‘The new Lennon & McCartney.’
How many times did the music press apply the above description to the song-writing combination of Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook during the legendary UK post-punk pop band, Squeeze’s, heyday?
The answer was, most likely, too often – yet given the range and diversity of the songs they so frequently came up with, coupled with the wonderful knack they possessed of being able to weld memorable melodies to perceptive and intelligent lyrics, the comparison was not without substance.
Forty years on, and, just like the songs of Lennon & McCartney, Squeeze’s rich repertoire of quality songs has clearly stood the test of time – evidenced by the generous selection of tunes played by Glenn Tilbrook and the current line-up of the band at The Gov on Monday night.
Tilbrook, resembling a member of the Channel 9 cricket commentary team more than a rock star these days, rolled out well over a dozen of the band’s greatest hits amid a generous range of songs from the band’s only two albums released this century, much to the delight of a very happy crowd who had waited 38 years for the band to return and play a gig in this country.
Whilst last year’s album, The Knowledge was the most represented release in the set, the songs from this album all seemed to fit into the mood and flow of the night seamlessly, and proved to be more than just tasty palette cleansers between the main course hits.
But of course, anticipating the thrill of hearing the songs that had made such an impact so long ago, being played with so much infectious enthusiasm by the band, meant that this newer material was, most often, politely tolerated rather than feverishly embraced by the near capacity crowd.
There was never too long of a lull however, because the band was also able to afford the luxury of playing so many of their biggest hits throughout the main set, rather than simply holding them back until the encore, which encouraged the audience to engage and sing along lustily throughout a stream of solid gold pop classics such as Pulling Mussels (From A Shell), Hourglass, Annie Get Your Gun, Labelled With Love, Another Nail In My Heart, Take Me I’m Yours, Tempted, Goodbye Girl, Up The Junction and Slap & Tickle.
Tilbrook’s voice was as distinctive and strong as ever, and he was ably supported with supporting vocals from bassist Yolanda Charles, percussionist Steve Smith, keyboard maestro ‘Lord’ Stephen Large and long-time Fluffers drummer, Simon Hanson – as well as the occasional choral or operatic voices on background tape.
Collectively, the musical virtuosity of the latest incarnation of the band must rank them highly amongst the most impressively talented outfits to grace The Gov’s stage in recent times.
The encore brought another set of hits – Cool For Cats, Is That Love?, and the sublime Black Coffee In Bed – which exponentially increased the excited fervour of the crowd.
Cool For Cats saw Steve Smith take over rhyming slang vocal duties, covering for Chris Difford whose fear of flying had prevented him from making the trip down under, and Smith’s droll delivery of the song’s lyrics fit the bill perfectly.
By the end of the set, the band had clearly satiated the appetites of their hard core fans (even though they may have forgotten to include Vanity Fair, When The Hangover Strikes, and…Wild Sewerage Tickles Brazil) and the satisfied buzz of the crowd as they filed out was palpable.
Earlier in the night, Britain’s punk poet laureate, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, had delivered a set of his greatest poetry ‘hits’ – think poems such as 1980’s Beasley Street and Evidently Chickentown as examples – which were linked together with some wildly funny observations and one-liners.
Clarke’s command of the nuances of the English language and his ability to subvert these to highlight the perversities of human behaviour is still, after all these years, a thing of breathless wonder.
Whilst he can fly close to the PC threshold at times, especially discussing such topics as righteous violence and necrophilia, the good doctor’s delivery of this material is so well formulated that it becomes almost impossible to repress the urge to bellow with laughter every few lines – as many in attendance found themselves doing.
Together, John Cooper Clarke and Squeeze provided one of the best shows of the year so far.
Squeeze, supported by John Cooper Clarke, performed at The Gov on Monday April 30.