Festival season has been blessed with a heatwave in the UK this year. Not something that rolls off the tongue, as any mud-bathed, Wellington-booted, festival stalwart will testify. Yet, here we are in sweltering central London, for the first of the annual BST Hyde Park concerts.
BST has played a top trump card on its first day (but don’t worry, its has plenty more up its sleeve for the remaining five days) with headliner Roger Waters of the iconic Pink Floyd. The stellar line up also includes local heroes Squeeze, who have graced us with hit after hit since the late 1970s, and tour after tour in the years since, despite an array of arriving, leaving, coming back and leaving again members.
Central to every line up of the band has been the songwriting core of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Chris has agreed to meet up for a chat with Rockshot, backstage at BST, before their top of the bill set on the Barclaycard Stage.
However, the sun doesn’t seem to be shining quite so brightly on the interview arrangements. En route to the artist’s area to meet Chris, I’m stopped by security because our rendezvous has coincided with the headliner’s arrival, whose management prefer to clear the area for crucial ‘stepping-out-of-car’ moments. Patiently, I watch interview start time come and go, whilst I squint into the distance to try and identify the famous figure ahead. Eventually, the way is clear, and I meet Chris who shakes my hand and chats jauntily about how a founder of the PR company for the festival was responsible for kicking off his career. This seems remarkably generous for a man who’s penned some of the most incisive, witty and reflective pop song lyrics of his generation.
As we sit to begin the interview a huge electric fan and a doggedly determined member of staff with a very loud vacuum cleaner, combine to create a wind tunnel sound effect for Chris and I to yell at each other over. However, comedy obstacle elements aside, we’re ready to rock and roll.
With Hyde Park such a hallowed ground for concerts from the last several decades, I ask Chris if he’s witnessed any seminal gigs himself here.
“Yeah, I came to see Carole King a couple of years ago [BST 2016] and it was very emotional hearing Tapestry. I had tears in my eyes watching her play and sing. It was just an incredible thing.”
So, does a festival audience feel very different to one Squeeze would normally play to?
“Yeah, I think so, because at a festival people are standing and they’ve got other things on their mind. I find that when people are standing their bodies are telling them that they’re getting tired, so they have to take on board a bit more information, but when they’re sitting in a nice comfy seat then they can take in more information,” he says, smiling.
“But I think people get value for money at festivals and that’s a good thing. If you get a ticket to a festival you can see ten bands in a day if you want, so, what’s not to like about that?”
I wonder if in the 40-odd years of touring Chris has honed any pre-show rituals to get into the zone.
“No, I don’t. I’ve always heard about football players having rituals about having one sock up and one sock down, but no, I haven’t adopted any of that.”
With that sensible decision, I move on to the serious subject of Squeeze’s newest album, The Knowledge. Released in October 2017, it features a breadth of sober, and sometimes grim, subjects, from the austerity slating of Rough Ride to a cry for help for the NHS in A&E, plus a chilling story of a predatory sports coach in Final Score. Does he think it’s the band’s most overtly political album yet, with these songs really tackling some of the most important and difficult themes of contemporary Britain?
“Yeah, I mean it’s the birthday of the NHS this week and that’s a very important thing to talk about. Glenn crafted the idea of us putting those songs on the album – he’s very good at observing what’s going on and making other people aware of it.”
The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir has sung with Squeeze a few times, which Chris puts down to their proximity to Glenn’s homestead of Blackheath. He describes the choir as having become close friends. “They’re lovely people and it’s gloriously emotional when they are on stage.”
When it comes to what’s next for Squeeze, apparently it’s way too early to predict the next recording stage for the band.
“No, no, I don’t even know what the next album is or where it belongs or if there will be a next album. I don’t know if there’s a trajectory for that.”
With World Cup fever currently sweeping the nation, I feel compelled to ask the ‘are you a football fan/are you following the World Cup’ question. After all, one of my favourite Squeeze songs is the powerful Walk Away, and I’m not sure how autobiographical it is, but there’s a mention of being ‘wrapped up in my football scarf’. So Chris, are you a fan of the beautiful game?
“Well, I was when I wrote that song, but I’m not any more particularly. I mean, who’s not inspired by the World Cup – it’s quite good fun and brings people together, a community that we lack in this country, and it combines all of that.”
So back to tonight – what will the set be like?
“There will be a smattering of new songs from The Knowledge, I think it’s three, one from [the previous album] Cradle To The Grave and the rest is hits.”
No new material then? Chris shakes his head. “No, a festival is not a place to preview new music. Unless you want people to drift off. [Laughs] Hyde Park is a short set and we’re on before Roger Waters and so a lot of people have got that in mind. I just want them to go away feeling like they’ve had a nice experience.”
I ask Chris to play curator for a moment and ask him to divulge his ideal festival line up.
“Oh, that’s a really difficult question. The Arctic Monkeys probably, Justin Currie, I don’t know…”
Having put him somewhat on the spot, I end with surely the most vital question of the day. How do Squeeze keep Cool for Cats in this weather?
“I just don’t think there is a way to keep cool in this weather, you just have to be in the weather. I know that in four weeks’ time I’ll look back to this day and go oh my god, that was lovely!”
When it’s all gone?
Chris nods. “When it’s freezing cold and I’m in Scotland.”
With that, we laugh and I leave him to enjoy the heat spell and prepare to entertain the masses.
Check out Rockshot’s review of the day, including photos of Squeeze’s set.
You can find Squeeze’s upcoming tour dates at www.squeezeofficial.com.
Interview and photography of Chris Difford by Imelda Michalczyk on 6 July 2018.