Nearly 40 years after emerging as one of the best bands from that burst of creativity known at the time as the New Wave, Squeeze are not content with the easy option coasting on the Rewind-style nostalgia circuit.
Instead the release of a second album of all new material in two years in ‘The Knowledge’ was accompanied by an extensive UK tour, culminating in this showcase gig at a near sold out Albert Hall. It also made for a very different set from the greatest hits-focused one when I last saw them about five years ago at the Forum.
An unusual opening, of band members names being typed out on Google, set the tone for an evening when typically quirky videos formed the main visual backdrop to the music. All six main band members contributed spot on harmonies to a new number ‘Please Be Upstanding’. However for much of the set a crowd of mature years was anything but, including during ‘Pulling Mussels From A Shell’ with a green suited complementing his vocals with some surprisingly heavy lead guitar work.
‘Patchouli’ featured some harpsichord playing from Stephen Large, but it was some guest musical appearances that added a fresh dimension to some songs. ‘Hourglass’ with its rapid fire, almost scat-type singing was given a greater R’n’B feel by a horn section; ‘A and E’, prefaced by a tribute to the National Health Service, featured their local South-East London NHS choir singing high from above the right of the stage in keeping with the surroundings, and ‘Rough Ride’ saw a brief appearance of operatic singer Cara McHardy.
Old favourites like ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, its twangy guitar and catchy melody making me incredulous that it missed the top 40 at the time, sat alongside a generous selection of new material including ‘Innocence In Paradise’ which had something of a Beatles feel.
At this stage Chris Difford, the other half of the songwriting partnership that is the core essence of Squeeze, had been a rather marginal figure, but he got people to their feet before delivering ‘Cool For Cats’ in his trademark deadpan style, with lyrics flashed up behind, and fortunately people in the stalls stayed standing for ‘Another Nail In My Heart’ and indeed much of the rest of the set.
But while the hits from Squeeze’s original period were beginning to come thick and fast they still showed faith in the newer material including the title track from last album ‘Cradle To Grave’ which revived memories of the soundtrack they provided to that great programme based on Danny Baker’s memoirs (with Peter Kay speaking in the worst Cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke); and ‘Albatross’ about the joy of vinyl record collecting which included a cheeky namecheck for Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
‘Take Me I’m Yours’ was given a different treatment with all band members coming out front with accordions and percussion, but sandwiched between ‘Tempted’ – Glenn’s vocals losing little on Paul Carrack’s original and ‘Goodbye Girl’, ‘Wicked And Cruel’ was surprisingly discordant and experimental, proving that Difford and Tilbrook can write more than bittersweet pop songs.
I always look forward to ‘Up The Junction’, marvelling at how a kitchen sink drama could be rolled into a three minute pop song and there was a great moment as people were singing along to the outro keyboard riff. Mark Feltham from support act Nine Below Zero was brought on to add some very menacing sounding harmonica to evoke the Wild West and add a new dimension to ‘Labelled With Love’, which has grown on me since I was dismayed as a teenager that Squeeze had gone country, and a Moog intro from Stephen led into ‘Slap And Tickle’, enlivened by a closing guitar duel between Glen and Nine Below Zero mainman Dennis Greaves.
Even the encores began with a newer song in ‘Open’ before another of their classic jaunty pop songs in ‘Is That Love’. For some reason I’d also momentarily forgotten ‘Black Coffee In Bed’ which closed the set, Glenn showing a great blue-eyed soul voice he has. It was elongated rather too much by thanking all the band members and guests, but the riff stayed in my head for days afterwards.
A lot of effort had gone into the presentation of the show, and the mix of old and new confirmed Squeeze, not just as being in the tradition of great bands chronicling English life in all its variety, but one still with something relevant to say.
Review by Andy Nathan
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