Almost three years ago, deep in the heart of the BBC, Glenn Tilbrook was preparing to perform with his band Squeeze on The Andrew Marr Show.

Sitting on the coach, ready to listen, was former Prime Minster and Witney MP David Cameron. At the last minute Glenn changed the lyrics of his hit single Cradle To The Grave, to sing: “I grew up in council housing, part of what made Britain great. There are some here who are hell-bent, on the destruction of the welfare state.”

Far from being a shallow political artist who reels off soundbites and headlines, Glenn has made an effort to inform himself of what is going on in the country which inspired his most English of bands. And that is how he came across The Trussell Trust – the charity he is raising money for on his current tour, which arrives at the Church of St John the Evangelist in Iffley Road, Oxford, tomorrow.

His enthusiasm for social activism and support for those falling on hard times fits in well with the spirit of his music, which documents working class life. The Woolwich-raised artist’s kitchen sink drama pop hits, such as Up The Junction, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) and Labelled With Love presented an authentic voice of south London life; a way of life being destroyed by gentrification, austerity and the dismembering of the welfare state.

“I watched a programme about foodbanks, and it really stayed with me,” he says.

“The grinding desperation of people who don’t have enough food to put on the table for their kids... anyone can end up in that situation and I’m ashamed that in 2018 our politicians can’t come up with a better solution.”

The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that supports a network of over 420 foodbanks across the UK. In 2017-2018, 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies were provided to people referred to foodbanks in The Trussell Trust’s network, a 13 per cent increase on the previous year.

“I just wanted to help The Trussell Trust and what they do with coordinating collections and distribution. It’s just a very practical solution to a heart-breaking problem.”

Audience members will be able to donate non-perishable foods and other essential items on the night. with supplies collected by local foodbank volunteers. All merchandise profit will also be going to The Trussell Trust, including a new four track EP.

The Oxford Times:

“It’s going to contain at least two new songs,” he says. “I want it to be really stripped back and just me singing and playing because I’ve never really done that before.

Ever the musical tinkerer, Glenn’s voice rises in excitement at the prospect of trying new things out on the road.

“I’m definitely putting some more deep songs of my own in, I know that,” he says. “I’m going to play a couple of songs with backing tracks too – I’ve never done that before! I saw Emerson Snowe, who’s an Australian singer-songwriter, and he did that and I thought ‘wow this really works’. If it’s just an interlude where you’re playing and suddenly you have the sound of a full band coming out of nowhere, it’s quite interesting and it breaks the flow up in a way that I like.”

Glenn is quick to admit that foodbanks, however good, are not the definitive answer to a larger crisis.

“I think there’s a demonisation of poor people that’s been going on too long, where they somehow seem as spongers if they don’t have enough money,” the father of four says solemnly.

“I grew up in council housing and my parents can remember when being poor was an awful stigma. You had no help from the government, and we seem to be gradually wending our way back to that position.”

Does he think it’s caused by apathy?

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“Maybe apathy on the part of people that let this sort of thing happen, but I don’t think its political apathy,” he pauses. “I think it’s sort of an agenda, not to create poverty, but poverty is the by-product of a totally free market society.”

There’s a point to be made, that while some of Squeeze’s later records have been extremely politically charged (cuts like A&E and Rough Ride from 2017’s The Knowledge are a call to arms for the welfare state), their early records are just as poignant.

“I think the politics of songs like Labelled With Love and Up The Junction were more personal, but coming from a similar place.”

From a similar place of the troubles of the ordinary working person?

The Oxford Times:

“Exactly that. Honestly, Up The Junction could be a Trussell Trust story you know?”

Begging may not be his business, but Glenn comes across as someone making a genuine and concerted effort to help. In the age of celebrities getting involved in politics, Glenn is putting his money where his mouth is, and singing for not just his own supper... but for those who might not otherwise have any.

“It is shameful that in the 21st century there are people that can’t afford to put food on the table,” he says. “Anyone, from any walk of life, can fall upon dire times, and I hope that by doing this tour it will remind people that there is a very real need.”

Last year Glenn raised about 1.5 tonnes of food for foodbanks.

“Most of us can do something to help – be it giving some food or a little money,” he adds.

“I hope people coming to the shows are inspired to donate.”

  • Glenn Tilbrook plays St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford tomorrow. This supports Witney foodbank. Tickets from sje-oxford.org
  • Bring non-perishable food to the gig and leave in the baskets provided. It will then be collected and delivered to the nearest foodbank, as well as any money made from Glenn’s merchandise sales.