English Rock Group Squeezing Out a Solid Following in U.S.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Over the years, Squeeze has done more than its share of touring in America, playing everything from college dates with Elvis Costello to sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York. Even so, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, the two singer-guitarists who front the English rock group, have no trouble naming the band's worst night on the road.

"We played a show in New Jersey where there were only two people and a dog," Difford said in a recent interview here. "The dog was just wandering around. And the guy who ran the bar actually made us do a second set, as if we'd pull in extra dogs or something."

"It was just ridiculous," Tilbrook said. "The people who were there were left over from the afternoon strip-tease sessions. They weren't the slightest bit interested. I suppose the manager wanted to create the illusion of something happening inside for casual passers-by."

"We played a few places like that on our first tour," Difford added. "The first show we played was in Bethlehem (Pa.). It was our very first show; I don't remember a thing about it."

"I do," Tilbrook said. "The pinball machine. I remember it being very exciting, playing pinball in America. I'm an easily pleased person."

"I remember being with the guy who's now managing John Lydon, who was our tour manager then," said Difford, his memory apparently refreshed. "We set up all the gear not realizing that in America they have different plugs. So we'd gotten all the gear out and--my God!--we had to run and get new plugs and screw them on.

"And then nothing worked--we needed a transformer as well, because it's (a different voltage in America). That was some tour."

Since then, Squeeze has not only come to terms with the mysteries of American electrical power but also risen to sufficient prominence that it is no longer necessary to play to dogs. And though it took 10 years for Squeeze to crack the American Top-40, which it finally managed in 1987 with the single "Hourglass," the group has built quite a solid following over the years.

So much so, said Difford, that the band could tour almost indefinitely. The current tour is "going to be only for five or six weeks initially," he said. "Then we'll be touring England in January and be back out in America in March or April. This is such a huge place, we could tour for quite some time."

It wasn't too long ago, though, that two days together on the road was too long for Squeeze. Although Difford and Tilbrook have gotten along since 1975, when they formed Squeeze, over the years internal and external stress began to make it hard for the quintet as a whole to get along.

Things hit bottom in 1982, when the group released its fifth album, "Sweets From a Stranger." Said Tilbrook, "Squeeze was a tired band, and to me it sounded it. A couple of the tracks on (that album) are among the best we've ever done, but the album generally, I don't like listening to it."

Inevitably, it came time to call it quits, which the members of Squeeze did in November, 1982. Nor did Difford and Tilbrook, who had since struck out on their own, see much of bandmates Gilson Lavis and Jools Holland until the four met at a charity concert in early '85.

"I certainly never thought that we'd play together again, because it had peaked and it would start getting worse," Tilbrook recalled. "But then, and I'm really cutting a long story short, after we'd played accidentally, it was very apparent to all of us that we really should be playing together.

"A thing which I hadn't realized up until that point is that (as musicians), you build up by having developed along the same lines. And being older now, I think it gets easier rather than harder. Easier as far as understanding people's points of view."

As a result, the members of Squeeze have developed an uncannily high level of communication within their music. "When we were rehearsing the new songs for the new album, there was a lot of just playing the songs," Difford said, "and really, they'd just tip out. It was unspoken most of the time.

"At some points in the past, getting arrangements was like pulling teeth. Really hard work. Now, the idea of going on tour in America is something to look forward to."

Still, that is not to say that Squeeze doesn't take a wrong turn occasionally. Consider the strange course the band took with its current single, "If It's Love."

At first, Tilbrook said, "It wasn't 'If It's Love,' it was called 'If I'm Dead.' It was about being dead. It was a completely different song; the tune was the same, but in a very florid, dreamy atmosphere, and the words were about being dead. We demo-ed it for the 'Babylon and On' album, and it wasn't a particularly popular choice with anyone, including ourselves.

"After we'd done the album, I had another listen to it and thought that there were possibilities there," he continued. "Chris came up with another lyric for it, and I (redid the demo). So it ended up being a reggae song."

But that still wasn't it. "Squeeze aren't, by any stretch of the imagination, in the world's top 500 reggae bands," Tilbrook said. "It really didn't suit our style. It was Chris who suggested that we stop thinking about arrangements and really simplify it, make it very, very simple as an arrangement--the art of not thinking when you're playing. That's what we did, and it was actually the best way."

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