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Glenn Tilbrook & Chris Difford (ex-Squeeze)- Borders, Charing Cross Road on 18 November 2004
The glowing lights of Borders, a joyously big toy store on any occasion, were a particularly welcoming Godsend on this incredibly wet night with a biting wind toying with me by blowing my umbrella inside out at every opportunity. Few book signings would have been worth struggling through this weather when it would have been so easy just to board the train home after work. However, this was special. The book was called Squeeze: Song by Song, by the modern Lennon and McCartney, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, written with Jim Drury. But that alone wasn’t the special draw; it was Difford and Tilbrook themselves, playing a brief acoustic set together for the first time in years before signing the new publication in which they offer insight on each of their many collaborative masterpieces.
Chris Difford had suddenly dropped out of Squeeze’s Domino tour in the late 1990s; he had a lot of problems to sort through, and understandably the relationship between the two seriously suffered as a result. Yet he was the member of Squeeze who, in VH1’s Bands Reunited show, was so keen to reunite for a one-off gig and so glaringly disappointed when it didn’t come to fruition. I can watch the Haircut 100 version of that show a hundred times over; it’s full of happy, fluffy memories and joyous new creations. The Squeeze episode is not something my heart can tackle more than once; it seems full of bad feeling and dashed dreams, falling apart so that even Chris seems to have difficulty facing the fact that it was an impossible dream, never mind the fans and viewers having to do so.
So such a major reunion of the singer/songwriters of Squeeze at Borders Charing Cross, even for just a few songs or even without the songs, was going to be monumental. Unfortunately, it seemed that Borders had not quite realised that they were offering something close to the Holy Grail, as they were clearly unprepared for the masses who turned up to grasp it. Even I was surprised by the masses. I knew I hadn’t managed to leave work in enough time to get a good place, but still arrived quite early, and since I had lugged two cameras around all day for the occasion, I thought at least the digital would come in handy as I could hold that over the head of the person in front who was blocking my view. Sadly, it didn’t have a special switch for holding it over the heads of the 250 people in front who were blocking my view, particularly when I couldn’t even tell which direction I should point it in, so I saw nothing. Nada. Were it not for the proof of their presence in the book signing that followed, the performance might just as easily have been a recording, a Roswell-like ruse to trick us into thinking that the mighty Difford and Tilbrook were together again somewhere up front near the Religion section. So my account of the event will really be much the same as if a blind person had written it, and at times, I was even straining to hear. So think of me as Helen Keller, your Borders correspondent.
On my way up to the first floor, I foolishly wasted time pausing at the magazine section to see if I could spot a copy of Hot Press. In approaching the racks, I narrowly avoided a small bearded Glaswegian man easily in his 60s who I thought for a moment might be speaking angrily to me. Fortunately, before I got engaged in the non-conversation, I realised that he was just speaking angrily, and I was spared by my finely honed Londoner skills of avoiding getting involved with people. I am afraid that he features later. At that point, a recording of Glenn’s voice was faintly heard on the sound system singing something that sounded a lot like the theme from King of Queens.
When I gave up my magazine hunt in a panic minutes later upon seeing that Borders had closed the escalator, probably for Health and Safety reasons as the area circling it on the first floor was packed with a heaving mass of live, excited bodies, I headed for the stairs and nearly bumped into Chris Difford. He was looking fantastic in an elegant black coat and waistcoat, and it was like bumping into an old friend. I accidentally caught his eye—although I think he has a naturally intense gaze, I remember him seeming to stare out at me at the Paul Carrack birthday concert, too—but I left him downstairs at Borders talking to some people who I suspected, from his expression, were fans rather than friends, as I made my way upstairs. I was able to take about four steps forward to advance to standing about 18 rows back, with each row about 12 people wide. People continued to pour in behind me and I could almost feel sorry for them were I not busy feeling so sorry for myself. Borders had roped off a narrow area stretching back to the in-store Starbucks, and many people poured into the aisle beside our bull pen so that they could advance ahead of us. The staff eventually gave up on keeping their fire-safety aisle clear or letting any non-Squeeze customers have access to any of the books.
So what should have been a cordial, exuberant occasion was packed with frustration. It felt as though we were in an impossibly long queue in the darkness for Space Mountain that never moved forward. Everyone around me—mostly white men in their 30s—was grumbling. To add to my irritation, a time warp girl straight from the 80s continually seemed to feel entitled to read anything I jotted down on a pad, repeatedly craning her head as though she were a schoolteacher checking my work during an exam, despite my obvious repositioning to avoid her eyes. When the chap beside me in the hopeless queue asked in broken English if the performers were male, I half resented him for taking up precious space that would have been more valuable to a fan, even though it was rather useless, as we could see nothing. I can only put these negative feelings down to the old theory that packing rats together makes them aggressive, and the combined body heat led to an explosively sweltering condition despite Winter having just begun to take itself seriously. Amongst the many complaints I heard about the usually better organised Borders, a frequently repeated one was that they should have the consideration to switch on the air conditioning. Those who had no tissue to dab their forehead soon imitated the look of someone emerging from a pool. Apparently a fellow sufferer in our midst was actor/director/writer/Spinal Tap member Christopher Guest (a.k.a. Lord Haden-Guest of Saling, Mr Jamie Lee Curtis) as well as fine comedian Rich Hall, but I didn’t see anyone who wasn’t within a 10-foot radius of my two inches of space.
So as I alternated my gaze between the sweaty backs in front of me and the books on Hitler in the history section beside me, I faced the large sign dangling from the roof up ahead that said ‘Social Services’ and waited for that section to come to life. At 6.30pm, the book’s co-author, Jim Drury, apparently took the stage, or took the floor as he was standing on nothing raised. Drury has written two other ‘Song by Song’ books already, the first one on Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the second, with Hugh Cornwell, on the Stranglers. He sounded like an almost nervous, ordinary fan, which I suggest goes in his favour, as he told us that the last time he was on stage with Difford and Tilbrook, he was assaulted by a roadie and thrown off the stage onto his back, for which he was still considering suing. The crowd barely reacted to his stab at humour as it was like trying to have a philosophical discussion about the plight of farmers with toddlers before allowing them downstairs on Christmas morning.
He quickly moved on to announcing them, but did so by saying ‘they haven’t played together in six years.’ Well, I have photographic evidence that they have, as I had the privilege of seeing them join former band mate Paul Carrack for his 60th birthday party in the Albert Hall in 2001. But I do agree that it has been too long, and certainly the last time I saw Tilbrook play at Borders, which was just before he travelled to Kensington for the Carrack concert, he was launching his first solo single and was definitely not accompanied by Difford.
By the cheers that rose from the lucky people in front, or Frontsters, as I came to think of them, I assume that Difford and Tilbrook took the stage, although it might have all been some big Dom Joly joke. Fortunately, that possibility was ruled out when Glenn’s voice was heard thanking Jim Drury for getting them together to chat, although he added ‘in different rooms for days and days’ and suggested that that had been a sensible approach. Chris, in an effort to be different, quipped, ‘I won’t thank him; it’s been a really tough time.’
As the audience giggled a bit (yes, mostly white males in their late 30s giggling), I heard two acoustic guitars crank into almost expert Spanish-like action, with one offering what sounded like an amazing bass line. Even the tallest people well in front of me were holding their digital cameras and mobile phones high in the air in an attempt to catch a glimpse of their heroes somehow. Difford and Tilbrook began singing in unison an octave apart, their trademark harmony, opening with the delightful classic, Take Me I’m Yours. Its lyrics seemed perfect for the occasion, as it felt as though they had travelled a long journey of tours through animosity to greet us with a smile, then tell us, ‘Take me, I’m yours / Because dreams are made of this / Forever, there’ll be / A heaven in your kiss.’
Clearly, Borders is not known for its acoustics and there was probably only a single make-shift amplifier up front, and the sound was so badly mixed that we could barely hear Glenn, although that was thankfully rectified somewhat a couple songs into the set. The crowd joined in for the chorus whenever it came round, and I am afraid that, after having been spoiled by the impressive harmonies of the Finn Brothers’ audience recently, I would have to award this audience two stars out of 10 for singing ability. But it’s the enthusiasm that counts, and the fact that anyone found any in these boiling, blind and cramped circumstances was a testament to the true talent and vibrancy of these two inspirational artists.
Said artists had clearly mastered their skills during decades of performing, the experience giving them superhero-like abilities on the guitar. They played a thumping instrumental part, during which Glenn, I assume, played a fantastic Roddy Frame type of rapid finger-picking solo and reminded me, as always when I see him live, of his unstoppable talents. They ended the song suddenly on one definitive note, and the first floor of Borders roared for them.
Without their speaking other than Glenn counting them in, the two began playing the familiar, beloved dope-influenced melody of Pulling Mussels (from the Shell), which earned instant applause. Glenn, despite needing the volume on his mike to be turned up tenfold, let rip his jaw-dropping delectable voice that is always abundantly better live than I ever recall. Sadly, the amplification was so poor that he was soon almost completely drowned out by the appalling singer near me who insisted on joining Glenn on every word. But it was the heat and congestion that left me with no patience; naturally, any normal person would have trouble resisting singing along to such splendour.
At that stage, a tall person a few rows ahead of me coincidentally positioned the LCD screen of his digital camcorder so that I could catch a glimpse of Glenn’s shaggy-haired head at times, almost as though I were looking at the big screens at Hyde Park to see Simon and Garfunkel miles ahead of me. I nearly felt like I should tip the camcorder guy for services rendered. Seeing, even in miniature, Glenn’s sweet appearance of a shaggy mutt that looks so happy to have someone to follow home was a welcome bonus.
When they finished the fantastic classic, Glenn greeted us cheerfully, and Chris told us that they hadn’t actually rehearsed that song, so he was really surprised at how great it went.
As we chuckled, the boys launched straight into the magical melody of Is That Love, which Chris describes in the new book as ‘a comfortable pair of jeans as a song.’ Glenn’s powerful soaring voice was slightly more amplified, but not much more audible as it was competing in my area with an aggravated Borders staff member begging the people who had jam-packed the keep-clear-for-safety aisle to go elsewhere, but there was no elsewhere. Added to that less than soothing sound was a staggering amount of chatting going on all around me. Presumably, those of us so far back that we could see no good and hear no good felt the need to resort to all that was left: speaking good, that is, chatting about what we might have been experiencing if only we had had the sense to arrive by 7am. I did, however, manage to pick out an unbelievably busy, impressive guitar solo by the stupendous Mr T. When they finished playing, almost 300 people raved in the form of big cheers.
Without speaking, Messrs Difford and Tilbrook led us with a lazy, deep western country-sounding guitar part into Labelled with Love. Despite it being one of their biggest hits, I never quite warmed to this one as much, as I dislike the country feel. So it was interesting to read in Drury’s book that they had not planned to include the song on the album until producer Elvis Costello stopped Glenn from fast-forwarding through it on a cassette of demos and insisted they recorded it, introducing them to an appreciation for some country legends in the process. Tonight, Glenn sang it on his own for a bit, and when Chris joined in on the first chorus of ‘Drinks to remember, I me and myself…’, their voices sounding stupendous together, then some of the audience joined in as well. The half-hearted efforts of the crowd made me initially suspect that no one knew the song that well, but each time the songwriters returned to the chorus, the audience’s voices grew in intensity and confidence.
Glenn added a little trill on the guitar to end the song, it seemed, but as soon as the audience started calling out ‘hooray!’, then Glenn carried on with the tune, causing most of those around him to snicker with nervous embarrassment at being fooled. The singers continued with the cunning lyric until Glenn repeated ‘so the past has been bottled’ four times before focusing on creating a confounding clip-clop horsey western rhythm on just the acoustic guitar. The bookstore erupted in massive cheers, undoubtedly frightening the unenlightened on the other floors.
Chris looked out at the many mobile phones people were holding above their heads, in this case not just to capture a memento, but rather to find in desperation any possible method of catching a glimpse of their idols, even if it came to photographing them blindly and then looking at the photo captured in the phone. Making a keen observation, Chris remarked, ‘I think the last time we played together, there wasn’t a mobile phone in sight, and now there’s a row of them held up. They’ve become the new cigarette lighter.’ Unsurprisingly, the clever lyricist is a clever wit.
We laughed and there was a pause as the two singers seemed to discuss what they might play next. People started shouting out requests to help them choose, and then a brief bit of inaudible almost off-mike chatter with the audience took place. I believe it was merely Glenn acknowledging someone in the throng, after which he seemed to rib himself for having said ‘Alwight?’ like Michael Barrymore. ‘You soon fall back into the old habits’, he explained, demonstrating by repeating, ‘Alwight, love?’
They then graciously slipped into the comfy old habit of performing Up the Junction, with cheers erupting almost as soon as they played the first note. A couple hundred voices joined Glenn in singing throughout, though only one voice would win awards. Chris’ voice was inaudible but that must have been because he wasn’t singing, since that song always featured Glenn’s voice on its own. I can never hear this song without picturing the video and the astounding youth of the Squeeze members at the time.
When they finished the quintessential Squeeze song, we predictably screamed with delight. We all started to settle into our peak-hour Tube-train conditions and consider that it would be worth staying in them if we could listen to these chaps perform Squeeze classics all night.
Sadly, Glenn told us then that they were going to wind it down now, but that Chris would first sing us a song. Chris piped in with, ‘An Eminem song!’ Someone near me called for Cowboys Are My Weakness, which I thought was kind as it demonstrates that his solo material is valued. I had only just thought of that song as I read the Letters page of that week’s issue of Radio Times, and a reader related a tale of an elderly western-loving customer accidentally wandering into the gay-interest section of the library and unknowingly checking out a book called Cowboys are My Weakness, the cover of which showed a man in only a ten-gallon hat and pair of leather chaps. I thought of Chris then, but merely because of the book and song having the same title, of course.
Naturally, the song Chris began singing with an outstanding voice was the rapid euphoria of Cool for Cats. Glenn left him to it, just accompanying him on guitar, and the audience took care of the high female backing vocal parts, usually laughing at their own sound immediately afterwards. However, as Chris pointed out mid-song as the audience members busied themselves with the ‘oooo-oooo-oooo’ part whilst Glenn created a divine distraction on guitar, ‘it’s all the guys singing!’ Glenn’s guitar solo, filling in for the piano part, was a bewildering race up and down the frets, and whenever it came time for the audience’s vocal contribution, the two guitarists would begin to play quietly as a cue to us.
When the song--and the set, it seemed at the time--came to an end, we shouted out our appreciation as Glenn name-checked Chris to encourage applause right before Chris did the same for Glenn. They had entertained us for almost half an hour, and the hundreds of us cheered so wildly for them that Chris finally had to say, playfully, ‘All right, shut up, shut up!’
The fun didn’t stop there. There would now be a question and answer session, which you would have thought was reason alone for coming in the minds of most of the fans. How often do you get the chance to ask such highly regarded songwriters about their songs?
The first question from the audience was, ‘Can you play more?’ Chris’ answer: ‘What kind of question is that?’ A sensible one, we all thought.
Next came the inevitable, ‘Are you back together again?’
Sadly, Chris and Glenn frequently answered the questions away from the mike so that very few people could hear, and obviously all of the questions were called out from the audience without amplification, so most of us heard few of them. I understand that the answer to this was Chris pointing out that they were together, weren’t they, as those up front could see, with Glenn joking like a marketing man that it was for one night only.
Next, someone asked something inaudible, and when prompted by the view-paupers of the audience to repeat the questions into the microphone so that we could all enjoy the experience, Glenn just repeated part of the last question so that it made little sense: ‘How come we were third or fourth was the question,’ he said, and the answer was, ‘Because you didn’t ask me.’ I was baffled until I later learned that someone had asked Jim Drury why Squeeze had been his third book of this type, so it was he who had answered.
Someone in the spirit of the first questioner called out, ‘Can you play six more? We’ll pay!’
As that questioner was so far away, they didn’t seem to hear him, and Tilbrook and Difford were answering a question from nearer them, which I assume to have been ‘What’s your favourite Squeeze song?’ Glenn answered, Some Fantastic Place. In the December 2004 issue of Word magazine, Glenn told ‘the story of his life in snapshots’ on the Photo Opportunity pages and included a photo of him with his first girlfriend Maxine in 1972—both topless on the lawn. The caption to that photograph said that she died 10 years ago and that Chris wrote Some Fantastic Place about her. Maxine deserves the credit for getting these transcendent songwriters together, as she persuaded Glenn to answer the advert in the local Blackheath shop to join the band.
Someone in the audience called out, ‘Do you love it well enough to play it?’ One must admire our persistence, at least. Chris made some vague comment possibly about it being amazing how you could love tunes ‘til you hated them. I couldn’t quite make that out as someone not far from me yelled with the volume of a foghorn a reference to the book sections where they were performing, screeching, ‘Is there any reason they put you between archaeology and psychology?’ Whilst some of the people around him tittered at that, it was ignored on stage as Chris continued to answer the previous question, agreeing that Some Fantastic Place was also his favourite song.
Next, someone must have asked Chris about a disappearing date on his forthcoming tour, as he answered, ‘I think what the matter was is that we were cancelled and then back on again.’ Glenn then took the opportunity to confirm that he would be playing the Islington Academy on 16 December, not 15 December as previously advertised.
Someone must have asked how Chris wrote his lyrics. Chris replied that there had been a point when his lyric writing by hand stopped as he got cramp. So now he wrote them on a laptop, which was not as pretty as when he scribbled them on paper.
Glenn added that, from the point when Chris switched to a laptop, ‘You’d get five versions of the same song with one word changed!’
Another inaudible question was answered suggestively by Chris with, ‘That question gives me a sort of erection.’ Presumably someone had asked for their opinions of each other’s work, because Chris kindly added, ‘I love Glenn’s solo records. Unfortunately, my record company has gone down the pan.’ Oh dear; I hadn’t realised that Adventure Records had had trouble. Chris had been one of their first signings. I heard nothing from Glenn about Chris’ work because I don’t think he said anything.
Glenn, answering something most of us did not hear presumably about the history of their relationship, said waggishly, ‘We had a relationship that was based on festering boils for a while, so we thought it best not to continue like that.’ I think fans are heartbroken by any apparent rift between these two and they want them to exchanging cuddly hugs, but I always thought that Jools was Chris’ best mate in Squeeze. Chris and Glenn were more long-term collaborators who created magic with the former’s lyrics combined with the latter’s tunes. That was the special relationship they had, as I understand it, and we mustn’t always wish for more. Still, they have both acknowledged missing each other.
Another answer to an unheard question came from Glenn: ‘I thought that Cold Shoulder was hard to write.’
Then the aforementioned greybeard Glaswegian from the magazine section made himself known. About as far back as me but on the other side of the escalator, he called out, ‘You sound good on the albums!’ and carried on with mutterings I couldn’t make out and wished I didn’t hear. I thought for a moment that he was a drunk, homeless tramp who had wandered in to disrupt things but he seemed to be a genuine Squeeze fan, albeit one who must have been through some sort of hard time. Glenn began speaking, I assume answering a question that we could not hear and not the tramp-man, and the latter then started shouting out over Glenn, expressing his fondness for Squeeze and asking questions, but talking over Glenn. A smiling chap a bit in front of Greybeard calmly explained that the audience was listening to Glenn, not to Greybeard. This made the latter turn aggressive, spitting out more bile and making those around him worry about what he might do next.
Glenn called out, ‘Let it go,’ but it wasn’t clear whether that was addressed to Greybeard or if he was answering another question about playing more songs or getting Squeeze back together. He actually seemed to be responding to the way the two wrote songs together. He said it was complex, and did he write any of the music before the lyrics were written? He stumbled on his reply of ‘no’, then exaggerated it in something that sounded like the beginning of the old song Nobody But Me, stammering out ‘N-n-n-no—Can I sound any more nervous?’
Chris spoke of ‘a genius tune as well, it was very emotional,’ which gushing left Glenn blushing. My shot-in-the-dark guess is they were still discussing Some Fantastic Place. A comedian in the audience responded to their mutual admiration with ‘Get a room!’
Greybeard began shouting out, ‘Ever thought of playing Glasgow? Glasgow loves you!’ He continued to repeat those last three words many times during the question and answer session, even if Glenn or Chris were talking at the time. I think this particular incident caused me to miss a question of Glenn, which I later learned was about his favourite guitarists—which apparently were Jimi Hendrix, Nils Lofgren, and jazz guitarist Joe Pass.
Someone must have asked Chris what songwriter he admired most, and he replied Johnny Mercer (who wrote the lyrics for Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, Come Rain or Come Shine, Jeepers Creepers and Hooray for Hollywood, for starters) and their former producer Elvis Costello, ‘though he does pebbledash people with lyrics’. He also chose Nicky Chinn and Michael Chapman, the songwriting partnership who wrote the Sweet songs. I knew of Chapman more as a producer of Squeeze contemporaries such as Blondie, Pat Benatar and the Divinyls and not as part of a writing duo.
The Fronsters then started to laugh at something none of us crammed in the middle to rear area could hear; I can’t tell you how frustrating this whole experience was. It was as though we were staying in the house of a family in another country who regularly said things in a foreign language, then looked at us and burst out laughing. Playing Jeopardy by trying to form questions when given the answers was difficult when, for instance, the next thing Chris said was, ‘the top of my head is very flat.’ He followed that up by saying that it was a very personal question [so presumably not, ‘what is the top of your head like?’ for $100, Alex.]. Chris said that he faxed a lyric and got paid for it, and that he was paid in puddings.
Did you guess the question? Fortunately, someone later repeated it. The question Chris had been answering was: What was it like to work with Cliff Richard?
I must admit, I have yet to learn what this collaboration was, but if Van can collaborate with Cliff, then there should be no shame in it. There shouldn’t be. Until then, I thought the only connection between Cliff Richard and Squeeze was (a) that Chris appeared in an episode of The Young Ones, for which Cliff’s tune was used as the theme, and (b) what led Glenn Tilbrook to a career in music was seeing Cliff’s film Summer Holiday when he was five. Travelling around the country in a double decker bus and getting out to be surrounded by adoring fans looked like fun, so he aimed to do the same one day.
I managed to hear the next question, which was what were the biggest and the smallest venues they had both ever played in. Glenn looked around the packed section of the bookstore and said, ‘We’re still finding out about the smallest.’ Someone in the audience suggested that a venue in Cambridge had been the smallest. Chris suggested that the Giants Stadium in New York had been the largest, and Glenn agreed. Our Greybeard Glaswegian chose to shout out, ‘You got no taste!’
The next inaudible question was probably wondering with whom each performer was now collaborating. Glenn confessed to collaborating with the Russians. Chris, a bit more serious throughout the evening, said he was collaborating with himself at the moment.
Someone asked if Chris had plans to make a movie, as a movie had recently been made about Glenn called One for the Road: a Story of One Man, Two Guitars and an RV (not quite a double-decker, then, but close).
Continuing with the wacky answers that, in my mind, is another reason people see them as Beatlesque, Chris seized the idea and immediately applied his imagination to what would be the perfect film to shoot. He said, ‘Funny you should mention that. I’m casting today for 21 women to follow me around the country.’ He had images of them all trying to cram into a telephone box. ‘I’ll be the telephone box, and that will be the film.’ So maybe it would have an 18 rating, huh?
Greybeard made it even more difficult to listen to the proceedings as he kept shouting out. Now he was shouting, ‘Excuse me, Glenn, but I’ve seen you on Top of the Pops.’
So I missed what Glenn had said that led to his next comment, ‘Sorry, I got all self-absorbed and poncy.’
The next question, referring to their previous praise of Some Fantastic Place, was would they play it now. Chris replied, to be absolutely honest, he couldn’t remember it. He said Glenn could play it and he would stand there and watch.
Glenn asked for one more question, which was ‘Will you stay a bit longer?’ This audience would surely know what to do with if a genie granted them only three wishes….
Greybeard started shouting incessantly and I started to see the need for Borders to start employing bouncers. I do feel awful saying that, because, whatever was going on, the man did love Squeeze. He just made things more difficult in an already almost unbearable situation, bearing in mind we were cramped, sweltering, and unable to see or often hear the people we were there for---and that’s before his shouting reduced our chances to nil.
Someone added an extra question: ‘What was the happiest moment for you in Squeeze?’
Glenn said that was a difficult question, as he didn’t really isolate any single moment. Getting a record contract was a good day, he suggested. Then Chris pronounced, ‘Getting rid of Miles Copeland—that was a really good day,’ which made Glenn laugh. ‘That was a really, really good day!’ he agreed. The band had parted acrimoniously with their former manager in 1980 as he devoted most of his attention to another of his clients, the Police, whose popularity was growing more explosive.
The boys finally agreed to play one more song, to much applause. Many people had left at the beginning of the question and answer session, and they would have kicked themselves to realise they missed more music. Glenn explained that they wouldn’t perform Some Fantastic Place as requested because it contained ‘a bloody fistful of chords if you don’t know ‘em—my fault.’ I noticed that Chris had managed the difficult chords of Pulling Mussels without rehearsal, but Glenn kindly said that he wanted to play something they could both do. Indeed, we were here to see them together—although few of us could see them. In fact, all the signs posted around Borders proclaimed that ‘Squeeze’ would be playing that night.
Someone in the audience cried out for If I Didn’t Love You. Instead, Glenn began singing Goodbye Girl, and when Chris’s vocals joined in, so did those of most of the audience. The tune was brilliantly upbeat and just the way to polish off an extremely uncomfortable and frustrating way to enjoy a unique experience.
After the second verse, the guitar playing stumbled for a moment, and then Glenn said, ‘All right, this will be the third verse then.’ It seemed he’d missed his cue the first time ‘round so they went back a bit, where he got back on track.
They closed with a colossal treatment of the final refrain, with everyone on the first floor of Borders, which we had completely taken over, joining in at the top of our lungs (well, at the top of my thoughts; I don’t sing). The sing-along was great fun and felt like something in the tradition of south London, which Squeeze was all about.
Chris and Glenn thanked Borders and each other, and someone from Borders announced where the queue would start for the book signing that was to follow. In tune with most of the evening, we could hear almost nothing he said and we certainly couldn’t see where he was pointing because we couldn’t see him. Most people sensibly headed for the back of the store, knowing that they’d end up there sooner or later and they chose sooner. Me, I had been eyeing one lone copy of the book on one of six empty shelves on a pillar. Since I have been to several signings at Borders and learned that they don’t always make things easy—they don’t sell the limited edition of a new album, or they don’t have a pile of books by the author’s table so you might have to leave the queue in which you’d stood for an hour to get something to be signed—so I headed in desperation for what looked to me like the last copy on earth. I did get it, but it meant that I ended up way in the back of the queue that had formed whilst I was busy heading in the wrong direction. And sure enough, later I passed several hundred copies of the book, which was just as well as I wanted to buy one as a Christmas present, too.
Chris and Glenn had finished playing at 7pm. They did, I understand, take a quick break—Glenn was certainly dressed differently (in a t-shirt rather than in the blue long-sleeved shirt I’d seen in the camcorder’s viewfinder earlier) when I eventually saw him, and they deserved a break, so that’s fine. But by 7.45pm, I had moved one foot in the queue—I kid you not. We did not move at all for ages, and then there was an exciting 20 minutes when we moved a few inches until eventually I was a foot ahead of my former habitat. Everyone was furious and muttering things like, ‘What we do to relive our youth!!’ Occasionally the odd person would find a Borders staff member and sweet-talk them, explain how she was good friends with Chris, and the Borders chap would let her go to the front of the queue. Then, like those old movies where a woman hitchhiker would hitch up her skirt to get a car to stop before whistling for her 10 male friends to appear from nowhere and get in the shocked driver’s car, the ‘friend of Chris’ would call to numerous friends behind me in the queue and the whole big clump of them would go up front. So there’s no surprise that we devoted back-dwellers did not move. I found myself thinking that, if these people were friends of Glenn and Chris, could they not have got the books signed some other time? The hideously uncomfortable, exasperating and unexpectedly time-consuming circumstances left me with no patience either with that chap who hadn’t known the first thing about Difford and Tilbrook or now with the other extreme.
There was a harrowing moment when Greybeard came near us, shouting out, and we all ducked our heads, although a few kindly brave souls took a moment to speak with him. I started to spend my time revising my plans to catch an early train home, wishing I had brought a picnic and that maybe Borders should have erected a port-a-loo at the half-way mark of the motionless queue. The in-store Starbucks was tantalisingly right behind us (and would have made a packet if they’d organised wait staff to serve the queue), but one would have to be truly masochistically insane to abandon one’s spot for the sake of mere sustenance; it would be worth braving starvation and dehydration instead. We already stank of each other’s sweat, so not much could be worse. This was not the way most people had planned to meet their idols, but this was who we were now—hot, smelly, miserable and infuriatingly still. The only thing that helped us move a few more inches forward from time to time was the fact that so many people gave up and abandoned their dream of meeting Chris and Glenn, which they undoubtedly had looked forward to for an age. But people had lives to return to, and most people of that age group would have kids to get home to and feed.
It was interesting to think that, the last time I got caught in a longer-than-planned-for queue at a book signing was when Dame Judi Dench and John Miller were signing his book on her at the National Theatre. I could not possibly abandon my place in that queue, either, but my stubbornness meant that I was late to the Elvis Costello concert I had planned to attend in west London that night, causing me to miss the opening act: Chris Difford.
After about 90 minutes in the queue—which you would have thought would have been easy to bear when surrounded by books, but mediation gurus were not my thing and somehow it was too hot and uncomfortable to read, I had actually progressed to the half way mark, having made more progress in the last 20 minutes than I had since the boys stopped playing. I began to worry that Chris and Glenn would understandably decide that they had had enough, or that Borders would actually close before I got to the front. Suddenly, Chris appeared, walking beside the queue and signing books as he passed along. It only took a second as his signature is just a squiggle, vaguely a ‘d’ that, in the end product of a signed book, looks like a flourish that is a part of Glenn’s signature. I’ll have to point out to people that Chris signed it, too. Chris looked fantastic, as I said before, and when I asked if he would mind signing two books for me or if his hand was about to fall off, he assured me that his hand was in perfect condition, and he squiggled away in each book, then moved to the person behind me. It was an amazing gesture, possibly spurred on by his eagerness to get on with his own life and leave Borders some time this century, but it also made us feel that someone was finally paying us some attention and cheered our dispirited hearts when they really needed it, like a head of state on a crowd walkabout.
Incidentally, both Chris, aged 50, and Glenn, aged 47, looked sensational. They both still had so much hair and so little grey. They looked better and younger than I did and I’m 10 years their junior. Perhaps they should write another book for Borders’ shelves called The Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll Diet. How do they do it?
When I finally got to the table where Glenn sat to author Jim Drury’s left, Glenn was still full of remarkably bouncy energy, instilling awe in all those around me who couldn’t bear to leave the vicinity even after he signed their book; they just moved a short distance away, turned and ogled him from there. He kindly posed for a photo for me, although he told me he charged £10 for photos (I gave him a verbal IOU), and happily signed two books for me, even inscribing the gift one in a particular way. Everyone around me seemed to be treating poor Jim Drury as though he were a day-old meat loaf beside the finest filet mignon, although I guess, as a long-term fan himself, he would expect as much. I wished him luck with the book and he seemed almost stunned that someone had spoken to him; I know many others had had nice chats with him before, but certainly those around me were gawping at Glenn so perhaps it had been a while since Jim had had some attention. Then I was free at last to make my way through the pouring rain to catch a train home about two hours later than I had planned.
The evening had certainly not been what I had expected, I could not bravely declare that the total lack of visual and frequent lack of aural treats had not been discouraging, and the whole evening had been uncomfortable in many ways. But hearing Difford and Tilbrook—now with more maturity, experience and tremendous skill—playing a few of their classics, even though the acoustics would have been better in my bathroom, created a joy that would not wane. And whilst I am not one to engage artists in conversation, particularly after a tiring night for them and when many were still waiting behind me to have their moment, it was lovely to see them both briefly, charming as they are. Coming home at long last with two signed books like Olympic gold served as a reminder that it had all been worthwhile.
Copyright © 2004 by TC. All rights reserved.
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have visited this page reviewing the Difford & Tilbrook 'Squeeze' book promotion in Borders Charing Cross
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