Follow Squeeze singer-guitarist Glenn Tilbrook on an unconventional solo tour distinguished by his use of a mobile home to live and travel. This all-access 2004 documentary captures humorous escapades, intimate performances and more.
It’s not quite up there with “I told them a hundred times: Put ‘Spinal Tap’ first and ‘Puppet Show’ last,” but it’s close: “Nov. 27 GLEN[sic] TILLBROOK[sic] Nov. 29 WET T SHIRT CONTEST AND BANDS.”
That was the sign outside a club where Glenn Tilbrook would be playing. He had traveled far in more ways than one from the early ’80s, when his tuneful new-wave band, Squeeze, was filling Madison Square Garden in New York while he and songwriting partner Chris Difford were being hyped widely, if inaptly, as the new Lennon and McCartney.
Now it was the fall of 2001, and Tilbrook was solo-touring the U.S. in an old, dodgy RV and getting slotted on a local TV news program before the “Pet of the Week” segment. But for all of its depicted indignities, “Glenn Tilbrook: One for the Road” is no “This Is Spinal Tap” for one simple reason: The then-44-year-old British performer, with his intact boyish tenor and under-recognized guitar chops, fills the screen with joy.
This 2004 documentary is a labeled-with-love project from director Amy Pickard, a Squeeze mega-fan who’d interviewed the band as a Dayton, Ohio, VJ and self-financed this film, joining Tilbrook, his business/life partner Suzanne Hunt and a cameraman aboard the RV.
Given the standard showbiz view of such a career trajectory, we might feel pity for a performer who appears to be descending the other side of the mountain.
Don’t expect MTV slickness or the formality of Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” Pickard’s work has the intimacy of a well-cut home movie, one that draws you close to Tilbrook just as his tour does with fans who used to be a balcony away. Given the standard showbiz view of such a career trajectory, we might feel pity for a performer who appears to be descending the other side of the mountain. Yet Tilbrook views his situation as an opportunity for a personal-growth journey that reconnects him not only with listeners but the power of the music itself. Never mind that the promised RV is AWOL when Tilbrook is about to hit the road.
“This documentary about touring around in an RV is now a documentary about trying to find an RV and touring around anyway,” he notes with typical good humor. Spoiler: He eventually buys one. But the music, not misadventures, remains center stage.
The melodic charms of “Goodbye Girl” are never more apparent than when a T-shirted Tilbrook is singing and strumming it while striding backward through Grand Central Station surrounded by fans full-throating its chorus. He leads one audience onto the street for a cellphone-enhanced version of the Beatlesque rocker “Is That Love” and marches another group into a fan’s nearby home for a living room sing-along of Squeeze’s 1981 breakthrough hit “Tempted.” For “Take Me, I’m Yours,” he invites a random audience member to play a guitar part while Tilbrook teases out the song’s Middle Eastern accents on a 12-string.
His is an audience that knows when to chime in on “Black Coffee in Bed” and “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).” If the songs from the solo album he’s promoting, “The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook,” take a back seat, well, the competition is formidable. People who love Squeeze, such as Pickard, lament that the band isn’t as well known as the songs deserve. Yet when Tilbrook says hello to some people with a similar RV to his, one of them retrieves a copy of Squeeze’s “Singles - 45’s and Under” and attests to the music’s importance to him.
These songs live on anywhere and everywhere. And today, 20 years later, Tilbrook is back on the road — with Difford and Squeeze.
Mark Caro writes for The New York Times, Chicago magazine (including the 2020 National City and Regional Magazine Awards’ best profile winner), The Forward and other outlets after more than 25 years of covering culture at the Chicago Tribune. Mark is the author of The Special Counsel: The Mueller Report Retold (Mulholland, 2019) and The Foie Gras Wars (Simon & Schuster, 2009), which won the Great Lakes Book Award for general nonfiction. He also coauthored Behind the Laughter: A Comedian’s Tale of Tragedy and Hope (Thomas Nelson, 2019) and Take It to the Bridge: Unlocking the Great Songs Inside You (GIA, 2016). He created and hosted the “Mark Caro’s Talking in Space” on-stage interview show and the “Is It Still Funny?” film series in Chicago. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, local NPR “Morning Edition” anchor Mary Dixon, and their two daughters.