Formed in Deptford, London, England in 1974, Squeeze came to prominence in the late 70s as one of the most talented of the new wave of post-punk bands. After playing for a brief period as Captain Trundlow's Sky Company, original members Chris Difford (guitar/vocals), Glenn Tilbrook (guitar/vocals), and Jools Holland (keyboards/vocals) named the band after a disreputable Velvet Underground album. With the addition of Harry Kakoulli (bass; ex-England's Glory), and original drummer Paul Gunn replaced by Gilson Lavis, Squeeze released an EP, Packet Of Three, in 1977 on the Deptford Fun City label. Featuring the tracks 'Cat On The Wall', 'Night Ride' and 'Backtrack', it was produced by former Velvet Underground member John Cale. The EP's title in itself reflected the preoccupation of the band's main songwriters, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, with England's social underclass.
The release of Packet Of Three led to a recording contract with A&M Records (an earlier major label flirtation with RCA Records had proved unsuccessful) and a UK Top 20 hit in 1978 with 'Take Me I'm Yours'. Minor success with 'Bang Bang' and 'Goodbye Girl' that same year was followed in 1979 by two number 2 hits with 'Cool For Cats' and 'Up The Junction'. Difford's lyrics were by now beginning to show an acute talent in capturing the flavour of contemporary south London life, with a sense of the tragi-comic most evident on the sublime 'Up The Junction'. This began to flower fully with the release of 1980's Argybargy, which spawned the singles 'Another Nail In My Heart' (UK Top 20) and the sublime 'Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)'. The set was Squeeze's most cohesive album to date; having finally thrown off any remaining traces of a punk influence, they now displayed some of the finest 'kitchen sink' lyrics since Ray Davies' peak. The album also featured the band's new bass player, John Bentley.
In 1980, Holland left for a solo career that included performing and recording with his band, Jools Holland And The Millionaires (which displayed his talent for the 'boogie-woogie' piano style) and hosting the UK television show The Tube. His replacement was singer/pianist Paul Carrack, formerly with pub-rock band Ace. He appeared on East Side Story, which was mainly produced by Elvis Costello (with Dave Edmunds handling opening track 'In Quintessence'). Carrack stamped his mark on the album with his excellent performance on 'Tempted' and with the success of 'Labelled With Love', a UK Top 5 hit, the album became the band's most commercial to date. Carrack departed soon afterwards to join Carlene Carter's group, and was replaced by Don Snow. The follow-up, Sweets From A Stranger, was an uneven affair, although it did spawn the superb minor hit 'Black Coffee In Bed'.
In 1982, at the height of their success, amid intense world tours, including selling out New York's Madison Square Garden, Difford And Tilbrook dissolved the band. However, the duo continued to compose together, releasing an album in 1984. The following year they re-formed Squeeze with Lavis, the returning Holland, and a new bass player, Keith Wilkinson. Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti was hailed as a return to form, and although not supplying any hit singles, the tracks 'King George Street', 'I Learnt How To Pray', and Difford/Holland's 'Heartbreaking World' stood out. The line-up was augmented on tour by a supplementary keyboard player, first Holland's brother Christopher Holland and then Robyn Hitchcock associate Andy Metcalfe. In 1987 Squeeze achieved their highest position in the UK singles chart for almost six years when 'Hourglass' reached number 16 and subsequently gave the band their first US Top 40 hit, climbing one place higher. '853-5937' repeated the transatlantic success, breaking into the Top 40 a couple of months later. The accompanying album, Babylon And On, featured further contributions from Metcalfe.
After the release of 1989's Frank, which contained one of the most sensitive lyrics ever written by a man about menstruation ('She Doesn't Have To Shave'), Holland departed once again to concentrate on television work. With Matt Irving joining as a second keyboard player, Squeeze released a live album, A Round And A Bout, on their old Deptford Fun City label in 1990, before signing a new recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. The release of Play confirmed and continued Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook's reputation as one of the UK's finest songwriting teams, with 'Gone To The Dogs' and 'Wicked And Cruel' particularly resonant of earlier charms. A number of guest keyboard players joined Difford, Tilbrook, Lavis and Wilkinson on tour, including the returning Snow, Carol Isaacs and Steve Nieve of the Attractions. Long-serving drummer Lavis was then replaced by another member of the Attractions, Pete Thomas. The 1993 album Some Fantastic Place saw Difford and Tilbrook reunited with A&M Records and former bandmate Carrack, although there was some critical carping about their insistence on a group format that did not always augur well for their more adroit and sober compositions. One of the best tracks, 'Third Rail', returned Squeeze to the UK Top 40. Both Thomas and Carrack departed the line-up during the following year, with session drummer Andy Newmark and former member Metcalfe both helping out on a tour which featured singer-songwriter Aimee Mann.
Difford and Tilbrook recorded 1995's Ridiculous with Keith Wilkinson and new drummer Kevin Wilkinson (no relation), with additional keyboards from former associate Don Snow aka John Savannah. The set was Squeeze's strongest album in years, showing them back to writing sharp, humorous yet provocative lyrics on the up-tempo tracks and poignant love songs on the ballads. The lively 'Electric Trains', for example, managed to make the unlikely pairing of Julie Andrews and Jerry Garcia in one lyric! 'Grouch Of The Day' cleverly delivered self-deprecating honesty, while the minor hit 'This Summer' has the wonderful lyric: 'nights we spent out of control like two flags wrapped around a pole'. This was a tremendous set of songs that strangely missed the record-buying public by a mile, leaving many to wonder if they had fallen into cult obscurity in the same manner as those other outstanding craftsmen of the classic English pop single, Andy Partridge of XTC and Ray Davies of the Kinks. Like Davies and Partridge, Difford and Tilbrook were still writing perfect hooks and middle eights mixed with intelligent, interesting, and often bitingly accurate observations of life.
Following the demise of A&M Records, Squeeze issued Domino on their own Quixotic Records label. They displayed the material to the music market place in Cannes at the annual MIDEM festival in January 1999 by playing a blistering set. With little fanfare, the album was issued in the UK, and proved to be yet another gem, rife with great songs and melody. Featuring Christopher Holland (keyboards), Hilaire Penda (bass) and Ashley Soan (drums, ex-Del Amitri), this version of Squeeze sounded as good as any previous incarnation. Stand-out tracks included the painfully observant tale of the result of family divorce, 'To Be A Dad', and the honest confession of infidelity, 'Sleeping With A Friend'. Difford and Tilbrook proved they were still capable of writing top-notch material from their hearts, without pandering to musical trends. Sadly, these prized upholders of the great English pop song tradition disbanded Squeeze not long afterwards. Tilbrook released his solo debut, The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, in summer 2001. Difford followed suit in 2002 with I Didn't Get Where I Am.
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