Squeeze carries on undeterred after Jools Holland opts for his “Mr. Showbiz caper”



By Steve Newton

The liner notes to Squeeze’s new live album, A Round and a Bout, contain a precise itinerary of the 892 concerts that the band has performed around the world since forming in ’74. There are early shows at the Camden Girls School and after that the venues get steadily more impressive–culminating in four shows at Madison Square Garden in New York. Singer-guitarist Chris Difford says those concerts “were like the equivalent of getting into the World Cup and playing at Wembley”.

In the past 16 years, Squeeze has taken its slyly tempting brand of pop-rock from the famed Marquee Club in London to the Opry House in Austin, Texas; from the Sundowner Hotel in Sydney, Australia to the Jamaican Sunsplash Festival. And the band will bring it to the Pacific Coliseum on Friday (May 25) as the opening act for Fleetwood Mac. Squeeze may just blow Stevie Nicks and her soft-rock compadres right off the stage.

One familiar face in the Squeeze lineup will be missing this time around, however. Julian (Jools) Holland, the hammy keyboardist whose zany antics and versatile chops have helped propel the band from the beginning, has left the fold to pursue the TV career that he first got a taste of as co-host (with saxman David Sanborn) of the Sunday Night music show. More recently Holland has been pursuing TV stardom in the U.K.

“It was getting to be too much for both him and us,” explained co-founder Difford. “We wanted to go off to tour in Europe, but he wasn’t able to come because of other commitments, so eventually we had to say, ‘It’s either us or your Mr. Showbiz caper.’ And, quite rightly, he followed his instinct and chose television.”

Difford says that even though Holland chose the tube over Squeeze there are no hard feelings. His departure is looked upon as more like another chapter in the eventful history of the band rather than a loss to be mourned.

“We all grew up in the same South London neighbourhood through early schooldays–that’s how we came together as a band. But just because Julian is aiming for a different goal now doesn’t mean that after all that time we’ll never see him again. If we’re working in the studio and he’s around, he’ll pop his head ’round the door and make a guest appearance. He’ll always be close by.”

While Holland’s effortless humour will be missed–“He’s Tom and Jerry,” quips Difford–don’t expect Squeeze to lose its ability to knock out delicious pop melodies and cheeky observations of the human condition. The songwriting core of Difford and fellow singer-guitarist Glenn Tillbrook is still intact, and their clever work can be heard on the live album in songs like “She Doesn’t Have to Shave”, “Black Coffee in Bed”, and the gorgeous pop gem, “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)”. Unfortunately, since the band wasn’t performing “Another Nail in my Heart” on the tour from which the live album was culled, that similiarly infectious track doesn’ t show up. But life goes on.

The last time Squeeze played Vancouver was at the Orpheum in January of ’88, when the group was conducting its own tour. But even though the band’s been around quite a long time, Difford says he doesn’t mind being billed as the opening act.

“There’s always good and bad points about supporting,” he says, “and you take the rough with the smooth. I mean, we only have a 45-minute set to do, which isn’t too much work, really, considering we used to play for two-and-a-half hours.

“But I am quite excited about touring with Fleetwood Mac–I used to enjoy them when I was at school, the very early albums with Peter Green. And also Christine [McVie] Perfect–she had her own sort of blues band that played locally.

Although far from being one of the world’s best-known bands, Squeeze has managed to maintain a loyal following in several countries–no mean feat when you consider how fickle and trend-conscious people can be. But the music has always been the magic of Squeeze–image and glamour are not its calling cards. The average Squeeze fan might not even know which of the singers is Difford and which is Tilbrook–and probably doesn’t care, as long as they keep coming up with tunes like “Tempted” and “Hourglass”. Difford agrees that the band has escaped pigeonholing.

“It’s been very good for us, the fact that we were not dressed as pirates or New Romantics 10 years ago. We rose through the ranks of the punk era in 1977 and we have survived various music trends ever since.”

One change that Squeeze will be going through in the near future concerns its record company. The band is currently at work on material for a new album which will be its first release on the American giant Warner Bros.

“What’s happening at the moment is the band is entering a new era, with a totally new outlook for the future,” says Difford. “We have had a happy marriage for 10 or 12 years with A&M Records, and the time has now come where we want a change. We found, especially with the last album, Frank, that their attitudes to our music were not what we were looking for. So it was time to go.”

The new live album, which features the last performances with Holland–and a version of his previously unrecorded “Dr. Jazz”–has Difford quite enthused. “We have never done a live album before, despite repeated calls from our fans. But we thought this would be a good opportunity, before Julian departed, to give the fans what they wanted.”

On the band’s current 12-week North American tour, Scottish keyboardist Matt Irvine will be taking over Holland’s spot, and Squeeze will be raking up more gigs, on the way to its landmark 1,000th show. Difford claims that he can remember practically every concert the band has done, for some reason or another. He graciously points out that they haven’t all been Madison Square Gardens.

“I can remember one at the Rochester Castle in London, where we played to one man and his dog. And when we stopped for the interval, the dog left.”

Dumb mutt. Must have been a Milli Vanilli fan or something.

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