Guitarist, singer, songwriter
Glenn Tilbrook made his foray into music in 1978 as the singer and guitarist for the band Squeeze. As a member of Squeeze, Tilbrook worked and lived with Chris Difford to create a brand of pop music that invited comparisons to their British contemporaries Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote, "All three are practitioners of the intelligent, tuneful pop. ... They write songs with lyrics that invite inspection and which reward repeat listening."
Tilbrook's career with Squeeze was long, but not without its conflicts, and in 1998 he was forced to step out on his own as a solo artist, and build a career from the ground up. In the process, he discovered a basic love for playing and creating music. He started his own record company, drove himself around the United States for his tour dates, and reconnected with audiences across the world.
Glenn Tilbrook was born on August 31, 1957, in Woolwich, Southeast London, England. In his late teens he was a guitar player in search of a band. He saw a notice in the window of a local record store for a band looking for members, a band that claimed to have a contract with a label and an upcoming tour schedule. In reality, there was no band, just Chris Difford looking for a way to get his lyrics set to music.
Difford and Tilbrook found they had a lot in common musically and began collaborating, even moving in together. Difford would leave lyrics out on a table for Tilbrook to pick up. Tilbrook would return to his room and work out the arrangements for the songs. They named their band Squeeze, after a long-forgotten album made by the American avant-garde rock group the Velvet Underground. Perhaps not coincidentally, their first album, UK Squeeze, was produced by John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground.
Squeeze arrived in the right place at the right time, and Tilbrook and Difford were lauded as the new Paul McCartney and John Lennon for their collaborative work. The band released a succession of successful albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including 1979's Cool for Cats, 1980's Argybargy, and 1981's East Side Story. Problems within the band led to a breakup in 1982 after the release of Sweets from a Stranger. That same year, their record label released a collection of their hits, titled Singles 45 and Under.
In 1984 Difford and Tilbrook teamed up again. Billing themselves as Difford and Tilbrook, they released an eponymous album, but unfortunately the album and the act were unsuccessful. By the following year they had re-formed Squeeze and released another album, Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. In 1987 Squeeze released their most successful album ever, Babylon and On, which had two top 40 hits in the United States.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s the band released four more albums. During that time they were dropped by A&M Records and then re-signed to the label. By the late 1990s, however, Tilbrook and Difford were facing major difficulties. Difford had become a family man and didn't want to tour. Tilbrook knew that playing music was what he wanted to dedicate his life to. In 1998, once again, Squeeze disbanded. By that time they were once more without a label. To release their latest album, Domino, Tilbrook formed his own record company called Quixotic Records.
The sales for Domino gave Tilbrook hope that his small label could accomplish something in the world of music. Domino went on to make a profit—the only Squeeze album to do so in more than 18 years. Til-brook told Bradley Bambarger of Billboard, "I knew then that, with hard work, small could be possible, could be good."
Small was possible, but it wasn't easy. As part of Squeeze, Tilbrook had worn many hats, including lead vocalist and guitarist as well as music director and composer. Difford had been the lyricist. One of the biggest challenges that Tilbrook faced going out on his own was writing lyrics. Daunted by the well-crafted lyrics that Difford had created for Squeeze and afraid of not meeting expectations, Tilbrook suffered from writer's block. His collaborations with well-known song crafters and performers Ron Sexsmith and Aimee Mann helped him overcome his insecurity.
Having decided to take a chance on independence, Tilbrook launched his first solo tour of the United States in 1998. Between 1998 and 2003 he toured the United States five times, playing guitar and driving himself to all of his gigs. His shows were a combination of solo material with a judicious mix of Squeeze standards. In 2003 Tilbrook told Don Thrasher of the Dayton Daily News, "I'm the happiest I've been in the music business since I can remember, and that's because now I'm sort of on the peripheral [sic] of the music business."
In 2001 Tilbrook released his first solo album, The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, on Quixotic Records. His tour of the United States at that time took him from New York to Atlanta to Los Angeles, and each show was a unique experience for the audiences and for Tilbrook. In New York he performed two sold-out shows at the Mercury Lounge. In Los Angeles critics gave him glowing reviews. LA Weekly reported, "His playing—a million chords in faultless sequence interlaced with brilliant jazz-inflected rockabilly solos—showed no signs of decline, and his vocals rang out sweet despite an apparently nasty winter cold."
In between sold-out shows and great reviews, Tilbrook faced challenges. In November of 2001 he was booked to play a show at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, Georgia. The Sunday night show was so undersold that Tilbrook took the small audience into the foyer of the venue to play his songs. Then the small group took a walk that brought them to the house of one of the fans. After playing music in the living room, they all hit the street and headed back to the Variety Playhouse to end the show. Tilbrook said to Richard Eldredge of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I looked round the place and saw people's faces. There was something very special happening with all of us. It was a fantastic evening."
In 2004 Tilbrook released his second solo album, Transatlantic Ping Pong. Age and experience have opened Tilbrook's eyes to the value of playing music for as long as possible. He explained to Bambarger, "I realized something playing with people like Keith Richards [of the Rolling Stones] recently: Even though they're infinitely more successful than I am, they are people just like me, who live to play music at whatever age. And while I'd love to be the musician of the moment on everyone's lips, being on just a few people's lips is pretty great. It was a tremendous relief to realize that."
For the Record …
Born on August 31, 1957, in Woolwich, Southeast London, England.
Met Chris Difford, began collaborating, mid-1970s; released first album, U.K. Squeeze, 1978; Squeeze disbanded, 1982; Difford and Tilbrook reunited under name Difford and Tilbrook, released album of the same name, 1984; re-formed as Squeeze, 1985; Babylonand On had two top 40 hits in the United States, 1987; Squeeze disbanded again; Tilbrook started own record company, Quixotic Records; first solo tour, 1998; Tilbrook released The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, 2001; second solo album, Transatlantic Ping Pong, released, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Quixotic Records, P.O. Box 27947, London SE7 8NW, England, phone: 020 8269 0352, fax: 020 8269 0353.
The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, Quixotic, 2001.
Transatlantic Ping Pong, Quixotic, 2004.
U.K. Squeeze, A&M, 1978.
Cool for Cats, A&M, 1979.
Argybargy, A&M, 1980.
East Side Story, A&M, 1981.
Sweets From a Stranger, A&M, 1982.
Singles 45 and Under, A&M, 1982.
(As Difford and Tilbrook) Difford and Tilbrook, A&M, 1984.
(As Squeeze) Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, A&M, 1985.
Babylon and On, A&M, 1987.
Frank, A&M, 1989.
A Round and a Bout (live), Reprise, 1990.
Play, Reprise, 1991.
Some Fantastic Place, A&M, 1993.
Ridiculous, Ark 21, 1996.
Domino, Quixotic, 1998.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 20, 2001, p. 2C.
Billboard, September 1, 2001, p. 15.
Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH), August 22, 2003, p. 4.
LA Weekly, December 20, 2002, p. 62.
Toronto Star, March 4, 1988, p. D3; October 25, 1991.
—Eve M. B. Hermann
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