The polytechnic disco was a refreshingly genre free environment. There were 420 people on campus and most of us didn’t have that much in common. Dance music didn’t exist, disco did of course but the rugby club wasn’t going to be entertained by three hours of that. My memories of song selection beyond my selected tracks here are hazy. I asked my mate Al, he could remember ‘Ring my Bell’ by Anita ward which kind of makes sense. His other memory was ‘Into the Valley’ by the Skids which doesn’t but this was the music we attempted to dance to.
The fact remains that dance music doesn’t have to be actual dance music, at least it didn’t in 1978 because dance music hadn’t been invented which spared us the hassle of having to take ecstasy to enjoy it.
So, my second memory from the polytechnic disco is a great dance record or most of it is. ‘Cool for Cat’s’ just explodes from bar one thanks to its rhythm track featuring bass player Harry Kakoulli who had ironically just been sacked. Although their career was greatly enabled by punk the band were really good musicians who had been around for the previous 4 years. Drummer Gilson Lavis had been a professional musician for the decade, it’s a common misconception that dance music had to somehow be created and refined in the studio but people who know how to play together from Motown’s Funk Brothers to Muscles Sholes Swampers to Fela Kuti’smusicians have been able to create compulsive dance music simply by playing together well.
Squeeze had that ability, soon they would be tagged the new Lennon and McCartney but a this point they were very much a band, bass player sackings notwithstanding. Chris Diffordwas more of a songwriter than a guitarist, but fellow songwriter Glen Tilbrook is a fantastic player who usually doesn’t need to prove it. Also jostling for the front position was Jools Holland whose media career sometimes obscures the fact that he’s a fantastic piano player although fairly average at everything else musical.
So, what most of ‘Cool for Cats’ has is a fantastic groove. It derails slightly in the middle when it gets a bit experimental. That’s the trouble with band democracies, the Jazz bit has the hands of Holland and Lavis all over it. To be fair it creates a bit of tension but it losses the beat which leaves the dancer with the option of perhaps just giving up which is not aim of any good dance track obviously. Anyway with a cymbal crash and a sense of relief is back to the song and everything’s ok again. It’s quite a slight song that needs the piano outro to nudge it over the 3 min mark.
Squeeze were learning fast and refining the formula. Chris Difford got to ‘sing’ this time, but it would be the only time we got to hear him on a hit single. The more tuneful and melodic Tilbrook effectively became the face of Squeeze gradually eclipsing the other members by virtue of the fact that he wrote the music, sang the songs and played all the guitar solos. They were unlikely to record anything as quirky as ‘Cool for Cats’ again as the band refined its perfect pop tunes.
Difford is rightly revered for his song lyrics although he takes too many liberties with his rhyming (ie lines like ‘nappies smelly’ in up the junction) for me to get totally onboard with this. ‘Cool for Cats ‘ is a weird one though. Even at the time there was a bit of criticism the for ‘give a dog a bone’ but it’s hardly gangster rap. The band rather vaguely said the song was about their lives at the time but what the hell is the first verse about?
Clearly none of this really bothered me as I made my way to the disco floor.
Squeeze are still something of a going concern in the way that heritage bands are. They weren’t the new Beatles, but they gave the Kinks a run for their money. Its only Difford and Tilbrook left with Holland and Lavis forming a breakaway partnership and a whole load of sacked bass players littering their past.
According to Holland’s autobiography the official video is filmed at Tittenhurst Park one time residence of John Lennon, there’s a similar light to the ‘Imagine’ video so its probably true although why they needed such a location for a video which could have been filmed in a cardboard box is a mystery. It features new bass player John Bentley as well as two singers who I assume became the ‘Fabulously Wealthy Tarts’* which helped out with Holland’s solo career and went on to be featured with Paul Young who was huge in the early 80’s.Anyway,they clearly think it’s a great track to dance to as well.
They all seem to be having a great time, a period in time when the band was just starting out.
As was I, I suppose
* there’s lots of theories as to who they were so I’m probably wrong