Squeeze / John Cooper Clarke, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Dr John Cooper Clarke was already halfway down Beasley Street by the time I rocked up at the Liverpool Phil on Monday night.
The legendary wordsmith is as much a stand-up comic these days, his one-liners and winning anecdotes soon banishing memories of my nightmarish drive into the city.
He was soon on to one of his favourite subjects, growing old, not revealing his age as such, just hinting, ‘Let’s put it this way, I don’t buy green bananas these days’, while informing us that his blood type had been cancelled last week.
The razor-sharp-witted salvo of one-liners continued, the people’s performance poet moving on to thinly-veiled hints at those closest to shuffling off this mortal coil, such as ‘one-way tickets to Switzerland’ left on hospital pillows.
He left us on a JCC classic, Evidently Chickentown introduced with an anecdote about how BBC sound technicians filed for repetitive strain injury while working the swear-word bleeper during an early live recording.
Soon enough, the lights were down again and an introductory film was aired on a big screen – with shades of Public Service Broadcasting – to herald the main act’s arrival.
Squeeze, 2015-style sees Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook joined by multi-instrumentalist Stephen Large, Last of the subtle Mohicans drummer Simon Hanson and Lucy Shaw, the band warming up with a semi-acoustic Hourglass and Is That Love?
But it turned out that the gremlins were in the works, Glenn leading the band off again before a swift return and what Chris Difford dubbed a bonus track, the founders adding a Everly Brothers-like Annie Get Your Gun. The sound still wasn’t quite right though as they moved on to Another Nail in My Heart.
They were soon back on track, a neat jam giving Chris the platform for a somewhat laid-back Electric Trains (more of a Sunday service mix), a precursor to two from the new album, Only 15 and Beautiful Game, the latter accompanied by grainy images of past footie internationals.
By then Melvin Duffy had joined in, initially playing pedal steel but like his band-mates switching instruments throughout, on a night of swings ‘twixt and ‘tween semi-acoustic and rocking.
Glenn’s wondrous fretwork followed on the always-emotive Some Fantastic Place, bringing to mind late great local George Harrison, before a string-laden, further poignant moment, The Truth, from 1991’s Play.
The band were back to Cradle to the Grave for ‘Hot Chocolate and Chic mash-up’ Nirvana, Lucy in her element on bass and backing vocals as the glitterball spun.
Glenn was alone at the electric piano for the moody The Elephant Ride, blue-suited Stephen then taking his place while Lucy switched to double bass for an acoustic-underpinned Everything, this beautifully-pensive cut from the new LP feeding into a crowd-pleasing, somewhat majestic Labelled with Love.
A storming Slap and Tickle saw the band line up stage-front, then chief instrument-switcher Stephen added Wurlitzer touches on Black Coffee in Bed, Glenn’s impassioned delivery complemented by backing vocals galore, an extra-mellow feel underpinned by Lucy’s bass instinct and Simon Hanson’s brushwork.
They were on a high now, the crowd adding vocals for a glorious Goodbye Girl, which received an acoustic make-over, footage of the band’s formative days on the screen adding extra nostalgic value.
The mighty acoustics of the Philharmonic were then nicely complemented by the gospel of Open from the latest album, its rousing spiritual feel leading neatly to title track Cradle to the Grave, Mr Tilbrook now on ukulele.
Glenn’s uke also punctuated a neat delivery of late-60s country hit Harper Valley PTA, while Chris stepped back into the breach for a Lou Reed-like shamble through Tom Waits’ I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.
A thrilling finale followed, GT’s vocal and Stephen’s piano kick-starting Tempted, a storming Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) keeping us on our feet before Up the Junction took us out in style.
They were soon back, the new album’s emotive closer Snap, Crackle and Pop framed by surprisingly-poignant scenes of early ‘70s traffic, Glenn’s bluesy guitar and Stephen’s subtle keyboard at its heart, followed by the equally-evocative Happy Days.
Finally, Chris led us through an almost-celebratory Cool for Cats amid a visual backdrop of press clippings from the early days, before the At Odds Couple and their entourage saw us out on Take Me I’m Yours, mobile drummer boy Simon heading a conga around the stage before this treasured sextet jumped off and threaded their way down the middle towards the exit.