Why I had to change my lyrics for David Cameron | Glenn Tilbrook

When I heard Squeeze would be performing in front of the prime minister on the Andrew Marr show, I didn’t plan to stage a protest. But once I heard Cameron talking about housing, I knew I had to say something

When I first heard, a few days beforehand, that David Cameron would be on the same Andrew Marr show as my band Squeeze, I thought about changing the lyrics to the song we would perform in protest – in fact, I thought about redoing the whole thing. But then the next day I thought: “No, that would be a ridiculous thing to do.”

So I didn’t write any new lyrics in advance. But then, just 10 minutes or so before we went on, I was listening to the interview he gave to Marr and he was talking about his housing policy. And I felt: “I have to say something. I couldn’t look myself in the eye if I didn’t take this opportunity.” I didn’t tell anybody what I was going to do – I didn’t want to make anyone else nervous. But I just knew I’d hate myself if I didn’t say something.

Squeeze rework lyrics to criticise Cameron during the Marr show performance.

Cameron was talking about knocking down sink estates and rebuilding “affordable housing”. I have four children, and I despair at what has happened to the economy and to UK house prices. It has got to the point where people are no longer able to live in the areas where they grew up unless they have some sort of financial help. I think that’s a result of a system of values that have been encouraged by this government, which is completely wrong – and it wasn’t helped by the previous government either.

The community that I grew up in felt strong; we lived in good council flats where people had security of tenancy. My mum lived in the same flat from 1954 until the day she died in 1997. The people who make the decisions now don’t see the need for that sort of housing, and the need for it is not being catered for by the private sector either. I don’t see the same sort of ambition that there once was in the housing programme – the private sector will not stump up for that sort of housing, and the government must know it. They need to be strong and insist that this sort of lasting, reliable council housing is built. But I don’t see them doing that. Knocking down the so-called sink estates is basically just a land grab.

So when the opportunity came up to make a comment on something I feel so strongly about it was just a perfect storm – and the song Cradle to the Grave seemed to lend itself to those alternative lyrics:

I grew up in council housing,

Part of what made Britain great,

There are some here who are hellbent,

On the destruction of the welfare state.

There wasn’t really any reaction to the performance in the studio. Cameron applauded – he’s very professional. I suspect only the technicians and the rest of the band heard what I was singing – I think perhaps Marr and Cameron didn’t hear the words at all. I didn’t speak to either of them afterwards – I just made my excuses and left.

I was surprised by the reaction to our performance, to be honest. But then again, I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. I was motivated by the opportunity to express myself and the reaction was stronger than I’d anticipated. But it has mostly been very positive, as far as I can see. I was prepared for a backlash but the vast majority of reaction so far has been in favour.

One of the things I’ve been very lucky to have been able to hold on to throughout my career is not having to worry what people think. I think once you start concerning yourself with how people are going to react, that’s the road to becoming a non-entity. You’ve got to do what’s true to your own self. I see it from the point of view of a 58-year-old man. It was just a little ripple in the pool, but I’m proud to have made it.


Glenn Tilbrook

The GuardianTramp

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