Go and see Squeeze on their current, 20-date tour of the UK and there’s an overwhelming sense of generosity in the air. It flows from their loyal and longtime fan base to the stage and back, as has always been the case for one of Britain’s most cherished and enduring bands of the past six decades.
But this time there’s a new element to the magnanimity of their audience, since the appositely titled Food For Thought tour sees Squeeze amplifying their support for the Trussell Trust. The charity supports a network of 1,300 food banks all over the UK, and as the cost of living crisis cuts into the lives of millions, the Trust’s work has become more essential than ever.
A bank of generosity
Its banks distributed 1.3m emergency food parcels between April and September, and 320,000 people had no choice but to turn to their services in the past six months alone. Starkly, the Trust’s research also shows that one in five of those using its services is in regular employment.
“A lot of people who are in jobs can’t afford to live,” says Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook. “That’s a new, amazing statistic that speaks about the [fact that] wage levels are just not making ends meet properly.”
The band have been inviting physical donations to collection points at each gig on the tour of tinned and dried food, as well as by credit and debit card. Proceeds go directly to the Trussell Trust, which has recently been forced to launch an emergency appeal with demand for food exceeding supply for the first time.
Squeeze’s Food For Thought EP, featuring a hard-hitting but typically catchy title track recorded this summer, is also on sale at the shows, with takings going directly to independent food banks. “It’s been going really well,” says Tilbrook. “People are really generous and most want to help in some way, given the chance.”
Of the new song, which even mentions the Trust in its lyrics, he adds: “Doing that was something to hang our hat on for the tour, to give it some purpose as well as us playing music.” Adds Chris Difford, his writing partner of nearly 50 years: “It was instigated very much by Glenn. I never comfortably know how to approach a subject like that, it’s not really something I do very well, I don’t think.
“So I threw some ideas in the pot and Glenn took the bull by the horns, and made an incredible job of it. It goes down really well in the show, and it’s a part of the set that welds the audience into the reason why we support the Trussell Trust, and I think that’s important. If there wasn’t something there, it would just be a Squeeze show with lots of Squeeze songs. But this is like putting the stamp on the envelope and sending the money to them.”
At the first of two London shows by Squeeze last Saturday (19) at the Eventim Apollo, the track did indeed earn its place in a generous, 23-song set list that mixed some surprise choices from their expansive songbook (“What Have They Done,” “I Think I’m Go-Go,” “Letting Go”) into a veritable jukebox of calling-card hits.
“The reception we’re getting is the best we’ve ever had,” says Tilbrook. “It’s pretty amazing.” Difford notes: “We’ve been doing songs that we haven’t done for a long time, and if you’re not in the first four rows, a lot of people aren’t aware of those songs. So we’re gently massaging our way through them so people can accept them, and they do.
“The great thing about Squeeze audiences, and I’ve noticed this over the years, is whatever we seem to do, they appreciate, as long as they get the last 20 minutes to get out of their seats. But as we get older,” he says with a laugh, “the 20 minutes gets reduced even more. In five years’ time, it’ll probably be like ten minutes.”
With “Up The Junction” and “Hourglass” played as early aces, the modern-day seven-piece made a triumphant run for home with “Goodbye Girl, “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Tempted,” and “Cool for Cats,” before an encore added “Slap & Tickle” and “Black Coffee in Bed.” Here was a band not only sounding as relevant as ever with their kitchen-sink pop classics, but adding to them with new material.
“Just by writing about stuff we knew, being working class, is its own sort of politics, in a way,” says Tilbrook, adding of their ongoing campaign: “Whatever we can do to help the current situation is all we can do, however people want to spin it. There’s always hope, and always the chance that things can change. That’s the shining light ahead.
“I’m sure there are people who disagree with it,” he concludes, “and the aim is to avoid finger-pointing. That’s something we haven’t entirely succeeded at, but as close as possible. It’s our heartfelt thing.”