A conversation with singer, songwriter, author and talker Chris Difford.
Chris Difford is a songwriting mainstay of the band Squeeze. His book Some Fantastic Place tells of his time before, during and outside the band and to help promote it he’ll be doing some solo dates including Sutton Coldfield Town Hall and Leamington Assembly. We began by asking him what audiences can expect.
“The tour is a continuation of something I’ve been doing for most of the year, playing with Boo Hewerdine. It supports my book that came out last year so it’s a storytelling tour with pretty much all the contents you’d imagine.”
The name says it all really – the Some Fantastic Acoustic Storybook Tour.
“Yes; pretty simple. Where is it I’m playing near you?”
Sutton Coldfield Town Hall. I can’t imagine you’ve played Sutton too many times but you’ve done plenty of gigs in Birmingham.
“Symphony Hall. And before then the Odeon, Barbarella’s and the first couple of times were at the Town Hall. There was the tour with Eddie & the Hot Rods but the first gig we played there was with a band called Blodwyn Pig in 1976.”
I can’t imagine Squeeze and Blodywn Pig sharing the same bill very easily, with you starting to making a name for yourselves and them the old prog rockers trying to hold back the tide of what was coming. It must have been a strange meeting of minds.
“Not so much minds. It was an interesting evening’s work. I can’t remember it too clearly because it was such a long time ago but people would sit down to watch gigs, it was that kind of audience.”
The Hot Rods certainly wasn’t the same audience. With you from south London and them from Essex, you were both doing similar things but from separate scenes. You were on the same label as Dire Straits, the Hot Rods were from the same sort of background as bands such as Dr Feelgood. Was there much rivalry then, or any jealousy when each band started getting some success?
“No, we were all on the same side. We were just there to have fun, it was great, really good fun. We were all in the same boat together”
One review that I saw of the book said that the least detail written about was the success years of Squeeze, because it was a cycle of touring, TV, writing, recording, so you didn’t appear to have much time to appreciate what was happening. Is that fair?
“Yes, when you’re in a band that’s constantly touring you don’t see things, you just pass them. It happened so quickly and events just vanished, you go from one tour to the other. It all happened very quickly – we toured with the Hot Rods, then Dr Feelgood and then the Tubes. we were touring all the time”
Then came the headline gigs and the big hits. When that happens, is there a feeling that this will last forever? What were your feelings at that time?
“I don’t know; you just go with the flow and you don’t think you’ll still be doing it in your sixties.”
Looking back on the songs you co-wrote then, there’s a bit of poignancy as regards writing about Deptford and the local community back in your childhood, in an era that’s pretty much gone forever everywhere now.
“Yes…special times. It was a place that you were living in, where you grew up and which has changed out of all recognition.”
Was there much of a music scene in Deptford at the time? Did you see bands locally who you tried to emulate?
“I don’t know about emulate but there were bands we watched, all sorts of little bands who ploughed the same field and played the same clubs and worked their way up, or not.
“Deptford never felt part of London to us. It was more like a village I guess, it definitely felt like you were on the outskirts. I didn’t really venture very far, I rarely went to see other bands. I was never a great gig goer, I preferred to play myself.”
Was it really a conscious decision to continue writing about things that were relevant to yourselves?
“I think it’s good to not cast your net too far, stay with what you know about and what you feel comfortable with. It wasn’t a conscious thing to do that but it just happened.”
You have the book Some Fantastic Place out. Does that mean you’ll now have another career as an author?
“I hope so. It’s something I’d like to do but first I’ll be doing this tour, then next year some Squeeze stuff and get back to writing books after that.”
It’s a natural progression, because after all, what’s a novel but a much longer story?
“There’s certainly more time involved in writing a book, you need much more more concentration.”
And in the meantime, there’s a few gigs to look forward to.
“Absolutely. Come along to hear some songs and some stories. I’m looking forward to it and it should be fun.”
Chris Difford is at Leamington Assembly on 6th November and Sutton Coldfield Town Hall on 22nd November. You can find out more here