It starts with a floating Unplugged, proceeds with purple boots and combine harvesters, then peaks with some superstar jamming. In the latest of our Letts-style chronologies, Chris Difford describes the recent Squeeze tour.
Q Magazine, December 1993.
The Devon Belle casts off and heads up river for a night of handshakes and cold salmon. The firmest handshake belongs to the head of Our Price Records; my hand is squashed like a hot Kit Kat in his firm grip. Glenn and I have been invited to play as part of the Phonogram convention by our loving A&M MD, Howard Burman. He warned us that it might be hell, but that it would be a good thing for us to do. After the buffet and chat, it is, at last, time for us to play. "A&M without Squeeze would be like A&M without its trumpet," Howard proudly announces. Then, unplugged and in front of heads of this and that, we blow our very own trumpet: our songs. We play six numbers to a warm, respectful crowd, who encourage us back for an encore. Not that it takes much to do that.
We arrive back alongside the dock just as we strum the final chords of Tempted. What a relief.
Maurice Oberstein makes the evening by reflecting on the days when he used to come to see us play circa 1977, and comments that he didn't sign us then as he knew that we would never make it. The skin on Howard's face visibly drops. The bus pass is in the post, Maurice.
The evening is very encouraging though speaking to people at the other end of the table, discovering that they like our new album and want it to do well. In the past it was all very Us and Them. I never used to mix very well with people from record companies, but today our aims float on similar thermals.
We have sold over 500,000 copies of our Hits album, so there is a chance we can do the same with Some Fantastic Place and get the credit we deserve. Squeeze is a business like the corner shop, and we need to bear that in mind as we weave our way from album to album, and from tour to tour. The Patels of the Top 40.
So, in the long run, evenings like this can only do us good, as even in our mature years we still need to convince the people upstairs that we are worth our salt.
Back on dry land, I run for my car.
On stage at The Inn On The Park, St Helier, Jersey, to a sell-out audience who are crammed up against the stage. "Smashy", the DJ, with all the nauseating presence of a Chihuahua, introduces us and on we bounce into the lions' den to play our first date of the tour. It's loud and fun, consisting of seven new songs and a random selection of old chestnuts. The first encore is packed full of them, glowing and pulsating for the eager, sweating crowd.
Paul (Carrack) sings and plays with great soul and confidence; it's so great to have him back in the band. Behind me, Pete (Thomas) keeps the whole thing pegged to the floor, the finest of song drummers. Keith and Glenn smile a lot, grooving on the club atmosphere, but I find myself in no man's land. Technical problems can often throw all best intentions out of the window.
The next night sees a diminished population in the club. Surprisingly, we have attracted some people with their baseball caps on the wrong way round. They give us the old swinging arm treatment, even on the slow songs like Cold Shoulder, a valiant show of appreciation. It is Glenn's turn to have the technical horrors tonight. "Smashy" is quieter tonight due to the fact that he's had a talking to from someone upstairs. The management.
The Inn is nowhere near a park, it is on the beach, and all the greats have played here: Gerry And The Pacemakers, Lindisfarne, Stan Boardman, to mention a few. Is the scampi-in-the-basket circuit just around the corner? I wonder. Back at the hotel, I get on my knees and pray.
On the way home I take the Catamaran across the Channel, plain sailing except for the piped music, Tubular Bells. It creates a soundtrack. I find myself in a movie along with people who live in little worlds all apart from one another. Proving that every man is an island, I sit glumly doing the same. When it comes to disembark and collect luggage, they all come together to fight for their places next to the six-foot stretch of carousel. Four hundred people all in one or other stage of being animal, and all I dislike about crowds, I wade in, elbows out, and retrieve my bags as they pass by. The hairs on my face grow by the minute until I am safely in my car, again a place of refuge. I turn on the radio and there we are, our new single coming out of all four speakers, sounding wonderful.
Everything In The World is the single in America, so, on the ball as ever, we find ourselves making the video after its release. The clothes are colourful and bright, rented from the BBC costume department. Glenn goes from being in his pyjamas on a mattress to in a model car made of bits and bobs by an art student. As he sings into the camera dressed in plus-fours with yellow plaid, he had a Dick Van Dyke look about him.
John Lay, our manager and ever so humble servant, arrives to show us the sleeve for the next single, Loving You Tonight. We also discuss the proposed American tour. It looks ever so depressing financially, and frowns all on long faces as we wade through the dates. "No problems though, only opportunities," says John, confidently. Touring can cost a fortune, and in the last five years we have made our share of silly mistakes, so with fingers burnt we are tenderly thumbing the pages of the itinerary. Meanwhile, back on the set, things are shaping up. The extras are milling about in face paint and plastic wigs; my make-up is applied, tenderly; the purple boots are pulled on, embarrassingly and with a struggle. I love getting dressed up, even if I do end up looking like an extra from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
I crawl into bed at 5.30am with a particularly horrible thought: I'll have to get up again in a few hours' time.
Spend the morning on a combine harvester posing for a photo with the Daily Mirror; such a glamorous life. Then it's over to Folkestone for the first show on the mainland. It goes very well; the sound is great, we look good, and we play for almost two hours. So the tour gets off to a happy start, and because I don't live too far away I get to bed before 1am.
The following few nights of the tour remind me how great our audiences can be; they sing out loud and really seem to enjoy themselves. They range from young kids with their mums and dads to the over forties and all the in-betweens. They love to hear the hits, naturally enough, but what is especially rewarding is that the new songs go down just as well as the old ones.
From Oxford, where I had my car stolen outside our hotel (car no longer place of refuge), down to Newport in Wales. Playing live is always fun, the circus life that we lead is very comfortable. We are fed and watered at each show after the soundcheck, our washing is taken care of; all we have to do is prance about trying to look good and keep time. It's a doddle.
The next town brings the first real peak of the tour. In Bristol we play at the Colston Hall, a big old place where the night before the collected horns of the Coldstream Guards had been heard. Following us the next night, wrestling.
Much to my surprise and delight, my young friend Elton John has chosen to spend his only day off this month in Bristol with me and the band. It is good to see him; he looks very well and happy as ever. Nerves butterfly around my stomach in the build up to the soundcheck as nobody else has met him before. I introduce him and the ice is soon broken; he makes everybody fell very comfortable around him.
On stage, the band are on top form. Glenn sings like he's in heaven and generally we hit the audience between the eyes. In the second encore, I introduce the boy saying, We have had many keyboard players in our time- Jools Holland, Don Snow, Paul Carrack- please welcome Elton John. The crowd look at me as if I were joking, a half silence falls on the hall, followed rapidly by a huge roar as he sits at the piano and starts playing the opening riff to Heard It Through The Grapevine. Now too I am in heaven.
We then launch into I Saw Her Standing There and the place goes nuts. When I look around the stage, the visual orgasm on people's faces was so pleasing to see- not a grumpy jowl in sight. After the show it is hard to contain my excitement; hugs all round.
Elton really enjoyed it too, praising Glenn up and down the hall and shaking hands with Paul with true admiration. Out in his car I hear tracks from his new album, which practically blow me away; with 16 speakers blasting out it is hard to remain in my soft leather seat. I feel like a little boy who has just climbed into a car for the first time. A Bentley has that overpowering grace about it.
What I hear is very special, my emotions are tickled to the roots. He sings with such great power and confidence these days, he is on full throttle with this record. I feel very privileged.
In the local paper we are front page news, with a huge picture of his nibs at the piano. The new album is soon sold out in the Our Price down the road from the hotel. Bristol is suddenly our kind of town. The same day Elton has been out to his local record shop to buy up all stocks of the album to give to his friends, so we might get a chart position yet.
Via Wolverhampton down to Plymouth and over the River Dart where we began 10 days ago. After the soundcheck, I walk up to the Hoe to sit and reflect. Out in the Sound two small tugs are pulling a submarine out to sea. I think to myself, as a golden retriever sits by my bench, What a great job this is.
The tour has been a big success. We have played the Royal Albert Hall; we have played to over 50,000 people and the shows have been peaking on a regular basis. In Glasgow, it was like being in The Beatles, between songs you had to shout down the microphone to get yourself heard. The seven-week American tour is booked. The finances have been sorted, visas applied for. Over in the States we are Number 1 on the triple A chart, whatever that might be; it makes me feel good to know we are Number 1 somewhere.
The handshakes on the Devon Belle obviously weren't firm enough; looking round the shops I have to search to find our record on display.
One last story for the road. Last night in the hotel, as we checked in, there was the usual worried look from the girls on the desk as they handed us our keys. Rock'n'roll people equals hotel damage. After the show we had a quiet cup of tea and a few beers round the bar. Then we crept up to bed, passing some middle-aged businessmen who were standing on one of the landings, smoking cigars. They were soon spotted messing around with the fire extinguishers, at which point John called the front desk to explain that it wasn't us. The party raged all night.
Musicians grassing up the executives and going to bed--what's going on?