The first time I had my name mentioned in a newspaper was when I won a copy of the Squeeze album, ‘Sweets From A Stranger’, in a competition run by The Evening Echo in Cork during the summer of 1982. We’d just completed our second year in secondary school and yet a few of us were long familiar with the band :- like everyone with half-an-ear – a common ailment around Blackpool – it was clear that troys of real gold were being panned around the Deptford Creek. And as if to further set Squeeze apart from the dogs and the fools, the copy of ‘Cool For Cats’ I picked up from the bargain bins in Pat Egan’s Rainbow Records shop on Patrick Street came on pink vinyl. All very apt, I thought, for a group that sounded like it was having a good time, all of the time.
I can remember saving the words to the band’s 1979 single, ‘Up The Junction’, from an issue of ‘Smash Hits’ and committing them to memory :- in the unlikely event that I ever found myself at a party, this was going to be my turn. And as the decade turned, Squeeze were quickly, if quietly -cementing a formidable reputation ;- by 1981 they’d already delivered both ‘Argybargy’ and ‘East Side Story’, planting themselves squarely as one of Britain’s most urgent, distinctive and impactful pop bands. And they’ve been at my elbow ever since.
By this stage I’ve knocked enough mileage from the day we saw them on the U2 support bill in Croke Park after we’d completed The Leaving Cert in 1985 and during which they were bottled in the tea-time sun by those over-dosed on cheap cider and a knuckle-dragger’s grasp of cool. But twenty years on, and I about to marry into the formidable Golden Vale set, Colm Bonnar, one of the tearaways of the Tipperary All-Ireland senior hurling championship winning teams of 1989 and 1991, told me that he too had been at that show, having made his way up from Cashel for the day. And as if his legend needed any further varnish, he left after Squeeze finished. Or, if you prefer, just before U2 came on to headline their first ever stadium show in their home town.
Thirty-one years later, on the eve of another All-Ireland hurling final between Tipperary and Kilkenny and Vicar Street is rammed ;- tickets for Squeeze, unlike the hurling, have been sold out long since. In a pub up in Dublin 6, meanwhile, that victorious Tipperary team from 1991 has re-grouped to once again celebrate itself. Colm Bonnar is up there, prominent among their number and, you’d think, the planets may be aligning.
Scanning the crowd and it’s clear that the hurling has helped to swell tonight’s gate. There’s a hardcore of hurling and gaelic football folk in every county who know their popular music history as well as they know their emerging minors and there are many of that hue here, mixing their metaphors and reeling in the years. In Letia’s in Ardfinnan, I’ve enjoyed many’s the seamless transition from talk of Christy Ring’s oil deliveries into ‘the village’ to informed, critical appraisals of Bob Mould’s first solo album, ‘Workbook’ and back again. Those hardy regulars who prop up Pakie and Nonie’s bar-top would certainly have enjoyed the pre- show loose-talk in the Lord Edward pub nearby, where a small group were discussing Paul Carrack and asking, specifically, if Squeeze were better or more restricted while the elegant keyboardist and vocalist featured briefly in their line-up during the early 1980s.
You’d imagine that the same group might also be well-equipped enough to wonder why, in John Harris’s excellent 2004 book, ‘The Last Party : Britpop, Blair And The Demise of English Rock’, Squeeze merit not a single mention ? In tracing, in no little detail, the emergence into the mainstream of Oasis, Elastica, Pulp and especially Blur, is there not a case to be made for the influence of, say, ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ or ‘Slap And Tickle’ on ‘Girls And Boys’ ? Or of Chris Difford’s quite remarkable Cockney bass rumble on ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ ? Or in how Glenn Tilbrook’s bedroom-ceiling mini-dramas [‘beige … I think I’ll paint the ceiling beige’] are reflected back on Blur’s mid-1990s trilogy which, certainly in respect of their lyrical ambition, owe as much to ‘East Side Story’ as they do to The Kinks’ ‘Something Else’ ? And at a time when, post-‘Leisure’, Blur aspired to the act-local, think global melodramatics of ‘Up The Junction’ ?
Perhaps. But then Squeeze are one of those groups that rarely attract critical mentions anywhere and tend to be terminally over-looked as primary influencers, and this in spite of a forty year career that’s yielded fourteen studio albums and over fifty singles. And yet while Squeeze’s own canon owes as much to Albert Lee’s nimble guitar pluck as it does to Lennon and McCartney’s tender harmonies, the sum of that equation can be tellingly felt and keenly heard in classic period Crowded House, the New Zealand group who, to all intents, acquired Squeeze’s ermine during the 1990s. Close your eyes at regular junctures tonight – and I do, especially when the core of the six-piece band approach the mics for multiple harmonies – and we could be at a formal playback of ‘Together Alone’ or Neil Finn’s terrific debut solo album, ‘Try Whistling This’.
But there’s serious business to be minded tonight too :- Squeeze pepper the set with the considerable clout of their singles, counter-pointing affairs with much of 2015’s terrific ‘Cradle To The Grave’ album. Of which ‘Only 15’ – an early Squeeze song revived and re-defined after decades, by all accounts – and ‘Happy Days’ are among the stand-outs. But opening with ‘Hourglass’ and closing with ‘Take Me I’m Yours’, this is largely unadulterated stuff and, given there are those among us tonight who were at the Squeeze show in U.C.D. in 1979 [that was also marred by trouble in the crowd], its the only real direction home.
The following afternoon, Tipperary dismantled Kilkenny more easily than even their most boisterous supporters – and there are some – could have predicted. In compounding real clout with the art of the instinctive, they were easy – and classy – victors from far out and, on the day, the only real show in town. Their blueprint could, in a different context, have been borrowed from Squeeze. Because plenty others have done so previously, and with similar results.
In a word, immense ;- not a one-night stand but a real occasion.