Glenn Tilbrook: Humble Guitar God

Over the years, Squeeze has been admired for its quirky, smart, unconventional songs. Records like “Tempted,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Hourglass,” “Cool for Cats,” and “Up the Junction” have earned them comparisons to another English band which had a pretty good songwriting duo behind it. (Unlike The Beatles, however, Squeeze’s songs are rarely covered, but that’s another story. In fact, this one.)

The band’s musicianship is perhaps less celebrated. The various lineups over the years have included standouts like Jools Holland; but the band has always been anchored by the songwriting pair of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford.

Tilbrook’s guitar playing, in particular, deserves more love.

Simply put, he’s a quiet monster.

First and foremost, he “plays the song.” His solos, though often technically advanced, are not showy. They fit the tune. They’re hummable. They’re concise. They’re inventive. And they flow easily over the tricky chord changes that Tilbrook so-often composes.

“Another Nail In My Heart” is an early standout. It comes surprisingly early in the tune, and kicks the already-high energy up a notch.

Like so many great solos, Tilbrook’s are well-composed: standing on their own as moments to savor. Like this…

… or this, which also shows how effortlessly he can “bring it” live.

See also: John Lennon – Guitarist

He frequently references his deep appreciation of multiple genres: country, blues, jazz (which he clearly studied ), R&B, and soul. Fans of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, for example, might recognize the inspiration for this riff (and, of course, he tosses off another killer solo, live, without breaking a sweat).

The guitar nerds among us will also appreciate his pure tone, achieved with minimal gear. He relies mostly on his chosen guitar (often a Telecaster with a B-bender or a Stratocaster), and his amp — all without a lot of extra effects. He’s proof that “tone is in the mind and in the hands.”

The band’s lineup changes, and re-changes, but the effect is the same. These are great songs, well played. They endure; and Tilbrook’s guitar legacy is secure, if under-appreciated.

-Al Cattabiani

Photo: Bruce Baker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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5 comments on “Glenn Tilbrook: Humble Guitar God

  1. Steven Valvano

    Nice piece Al!
    About 10 years ago, I saw Tilbrook in a solo gig play the entire song Voodoo Child (with solos) on acoustic guitar ….. pure genius!

  2. John Smistad

    So many of these guys who’ve mastered the guitar are uniformly low key about their gift, yeah? Just a handful off the top of the head include Waddy Wachtel, Don Felder, Steve Hunter (he of the combustible co-lead intro to Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” live) and Carter Gravatt of Carbon Leaf.

  3. David S.

    Wow, as much as I’ve enjoyed this band for catchy tunes, clever lyrics and all, I never really appreciated Tilbrook’s skill as a guitarist. Thank you!

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