The founding member of the 1980s pop group Squeeze talks to Rosanna Greenstreet about playing Magic Summer Live this weekend
I’ll never forget March 9, 1980. I was sixteen and watching Squeeze, one of the hottest New Wave bands, live at Hammersmith Odeon. It was my first concert and I could never have imagined that, decades later, aged almost fifty, I would be interviewing Chris Difford, vocalist, guitarist, lyricist and founding member of the band, on the eve of their appearance at Magic Summer Live in Guildford.
Sadly, Chris, now 58, doesn’t remember a thing about the Odeon. I can recall the skin tight black and white dog tooth trousers that I was wearing, as I bopped to Up the Junction and Cool for Cats – but Chris can’t even remember being there! “My memory doesn’t go back that far,” he claims.
I suppose it has been four decades since Chris pinched 50p from his mum’s purse to pay for the advertisement that led to the birth of Squeeze. In Take Me I’m Yours, the Channel 4 programme documenting the group’s history, Chris explains, “I wanted to be in a band like The Who and The Small Faces and I couldn’t do that on my own, so I put an advert in a sweet shop window.”
The ad said: Guitarist wanted – must be into The Beatles, Kinks, Small Faces, Lou Reed, Hendrix, Glenn Miller – for band with record deal and touring.
Glenn Tilbrook saw it and, encouraged by his girlfriend Maxine, he called. He was the only applicant and, despite the fact that the record deal and tour were fictitious, the legendary pairing that has been compared to Lennon and McCartney began.
Glenn was a guitarist and vocalist too, but whereas Chris’s gift was for lyrics, Glenn’s talent was setting them to music.
Just as their skill sets complemented one another, so did the timbre of their voices. The distinctive Squeeze sound is down to the fact that Chris sings one octave below Glenn.
Squeeze’s hey-day began in 1978, the year the band first appeared on Top of the Pops. Chris says, “It was magnificent – the dry ice and dancers. I’ve fond memories of that show. It’s a shame it’s not on any more.”
Top of the Pops may be no longer, but there are festivals galore and this summer sees Squeeze playing several, including Magic Summer Live at Stoke Park.
Bryan Adams and Jamiroquai headline and Squeeze completes a line-up which includes James Morrison, Joss Stone, Soul II Soul, and The Overtones.
“We have played Guilfest twice and I’m looking forward to seeing Bryan Adams; there are some good acts, so it should be interesting,” says Chris, adding, “I live not far from Guildford; it’s an easy drive!”
Chris was raised in Greenwich and although he lived in New York with his first wife and their two children, Natalie and Riley, he has spent the last few decades in Sussex.
He lived in Rye with the mother of his two youngest daughters, Grace and Cissy. When they parted, he moved back to London briefly, but he is now settled in Sussex again, just outside Brighton, with his new wife Louise whom he married in April.
Just as there have been ups and downs in his romantic life, there have been highs and lows in his relationship with Glenn.
In 1980, the band were knocked sideways when Jools Holland announced that he was leaving.
Squeeze recruited another keyboard player and continued until 1982, when they split up.
Chris and Glen carried on making records as Difford and Tilbrook, despite the fact that they were barely speaking.
In 1985 Jools returned to the fold and Squeeze reformed, making the album Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. But, after Jools left again in 1990, things between Glenn and Chris reached crisis point.
On a trip to LA to write new material, Chris refused to live with Glenn, wanting to be alone to take drugs and drink.
Eventually, Chris faced up to his problems by writing The Truth, which he gave to Glen to set to music.
In the documentary, Chris says, “I had to reach out for help and the only way for me to do it in those days was to write it down in a lyric.”
After Chris had been in rehab, he and Glenn became productive again. Chris says, “It was literally like I cleaned out my head and gave it space for some new words.”
The result was the 1993 song, Some Fantastic Place, which is about Maxine, Glenn’s first love who died of leukemia. Chris believes it is their best work.
“It wasn’t a hit but I am extremely proud of Some Fantastic Place. God rest her, Maxine did such a brilliant job of getting the two of us together.”
Of his relationship with Glenn, Chris says, “I think we’ve always loved each other, but distance happens in relationships where, even though you are very close, you are actually quite far apart.
"Sometimes that’s how the best relationships work. Glenn is one of the finest musicians I’ve known and I absolutely love being on stage with him.”
Chris is equally complimentary about Jools, insisting that they are on good terms. “Very good terms – we send each other jokes,” he says, adding, “I occasionally write with him and sing with his orchestra, which I love.”
Chris lives and breathes music, “I am never away from music, it’s a part of me,” he says, adding, “I don’t have aspirations, I take it a day at a time and enjoy what I do, so coming to Guildford to play will be good fun.”
I agree, I can’t wait to hear my favourite band play those old hits like Tempted, Another Nail in My Heart and Black Coffee in Bed.
Now I wonder if I can ‘squeeze’ back into those black and white trousers…
Magic Summer Live, Surrey’s new music festival, takes place on July 13-14