My first gig of 2023 was an evening in the company of Squeeze founder, Chris Difford
I've seen Squeeze as a whole band (at G-Live) and quite enjoyed them without being wildly enthusiastic.
I'd also seen Chris' partner in Squeeze, Glenn Tillbrook, at the tiny West End Centre venue, in Aldershot, and hugely enjoyed that.
So, I was hopeful Chris' solo gig would be enjoyable in a similar way.
I arrived on a cold Thursday evening, to find the venue about 3/4 full as the support act, The Beelines, were part way through.
They were quite enjoyable in a rather '80s new-wave/ska-ish way. I'm not sure I'd rush to see them as a headline act, but they were enjoyable enough.
Perhaps some of my reticence was down to that old bugbear of mine, poor sound balance. In front of the stage, the music sounded good, but the vocals were muddy and swamped. When I went for a beer partway through, I could hear the vocals more clearly!
About 9PM, Chris appeared with the man who had been setting up the stage for him, who he introduced as Melvyn Duffy.
I was right at the front, but looking around, I could see the venue was packed to near capacity.
Melvyn sat at a lap steel guitar (I had to look it up!), while Chris stood with an acoustic guitar throughout.
Chris Difford bears a resemblance to the lamented comedian, Sean Lock, and sounds quite like him when he speaks.
What I hadn't expected was for him to perform a mixture of stand-up comedy and music, but the combination was a winning one.
Chris recollected stories from his past in a highly amusing way throughout, usually leading us to a song.
So, for example, a story of a trip to a friend's family's caravan in Camber Sands (featuring pickled eggs and beer!) led us to 'Pulling Mussels'.
The combination of Steel and acoustic guitar gave the familiar Squeeze songs a different arrangement, but an extremely enjoyable one.
A running joke throughout was how getting a big star to cover one of his songs would make him 'minted', while another was his advice to other bands who supported them (Freddie, that Bohemian Rhapsody is far too long, it'll never be a hit! U2? You should call yourself U4, you'd be huge! and Cut out the Reggae stuff, guys, play some simple songs! The latter to The Police).
We laughed, we joined in (on most of the Squeeze tracks, Chris stopped singing for the choruses and, amazingly, the audience sounded great!) and we cheered.
The set wasn't particularly long, there was a lot of talking and there was no encore (It's too far to go up to the dressing room! we were told), but it was a brilliant gig that left everyone smiling!
Melvyn deserves another mention for his contribution on the slide guitar, as well.
Take Me I'm Yours
Playing With Electric Trains
Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
I Lived for Each Moment
Fat as a Fiddle
Up the Junction
Cowboys Are My Weakness
Labelled With Love
Cool for Cats