Squeeze, Eventim Apollo, review: the Lennon and McCartney of Deptford have never been more vital

Squeeze performing in Newcastle, November 1 - David Wala/Avalon
Squeeze performing in Newcastle, November 1 - David Wala/Avalon

During the final act of the exquisite Annie Get Your Gun, a fight broke out in the stalls of the former Hammersmith Apollo. Pausing the song, Chris Difford, the group’s co-lead songwriter, warned the miscreants to his left that Squeeze “don’t have the security” to deal with this kind of stramash. As the matter calmed down, Glenn Tilbrook, his partner in song for the past 48-years, picked up the beat in the space before the final verse. No big deal. It would take more than this to disrupt the groove of the Lennon and McCartney of Millwall country.

Forty-five minutes earlier, Squeeze had opened their set with their debut single, Take Me I’m Yours, from 1978. Appearing on the Top Of The Pops on the year of its release, Tilbrook sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Today Deptford, tomorrow the world”. Almost half a century later, the impression that this is a bash-em-out band of superior finesse remained present and correct. In a 100-minute set that was busy with hit singles – of which Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) and Tempted were just two - at no point did the seven-piece band play with anything less than full-blooded immediacy. Never mind that both artist and an audience were well into late middle age, somehow it seemed as if lives were at stake.

But as the crowd raised itself to dance, beauty filled the air. “I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham,” sang Tilbrook, on Up The Junction, in an opening couplet that is perhaps the finest in all of popular music. Five songs later, the exquisitely poignant top-five single Labelled With Love continued the tradition of ordinary stories that end in despair.

In its original form, the top-five single was rescued from obscurity amid a pile of forgotten demo tapes by producer Elvis Costello. Replayed at a house-full Apollo, more than 40-years later, the vignette of a war-bride reduced to poverty is as good an example as any of lyricist Difford’s ability to turn the mundane into both tragedy and magic. In other words, it’s timeless.

As the stragglers began leaving early, out in the foyer the merchandise stall offered T-shirts bearing the legend “I quite like Squeeze”. For a majority of the group’s casual listeners, this is probably the measure of things: a number of notable songs that made their mark during a remarkable period for British hit singles.

But the sight of a crowd on its feet during the deathless Cool For Cats was about something more than nostalgia. “Shake up at the disco and I think I’ve got a pull,” sang Difford. Yeah, probably he had. Because after almost 50 years in the game, there’s life in the old gods yet.

Touring until November 30