Q Magazine

On This Day In Music… March 1, 1973: Chris Difford Puts Advert in Newsagent's Window. Only One Man Responds, Magic Follows

Together Difford and Glenn Tilbrook would be dubbed 'The new Lennon and McCartney'.

squeeze
Source: mega

Squeeze circa 1978. Lovely bunch of lads.

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On March 1, 1973 (or 1974, depending on which version of the story you believe – recollections are understandably somewhat hazy), a 19-year-old Chris Difford stole 50p from his mother’s purse and made his way to his local newsagent. In his pocket was an index card, on which he had scrawled: “Guitarist wanted… for recording and touring band: influences The Kinks, Lou Reed and Glenn Miller.”

He only received one response, from a 15-year-old called Glenn Tilbrook. And when they met a few weeks later, he had to sheepishly explain that there was no record deal, and no tours booked. In fact, the “band” was just him, and some lyrics.

“I had no band,” he later admitted. “It said I had a pending record deal and a tour lined up. I had neither. The advert cost me 50p, which I took from my mother’s purse. That 50p got me to where I am today, which is some journey.”

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chris difford glenn tilbrook
Source: Danny Clifford

Fifty years later, it may have been the best 50p Difford ever spent.

Nevertheless, Tilbrook was impressed enough, with both Difford’s lyrics and with his chutzpah, and, along with his schoolfriend Jools Holland, formed Squeeze. The partnership was magic from the start: in their first year they wrote a reported 137 songs together, including “Take Me I’m Yours”, which in 1978 would become their first single – and first hit.

Speaking to the Guardian in 2015, Tilbrook described their unique writing process.

“I’d been playing with Jools Holland for about a year and, though it was lovely, we’d never sparked as writers,” he said. “Then Chris played me his songs, and his lyrics were incredible. I’d been writing songs since the age of 11 but I’d never have come up with the things he did. I didn’t feel a failure, though. I felt excited.

“Once the band got going, we shared a house. Chris would leave lyrics for me on a silver breakfast tray, and I’d go off and put tunes to all this wonderful stuff.”

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Their singular way of working – with Difford delivering lyrics which Tilbrook would then write music around – was born out of their contrasting personalities. While Tilbrook’s roots were firmly musical, Difford’s aspirations were more literary.

“There was a young English teacher at my school who was quite debonair compared to the others, who were all ancient,” he told the Guardian. “He noticed I’d been writing poetry on the back of my exercise books, so he gave me some Donovan and Bob Dylan albums and said: ‘These people put poems to music. Maybe that’s something you could think about.’

“After school I was lost, looking for friends really, somebody to team up with. I’d written a few songs and had this idea that I could be the David Bowie of Deptford. Then I met Glenn. We were like two barges on a river banging into each other. It was – and is – a very intense relationship, like a marriage. I’m emotional and a fantasist. Glenn is more thought out, and a much more fluid guitarist. So we decided that I would write the words. And I knew I could trust him to come up with wonderful music.”

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After the first flush of success with “Take Me, I’m Yours”, Squeeze hit the big time in 1979 with back-to-back No. 2 hits, “Cool for Cats” and “Up the Junction”. Difford’s ferociously smart narrative lyricism – the latter song especially being a whole kitchen sink drama condensed into three minutes and 10 seconds – combined with Tilbrook’s melodic take on post-punk, set the template for a career that would last (off and on) until 1999, before the duo reunited in 2007.

Their most recent LP (and their fifteenth studio album together), The Knowledge, was released in 2017, and this year they are embarking on a mammoth 50th anniversary tour across the U.K. and Ireland.

squeeze
Source: Danny Clifford

'The way Glenn and I weave in and out of our lives, it’s a love story.'

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Speaking to Classic Pop magazine in 2022, Chris Difford described the pair’s continuing – occasionally stormy – relationship… and how, just as it was from their first meeting, it’s the words and music that still unite them.

“Glenn and I have got divorced three or four times, but we’ve never figured out who’d get to keep what from our record collections,” he said. “Ultimately, there’s an underlying current of admiration – from my end, at least – for Glenn as a writer and performer. That will always last. The way Glenn and I weave in and out of our lives, it’s a love story.

“Even now, when we co-write in the same house, we’re usually in adjacent rooms with the door open. It doesn’t have to be like that, but we’ve come so far down the track it’d be hard to change our personalities. We’re not quite as bad as The Everly Brothers for fighting, but we’re also not exactly like Lennon & McCartney. We’re somewhere in the middle.”

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