Squeeze/Paul Heaton December 1, Manchester Apollo

Often when I write these reviews, it’s because it’s an incredibly rare event, a life-changing encounter with musical genius. This year, for example, I’ve written about Van Dyke Parks performing with the Britten Sinfonia, the Beach Boys playing together for the first time in sixteen years (and their last ever show), and Mike Nesmith’s first solo shows in the UK in my lifetime. You know, major events.

A Squeeze show isn’t a major event, but I should write about it anyway.

Squeeze are the closest I come to understanding what it’s like to support a football club, because I feel a loyalty towards them that isn’t really borne out by their work, at least on record. They’re a wonderful live act — one of the best — and they always had the potential. Jools Holland once said of Glenn Tilbrook that “he can write songs like Brian Wilson and play guitar like Jimi Hendrix”, and that’s not actually far wrong — and Chris Difford, when he’s on form, is as good a lyricist as, say, Elvis Costello.

But despite that, they’ve never quite managed to pull together the perfect album. East Side Story came close, but in general their albums have two perfect singles, two or three great obscure tracks, and a bunch of filler.

They also split up twice — once in the early 80s for a couple of years, and between 1999 and 2008 — and they’ve had a huge turnover of band members. While Glenn Tilbrook has always been the lead vocalist/guitarist and Chris Difford has almost always been on second guitar and vocals, they’ve had four bass players, six drummers and six keyboard players over the years (those are the ones I could name off the top of my head; I may have missed a couple).

And this has led to them being underrated and ignored, despite them having a catalogue of singles that stands up against any band in the world. But despite this they have a devoted fanbase, and that’s mostly to do with their live shows, which are spectacular.

Squeeze were the first band I saw live, in 1992, and I’ve seen them on all but one of their subsequent UK tours. I’ve also seen Glenn Tilbrook, their frontman, live something like twenty times, mostly during the band’s ten-year split. They (and he) are extraordinarily good live, but have never had huge recording success. And this has led their former record label, A&M, to treat them fairly badly, even though they had their fair share of hits.

So since their reunion in 2008 (the line-up touring at the moment, consisting of Difford, Tilbrook, returning early-80s bass player John Bentley, and the keyboard player and drummer from Tilbrook’s solo backing band, the Fluffers, Stephen Large and Simon Hanson), they’ve been trying to find a way to make their back catalogue work for them.

So two years go, they recorded an album of remakes of their classic hits, Spot The Difference, which they sold via the internet and on tour, because they weren’t making much in royalties from the various hits compilations available. This time, though, they’ve done something more special.

For this tour (the “Pop-Up Shop” tour), they’ve recorded an EP of new material — their first new songs since a 1999 charity single recorded with Charlton Athletic — and they’re selling it at the gigs. But not just on its own — for fifteen quid you get an instant CD of the gig you attended, a copy of the EP, and a brief meet & greet/signing with the band afterward.

I’ve been listening to my CD pretty much incessantly since the gig on Saturday night, and it hasn’t palled yet.

The gig itself opened with Paul Heaton, the former lead singer of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, doing a short set with his new backing band. It was rather odd for me watching Heaton on stage, because while the voice coming out was “90s pop star Paul Heaton”, my eyes were telling me “that’s the bloke who used to live round the corner from you, who you used to see when you went to the pub quiz” (Heaton lived on the next street from me when I lived in Didsbury a few years back).

Heaton’s often dismissed as a songwriter, because of the soft, bland, acoustic, Radio 2 friendly sound of the Beautiful South (something they mocked themselves towards the end, saying they’d split due to ‘musical similarities’). But in fact at his best he’s quite an acerbic songwriter, not a million miles away from Jarvis Cocker. Here, with a stripped-down rock band backing him, his songs worked better than one would expect, and he won the crowd round completely by his last song, a spellbinding a capella rendition of Caravan Of Love.

After Heaton came the event’s one low point. Peter Sodding Kay came on to introduce the band. Apparently he’s a big fan (and from his introduction, he was actually at the same gig in 1992 that I was at), but the very first words out of his mouth were “I’ve got a DVD out”. The crowd seemed to like him, though — they laughed uproariously at him just mentioning mint imperials. Personally I prefer comedians who have some material, or, failing that, a sense of humour or, failing that, a personality that isn’t completely repellent, but I’m clearly in the minority there.

But after that, the show couldn’t have been better. Squeeze opened with Bang Bang, their second single — an odd choice, as it was a massive flop at the time, and they’ve said on many occasions that they hated it. But by the second song, Annie Get Your Gun, the crowd were enraptured. It was particularly wonderful for me to look over at my wife, who doesn’t normally enjoy live music, bouncing up and down in her seat, grinning and singing along with every word.

The first part of the set mostly concentrated on obscure-ish material. Along with the hit Slap And Tickle we had Tilbrook’s solo single Still, No Place From Home, the flop single from the mid-80s (one of only four songs from the 1985-1999 period of their career — they didn’t even do the big hit Hourglass) and the songs from the new EP.

The new EP, incidentally, is really bloody good. This is a pleasant surprise, since while both Difford and Tilbrook have made some very good music in their solo careers since the band’s second split, the last album they made as a group, 1998’s Domino, was, frankly, piss-poor, as they’d admit themselves now.

The new EP has four songs. Tommy, a baroque-pop piece about a racist getting his comeuppance, is backed by a string quartet (who were present in video form for the gig), From The Cradle To The Grave is a lovely ukulele-driven pub-rock song, very like the better tracks off Ridiculous, while Top Of The Form is a merely good pop-rocker that could have been an album track on any of their 80s albums. The EP also features a remake of Without You Here, the one good song from Domino.

But it was the second half of the show that really grabbed the audience. This featured three tracks from solo albums (Difford’s lovely country song Cowboys Are My Weakness, his Ian Dury-esque singalong On My Own I’m Never Bored, and Tilbrook’s sunshine pop song Black Sheep (chorus “Black Sheep/baa baa baa baa baa”)), and it was nice to hear these songs the way they always should have sounded, played by Squeeze (what I missed more than anything when they were split up was hearing that unique blend of Tilbrook’s light, McCartneyesque tenor being doubled an octave below by Difford’s raspy, nasal baritone. Nothing sounds quite like that), but it was otherwise almost all hits.

And it’s only when you hear a dozen or so of Squeeze’s finest songs played back to back that you realise just how great their best music is. Labelled With Love, in particular, is a song that is a worthy contender for best ever written. Every time I’ve seen Squeeze or Tilbrook perform that song live, the crowd reaction has been unbelievable. I’ve only ever seen five other songs cause the same crowd reaction — Wouldn’t It Be Nice, God Only Knows, Daydream Believer, Waterloo Sunset and Days. And frankly, Labelled With Love is better than at least two of those.

But there was also Some Fantastic Place, Goodbye Girl, Tempted, Up The Junction, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)… these are singles as good as any by any band.

And Glenn Tilbrook is like a one-man Beatles — he has the melodic gift and voice of Paul McCartney, but much like George Harrison he plays wonderfully thought-out lead lines that are perfectly integrated into the music. He’s just flashy enough, as both a singer and a guitarist, that when you watch and listen to him you think “Wow, he’s really, *really* good”, but still restrained enough that everything is in service to the song.

But even though in a way I miss Tilbrook’s solo shows (especially his early, looser ones, where he’d invite random audience members onto the stage, do mini comedy routines about the history of pop music, and perform whatever covers entered his head) he works better with Chris Difford.

Chris Difford is not someone who’s comfortable on stage — he seems very happy to be in a band apart from the playing an instrument, singing and being on stage bits — but his curmudgeonly demeanour works well to ground the more ebullient Tilbrook. He’s also a fine, fine lyricist when he wants to be, as good as Ray Davies or Elvis Costello when he’s on form. And while his voice is not as great as Tilbrook’s, his sardonic delivery is perfect for a song like Slaughtered, Gutted And Heartbroken (a lounge jazz song from the band’s 1989 album Frank, one of the more obscure songs they played).

Squeeze aren’t tortured geniuses. They may not be geniuses at all. They don’t make difficult music, and they’re not reclusive. But much as I enjoy, say, Scott Walker’s new album, we also need bands like Squeeze — bands who, for nearly forty years, just put out consistently good singles with funny or sad lyrics and catchy melodies, and who get up on stage and play and sing those songs really, really well. It’s a lot harder to articulate what it is that’s special about a Squeeze gig than about Bisch Bosch, but if you have any love at all for the three-minute pop song I can’t imagine you not enjoying their shows.

This Week’s Spotify Playlist… And Thank You For The #welovethenhs Response

That last post of mine threw me off my posting stride a bit, because of the sheer weight of response, by email, on Twitter, in the comments here and in the comments to Debi’s repost of it (where our one troll went to hang out – I apologise, Debi, for getting a bit too angry there with someone who is, after all, a fellow human being, albeit one who wants to condemn millions of other fellow human beings to death because she doesn’t like them…).

The response has been, frankly, ludicrous – I was even interviewed by the Wall Street Journal today in my lunch break (I are big media pundit! I am the new Iain Dale or something), which is frankly surreal, given the content of that last post – I would have thought “The NHS isn’t designed to deliberately kill old people” was as uncontroversial a statement as one could make. I wonder what other misconceptions about cherished national institutions I’ll have to try to dispel in international media. Maybe next week I’ll be telling Le Monde that Last Of The Summer Wine isn’t a paedophile ring but a whimsical Yorkshire comedy show…

Anyway, thank you to everyone who retweeted, commented or linked that post of mine, and now I’ll get back to the stuff I *meant* to be posting this week. Tomorrow there’ll be a post on comics and the day after the continuation of my guide to my blogroll, but for now here’s a playlist.

My Mom Is Tor Johnson’s Mom by The Native Shrubs Of The Santa Monica Mountains is a fantastic song that my friend Tilt linked me to last week. For those who don’t know, Tor Johnson was the bald wrestler who appeared in many Ed Wood films, most notably Plan 9 From Outer Space. This song reminds me of my friend Blake Jones, but for a reference other people might get, the closest I can imagine is if The Dukes Of Stratosphear had done a Frank Zappa pastiche…

Think Carefully For Victory by The National Pep is one of two songs by my own band I’m including here (yes, Spotify even has *us* on it now) because I think they genuinely fit. It’s a jangly pop song for which I wrote the music and Tilt the words. The lineup on this one (TNP has a *very* fluid membership) is me on guitars and keyboards, Tilt on vocals and drums, Gavin Robinson on mandolin (which we mixed too low, I think), Laura Denison on one line of vocal and Albert Freeman (of Wilful Missing) on some African instrument I forget the name of Đàn Bầu.

Save The Last Dance For Me by “Ike And” Tina Turner is a Phil Spector-produced, Jack Nitzsche arranged version of the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman classic. Brian Wilson very obviously ripped off the backing track for this for Heroes & Villains.

Bicarbonate Of Chicken by Ivor Cutler is about ordering bicarbonate of chicken in a restaurant.

Just One Look by Doris Troy is better known, in Britain at least, for a vastly inferior version by the Hollies, but this is the original. This was actually originally a demo, but it was released unchanged and made the US top ten. In the intro, you can definitely hear the influence this record and others like it had on early reggae…

Through The Net by Glenn Tilbrook & The Fluffers is from Pandemonium Ensues, probably Tilbrook’s strongest album since East Side Story. This one’s very Kinksy.

Common People – Live by Pulp is a recording which always brings back memories for me, as I was at the Glastonbury where this was recorded, and saw Pulp quite by chance, having no intention to see them perform (I’d seen them on some late-night Channel 4 thing and dismissed them as crappy electropop based on a couple of minutes, and hadn’t heard this, which was a huge hit single at the time). But it was the most astonishing experience of my life. I’ve seen Pulp and Cocker solo live quite a few times since, and they’ve always been good, but at that gig Cocker was simply the most astonishingly charismatic performer I’ve ever seen, and every moment is etched in my brain fourteen years later. (Christ, fourteen years? That can’t be right, surely? 1995 was only a little while ago…). This recording was originally a b-side to the Mis-Shapes/Sorted For Es & Whizz CD single, but is now a bonus track on the reissued Different Class.

Baby Please Don’t Go by Big Joe Williams is another song that’s usually much better known in a beat-group cover version (the version by Them), but I prefer (just) the original, just vocal, sparse guitar and harmonica.

Beat Head by Candypants is included in this as part of my ongoing campaign to get Lisa Jenio recognised as one of the real greats in rock/pop music. I think this one might be about something naughty…

Hominy Grove by Van Dyke Parks is one of many great songs from Jump!, his album loosely based around the Uncle Remus stories.

Nasty Dan by Johnny Cash is another one from The Johnny Cash Children’s Album. I always liked Cash doing this sort of material at least as much as the dark ‘man in black’ stuff for which he’s better known.

Time Will Carry On by The Wackers is a nice bit of 70s harmony pop that, to me at least, stays just the right side of Bread or America.

I Got You Babe by Tiny Tim is Tiny Tim being both Sonny and Cher, accompanied by his ukulele.

Don’t Smoke In Bed by Peggy Lee is a song that, I’m ashamed to say, I first got to know from k.d. lang’s vastly inferior cover version. I could listen to Peggy Lee sing anything…

And Jaded by The National Pep is another of my collaborations with Tilt (I’d say the writing here is about 55/45 in his favour), and the closest I’ve ever come to realising the sound I hear in my head in a recording studio. It’s a shame that Tilt didn’t find our musical collaboration a particularly happy one, as I think the results were superb, if I do say so myself. On this, Tilt and Laura share the vocals, Tilt does drums, Blake Jones does the theremin and melodica on the tag, my wife Holly adds woodwinds, and I played guitar, all the keyboard parts, and ukulele (and mandolin? I know I had a mandolin in the studio but don’t remember recording a mandolin part, but I *think* I can hear one on one of the choruses). I’m very proud of this one, and I don’t think you’ll hear music like it anywhere else.

(As Tilt says in the comments “Blake Jones is just the BEST – http://www.myspace.com/trikeshop Buy his music, make him rich: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/blakejones and http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bjtts “)

Tomorrow, comics.

Playlist for Easter Monday

Since summer appears to have started, alas, this week’s spotify playlist is a little more upbeat and summery than previous ones, though I’ve still included a couple of blues tracks, just because. You can play this one from here . It’s fifteen tracks.

Oh My Love The Wackers is a cover of the Lennon solo track by the classic Canadian pop band. As you might expect from their name, the Wackers were very Beatles-influenced, and this track was a deliberate attempt to do the song as it would have sounded had the Abbey Road-era Beatles recorded it. Gorgeous little track.

Product by Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers is from the new album Pandemonium Ensues, which is musically the strongest thing Tilbrook has ever done, drawing from a far broader palette than he ever did in Squeeze (though lyrically he still misses Difford enormously). This one actually worked better live, where it sounded very Jobim-esque – here the John Barryisms in the chorus sound a little cliched. But there’s still some very interesting stuff going on here, and bassist Lucy Shaw’s vocals are great.

Riot In Cell Block #9 by The Robins (the band who later became the Coasters) was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and is an obvious precursor to their later Jailhouse Rock, but this is by far the better song.

As it’s Easter Monday, I thought I’d add in the best religious song ever written, the lovely Country Boy by Jake Thackray. Over a melody which is strongly reminiscent of Heroes & Villains, Thackray sings about Jesus’ ministry in the down-to-earth Yorkshire Catholic way he had – referring to a prostitute as “living her life between the scandalised fist and the beckoning finger” and a thief being crucified as “clinging to life with hands that had always been empty”. It’s an expression of a very humanistic Christianity, and is in its own way as great a religious artwork as Bach’s St Mathew Passion or the Sistine Chapel – that sounds an exaggeration, but I truly think it’s the case.

Give Me A Pig’s Foot And A Bottle Of Beer by Bessie Smith is there for pillock, who asked about this one last week, but also because it’s a great early blues track.

Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys is one of the two greatest songs ever written. Both, according to most sources, were written by the same two men, Brian WIlson and Van Dyke Parks, on the same night (the other is Wonderful, Rufus Wainwright’s version of which I linked the other week). If this had been released in 1966, as part of Smile, as intended, rather than five years later, it would have been as important a record as A Day In The Life. But it’s still a better one.

You’re No Good by The Swinging Blue Jeans is one of the best Merseybeat singles ever. I always think it a shame that the Swinging Blue Jeans are ignored while even The Searchers get some respect now – You’re No Good and their version of Don’t Make Me Over are classic pop singles I could listen to all day.

Directly From My Heart To You by Little Richard is a song I first learned from Frank Zappa’s cover version. In both versions it’s a wonderful piece of greasy blues. Why Little Richard isn’t absolutely worshipped, I don’t know – the man was one of the greatest vocalists who ever lived.

Someday Man by Paul Williams is a version by Williams of a song he wrote with composer Roger Nichols for the Monkees. Williams and Nichols are possibly the least cool songwriting team ever, having written Rainy Days and Mondays and Rainbow Connection, but this song, Trust and To Put Up With You are as good as soft pop gets. This one reminds me of Neil Diamond, but less smug.

Candombe by Los Shakers is what you get when an Argentinian band that started out as a clone of moptop-era Beatles goes psychedelic.

Sport (The Odd Boy) by The Bonzo Dog Band is a rare full collaboration between Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall, and manages to be hilarious, an accurate attack on British schooling *and* parenting, and musically unusual, combining cod-Elizabethan woodwind, waltz-time harpsichord and mass chanting.

Three Hours Past Midnight by Johnny Guitar Watson is one of the greatest electric blues records ever made. In particular, the guitar playing on here is pretty much the template for all Frank Zappa’s playing throughout his career.

I Want A Pony by Candypants is my favourite stompy pop song of all time. “Mom, I wanna be the king of pop/buy me fans, hurry up/I just wanna be a millionaire/You’d die and leave me money if you really cared/…I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony now!” Lisa Jenio is my favourite songwriter of the last few years, and I wish she’d release some more albums of her own material.

Say You Don’t Mind is not, as Spotify thinks, by The Zombies, but is actually a solo single by lead singer Colin Blunstone, a cover of a Denny Laine song. Blunstone is a great vocalist (and I’m looking forward an unreasonable amount to the Zombies’ Manchester gig next week) but what really makes this for me is the fact that they’ve chosen to back him with *only* a small string section, playing in a chamber music style. It turns what would otherwise have been an average 70s pop-rock singer-songwriter track into something very different. And that last note just blows me away every time.

And finally, Cups And Cakes by Spinal Tap is a wonderful gentle pisstake of English pastoral psychedelia, while fitting the genre perfectly.

Glenn Tilbrook

(BFAW coming shortly)

Ten years after Squeeze split up, their reunion has allowed Glenn Tilbrook to go solo for the first time.

Glenn Tilbrook is a favourite live performer of mine, and I’ve seen him live, either solo, with his band the Fluffers, or with Squeeze, at least twenty-five times, probably closer to thirty, since my first proper gig in 1993, and I thought I knew what to expect from one of his shows. But last night’s gig by Tilbrook and The Fluffers at Club Academy was completely shocking – in a good way.

For those who don’t know Tilbrook, he was the principal lead singer of the band Squeeze, who had a string of hits with some great pop singles in the late 70s/early 80s, and a string of flops with some equally great pop singles in the late 80s/early 90s. Squeeze always had a rotating membership (there would rarely be two albums in a row with precisely the same line-up, although many band members would leave and come back a decade later) but always centred on the songwriting and vocal partnership of Tilbrook (lead vocals, lead guitar, music) and Chris Difford (backing vocals, occasional lead vocals, on-stage rhythm guitar, lyrics). After Squeeze were dropped by their major label, for the second time, in 1996, they released one last album, the lacklustre Domino, in 1998 on Tilbrook’s own Quixotic Records before Difford and Tilbrook split their twenty-five year partnership. (Tilbrook played some gigs as Squeeze in 1999 with a band of session musicians, to fulfill some remaining contractual obligations).

During the last few years Squeeze were together, Tilbrook would also do solo acoustic gigs, seemingly at any opportunity (one of the reasons for the band splitting was Difford’s distaste for touring). Those gigs were some of the best I’ve ever seen – Tilbrook was clearly performing just for the fun of it, and he’d play any song that came into his head – his own band’s stuff, but also Drinkin’ Wine Spo-De-O-Dee (the Sonny Terry & Sticks McGhee song, not the Pere Ubu one) or Can’t Buy Me Love. He’d also do little humourous bits like playing ‘great seconds from rock history’, playing just the bit in Space Oddity where David Bowie says “sssseven” very camply, or the bit in All You Need Is Love where George Harrison fluffs his solo. These intimate, fun shows are some of the most memorable gigs I’ve seen – I can remember huge chunks of them a decade later.

But once Squeeze had officially split, touring solo became Tilbrook’s day job, and while I’ve never seen him give a bad show (Tilbrook is a born performer, who happens to be blessed with a great McCartney-esque singing voice, a natural melodic talent, and incredible chops on the guitar. He’s also a really nice bloke. Bastard) they became steadily more formalised. The joking and chatting with the audience decreased noticeably, and the setlists became more predictable – in any given five songs you’d have two Squeeze hits, a good Squeeze album track from the 90s like The Truth or Cold Shoulder, a well-known cover version (something like Voodoo Chile or Tracks Of My Tears, something everyone could sing along with) and a track from his solo albums.

The two solo albums Tilbrook has released so far (not counting his albums of Squeeze demos) were workmanlike – never less than pleasant to listen to, but Tilbrook clearly missed Difford’s lyrical ability, especially on his first solo album, and the albums felt more like tour souvenirs than fully-formed artistic works (they weren’t helped by the fact that Tilbrook produces his own stuff – he’s not an especially good producer. This also may be why the later Squeeze records weren’t as commercially successful as the earlier ones, which had people like Elvis Costello producing). There were some nice songs, but the only really great track he’s so far released as a solo artist is the B-side By The Light Of The Cash Machine, a Ron Sexsmith co-write which may be the best powerpop track of the last 15 years.

Last year, Squeeze ‘reformed’ (with a band consisting of Difford and Tilbrook, John Bentley, the bass player from the early 80s, and the drummer and keyboard player from Tilbrook’s touring band The Fluffers) and started touring the nostalgia circuit, and on the evidence of Tilbrook and the Fluffers’ show last night, that’s freed Tilbrook to finally become a solo artist, freed from Squeeze.

He seems to have calculated – possibly correctly – that those who want to hear the Squeeze hits will go to the Squeeze shows, while only his bigger fans will go to his solo shows. This seems to be borne out by the relative emptiness of the venue last night (still a reasonable crowd, but hardly packed), compared to Squeeze last year selling out the Apollo, a venue with something like ten times the capacity. So he’s dropped pretty much all the Squeeze material from his shows. Last night’s show only contained four Squeeze songs – Up The Junction, Tempted, a *really* strong version of Slap And Tickle and an extended version of Take Me I’m Yours that also included the band’s keyboard player singing most of Video Killed The Radio Star and bass player Lucy doing a spoken received-pronunciation version of Cool For Cats (a song that Difford sang on the record).

Now, if you’d told me before I went that those were going to be the only Squeeze songs we’d hear, and the rest would be Tilbrook’s solo material, I wouldn’t have bothered going – his solo songs haven’t been good enough so far to support a full set, even though they do work much better live than on record. But even more bravely than structuring the show around his fairly obscure solo records, the bulk of the set was taken up with material from an album that won’t be released until next February.

And it’s really good. I can’t judge it too well on only one hearing, but it seemed to me that it’s the biggest leap forward in Tilbrook’s songwriting since 1981’s East Side Story. Tilbrook has always tried to experiment with different styles and unusual chord changes, but in the past this has always been at the expense of his knack for catchy melody – his best songs have usually been the most straightforward ones, though his experiments are interesting. But these new ones seemed to combine both elements in a way he’s never managed before. Two songs in particular leaped out, Caught In The Net, which was equal parts Zombies, Beach Boys and Dead End Street-era Kinks, and Product, a bossa nova song sung by Fluffers bass player Lucy that sounded uncannily like Astrud Gilberto on first hearing.

Tilbrook’s obviously been paying attention to Brian Wilson’s music (I’ve seen him at several of Wilson’s London gigs in the last few years), and the new material is filled with Wilsonian touches – complex contrapuntal backing vocals, middle eights full of extended jazz chords, unusual structures – while still sounding like Tilbrook’s own work. It’s varied, as well – of the songs that stick in my head, I remember one being the most punky thing he’s done since the first Squeeze album, while another sounded uncannily like John Lennon doing girl groups.

The lyrics, what I could make out of them (I never catch lyrics on a first listen) sounded more interesting than Tilbrook’s usual solo lyrics too. There seemed to be a lot of references to different US places, and my guess is that his experiences criss-crossing the US touring in his van have informed his writing a lot. He’ll never be the greatest lyricist in the world, but these ones sound competent and interesting.

Unfortunately, the song he introduced as the new single, Bing A Bong, is an attempt to write a parody Eurovision lyric, pidgin English and all, set to a comically downbeat Gary Numan-esque electro backing, with some bits of protest against the neo-con regimes in the US and UK thrown into the mix. I think very few radio listeners will get the joke without the explanation Tilbrook provided before the song, and it’ll probably put a lot of people off. But then, he wouldn’t be Glenn Tilbrook without making wilfully uncommercial decisions like touring to promote an album which won’t be out for six months or releasing the comedy song as the single…

If Squeeze split up again, or go on any kind of extended hiatus, I do hope Tilbrook re-introduces many of his classics into the set – songs like Goodbye Girl, Some Fantastic Place, Labelled With Love and Electric Trains are far too good not to perform live. But for now the freedom he’s got in his solo career seems to have energised Tilbrook again.