Chris Difford’s notes on songwriting

Chris Difford is a bone fide musical legend who’s been bringing cleverly crafted kitchen-sink pop to the masses since the mid-seventies. Here, he ponders the delicate craft of co-writing...

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  • By Paul Nichols
  • 28 Dec 2015
  • min read
Chris Difford is a bone fide musical legend who’s been bringing cleverly crafted kitchen-sink pop to the masses since the mid-seventies. Half of the songwriting force behind Squeeze (with Glenn Tilbrook), he’s been responsible for some of the most endearingly kooky melodies and pithy lyrics ever to have graced the UK charts. Here, he ponders the delicate craft of co-writing:

Writing songs is like being in a bath full of bubbles; when someone else gets in too it’s like a bath full of even more bubbles.

Co-writing can be wonderful and often it teaches me more about myself than expensive therapy. For 42 years, I have been writing with one person, Glenn Tilbrook. He brings the music and the production to Squeeze and makes us who we are. But when I co-write outside of this cosy, yet often fragile boundary, I discover more of myself.

I have been co-writing with various people for about 20 years now, and it’s been lots of fun. The love of writing is a passion that comes from deep within and the first thing I learn is to share and not dictate how I feel things should be. It’s ok to be wrong. Sulking gets me into a dark corner. It’s not a place I like to go to, but in the past that darkness fostered some great words.

I have been prolific with many people and written hundreds of songs, but hundreds of songs in a drawer gets me nowhere. I have to pick and choose my moments so that all the roses have a regular bloom. The trick of co-writing is to let go of your fears about being right all of the time, muck in, roll up your sleeves and enjoy what the other person has to say.

My words have been a sticking point for some writers as they are very me, therefore very Squeeze you might say. If this happens I try to imagine myself as a tailor making a suit for the voice that’s just walked into the room. Writing with Marti Pellow, I knew that ‘ironing board’ were not words he would sing. I had to find ways of placing his voice within the colour of my words. He was great to work with but he liked to drive me like a golf ball - there was no hiding place. On the other hand, writing with Boo Hewerdine (founder of The Bible) is a shared and humorous partnership, one in which I know I can stretch out and challenge myself to lift the bar.

Together we write deep songs, but we also love to have fun with the subject matter. With a new play we are working on we have come up with a story that lasts for an hour – music, words, script all in one proud piece. He is a great producer too so it’s easy to work with him. I can step away and trust his ears. It’s taken three years to get this far, but in a partnership you have to learn to give each other time and space to make the song stand out.

Over the last year Glenn and I made a new Squeeze album together, a co-writing project for a TV show called Cradle to the Grave. Glenn produced the album and for the first time co-wrote some of the lyrics with me. Life changes and to entertain change is to find the space between the past and the present.

I love co-writing and I thank Elton John who first inspired me to cast off shore and sharpen my pencil outside of my lifelong relationship with Glenn. So if you make co-writing your friend, you too could end up with the best of all possible worlds. Sharing the differences and embracing the similarities is what it seems to be about.

Check out our previous Rules of Songwriting with Pete Astor.