Why Squeeze are cool for cats all over again

Chris Difford created a canon of clever, catchy pop hits with Glenn Tilbrook. He tells Elisa Bray why the duo have buried their differences to write, record, and tour again

It's a significant year for Chris Difford. Later this year he rejoins his former band Squeeze for a major tour (they reunited for a handful of shows in 2007), and will rejoin co-founder Glenn Tilbrook to start writing their first album since they split in 1999, while he is currently releasing his fourth solo album. Not only is it a time when his musical past and present merge; it's also his 18th year sober.

"Eighteen is a big number at the moment in my life for some reason", Difford reflects, over mint tea, at the plush private members' club in London where we meet. "It's really important for me to focus in on what happened in those years. It's kind of like going back to the garden and turning over the soil, seeing what's there and turning out the weeds, and I'm really excited about that. I'm lucky to be where I am and very grateful", he says. It echoes a sentiment expressed on his new album, Cashmere if You Can: "I'm still living my improbable dream".

"I think my dream when I was 14 hasn't really changed", Difford says. "My dream was to be in a rock'n'roll band and to be famous. I read an interview with Pete Townshend in the Melody Maker when I was 14 and he said, 'if you want women, to make money, first class travel, private jets, drugs, drink, be in a rock'n'roll band,' and thought, 'I'll have all of those!' It's an improbable dream, really. And some of it's happened and Pete and I have survived."

The half-laugh that follows hints at the fact that none of this was without some sacrifice along the way. This, Difford explains, is the third in his trilogy of autobiographical albums, and opens with the typically frank "1975", referring to that heady year after Squeeze was born.

Difford explains: "The 1975 period of my life was probably the most exciting year of youth because you don't know what's coming, how long life's going to be, and I jumped in with both feet. I started smoking dope, dropped out, listened to Pink Floyd and just really enjoyed myself, and I'm really glad that I did because of the direction I've taken." That direction saw him create 13 albums with Squeeze and pen the lyrics to the band's hit singles such as "Up the Junction" and "Cool For Cats". He achieved the life of a rock star, married by the age of 24, had children – and succumbed to alcoholism. Much was washed away through his drinking and frivolous spending.

Today, at 54, Difford rents his home in Brighton and his car. He lists his luxuries that remain, including his club membership, with the air of genuine contentment. "I have a beautiful house I rent in Brighton, some nice watches, too many shoes, I lease an Audi..." Still, it's hard to fully buy into his attitude towards his past. Does he have regrets?

"No, none at all", he says. "I have more recent regrets, but not the past. My wife and I at the time, I don't think we knew what we were doing. We were young and ridiculous. Children were great, obviously. The fortune, well, it was an addiction, really. I went through that and it went. If it's meant to be it will come again... When I think about Squeeze going on the road again I think about the improbable dream – what will those things mean anymore? I think success to me now is much more a spiritual awareness than it was in those days."

That Difford is enthusiastic about modern technology and gadgets is reflected in the digital format of his album release. Along with his manager, he has created the Saturday Morning Music Club. Fans are able to subscribe to the club and download his album track-by-track on a Saturday. After that time, they will receive a physical CD version.

"The delivery of music is so instant these days that my motto is to slow the internet down so that people can get music and enjoy it. I was a member of the Beatles fan club and I really looked forward to getting the floppy disc that they used to send out. And Squeeze used to have a fan club, too. Jools's mother used to run it for us. With the internet there's no thought for fan clubs any more."

As for reuniting with Squeeze, he is most concerned about their American tour, because he will have to overcome his greatest phobia, flying. "It was horrendous", he says. "I couldn't go on tour. When I was seven or eight years old I wanted to be a fighter pilot and then the first time I got into a plane my mum cried her eyes out so, although I didn't know at the time, she was sending me messages like 'this isn't a nice place to be' and I think it began there. I'm still trying to work it out." To help overcome the fear, he wrote the song "One Day" about it.

What he is most looking forward to is the camaraderie, and playing the older songs. "When I tour on my own I do very different versions, and my voice is lower than Glenn [Tilbrook]'s for a start. I'm just very respectful to the songs. They're like old cars that you pull out of the garage on a Sunday and wash and then you put back in the garage."

I ask him how he feels when performing them today. "Last week I played on my own at a festival and I was in a really emotional place. I started listening to my own lyrics and it was very moving. For the first time in a long time I really connected with my own work, and yet that's something that Glenn has to do all the time because he sings them. When you're at the end of a relationship and you sing a song like 'Is That Love?' and 'Black Coffee in Bed', you think, 'God, so that's what it meant'."

Difford is referring to his recent break up with his partner, for whom he moved to Brighton a few years ago. "It's one of the hardest things in life to get over – relationships. [Drugs and alcohol are] a walk in the park compared to relationships," he says. His way of coping is much the same as when overcoming alcoholism. "Abstinence. That's the only way. If you're obsessing about something or you want to be with somebody you have to learn abstinence, and that's a very difficult manoeuvre to make, so songwriting is a fantastic forum for expressing how you feel. So recently I've been writing a lot about that." Tellingly, his next album will be called The Loneliest Boy.

Though he has the ability to write freely wherever he may be, it is his self-designed desk, made from English oak by a carpenter in an old shed in Kent, that is his most inspiring spot. As well as his own solo music, and a musical in progress, Difford keeps himself busy with an array of musical jobs: teaching songwriting to 18- to 24-year-olds at a music school in Brighton, writing with X Factor contestant Olly, and has written recently with Elton John, Bryan Ferry, and Jools Holland. Soon he will add Squeeze to his many jobs, when he starts the new album with Tilbrook. It will be a testing time; the pair had a fractious relationship before the 1999 split, and had long been out of contact, let alone considering writing songs in the same room.

"Our friendship goes back 37 years, and I believe that the best is yet to come. We have a venue where we're going to write in Kent because the girl who brought Glenn and I together – Maxine – is buried there. We were going to live together in Italy for two weeks but I said, 'hold on a minute, this is crazy, we'll be up in a mountain together'. I think, being in Kent, we can travel to the house and go home. And if it ends up being really great, which I'm sure it will, then we'll just move in with each other and be gay old friends. It's going to be an important time."

'Cashmere If You Can' is available exclusively through Saturday Morning Music Club from Saturday 19 June (smmcmedia.com). Squeeze tour from mid-November (squeezeofficial.com)

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back