Chris Difford and Boo Hewerdine – Live Review – Thorner Victory Hall
By Victoria Holdsworth, March 2018
Good songwriters are ten a penny. Tonight, however, the gentlemen performing, are two of Britain’s greatest, and most consistently accomplished songwriters of all time.
Thorner Victory Hall is superbly cosy and perfect for the acoustics. Everyone involved in the running of the night were amazingly friendly and you can tell how much they love music. It was all very quaint, with the entire village turned out to see Chris Difford and Boo Hewerdine.
Casually taking to the stage, Boo is also supporting this evening, as well as being part of the main event. He explains the order of the evening: “I’m going to play you some songs, and then Chris is going to come on and play some of his, and some of our songs too, so if you don’t like me, then you’re gonna be pretty buggered for the next two hours.”
Opening with a song he penned with Emily Barker, ‘Sister Goodbye’ is beautifully poignant and hauntingly delicate with simplistic lyrics and tones that creep up on you, coupling all of that with Boo’s vocal talents that leave you chilled and awe inspired.
Chatting with the audience, he tells us a little about his relationship with Chris and how they have written many songs together, and plays one of his most recent collaborations with him, ‘Cinderella’, which Boo explains is about a cross-dresser, with lyrics written by Chris.
Some more amiable chatting and memory sharing, and he tells how his next song was one of the only times he had ever felt big headed, due to its popularity. He tells the audience that he became big headed and stand offish in the newsagents when he heard someone say it was their favourite song of all time. He says: “I don’t know why I felt the need to do it, but I turned around and told the people that I had written that song, and they just thought I was fucking crazy.” And with that he launches into ‘Patience of Angels’.
I am not ashamed to admit that when Boo sings this it always makes me cry. It sounds so much different to the Eddi Reader version, with a reedy lilting rawness woven through it, sung with tremendous, emphasised emotion.
There are some really funny moments in Boo’s set. His tales of meeting Steve Earle, who was chasing the dragon in a hotel room, and Boo asked him if he was soldering. Another time, he had to appear on Top of The Pops in some borrowed BBC trousers, held together with nappy pins and going full Status Quo pose on Terry Wogan’s chat show.
“Magical and captivating”
The Bible (Hewerdine’s early band) tune ‘Honey Be Good’ is outstanding and almost Tom Petty like in its construction, and certainly warms up the crowd a little more.
‘Bell, Book and Candle’ is another exquisitely written song, and as Boo describes: “Has been used in several TV dramas, including an award-winning death scene in Emmerdale, and featuring in some other Hollywood death scenes on the big screen. It is a song to kill people off to.”
‘Muddy Water’ and another moving song, penned with Emily Barker, ‘Over My Shoulder’, bring the first half of the evening to an end. There is something truly magical and captivating about Boo Hewerdine. His vocal talents will move you; his elegant guitar playing will inspire and stir you and his lyrics will reach inside you and really make you listen. Truly outstanding! And there was still more to come…
The second half sees Chris and Boo grace the stage and sit next to each other, almost podcast-like, and Chris enlightens the crowd with how his book came to be, and with the help of Boo, would be playing some of his most relevant songs, in relation to the time frames or stories in his book.
“Stories from his memoirs”
Boo asks him the opening question: ‘Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?’ and after some comedy banter between the two, Chris explains that he was once performing at a gig and a lady came up and told him how much of a fan of his work she was, for which he was appreciative. The lady then asked Chris why he didn’t play his famous song ‘Lady In Red’, to which Chris replied: ‘Well I don’t know it, because I’m Chris Difford, not Chris De Burgh!’
Not one to be left out of a story, Boo then tries to trump him by describing a time when Melissa Etheridge mistook him and his entire band for Level 42. I think Chris won the first round.
From then, Chris tells selected stories from his memoirs about his first tour in the United States, when he arrived in the country wearing yellow pyjamas, carrying a plastic bag, which is coincidentally the same tour in which he nearly killed Mike Score, the lead singer with A Flock of Seagulls.
There is also regalement of his youth, growing up on a council estate in South London, his relationship with his parents, family holidays in Ireland, and the moment he decided he was going to be a rock star.
“Perfectly tuned duet”
His next song, ‘Playing With Electric Trains’, is accompanied with a tale of a young crush he had and bunking off school with her to find out his illusions of love would be shattered, and nearly getting caught when his dad returns early. He hid the young lady under his bed, amongst his teddy bears, old toys and his pornographic magazines, which he clearly remembers being stuck to her, as she slid from beneath their hiding place.
‘Lamas Fayre’ is lyrically metaphorical, and is just a stunning song. Moving on to 1973, and we hear about the first time he decided to get a band together. He places an advert for a band, Glenn Tilbrook and his girlfriend responded, and the rest they say is history.
He tells of how they would court each other musically in the early days of the band, learning from each other as they wrote their future hit songs, and follows it up in a perfectly tuned duet with Boo on ‘Take Me I’m Yours’.
In the early Squeeze days, they were produced by John Cale, who it would be fair to say, was not a fan of the band and showed little interest in actually working with them. This was brought to light in the story of them first going into the studio with him, thinking he was so cool, when he promptly fell asleep whilst they were playing.
Difford explains that he managed to find a maker pen and wrote cunt on his forehead, and Jools Holland placed the speakers right next to his head to wake him up, then sent him back to his hotel room, only for him to return the following day to the studio with the swear word still emblazoned upon his forehead.
‘Strong In Reason’ and crowd-pleaser ‘Up The Junction’ lead to the story of his first appearance on Top of The Pops, and you cannot help but admire the sheer determination of this man and what he has endured through his personal and musical life.
We inevitably reach some of the darker days, when he realises that he is living with a dealer. This only furthers Difford’s demise into drugs and alcohol abuse at one of the highest points of his career – dark days indeed when you are listening to Tubular Bells marathons and have electric train systems to transport spliffs across one bed to another in a living room.
One of the funny recurring themes through these stories, is that everyone who supported Squeeze, went on to be global mega stars, from Weller to U2. The list was endless, however, one of these young pretenders to the rock crown ended up being Chris’s neighbour. Step forward into life’s rich tapestry, Mr Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, whom Chris refers to as the annoying wanker downstairs that could play guitar better than him.
‘Goodbye Girl’, with its kitchen sink lyricism leads into ‘Tempted’, which has to be the knock-out song of the night. It really has stood the test of time: poetically blunt, in a Ted Hughes kind of way, with a mid-song announcement that Mr Difford was definitely semi-erect with the crowd sing-a-long.
There is not a lot of thought given to the dark time this evening, and why would anybody want to keep reliving it – even if there were some funny moments looking back with hindsight. However, we learn that after a meeting with Apple, and seeing Elton John in a track suit, Difford decided to seriously think about rehab, as he moves into the more present days of his life and his fight back to what he knew he could be.
This included a giant man crush on Bryan Ferry, with whom he has worked countless times. On one occasion, unbeknown to Chris, Bryan thought he had turned up to meet him to do a chauffeuring job, not song writing, and he captures this experience perfectly with the song ‘Cowboys are My Weakness’.
The next song tonight is quite touching, and it was written with a gentleman called Jim, who lived in a hospice. Chris would visit him, and they began writing a song called ‘Battersea Boys’, which is packed with nostalgia and cultural references to what was a time long gone but not forgotten for either men, clearly. It was incredibly moving, made all the more special by some exquisite harmonies from Boo.
There is a great story about Chris flying his father out on Concord to New York to see him play at Madison Square Gardens. Difford Senior was a man whose parental advice, when his son revealed his future rock star plans, told him he would end up a skint, alcoholic drug addict. Chris admits to the first two assumptions, however wasn’t skint just yet. When he finally asks his Dad what he thinks of it all, as they drive around New York in a limousine, his reply is: “What a waste of fucking money!”
Nicely falling into the classics, ‘Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)’ and ‘Labelled With Love’.
The last song of the set is fittingly, ‘Some Fantastic Place’, to tie everything neatly together. Chris and Boo inform us that they do not do encores, but will give everyone just one more song, which is ‘Cool For Cats’. Half-way through the song Boo shouts to Chris to show the crowd the guitar solo that Mark Knopfler taught him, and he hilariously plunks out a few notes, before getting back into the song, the crowd completely sucked in.
Chris Difford could easily write the soundtrack to anybody’s life. He has been there, done it and bought many T shirts. Certainly a living legend musically, and coupled with Boo Hewerdine’s spectacular talents, it makes for an epic, formidable partnership for the future of music.