After getting on for 40 years on the road, with the band that made his name and various solo and side-projects, Glenn Tilbrook remains as committed as ever to the live cause, as he tells Malcolm Wyatt
You’d have thought he’d have craved a break after his recent seven-week US tour, but instead the Squeeze frontman set out on an extensive solo acoustic tour.
He’s cramming 33 more gigs in during a seven-week stint on the build-up to Christmas, including visits to Preston’s 53 Degrees on Sunday, December 8.
And his Happy Ending tour – the name of his new album rather than notice that he’s about to hang up his plectrum – will see Glenn’s first completely-solo UK tour in four years.
Glenn is one of our most treasured musicians, his output including three top-five hits – Cool For Cats, Up The Junction and Labelled With Love – and 12 original studio albums with Squeeze, another LP with main co-writer Chris Difford, and three more on his own.
Add to all that the many compilations, collaborations, DVD releases and seemingly never-ending tour dates, and you realise this 56-year-old’s not one to rest on his laurels.
He was fresh from a date on the Isle of Wight, en route to Whitstable, Kent, when I caught up with him, four nights into his tour.
So does he still find it worrying taking on such a big commitment?
And does he still get nervous?
“I do get nervous before a tour.
“I haven’t been solo acoustic for quite a while, so it takes quite a while to get used to that.
“But I think I’m already over that.”
He clearly still has the buzz for playing live.
But Glenn likes to test himself too.
“I like to make it up as I go along.
“It’s like when you learn to float in the water.
“You have to take that leap of faith and say it’s alright, it’s going to work.
“Now I’m at that stage that I know it does work, and I’m confident I can do more.”
Glenn has carved out quite a reputation in recent years for not only taking requests from the audience, but also inviting fans on stage to duet on guitar.
Does that ever go drastically wrong?
“It’s one of the things about doing requests and part of the trust I have with the audience.
“If you do something like that, you have to be prepared to fail.
“Sometimes it does go wrong, you launch into a song and they say ‘no, actually I don’t know this’.
“But that’s ok, you can fail, do something else – as long as you don’t fail too often.”
Glenn will be showcasing songs from his new album in Preston on Sunday, as well as a few Squeeze favourites and maybe a cover or two, with CDs of the LP available on the night, before January’s vinyl, CD and download package release.
He’s chiefly seen as a melody man, the revered guitarist and vocalist weaving his magic with all those great words by Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford, currently busy managing The Strypes.
But this time it’s Glenn with the pen.
“I wrote all the lyrics on this record, and I’m really enjoying that spate of writing. It’s a mixture of narrative-driven story-lines.
“About half of the songs on the album are names of people, a mix of people either real or imagined.
“I’m getting political with a small p.
“On songs Everybody Sometimes and Rupert, I’m thinking about how justice and Government in this country seem to be seriously skewed at the moment.
“My second-eldest son went to protest against student grant cuts a couple of years ago and was held for seven hours by the police, while a friend of his, one of the gentlest I know, was charged for assaulting a police officer, which didn’t happen.
“Yet the police pursued the case for 18 months, with the threat of jail hanging over him.
“They put all that time, effort and money into doing that, but then you look at the people who financially brought this country to its knees, and they seem to sail off into other well-paid jobs.
“I really resent that lack of cohesion up and down the social scale.
“But try getting all that into a three-minute pop song!
“It’s got to be interesting and it’s got to be tuneful.
“That’s what I’m trying to do – write about things I feel about.
“Musically, my starting point was Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Incredible String Band.
“Acoustic guitars and bongos, that sort of thing.
“It doesn’t sound anything like that now, but that’s how it started.
“No electric guitars, no drums.”
There are collaborations too, with Simon Hanson, who drums with Squeeze and The Fluffers (his other band), and Chris McNally, who again toured with Glenn, and Chris Braide, from Warrington but now in Los Angeles working with the likes of Beyonce.
So is going out on the road completely alone a further test, keeping it all fresh?
“Absolutely. A couple of years ago I did an album with Nine Below Zero.
“It was a real privilege to work with such a great band, and we absorbed a bit of what each other does.
“I guess this tour is another extension of that.”
Of his current influences, he name-checks New Jersey indie outfit River City Extension and Australian new wave band Millions, although declaring an interest in the latter, as his eldest sons are members.
As has become customary with Glenn and Squeeze, there will be a ‘pop-up shop’ at his shows.
He added: “I’ll be there, signing away, selling mugs, T-shirts, albums, DNA samples, whatever you like.”
So is there still life in the album format in this day and age of Spotify, downloads and so on?
“There’s room for it. On this tour I’m selling Happy Ending as a CD, but in the New Year I’ll get it cut as a vinyl album, and from next year want to release everything in one format, a vinyl album containing a CD and download, so you choose what you like.”
Finally, as we’re deep into Movember, I asked about that recent face-hugging beard he has sported, and he confirmed: “No facial hair action with me. I kept it longer than I was going to. So many people hated it – but I quite enjoyed that reaction!”
For tickets details for Glenn’s 53 Degrees date, call 0871 220 0260, head to http://www.53degrees.net/