Live Music as Squeeze at Royal Albert Hall entertains

Given their undoubted status as a national treasure, the Albert Hall was a suitable venue for this much loved but somehow, criminally, critically undervalued group.  They’ve had odd periods of inactivity over the years, short hiatuses as solo projects have been indulged and enthusiasm rekindled but they’ve never really been away and, after a golden period of producing classic single hits, have continued to make excellent albums, with 2015’s “Cradle to the Grave” and “The Knowledge” two years later, being the latest offerings, demonstrating that the songwriting talents of Messrs Difford and Tilbrook remain as strong as ever.  Their songs have been a constant soundtrack to many over the years, the subject matter of these, changing from cheeky descriptions of youthful misadventures to more reflective and wry commentary on the vicissitudes of adult life. Having seen the band play live many times over the years they never fail to surprise me with the emotional impact of their live performance and the way that they manage to make the live versions more powerful and interesting while staying faithful to the original versions.  Having said that, they are equally capable of extending a track, not by some tedious soloing, but by inserting clever arrangements. Glenn Tilbrook is an excellent singer and a really accomplished guitar player.  His vocal cords remain as nimble as ever and seeing the band live is like being in a time warp, as long as you close your eyes!  

While Squeeze is essentially Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook they have – unlike many bands that have re-united to take advantage of the enhanced nostalgia for the music of yesteryear and recruited a bunch of anonymous musicians to back them –  always had the knack of working with musicians that have a personality as well as talent. This enables fans to have a real connection with the band as a whole.  The current line-up features the long-serving members and larger than life personalities of Simon Hanson on drums and Stephen Large on keyboards; Yolanda Charles continues their recent trend of employing a female bassist and she exuded a cheerful demeanour on the night as she laid down some mobile bass parts with a cool aplomb.  Newer additions Steve Smith on percussion and Melvin Duffy on a variety of instruments, including lap steel guitar, subtly added to the dynamics of the songs.  Collectively, a very class act.

The current tour is billed as presenting the “Difford & Tilbrook Songbook” and offers the chance to hear a range of songs from across their 40 plus year history, including some less familiar or rarely, heard live renditions from their impressive back catalogue; hence the opening tracks “Footprints” from 1987’s “Babylon & On” and “Big Beng” from 1985’s Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti.  To be honest, all their songs are so melodic and well crafted that they all have an air of familiarity, even if they haven’t been top of your recent playlist.  We’d be here all day if all their songs played on the night were described in detail so, just focusing on some highlights it was great to hear classic album tracks from (the night’s most heavily featured album) “East Side Story” like “In Quintessence” and “Someone Else’s Heart, as well as “Mumbo Jumbo” alongside the hits from that album (you know them I’m sure).  For a superb version of “Slap and Tickle” (with its succinct and timeless advice “never chew a pickle with a bit of slap and tickle”) the songwriters were left alone on the stage and Glenn Tilbrook created a wall of sound as he rocked out the propelling riff while singing (which if you’ve attempted it makes you marvel at his effortless skill in pulling this off).  “Third Rail” is a personal favourite with its lovely descending picked guitar figure and superb harmonies.  The guitarist’s playing was sublime throughout and hearing the lyrical beauty of his solos on tracks like “Another Nail in My Heart” and “Black Coffee in Bed” was, as ever, a joy.  His partner in crime, aside from providing the lyrics that really set the band apart from any of their contemporaries (and anyone since), Elvis Costello aside, provided the low harmony that underpins most of the songs.  It’s not exactly the Everly Brothers but the octave harmonies between the two are part of the unique sound of the band.  Song after song flashed past, 24 gems, building up to a storming version of “Take Me I’m Yours”, which the band has turned into a rocking tour de force of ensemble full tilt mayhem.  An extended version of “Black Coffee in Bed” closed the show and left the enthusiastic audience in an emotionally charged and satisfied state.  This band just get better as time goes on.  Long may they continue.

Set List

  1. Footprints
  2. Big Beng
  3. Hourglass
  4. Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
  5. Up the Junction
  6. King George Street
  7. Mumbo Jumbo
  8. Cradle to the Grave
  9. The Day I Get Home
  10. Someone Else’s Heart
  11. Is That Love
  12. Third Rail
  13. Please Be Upstanding
  14. In Quintessence
  15. Slap and Tickle
  16. Labelled With Love
  17. Love’s Crashing Waves
  18. Tempted
  19. Cool for Cats
  20. Another Nail in My Heart
  21. Goodbye Girl
  22. Annie Get Your Gun
  23. Take Me I’m Yours
  24. Black Coffee in Bed

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