Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook: ‘The house price rise is an evil trick’

Glenn Tilbrook. Picture: Rob O'Connor

Glenn Tilbrook. Picture: Rob O'Connor - Credit: Archant

Glenn Tilbrook talks to Zoe Paskett about his run in with David Cameron, the housing crisis and watching Black Mirror on the road

Glenn Tilbrook began 2016 in a media frenzy.

Singing Cradle to the Grave live on The Andrew Marr Show, unbeknownst to his Squeeze band mates, he changed the lyrics. Over the next few hours, the Internet blew up.

Tilbrook had been booked on the same show as David Cameron and used the opportunity to his advantage.

“What he was talking about made me angry,” he says. “I think the whole house price rise is an evil trick that people my age have played on younger people and I think it’s pretty despicable to rule out social housing in London.”

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He responded to his call to tear down old council housing: “part of what made Britain great/there are some here who are hellbent on the destruction of the welfare state.”

“Social housing is good if it is maintained. You can’t just let things fall apart and then say: ‘Look at the state of that, we need to get rid of it.’ Because that’s what they’re doing.”

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Tilbrook’s four children between the ages of 11 and 26 are a driving force behind his dissatisfaction with the current state of the housing in the UK. He remembers a time when a sense of community was the backbone of the system.

“I grew up in a council house and my parents had the stability of being in that house from 1954 to when my mum died in 1997. That’s the great thing. It gives working class people somewhere to live. I think that to not make any provision for that is a form of social cleansing that I find really objectionable.”

Tilbrook’s performance of Squeeze’s recent hit Cradle to the Grave, which was written to accompany the BBC sitcom of the same name based on the memoirs of Danny Baker, came as a surprise to everyone involved. He didn’t even tell his band mates.

“I didn’t even know I was going to do it until I listened to him speak,” he says, adding that he “just felt embarrassed for him as a man”.

The fallout of their appearance was overwhelmingly positive, with people coming up to him in the street for months afterwards to shake his hand.

“I think it touched a nerve with a lot of people in a way I wasn’t thinking about,” he says, still surprised with the reaction.

It’s certainly not the first time Tilbrook’s music has struck a chord.

As singer and founding member of Squeeze, who made their debut in 1977, he hasn’t stopped going since, with countless group and solo albums under his belt. Recently back from “one of the best tours we’ve ever done” in America, he’s delighted with where he is now.

“It’s been a long road to get Squeeze to where we are,” he says. “In 2007, when we got back together we were the best Squeeze tribute band there had ever been – that was how we approached it. But I don’t want to just live in the past. With the record we had out last year, we’ve proved a point about where we are as writers: that we can still cut the mustard. I’m very proud of that record.”

Squeeze’s latest line up, which has famously shifted a fair few times since the 70s and included Jools Holland as one of the originals, is now six strong “with incredible ability to musically empathise with each other”. Chris Difford, who put the advert in a sweetshop window in 1973 that attracted Tilbrook, continues as a central member at his side.

On his current tour, though, he is going solo, playing music from his own albums, Squeeze and a bunch of covers. With no set list, simply an iPad with a list of his music, he doesn’t know what he’s going to be doing on any given night.

Already well stuck into the 42 dates on the bill, he’s enjoying touring as much as he always has.

“The minus of touring has always been leaving home and leaving family,” he says. “I never enjoy that aspect of it. But I enjoy the other aspects. I love playing, I love seeing the country, travelling around, eating really good food, using my good pub guide app. It’s about learning how to enjoy yourself when you’re away.”

Among the country walks and pub visits, Tilbrook has found something else to occupy his time on the road: Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

“There are so many things competing for people’s time and attention and I think what Black Mirror is doing incidentally is pointing out some of that stuff and the possible consequences. It’s very inspirational.”

And slightly terrifying?

“Oh yes, that too! What it is doing is taking my attention away from listening to music, although I do listen to an incredible amount of music.”

It seems Tilbrook is likely to be too busy for any more impromptu protests for a while.

Though, who knows? He does have a lot more to say.

“I think we’re at a strange point politically where people like Trump and Farage appear to be speaking a kind of truth to people – not one I agree with in any way – but the method of delivery is right: politics have tired people out and they’re searching for something new.

“What’s scary is that they seem to be looking in the wrong places.”

Glenn Tilbrook performs at Union Chapel on December 15.

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