Glenn Tilbrook

TrackAlbum / Single
By The Light Of The Cash MachineParallel World (B-side)
Chat Line LarryThe Co-Operative
Everybody SometimesHappy Ending
NeptuneTransatlantic Ping Pong
One Day I’ll Fly AwayThe Co-Operative
Parallel WorldThe Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook
RayHappy Ending
Reinventing The WheelTransatlantic Ping Pong
StillPandemonium Ensues
UntouchableTransatlantic Ping Pong

Glenn Tilbrook photo

Glenn Tilbrook press photo

 

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm
Glenn Tilbrook playlist

 

 

Contributor: Gayle Ramage

Already a connoisseur of Deptford’s finest pop-rock band? You can skip these next few paragraphs …

If you’ve found yourself wondering why you’ve never really listened to English new wave band Squeeze other than perhaps a couple of their singles, then please find the nearest available mirror and give your reflection a look of solemn disappointment. After a respectable amount of time has passed, seek out Jonathan Westwood’s insightful and handy Squeeze toppermost and then listen to the recommended songs. By then, you’ll be hungry for more, so you may as well check out the rest of the band’s discography while you’re at it. Once you’re done, then come back here. I’ll stick the kettle on and have a plate of Garibaldis waiting.

Excellent. That was quick (yes, you’re right, Maidstone is an overlooked gem) but let’s focus. It’s time for some advanced toppermostery. Now you’ve familiarised yourself with the band discography, it’s time to delve into the solo work of Squeeze frontman and overlooked lead guitarist, Glenn Tilbrook. I’m a recent convert to the church of Squeeze and its various branches (don’t worry, I did the mirror thing, too) and I’m at the stage where I just want to clamp headphones on to stranger’s heads (because clamping them elsewhere would be pointless and a bit weird) and make them listen to everything from the Packet Of Three EP up to The Knowledge album and everything in between.

But first, some obligatory background info might be handy. It was during Squeeze’s second hiatus that Glenn Tilbrook released his debut solo album, The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, in 2001 (after the first break-up, Glenn and Squeeze lyricist/guitarist, Chris Difford continued to collaborate and released the imaginatively titled Difford & Tilbrook in 1984 before the band got back together again a year later … only to disband again in 1999). Glenn’s second solo album, Transatlantic Ping Pong, arrived in 2004. His third album, Pandemonium Ensues (2009) was released under the name ‘Glenn Tilbrook & The Fluffers’ with Glenn having teamed up with – you guessed it – The Fluffers (featuring Simon Hanson on drums, Stephen “Lord” Large on keyboard and Lucy Shaw on bass). By then, Squeeze had reformed but Glenn brought out another solo album, Happy Ending (2014), his most recent to date.

There have been a handful of Tilbrook singles through the years, though only Binga Bong! from 2008 seemed to trouble the charts (reaching #78 in the UK) but I’m not bothered about that. Undiscovered gems are much more interesting to talk about than hit singles that already have a gazillion words written about them. So let’s get started.

 

I first heard By The Light Of The Cash Machine on YouTube. Someone had uploaded a recording of Glenn playing this gorgeous track at a solo gig on acoustic guitar. The version that appears as the B-side of the Parallel World single from 2000 is a slightly rockier affair but is no less beautiful. A sweet tale about the hopes of a new romance, this was co-written with singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith and begins with a slightly dreamy feel during the introductory verse before the guitar and drums kick in and it settles into a 60s vibe. I’d recommend checking out both the studio and live versions. They’re both as good as each other.

Lyric: Tonight is so lovely / And the stars are twinkling bright / And they’re almost as pretty as this row of street lights

 

The first of two songs on the list from Glenn’s time as part of The Co-Operative, Chat Line Larry is a fun, energetic, bluesy song about Larry, a telephone enthusiast. It’s the type of song you can imagine would be a blast to play live. I don’t tend to listen to this kind of music generally but if an artist you like dips into a genre you’re less familiar with, you’re going to pay more attention. Plus, it is a cracking little tune, anyway.

Lyric: Lets his fingers do the walking now he likes to talk / Adult premium rate lines been popping Larry’s cork

 

One of my favourite songs from Happy Ending, Everybody Sometimes, is a gorgeous, melodic hooky tune that should be more widely known. It’s a song where the lyrics could be about anything (like a breakfast recipe – see Sunday Breakfast Treat from the debut album) – the music itself stands up well enough on its own (which was always a strength of Glenn’s with Squeeze, being the melody maker of the group). This was co-written with Chris Braide, a long-time collaborator, and someone who’s also worked with Sia and Beyoncé, amongst others.

Lyric: With time this will all just be a memory soon / And you won’t be held to account for what you said

 

Neptune, from the Transatlantic Ping Pong album, is a sturdy rock song which could have well had a place on this list anyway, but the main reason I’m including it here is for the lyrical content. This song is what you might call a Diss Track, and the person being dissed is one Chris Difford. I’m fascinated by the relationship between the two Squeeze stalwarts, and it is Chris who is more open about discussing the ups and downs of their friendship, whether it’s in interviews or songs. Therefore, it’s interesting to get Glenn’s thoughts on his erstwhile music partner. From the lyrics, we learn just what Glenn thinks of Chris’s solo efforts (sleep-inducing, it turns out) but there is a glimmer of hope amongst all the negativity (“… and then I’d find myself wondering about you”). Interestingly, they actually did collaborate on this album, on the song Where I Can Be Your Friend before going on to reform Squeeze in 2007.

Lyric: Your folksy noodling has petered out / It didn’t raise pulses or your bank account / An insomniac’s dream it’s best not to mention

 

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to the mid-1960s Beatles when you hear the opening to Reinventing The Wheel from Transatlantic Ping Pong, especially with those backing vocals and the sound of the harpsichord. It’s a much-told tale that during their heyday, Glenn and Chris were hailed as the next Lennon & McCartney because of their songwriting talents. (When listening to some Squeeze songs, I have found occasionally that Glenn sounds like John Lennon and, to a slightly lesser extent, Paul McCartney.) Yet I’m not sure John or Paul ever wrote such blatant lyrics about, er, solo-love? The subject matter doesn’t particularly faze me. It’s done in a cheeky way and, regardless of lyrical content, the song sounds good!

Lyric: And I’m not reinventing the wheel / I just like the way that it makes me feel

 

So now we come to the first and last cover version in this Toppermost. A cover of the Randy Crawford classic One Day I’ll Fly Away, recorded as part of The Co-Operative for their self-titled album in 2011. This is a stripped-back version with guitar that is used to great effect but doesn’t overwhelm the song, and a harmonica solo from Nine Below Zero’s Mark Feltham that adds to the sense of yearning to be free from someone. Here, Glenn takes on vocals and lead guitar duty, and his voice – having matured since the days of Up The Junction and Another Nail In My Heart but still very recognisable – lends to the sense of the emotions the narrator is going through. It really is a gorgeous version which rivals the original, for me.

Lyric: What more can your love do for me? / When will love be through with me?

 

Parallel World was a single from 2000 and features on The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook. It’s a great, slightly funky, pop song that has a catchy chorus and is a highlight of the album. There is an acoustic version of most of the track list that came as a bonus disc with the main album that you should check out. The acoustic version of this song strips back all the bells and whistles to the bare bones of the song and is very effective.

Lyric: Dishes pile up in the sink / I’m not giving myself time or space to think / I wish I was living in …

 

As a writer of fiction, I’m drawn to songs that are about someone in particular (whether they’re fictional or based on a real person) and such is the case with the song Ray, the first track from 2014’s Happy Ending. The song has a nice jangly sound to it and plenty of reverb, evoking a retro feel to the music. The lyrics describe the titular character as someone who’s feeling insignificant and left behind in his twilight years. Interestingly, this isn’t the first song about a character called Ray from the Glenn Tilbrook discography; Transatlantic Ping Pong features the song Ray & Me. I have wondered whether both songs are about the same person. As well as simply loving the track, another reason Ray holds a special place for me is that it was the first song I wrote out the chords for since I wanted to play it on the guitar and couldn’t find a transcription anywhere online. I spent a good while watching/pausing a YouTube video of a live performance on a radio show and scribbled down the chords.

Lyric: Nurturing his herd of scapegoats / Howling like a wounded teen / He’s becoming a footnote in his own dream

 

Next up is possibly the most romantic song on the list. Still, from Pandemonium Ensues, is an obvious love letter to Mrs Tilbrook (though I see it was co-written with singer/songwriter Des’ree). It has a gorgeous, well-crafted arrangement and the lyrics are both sweet and humorous (“… want to punch my lights out”). This could have easily been a Squeeze song, sitting snugly on Some Fantastic Place replacing the Paul Carrack-led Loving You Tonight.

Lyric: Could it be a twist of fate or was it written / In tea leaves or maybe stars that we’d both be smitten

 

Another song co-written with Chris Braide, Untouchable, from 2004, is a catchy, solid slice of pop and if Squeeze had continued, this song would have sat nicely within their discography. A song about professional jealousy (I’ve heard conflicting reports that the lyrics are actually about Chris Braide), the words contrast nicely with the breezy tone of the song. The piano sounds fantastic here, too.

Lyric: You’re your own worst enemy when you’re like this / You know that is the truth / There’s nothing I can do if you won’t spare a thought / For anyone but you

So there we go. Ten tracks to get you started. I strongly recommend checking out Glenn’s live solo performances (ideally in person, but YouTube is your friend). I’ve not yet had the chance to see him live but I’ve been hugely impressed by the videos I’ve seen. A personal favourite is a brilliant cover of Hendrix’s Voodoo Child on acoustic guitar, which actually inspired me to improve my own guitar skills. So, inspiration plus bloody good songs. What’s not to love?

 

 

 

 

 

Glenn Tilbrook photo 1

Quixotic Records press photo by Danny Clifford

 

Glenn Tilbrook official website

“Glenn Tilbrook: One for the Road”
2004 documentary directed by Amy Pickard

Glenn Tilbrook: Live from Daryl’s House

Glenn Tilbrook & Dennis Greaves – The Co-Operative Pt.1

The Official Squeeze Website

Packet of Three: Squeeze, Difford & Tilbrook songbooks

Toppermost #1,006: Squeeze

Toppermost #663: Nine Below Zero

Glenn Tilbrook biography (Wikipedia)

Gayle Ramage is a writer and a keen guitarist which keeps her out of mischief. More info can be found at her website.

TopperPost #1,093

2 Comments

  1. Jim O’Rourke
    Dec 30, 2023

    Well done, Gayle. A nice overview on the underappreciated solo work of Glenn Tilbrook!

    • Gayle
      Jan 6, 2024

      Thanks, Jim! I’m currently writing another one that you may enjoy. 😉

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓