Thursday, July 21, 2022


Neither the first nor, I suspect, the last time for me to feature Squeeze, a band who have given me as much pleasure as many, and continue so to do, over, gulp, their, so far, 48 year, and counting, career. Possibly now more of a heritage act, featuring Glenn Tillbrook and Chris Difford, plus whomsoever available from the rotating door of other members and additional hired hands, they still put on a stocking show, capable of pulling surprises out the hat and even, if not that much in the way of new material, the odd, unexpected and inspired cover version. To be fair, Difford, the deeper voice to Tillbrook's higher and clearer register, often just strumming his rhythm guitar quietly side stage, with a bemused expression on his face, doesn't always  bother. No lover of transatlantic plane travel, he has been known to sit out the max of world tours, even to the home of their reliable US fanbase, staying back at home in England. But Tillbrook has always done most the heavy lifting, as the main and lead voice, give or take Cool For Cats and the other episodic showpieces taken by Difford, as well as being a finely inventive lead guitarist. ( I often wonder whether the Difford free band attempt Cool For Cats, with it being one of their more popular songs? I guess I will find out one day.)

No Place like Home (1985): PLAY SECOND

Home was the obvious theme to parade this song, as it is and always has been one of my favourites. Home, and the awkwardnesses often thereof, has been a recurring feature in Difford's lyrics, his writing the epitome of kitchen sink drama, his songs often little soap operas. Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, the album for which is is drawn, came at a difficult junction for the band. Arguably at the peak of earlier success, maybe just past, the band had broken up following 1982's Sweets From a Stranger, the lure of bangles duo success having proven too strong. And why not? Being the authors of all the songs, why tag along a band to dilute the earning potential, even if the reality was more of internal friction and the "musical differences" that had already seen Jools Holland, very much a live focus of the band, jump ship an album or so before. But Difford/Tillbrook, the duo and the eponymous album, was not the golden egg hoped for, necessitating a return to the golden goose. Squeeze were reborn, and even Jools was back to help celebrate, if but for a while. (It wouldn't be long, sadly, before he again jumped ship, taking avuncular sticksman, Gilson Lavis, off with him to his R&B Orchestra.) In fact, bar the absence of erstwhile bassist, John Bentley, this was nearly the same line up as for Argy Bargy and East Side Story, the twin lodestones of the Squeeze magic, with Keith Wilkinson coming in to replace him, fresh from the Difford-Tillbrook enterprise.

Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti was a muted success as a reincarnation, 32 in the UK album charts. I don't think the US even noticed. The songs were largely a good deal more complicated than previously and struggled with a slightly clunky production, an if in doubt add more textures school of thought. So a lot of kitchen sink. This was very much the house style of producer, Laurie Latham, who also worked for Paul Young, the Stranglers and, notably, Ian Dury: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick was one of his. I remember frowning a little at the time I first heard Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, but the style grew on me. I guess, as someone with always an ear out for the bass guitar, which Latham clearly was too, given the prominence he gave Pino Palladino, JJ Burnel and Norman Watt-Roy elsewhere, I took pleasure in how high in the mix he placed Keith Wilkinson. This was the catnip that made me wonder, with time, whether this is their best album. Or favourite, as we writers mean when we say best. Tillbrook's voice is all over the place in the chorus, as the arrangement lurches about, barely holding together, an orchestra seeming to saw away in a different room and to a different backing track. I love it, and the marriage between it and the preceding track, Last Time Forever, is little short of perfect, the one seeming to lead into the other. (So, a word, play the clip below first, and then the one higher up the page, for full effect.) In fact, it was as these two tracks burst into my ears, more than likely in the car, driving, the result was an epiphany: Squeeze were back, back, back. The fact that the songs that then complete the disc were a little meh mattered not a jot, that was often the Squeeze way, where they tucked the filler and the songs by other than the two front men.

Last Time Forever (1985): PLAY FIRST

I actually got to see this line-up live, at around this time. I think it was at Birmingham's Powerhouse, a venue long gone. Previously the Locarno, it was a tacky dance hall in a the concrete monstrosity that built up around the top of Hurst Street. (Opposite Mr Egg, should anyone familiar be reading or remember, a fabled restaurant, open until the wee hours, and from the wee hours, selling all things egg, usually fried.) It was a terrific show and certainly blew the socks off the show I caught at Birmingham Odeon, a good few years before, between the debut and Cool For Cats, when they were still struggling a bit with image, uncertain if they were punks or new wave, going down the calibre tunesmithery as a result. And, in the times since, whilst good, they have never quite been that good. For good measure, here's how I found them about 6 years ago, within the content of Day 3.

Squeeze have a number of other songs about home in their canon. Indeed, home life, and all the twists and turns associated, form their most prominent feature, Difford possessing almost documentarian skills in evoking the joy and grief of the real grubbiness and shabbiness of suburban family life, of folk making the best of whatever life's allotted. Here's two more from lesser known and latter day releases. They could almost be about the same fella, objective witness and his own subjective interpretation.

The Day I Get Home (1991)

Jolly Comes Home (1993)

Well, I don't know about you, but revising these songs has put me in a truly nostalgic bent. and, like so many other bands I have decided I have seen enough of, I want to see them again. Well, next month I get part of that delivered, with Chris Difford playing a solo show at Wickham Festival, in Hampshire, UK.

No place, right enough!

Monday, July 18, 2022

Home: I Don’t Want To Go Home

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: I Don’t Want To Go Home

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d been spending a lot of time preparing for my 40th college reunion, which was a lot of fun. But I want to talk today, a little, about our 25th reunion. At that time, although I was an active alumnus, in the sense that I went to reunions and sporting events and was proud of my college, I did little or no volunteer work for my class or school. In my mind, the reunion just sort of happened, and although I knew that classmates were involved in organizing it, I had no clue as to how much work it takes, and how hard it is to do it. I know now. Trust me, I know now. 

When I showed up at our 25th, in addition to receiving a uniquely beautiful garish jacket, I found out that our entertainment for one of the evenings was going to be Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I had always enjoyed their music, had played them occasionally on the radio during college, and was surprised that they would be appearing at our reunion. Typically, classes hire cover bands of various styles, and to my knowledge it was unusual to have a “name” band, even one whose best years seemed to be behind them, as entertainment. I later discovered that the band was paid for by a wealthy classmate, so that the cost was not passed along to the rest of us, which was nice of him. (This appearance appeared to set off a bit of an arms race among reunions classes, with appearances by acts such as Joan Jett, Duran Duran, Naughty By Nature, some version of the Beach Boys, and others until it seems that the University has discouraged this practice. Also, Phil Lesh played with his son, who was graduating, one year at an off-campus eating club, and Stanley Jordan joined in.) 

They were great, if a little loud under our tent, and the picture above is from his performance (and thanks to the classmate who provided me with this and other pictures from that night for our slideshow, because that was 2007, before everyone carried a digital camera in their pocket). 

Southside Johnny (John Lyon) and Bruce Springsteen met as young, aspiring musicians in the late 1960s, became close friends, and were both involved in creating the New Jersey/Asbury Park sound. A number of musicians played with both men, including Gary Tallent and Vini Lopez, who went to high school with Lyon, and Steve Van Zandt. But where Springsteen went on to become The Boss, Southside’s success was more limited. There are tons of articles on the Internet discussing their friendship, which continues, but I found one from 2012, an interview with Lyon, that seems to lay it out pretty clearly. According to that article, even in the early days, Lyon knew that among all of the musicians in their group, Springsteen stood out. As Lyon remembered, “He just had that presence where you couldn’t take your eyes off him.” Lyon described the difference between the bands: “He's got more straight ahead rock 'n' roll roots and I have more rhythm and blues roots. And I have a horn section and he doesn't." 

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ first album, I Don’t Want to Go Home, is excellent, and the title track, written by Van Zandt (who also produced the record), is maybe the band’s signature track. It’s a blusey, horn-drenched rocker, telling the story of someone who, well, doesn’t want to go home and face the fact that his love has left him. For what it is worth, I’m using a live version of the song, from the 1980 album Reach Up and Touch the Sky, because I like it a little better. 

Lyon has continued to perform and record pretty much non-stop with various lineups of the Jukes, solo, and with other side projects, but has generally flown under the radar. But, at least back in 2012, Lyons seemed comfortable with his career. As he said in that interview: 

I like where I am. I'm friends with a lot of these guys who have become big rock stars and it's not for me. I treasure my privacy and l like being left alone on the street. Garry Tallent and I were talking a couple of years ago and realized everybody pretty much got what they wanted. Steven always wanted to be active politically and to play music and now he's an actor as well. Bruce always wanted to make his music count for people. He carried himself as a person who has something to say, and still does. And I've always wanted to be as free and odd and eccentric as I wanted, because I'm just naturally that way - and I can. I haven't put on a suit for 40 years.