As Squeeze launch their first album in ages with able support from the Salford Bard John Cooper Clarke, Getintothis’ Del Pike settles down for an evening of top notch entertainment.
The Philharmonic was buzzing tonight for not only were Squeeze playing, which is always a reason to be cheerful, but they were pushing their first studio album of the 21st Century, released just days ago. Packed to the rafters with what appeared to be dyed-in-the-wool Squeeze fans if the sea of t-shirts and the average age of 50 plus was anything to go by, the already glowing crowd were treated to fine support in the spindly shape of Dr John Cooper Clarke.
Clarke was on great form too, compared to previous sightings a few years back where poetry was traded for anecdotes, tonight we got eight classics and a handful of limericks along with some brilliantly executed stand up. Clarke is not for everyone and some of the older Squeeze fans upped and left once the Doctor was in full swing with his scattergun delivery of F-bombs and Jewish jokes. Clarke justified these jokes by proclaiming himself as an unorthodox Jew’ “I’m a Nazi”. Clearly he is not and his jokes are well aimed and hilarious. That his other jokes mainly concern prostitutes and marital disharmony should place him in the Bernard Manning camp, but somehow JCC manages to stay right on.
The poetry that Clarke is famous for doesn’t disappoint tonight as he aims at some obvious targets with Hire Car and I’ve Fallen In Love With My Wife, but perhaps the greatest joy for his fans tonight was the pairing of the timeless snapshot of Thatcher’s Britain, Beasley Street and its Cameron era counterpart Beasley Boulevard. At once hilarious, moving and honest, and despite Clarke’s age he doesn’t miss a beat. Age is obviously a concern and he celebrates the threat of Alzheimer’s , “You can hide your own Easter eggs / You meet new people every day” and laughs in the face of old age with his epic Bed-blocker Blues – “Things are going to get worse nurse, things are going to get worse…” Clarke looks thinner than ever and it’s incredible how his sticks for legs hold him up. He’s in denial of course “As you can see I’ve put on a few pounds since you last saw me”. This he blames on coming off amphetamines and tells all in his funnier than thou – Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck. He closes the set with his trademark fuckfest – Evidently Chicken Town which he attributes to giving the bleep man at the BBC repetitive strain injury.
Clarke was perfect support tonight as his acid portrayals of working class life in austerity Britain reflect many of Squeeze’s more successful tracks, notably Up the Junction and Slap and Tickle with their razor-sharp machine gun lyrical payloads.
When Squeeze appear, launching straight into their 1986 chart hit Hourglass they look great but sound a little hollow and distant, the same applies for Is That Love? Straight after, it’s clear something is wrong. The band exit stage left and re-enter a few minutes later and we are asked to roar loudly for the live recording being made. It looks like a Glenn Tillbrook ear-piece issue and after a slightly improved Annie Get Your Gun and another break while the techies fiddle with wires they bounce back with Another Nail In My Heart and Bingo, they sound like Squeeze again. The slow start doesn’t really help matters as soon after, the band enter a suite of new songs from their Cradle to the Grave album which brings the tempo down considerably.
The songs are taken from the same titled TV series which is a re-telling of journalist Danny Baker’s teenage years from his autobiography, Going To Sea In a Sieve. The bittersweet songs are beautiful and funny and deal with, love, sex and football in the main. The era of Baker’s youth and the subject matter draw comparisons with The Who’s Quadrophenia and some of the arrangements really do evoke passages from that great album/film. The songs jar slightly when we remember they are about Danny bloody Baker, but there you go. The songs are well received, helped ably by some well-crafted visuals on the screen, but it is a relief to move back to familiar territory with a rousing tour of their greatest hits, knocking out favourites like Labelled With Love and Slap and Tickle, the latter performed as a hoe-down with all band members at the front of the stage, even the drummer. The stage set is simple enough with old fashioned red and blue strip lights which echo the carnival feel of the new album cover.
Chris Difford’s unusual vocals add humour to new track I Don’t Wanna Grow Up and lead track from the album, Cradle to the Grave shows a return to their early chart attacking style. It’s not until about twenty songs in, that the Stevie Wonder–ful Tempted brings the audience to their feet with all hands clapping and the final showdown of favourites begins. The absolutely perfect single, Up the Junction closes the set but a quick turnaround brings a sparkling encore that includes new songs Snap Crackle and Pop and the radio friendly Happy Days, before saying goodnight with double whammy Cool for Cats and a psychedelic version of Take Me I’m Yours which sees them exiting through the crowd like a marching band to sign albums at the merchandise stand.
Squeeze delivered an absolute crowd pleasing set tonight and enticed all to explore their new material by somehow managing to cram most of the album in alongside just about every expected hit. Tillbrook and Difford will continue to amaze in their many forms for a good few years to come and rightly so. With a back catalogue like this and an ability to still crank out top tunes after nearly forty years, they are still a hot ticket as their forthcoming mammoth tour of America proves. We think the album may well be worth a listen.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson.