August 2010 marked the release of Squeeze's 'Spot the Difference' – the unusual album approach saw fourteen classic Squeeze hits re-recorded with subtle differences. A massive tour followed of the US and UK, which ended in December of the same year. Glen Tilbrook kindly agreed to speak to us on the day of their London Forum show to talk about the many ups and downs of his band's long career.
I saw you at the Liverpool Philharmonic, it's nice to see you can keep it fresh after all this time.
Yeah. I can feel it's all going well, that it's all rolling by itself, but I think we've all brought out a lot, put in an amount of effort for it. I think it's a cut above what we've been in the past.
You've got some nice graphics in the background too (at recent gigs).
Oh yeah, yeah exactly. All that really helps the show, trying to be more fun about it.
In 2004 MTV did a show where they tried to reform Squeeze. What went wrong with that?
Er, what went wrong with that is that show had entirely its own agenda. It's nothing to do with anything you want, you're just fodder for their show. There was no heart or soul involved in getting the band back together and indeed there were certain, certain people in that band that were idiots. I would never get together for that reason and I'm certainly not desperate to get on the telly to be involved with that.
You recorded 'Spot the Difference' to regain ownership of your songs, what did you dislike about the way Universal dealt with your music?
Well… to Universal they're a very big company and we're one very small little inch of matter in the universe. And in that way they don't get our product out or they don't give it any care or thought. It's a big company, that's what they do. We can offer an alternative to our own old version of the songs with a newer version and we get paid for it. We get some say from that end of things, that was the reason at all for doing it.
Have you had any soundtrack offers since you recorded the 'Spot the Difference'?
We've had a couple of things that have come close. With these things though, they're always four or five offers for every one that actually really comes through. We've got these forever now, so they're just hanging around, and if we use them for their purposes then you know – I'm just happy with it as a record, as it was intended to be.
Have you heard any covers of Squeeze songs that you like yourself?
Oh covers, erm… Very few people have covered our songs, you know Lily Allen did a version of 'Up the Junction' which I really like. As did The View actually. So I'll plump for those two. But also a bunch of R&B artists in America, including people like The Roots and Alicia Keys, are all working on sort of Hip Hop R&B versions of Squeeze songs for an album that's not out yet. I've heard some of that and that's absolutely amazing.
With you writing lyrics for The Fluffers do you think you'll start writing lyrics for Squeeze as well?
I'd like to get more involved in that, but I think that the great challenge for Chris because we've both done quite a lot since the last time we worked together. In a lot of positive ways I'm looking forward to what those changes bring for both of us. To get more involved on all levels.
Do you consider yourself an underrated guitarist?
No, no I don't. You know I think people are picking up on my playing a lot, I suppose because I've been playing a lot more than I have done. It's not for me to say what other people should think of me but I think I'm good.
Say, compared to modern music that's out at the moment would you say you're good?
I think music is always great. There's always really good stuff going on and some of it gets shown and other bits don't. I can't – I don't really compare us to anything but what I do like about us is that we've still got that sort of vitality about us, which I'm really pleased that we have done, because I think we lost that for a while.
Did you have a down point where you got sick of each other?
I think with Squeeze, I didn't notice at the time, but I think we got sort of complacent with where we were – doing a Christmas tour every year – and really it began to get a bit like we were clocking in and clocking off again. I didn't think that at the time, but I think that in retrospect now, that's a good lesson to learn for us. Because in some ways going round playing little clubs, I hadn't played those kind of gigs in years, with The Fluffers, coming up together, I really appreciated every step along that way. Perhaps much more than I did the first time round when Squeeze got big. So being back in this position now with Squeeze I don't wanna ever take any of it for granted again.
Is it hard with the band members changing quite often to learn the songs or does that kind of thing come naturally?
No, it's not hard but you have to put work in and pay attention to the details. Not just say to someone, 'here's a chord sheet, I'll see you on stage. Hello! Best of luck.” You have got to pay attention to the way everything integrates and the transition between Stephen Large and Steve Nieve was quite hard, because we'd locked in with Stephen Large. Now we've been together with Steve Nieve, for besides a keyboard player we had to be really solid as a band and he had to fit in with that. If we do have that change again it would have to be something we'd have to take time over.
Are you keeping Steve Nieve permanently?
I think that Steve Nieve will have other commitments just like Stephen Large will have other commitments. So at right this moment, depending on what night it is, I think we'll probably be floating between the two of them. Both have a lot to bring to the table but both are quite different.
You've also climbed a lot of mountains for charity, how did that come about?
It was through Mike Peters from The Alarm who's been battling cancer. He asked me, he formed it all. He was trying to bring awareness, to raise money for cancer treatment, to help others like himself. I love Mike Peters, he's a brilliant man, he's very resourceful and very impulsive, he's got incredible spirit. So you know, he asked me and I thought 'yeah of course, why wouldn't I do that?' I'm not very good at the mouthpiece of it, but what I can do is help bring attention to it, that's what I like doing. When I did the climb up Kilimanjaro, it did nearly – it was a life changing experience for me because I knew what it was like to want to be okay with knowing, on that mountain I knew what it was like to say 'okay, I give in.' I'm really serious, I'm not melodramatic at all. I'd never had that feeling before. Sorry if I'm being too melodramatic.
How high did you get?
We got to the top. It had to be the last section of it which, I don't know, it takes fours hours to do 600m basically. You're just zigzagging up this steep path, you're at high altitude, you don't have enough oxygen going round your brain. No, it never felt dangerous because I had somebody in front and somebody behind me saying 'that's okay, you can get there.' You just have to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Yeah, it was weird. Because all I did for Everest basically, which was the first one, was I trained properly for that, and it was sort of hard but it wasn't a problem.
You've gotten used to it a bit more since then?
I wouldn't say I've gotten used to it, I would say I've got a bit overconfident which is why I went to the top of Kilimanjaro. So, you know you've got to respect these things.
It's a great achievement anyway.
Yeah, yeah it's amazing. We did Mt. Fuji last August so that was weird.
Also it's recently been the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death, what are your thoughts on him?
Oh well you know, he was a member of the best band ever. What more can you say? There's haven't been words that come close really.
Do you remember where you were when he died?
Yeah, we were recording 'East Side Story' in Eaton Studios in Acton when we found out about it. So we were in the studio with Elvis Costello, the band and we went down the pub and stayed there all day because we couldn't work. It was really a horrible, horrible empty feeling.
What the reason behind Squeeze's original name, Captain Trundlow's Sky Company?
We were just silly, silly boys and girls. I suppose we were smoking a bit at the time.
You released your EP 'Packet of Three' in about 1977, considering you're more Pop than Punk was it difficult being around at that sort of time?
There were a couple of things about us being, with that being our first record. With us being together as a band in one form or another for three years already we were quite musical. In a way we had to simplify what we did, in order to then be able to break out and get more music going, all that stuff. So 'Packet of Three' was really our sort of attempt at that, our attempt at being sort of Punk.
I know The Police sort of did that with earlier songs.
Yeah, I think they were a bit more self-conscious. Self-conscious in trying to be Punk, down with the kids as it were. It never really stuck with me, I won't say.
Thanks for your time.