One quick calculation – release date plus timeline in the lyrics – and it transpires that the protagonist’s baby daughter in ‘Up The Junction’ is now thirty-seven years old. Which I mention purely so we can all feel old; the existential angst of living with song for so long.
Of course, when it comes to Squeeze singles my allegiance is with ‘Take Me I’m Yours’; it’s rather more dynamic than ‘Up The Junction’, and doesn’t remind me quite as much of evenings spent loitering without intent in and around London railway stations. There used to be a branch of HMV at Victoria station – perhaps a nice reader in the capital could confirm if it’s still there – and as record shops go it was one of the most depressing places I’ve ever set foot in. The corporate attempt at strangling all of the joy out of buying music. They’ll have had a copy of Squeeze’s Greatest Hits, on CD, and either heavily discounted or ridiculously overpriced in that weird HMV fashion… but then again I suspect that every dodgy record store has to stock a Squeeze compilation by decree – if only to ensure that those who neither like nor understand music don’t shop for sounds exclusively in the supermarket.
But back to ‘Up The Junction’, which as we all know was a collection of short stories, then a Ken Loach TV drama, and finally a film, long before it became a song. Chris Difford’s lyrics don’t share the narrative but they do have a similar provenance. The kitchen sink colloquialism. Love and loss in South London – all over Battersea, some hope and some despair, to quote someone else. It’s a story that’s easy to relate to; we’ve all been in relationships we were too young for even if we haven’t knocked up that nice lady on Clapham Common then blown the rent money on mother’s ruin (well, I did, but that’s a story for another time). Also, whilst simple in construction, many of the rhyming couplets (or, more accurately, half-rhyming) are cute. I said “You are a lady” / “Perhaps”, she said, “I may be”. I worked all through the winter / the weather brass and bitter. And the final line: And so it’s my assumption / I’m really up the Junction. This isn’t Beckett or Joyce or even Morrissey, but I’m not sure the song would work without that naïve quality to the words. Something to counter-balance the musicality of the song, which is a little too cheddary and end of the pier for my tastes (seriously: ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ is a much superior listen). We all have the propensity to carry around the past in our back pockets, however suppressed or tightly-wrapped, and ‘Up The Junction’ represents one of those occasions where it’s okay to dig that package out and give it a reassuring fondle.
I’m not going to plant the original beneath the words – it’s one of those records we’ve all heard far too many times. I was going to feature a cover by the Duckworth Lewis Method which they performed on an RTE radio show, except our friends in Dublin don’t like others enbedding content (you can listen to it here, 11m 55s in). Instead, this is They Might Be Giants, from a 2010 Radio 2 session.