This time out: We chat with Chris Difford of legendary British combo Squeeze, take a listen to the latest album from the Zombies, and check out a batch of notable upcoming music events!
A CONVERSATION WITH CHRIS DIFFORD OF SQUEEZE
Based around the songwriting of Chris Difford (words) and Glen Tilbrook (music), for the past 40+ years Squeeze has released one pop gem after another. “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Pulling Mussels from the Shell,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Up the Junction,” “Hourglass,” “Tempted,” “Happy Days,” and the list goes on.Appearing at the Sound in Del Mar on October 9, alongside the Psychedelic Furs, Squeeze’s most recent album was 2017’s excellent release, The Knowledge. With no new album to promote, the band is on the road simply because they enjoy it. “We come to America to tour every other year, and this is that other year,” Difford said good naturedly. New music is in the early planning stages. “We were hoping to have a record out sometime this year, but I think it’s now going to be next year. Unfortunately, there’s no information I can give you; we’ve just got the intentions of making a record. I think one of the things we have to do is try and fund it. These days we don’t have A&M records to lend us money to make a record, so we have to dig deep.” Which label will Squeeze’s next release be on? “We don’t have a label right now, which is why we have to dig deep,” he said.
With such a vast catalog of songs to choose from, how does Squeeze work out their set list? “We’ve been playing shows for a considerable amount of time and we kind of know instinctively what’s working and what isn’t,” Difford said. “We’ll try rare cuts and see if they work and you kind of know within a week or a few shows whether it’s working. And what we like to do is—once we get a show fixed in our minds—is kind of stick with it for the rest of the tour, because it gives us a sort of sense of security to know what you’re doing.”
Does lyrical inspiration still strike him as it did when he first started writing? “It depends, really; I can sit in my office and write if I’m in the right spiritual place. Sometimes that takes some doing. And it depends what you’re working on, who you’re working for, and how that sort of pans out. Lyrics, when I was a kid, used to come very easily; you know, you were kind of 16, 17 years old, and you had everything to write about. Then when you’re nearly 70, there’s a lot of things that are not easy to write about anymore.”
Besides penning songs with Glen Tilbrook in Squeeze, Difford has written with numerous other musicians, most recently singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine. Does he have a favorite? “I do enjoy working with Boo,” Difford said. “He’s a very uncomplicated writer to work with, really interesting, and a joy to work with. I (also) like working with Paul Carrack, because you sit around his house and eat sandwiches while he plays the piano and the lyrics just come, because he’s got that kind of voice.” How did Difford come to work with Hewerdine? “That’s a good question,” Difford said. “I don’t know, he just sort of fell out of the sky. I don’t know how we met or what happened, but I know the first couple of songs we wrote were very easy to write. He’s got a good sense of humor and he’s very thorough, so it’s a good combination when you’re co-writing to have that, I think.”
What does Difford enjoy the most about performing with Squeeze? “I think I enjoy being in the very moment of each song,” he said. “I never used to be able to have the ability to understand what that meant. But now I can look at the audience and understand a little bit more about the relationship between the song and the listener, and what that means. Having eye contact with an audience is really important to engage them in the song, because you’re trying to touch them.” Which song is his favorite to play? “Tempted” is one because its such an incredible crowd pleaser,” he said. “People really like it and that always feels good to me.”
In addition to his touring with Squeeze, Difford also has his own solo road show, The Not Always but Also Tour. Plans are in the works to bring that tour to America as well in 2024. “I would love to,” Difford said. “I’ve just been playing the Edinburgh Festival, where I do a stand-up show for an hour and I’ve been thinking about how it would work in in America, because the stories are very much based in the UK, but I’m hoping to do that (tour) sometime next year.”
Difford is very much looking to the upcoming Squeeze road trip, but notes the passage of time. “I’m keeping my eyes open and ears open, because every time you come to America at my age, you don’t know how many times you’re going to be coming back,” he said. “When you’re a teenager and you’re touring America, you’re kind of like a pinball going around a pinball machine. But as I reach a later age, I just want to sort of say hello and be there. And then come home.”
The Zombies: Different Game (Cooking Vinyl)
The basics: The Zombies’ seventh album and fifth since their return in 2000, with ten tracks, including one remake. Nine songs written by founding member, keyboardist Rod Argent, and one by founding member, singer Colin Blunstone. It’s a strong album. Songs about relationships and loss. Time has moved on since the band’s classic 1968 Odessey and Oracle release, but the Zombies’ sense of melody, Argent’s keyboard prowess, and especially front man Blunstone’s vocals, remain the band’s signature points.
Longtime fans of the Zombies will be familiar with some of these tracks from recent concert tours. Several songs have obvious radio play potential, highpoints are many. Of the uptempo numbers, the closest to the band’s early sound is harmonica driven, R&B tinged “Gotta Move On,” while first single, “Dropped Reeling and Stupid,” has a funky groove, complete with a nice breakdown at 2:20. The album’s highlight is probably “Merry Go Round,” an infectious shuffle rocker, with inspired piano from Argent and a great pre-chorus shout, “So come on!” which is especially effective live.
Different Game’s sole “cover” is a remake of the band’s own “I Want to Fly,” a moody ballad first released by the Zombies on the 2004 album, As Far as the Eye Can See. The original version was piano led; this new version sets Blunstone’s voice in a baroque setting, backed solely by a beautiful string arrangement. Anyone who enjoyed his 1971 solo album, One Year, will come back to this track time and again.
The album closes with Blunstone’s “The Sun Will Rise Again,” a wistful, melancholy song, reflecting on the passage of time. It’s the perfect ending to the album.
58 years since their recording debut, it’s wonderful to see the Zombies continue to release such strong collections of songs, while maintaining a busy touring schedule. It’s rare for a band to be so active this late in the game and even rarer for them to be releasing such high caliber music. Bottom line, fans of the Zombies will find much to enjoy on Different Game; diehards will find it essential. The Zombies stop in at the Belly Up Tavern on October 7. www.thezombiesmusic.com
OCTOBER CONCERT SPOTLIGHTS
1. October 8: The Tourmaliner’s Dance Party at the La Jolla Lutheran Church, La Jolla
A free, all ages, afternoon (3-5 p.m.) dance party in a church parking lot, following the annual surf contest at Tourmaline State Park. The Tourmaliners will play tunes from their SDMA-winning album, Surfidia, alongside early 1960s surf and R&B classics. www.thetourmaliners.com
2. October 14: Laurie Beebe Lewis & the Electric Underground with Mike Pinera at the Ritz Theatre, Escondido
An evening of Flower Power/1960s music, a multi-media show, including hits from Lewis’ previous groups, the Mamas & Papas and the Buckinghams, as well as classics from the Doors, and the Byrds. Mike Pinera of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly will join the band for his 1970 hit, “Ride Captain Ride” and more! www.thegrandescondido.org
3. October 14: The Hallogras Cruise, William D Evans, Mission Bay
San Diego’s most unique annual musical happening! A Halloween cruise around Mission Bay, soundtracked by the Farmers, the Sleepwalkers, the Anthony Cullins band, Nightmare on ’80s street, the Ass Pocket Whiskey Fellas, Safety Orange, Robin Henkel, and Nathan James. Sounds like a heck of a party! www.thesixstringsociety.com
4. October 15: Grand Avenue Festival, Along Grand Avenue, Escondido
Check out the line up at this year’s Grand Avenue Festival: Jonny Tarr, the Gravities, the Lions Roar, Twisted Relatives, the Way Brothers, the Surf Kings, Not 4 Hire, and Georgia’s School of Dance. Free, all ages. www.downtownescondido.com/grand-avenue-festival
5. October 20: The Benedetti Trio Celebrates John Lennon at Dizzy’s, Bay Park
Beatles fans won’t want to miss guitarist Fred Benedetti’s tribute to John Lennon. Joined by vocalists Regina Moomjean and Julia Picone, multi-instrumentalist/bassist Jeff Pekarek, and percussionist James Morton, Benedetti’s arrangements of Beatles and solo years classics are impressive. A must for Fab Four Fans of guitar aficionados. https://dizzysjazz.com
5. October 21: PSB Records 25th Anniversary at the Jai, La Jolla
A celebration of PSB Records, with their artists performing and discussing the label and music in general. On hand will be Brad Auerbach, Nick Binkley, Mark Hart (Supertramp, Crowded House), Tim Flannery, Berkley Hart, Steve Dudas, and Valery Saifudinov. www.theconrad.org/events/23-24-psb-records