Squeeze’s Difford ready to test road waters in band’s NomadBand tour

In a review of East Side Story in 1981, Rolling Stone magazine said of Squeeze's songwriting duo of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, "the British New Wave has finally found its own John Lennon and Paul McCartney."

Forty years later, Difford still chuckles about being knighted by the magazine.

"For me it really didn't register particularly. I thought, 'Well that's really nice,'" said Difford, who embarks on a 48-date "NomadBand Tour" with Tilbrook and the other members of the latest incarnation of Squeeze. "I didn't find it like an albatross particularly because we were very different from Lennon and McCartney. (John and Paul) often wrote their songs independently as well as together. I wrote the lyrics and Glen wrote the music. It's a very different way of writing songs.

"I have run into him (McCartney) a couple of times. He once asked me which one I was, John or him. I said I was more like George or Ringo."

Squeeze will be giving its arsenal of songs featuring clever wordplay and tight guitar hooks a U.S. road test, starting at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Aug. 1 and closing Oct. 3 at the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton, Calif. Including in the run will be an Aug. 18th stop at the Express Live amphitheater in Columbus.

Tilbrook called the tour "my most anticipated U.S. tour since our first in 1978."

Difford agreed.

"It's important because we haven't toured in 18 months, I suppose," he said in a Zoom call from London. "It's just going to be good to test the waters, get back out, and see what it is like to be on the road again.

"It's going to be very different. The freedom of turning out in a city, running around, and doing things is not going to be possible because of the COVID pandemic. We're normally in a pretty tight bubble anyway when we tour, but this time the bubble is going to be even tighter because if one of us gets ill, then the tour gets canceled. We have to be very cautious."

The Foo Fighters (whose lead singer Dave Grohl joined Squeeze on stage to sing "Black Coffee in Bed" during a stop in the 2019 Squeeze Songbook tour), postponed a July 17 date at the Forum in Los Angeles after a member tested positive. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's CINDERELLA was postponed hours before it was due to open because of a Covid outbreak.

Even Squeeze drummer Simon Hansen had to bow out of the U.S. tour after testing positive.

"It's just everywhere," Difford said. "It's something we have to live with.

"(Touring's) a lot like riding a bike. Once you get back on the road, everything becomes second nature. We will be on tight hooks the first couple of weeks but after that, we will get back into the swing of things and things will calm down."

The 18-month hiatus may have been the longest time Tilbrook has been off stage as the singer/guitarist performs as a solo artist when he is not touring with Squeeze.

The band was supposed to open for crooners Daryl Hall and John Oates last summer when concert halls turned into ghost towns. The band will honor its commitments to that tour, playing 21 dates as the opening act interspersed with their 26 headlining dates.

The band will make a second stop in Ohio, opening for Hall and Oates Aug. 23 at Cincinnati's Riverbend amphitheater.

"I am really looking forward to it. With the whole Hall and Oates dates, you're finished at 9 p.m., you can go out for a meal and have an early night," Difford said with a smile. "When we are doing our own shows, it will be back to normal."

Normal has been a hard quantity to find during the pandemic. Difford spent much of that time in his "shed," a room decorated with wind chimes, souvenirs, and posters. There he composed the lyrics for the band's latest release, The Knowledge, as well as hosting a series of songwriting workshops.

When he was first starting out, Difford was not above eavesdropping on conversations to compose songs like "Piccadilly" from East Side Story: "A man behind me talks to his young lady/He's happy that she is expecting his baby/His wife won't be pleased but she's not been round lately."

These days, Difford cultivates lyrics from an overactive imagination. The results on The Knowledge are a pleasing combination of wry self-observation and social commentary. The CD features songs like the bouncy ode to an aging libido, "Please Be Upstanding": He gave me pills to take and tables turned/The side effect was just a gentle burn) as well as the painfully poignant "Final Score" about a soccer player who was taken advantage of by his coach.

"To be honest, they all just came together," Difford said. "That's the way it is with the good ones. Some of the good ones just fall in your lap. They just happen. The other ones are like baking cakes; you have to spend a lot of time on them.

"On the song Final Score, I was watching a documentary on television that inspired me to write that lyric. (Abuse is) in the church, it's in football (soccer), and it's in all walks of life where young children are being mistreated and abused really. That is what that song tries to talk about.

"It's a coming together of many different ideas I suppose. It's not my favorite of all our albums at the moment, but I am sure that will change. I always go through periods of not understanding what records mean at the moment and then I come back to them later and see its genius."

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