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Wednesday 9 November 2022

Up The Junction

My friend Darren had a spare for Squeeze supported by Dr. John Cooper Clarke at the Apollo last Saturday night, a very kind offer which is the sort of thing you don't turn down (one of the pictures here is Darren's, the one at the top). We met in The Bull's Head, a traditional city centre boozer at the back end of Piccadilly Station, a fifteen minute walk from the Apollo. There was a bit if a head spinning culture clash in the pub- it was packed with Man City fans stopping off on the way back to town from the Etihad and glammed up, glittered up punters having a quick drink before going to Homobloc at The Warehouse Project across the road plus a few middle aged folks like Darren and I having a pint before the gig. We arrived in good time to ensure we saw the good doctor. Not long after we arrived and got served at the bar the man pictured below arrived on stage, the legendary Johnny Green, formerly road manager of The Clash, now John Cooper Clarke's tour manager/ fixer/ confidante/ best mate. 

Johnny gave a brief introduction and then the stick thin, behatted, skinny trousered John Cooper Clarke ambled on stage and commenced firing. His act is a well honed, non- stop, rapid fire performance, the jokes, stories and poetry all bundled up together, his one liners and stand up comedy all part of the act, slipping into a cartoon New Yoik accent at times for added effect. The poems, when they come, are delivered at breakneck speed, the nasal Salford accent still strong despite living in Essex of the last thirty five years. Hire Car, Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck and Bedblocker Blues are all fired off early on, the still relevant Beasley Street (the first of the classics) is followed by the recent updated version Beasley Boulevard. He reminds us all, that even though everyone thinks Beasley Street is about Thatcher, partly due to the line, 'Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies/ In a box on Beasley Street', he wrote the poem before she took power. Home, Honey I'm High gets a lot of laughs and by the point he's mid- set, the latecomers are being shushed and the Apollo is hanging on every line. 

'I watched the milkman drive off with my wife. Longest three hours of my life'.

The end of the set is a best of JCC, I've Fallen In Love With Wife, the every other word fuckfest of Evidently Chicken Town (which is where I guess the New Yoik accent comes from, the song being played over the end of The Sopranos) and Twat, delivered with gusto and bile decades after it being written, the audience joining in for the last line/ word. Then he rattles through I Wanna Be Yours and he's off. 

I've never seen Squeeze before. In fact I don't even any of their records but their singles are so much part of post late 70s pop culture that skimming through their greatest hits online a couple of days before I was amazed how many of them I knew. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are well into national treasure/ classic English songwriter territory and coupled with their South London roots, plants them firmly in the kitchen sink, slice of life, the sort of space occupied by the likes of Ray Davies and Paul Weller There are times at the gig they seem to sit somewhere in between The Jam and Madness in terms of lyrics and melodies. 

So confident are they of their back catalogue that a song like Up The Junction, for me the pinnacle of their songwriting, that they can dispense with it just three songs in. The Apollo is seated for the gig, the stewards are very keen to ensure no-one is out of their seat much early on, there's no standing in the gangways and the crowd are middle aged plus and very polite. Squeeze power through one New Wave/ pop- / post- punk classic after another, Tilbrook's voice and guitar playing at the front and centre, Difford co- singing and taking the much more growly lead vocal spot on a few. Cradle To The Grave, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), Goodbye Girl all blaze by. As we get near the end of the set and gorgeous version of Tempted, the audience are up on their feet and the last song, Cool For Cats, is played with no less energy and enthusiasm than it must have been in 1979. There's an encore, Slap And Tickle and then a full showbiz, individual band members solo spotlight affair during Black Coffee In Bed and then we're done, back into the drizzly streets of Ardwick and the walk back to town (a walk that became a long one for me. We went for a few more pints, missed the last tram home- this is sounding a bit like a Squeeze lyric now- and Darren ordered an Uber. It dropped Darren off in Old Trafford and then about half a mile up the road towards Sale the driver told me to get out because he was calling it a night and going home. The walk back through down King's Road, through Stretford and back to Sale took me an hour. Black cabs it seems don't exist any more. As I neared McDonald's in Stretford I considered a cheeseburger to give me the sustenance for the final mile of my trek but the Golden Arches had just closed its doors).

Up The Junction is a work of brilliance, the phrasing, colloquialisms, a feats of memorable lines, the images piling up one after another, with no chorus and the title of the song saved until the very end, 'And now it's my assumption/ I'm really up the junction'. Chris Difford was only twenty one when he wrote it, a novel in three minute pop song form. It was released, I've just noticed, the day before my ninth birthday. 


Martin said...

Ah, Squeeze live are excellent, still. And dare I say it, but does JCC fall into national treasure territory too now?

The Swede said...

I saw JCC on great form at the Arts Centre in Norwich a few years back and didn't dare approach Johnny Green all evening lest I burst into tears right in front of him. I associate him so much with the memorable nights I spent with The Clash all those years ago.
The '...and now she's two years older...' verse of Up the Junction always gets me. It's where the story turns on a dime and I find it utterly heartbreaking. What fantastic writing.

Swiss Adam said...

Yes, Martin, I think he does. Although part of me thinks he's too spiky to be for true national treasure status.

Agree Swede, fantastic writing. And I think you should have approached Johnny. I bet he's lovely.

C said...

Sounds fantastic, and what a time to see these two acts, both of whose output is so much a part of our youth and life - who'd have ever thought back then that a gig like this could happen now? (Something I find myself saying a lot about bands these days). A bit shit about that Uber! I hope the driver wouldn't have done that for a female customer, it's certainlynot great that he did that with you.

Swiss Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Swiss Adam said...

That crossed my mind too C.

Rol said...

That sounds like a great night. I had some awful experiences at the Apollo and swore I'd never again, but a well-managed, seated gig for these two acts might have tempted me back.

You're right about Up The Junction too. Best chorus-free single ever written?

John Medd said...

Sounds like the perfect night; give or take the odd Uber.
I saw Squeeze early doors on a tour with Eddie & the Hot Rods/Radio Stars and then loads around the early-mid 90s when they released Some Fantastic Place. They really are consummate pros. 'Cold Shoulder' is the one that does it for me. Floors me. Every time.

JC said...

Reading the JCC review makes me all the more pissed-off that the Glasgow gig of his last tour, was postponed for a third time because of COVID issues and never rearranged....I had front row seats!

Wonderful write-up of a bizarre night, given how it ended. Having been to the Apollo for the first time just a few months ago, I was picturing that walk back into the city centre. It's not the most scenic......

I always liked Squeeze early on. I've the first six albums on vinyl, all bout at the time of release, but come the mid-80s, they felt a bit dated and a tad too safe. In saying that, there's no denying the quality of the songwriting and tunes.

I'll add them to the list of future ICAs....kind of strange there hasn't been one on them as yet.