Oliver Goddard reviews Chris Difford's acoustic performance at Bristol Folk House...
Chris Difford has never been much of a singer. Of all of the Squeeze’s most recognisable songs, only ‘Cool For Cats’ featured his distinctive monotone drawl. He has, however, always been an excellent lyricist. As half of the songwriting duo of Squeeze (alongside vocalist Glenn Tilbrook), Difford is partly responsible for one of the strongest, and most under-appreciated, songbooks of the late 70s and 80s.
Clearly, Difford is not one to rest on his laurels, but when classics such as ‘Goodbye Girl’ or ‘Another Nail in my Heart’ failed to make an appearance, it was hard to understand the inclusion of noticeably weaker material.
Difford’s intimate performance at the Bristol Folk House, with fellow singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine supporting, was as much an evening of spoken word as it was of music. Promoting his autobiography Some Fantastic Place: My Life in and out of Squeeze, Difford detailed, among other anecdotes, how he and Tilbrook first met, their first live performance, and close encounters with other established musicians, all of which were supplemented with a delicately curated setlist that complimented the chronology of his storytelling.
Some of Squeeze’s more famous songs were modulated to a lower register to better suit his somewhat limited range, which only drew further attention to the directness of his lyrics. The kitchen-sink realism of ‘Up the Junction,’ stripped of its new-wave instrumentation and with Difford’s raspy timbre added to the mix, was rendered even more heartbreaking. Similarly, his acoustic rendition of ‘Tempted’ coloured the song as more regretful and dejected than the soul-inflicted original studio recording.
The new material stuck out like the proverbial. ‘Sobriety,’ co-written with his stage-mate Hewerdine, was a rare moment of stagnation, lacking both a strong melody and the wordplay one expects of a Difford composition. The fact it was immediately followed by one of his wittiest compositions, ‘Pulling Mussels (from the Shell),’ made the deficit even more apparent. Clearly, Difford is not one to rest on his laurels, but when classics such as ‘Goodbye Girl’ or ‘Another Nail in my Heart’ failed to make an appearance, it was hard to understand the inclusion of noticeably weaker material.
Nevertheless, for the most part, Difford delivered the hits, and the gig was rounded off with a crowd-pleasing performance of ‘Cool For Cats’ - (has there ever been a more quintessentially cockney pop song?) - that generated a respectfully reserved singalong from the middle-aged crowd. Though it may not have been the most raucous concert from an ex-new wave stalwart, it nevertheless highlighted just how direct, dry and undoubtedly idiomatic his songwriting talents are. There are worse ways of spending a Friday night.
Featured image: Facebook / Chris Difford
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