Chris To... The Mill
For over 40 years, Chris Difford’s sublime songwriting - both with Squeeze and as a solo artist - has dazzled the heart, minds and souls of successive generations of music fans, undoubtedly establishing him as one of the UK’s finest ever songsmiths.
The brand new Chris To… The Mill box set brings together all three of Difford’s three superb solo albums, I Didn’t Get Where I Am (2002), The Last Temptation Of Chris (2008) and Cashmere if You Can (2011) in addition to a bevy of unreleased bonus tracks and a DVD featuring live acoustic performances and an interview.
“I'm obviously very proud of the boxset. I think it's really well put together,” Chris tells us.
“I think Demon Records and Val Jennings have done an incredible job of putting it together. It looks beautiful: it's really great and it's inspiring. I'm hoping that Squeeze will get a boxset out, too, and I'll use some of the knowledge I’ve gained working on this, working on that."
Where did the idea to put a solo box set together come from?
"Well, I owe it all to my brother Lew Difford, who used to be in the music industry and actually ran Demon Records for many, many years,” explains Difford.
“He's my biggest fan and my biggest brother and he inspired the idea of putting a box set out, which I'd never thought about. It draws a line in the sand and it also opens up the door for chapter two, let's say.
“I have got a new album all ready to come out, which I'm really excited about. It's been in the works for a long time. Boo Hewerdine and myself have written the songs together over the last five years. It's called Not Only But Also and it will hopefully come out in April.”
Boo Hewerdine also co-wrote and produced Difford’s 2008’s The Last Temptation of Chris long-player, while the other two albums in the boxset were produced by Francis Dunnery (I Didn’t Get Where I Am) and Leo Abrahams (Cashmere if You Can) respectively. How did each of these three producers differ in terms of what they brought to the table?
“Well, I'm most at home working with Boo, I have to say,” Chris replies. “I think he's a very inspirational person who actually has a terrific sense of humour and that, in a way, makes one feel at ease when you're recording or you're writing. I think it's really important to have a sense of humour around you.
“Leo brought to the table his expertise of production, recording and his very skilled musicianship. He's got an incredible history and he did a really great job considering I don't think I was in a great headspace at the time.
“Francis Dunnery is just an all round genius really. I haven't seen him for many years and I haven't worked with him for many years but when I watch what he does and listen to him, I learn quite a lot about life. He's very inspirational."
So what does the remainder of 2017 have in store for Mr Difford?
"The rest of this year is Squeeze,” he explains.
“Squeeze is my main draw and I'm writing with Glenn [Tilbrook] as we speak, which is great and a different kind of inspiration. Squeeze really have been my life for 43 years. We've got a tour in the UK later in the year and one in America, and then we've got tours booked for next year, too, so there's really not a lot of space for my solo stuff… but that's absolutely fine. I've got the rest of my life to breathe that kind of stuff!”
Here, Chris takes you through 10 records that changed his life…
Chris To… The Mill is out now via Demon Music Group.
1. Carole King - Tapestry (1971)
"It's an obvious one to pick but it was the first record that attached me to an emotional heartbeat. The more I listened to it, the more I found feelings which I'd never had.
“I was 16 when I first heard it and I really didn't know what feelings were but, through listening to that record, I kind of connected to an internal emotional clock. It started to tick and it connected me with so many albums that followed.”
2. The Who - Live At Leeds (1970)
"This was from around the same time because, when I got that record, I was doing my exams at school. It was a great diversion from exams and, consequently, I didn't really concentrate.
“All I did was listen to it and I decided that I wanted to be in a rock 'n' roll band and couldn't give a toss about doing the exams, so this album kind of unravelled a rebellious young man.
“I already liked The Who by that time - I liked Happy Jack and I liked the singles but, for me, there's nothing better than The Who playing live."
3. The Small Faces - Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968)
"Again, this was a record that connected me with the idea of being in a band, but it was also a storytelling record and telling stories has always been an integral part of my life.
“I just loved the way it all wove itself together in a kind of mad way. It was like, 'Woah, yeah, if a band can do this, then I want to be in a band!'
“The Small Faces just seemed like a gang of lads that I wanted to be in. I just wanted to be in that gang and eventually I did have my own gang called Squeeze and, you know, that was pretty good!"
4. Tamla Motown Vol. I & 2
"They were records that just got me on the dancefloor and got me into a groove. I lived on a council estate and we all played Tamla Motown records all night long, and there was really no better collection than the Tamla Motown greatest hits packages.
"I’d say that my favourite single from that album would be I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye. A slow dance with skinheads dancing - loved it!"
5. Roxy Music - Roxy Music (1972)
"When I saw them on The Old Grey Whistle Test, I thought, 'God, this is a weird bunch!' I wasn't quite ready for it, to be honest. I thought, 'This is just very weird... I don't know what to do with this', but I listened to the song and I looked at Bryan Ferry, listened to his voice and I went and bought the record.
"I then became addicted to him and his writing style. His lyrics are just absolutely charming and deep, and had everything that I was looking for as a young writer. He's just really amazing."
6. Elvis Costello And The Attractions - Get Happy!! (1980)
"The reason I love this is because it was recorded in a couple of days, and it's got the same kind of vibe as Tamla Motown. It's full of enthusiasm and life, and lyrically it's a very inspirational record.
“When Elvis came along and I started listening to him, I just thought, 'God, I want to be able to write lyrics like that' and, when we eventually worked with him, it was one of the most inspirational times, because I knew I couldn't slack. I had to get all my lyrics really dead on. That was a pretty gifted time, really.”
7. David Bowie - Blackstar (2016)
"What I like about it is the fact that I didn't like it when it came out. I was kind of perplexed in a way. I didn't understand what the story was… and I'm his biggest fan.
“I suppose I should have listened to my instincts in some ways because he’d always been very good at tripping people up. When he sadly passed away and I listened to it again, it suddenly all made sense and I just thought, 'My God, what an incredibly brilliant record.'
“I think the fact that he was brave enough to go and try something completely different before leaving us is something else.”
8. Chris Wood - So Much To Defend (2017)
"This is a new record that's just come out and... has it changed my life? Yes, I suppose it has changed my life in a way because it's come along at such a political time.
"I'm not a political writer but [Chris Wood] is brilliant at that. He is a genius lyricist and he can open up worlds that I certainly can't. That record couldn’t be more timely with the atmosphere as it is today… and it's kind of inspired me to think, 'Well, actually, even though I'm not a politician and I don't have political views particularly, I can maybe transmit somebody else's feelings in that way.'"
9. The Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East (1971)
"This is probably the best recorded live album of all time. Even when I put it on today, I just go, 'Oh my God, that sounds amazing!'
"They didn't have the technology in those days to record in the way that we do today but, bloody hell, it's just head and shoulders above any other live record that I know of. It's funny because we don't get many live records anymore, which I think says an awful lot about the way we are.
"I do remember when I first heard it. It was in my bedroom as a kid and I'd been on a bus up to London to buy it from HMV. In those days, when you were buying a record, you'd have to wait to get it home and play it. The anticipation was building all day long, which was always brilliant!"
10. The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
"I have to include The Beatles and this is an odd choice, I guess, but it changed me in a lot of ways. At the time, I got to stay up late to watch it on TV, which was a big deal... and every song on it didn't disappoint.
"It was an extraordinary record. It just seemed like fun; it was absurd and I just wanted to be part of that. I wanted to be in The Beatles, basically!"