Chris Difford's 1999 Jools Tour Diary

    It took me three hours to drive in the rain from my house in Rye to the gig in Leicester, it was cats and dogs all the way. Not helped by my tired head, caused by staying up so late the night before. My 45th birthday was a calm event at home with a few friends over some Thai food. Back stage first night nerves were flowing up and down the hall, even Jools looked on edge, something he never does. The Rhythm and Blues Orchestra share a dressing room, it's noisy and smoky, horn players climbing through scales, roll ups being rolled, beer being consumed. In my room with Jools and Gilson, nothing.

    It is good to see Gil again, and being on stage with him reminds me of what a great drummer he is. The support act are the medieval babes, 12 girls singing songs from strange days, when it seemed cool to sing about decomposition and death. They look pretty and put on a first class show. Jools heads up the evening with his magic of boogie and blues, I watch from the wings and admire him for doing what he does best. Play the piano and perform. I creep on to sing Up the Junction and Scorpio Rising. Up on stage I feel happy and at home, moving to the groove and being on stage with such a nice bunch of people. After the show I retreat to the hotel for an early bed, meanwhile up the road in Liverpool Glenn and Squeeze are just about to go on stage, I miss him but I don't miss the late night shows.

    From the Holiday Inn Jools and I set off for Southport, our drive took us on a nostalgic journey back in time as we relived some of our youth together. Names plucked from the cabin of my car made me feel warm and pleased to have come so far with such a great past. The Squeeze story is long and very complex but I am grateful that it is there at all, a story to tell the grandchildren. Our sunny drive brings us to a lovely house on the outskirts of town, a small county house with grounds, the grounds are full of Fair Ground rides, there is a large Bonfire, and lunch is on the table. Julian and I are lighting the fire tonight. The house is run by a loving family who have prepared me a bed in the barn, a wing of the house. No hotel for me.

    The house is 16th Century rebuilt in the 1960s, it's all very grand, all very Julian. Blissed out with lunch I fall asleep for a nap.

    Jools and I lit the Bonfire, it must have been the size of a small NCP car park, our pictures were taken with the Babes. We were on and off stage and back to the house all within two hours, a good show was had by all. Dinner was at 10.30 and then we retired to the Library for drinks, again with the Babes. Jools is the only person I know who can stay at someone's house and bring 14 girls with him along for drinks.

    I hit the sack pleased with my day.

    Squeeze called me tonight from Basingstoke, I wonder if I was in the right place, although it was nice to hear from them all wishing me a happy birthday.
    Oxford was ok, I broke a string and lost my thoughts. A feeling of weakness came over me, I felt very uncomfortable. It's all about being there for someone else, always in another person's spotlight. Climbing mountains alone has never been one of my strengths but perhaps I should say rollocks, and have a go.

    So, back in the saddle again this week and this time we travel from Reading and Ipswich to Brighton, up to Norwich and then on to Cambridge. The drives are starting to make me feel a little weary and lame, it's almost Christmas so it must be touring in the UK. Brighton is just along the coast for me a short drive along the windy roads of East Sussex. The show was good fun, not least because as I stepped up to sing I noticed my lyric cue sheet had flown away, so with a quick prayer I set sail. Somehow I managed to get through the song without a lost word, and it sounded quite good in that huge hall. Now I can really appreciate the talents that Glenn has, not only to sing and play but to be able to recall all those words, it's awesome. I have a soft spot for Norwich: it's here that Squeeze have played over 14 shows, this must be a record. The UEA is a pit of a hall, like the lions den, if a new song works here it will work anywhere. The stage is large, but not large enough for Jools and his men, and babes. We have to all squash on during the set and I'm engulfed by 14 girls dressed in white, I should be in heaven, but I'm in the bass drum instead. Back stage the horn section are ever on the jazz cigars, the air is thick with that heavy smell of goodnight world. I have to stay away for fear of returning to my Gong albums and grinning from ear to ear at the shadows on the wall. Meanwhile Squeeze are on tour with Blondie around the country, but our paths will not cross it seems, but I do get calls from the members of the band. Chris Braide called today to say it was going well but I was missed. The winding down of Squeeze, as Glenn puts it every night to the fans, the shop is going out of business, last minute clearance sale everything must go. In our place another band will always fill our shoes. There are more members of Squeeze on Julian's tour though, this shop will not be closing down, this shop has maybe a great future, but a key member is missing, man over board, or am I on the wrong ship? Tonight Cambridge and a walk around the shops is in order. Marti drove along to see the show, as did a friend from New York who distributes Squeeze records in the US. We talk about the future and where we go from here, we talk about the here and now. But it's just all talk I feel, at least for now. A good show and then home.

    Back on the road, the road to hell as Chris Rea so rightly puts it, because today my trip to York took seven hours. The road was slow, the road was quick quick slow, the road was wet and nasty. A great show was in store for us, the band played tight and together, Gilson was extremely good and his kit sounded fab in the hall. Bed was very satisfying.

    Driving to Bradford  I could not help but notice the sadness, people walk with a stoop, the houses look ignored, the atmosphere is bleak. However the gig is a success as it always is here in Bradford. On the wall of the dressing room a poster of Squeeze, and I remember how good that show was as well.

    In the hotel I stay up to see what goes on in the bar, and I'm pleased I did. I now know how little I miss when I'm in my pit asleep. Julian is ring leader and general all round host, complete with Joss sticks, stereo and CD collection. 

    The bar tonight has a village hall feel about it, with the Babes in one corner and the boys in the other, pints verses halfís, fat verses thin. And I include myself in this measure. Hours later and I'm half asleep in my room when the hall way fills with screams and laughter, the room next door is filled with an ocean of clapping and shouting. Like a good neighbour I pass my complaints on to the front desk. And a tv almost got thrown out of the window as well. 
    Steady on young ladies.

    Sunday, and it's a quite drive down country to Birmingham with Radio Four and Desert Island Disks, one fat Lady talks about her addiction to the booze, I feel connected and somehow we have a meeting there on air without either of us knowing it.

    On the drive I stopped at Ikea, the place was heaving like an airport lounge in the heat of summer, I had to leave empty handed,  it was just madness.

    The Albert Hall shows made me feel very nervous, itís a big crowd and I still don't feel at home singing Up the Junction.

    Back stage I pace around like a tired cat, 20 minutes later and its all over. Two lovely nights with lovely people in the crowd.

    Portsmouth, was not full of sailors, and Watford was not full of football fans, another weekend of easy come easy go Jools shows.

    The rest of the tour moved deeper into the Christmas period which always means hotels full of people making merry. In Harrogate it was McDonald’s staff from all over the country, in Plymouth it was a TV company. Head under the pillow trying to ignore the thump of the bass drum coming through the bedroom wall. Hells teeeth…….

    I enjoyed the tour; there was very little stress, even though the drives were sometimes frustrating. Marti got up and sung in Glasgow, this was chilling because the crowd went mad, surprised and shaking he stood at the mike and delivered the goods. But I'm tired now and ready for the New Year and all that it might bring, I think. I missed Glenn and the normal touring crowd at this time of the year, change is difficult, but sometimes it can be rewarding as well. Thank you Jools, thank you the Orchestra. 

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