SHORTCUTS – 15 minutes with Squeeze’s Chris Difford
July 9, 2021. Series 4. Episode 27
Chris Difford is a lyricist and co-founding member of 70’s & 80’s new wave pop band Squeeze. With classic hits such as Tempted, Up The Junction, Labelled With Love & Cool For Cats, his contribution to the British music scene has been considerable and long lasting.
In this conversation Chris talks with power and candour about the challenges he has endured and survived including addictions and chronic dyslexia which impacted his childhood deeply.
Despite being hindered by a stammer and labelled as ‘backward’ by an unsympathetic school system, Chris was determined to follow his dream to join a band and become a songwriter. Squeeze went on, of course, to have huge commercial success both here and in the US.
But as the tours stacked up, Chris had clearly started self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, retreating slowly as he says to a ‘very dark place’. His chronic fear of flying and months spent on the road away from his young family began to take their toll and it was only with the intervention of a friend which made him see he had a serious problem, taking him to a treatment centre and helping him on his road to recovery. This week Chris celebrated 29 years of sobriety and continues to ‘pay it back’ in-between touring by holding song-writing workshops in prisons and raising money for food banks and NHS nurses.
As Squeeze prepare to be one of the first bands to cross the Atlantic following lockdown restrictions, touring on both sides of the States with Hall & Oates before returning to the UK to tour with Madness, Chris shares his simple approach to keeping life within the four walls of his day. An impactful and heart-warming first Shortcuts episode.
Chris’ Crisis Cures:
1. AA/NA Meetings – Listen to what’s going on. Buddy up with somebody – somebody will always be there to hold your hand and make you a cup of tea. You’ll never forget the taste of that cup of tea if you get the message.
2. Adopt a piece of music – Have it around you at all times. For me that’s James Taylor “You’ve Got a Friend.” I’ve always loved it. There’s something very moving about the chords and the words. They can lift you out of a dark place.
3. Keeping things simple – Don’t live in the past. You can’t regret what you did yesterday because it’s gone, and you can’t know what’s coming in the future. We all like to live in the future but it’s quite dangerous. Living within the four walls of a day is the simplest thing to do. The routine of a day is extremely important.
I’m so grateful that our first Crisis Shortcut comes courtesy of the brilliant Chris Difford. Anyone familiar with Chris’s unforgettable Squeeze lyrics will recognise the moving, almost poetic way he talks about the crises that have been part of the backdrop to a stellar career. The early challenges he faced as a child with undiagnosed dyslexia – labelled ‘backward’ by his teachers – no doubt provided him with a drive and determination and a love of the creative. But they also, as is the nature of childhood trauma, contributed to the difficulties he had to confront in his adult life. Chris’s description of his ‘drinking career’ and recovery are, I think, especially valuable for anyone trying to come to terms with addictions. As he says: “Addicts are the most intelligent people I’ve ever worked with. They’re very clever at wriggling out of situations. So you have to wait till they’re at the bottom of the barrel with no way of scraping their way out.” This Shortcut is 15minutes of honesty, delivered by one of our greatest musicians and songwriters without a shred of self pity.
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:19.06 Andy Coulson:
Crisis Shortcuts is brought to you by Myndstream, music designed to help you, your loved ones and even your pets feel calmer. Check out Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y on all the usual streaming platforms. Welcome to Crisis Shortcuts with me, Andy Coulson. Occasional bonus episodes to sit neatly alongside the main podcast, Crisis What Crisis? Much like those longer conversations, in Shortcuts you’ll hear from brilliant people who, in their own words, tell us about their crises, how they got through them and what they’ve learned.
00:00:49.04 Andy Coulson:
Although these episodes are brief believe me the insights are just as big. So if you’re short on time but looking for inspiration or guidance, Shortcuts will offer a quick fix of useful lessons from those who’ve been there and lived to tell the tale. And don’t forget you can still join me for our longer conversations on Crisis What Crisis? where we talk in greater depth and share those powerful coping strategies that will hopefully help you guide through the pitfalls in life. You can follow us on instagram and Facebook. Our handle is @crisishwhatcrisispodcast and if you like what you hear please do head over to Apple and leave us a rating and a review. It really helps make sure these stories get to the widest possible audience. I hope you enjoy this Crisis Shortcut.
00:01:32.17 Chris Difford:
I’m Chris Difford, I’m in a band called Squeeze and I’m a recovering alcoholic. I was born in Greenwich, South London. My mum and dad were quite simple folk, we lived in a pre-fab with my two brothers, Lou and Les. At school I suffered from having a bad stammer and I used to have to go to elocution lessons and from that they assumed, for some reason, that I was what was called ‘backward’ in those days but these days it’s called dyslexia. And so I had to sit at the back of the class with other kids that were like myself. But it seemed like a safe place to be really where you all got on extremely well.
00:02:17.10 Chris Difford:
On reflection I look back at my schooldays and I actually think it was, although I felt in a strange group of boys, it was actually alright. I kind of got to be in my own headspace and really that’s where my imagination began. I think kids today that suffer from dyslexia shouldn’t be drawn back by it but see it as a bonus to their lives really because there’s lots to be gained from being in that space where you can’t write properly or you can’t sort of concentrate properly. Because what the mind does is it balances it all out in the end and you concentrate on other things. Sometimes the artistic world is more important than the academic world.
00:03:10.19 Chris Difford:
It was in 1971, 1972 when I decided that I really wanted to be a musician and a songwriter. It was just one ambition, it was just that sole ambition, I didn’t really want to do anything else. And it seemed like a glamorous lifestyle. I’d been to see The Who play live and David Bowie and they looked like so happy and really enjoying what they did at their work. It seemed much more appealing than working down the gas works where my dad was working.
00:03:37.24 Chris Difford:
In 1979, when Squeeze first had a single released, we started going out on tour and that’s really where I started my drinking career because it passed the time and everybody else seemed to be drinking and having a great time. But it had a different effect on me, it kind of took me, eventually, to quite a dark place. And it was non-stop really from the day of like the first tour, which I must have been nineteen, twenty years old, right through to when I was thirty-six years old.
00:04:15.03 Chris Difford:
Also around that time I started to have a fear of flying. Not sure where it came from but it kind of made touring very difficult. And eventually I actually missed a couple of tours because I couldn’t get on a plane.
00:04:34.05 Chris Difford:
I was the first member of Squeeze to have a family which was wonderful, it was a great experience to be a father for the first time. But after my daughter was born, after about a few weeks I was back on a plane on tour in Australia, the opposite side of the world where I spent four weeks away. And I came home for a couple of weeks and then I was away for pretty much the whole of that year. And although it was something I had always wanted to do I wasn’t getting to spend much time at all with my kids. So that was quite difficult and I suppose the drinking didn’t help. But there was a time when I spent six years at home and that was completely different. That was like the first time I really experienced what it was like to be a dad driving kids to school and doing all of those things.
00:05:32.20 Chris Difford:
A good friend of mine went to rehab and it was fascinating to watch how he changed because he was drinking as much as me and taking as many drugs as I was, but he completely changed. I went to visit him at the place where he was and when I looked through the window I couldn’t see any similarities in any of the people in there. I thought, no I don’t, I’m not an alcoholic. And then one day I was on my knees outside my ex-wife’s house, just about to go on yet another American tour, when that guy came round, picked me up, put me in his car and said he was going to help me. And the next thing I know I was on a mattress in a room at the Promise Recovery Centre in Kent.
00:06:29.19 Chris Difford:
And there I started the very early process of getting clean and sober which took about twelve weeks. When I eventually came out of Promise I went on the road with my band Squeeze and they were extremely supportive and still are. They cleared the tour bus of any alcohol, which I thought was really kind of them but they didn’t need to and our drummer, Gilson, who was a huge inspiration to me, already was sober. So I used to hang out a lot with Gilson.
00:07:04.20 Chris Difford:
You know I didn’t really have a lot of fences to mend apart from my own because of the damage that I’d caused. So I started mending those fences by going to meetings, seeing a counsellor regularly and just sticking with the winners. If anybody’s out there and they want to get the message of recovery the first place to start or a good place to start is to go to AA meetings or NA meetings. They’re very safe places to go and my best advice is to just sit at the back and listen and listen to the similarities in the stories being told and not the differences.
00:07:48.15 Chris Difford:
Writing songs is a meditation in many ways. It’s a place where you go that only you can occupy that space. And I suppose when I was drinking it was just the same as when I wasn’t drinking, it was a very creative, inspirational warm bed of ideas. And it still is. It’s still a great place to go, I’m very fortunate that I have that. I think most creative people, whether they’re songwriters or artists, writers or composers have a similar room that they go into to find solace.
00:08:28.21 Chris Difford:
When I first started the band my parents came from a different generation so they didn’t really support me in a way that parents do these days. But you know, eventually they came around and they came to a couple of my shows with Squeeze. My dad came to the Albert Hall, we all sang him happy birthday and he loved it in the end.
00:08:51.08 Chris Difford:
The behaviour of an alcoholic and an addict is something that is with you for the rest of your life. It just doesn’t get repaired like a tyre when it goes flat. It’s something that’s with you forever. Lots of people move on and stop going to meetings and just try and lead a normal life, which is I suppose what I’ve been doing in the last five or ten years. Always knowing that it’s a great place to go and to have a regular conversation with an experienced counsellor who inspires you is really an addition and is as helpful as going to meetings.
00:09:35.13 Chris Difford:
When I look back over my career, is there anything that I would do differently? People ask me that and I always say no, not really because all the mistakes that I’ve made were for a reason and they’ve taught me various lessons. So yeah, I mean, I, of course I have regrets. I regret that I didn’t spend enough time at home because I was touring. I regret that I drank and lost a lot of friends. But you know, I can look back now and say I’m lucky that I still have friends.
00:10:09.03 Chris Difford:
The kind of musicians that I admire these days are people that I grew up with. So people like Pete Townsend who I find incredibly inspiring as a, not just as a songwriter but as a human being. James Taylor for the same reason. I’ve always learned from the beginning that as a recovering alcoholic that you should take time to give back what you’ve been given because it’s not yours, you’re just sharing it and passing it on. So I’ve done some work in prisons with alcoholics and drug addicts, I’ve been at Wandsworth and Swayleside and a few other prisons. And I found it really inspiring being with people are banged up all that time and having to deal with the same issues that I’ve dealt with but in a very different way. So to try and help them write poetry or songs has been really great for me and hopefully inspiring for them.
00:11:07.15 Chris Difford:
If somebody comes to me and they have a family member that is, what I call ill, not very well because they’re drinking or taking drugs or they’re in a depressive state, I say to them simple things really. A meeting, get them to sit at the back and listen. Addicts are the most intelligent people I’ve ever worked with, they’re very clever at wriggling out of situations. So you have to wait till they get to the bottom of the barrel and they’ve got no further way of scraping their way out. And then when they’re on their knees, like I was, is when you form an intervention and hopefully try and pick them up.
00:11:53.15 Chris Difford:
The serenity prayer is a daily mantra, it’s something that all alcoholics and drug addicts say at the end of a meeting or they say in the morning when they’re doing their prayers. It’s an incredibly simple selection of words. Something I still don’t understand, even though I’ve been reading it for thirty-nine years. It’s an incredible rhythm of words, in fact, on a spiritual level. And when you get clean and sober you will find out for yourself.
00:12:26.08 Chris Difford:
My first crisis cure is really very simple it’s get to a meeting, listen to what’s going on, buddy up with somebody. Somebody will always be there to hold your hand, make you a cup of tea. And you’ll never forget the taste of that cup of tea for the rest of your life, if you get the message.
00:12:48.12 Chris Difford:
My second crisis cure is to adopt a piece of music and have that piece of music around you at all times as a safe place to go. For me You’ve Got A Friend by James Taylor has always been a piece of music that I’ve always loved. There’s something very moving about it lyrically and musically. The combination of the chords and the words really hit home and can lift you out of a dark place.
00:13:21.20 Chris Difford:
My third crisis cure is just to keep things simple, not live in the past because you can’t change that, you can’t regret what you did yesterday because it’s gone. And you can’t know what’s coming in the future. We all like to live in the future but it’s quite dangerous. So to try and live within the four walls of a day is the simplest thing to do, the routine of a day is extremely important. If you have your routine then you’re in a good place.
00:14:19.06 End of transcription