Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…
Number 31 in a series:
Glenn Tilbrook is one half of the song-writing duo that’s provided Squeeze with the tuneage and melody required to bother both the charts and comfortably-sized theatres with pleasing regularity for the past 4 decades. Alongside Chris Difford, the Lennon to his McCartney, Glenn is responsible for writing some of the greatest literate, socially-aware, and slightly saucy kitchen sink dramas this side of Ray Davis. At their peak they were untouchable; Slap And Tickle, Annie Get Your Gun, Cool For Cats, Take Me, I’m Yours, Pulling Mussels From the Shell, Tempted….. Tilbrook is responsible for a back catalogue of songs that many of his peers would kill for.
Amongst those many masterpieces, Up The Junction must surely rank as the greatest of them all. Married to a melody that McCartney himself might be prepared to do serious time for, it outlines the ups and downs of a doomed relationship, handily drawing parallels with the late 60s film of the same name.
Up The Junction is carried by a signature riff that whenever heard nowadays, clatters me between the lugs with such Proustian force that I’m instantly transported back in time to a Thursday night in May, 1979, sat watching on the carpet with a bowl of Rice Krispies as the band play it on Top Of The Pops. What struck me most at the time was not the number of words in the song (unusual in an era of short, sharp new wave belters) nor the instantly hummable tune, but the fact that the drummer was out front and centre stage. Watching recently on one of those BBC4 repeats that brighten up Friday night telly, it was apparent that the band had swapped instruments for their big appearance. Jools Holland manhandles the bass while Difford does his best Gary Numan impression behind the keyboard. And out front is indeed our Glenn, pretending he’s the drummer. At 9 years old, I had no idea. Nor why should I?
Recently, Tillbrook has hooked up with the Trussell Trust, the organisation responsible for helping to stock food banks the length and breadth of the UK. On his current solo tour, Glenn is selling unique merchandise (an EP, t-shirt, mug) and donating all profits to the Trust. He also has food drop-off points at his shows where socially-conscious fans can leave a donation that’ll find its way back into the local community.
“It is shameful that in the 21st century there are people that can’t afford to put food on the table. Anyone, from any walk of life, can fall upon dire times, and I hope that by doing this tour it will remind people that there is a very real need. Most of us can do something to help – be it giving some food or a little money – and I hope people coming to the shows are inspired to donate.”
A few days ago, Glenn’s tour stopped off in my hometown of Irvine and I blagged myself a quick pre-show interview. In my head I’d an idea that I’d ask him some typical ‘Six of the Best‘ fayre – the first records that resonated with the young Glenn, the song he wishes he’d written, a track that everyone should have in their collection….(if you’re a regular reader you’ll know how these (very popular) articles pan out)… and I’d go home and whip up a pretty groovy article referencing the aforementioned Lennon & McCartney, Ray Davis and perhaps Django Reinhardt or other such left-field must-hears. In reality though, our conversation never quite made it that far.
Lounging in his early 00s Airbus, parallel-parked at Irvine harbour with the windows trained on the Isle of Arran just across the water and with joss sticks gently smouldering in the corner, it certainly set a scene. A pile of charity shop vinyl lay propped against a wood panelled wall unit, on top of which sat a turntable, buried underneath LP sleeves and random tour ephemera. Greeting me with a hearty hello and a friendly handshake, I was initially disarmed by how much Glenn unfortunately looked and sounded a bit like Piers Morgan’s younger brother. We’d met 5 years ago, but the ubiquitous Morgan wasn’t quite as omnipresent back then. Not sure how you address that, Glenn, but surely that’s another reason for ridding the world of Morgan? There’s room for just the one matey bloke with short-cropped curls and a Thames Estuary accent, and Glenn’s politics are far more acceptable also.
“There was always music in our house,” begins Glenn. “My parents were jazz fans; Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Lena Horne. Their records sound-tracked my earliest memories. My brother was 7 years older than me and he introduced me to stuff like The Beatles, The Who and The Yardbirds, all the beat groups. I listened intently to the pirate radio stations, Radios Caroline and London, mainly. When I was 6 I learnt to play the piano and a year later I’d picked up the guitar. Most kids go through the tennis racquet stage but me, I went straight to the real thing. Music was my thing. I knew from a very early age that this was something I wanted to do all the time.
The first band I was obsessed with was The Monkees. Micky Dolenz has one of the great rock and roll voices, truly, but he never, ever got the recognition. My brother would say, “Oh, they’re just a made-up band, they’re not ‘real'” but to me, they were the most important band in my life. Listen to Last Train To Clarksville and tell me that’s not a brilliant pop record.
The Monkees – Last Train To Clarksville
“It’s interesting , y’know, how I discovered certain music through my brother and how, now, my own children are discovering that same music through me. Not only that, though, I’m discovering brilliant music through them. This generation of kids, with their access to streaming and downloading have the whole world at their fingertips. They aren’t bound by barrier or genre. A good tune’s a good tune, y’know?
Have you heard Question Time by Dave? It’s a beautifully judged, extremely well-written modern protest song. My son Leon turned me onto it.”
Unsurprisingly for a writer obsessed with wordplay and stories, Tillbrook is a big fan of Kate Tempest. “‘Everybody Down’, her debut album, floored me on first listen. Floored me! It’s terrific. She’s smart with words, the way she plays with poetry. She’s definitely a big influence on how I write my own songs.”
“I listen to a lot of Radio 3 when I’m traveling between shows. And Spotify playlists, although the analytics that put together the recommended tracks, they’re usually way off the mark. Let me see…. (grabs iPad, opens it up…)… yes, an eclectic bunch; I love Bjork. her debut album is still astonishing. Destiny’s Child. Villagers. The Emotions. Lots of soul, actually.” A sneak peak confirms Betty Wright, James Brown and Stevie Wonder.
Returning to my parents’ music, I still love jazz. Listen to this…”
“I saw Les Paul once. He played a residency in a little club in Greenwich Village. I was in New York that often that I got to know about it and one night, I made it down, and there he was.”
Glenn’s voice tails off with misty-eyed reflection as the skipping rhythm and scratchy twang fills the space. By now his tour manager has signalled that my time is up. I leave as the last, long and languid notes from Paul and Atkins fade away, not quite armed with the subject matter I’d come hoping for, but all the richer for it. Later, in the tiny but perfect 100-seater Harbour Arts Centre, Glenn runs through Squeeze’s greatest hits and more, sometimes on acoustic but always electric.
Glenn Tilbrook will tour as part of Squeeze in the Autumn. I dare say I’ll see you in Glasgow.