(Earlier on Sippican Cottage: Another In The Long List Of Songs I Don’t Like That I Like )
There appears to be a magical barroom somewhere in Great Britain where you can stumble in on an odd night and find Glenn Tilbrook, along with a motley assortment of other musicians — and some people just dragged out of the audience at random — in the corner, banging away at whatever song comes to mind. Glenn Tilbrook was the driving force behind Squeeze, if the name doesn’t sound familiar.
When I started playing music for money, I more or less stopped going to musical performances. I really couldn’t derive any enjoyment from them, and simply fidgeted until I could bug out early. The only exceptions were performances that were so unlike what I was doing that they didn’t even seem like the same thing. I went to La Boheme with my wife, for instance. That’s another galaxy removed from pop covers in the corner of the pub, so it didn’t count. There’s no way my lizard brain could transmogrify my presence just behind the orchestra pit while How Cold Your Little Hand Is soared overhead into the urge to be facing the other direction and helping out.
Another exception to attending other musicians’ performances was Glenn Tilbrook, although it didn’t start out that way. A fellow musician and friend dragged me to a geriatric music tent in Cape Cod to see Squeeze, and it turned out they’d gone bust and were touring as two buskers instead of a power pop band. It was there that I came to the realization that Glenn Tilbrook is the most talented busker in existence. Every venue on this planet with a liquor license should have entertainment like this in the corner all the time, and never does any more.
I was the worst of the bad musicians I generally played with. But the last bunch I ended up with did entertain people, without exception. Whoever showed up got a show from us. Four people or four thousand, we DID THE SHOW. Glen Tilbrook DOES THE SHOW. It’s nice to see.
That YouTube video is the first time in a long time I’ve seen THE SHOW being performed anywhere. It’s almost exactly the format for what we used to do. None of us were a shadow of the singer or player that Glenn Tilbrook is, but the bones of the thing are there. We’d drag people from the audience, and make them play a note or sing a word, or pretend to sing along, or just dance around with us and have fun. We talked to them, and they to us, and if a pretty girl and her tubby friend said they like Brown-Eyed Girl A LOT, we’d play it two times in a row to make them happy, because what’s the harm?
This is sort of uncanny for me to see:
Twenty years ago, my friend Paul, the stand-up drummer, would halt our show, and mockingly threaten our audience: “If you don’t start dancing, (Sippican) is going to sing Tom Jones!” He’d repeat the threat mordantly from time to time, like reeling in a fish, and then we’d trot it out if things got quiet. Stevie would throw me a wig, and the two guitars and drums would start vamping It’s Not Unusual. There was an ubiquitous TV commercial back then, featuring a bald guy with a muskrat glued to his head, selling weaves or wigs or something, called the Hair Club for Men, with the tag line: “I’m not only the Hair Club president; I’m also a client.”
So then I’d stuff the wig partway down the front of my shirt, and Paul would say that I was not only the President of The Chest Hair Club For Men, I was also a client, and then I’d sing an amusing version of It’s Not Unusual — amusing being the only kind of version of it I could sing, because I never could sing, really — and when we’d come to a hard pause at the end of each line, I’d bow my head like some exhausted Fat Elvis while running my fingers suggestively through my nylon chest hair, and wordlessly lever my wrist to point the microphone I was holding towards the audience, and without exception, no matter whether the audience looked like a nursing home or a biker bar, guys and girls, young and old, deaf and dumb, mean or jolly, drunk or sober, labor or management, barfly or barkeep, every manjack of them would roar in unison: BA DA DA DA DA DAHHHHHHH.
It was glorious. I think I improved our approach to the thing when I started stuffing a second wig down the front of my pants for the full Tom Jones effect, but then again, I’m not sure it was possible to improve the effect of the original.