How We Met: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford

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The Independent Culture
Glenn Tilbrook, 35, and Chris Difford, 38, grew up in Blackheath in south-east London. As guitarists and songwriters in the group Squeeze, which they formed in the mid-1970s, they became their generation's finest proponents of the story-telling pop song. Their hits include 'Cool for Cats', 'Up the Junction' and 'Labelled with Love'. Tilbrook owns the recording studio where they work in Blackheath village. Difford recently moved to the Sussex countryside. The next Squeeze album, Some Fantastic Place, which is released in September, is the pair's 13th collaboration.

GLENN TILBROOK: Chris had put an advert in a tobacconist window, around May 1973, requesting a guitarist to play in a band with a recording contract and an imminent tour, whose influences were the Kinks, Velvet Underground and Glenn Miller - which sounded like a pretty interesting set of influences. I wasn't going to answer the ad, but my girlfriend prodded me into it. So I called the number and this rather gruff person answered and said: 'Meet me at the Three Tuns in Blackheath village at six o'clock. I'll be carrying a copy of the Evening Standard under my arm.' I went along and there was this guy with long hair, a multi-coloured lurex coat and a copy of the Evening Standard under his arm. Why he didn't just tell me about the coat, I don't know. It would probably have been a bit easier to spot.

We chatted and went back to my house, where, just in case, I had left a copy of a Tonto's Expanding Head Band album lying around, so he would know I was into some pretty serious music. I was 15 and still in school and I didn't want to seem like a kid.

We played each other some songs we had written and got on pretty well, I think. I didn't hear that much about the band or the recording contract or the tour - which, as it turned out, were entirely fictitious. There wasn't even a band. With Chris, fact and fiction regularly intermingle.

I felt tremendous admiration for his lyrics, which outstripped anything that I was capable of. The first things he showed me were like Jacques Brel songs - tales of sailors and whores, the like of which I'd never heard before. He had, and has, a turn of phrase that leaps out of the page. Within two or three times of meeting up, we felt we would like to try and write together. Our first composition was called 'Hotel Woman'. It wasn't particularly great, but it defined our roles straight away. I took over the musical side and Chris took over the lyrical side exclusively. Chris had this low voice that seemed to fall naturally an octave below where my range is.

So we never sang harmonies, we sang octaves and that became a feature of our sound.

We carried on writing like that in each other's bedrooms for about a year. He was not particularly confident, and I was always frighteningly confident, unrealistically so. We balanced each other. Outside of music, we've not had interests in common - except now that we have children. Chris, strangely enough, isn't that much of a reader. But I don't think we've ever fallen out properly, though we have indulged in long periods of sulking or not communicating with each other much.

I introduced Chris to Jools Holland. I had met Jools through a mutual friend who said: 'You really should meet this incredible pianist.' The first time we met, Jools was trying to sell me a guitar which was probably worth a twentieth of what he was asking for it. We became Squeeze in 1974. We were trying to decide on a name and our bass player came up with Squeeze, which was the title of the worst album the Velvet Underground ever made.

In 1976 we started on the pub circuit and we released our first album in 1977. Without really planning it, we turned into a 'new wave' band - though we didn't really have the clothes and the haircuts. Clothes and haircuts have been a constant problem. Pretty well since that first song, Chris and I have worked separately. For a while at the start of the 1980s, we lived in the same house, top flat and basement flat, and Chris would leave lyrics out on a tray for me to pick up in the morning - I would get up, go down for the milk and a few lyrics and go back upstairs and work on them. The record that we've just done is the first where we've sat down and worked together. And it was like being in a new partnership - which is very lucky, after 20 years together.

CHRIS DIFFORD: I'd been in a folk group and I really wanted to start my own band, because I'd written about 30 or 40 songs and there was nothing I could do with them on my own. I didn't want to go though the Melody Maker and those traditional routes. By putting something in the local sweet shop, I'd get somebody local, and in the back of mind was the thought that I might be able to dig out someone really famous from round here - David Bowie, maybe, because he was from Beckenham. In the event, Glenn was the only person to phone up. Actually, when he first phoned, I was away at Glastonbury - I'd driven down there with some friends in an old London taxi. I was that serious about getting a group together that I actually went on holiday as soon as I placed the ad. When I came back my mother was saying this person Glenn had been ringing, so I called back. It was the most nervous meeting I'd had. I met him in the pub, and there he was with his long hair and his 27in flares with his girlfriend, Maxine, who had no shoes and socks on. And there I was in a donkey jacket and hob-nailed boots. We went over to their house and there was a Tonto's Exploding Head Band album lying out, which was very impressive. And he could play loads of Jimi Hendrix riffs note for note, which I got very excited about. We had jasmine tea and some wholemeal cake. I'd never met anybody so warm as this couple - they were really sweet.

The embarrassing thing was there was no record deal and no tour and no band, and here I was lying to this poor bloke: 'Listen to this song - it's going to be really great when the group's together . . . three years from now.' Strangely, I don't think the subject ever cropped up. I've always had a bit of trouble with my imagination. When I was little and we went on holiday, my parents had to reserve a seat on the train for my imaginary friend.

My songs were story- telling songs - one was called 'Covent Films', about a murder that took place backstage at the opera house in Covent Garden. There was another called 'Betty Made It Rich', which was kind of like an Everly Brothers song about someone dying in an aircrash - lots of minor chords. A friend had given me a Jacques Brel songbook which I learned off by heart. I would play at parties and I found that to get people into what you were doing you had to tell a story. So I tried hard to create characters and put minor chords to them so they would be moving.

When I moved out of my parents, I took a room below Glenn in Maxine's parent's house. I could hear him through the ceiling, writing the tunes. It was a big house and lots of people dropped in to play and sometimes people dropped in and ended up staying for weeks. They were very tolerant, Maxine's parents. Even to this day, they are trying to get a plaque on the wall of the house to say this is where we started writing together - which is very sweet of them.

On tour, there have been times when we didn't talk for weeks. We went through quite a dark period where we felt independently strong views about each other's work but didn't communicate it.

There was a long time when I used to hate rehearsals and I couldn't bear people telling me what they thought about my lyrics. We'd had some success with 'Up the Junction' and I'd written that without any prompting, so I felt nobody could tell me what to do. But I got over that, so now when Glenn calls me up at home and says: 'I think the lyrics are getting a bit glum - cheer up a bit,' I'll look at myself and think, yeah, he's absolutely right.

The only people I've had longer relationships with are my brothers and my parents. Now we're sitting together to write, we can pat each other on the back as we go. We're like two roses who have been in separate beds for a while and now we're beginning to cross-pollinate.-

(Photograph omitted)