Live Review: Squeeze, Harrogate International Centre, 28th October 2017
South-East London’s new wave chroniclers overcome the odds to deliver a feelgood evening of kitchen-sink drama pop
There’s always been something profoundly personal about Squeeze. Bred in the pub rock underbelly of late-seventies South-East London, the new wave veterans are held by many as the finest chroniclers of minute kitchen-sink drama since Lennon and McCartney, wrapping up tribulations and troubles into acutely-realised three-minute pop songs filled with quirk and wit. Songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have always kept their finger on the pulse of everyday Britain; amongst the art-deco slopes of Harrogate’s International Centre, their knack for observational dramedy helps ground an evening of warm nostalgia from slipping too far into mawkish sentimentalism.
The six-piece are forced to overcome difficulties though; Tilbrook, curly-haired and dressed as a benevolently psychedelic uncle, is suffering from throat problems and is reduced to a croaky falsetto at various points. On Pulling Mussels (From the Shell), he struggles to rise to the notes, locked in a raspy monotone; on Annie Get Your Gun, he quips that he’s mastering his skills as a Tom Waits tribute act. When Difford – decked out in attire resembling an off-duty vicar – takes over lead vocal duties on the pretty balladry of Love Circles and Cool for Cats’ cockney jangle, it provides much needed respite for his fellow frontman.
As the night progresses – and aided by an endless supply of hot mugs served by stagehands – Tilbrook does find his groove, and illness has not dimmed his musicianship or the power of his material. New cuts, such as the swirling wah-wah wash of Innocence in Paradise and the jaunty harpsichord skiffle of Patchouli, stand up well when laid next to the classics, virtually all of which are present. Another Nail in My Heart fizzes with lovelorn platitudes and a snappy six-string solo; Tempted, with its soul-drenched organ, still sounds timeless decades later. For Take Me I’m Yours, the band decamp to the front for a gypsy-folk rendition, filled with French café accordion and marching drums; Slap and Tickle blasts in on its proto-synth riffs, urgent and insistent. As they wrap up with an extended, funked-up bounce through Black Coffee in Bed, the duo exchange little dances across the front as they strum away, grins plastered across their expressions as two thousand people bellow back and jive in the red velvet seats. Smart and sparky when at their best, Squeeze have the songbook to carry them through – inventively feelgood and fun against the odds.
Riddle’s review of Squeeze’s latest album here.