboration is something that I really enjoy,” says Difford, who has co-composed with a variety of people including his album’s producer Francis Dunnery. “I used to — many, many years ago — write on my own, but I found it a very lonely kind of place to be.” Tilbrook’s album features co-writes with several others, as well as some solo compositions. He had to learn how to write lyrics, something he didn’t do in Squeeze. “It was something I found very difficult at first,” admits Tilbrook. “I stopped writing lyrics when I was fourteen when I met Chris. He was a much better lyricist. I didn’t start writing again until I was forty. It was a bit of a shock to the system. I wrote loads of stuff I didn’t like, that I knew was rubbish, and I just had to get over that hump.” Difford, meanwhile, has had to learn how to sing in something more attractive than the croak with which he famously rendered Squeeze anthem “Cool for Cats”.
Squeeze folded after Difford decided that 1998’s Domino was one album too many. “We made the record because we had a studio to make a record in, but in our hearts I think we knew it wasn’t the right time,” Difford says. “Also, this was the first time we’d made a record without a record company, and I think that you’ve got to have the foundations to promote your record and to make it work, because if you don’t it’s just a wasted effort.” Tilbrook counters: “Squeeze made thirteen albums, the last of which came out on my label, and it’s the only one to have made any profit.”
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The Difford and Tilbrook/Lennon and McCartney comparisons are actually mentioned by Difford in his song “No Show Jones.” Its lyric sees him also referring to him and Tilbrook as the Captain and Tennille. Explains Difford, “The trouble is, we were Captain and Tennille. We had the ability to write absolute crap and perform like a couple of turkeys.” He adds, “We were also Lennon and McCartney, which is much more important. I won’t deny it, it was nice to be thought of in those terms, but I never used to think about it terribly much.” For his part, Tilbrook says the Beatles comparison was damaging: “I think our writing got a little bit precious round about that time, when we started getting those reviews. That was a quote that was much bandied about and I think that our writing became a little too self-conscious at the time. It took a couple of years to drift back down to earth.”
The pair’s friendship suffered when Difford left Squeeze. “I felt a little hurt by that exit but then we’ve had time to sort that out,” Tilbrook says. “I understand why Chris is the way he is just like he understands me, so I feel nothing but friendliness and warmth for him.” The two are now sufficiently friendly for Difford to have contributed lyrics to a song on Tilbrook’s album called “Where I Can Be Your Friend.” (Difford says that the song is about their relationship, although he didn’t tell Tilbrook this.) Says Difford, “I don’t speak to Glenn terribly much. I love him dearly and would like to work with him but I think that we’ve probably gone too far in different directions to come back together again now, which is quite sad.”
In the meantime, Difford is halfway through his next project, a thematic album set in the 1960s with backing from a jazz quartet. Tilbrook is touring America through June. Difford is also keen to do live work, and a Squeeze reunion may not be as remote a possibility as his previous remarks suggest. “I suppose where I’d like to be this time next year is onstage doing a gig somewhere with Squeeze, or if Squeeze aren’t around I’ll do it on my own,” he says. “If there was an offer to tour with Squeeze and Glenn felt that he could accept working with me again, then I think it’s probably a very, very possible thing for us to do. “