Difford's life on the road with his main Squeeze
Ahead of their appearance at the Wexford Spiegeltent Festival in October, Chris Difford from the legendary band Squeeze talks to Pádraig Byrne about the music industry, touring, friendships and the creative process
The unfamiliar dial tone served as a reminder that my call was connecting me with the other side of the Atlantic. The sound of twanging guitars and crashing drums interrupted the incessant ringing and a soft London accent said: 'Can I call you back? We're just in the middle of sound-check.'
The voice belonged to singer, guitarist and songwriter with legendary London outfit Squeeze, Chris Difford. The band, famed for such hits as 'Cool for Cats' and 'Up the Junction', are in the midst of an extensive tour of the US. The sound-check was taking place on stage at Asbury Park, New Jersey and it's part of a schedule that sees them perform nearly every day for the foreseeable future.
'It's very hectic at the moment,' Chris said, having completed all the pre-show checks. 'We're pretty much going non-stop until December.'
Included in this run is a special gig in Wexford, as part of this year's Spiegeltent Festival, on Sunday, October 13. While Chris' long-term bandmate and songwriting partner Glenn Tilbrook has taken to the stage in Wexford on a couple of occasions, even doing an intimate show in Colfer's of Carrig on Bannow a number of years back, Chris is looking forward to making his model county debut.
'I've driven through Wexford on a couple of occasions,' he recalled. 'It seems a lovely place. I don't think Squeeze has ever played there before, so we're really looking forward to it.'
No doubt Squeeze will have been schooled in the appeal of Wexford by our own Cry Before Dawn when they toured with them in the late 80s.
'Wow, that's going back,' said Chris. 'I remember them. They were a really great band.'
By a quirk of fate, a former Squeeze bandmate will be taking to the Spiegeltent stage three days after them in the form of Jools Holland. The legendary piano player was an on-off member of the band up until 1990 when he departed to pursue his solo and TV ventures.
'I'm still very good friends with Jools,' Chris said. 'I'm still part of the itinerary and I still perform with him and his orchestra from time to time. He's a great guy and I love him to bits.'
Be it the result of a gruelling tour schedule, or a quirk of his character, Difford is a man of few words. He'll rarely waste 10 words when two will do. Something that he's happy to talk about though is his love for his bandmates. While the Squeeze line-up has altered considerably since their formation in 1974, he is particularly proud of where they are currently.
'I think it's a really great incarnation of the band,' he said. 'They all play exceptionally well. They're nice people to be around and great musicians. Most importantly, it's still Squeeze.'
Having been through many changes and taken several breaks over the years, one thing has remained a constant - Difford's relationship with song-writing partner Glenn Tilbrook. At one stage their prowess wouldn't have fallen too many steps behind song-writing duos like Lennon and McCartney and Bernie Taupin and Elton John in the minds of certain music lovers.
'We still use the same basic formula to write songs,' Chris said, reflecting on their two most recent releases 'Cradle to the Grave' (2015) and 'The Knowledge' (2017). 'Obviously, as you get older, you write about different subjects and your view on things can change, but the formula remains the same.'
A partnership that has endured, Difford and Tilbrook have achieved a longevity that is perhaps getting more scarce these days.
'We don't see each other in between tours,' Chris said, when asked their secret. 'I think that gives you time and space and you come back feeling relaxed and ready to go again. It can be a real tonic.'
When compared to an old marriage, Chris laughed.
'It is a lot like a marriage. And sometimes you just have to go outside and do some gardening!'
The music industry has changed massively since Squeeze first exploded onto the scene. The medium of choice has changed from record to tape, to CD, to MP3 and now to streaming services, making it more difficult for younger bands to break through and make a career.
'I don't envy young bands at the moment,' Chris reflected. 'It can be very hard for them and in order to make it work they nearly have to impress the streaming companies. The old way has pretty much died now, but I think people will always find music no matter what the medium is.'
As well as touring the world as a performer, Chris has also seen the music industry from another angle. In the past he has worked as a manager to acts such as Brian Ferry and Ireland's own The Strypes, before their recent break-up.
'Yeah I really enjoyed doing that work outside of my role as a singer and guitar player,' he said. 'I worked with The Strypes who were a wonderful band from Cavan. They were a really talented group of lads and it's a pity that they didn't go on longer. But they're young lads and they've got other fish to fry. It can be difficult when you're young like that. You've got to try and respect other points of view and that can be tough. I certainly couldn't do it when I was their age.'
The organisers of the Wexford Spiegeltent Festival were delighted to be able to secure a show with Difford, Tilbrook and Co and the band are looking forward to playing in a Spiegeltent once again.
'It's always lovely to play in one of these Spiegeltents,' he said. 'It can be a bit cramped, but the sound is usually great and it's a lovely setting. We're really looking forward to it and it should be a great show.'
Before they get to Wexford, kicking off an extensive Irish and UK tour, there's the small matter of 21 shows scattered throughout the US to get through first, starting with returning to the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, New Jersey, to delve into decades of material.
A limited number of tickets are still available to see Squeeze at the Wexford Spiegeltent Festival. They are priced at €39 from www.wexfordspiegeltent.com.