Squeeze - Biography

By Scott Feemster


Squeeze are a pop-rock band based in London, England who, though most often associated with their heyday as a new wave band in the late 1970's/early 1980's, have had a long and varied career. The group has always centered around the songwriting/singing team of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, and they have built up a reputation over the years of being two of the most acclaimed and beloved songwriting teams since Lennon and McCartney. The comparison is apt since Difford and Tillbrook's songs are usually highly melodic and contain clever wordplay. After a career of stops and starts, Squeeze are back together again touring and planning a new album.


            The band that would become Squeeze were formed out of a songwriting partnership that began in the early '70's. Chris Difford had placed an ad looking for musicians to play and write songs with, and Glenn Tilbrook answered the ad and the pair immediately found a good working relationship with each other, Difford usually coming up with lyrics, and Tillbrook usually composing the music. By 1974, the pair were ready to form a band to perform their songs, and recruited keyboardist Julian “Jools” Holland and drummer Paul Gunn to form a group that played out under the names Captain Trundlow's Sky Company or Skyco, before eventually settling on the name Squeeze, a cheeky reference to The Velvet Underground's last 1973 album that was performed by none of the original members and was critically savaged. The group spent the early part of their career playing the lively pub-rock circuit in and around London, especially around their home base of Deptford in South East London. By 1976, Gunn quit the band and was replaced by drummer Gilson Lavis, a former drummer and tour manager for Chuck Berry, and the band added bassist Harry Kakoulli as well. The group was soon signed by manager Miles Copeland's BTM record and management label, but the label went bankrupt before it could release the band's debut single, “Take Me I'm Yours”. The single ended up being issued in early 1977 on the Deptford Fun City label, and the band followed that up with their debut EP, Packet Of Three, later in 1977 on the same label. Through their initial connections through BTM, former Velvet Underground member John Cale served as the producer of the EP. The group, with their short hair and bouncy songs, was lumped in with the burgeoning new wave movement, but Squeeze was always very conscious of composing “proper” pop songs, ones that tended to be much more traditional and straight-ahead than many of their contemporaries.


            Soon after the release of their first EP, the band was signed to A&M Records, and entered the studio again with Cale producing to record and then release their debut album, simply titled Squeeze, released in early 1978. (When the album was issued in the U.S., they had to call themselves UK Squeeze because of an American group called Tight Squeeze didn't want there to be any confusion. After negotiations, Squeeze was able to use the name in the U.S. from 1978 on.) Before entering the studio, Cale had the band abandon most of the material they had been playing live for a while, and write all new songs. Because of this, the first album wasn't completely successful, though it did contain the minor hit “Take Me I'm Yours”. The band achieved a true breakthrough with their second album, Cool For Cats (A&M), released in 1979. Squeeze had two Top Ten British hits with the songs “Up The Junction” and the title track, and made inroads into the American market as well. The group issued a then-trendy 10 inch EP later in 1978, 6 Squeeze Songs Crammed Into One Ten-Inch Record (A&M), and followed that up with a holiday single, “Christmas Day”. Though the ten-inch was a minor hit, the single failed to dent the charts. Bassist Kakoulli was fired from the band in 1978, and his spot was taken over by bassist John Bentley. With Bentley on board, the band released their next album, Argybargy (A&M) in 1980. The group had two U.K hits with the songs “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and “Another Nail In My Heart”, and those songs as well as “If I Didn't Love You” became hits on college and new wave format radio stations in the U.S. Argybargy was the first Squeeze album to chart in the U.S., reaching as high as #71 on the album charts. Following Argybargy, Jools Holland left the band to pursue his interest in boogie-woogie piano with his next band, the Millionaires. Squeeze drafted singer and keyboardist Paul Carrack, formerly of Squeeze's old pub rock compatriots Ace, to fill Holland's place. Already the songwriting team of Difford and Tillbrook were being compared to Lennon and McCartney, and with an extra singer in Carrack, the group decided to become more ambitious with their next album, East Side Story (A&M), released in 1981. Produced by Elvis Costello and Roger Bechirian, the album was originally planned as a double album that would have four different musician producers for each side. Originally, Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Paul McCartney were slated, but the end result was slimmed down to a single album that had Edmunds producing one track and Costello and Bechirian producing the rest. Upon it's release, the album was hailed as the band's masterpiece, and the group scored one of the biggest hits of its career with the single “Tempted”, featuring lead vocals by Carrack. Unfortunately, not long after the release of East Side Story, Carrack decided to leave the band, and later found more success as the vocalist for the Genesis side project Mike & The Mechanics. Carrack's replacement in Squeeze was keyboardist Don Snow, and the new line-up of the band recorded 1982's Sweets From A Stranger (A&M). Whereas East Side Story garnered glowing review, Sweets From A Stranger was widely panned, and many critics complained that the mood of the album was too dark from a band so adept at upbeat songs. The band did score a hit with the song “Black Coffee In Bed”, but the pressures of touring, inner-band conflicts and the shifting line-up of the band caused Difford and Tillbrook to break up the band at the conclusion of the world tour in support of Sweets From A Stranger.


             Difford and Tillbrook, however, continued to work together, and released the self-titled Difford & Tillbrook (A&M) album in 1984. The album featured more lush arrangements than the duo had attempted in Squeeze, though many fans of the duo and Squeeze consider the album to be a de-facto Squeeze record. In early 1985, Squeeze was asked to reunite for a charity gig, and the line-up of Difford, Tillbrook, Holland and Lavis, with bassist Keith Wilkinson who played on Difford and Tillbrook's album, had so much fun together that they decided to reform the band and record another album. Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (A&M) was released in 1985 to generally positive reviews and sold moderately well. The group added second keyboardist Andy Metcalfe, who was also a member of Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians, in 1986, and it was this expanded line-up that recorded the band's next album, 1987's Babylon And On (A&M). Babylon And On became the bands most successful album since East Side Story, scoring a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the singles “Hourglass” and “853-5937”. The group toured in support of the album worldwide, including a top-billed performance at that years annual Reading Festival in England. After the tour, keyboardist Metcalfe exited the band. The group released their next album Frank (A&M) in 1989, but where their previous album had been a hit due to their label pushing to get them play on radio stations and MTV, this time A&M barely gave the new album any support at all, and consequently the album flopped. While the band was touring in support of the album in the U.S., they got the word that they had been dropped by A&M, leaving them in the middle of a tour with no support whatsoever. After the tour was completed, Holland again left the band, and went on to be a popular television host of musical programs for the BBC. The group added  keyboardist Matt Irving to their roster, and issued a one-off live record, A Round And A Bout on the I.R.S. label in 1990. After that, the group signed a deal with Reprise Records, and, with Irving now out of the band, had to rely on such session keyboardists as Steve Nieve, Carol Isaacs and Bruce Hornsby to complete their next album, Play, which was released in 1991. The album wasn't successful in the U.K. at all, though the group scored a couple of minor hits in Canada and the U.S. Due to the poor showing of the album, Reprise dropped the band after Frank, and the group found themselves again without a recording contract. Longtime drummer Gilson Lavis was fired from the band in 1992, and his spot was taken by Pete Thomas, the drummer for Elvis Costello & The Attractions. The 90's marked a period of musical chairs among members of Squeeze, as the band became essentially a vehicle for Difford and Tillbrook to present their songs in a band setting. Paul Carrack rejoined the line-up in 1993, and the group re-signed to A&M around the same time and issued the album Some Fantastic Place in 1993. The album sold moderately well, and the group scored a minor hit with the single “Third Rail” in the U.K. Though never officially in the band, singer/songwriter Aimee Mann sang with the band for many gigs in 1994. That same year, Thomas left the band, and after a short time where the band was drummer-less, session drummer Andy Newmark was brought in to fill the slot. Also in 1994, Carrack exited the band, and Andy Metcalfe returned to the band for a short while to fill Carrack's slot. Drummer Newmark didn't last long in the band, and was replaced by former Waterboys drummer Kevin Wilkinson, (who was not related to bassist Keith Wilkinson). The quartet version of Squeeze, consisting of Difford, Tillbrook, Wilkinson and Wilkinson, recorded and released the album Ridiculous (A&M)  in 1995, and scored minor hits in the U.K., though the album was mostly ignored in the U.S. After the albums release, Squeeze was once again dropped by A&M.


            The group continued to play live, adding returning keyboardist Don Snow, but members kept leaving the band so that, by 1997, just Difford and Tillbrook were calling themselves Squeeze. The duo released a single, “Down In The Valley”, in 1997 on Quixotic, a small label Tillbrook founded to release Squeeze material and any other projects he deemed worthy. Difford and Tillbrook built another version of Squeeze around themselves, this time including bassist Hilaire Penda, keyboardist Chris Holland, (Jools' brother), and ex-Del Amitri drummer Ashley Soan, and released the 1998 album Domino (Quixotic). The album was recorded in a rush, and most critics judged the album a half-hearted effort from a band well past its prime. This, combined with tensions between Difford and Tillbrook, led to Difford leaving the band in early 1999. Tillbrook continued on leading the band until the end of the year, when it was decided to break up the band again. Both Difford and Tillbrook continued on with solo careers, and didn't work together again at all until 2003, when they collaborated again on a song featured on one of Tillbrook's solo albums. In 2004, the duo worked with writer Jim Drury on a book about Squeeze, titled Squeeze: Song By Song, and told in the book that they had become better friends after the band had broken up than they had ever been during the bands lifespan. The VH1 show Bands Reunited tried to get the mid-'80's line-up of the band to reunite in 2004, but Jools Holland was too busy, and Difford and Tillbrook still had reservations about playing with each other again. Difford and Tillbrook continued their friendship, until, after sitting in with each other on a few solo shows, they decided to reform Squeeze in 2007 to tour and help promote Universal and Warner Brothers reissuing of their back catalog and a new greatest hits compilation, titled Essential Squeeze (Universal). Holland and Lavis were asked to participate in the reunion, but were unable due to prior commitments. Former bassist John Bentley rejoined the band, and the remaining slots were taken by members of Tillbrook's touring band, The Fluffers; Simon Hanson on drums, and Stephen Large on keyboards. The group toured the U.K. And U.S., and released a live CD documenting the American shows, 5Live (Quixotic), in late 2007. After Tillbrook finishes with priorities involving his solo career, he and Difford are set to work on new material and release a new Squeeze album sometime in 2009.

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