JANUARY 1: The London Film-Makers Co-op
The Invaders perform at a New Year’s Day party supporting The Millwall Chainsaws and headlined by The Nips, Shane McGowan’s punk band. Due to the frosty weather only three people turn up, who immediately leave once The Invaders have finished. The set now includes seven of their own songs and Lee takes the vocals for Razor Blade Alley, while Suggs and Chris swap roles for Memories (later the B-side of Grey Day). The encore sees them play Suggs’ first composition, I Lost My Head. A change of name is now a priority as another band called The Invaders have been offered a contract by Sham 69 singer Jimmy Pursey.
Sunshine Voice / Roadette Song / Rich Girls / My Girl / Tears of A Clown / Razor Blade Alley / You Said / Mistakes / Madness / Memories / Shoparound / Believe Me / Swan Lake / ENCORE: I Lost My Head .
SUGGS: Those early days were the best but also some of the worst, like when you’re playing in pubs to four people and having bottles thrown at you and there’s more light on the pool table than on the stage. We had no musical talent or anything. The only reason people would come to see us is because we’d go mad. And that was the idea – if we could do it, anyone could. We just felt that everyone should be themselves and not feel embarrassed about doing things out of the ordinary, like dancing or going mad.
CHRIS: Without wishing to seem big-headed, we knew we were different to any other group. Our line-up of instruments was quite unusual compared to most bands at that time, and we had a lot of songs.
CARL: We also had an inner power and jollity that just seemed to permeate into the crowds around us.
SUGGS: You get some people embarrassed about what they did in the past or they way they looked, but for some reason or another we started out in a pretty good place. And then we tried to keep in that place.
WOODY: It really was just mates getting together and going to play in pubs and clubs. We all went to the same parties and there seemed to be a different group every week. There were certain genres. You had the jazz funksters and the rockers – but there was no-one like The Invaders. We weren’t great or flashy musicians but we had a strength that came from unity. Our sound came from very simple playing, put together beautifully. There’d been generations of self-indulgent musicians wibbling away, but that’s not what we were about. We liked music you could dance to and we had fun, yet we also took it seriously without being self-indulgent.
SUGGS: We were young, we were extroverts and we just wanted to have fun. None of us had been in bands before and none of us had any idea what the music business was supposed to be. The great thing about that period was that we were still a gang, the road crew were all our pals, joining in on the backing vocals, and it was an ebullient time. We were the leaders of the little bit of North London we lived in and we all led colourful lives, which fed into the songs. I was the idiot savant – well, certainly an idiot – and was just happy to be there. They were all older than me and I just wanted to be in their gang or be cool. We were lucky. We were very happy to be making music and we were a big gang of mates that were just in our own little world. Fame and all that didn’t really seem of any consequence.
JANUARY 7: The Nashville Rooms, Kensington, London
Performing alongside The Immigrants and The Tribesmen, the band are late, so have to cut short their set. The Tribesmen’s manager shows interest and visits The Invaders backstage. His companion hears about their search for a new name and suggests The Iron Bars. He is ignored.
MIKE: We got the gig through the Tribesmen’s manager Steve Thomas who wanted to manage us. We got cut off halfway ’cause we came on too late.
SUGGS: We were kind of in the middle of everything as it evolved at the same time. We were getting our clothes from second-hand shops, like old tonic suits and pork pie hats and all that stuff. It was all very homemade and every scene had its own little epicentre – the whole thing was a fantastic kaleidoscope.
WOODY: Immigration shaped a lot of our musical landscape. Any ethnic influx that comes into the country obviously changes it, and London was just a brilliant melting pot of musical influences. The stuff that the Asians did, and the Jamaicans who came over in the ’50s – blimey, that was just an explosion. The influences they brought over were part of our heritage.
SUGGS: You had the second-generation of West Indian Brits coming through. You had Bob Marley on the Old Grey Whistle Test on TV. I remember going to the Roxy Club in Covent Garden, which was the punk club where Don Letts was the DJ, but there weren’t enough punk records to play so he would intersperse them with reggae tracks.
DON LETTS: There were literally no punk records to play, so I had to play something I liked, which was reggae: Big Youth, Prince Far I, Toots and the Maytals. Lucky for me, the audience liked it as well and wanted to hear more. So I guess it did turn a few people onto it.
SUGGS: You had The Clash doing a version of Police and Thieves and, all of a sudden, what had been completely polarised was bleeding at the edges and we were all starting to share a little bit, musically and stylistically. Certainly all those old Mowtown records had a huge influence on us. The connection – and you can only make this in hindsight, because when you’re a kid you’re just listening to records that get you going – was reading about The Skatalites and that whole ska thing; just a load of guys in a studio making four or five records a day with very little ego. I found it was the same with Motown and the Stax people, you know they were churning them out. I think for us that was a great inspiration the whole time after progressive rock, when everything seemed pretentious and long winded.
LEE: All the band other than Woody were brought up on a diet of Jamaican and Motown music. Mike was more interested in the ruder side of reggae, like Wet Dream and Wreck A Pum Pum. It was easy to play as well. As the interest in ska and reggae grew, we dropped stuff like Walk On By and Lover Please.
MIKE: We were listening to Bob Marley but reggae then [in the late 1970s] wasn’t as good, I didn’t think, as the older stuff. It was more about the producers. There were stars, of course, in Jamaica but it was more of a team thing.
SUGGS: We used to love Linton Kwesi Johnson and Bob Marley. But we found the righteous, Rastafarian stuff out of our league in terms of burning down Babylon. Punk bands were doing contemporary reggae but to me it didn’t seem as realistic as us just playing the songs we liked. No one else was doing ska, so we found our niche. The political message of Rastafari also wasn’t necessarily as clear for us as it was for punk rockers. I understood it but it didn’t resonate for us. [But] we loved the attitude of people who smoked dope and wouldn’t just sit around in a huddle in their bedroom, they’d be bowling down the street. You started hearing reggae in punk clubs and then you start thinking, ‘Yeah, I like this.’ So you start going back, investigating where these tunes come from. It was like, I had friends who were into rockabilly, and they started looking into bluegrass and hillbilly, trying to find other stuff that was more obscure and elitist.
CHRIS: The Jamaican thing was really important, but we had so many influences that get overlooked, like Pink Floyd and Genesis.
SUGGS: I thought ska was just reggae. I had to go and read all these Trojan liner notes so I could come back and say, ‘Oh yeah, Prince Buster this… Prince Buster that’.
FEBRUARY 16: The Dublin Castle, Camden Town, London
A dream comes true as The Invaders make their Dublin Castle debut with ABC. The sold-out gig in front of 150 people serves as a taster of the Friday night stint they’ll enjoy later in the year.
SUGGS: The Dublin Castle is still my favourite pub, not least because it’s where we played some of our earliest concerts – you could call it the ancestral seat of Madness. I remember they had Irish bands on, because we went there to get one of our first concerts and had to pretend we played a bit of Irish music ourselves. There were about 10 or 12 Irish pubs in Camden Town that had a function room out the back, and it occurred to us, at the end of the punk thing, that you might get a gig if you just asked. So we would go round just knocking on doors and if there was nothing going on, the guv’nor might give you a gig. He didn’t really care as long as he sold a few pints.
WOODY: Punk still had the country wrapped up in this new, anarchistic and exciting ‘let’s change things’ vibe. It opened up the opportunity to walk into your local pub and say, ‘I fancy putting on a gig.’
BEDDERS: The owners weren’t bothered about the kind of music you played as long as you brought in a lot of people to drink. And we always told them, ‘Oh, we have lots of friends.’
HENRY CONLON (son of original landlord, Alo Conlon): Seven young men came in and said they were a jazz band and asked if they could get a gig.
SUGGS: Having trudged round just about every pub in Camden in search of a gig, it was with the echo of rejections still ringing in our ears that we entered The Dublin Castle with its red-and-cream exterior and hanging baskets. ‘What’s your act then, lads?’ enquired the genial Irish guv’nor.
BEDDERS: A school friend of mine had got a gig there playing some weird jazz/rock fusion, so he said, ‘Say you can play jazz and you’ll be fine.’ So me, Mike and Chris replied, ‘We play jazz, and a little bit of country and western.’
SUGGS: He took us through the Dublin’s red-lit, mock-Tudor bar to the back room, which was used for functions and the occasional bit of live Irish music. It was pretty damn impressive, especially the stage, which was made up of sheets of hardboard laid across stacks of beer crates. Up to this point, we’d really only played a few private parties and this room felt like the real deal. It looked like it could hold 150 people at a pinch, which felt like Wembley to us. ‘What do you think lads?’ asked Alo. ‘Yeah, it’s OK,’ we replied, trying to look nonchalant. We had, at last, landed on our feet.
BEDDERS: Alo asked when we could come along, duly gave us a night, and everything went from there.
HENRY CONLON: Dad had thought, ‘Oh, jazz, that’s nice and respectable.’ So he was not a little surprised the following Friday when a bunch of skinheads showed up. He thought, ‘What am I doing?’
LEE: It was 50p entry and we got paid in cash; all of £4.50 each.
SUGGS: When seven skinny teenagers in funny suits started leaping about playing Jamaican ska, the Irish regulars were somewhat bemused.
BEDDERS: The stage was a little triangle and was so small, we sort of had to stand in front of one another; so Woody was at the back, then it was me, then Chris stood in front of me.
SUGGS: Like any young band, we were still just kids learning how to play, but performing eyeball-to-eyeball with a crowd in places like the Dublin Castle was where we really learned how to entertain. It’s all very well writing songs in isolation, but when you see an audience reaction, you start to learn what they like and don’t like. It gives you direction and you learn how to perform. It was there that I started to get my confidence. If The Beatles got their thing going in Hamburg, then the Dublin Castle was our version of it, except without the girls. Without it we wouldn’t have made it, I’m sure.
MIKE: We definitely found our mojo there. It was great – it really helped us a lot.
SUGGS: When we started playing that kind of ska, we knew we were onto something different. It had something infectious. When we started dropping Madness and One Step Beyond into the set we noticed that it really got the crowd going. But we never made a big thing about ‘doing it for the people’ – it was basically for ourselves. We were playing to our strengths and our strengths were pretty limited back then. If we could feel we could dance and be excited by it, that was enough.
BEDDERS: I remember Chris sitting me down and giving me a talk about pulling my weight. It must have made an impression because I can still remember it. He’s good at putting things in perspective.
WOODY: I remember my mum saying, ‘You’ve got to get rid of that singer – he’s terrible’.
SUGGS: And I remember we were terrible that night at the Dublin Castle, absolutely terrible. We very patently weren’t a country and western band. But Alo sold a few pints that night and on the back of that we managed to get a three-month residency. I remember Lee saying, ‘That’s it. If it doesn’t go any further, we’ve still made it.’ It was the turning point and meant we could start to build a following.
WOODY: The DC had previously only ever had a couple of Irish jig artists; an old bloke doing Irish songs or a couple of jazz quartets or something. Then once we got our residency, we were packing the place out week after week.
FEBRUARY 22: The Music Machine, Camden Town , London
Playing in support of Sore Throat – whose keyboard player Matthew Flowers is a friend of Chris – the band are billed as Morris and the Minors, but with a few hours’ notice they change their name to Madness, after the Prince Buster hit. Carl joins the band onstage to dance.
Sunshine Voice / Roadette Song / Rich Girls / My Girl / Tears of A Clown / Mistakes / Steppin’ Into Line / Madness / Razor Blade Alley / Memories / Believe Me / Swan Lake / ENCORE: One Step Beyond / Rockin’ in Ab / I Lost My Head
LEE: We were offered a support at the Music Machine, where the BBC had recorded radios comedies in the 50s and where Charlie Chaplin had performed before. My granddad was a fan of the Bedford Music Hall opposite. Sore Throat, a band I had seen on many occasions, headlined. They were good but we played and performed better. The amphetamines may have played a part.
ANNE MARTIN (aka Bette Bright and the future Mrs Suggs): I was dragged off to see Madness at the Music Machine by Clive Langer. I thought the band were good but I thought the singer was a little bit pear-shaped. I soon changed my opinion.
MIKE (writing in his diary): Some people said we blew them off stage. We had a good support from the crowd anyway.
CHRIS: Another band called The Invaders had come along who had a major deal, so Mike had the bright idea of calling us Morris and the Minors. No one dared to argue with him as he owned the Morris van that we used.
MIKE: We did one gig as Morris and the Minors. I’m afraid I’m guilty of the name – no one else liked it. I had a Morris Minor van; a typically English van. A lot a bands in those days had names like Elvis Costello and the Attractions, so I thought Morris Minor and the Majors. Being a sort of following type of guy, following what is happening, you know. But nobody else liked it so it got knocked on the head.
LEE: Suggs said he didn’t want to be Morris, and we certainly didn’t want to be the Minors, so we threw a few other names around, like The Soft Shoe Shufflers.
WOODY: We were also going to be The Big Dippers weren’t we?
BEDDERS: Yeah, that was another possibility. Suggested by Lee.
LEE: In the end we settled on what was right at the end of our nose.
CHRIS: While discussing this sad name, someone said, ‘Let’s pick one of our songs’. Suggs had brought a scratched version of Madness along to a rehearsal and we’d put it in our set, so as a joke I replied, ‘Yeah… like Madness. Nah, that’s shit’. But everyone else said, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Right!’ And the rest, as they say…
SUGGS: We thought, ‘Madness – brilliant!’ I think it’s a brilliant name, because you can be mad in a million ways: Madness can be quite sane, or completely over-the-top, or it can be just funny, or really serious. Chris was the only one who didn’t like it.
CHRIS: I thought it was the kind of thing for an Alice Cooper-type band. But it stuck.
SUGGS: Mike said, ‘It sounds a bit novelty’ and I said, ‘No more novelty than Morris and the Fucking Minors.’
MIKE: Everybody thought it was good and said they could live with it. It was the only name no one had any objection to. If he hadn’t spoken up, we could have ended up being a serious band.
SUGGS: We’d never thought about the connotations particularly, even though we were all mad.
CARL: Madness just seemed to represent us as a whole.
WOODY: My mum was an AFM – assistant floor manager – at Top of the Pops, so she used to know all the pluggers. Once we’d made the decision to be called Madness, she excitedly told them all. To a man, every one of them went, ‘Oh, what a shame. They were gonna go so far.’
MAY 3: Hope & Anchor, Islington, London
Madness sell out the first show in the basement of their spiritual home after Carl and band pal Si Birdsall pester club manager John Eichler for months. One Step Beyond is now part of the newly-named band’s set. The show takes place on the same day the Tories win the General Election.
SUGGS: We’d been going to the Hope long before we made a ripple on the local scene because the music on the old Wurlitzer was the best in town. John let us put our own selection of obscure ska and Motown on it, and the pub became our unofficial HQ. We were using it as a focal point, meeting up there regularly, monopolising the jukebox. It was possibly the most important place we came to because it was the best live music venue in the area, even though the basement bar was smaller than the DC and held no more than 50 people. Ian Dury, Dire Straits, The Pretenders… everyone played the Hope. If a gig wasn’t sold out, John would let us in for free.
CARL: We used to spend a lot of time at the Hope, so it seemed the obvious place to play. We got the gig by taking a tape around. We told John that we were a band and he didn’t believe us. That’s the kind of relationship we had.
JOHN EICHLER: They’d brought in a demo tape which sat around in the office for a while. After a week I played it and I was really surprised. It was quite reasonable – not brilliant – but for me it was as real treat to hear somebody playing ska, because it was one of the things I danced to as a teenager in the 60s. We didn’t have anybody on that Sunday so we bunged them on.
SUGGS: I must admit, John was very kind. I think we got paid £40. You have monitors at the front to hear your sound and I accidentally put my foot through mine, which came to exactly £40. But John, out of the goodness of his own heart, gave us £20 between us because he couldn’t see us go home starving.
JOHN EICHLER: Their show itself was raw, untogether, but loads of fun. They obviously had guys with talent in there. Mike’s mum was a music teacher, so they had a musical background. But what other band would have two mates as dancers? Screw the drummer, make sure we’ve got the right nutty dancers on stage!
SUGGS: I think had been my idea to include One Step Beyond as it was one of the old Prince Buster records we used to play on the pub jukebox. I was 15 when I first heard it. That and its A-side, Al Capone, had been gathering dust in an otherwise modern jukebox in a Tottenham Court Road arcade. Me and Chalky used to go there to play pool and would put both sides on in constant rotation, much to the consternation of the owner.
CHRIS: I remember hearing Al Capone for the first time – the whole sound was so strange; it was something I hadn’t heard before.
SUGGS: Al Capone was an amazing track – it inspired The Specials’ first single, Gangsters, with shouting and machine guns and all – but One Step Beyond had the greater allure for a young man who’d never been abroad. Its lazy, smoky saxophone conjured images of dusty rooms in the casbah. Why Prince Buster was exhorting his cohorts to go ‘one step beyond’, I never did find out, but it always had one foot off the ground.
PRINCE BUSTER (One Step Beyond writer): It’s about getting one step beyond the ghetto, lookin’ up, settin’ your sight higher than where you are. There’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ in the ghetto, livin’ where you live, but you know that you gotta reach out, go one step beyond.
MAY 4: Nashville Rooms
Madness support Sore Throat in their second gig under their new name.
CARL (speaking in 1979): The only label we want applied to us is ‘That Nutty Sound,’ because there’s no one label that describes us as well as the one we thought up.
LEE (speaking in 1979): It’s a sort of happy fairground sound with jokey lyrics. Almost like Steptoe and Son music. It’s something that we haven’t really got as yet. The only thing that’s really nutty about us is our act and Chas Smash. But the sound is not quite there yet. We ain’t quite sure of ourselves at the moment. When we’ve done a few more gigs we’ll be a bit closer.
CARL: The whole ‘Nutty’ thing was just a natural progression really – it just evolved from Lee writing ‘That Nutty Sound’ on a Levi jacket in bleach and became something more than it was intended to be. We were all heavily into reggae. We also enjoyed the energetic dance rhythms of Motown, the three-minute melodies of 60s pop and loved the comedy of Morcambe and Wise. So put that in the pot and you’ve got the nutty sound. It was a term to express ourselves and avoid being pigeon-holed, because after all we were just kids enjoying ourselves.
SUGGS: We started using the word ‘nutty’ as a term of admiration for the people that didn’t fit into the accepted idea of normal life. Certainly all the greatest things come from people that are mad, there’s no doubt about it.
MIKE: Lee definitely coined that whole concept of The Nutty Boys. He used to talk about our music being a mixture of pop and circus. Then when he came to rehearsals one day with ‘That Nutty Sound’ on his jacket, it looked smart and cool and everyone was impressed.
LEE: When Mike saw it, it was, ‘That’s it! That’s what we’re gonna be!’ ‘What are we gonna be?’ ‘We’re gonna be… Morris Minor and The Majors’. What?
MIKE: There was no explanation, no discussion. Just there it was on his jacket – ‘That Nutty Sound’. I really liked the term. He just had this theory in his head for some of the music we were doing.
LEE: Unfortunately, the bleach burned right the way through the jacket. Three washes later and the bottom fell off; it just frayed to fluff.
CHRIS: Calling our music ‘The Nutty Sound’ was a way to avoid categorizing ourselves. ‘Nutty’ was just a word Lee used a lot, and someone picked up on it. We were very careful never to repeat ourselves and never wanted to be stuck in ska.
BEDDERS: ‘The Nutty Sound’ was all the different things we mixed up in our songs, done our own way.
LEE: Get yourself a pot, stick in a little bit of Kilburn and the High Roads, a touch of The Coasters, Fats Domino and Prince Buster, a smidgin of reggae and a good bottle of Steptoe and Son. Give it a good old stir, add a handful of lyrics that are pretty quirky and not the norm and that, to me, would sum up the Nutty Sound.
WOODY: It was exciting for us to get up and enjoy the music with everyone dancing their bollocks off and having a good time – that’s what ‘Nutty’ was about. We were never a political band. We weren’t like The Clash or Sham 69. We saw our music purely as entertainment, and our only concern was that everyone enjoyed themselves.
LEE: The idea was just to keep the music fun and humorous, almost as a rebellion against the punk thing. We always wanted to keep music away from politics. Music should be fun and, above all, loving. I was never a punk for that reason. I wouldn’t give it an inch because of the way they looked, the aggressiveness and everything.
CARL: We used to send out a little Xeroxed piece of paper to record companies which said, ‘Six musicians have been practising in secret and have finally mastered The Nutty Sound.’ It was just something we said at the time to define us and not be put in any other category; Mod, skinhead etc.
MAY 5: The Specials, Hope & Anchor
The band decide to check out The Specials after they mention Madness in Melody Maker, saying they’re the only other group in Britain playing the same kind of music. Struggling through the crowds afterwards – Mick Jagger included – Suggs and Mike rush over to talk to Jerry Dammers. He tells them he’s trying to set up his own label called 2-Tone, which he can sign other bands to. With no bed for the night, Dammers ends up kipping on Suggs’ floor and, as a thank you, offers Madness a support slot in London the following month.
CARL: We woke up one morning and realised there was a musical movement and we were part of it.
BEDDERS: We’d all read about this Coventry band that was also playing ska stuff. I realised that I’d actually seen them play as The Coventry Automatics with The Clash in London when they were more punky, although they did have a reggae element to them. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this lot are quite good.’ I never really thought much more about it until their reviews started appearing.
SUGGS: I’d seen a half-page article about them in the Melody Maker and was really shocked by how similar they looked to us, which was hats and suits and all that. And secondly, reading the article, they seemed to be doing exactly the same music as we were doing. We’d felt we were completely in our own world; just me and 15 other people who’d started our own thing, playing ska and reggae and R‘n’B. Then suddenly a poster appeared in the Hope saying that The Specials were performing and it really was an epiphanal moment. On the night, a strange-looking gang of fellas burst in, all smart suits and Frank Sinatra pork pie hats. They took one look around and filed back out again. Then they reappeared, carrying guitar cases and a drum kit. It was all a bit wary, a bit, ‘Who are you then mate?’ and all that. The jukebox was the catalyst for our first conversation.
HORACE PANTER: My first introduction to Madness was some graffiti on the toilet door at the Hope: ‘Madness, Bluebeat and Ska’. I also remember seeing ‘Chalky n Suggs ov Chelsea’ scraped into doors and walls.
JERRY DAMMERS: We’d been intrigued by graffiti around Euston station: ‘North London Invaders’, ‘Chalky’, ‘Toks’ and ‘Bird’s Egg’. Later, I realised this was the work of Madness and their road crew.
BEDDERS: The gig was sold out, but knowing the governor, John, we managed to blag our way in.
SUGGS: We were intrigued and piled downstairs. It blew our minds to see these people who looked a bit like us and sounded a bit like us. That night was probably my most memorable gig – they went off like a packet of crackers. I remember Neville Staple blowing holes in the ceiling with a starter pistol, then they stormed into Gangsters. Within seconds of the first chords they were jumping up and down like lunatics. They were fucking brilliant, doing this really high-energy turbo punk ska. I wasn’t sure whether to feel jealous or fucking vindicated, that we were onto something after all. It was probably one of the best gigs I ever saw, certainly one of the most important for me and the rest of the band, and completely informed us, in terms of performance, pretty much from then onwards. All that energy they had.
MIKE: I remember thinking, ‘Wow. It really sounds like those old reggae records that we’re trying to do.’ It was so weird. How could this be happening in Coventry while we’re doing our thing in London? We didn’t know anyone from Coventry and yet at the same moment, they’re suddenly coming out with the same stuff at the same time.
WOODY: There was us in London and The Specials and The Selecter in Coventry; two completely different parts of the country, and both ironically influenced and playing music from a part of history. We had the same dress sense and were all listening to exactly the same stuff – it was just incredible. They couldn’t believe that we were into the same things as them either.
SUGGS: I was shocked to meet them as I didn’t think anybody in the world was doing the same thing as us. Because we liked reggae and ska and other music with black influences, as well as the Rude Boy ethos, we thought we were pretty individual. There really weren’t many other people around who were into it until The Specials popped up, but it was a complete coincidence. They were the ‘it’ band because they were one of the first to have black and white members. So they weren’t exactly the same as us, but they were wearing suits and hats and stuff at a time when…
CHRIS: …suits and hats weren’t in.
SUGGS: Exactly. And a whole ball started rolling that we had never really envisaged. We’d been quite happy in our own little bubble, but suddenly we realised something was really going on. There was real excitement in the air; a very rare thing that I’d only experienced once before, in the Roxy. A real feeling something was happening and that we just happened to be right in the middle of it.
JERRY DAMMERS: I just remember that the Madness mob had a dance which consisted of head-butting each other.
SUGGS: Things started to change after we saw them. They were like us, but turbocharged. We were still diesel at that point. They’d gone that bit further, while we were still doing a bit of R&B. The Specials gave us this revelation that the uptempo stuff was really fucking exciting. No one else seemed to have realised what a fertile vein that music was, how potent it was live. But suddenly we were aware we were not alone and we learned a lot about how to turn a basically easy-going rhythm into something quite high-octane and speedy. So they were mixing reggae with punk, while we had the idea of mixing it with British pop music
CHRIS: The Specials were similar to us but they were more punk – they were more influenced by that. I used to really like it but it didn’t really influence us. The thing about The Specials was that none of them had really been skinheads, whereas we had. But I think Neville and Lynval, they were Jamaican, and Jerry had always liked reggae music. That’s how they got into it. It was just a real coincidence. People always used to say that The Specials were the first ska band or some crap like that, but it wasn’t true, it just happened like that.
SUGGS: After the gig I got talking to Jerry, who was talking about the new label he was starting, which he said was going to be an English Motown. Then he told us he didn’t have anywhere to stay, so he kipped at my mum’s flat above Maples, the furniture shop. In those days, your best chance of finding a place to stay after a gig was pulling a bird. But if you’ve seen the state of Jerry’s teeth you’ll realise why he ended up kipping on my mum’s sofa with all his worldly goods – one toothbrush and a few cassettes – in a battered school briefcase. I played a him a rough cassette of Madness and we talked long into the night about pop music and his vision and future that was to be 2-Tone. He was talking about it being self-sufficient, all-encompassing and racially integrated, which was an unusual prospect at that time. It was pretty momentous, but I didn’t think it would ever happen.
BEDDERS: Jerry had been in lots and lots of bands and he’d actually known a bit about the music business. We felt it quite lucky that we had found someone who was a musician and who also knew a bit about the record industry. Everything really sprang from there.
CHRIS: We gave them a cassette – a rehearsal tape, really.
BEDDERS: Jerry says he still has it. He told me he still listens to it once in a while and has a laugh.
JERRY DAMMERS: The tape was dodgy – really, really bad – but I also thought there was lots of potential. I don’t believe any other record label would have signed them at that time in their career except for 2-Tone. They were ropey around the edges, but Chas was doing some amazing dances.
BEDDERS: Jerry said he’d heard about us too, and some arrangement was made to do something the next time they were in London.
JERRY DAMMERS: They were ropey as hell – still virtually a school band – but obviously they had to be snapped up for our fledgling label. My idea was that, instead of competing, we should work together with like-minded bands.
BEDDERS: We said, ‘Look, we’re playing kind of the same music as you are – reggae, ska, whatever’ and Jerry said, ‘Well we’re gonna get a label together and you’re gonna be on it.’ It was absolutely brilliant and incredibly exciting… the right place, right time moment.
LEE: Jerry was like, ‘I’ve got a label, do you want to release a record? Suggs said, ‘Yeah, alright’. And it was that simple.
SUGGS: They were pretty dark times at the end of the ’70s in the UK, which helps explains the rise of punk music, and you had this racist stuff going on as well. But all of a sudden this mushroom of hope, 2-Tone, sprouted out of the darkness.
JERRY DAMMERS: It was obvious the Mod/skinhead revival was coming and I was trying to find a way to make sure it didn’t go the way of the National Front. I idealistically thought, ‘We have to get through to these people’, and that’s when we got the image together and started using ska rather than reggae. It seemed a bit more healthy to have an integrated kind of British music, rather than white people playing the two.
SUGGS: There was a lot of energy and an idea that music had got a bit pretentious and self-indulgent and it was time for something for really young people that wasn’t manufactured.
NEVILLE STAPLE: Jerry was determined to show black and white people together in harmony; even the famous 2-Tone logo was made in black and white to depict racial unity. All of what happened with the 2-Tone scene was the foresight of Jerry and he should be given a lot of credit for the positive social impact he created.
JERRY DAMMERS (speaking in 1979): It’s not that we’re just trying to revive ska. It’s using those old elements to try forming something new. In a way, it’s all still part of punk. We’re not trying to get away from punk. We’re just trying to show some other direction… you’ve got to go back to go forward.
MIKE: The 2-Tone attitude was similar to punk: it was good not to see any hidden mystique in music or to believe you have to be really good to play it. I hate the attitude that there’s something special about music or musicians. I think anyone should be able to have a go at it. At the time when the punk thing came along, you’d think you had to be playing for five years before you could make a record. I used to think that we sounded all right live, but it didn’t seem to connect that therefore we could make records – there seemed to be some magical difference. But there’s nothing particularly special about making records. If you’ve got a good idea at home then it can be a good idea on record.
MAY 7: The Windsor Castle, London
Only eight dodgy types turn up for this loss making experience. Lee asks the biggest of them to collect their fees. Each band member gets 50p.
MIKE: We got there and we weren’t booked. That was maybe why nobody came. And they didn’t want to let us play.
CHRIS: No, we definitely were booked. It was funny – the week before, in the Hope & Anchor, it was really rammed and I thought, ‘This is it, we’re really going somewhere.’ But we got to the Castle and only Mike’s mum and about three other people turned up. And then when we hit it big, the owner of the pub was like, ‘Ah yeah, they were in here all the time, lovely boys.’ Hah! We certainly paid our dues.
SUGGS: Laughter was the binding factor. Our humour was all about surreality; Tommy Cooper, John Cleese, Benny Hill’s speeded-up sketches. We talked about things being ‘nutty’ to give it some kind of shape. We were all very keenly against pretension. Motown was our template – three minutes of fantastic pop music with a bit of style and a bit of an idea behind it.
BEDDERS: The things we enjoyed were Joe Orton’s Loot, Tommy Cooper, Tony Hancock, Ealing comedies. Madness have always had more in common with comedians than musicians. And that kind of comedy – which had a feeling of down-at-heel melancholy – always found its way back into the songwriting. There was also an identification with those parts of Britain, and London particularly, that even then were disappearing.
SUGGS: We sat somewhere between Peter Cook, Ian Dury, The Kinks and Prince Buster.
CARL: There was definitely always a touch of Tommy Cooper about us. In terms of our world view, we were slightly to the left of stage. We might have appeared bonkers but, by writing about everyday subjects in a completely honest way, we connected with people.
MIKE: We were, and are, a pretty ramshackle mob. Everybody in the band’s a bit out to lunch. And because you have to know what you’re presenting, it needed a bit of organising.
SUGGS: There was a very complicated synergy. We all had a lot of energy and everybody contributed something. Most of the band never took drugs, but psychedelics had played their part with some of us; that a culture was not alien to us. You didn’t have to become a hippy and lose your mind completely, but you could understand that side of the mind and put that into three minutes of pop music. Later, the videos had that surreality, which some-times did take them to the verge of being a bit dark. There were definitely a lot of funny, intelligent characters in the band, in an uneducated way.
MIKE: We were a band with character and talent but none of it was false or fabricated – we are who we are. Some of the group likes showing off more than others but that also helps to strike a balance.
WOODY: We liked bands like Roxy Music, who had something about them. We weren’t fans of people who just looked at their shoes. Saying that, we never wanted to do show off and ten-minute guitar solos, mainly because at that stage we were just about competent, not up there in the heights of ‘let’s see if we can do a flat-diminished-fifth’. We were lucky if we could remember the chords and could go from the beginning to the end of a song. That was our only aim. So we couldn’t take ourselves seriously.
JUNE 8: Nashville Rooms / Dublin Castle
The night’s first show – supporting The Specials in front of 500 people – stirs so much interest that ticketless fans cause a riot and have to be dragged out by cops. An impressed Dammers offers Madness a contract for releasing one single on 2-Tone. Due to this earlier support slot, Madness nearly miss their gig at the Dublin Castle in front of 300 people – the first of their regular residency shows. Lee asks Carl to announce Madness, which he does with a speech based on the intro of Prince Buster’s Scorcher and Dave & Ansel Collins’s Monkey Spanner. Rather than leaving the stage afterwards, he stays to dance.
THE NAME says it all. Shut your eyes and think of England’s entire phalanx of pop culture during the last say, 25 years: teds, beatniks, rockers, mods, skeds, hippies, glam-rock mutants, Sloane Rangers, uniform fetishists and main-line punks. Now imagine 20 or 30 of each strain, plus several dozen left-field crazies I’ve misplaced pigeon holes for, huddled together in a room the size of your average khazi, simmer at a steady Regulo 6, and you’ve got the Dublin Castle last Friday night.
This, I’m told, is a typical Madness audience, and I brace myself for the ultimate cross-over band.
Instead we get six fairly nondescript teenagers, the only visual heretic being Mikey Barson, who wears a bootlace tie, a dirty tux and exudes sleaze behind a set of keyboards. Huddled around him on the titchy stage are Lee Thompson (tenor sax), Mark “Fiddly” Bedford (bass), Chris Foreman (guitar) and a big lad called Suggs who sings. All, save Barson, have closely cropped barnets and look vaguely threatening, but this turns out not to be the case.
Suggs is a natural showman, a street-level raconteur who keeps up a constant stream of personalised banter with his audience, dedicating almost every number to someone or something, each more laughable than the last.
Vocally reminiscent of Kevin Ayers, his original songs have a strong blue-beat feel, and he’s even written one extolling Prince Buster, called ‘The Prince’, but his style and delivery is closer to Johnny Moped.
Shuffling like Terry Dactyl & The Dinosaurs, or grating listlessly like Sky Saxon & The Seeds, they defy tidy comparisons. Just when you’ve got familiar with Barson’s jangly, fairground organ or Thompson’s affable, knockabout sax, the former dons an England supporter’s beanie and careens into ‘Tears Of A Clown’ or the latter has a crack at ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ as if Greig had written it after cranking up a gram of sulphate.
By the third encore, half the punters were jumping on tables waving clenched fists, and the other half were reeling about the glass-strewn floor, jolly pissed. Catch Madness supporting the Specials A.K.A at the Nashville next week, and you may find yourself similarly disposed.
Mark Williams, Melody Maker, June 13 1979
CHRIS: We were double-booked as we had already confirmed the Dublin Castle gig but we didn’t want to miss the chance of playing with The Specials.
HORACE PANTER: Madness, who were now not just a name on a pub bog door, nervously opened the show. The place was packed to the rafters; there was a queue right round the block.
SUGGS: The Nashville gig went in a blur of pumping arms and legs, the odd pork pie hat floating in a choppy sea of cropped heads bobbing up and down. We went down great. We were obviously in competition with Jerry and co – albeit very friendly competition – but playing together like that was truly thrilling. It was just exciting to know there was another band doing what we were doing. Jerry said he really enjoyed it, but there was no time for back-slapping as we had to get north and sharpish.
CHRIS: It was hard to get out of the Nashville, as it was so packed.
SUGGS: When we finally got to the Dublin Castle it was pandemonium. Every table had three or people standing on it and beer was flying in all directions. As soon as Carl’s rallying call ‘Hey you!’ went up, the place went ballistic.
CARL: If the Mads had never covered One Step Beyond I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. Because I could shout loudest, they started to let me yell ‘One Step Beyond’ a few times before kicking me offstage. After a while I got well pissed off at being kicked off, so I started moving about avoiding them. Everybody thought, ‘Wow a new dance’. I haven’t stopped moving yet.
SUGGS: Carl came up with the intro: ‘Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this…’ It was inspired by the shouty, slightly preposterous ‘I am the magnificent…’ intros you got on Jamaican records.
CARL: I’d been working in Kent and Lee had asked me to travel up to London and introduce the band onstage. On the train, I wrote out the ‘Hey you!’ words that formed the intro to One Step Beyond. I’d also developed a persona and started to become that Chas Smash character as a sort of the mascot – the physical representation of the sound. I shape-shifted into what was required – a bombastic frontman, the spirit of the band, the seed. But I was also extremely shy and never took the dark glasses off; I was on speed at all the early gigs to give me confidence to go on stage.
JUNE 15: Dublin Castle
The band get friendly with Clive Langer, a school pal of Mike’s brother Ben, who agrees to produce their demos.
CLIVE LANGER: I’d come to London with Deaf School and seen Mike and his gang watching us. My first memory of him was of this little kid who was good at art and also pretty good on the piano. His whole gang looked really good – kind of glam mods, spray-painted DM boots, 501s. They’d meet up backstage and tell me that they were starting a band called The North London Invaders, and asked if I wanted to check them out. They were the best-dressed kids from north London and they were Deaf School fans, so I offered my services.
MIKE: One night Clive got pissed and said, ‘If you ever record, I want to be your producer.’ So we held him to it.
CLIVE LANGER: At the first rehearsal I went to, John Hasler was repeatedly throwing a flick-knife into a pillar. I thought it was a bit weird. But you could tell it was potentially brilliant – My Girl in particular just jumped out at me. At the time, Mike was singing it, which didn’t sound right. But I knew he was a Robert Wyatt fan, and I loved Robert Wyatt, and it was like one of Robert’s songs, a naïve love song with a great melody. It was just amazing song. A lot of other elements were already there too. Woody was obviously a good drummer and Mike a great rock piano player, really hitting his piano hard. The rest of the band were a bit rough around the edges, but were all nearly there.
ROB DICKINS (Warner Music): Clive said, ‘I’ve found a band I want to produce. They’re called Madness, they’re sort of like The Specials,’ who were the hot A&R thing at the time. He said they were fabulous, had a humour and energy that he loved and he thought he could capture it. I’d seen bits in the music papers saying they were a Specials rip-off, quite demeaning, so I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yes. I’ve seen other things but Madness are special.’ I was thrilled.
SUGGS: It was a real whirlwind, that time. Clive used to come down to rehearsals and encourage us in readiness to make a record. And then our gigs became more packed, and then record companies showed interest. And then The Specials came and it really exploded and we happened to be right there when it exploded.
WOODY: When there’s queues round the block for your gigs, it says something. OK, we did know a lot of people and we did have a lot of mates who turned up at gigs to make it look good, but it was clear we had something about us.
SUGGS: And this whole thing was word-of-mouth, of course. You couldn’t pick up a fashion magazine to see what the latest teenage trend was going to be. It just sprang up organically across the country. You’d go to a town and there would be rockabillies, psychobillies, punks, mods, teds, soul boys, skinheads. You’d get off the train and know that you were somewhere new because the kids were wearing stuff that was very different to what you were wearing and you could only get in that area. I remember in Liverpool they had Stan Smith trainers that no one else had seen before.
JUNE 22: Pathway Studios, Islington
Clive Langer gets £200 from Warner Bros and the band go into Pathway Studios for the first time (an earlier demo session is cancelled after Woody gets lost on the way). They record Madness, My Girl and a new song written by Lee called The Prince. The recording and mixing takes place over one weekend.
WOODY: We didn’t have the money to pay for a recording, so we borrowed some off Warner Brothers, gave them bit of our publishing, and off we went.
SUGGS: Clive duly booked two days at Pathway as he thought that would be just enough time to record three songs. It was decided we would have a go at The Prince, My Girl and Madness. We went to Pathway because it was where The Yachts had recorded their first single and where Elvis Costello had recorded Watching The Detectives, which we were all very fond of.
LEE: Because we still had proper jobs, there wasn’t time to fuck around. We were actually booked in for the previous week but we lost Woody, who wasn’t familiar with the area.
SUGGS: We’d piled all our gear and ourselves into Mike’s trusty ex-GPO Morris 1000 van and set off.
CLIVE LANGER: Woody was going to meet us there as he had this little motorbike, but he got lost en route.
CHRIS: We were in Holloway Road and he said, ‘Oh I know where it is.’ And off he went, never to be seen again.
SUGGS: So we lost the first day’s recording and our cash, which wasn’t the most auspicious start to our professional career. But Clive managed to draw on Rob’s enthusiasm to borrow some cash and extend our recording time.
CLIVE LANGER: I went and saw Rob Dickens who lent us an additional £200 for another session, and this time it all worked out well.
LEE: Thanks to Clive wangling the advance, we put down three tracks, two of which were eventually used on our first single.
SUGGS: We recorded The Prince, My Girl with Mike singing, and Madness. The studio was tiny, with a slightly out-of-tune upright piano. There was barely enough room for us to fit in. The atmosphere was great and the tracks were sounding good. With a couple of hours to spare at the end of the day, it was just a case of mixing them down. This involved three of us pushing faders up and down as the songs went onto the two-inch tape, until we felt the right balance of instruments and vocals had been achieved. Which at about midnight we all did. We then took it turns to sit in the control room and listen to the tracks on the big speakers. We all agreed they sounded great and spent an hour or two recording the mixes onto cassettes, one at a time, so we could all take the songs away with us. Happy days; really joyful, innocent times.
LEE: The title track, The Prince, was a tribute to yours and mine, ruler of Blue Beat, F.A.B. and Dice recordings, Mr Rude Man himself, Prince Buster. It was written over a cuppa and dunkies late one evening at Carl’s in-laws’ house. We had a cup of coffee… and another cup of coffee… and another cup of coffee… and wrote this track about a Jamaican artist who moved me. It was the first lyrics I ever wrote to a melody.
BEDDERS: I think it was written pretty late in the day. Lee wrote it pretty much thinking that we were going to go and record something.
CHRIS: Because Lee really liked all that stuff, there’s lots of references to Buster himself, Orange Street, uptown Jamaica – it’s a bit of a rip-off of a couple of Prince Buster songs.
BEDDERS: It’s almost like a compilation of Prince Buster songs.
CHRIS: Lee also did this saxophone solo which we were really surprised by because it sounded so professional. But of course he’d pinched that too.
LEE: The lyrics were taken from bits and pieces of various Prince Buster songs. Because he’d always stood out to me, when I started writing I took elements from his work and put them together. The melody was a simple 12-bar with some odd bits thrown in for variety but I was stuck for a solo, so I played bits of Texas Hold-Up. Its flip side was a version of Prince Buster’s Madness.
BEDDERS: It’s a fantastic idea and a fantastic song. It reminds me of Dancing In the Street because it’s a call to people to say, ‘This is what I really like. This guy should be looked at and we should all get out there and find his record and dance to it and play that kind of music.’
MIKE: We thought the band was pretty good, but I was a bit afraid that we weren’t good enough to appear as a recording group. However, when we went in the studio, I was quite knocked out with how The Prince sounded, ’cos what we were came out pretty well. It was bizarre. We were really only half-able to play a song, yet suddenly we were getting noticed. And we’d barely mastered our instruments!
CHRIS: Clive Langer was a big help during those first sessions. He was really good – like another member of the band. Because he was a musician himself, he’d say stuff like, ‘Look, try this on the guitar.’
LEE: Yeah, Clive really simplified things. God only knows what it would have sounded like without him.
ROB DICKINS: Clive comes back and says, ‘I need another £20 to do a remix’. So I gave him another £20. He comes back with The Prince which Lee had written, My Girl, which Mike had written, and Madness. And I went, ‘Clive, Madness is a Prince Buster song! What happened to three songs?’
MIKE: Amazingly it sounds like a professional recording but it was very close. It was by the skin of our teeth that we made that. In fact, it was all by the skin of our teeth. It was like an airplane taking off and we weren’t packed or anything and we just managed to jump on as it took off.
SUGGS: Jerry had always promised me, ‘If you ever get your band going, then you’ve got a chance of being on the label’. And he stuck by his word. When he heard The Prince he said, ‘It sounds great. I’ll put it out on 2-Tone.’ And everything went from there.
WOODY: The Specials had blagged a record deal with Chrysalis, and just said to us, ‘We’ve got a record label, do you wanna do a single?’ It wasn’t anything earth-shattering – it just happened. By this time, there were lots of record companies sniffing around, so I think we would have signed with someone anyway.
ROB DICKINS: I remember they came to me and said, ‘The Specials have offered us a deal so we can get this out on 2-Tone.’ I said, ‘Oh, forget 2-Tone! You don’t want to be there as second cousins to The Specials. I know everyone at the major labels. I’ll get you a record deal.’ So, I went to Warners and they didn’t get it. I went to EMI and they didn’t get it. I went to all the labels, even including Stiff, and couldn’t get them a record deal. So we had a meeting in my office and I sheepishly said, ‘I’m broken! This is ridiculous!’ I said, ‘Do you think 2-Tone would still be up for it?’ So they said, ‘We’ll go and check – yeah, yeah, they’re still up for it.’ So I said, give them the tapes. And that was The Prince.
CLIVE LANGER: I’d also taken the tapes around to people I knew at the big labels in town and no one else seemed to get it. So off they went to 2-Tone.
RICK ROGERS (The Specials manager): I think the first meeting we had was in The Spread Eagle in Camden Town one lunchtime. We talked about the idea of doing a single with them – in fact, putting out the single that they’d already recorded as a demo. Everyone was very happy with it. The A&R decisions tended to be made by a committee of hundreds and there was no dissension.
CLIVE LANGER: Jerry just told us to turn up the ‘chink-a-chink-a’ rhythm guitars, and the next thing you know it’s a hit and the boys are on Top of the Pops.
SUGGS: All of a sudden, the possibility that none of us were going to have to work for the council or polish cars any more was a reality coming our way across the horizon.
JUNE 24: Hope & Anchor
Due to overwhelming success, Madness return for another show at the Hope & Anchor. With the British music press mentioning them in the same breath as The Specials, record companies get interested and send A&R managers to the show. Before coming on, Suggs hands out singles to winners of the previous week’s competition. Two cover versions are played in the encore – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Shoparound and Rockin’ In Ab, originally by Bazooka Joe, whose singer is Mike’s brother Danny.
Suggs is the real character of the group. Before the set had even begun he was on stage dishing out vinyl goodies to the winners of the previous week’s competition, while the majority of his stage-raps comprised a series of wacky dedications to various mates in the audience. By the time they encored with Shoparound and Bazooka Joe’s (Adam Ant’s punk band) Rockin’ in Ab, the cramped cloisters of this Upper Street basement were converted. And as the Prince Buster song says: ‘It’s gonna be rougher, it’s gonna be tougher’.
Adrian Thrills, NME
LEE: When we played The Hope, I used to frisbee out old ska singles and throw pork pies into the audience. I had a tie which lit up, too (unashamedly nicked from the Kilburns). Do something more than just playing music, make it a bit more visual, save the actual music for the records and concentrate on the visuals, that was an integral part.
SUGGS: At first just our friends came to our gigs, but the audiences just got bigger and bigger and they ended up having to turn people away from places like the Hope ‘cos there wasn’t not enough room. We played dance music but there was never enough space to dance to it in.
CARL: It wasn’t so much our musical quality as our enthusiasm that won audiences over – they’d end up onstage with us half the time.
SUGGS: There was a very strong feeling of mutual respect and camaraderie. This was our thing; we were part of it. We were doing it ourselves and the establishment couldn’t get a look-in. The clothes and music were hard to come by. There was a lot of effort going into this shit from all concerned. It was a feeling I’d only really witnessed as a kid when punk started, but this time we didn’t want to tear our clothes up and leap about. We wanted to look smart and dance.
WOODY: It was all going off – we were all very young and everything was new and exciting. When you meet people who have the same interests as you and the same energy, it is very exciting. You don’t really think about what you’re doing, you just want to play music. That’s all you care about.
SUGGS: I had a job through the week, and was playing at the pub on a Friday night and I thought, ‘Well that’s enough. You get £50 and a few birds coming to look at you.’
CARL: We didn’t have the brains to ask a talent scout to come and see us. We used to appear week after week in empty clubs, just playing away. It didn’t really occur to any of us that other people might be interested in listening to our type of music.
CLIVE LANGER: They were very young and just having a laugh — they’d be happy to play in a bar and just get people to dance.
SUGGS: We were playing in a sweaty pub with £5 between the seven of us and having to shift our own gear and everyone was saying, ‘You’ll look back on this and love it’, and we thought, ‘Bollocks.’ But I do really like looking back on it now. Because none of us had been in the business before, we were all very naïve and in our own little bubble.
BEDDERS: When you’re younger you don’t really think about it that much, you’re swept away by the next thing that comes in front of you. I think that’s what kept us going; being youthful and enthusiastic. I’m the youngest but as a band we were bonded together by the speed of everything going off – and we bonded together as a group; the situation demanded it.
SUGGS: I wouldn’t imagine a band of seven people could make it now in the way that we did. Going round in the fucking van with seven of you, working during the week, trying to support yourself, it would be tough. Whatever way you look at it, there are thousands more bands now than there were when we started. You can build up a bit of a following online and get some kind of career going, whereas in our day, you only had word of mouth. It would take months and months to get 400 people into a venue. It goes back to the old adage of hard work and determination. We had to work in gardens during the week or painting and decorating – then we’d go out and do the gigs at night. It certainly didn’t come on a plate.
JUNE 28: Nashville Rooms
The second show with The Specials in front of 500 fans. After the riots on June 8, it’s now decided to sell tickets in advance. Madness play a better show than before and Jerry Dammers asks them to support The Specials at an upcoming show in Liverpool.
SUGGS: Something we always championed, right from the start, was singing in the accent that’s where you’re from. You don’t do that fake American thing.
MIKE: In those days someone would grab a microphone to sing and this American accent would come out. It was bizarre. But people like Ian Dury didn’t have any of them pretensions.
CARL: Ian Dury was definitely the most direct influence. It’s like Catatonia singing with a Welsh accent. Ian sang in an English accent: ‘Burly Bently walked to London early in the day… half a quid mate, stand to reason.’ You know, it’s alright to sing in your own accent, it’s alright to talk about things that are in your life.
SUGGS: It’s fine to write about the freeway in California and your yacht and all that, but it was more interesting for me to write about what’s going on around me. I don’t think that has to be any less interesting. You know, to talk about some mad geezer you met in a pub, just the things that happen to you in your everyday life – that’s what I was interested in.
CARL: It was quite freeing to know that it didn’t have to be, ‘Baby, I’m a-want you…’ That was definitely a big part of it – that you could just speak about what happened in your life, in a normal everyday way.
SUGGS: To sing in your own vernacular and not necessarily be Otis Redding was a real lightbulb moment. The people who influenced me – Ray Davies and Ian Dury – weren’t necessarily the greatest singers but they had a bit of character. Also, we didn’t understand the process of making records or PR or interviews but because we’d seen Ian Dury do it – somebody with polio – we saw all the possibilities for people who didn’t necessarily look like rock stars. Ian didn’t seem anything like Rock ‘n’ Roll or the music biz; he was more like a poet. So he inspired us to go down that route without actually having to know anything about the music business.
CHRIS: Another thing was, Mike and me used to go and see a lot of groups and they’d always have a keyboard player, but you’d never be able to hear him. So we decided we’d make sure you could always hear Mike because he’s really good – but then no-one could hear me!
JUNE 29: Dublin Castle
Carl does not appear tonight. The A&R manager of Magnet Records ¬– who will eventually sign Bad Manners – is watching and buys the band drinks afterwards.
MIKE (writing in diary): Same pub, same group, same price, same songs; it seemed like going through the motions. Felt we should be doing new songs. Bloke from Magnet [Records] bought a round. Lots of dancing, though. No nutty Carl.
SUGGS: The Dublin Castle meant everything to us. We could barely play our instruments when we first arrived and they had the heating on so the punters would drink more – there was sweat dripping off the ceiling. For those first few gigs it was 50p to get in, then they decided to put it up to 75p.
MIKE: One night, we made £100 profit. What about that?
BEDDERS: When you start, you know all of your audience. And then suddenly, particularly in places like the Dublin Castle, more and more people that we didn’t know started turning up. We started thinking. ‘Hang on…’ and then it just got bigger and bigger.
SUGGS: We started to notice that more people were coming week after week. Then people started to dress a bit like us. Then suddenly, there was a queue round the block – and that’s when record companies started to notice. It was the most important thing that happened in those early days.
MIKE: You could see there was a bit of a buzz happening. We started to attract some Press interest and got our first review from one of those Dublin Castle gigs, by Mark Williams in Melody Maker. Yet there we were, still using two old Morris vans to get around!
SUGGS: The quote I remember was, ‘By the third encore, half the audience were standing on the table waving their clenched fists, while the other half were reeling about the glass-strewn floor, jolly pissed’. And that about sums it up.
JULY 3: Moonlight Club, London
With only one PA for the vocals, Suggs and Chris swap places for bluesy ballad Memories.
Set list includes: Memories / The Prince / Land Of Hope & Glory / Steppin’ Into Line / Rockin in Ab / Swan Lake / Shoparound.
That these boys are a classy dance band is evidenced by madness and their tribute to its author: The Prince and Land of Hope And Glory. Not to mention the rock ‘n’ roll of Steppin’ Into Line and Rockin’ In Ab. Loads of people danced and had a good time.
Garry Bushell, Sounds
NEVILLE STAPLE: We met a whole new breed of ska fan down in London who were inspired by Madness. There was no doubting they attracted a different sort of fan to us. Some ugly elements turned up to those gigs; bovver boots, bleached jeans and tight little bomber jackets – a nasty kind of uniform.
SUGGS: I remember the fashion back then was really tasty, but for a lot of people it was just Doc Martens, white towelling socks, slightly too tight and too short jeans. I feel slightly ashamed about some of the aspects of fashion we were responsible for – but I’m not as embarrassed as fucking Duran Duran should be.
JULY 6: Dublin Castle
The last show of the band’s Friday night residency at the Dublin Castle. Mike says things are getting too routine.
CARL: It’s funny that we came to be associated with Camden. It’s even in Trivial Pursuit: ‘Who are the seven nutty lads from Camden Town?’ It’s similar to The Kinks and Muswell Hill or Rod Stewart and Highgate.
CHRIS: Camden was pretty rough back when we started out. A lot of the pubs have changed now.
SUGGS: It was nothing but blokes falling out of pubs and a couple of Morris Minors. It was Irish and Greek Cypriot. On a Friday night there wasn’t a woman in a five-mile radius. You went to Camden to get pissed and beaten up. The only food you could get was a ham or cheese sandwich out of one of those Perspex things they used to have on the bars of pubs or the caff. I can remember a friend of my mum’s having a pie-eating competition in a pie and mash shop. Perhaps there was less to do in those days.
BEDDERS: It was certainly an interesting mix – you still had hippies in fur coats and cowboy boots, and a lot of Teds.
WOODY: You also got full-on, proper skinheads. I remembered them from the 60s but they were coming back again. Camden has so many memories for me. A lot of people say it’s rough and violent. But I’ve lived there all my life and never seen any trouble. I feel very safe there.
CARL: One night this mod stole my scooter – a 200cc Lambretta bought second-hand in ’76 – from outside the Hope & Anchor. The next night my brother saw it. The mod had re-sprayed it in one day from yellow to maroon and grey and parked it back outside the Hope again. He obviously thought I wasn’t a local, so I got that back pretty quick! When all the mods were doing their scooters up really smart, we purposefully made ours really trashy. We’d go to places and all the mods’ scooters would be parked neatly and we’d leave ours on their sides.
JULY 8: Hope & Anchor
The band end the successful show with One Step Beyond. In the days afterwards there are meetings with EMI and Sire, who offer Madness an American Autumn tour if they sign.
MIKE: Paul Conroy from Stiff came down to see us at the Hope with Kosmo Vinyl, his artistic director. He said we were a heap of shit and kept saying to Paul, ‘No, it’s a wanky group’. Paul said ‘We’ve got Ian Dury already’.
SUGGS: They left halfway through. We were a bit disheartened. We just wanted to make a record and have some proof we were musicians – plus make enough money to go out on a weekend.
JULY 14: Eric's, Liverpool
Madness team up with The Specials again for their first gig outside London. Although planned as another support slot, both bands decide to switch roles for practical reasons.
WOODY: We’d already conquered Camden Town and the surrounding venues, so when we got offered the chance to go and play in Liverpool, it was an adventure. Going to Eric’s, all squashed into two little Morris Minor vans with all the kit, was such an amazing experience. For the first time I had that big group around me.
ELVIS COSTELLO: The Specials went on first because some of the out-of-towners came to the club, so Madness had all evening to get drunk, and they came on like this gang of football hooligans – completely pissed. They were brilliant for one number – they opened with Madness – and it was like this gang could play a bit. I don’t think they could remember their own songs, but that was the first time I saw them and I really thought they were a novelty act. I thought it’d be something that would only work live; that they’d be really good fun.
CARL: I used to do a dance with Chalky to Swan Lake where we would head-butt each other. When we played Eric’s this Scouser went, ‘You’re not really doing it.’ I went, ‘Come on up and have some then mate.’ He went off with a sore head and of course it ended up in a fight afterwards.
CHRIS: Carl and Chalky used to have scar tissue on their heads from doing that head-butt dance so much.
CARL: I don’t think it affected my brain, but it is rather dangerous, which is why I stopped doing it. I remember we did it so often that when we got to America I thought, ‘Let’s get some crash helmets, this is hurting my head.’
MIKE (writing in diary): Didn’t see much of Liverpool. I would have liked to. The matinee was pretty crap but the late show was really good. We came on after the Specials and joined up on Madness. We made £7.
JULY 21: Electric Ballroom, London
Madness play to their biggest crowd to date – 1,500 – as they support The Specials again, along with The Selecter, at the newly soundproofed Ballroom. Ticket demand is so overwhelming that Camden High Street is practically blocked off. They join The Specials and The Selecter at the end for Long Shot Kick De Bucket. A storm of positive reviews appear in the music press.
SUGGS: Playing the Ballroom was a real step up for us. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but inside it’s a Tardis of a place. You can’t beat the atmosphere when the whole place bounces up and down as one.
CHRIS (speaking in 1979): We want people to talk about the Madness sound in years to come. We don’t like to be thought of as part of any revival ‘cos after that fashion’s dead, the groups that rely on the fashion aren’t heard of any more.
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): That’s the one thing that worries us. We could get labelled as just another ska revival band and get our own 10 minutes of fame like that. At the moment, it doesn’t matter what sort of music you play. You’re in vogue for 10 minutes and then that’s it. In the last month or so we’ve got as much publicity as some bands who have been slogging around for years. It makes you wonder if you’ll be back down there again next week.
WOODY (speaking in 1979): That’s one of the reasons that we don’t want to be labelled as a rude boy ska band. We want to get across to as many people as possible so that they can all come along and have a good time.
CHRIS (speaking in 1979): We are not Mods. We get a lot of Mods coming down to gigs, but they’re only a part of the audience; we’re not part of any movement. I’d like to think that we’re influenced by other people. We’re influenced by ska, we like a lot of Motown stuff and Kilburn and the High Roads. But I’d rather have our own sound than something that someone else has already got. One critic called us a rude boy ska band, but we don’t really want to be categorised like that.
CARL: Kids used to come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re Mods and skinheads.’ Who cares? I think things were more labelled than tribal in those days. It’s nice to be able to say, ‘We’re this band, we’re that band’ rather than ska.
SUGGS: We were never a ska band as such, we were just influenced by ska. And we never wanted to be ‘sons of 2-Tone’ – we wanted to be Madness. We were very upfront in realising that the 2-Tone thing was going off like a packet of crackers and we were in that mode stylistically. We certainly started to put more ska into our set and we’d been very lucky to meet Jerry and that whole thing happened. Earlier than God had intended, we were suddenly the thing.
MIKE: We would have been foolish not to ride the 2-Tone wave, but it wasn’t the limit of our ambitions.
LEE: We just happened to be in the right place at the right time when it all took off.
SUGGS: We could have continued having ska hits until they came out of our ears. But we didn’t, we grew less interested in ska. And consequently, our music became less influenced by it. What changes is that you get less interested in how it outwardly appears and more interested in how inwardly you feel about it.
MIKE: We were wary of the way bands like Bad Manners were being marketed. They were a good band but we didn’t want to get lumped in with that ska bracket too.
CLIVE LANGER: To me, they weren’t like The Specials, who were an out-and-out ska band. I thought Madness were an interesting pop band, influenced by the Kilburns, 10CC and Robert Wyatt, and they just did a bit of ska. I was interested in their pop side rather then their ska side.
BEDDERS: As much as we loved ska, we were already moving away from it in 1979. We always knew we wanted to play pop and not be pigeon-holed. But I think it was led by the songs, rather than any conscious decision to leave ska behind.
CARL: The thing was, we’d always been doing pop songs. So, at the same time as we were doing One Step Beyond we were also doing the Kinks’ Slow Rock, Shoparound, and Tears of a Clown by The Miracles. We were influenced by reggae, R&B, Motown, pop and ska in equal measure. Folk just jumped on the ska angle because it was the ‘in’ thing.
BEDDERS: For example, we used to do a fantastic version of Always Something There To Remind Me. It was really good – Suggs did a great Sandy Shaw impression. For us, the ska influence had just come from older friends and brothers. It was very popular at the end of the 60s, so a lot of those records were still knocking around when we were looking for things to cover.
SUGGS: At the time it was new in England, but it was just the music we grew up with. A lot of the older kids we knew still had those records or were still into it. And, along with R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, it was easy to play and we all liked it.
JULY 28: Archway Tavern, London
Madness rehearse for next day’s show in support of The Pretenders. Afterwards, manager John Hasler brings the new single The Prince to Archway tube station for them to see for the first time.
CARL: We collected the newly pressed and bagged single of The Prince from John Hasler. I’ve got a picture of us all holding it up outside the station.
BEDDERS: We were waiting for a van in Archway because we were going off to play a gig somewhere and Hasler showed up carrying a box of records. Physically seeing your first record, right there on 2-Tone, was amazing.
LEE: I remember standing in the rain and Hasler turned up with seven discs – one for each of us. I remember the 2-Tone label with my name on it and I thought, ‘I’ve made it’. That was good enough for me. To have that in your hand there, a disc which is gonna go out, it doesn’t matter whether it gets anywhere… top of the charts, bottom of the charts: I’ve got a bunch of blokes behind me who’ve made this record. It didn’t mean anything, whether it made the charts or not. It was just to reach that point.
SUGGS: I remember very clearly standing at the roundabout with a traffic cone on my head and The Prince in my hand. And as any working chap will tell you, that’s the only way to celebrate the release of your first single. We were all just staring at this piece of vinyl with our name on it for the first time.
CARL: I recall Hasler literally jumping for joy; it was the real deal. I’m smiling as I think of it and how thrilled we all were. Our gang, us. We had done this. We were part of 2-Tone and it felt like we were part of a movement. A counter culture, a passionate tribe. Expressing itself in sound, style and attitude. And we had plenty of that.
BEDDERS: When it was put in our hands, I remember very vividly Woody saying to me, ‘This is great. How long do you think it’s going to last? Three albums?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, three albums seems about right.’
JULY 29: The Lyceum, The Strand
Madness play as guests of Interview and The Pretenders. Elvis Costello is in the audience. Chas is wheeled on in a large cardboard box and bursts out for the opening of One Step Beyond. Backstage the band show off their graffiti skills on the dressing room walls. They’re told they won’t be booked for another gig until they come back and repaint them.
SUGGS: We went down extraordinarily well, and proceeded to do a nutty train across the stage while The Pretenders played their set. That’s when we really knew we were getting somewhere beyond the world of our mates. I had started to realise that this was something we could do for a living. Which was exciting because I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do otherwise. None of us had been in bands, none of us knew anything about the music industry, and it wasn’t planned. But somehow it became a possibility. That, and the way that we could have a good time in our own self-contained way. Wherever we went we had this instant party.
JULY 30: The Pied Bull, London (as Doll By Doll)
A small ad In Melody Maker credits this show to Doll By Doll. Carl wears mirrored shades made by Lee’s girlfriend Debbie. When Carl sees a fan scattering cigarette ash in his girlfriend’s hair, he jumps off stage in between them and gets kicked by a skinhead in steel Doc Martens. The skinhead apologises.
CARL: Chas notices someone flicking ash in [his] girlfriend’s hair and leaps into crowd … one goes down … two go down … then gets kicked in the jollies by third skin with steel DM’s on who straight away apologises … Chas thereupon nutty dances back to stage in ‘That Nutty Sound’-inspired trance … wearing a pair of national health glasses … black frame with mirrored lenses made by Lee’s Deb, who was working in a glasses factory at the time.
JULY 31: No1 Club, London
Madness are supported by The Effect.
CHRIS: The audiences were going crazy, and we were too. There was a lot of manic dancing and running on the spot, bouncing up and down, never looking at each other. The buzz just kept growing and growing.
SUGGS: We’d played a few pubs and clubs and were getting better, but we were still a pretty naïve young band. However, earlier than God had intended, we were suddenly ‘the thing’. All of a sudden kids were wearing Harringtons and 2-Tone badges. There was a feeling that there was a phenomenon going on. One night, there was a queue of kids outside the Dublin Castle, a car pulled up and Johnny Rotten got out and said to every single person, ‘Are you for real? Are you for real? Are you for real?’ And all of a sudden, it was real.
AUGUST 4: Hope & Anchor
John Hasler doesn’t turn up tonight as his squatmate Barry has fled with the band’s £350 savings. Carl, Mike and a few friends track him down to Milton Keynes the next day. On August 7 – the day before Chris’ 23rd birthday – Barry pleads guilty and has to pay a £150 fine on top of returning the cash.
CARL: Because the pub stages were so small, and there were so many of us, we started jumping up and down, dancing, because there was no room to do anything more adventurous.
SUGGS: Playing on a Friday night, having all your friends down at a big party where you were the centre of attention, it was pretty amazing. We didn’t even think about one or two years, definitely not. We were all still working during the week and just thought, ‘This is it! We make fucking ten quid each and there’s a few birds turning up! We’ve made it!’ And then things just went on and on and on, way beyond our expectations. Way beyond.
AUGUST 10: Dublin Castle
Madness play a launch concert for the release of their first single, The Prince.
SUGGS: As clear as a bell, I can remember that it didn’t really matter what the public perception was. For me, success had already happened, getting a residency at The Dublin Castle, then seeing queues around the block. Being in the band and the fact that we were the best thing going was enough.
MIKE: Every week it got more and more crowded; there was sweat coming from the ceiling
SUGGS: It was so anarchic to the point of collapse. If it had gone up one more notch of adrenaline, the roof would have blown off the place.
AUGUST 10: The Prince released
2-Tone release The Prince/Madness (CHS TT3). The single later reaches No16 in the UK charts.
CHRIS: We were so excited. We really thought if it just cracked the Top 100, we’d have made it, we’d have left our mark forever. Little did we know.
MARK: I would have been pleased just to hear it played a couple of times by John Peel, even if it had plummeted into obscurity straight from there.
WOODY: We didn’t sound like anything that was in the charts at the time. Very kind of cheesy echo, it’s just so rough. I couldn’t believe it was being played so much.
CHRIS: The first time I heard it on the radio, I was walking past a building site on Holmes Road in Kentish Town and it was playing on a transistor. That sort of thing, it’s quite exciting. It got to number 16 and we were quite sort of happy with that: ‘We’re number 16 out of 100.’
LEE: I was painting a Victorian cast iron bed frame in Gospel Oak for an old girl who had just brought me up a strong cup of tea with those Rich Tea biscuits that would break up in your tea (you had to be really quick with the dunk). Yes, Madness came on my radio. The Prince was the single, but the flip side Madness was played by this particular DJ. Some DJs just have no taste.
SUGGS: I remember I was walking past some roadworks and I was so desperate to hear it I nearly fell in a hole. Just to hear your name mentioned on the radio – you never think it’s going to get much further than that. You think that’s enough. You get your first hit and you think, ‘Well that’s it.’ At least you can say for the rest of your life, ‘I made a record.’
MIKE: Having that connection right at that very moment, having that record out, who knows what would have happened otherwise, God only knows, we might not have got anywhere without that first single.
DAVE ROBINSON: Their first demo and it went to No16 in the charts. A demo! They’d never been in a studio, they knew nothing about nothing. And it goes to 16!
SUGGS: We made The Prince not thinking for a minute we’d ever do another song after it. Then it got to No16 and suddenly record companies were excited about Madness. No one could quite believe it.
EDWINA (Suggs’s mum): It wasn’t long before that Graham was talking about becoming a council gardener and I told him, ‘You’ve got no chance in the world of ever becoming a council gardener.’ Then the next thing I know they’ve got a record leaping up the charts and suddenly my 17-year-old boy is on his way to pop stardom. Lots of kids grow up in single-parent situations and it can go one of two ways – it can either go creatively or it can go very destructively. Thank God it went creatively for Graham and the people and friends that he had.
AUGUST 14: The Peel Sessions
With The Prince getting massive airplay, Madness record a live session for John Peel’s show, which is aired on Radio 1 on August 27. Mike takes the vocals for a slowed-down version of Bed & Breakfast Man while Lee turns loose in Land Of Hope And Glory, a Sergeant Major story based on his experiences at Chafford Approved School. All four songs are later released in 1986 as The Peel Sessions album.
Set: The Prince / Bed & Breakfast Man / Land Of Hope And Glory / Steppin’ Into Line.
SUGGS: It was a bit daunting doing that first session. But you’d come in from a gig the night before, have only four hours to record and off you’d go. Nothing better than having that total belief in what you’re doing – and no idea how to do it any other way. To be honest, we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. That’s why there’s a lot of confusion in Madness records. When you listen to them now, you’re hearing the angst of young men trying to express themselves, yet not being sure how.
AUGUST 15: Rock Garden, London
Madness play the first of a string of dates, mainly in London, to promote The Prince. Woody lends his drum kit to the support act, Swedish punks The Rude Boys, who couldn’t afford to bring their own.
Enter DAVE ROBINSON, aged 36
Originally a teenage photographer in Dublin, Robinson took pictures at the Cavern with the Beatles, and on the Rolling Stones’ first tour of Ireland. He briefly managed Van Morrison, and was Jimi Hendrix’s road and tour manager. He also did major US tours with Eric Burden & The Animals, and partied with The Grateful Dead, Janice Joplin and The Who. He then returned to London and managed a host of bands, before starting Stiff Records with Jake Riviera. Before long, their acts included The Damned, Elvis Costello, Jona Lewie and Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
DAVE ROBINSON: If you’re working class, you have four options: You can be a sportsman – like a footballer or boxer – a musician, a thief, or a drudge. I’d found that I was good at the kind of jobs that required people to talk and to be diplomatic and know what’s what. I’m a good talker. So I started out managing a few people, but running a record company is where the money is. It’s much more exciting, much more creative and much more ‘yours’ than managing someone. Stiff got a lot of promotion and publicity very quickly. I was always keen on people who wrote songs and who were connected to the ground.
SUGGS: Dave was trying to see us play live, but was getting married and couldn’t make the dates work, so in the end he just booked us to play his wedding.
DAVE ROBINSON: Several people had mentioned to me that here was a band I would probably like. Someone in the office said, ‘There’s this band that you should see. They’re on 2-Tone and they’re really quite good.’ I’d heard that Chrysalis had seen them seven or eight times and I thought to myself, ‘Well, it takes Chrysalis 11 or 12 times to make any decision.’ I tried to make several gigs but just didn’t have a chance to catch them. Then it just so happened that Rosemary and I were getting married in August and I was still wondering what music to do at the wedding. I knew there this was probably my only chance to see them live, so I thought, ‘Two birds, one stone’ and booked them.
BEDDERS: That’s Dave all over – very economical.
DAVE ROBINSON: They really wanted to meet Ian Dury, so we made sure we laid it on thick that he would be there – that was the carrot. It was just a rough idea and to my surprise they agreed.
BEDDERS: It was all a bit frantic and in his gruff old way he said, ‘I haven’t got time to see you play but I don’t want to send someone else down there.’ He did that great thing, which of course tempts all bands at that early stage, and got out some cash and said, ‘I’ll give you some money to play at the wedding.’ He gave us a hundred quid each – I think that’s what sold it to us.
DAVE ROBINSON: So we tied the two things together and we ended up kind of having them at the wedding and auditioning at the same time – or auditioning each other at the same time I should really say. My wife did not take too well to it; she was a bit iffy about me doing a bit of business at my own wedding.
AUGUST 17: Clarendon Ballroom, London
Madness play at Dave Robinson’s wedding reception. Guests include Stiff stars Ian Dury and Elvis Costello.
DAVE ROBINSON: I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been told they were a jumped-up copy of Kilburn & The High Roads, which made them sound rather interesting. What I didn’t know is they had an alternative agenda. They thought, ‘We’ll wind up this record executive. We’ll charge him handsomely, something like £400’. But it occurred to me that something like this might happen so I said before the off, ‘It’s great you’re here but if anybody causes any aggravation whatsoever I will personally kill them in full view of the guests. If my wife gets at all irritated by any action that you might be imagining, that won’t work.’ Reckless Eric had already groped some girl at the bar, and there was a bad scene, so I had to pull him into a back room too. My wife was saying. ‘What are you doing? You’re supposed to be getting married to me but you’re dealing with those bloody bands.’
MIKE: We came on in a long nutty train all round the room There was lots of nutty dancing – we played a good gig.
ANDY MURRAY (Stiff publicity officer): I was a bit intimidated when they did the nutty walk all the way through the crowd – they looked like a real hard bunch. However, they were a sensation.
DAVE ROBINSON: I remember thinking, ‘There are two singles here’, but one song in particular stood out for me. As soon as they launched into One Step Beyond, I wanted to sign them. I thought to myself: ‘God, that’s good. That’s a single straight away. And it would make a good album title.’ With every band, the problem is to try and find the first single that will do well and attract people’s attention but I’d already decided that this track was going to be the first single, even though it was just an instrumental with a few kind of shouts in it. So I was thinking this, and my wife was nudging me, saying, ‘Stop thinking about that.’
BEDDERS: We played pretty much the set we would have done at the Hope & Anchor or The Nashville. So it included not only The Prince and Madness but My Girl and most of what would later become our first album. In those days the songs were so short, it would all be over in half an hour. Carl was still working in Ashford at the time, so he came up and danced and did his thing.
SUGGS: I must admit to getting a bout of nerves when I spied a few familiar faces in the audience, most notably Elvis Costello and our great hero, Ian Dury. But I can still picture the shock on people’s faces when we started our set. Dave’s wife kept asking us, ‘Don’t you know any Hot Chocolate numbers?’ while we’re leaping about like lunatics. When we noticed Elvis was there, we jumped off the stage, grabbed him and got a big conga line going.
CHRIS: He was a hero of ours but we weren’t too intimidated by him, so we dragged him up on stage.
DAVE ROBINSON: I remember Carl jumping into the crowd and dragging a bewildered Elvis up to dance – not very much of a dancer, our Elvis. They didn’t play too well, but they had so much dash and this totally radical, very visual and exciting on-stage style.
BEDDERS: I think that was the qualifier for Dave. He said, ‘If Elvis is dancing then you must be doing something right.’
DAVE ROBINSON: That set the tone for the evening. You could see that everyone thought, ‘Well if he’s dancing…’
WOODY: We caused absolute mayhem, pandemonium, got everyone to dance, made sure that everyone was thoroughly embarrassed. Dave loved it.
DAVE ROBINSON: They were very, very good and I thought, ‘I’ve just got to have them.’
CARL: I think it was largely down to me and Lee dancing down into the crowd and making them all watch.
BEDDERS: I remember Carl cut his hand on something and he was dancing and we were looking down and started seeing these drops of blood on us and thinking, ‘Jesus, what’s happening?’ It was quite a weird experience really.
DAVE ROBINSON: Afterwards, they told me they’d only come along to take the piss. My wife also gave me hell, saying, ‘You haven’t spoken to me all night you’re up there watching the band.’ She still brings it up regularly because they were so good, I was listening to them instead of paying correct attention to what I was supposed to be up to.
LEE: It was all a bit whirlwind. I remember we were jumping off the stage and picking up Elvis and chatting to him onstage. He never came to see us again after that.
CHRIS: I remember we had this brilliant dressing room that had a two-tone carpet, with black and white squares. I said, ‘We should do a video in here’ so we shot Bed and Breakfast Man in the same room later.
DAVE ROBINSON: There were eight or nine A&R men from other companies there and none of them liked the band, which I thought was a good sign. I decided there and then that they were likely and signed them up as soon after as I could. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done it as it cold have been terrible, but I suppose I was in a state of euphoric chaos so it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I asked them about the short instrumental with the rant at the front, and arranged to see them the following week.
CHRIS: I think some of the Stiff people had seen us and didn’t like us because we weren’t musos. But Dave saw something in us.
CLIVE LANGER: Robbo just absolutely got it and signed them straight away.
BEDDERS: It was certainly the start of it – I think people from Stiff did come and see our gigs afterwards for a bit.
AUGUST 20 & 21: Hope & Anchor
Madness play a two-night stint at the Hope without Carl as the ska scene continues to gather attention from media, public and record companies.
So humid that even the walls are sweating and a heat haze hangs over the seven incredibly energetic performers. Odd mixed bunch, the audience; punks, students, Mods and skins, and they’re all dancing, in spite of the risk of annihilation by evaporation.
Robbi Millar, Sounds.
CHRIS: Generally me, Suggs and Mike would go and meet the record companies; it wouldn’t be all six of us. Some people, like Lee, weren’t interested at all.
SUGGS: In most cases, it was like a clichéd film of what record companies were like; all palm trees, a busty receptionist and a fella with his feet on the desk, smoking a big cigar.
DAVE ROBINSON: They had been around some of the other record companies. Richard Branson called up and offered double whatever Stiff would offer. I mean everyone had showed an interest.
CHRIS: We were on 2-Tone, we had a single in the Top 20, so everybody wanted us – everybody. But the way they manifested their interest was just disgusting. I was 23 and the youngest band member was probably 17 or 18, and we went to record companies and they said, ‘We’ll give you £250,000’ but we weren’t interested – it was just money that they were offering and we knew that we’d have to pay it back. I also didn’t like the way you had to wait in a reception area to see the assistant manager.
LEE: We went out to see several record companies because we were flavour of the month, what with the post-punk thing and The Specials and everything. We were taken out for lunches by magnets from Virgin, Chrysalis, Arista etc who said they’d do this and that for us.
SUGGS: These companies had all heard that we were supposed to be the next big thing but couldn’t see why or how. Most of them were full of shit.
BEDDERS: They were saying, ‘We’re not quite sure. We want you but would you go in and play some demos?’ We really just wanted to get cracking and make records.
CHRIS: The majors didn’t have a clue. We saw a guy at Chrysalis, who had the 2-Tone label, and he said to his secretary, ‘Have we got a copy of the Madness single?’ The Prince was in the Top 20 and he hadn’t even heard it – and he was going to give us £200,000! We weren’t impressed.
SUGGS: Other labels thought that what we were doing was really odd. They had more potted plants than A&R men. That’s why we didn’t want to sign to a major.
CARL: You could see us being shelved after six months if trends changed. Plus we didn’t want the bamboo offices and executive plants. Down-to-earth is what we were looking for – someone you could come in and talk to without feeling you were entering some weird environment.
CHRIS: Stiff stood out a mile because of their attitude – they didn’t try to hand us any bullshit. Plus their office in Alexander Street was like someone’s house, it was just brilliant. It was the antithesis of other record companies. Robbo was down-to-earth and he was the top guy. It wasn’t like we were meeting some A&R man.
BEDDERS: From our understanding at the time, you didn’t get to see the hierarchy of a record label, but with Stiff there was none of that. Dave was the head of the label and he would show up with the guy from the post room. There was that very democratic thing with Stiff.
DAVE ROBINSON: They’d had a few meetings and had got up to some high jinks and record company executives were a bit wary after the Sex Pistols. I assume they were thinking: ‘It’s probably a one-hit wonder on 2-Tone. Would it stretch?’
AUGUST 24: Eric's, Liverpool
Two months after their first alcohol-fuelled performance, Madness return on Mark’s 18th birthday. A successful evening is marred by a riot afterwards.
SUGGS: We only played outside London twice and got beaten up at both venues. Because there was a lot of Madness and we did take a few friends with us, there was often some feeling that we were coming to take the area: ‘We’re going to take fookin’ take your fookin’ pub over!’
AUGUST 25: Witcombe Lodge
Madness play near Cheltenham, supporting Pam Nestor, and are well received by the select audience that turns up.
MIKE: All of a sudden, we could do no wrong. From playing and rehearsing in my bedroom, pretty amateurishly, we suddenly got popular and were recording. We were just about competent enough to play in time and complete a song from the beginning to the end.
WOODY: My private life changed overnight – suddenly, complete strangers were greeting me like an old friend as I walked to the laundrette.
SUGGS: It was very strange when the success came as quickly as it did. We got a lot of kudos because of the cool attitude we had, but really we just didn’t know what the fuck was going on. It was that fear and inferiority complex that makes you all aggressive. We used to swagger around record companies thinking we knew what was what but we didn’t know anything.
AUGUST 26: The Lyceum
Madness are special guests on the March Of The Mods Tour, which combines Britain’s two biggest crazes – ska and Mods – the latter revived by the recent Qudrophenia movie. The band play in front of 2,000 people, along with Secret Affair, The Selecter, Purple Hearts and Back To Zero.
SUGGS: We were supposed to go second on the bill but when we turned up we saw on the posters that we were fourth. I shall never forget leaning over the balcony to see our promoter John Curd stride in the direction of the March of the Mods tour manager, raise a huge rubber torch and accidentally drop it on his head. The tour manager fell to his knees and the next thing we were back second on the bill.
BEDDERS (speaking in 1979): Competition is a good thing, it keeps you on your toes. Its good to feel that what we started with has produced a whole new crop of bands and some of them are very good, like The Selecter.
WOODY (speaking in 1979): We’re all mates, but it’s like a friendly rivalry. We kid each other about who’s going to have the biggest hit, but it’s also an incentive to make better records.
MIKE (speaking in 1979): No it’s not. We all hate each other.
DAVE WAKELING (The Beat): We saw a double-page spread in the Melody Maker about The Specials. Our bass player, David (Steele), brought the paper in and threw it on the floor and said, ‘Fuck, it’s too late! Somebody else is doing it!’ It was a huge disappointment, I’ll be honest. But as it turned out, everybody had got a slightly different angle on it anyway. Y’know, we were trying to mix the energy of punk with the hypnotic vibe of reggae into the same three-minute song. We wanted to get one sound going, which took us a long time. And Madness had got, like, more of a mixing of ska with a pop kind of edge on it. Classic 60s pop is always what I think of for them. And The Specials had some of the punk side and a reggae side that lent to each a bit of flavour, but the songs were quite different from each other. We were trying to get the Velvet Underground meets Toots & the Maytals with the blues down. That was the aim.
AUGUST 27: John Peel session is broadcast
AUGUST 31: Nashville Rooms
Madness play their first headlining show at the Nashville, supported by The Vapors and Working Boys. With hardly any space to dance, Mike is almost flattened during Madness.
SUGGS: There was a certain naivety, but there was also a kind of ‘fuck you’ thing, a certain working classness in that we had nothing to prove: ‘Yes, we live in London and yes, we live among real people and yes, some of them happen to be glue-sniffing skinheads with swastikas on their foreheads and they’re just unfortunate caricatures.’ If people didn’t know what we stood for then they could fuck off.
SEPTEMBER 1: Factory Club, Manchester
Madness’s first concert in Manchester fails to sell out and is marred by poor sound quality. Afterwards the band fight with troublemakers in the audience. Mike and Suggs also have their own things to sort out regarding the use of the vans. Consequently, half of the band stay behind for the rest of the night.
SEPTEMBER 3: Madness sign to Stiff Records
DAVE ROBINSON: They came to the office and we had a big meeting in the pub and they agreed that it would be the right record label. They were very influenced by the fact that we had Ian Dury, who they were very fond of, so we got things going. We got along very well and it seemed really easy.
CHRIS: Dave took us to the pub next door and spoke to us realistically… he understood what we were doing and had plans for us. All the other companies just wanted a ‘ska’ band because they were currently hip – they were prepared to sign anyone playing ska. But Dave saw how we could develop. He was like a father to us.
DAVE ROBINSON: They were my kind of people. We had a great affinity straight away. It was remarkable. The company was doing well, we were making the right noises with nebulous records which nobody else could have really delivered so my ego was soaring. But I knew them intimately. There was Irish blood there, a vibe, they were all ducking and diving, and I was stressing this as a partnership big time, that we’re all in this together.
LEE: Dave had just split from his Stiff business partner, Jake Riveiera, who’d taken half the bands, so it was all a bit up in the air. But he took us to a pub, where we had half a pint of beer and a pork pie; it was all very relaxed and enjoyable. What swung it for us was that he promised us complete artistic control; we could look how we wanted. He said, ‘We’re not going to dress you up in tartan trousers, or have you standing like this or looking like that.’ So I think that’s what clinched it with all the band. We got on fantastically well with all the acts there and particularly Ian Dury. It was one big happy family… in an igloo.
DAVE ROBINSON: It was a very functional meeting but it was a great start. And of course we ended up having more fun together than most record companies and bands do.
CARL: We liked the fact that Elvis Costello had been on the label. We just thought it was a fantastic stable to be in – we felt that things had vitality.
SUGGS: Stiff seemed the obvious choice as they had Ian Dury. All the rest were shit-bags. Stiff were the most interesting label at that time.
BEDDERS: It wasn’t such a big step from 2-Tone to kind of the same idea. They were like-minded people and like-minded bands tended to congregate on that label.
WOODY: We didn’t trust anybody – we didn’t trust Dave, we didn’t trust anyone. But we had to make a decision and he was the one person who seemed to make any sense. I think he knew what we were about.
SUGGS: Dave had great energy and he also had a vision. He said, ‘Look, I think you should just get in the studio and make an album.’ And that was what we really wanted to hear.
DAVE ROBINSON: I said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And they said, ‘We want to make a record as soon as possible, we’ve got all the songs.’ I said, ‘Who do you want to produce it?’ And they said, ‘Clive Langer.’ So in between talking to them, I was buying them pints then nipping back to the office. I booked Eden Studios for two weeks hence. I called Clive on the phone and said, ‘You want to produce these boys but you need a good engineer. What about Alan Winstanley?’ Clive said, ‘Yeah, good idea.’ I went back in and said, ‘I’ve booked the studio and your producer, we’re ready to go Monday week.’ They said, ‘Oh fuck, that’s what we thought it might be like’.
CHRIS: Stiff were definitely the best of a bad bunch. All these labels were after us purely because it was the ‘in’ thing. You know how it happens. Say you get a group like Tears For Fears and everybody’s after groups like them. That’s what it was. They were offering us lots of money but they didn’t have a clue of what we were about. Dave talked a lot of sense. He didn’t think we were just one-hit wonders and could see we were a more than this summer’s fad.
BEDDERS: After doing the rounds and seeing various companies, the thing about Dave was, it was his company – there you were talking to the man who owned the company. So it wasn’t like this week you go to see somebody on the 5th floor and next week somebody on the 7th floor and so on. We could go straight to the man who made it all happen, and wouldn’t be lost in a maze of 200 bands on the same label.
DAVE ROBINSON: Obviously, the point that you make is that you’re a small record company so they can talk to you, they don’t have to talk to anybody else.
MIKE: Dave was down to earth and practical and for that reason he impressed us. And of course, he went on to have a pretty pivotal role. He picked all the singles and gave direction. We had a few rows, of course, but he captured what we had without ever trying to dictate it, although he was pretty conniving, which was good. You’d say no to things and he’d do them anyway.
DAVE ROBINSON: All the kind of things we represented as a record label at the time and that I personally liked were in the script, so it was like manna from heaven. They were the stuff dreams are made of. To find a group where they all wrote, with some really standout songs, was good enough. But I had the feeling that here was a band really typifying a certain element of London society, kind of a folk ethos, which is why they became such a part of people’s real lives. They were also very naive in an awful lot of ways. It was a mentor/whippersnapper relationship, and they loved to piss me about.
SUGGS: It wasn’t that we were ungrateful to 2-Tone or anything – we probably owed most of our success to The Specials. It was just that we couldn’t stay under their wing forever. We had to break out on our own, develop our own style. The deal with 2-Tone was a one-single deal, that was it. We were the first people on 2-Tone besides the Specials, and at first it never looked like it was going to go anywhere. By the time everybody realized it was a hot property and Chrysalis said they’d let us do an album, we’d already signed to Stiff.
LEE: 2-Tone weren’t geared towards making albums, and that’s really what we wanted to do. We had seven songwriters in the band and everyone wanted to get their stuff heard. If we stayed, it would have used up too much of the label’s resources, so we had to find somewhere else.
DAVE ROBINSON: Although 2-Tone was kinda happening, Madness were reasonably unique because they had a sense of humour along with very good ska songs, and I’ve always liked bands with humour. The public like humour and if a band is genuinely amusing they stick in the mind. They were seen as slightly rude boys who wouldn’t last five minutes or would end up in jail, but there was also very much a sense of consciousness about them. The Specials being from Coventry and the other bands from Birmingham and around there, they would be the only London ska band. Camden Town was also very close to me – I had an office there at one point so I was thinking about them.
SUGGS: We were privileged enough to be offered a deal with 2-Tone and see that whole thing unfold before our eyes. Then to bump into Dave who had this house for misfits – Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric. It was just the perfect place for Madness; it couldn’t have been anywhere else. We could stay at 2-Tone and falsely remain as a ska band, which we weren’t entirely, or go to Stiff which was equally independent and maverick and free. Stiff took bands that other record companies didn’t know what to do with – they saw our potential.
CARL: We settled on Stiff because they reminded us of 2-Tone, it was a label run by people who were passionate about the music.
DAVE ROBINSON: The Beatles were folk music of Liverpool, certainly in the beginning. I always saw Madness as being folk music of London, irrespective of the ska rhythms.
BEDDERS: As we had a lawyer, there was a bit of playing off a couple of companies against each other and I think that Dave always says that we ‘did’ him. At the very last minute, the lawyer threw in the classic lawyer tactic of saying, ‘Right Dave, I think they want to sign, but just come in with…’ I can’t actually remember the formal details of the deal, but one thing I do remember which appealed to us was that Dave had a plan of when to put the record out and he practically gave us a date straight away.
SUGGS: I think we got about £250 each; maybe a bit more.
CHRIS: He said, ‘OK, I’ll give you £10,000 just so you can all give your jobs up.’ I was working at the Post Office and I went sick or something indefinitely. Some time later they wrote me a letter saying I owed them money.
BEDDERS: It was the start of a fantastic relationship. Even though Dave was maddening and would be pressing records before we’d even heard them, his enthusiasm was brilliant. He’d just say, ‘That’s a hit. Let’s go for it.’ He was always willing to give things a go.
DAVE ROBINSON: Straight way, I could tell Barson was the big noise. All bands have a kind of hierarchy and there’s usually one person who controls the group, usually a musical person. In this case it was Mike so I got close as I could to him very quickly – although he didn’t want to get too close. I found out he was a Taurean like me and I know how Tauruses work. I thought, ‘I’ve got to flatter here, also not have any bullshit, be direct, get him on my side’. He was a very suspicious individual; always thought you had some kind of ulterior motive, so you had to say, ‘Look I think this would be good for the band.’ The rest of them didn’t quite know what was happening and were all floating around. Mike was always the one asking the questions.
SEPTEMBER 5: Dingwalls, London
Madness play back The Prince in the afternoon for Top of the Pops before being supported by King Sound and The Israelites
at Dingwalls. The band ask The Specials, currently working on their self-titled debut album, if they can use their PA for the show.
The set includes: Night Boat To Cairo / Rockin in Ab / Mummy’s Boy / Madness / The Prince. Encore: Shop Around..
Personal favourites were the mysterious Night Boat To Cairo and a spirited Rockin’ In Ab, which proved without doubt that they are capable of rocking and rolling as well as rock steady. The Flasher, Mummy’s Boy… the list of superb songs is endless (almost). They finished with Madness and The Prince and encored with an exhilarating version of Shoparound. The show was a killer, but trying to analyse it move by move is difficult. How does one analyse fun?
SEPTEMBER 6: Appear on Top Of The Pops with The Prince
WOODY: Going on Top of the Pops was just brilliant.
LEE: It was great – but no different than playing in the pub down the road.
CHRIS: Suggs bought a purple suit for the occasion and Chalky and Toks gave him the nickname ‘Coco’ because of the colour; ie Coco the Clown.
SUGGS: We were very, very excitable and had all come down for high-jinx at the subsidised BBC bar, only to bump into Woody’s mum, Annie, who was the floor manager. Of all the people in authority! So we did behave ourselves, I believe, on that occasion.
CHRIS: I think a lot of the other acts were pre-recorded or video. I can’t really remember any of them to tell the truth, although I do remember we were watching the Crusaders. I think they kept us in a dark room until we were due onstage.
CARL: When you start rehearsing in a cellar somewhere under a dentist’s you never expect in a million years that you’ll release a record, that it’ll sell, and that one day you’ll be on Top of the Pops.
WOODY: For me it was being in the same studio as Stix Hooper from the Crusaders. I remember telling Randy Crawford that he was a hero of mine and had all of the Crusaders albums. She was very nice, and agreed Stix was a great drummer. The Rutz were really friendly too, especially Malcolm the singer.
CHRIS: I was getting bored sitting in the dressing room and they said: ‘Do you want make-up?’ So I said: ‘Yes’. I sat in the chair and said, ‘Can you make me look as young as Cliff Richards?’ You’ll never guess who was sitting in the next chair… Rod Stewart! No, it was Cliff himself. I asked him, ‘When are you on?’ and he replied, ‘I’m closing the show’. What a pro. Top of the bill y’see.
BEDDERS: I remember Lee was wearing this fantastic double-breasted suit and a bow tie. He came up to me before we went on and said, ‘Is it working?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you look great.’ He said, ‘No, is it working?’ And he flicked a button in his pocket and the bow tie lit up. He was a performer right from the start – and he’s never changed.
LEE: I remember thinking that the studio was tiny, contrary to what came across on the screen.
CHRIS: Yeah, that struck me too. They used some sort of slight wide-angle lens to give it a very slight fish eye effect and make everything look larger. When I watched it at home I thought, ‘Wow it looks really big in that studio.’
BEDDERS: When you’re that age, you just get taken along in the tide of it all, ‘Oh look you’re on TV’. I think it helped my mum and dad to see me on TV.
MIKE: Suddenly being on Top Of The Pops and in the Hit Parade… that was unbelievable. We were a bunch of nobodies living in nowhere land and suddenly we were on the telly. Fantastic.
CARL: We knew we’d made it then. I was glued to that programme every week as a kid watching Gary Glitter, Marc Bolan and The Sweet. I was proud to be on there.
SUGGS: At the start, I had a little plastic saxophone that fell out of my pocket. Lee picked it up and still has it to this day.
EDWINA (Suggs’s mum): I remember sitting watching this boy of mine on Top Of The Pops with a neighbour and I’m clutching a cushion to me. He had a little toy trumpet in his top pocket and he’s dancing about and it fell out, and I knew that he was so nervous. It’s amazing. He was talking about becoming a council gardener and then the next thing I know, they’ve got a record leaping up the charts. It gave him a direction, a purpose, a family.
ROB DICKINS: Top Of The Pops used to be recorded on one day and shown the next. And one of the moments in my career I always think of was when the band came round my flat and were all lying on the floor watching themselves on TV. I thought, ‘We did that; this little band of people in this room’. One of those snapshot moments you have in your career – something special.
CHRIS: We didn’t film a video for the song because it was on 2-Tone and, erm, they hadn’t been invented yet. So when we later did Complete Madness – the first of many video compilations – we didn’t have a clip for this song. I suggested buying the footage from Top of the Pops, so we bought the rights to this first TV performance and used that instead.
SEPTEMBER 8: Friars, Aylesbury
Almost two weeks after the ska/Mod gig, Madness support Secret Affair again, along with The Stowaways and Suire. Carl arrives late because he misses the train and learns that the band are playing One Step Beyond without his intro, much to the crowd’s displeasure. He receives a hero’s welcome and get the opportunity to announce it during the reprise.
CHRIS: I remember that gig at the Friars – Carl wasn’t there and he came up on the train late.
BEDDERS: We’d done One Step Beyond without his intro and we could see the crowd going, ‘Bah! Pathetic!’ Then he arrived, messiah-like.
CARL: It had started like a damp squib and there was no vibe. Then the crowd parted like the Red Sea, I walked up, got on stage, Yab yab yab yab – boom! And everyone went, ‘Fucking hell!’
BEDDERS: That was the first night we realised that Carl was more than just a bloke who came on to dance.
CHRIS: He came through the audience like ‘ONE STEP BEYOND!’ And then we couldn’t afford not to have him, because he was so good. Before that, he’d just been a mate.
SUGGS: Carl turned up in a Johnson’s suit with a blue pork-pie hat and it went completely fucking mad. We blew the place apart. You thought, ‘Fuck! This could really happen now.’
CARL: It was finally recognised that I was a vital member of the band but it had been quite weird for me psychologically. I must admit – I was quite paranoid about not being in the band proper. I think that was reflected in my performances – the tension I was experiencing and how much I was trying. I knew I wanted to be in the band so I fought to get in there. Those opening words started a fashion, a craze, a way of life.
DAVE ROBINSON: It had never occurred to me that he wasn’t in the group because I didn’t know all the ins and outs. To my mind, he was a member. We’d signed the agreement – and, of course, he didn’t sign it. So I said, ‘What about your man, the MC?’ They said, ‘Oh, he’s not in the band.’ I didn’t even realise until later that he’d briefly been the bass player before being shoved out.
CARL: Initially I was really insecure. I felt that I threatened Suggs and he felt threatened by my presence, but we resolved it and joined forces and decided we were gonna sink or swim together.
SUGGS: It was a funny period. Carl was a member of the band, but he wasn’t really involved with anybody else – particularly me, because we’re both singers. We talked about it between ourselves, and it must have been strange for him; I think he felt he was sort of outside us, yet felt changing that would be pushing me out. He didn’t push his position because he didn’t know what it was. But we decided that whoever had the right thing, be it words or music or singing, we’d do whatever seemed right.
CARL: Some of the band were a bit reluctant about me joining. I remember being in a cafe with Lee and Mike and our girlfriends. I mentioned something about being made a band member, and Lee said, ‘Well, six goes further than seven’. I was fucking devastated. I cried – I’d have done it for nothing. I loved it. The success and money wasn’t my motivation. But kids can be cruel.
DAVE ROBINSON: They wanted to keep him kind of fringe, or they seemed to think that would be the best thing, and I said it wouldn’t work long-term. He was the spirit of the group; he was a Rude Boy.
CARL: The way I looked at it, I was the physical representation of what was being expressed musically.
KERSTIN RODGERS: Carl was basically the Robbie Williams – a brilliant dancer, good looking, tons of charisma. Everybody would be looking at him, even when he was in the audience. In the end, it made sense to have him onstage.
DAVE ROBINSON: I actually had him made a member. I thought it was important because he had a large part to play aside from the opening rant on One Step Beyond. I spoke to Mike because he was the leader of the band, but he wasn’t that keen. He said, ‘Well he doesn’t come to every gig. He just comes to gigs he fancies’. I said, ‘You have to have him in there, it would be terrible not to have him because he’s such a crowd pleaser’. And of course he went on to write Our House and some other big tunes for them.
CARL: Although they didn’t want me at the start, they had to have me. Really, it was the legal team and the record label saying, ‘You’ve got to make him a member.’ A lawyer suggested it would be preferable to make me a full-time part of the group.
SEPTEMBER 9: Nashville Rooms
As on September 5, Madness borrow The Specials’ PA for their last show of September, supported by Beatty. After the show they start work on their debut album with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. After two weeks’ recording at TW studios, a third week is spent mixing the album at Genetic Sound, near Reading, which is owned by Winstanley and Martin Rushent,
CHRIS: We weren’t mugs – we wanted to get an album out right away.
BEDDERS: We really wanted to do it with 2-Tone but The Specials only had money enough to do their own album.
DAVE ROBINSON: We chucked them into the studio straight away because it was a big buzz for them and they had a lot of material.
BEDDERS: Going in to the studio, we were nerveless. We really had the songs down from playing them live so we didn’t go in for any timewasting or noodling. Alan and Clive made important contributions. Alan was very adept technically and Clive had a musically interesting and empathetic mind. They were an excellent combination.
CLIVE LANGER: One Step Beyond was the first album I ever produced. I’d never planned to be a producer – I was just a bloke in a band that had made a few albums and knew a bit. But I helped with the demo for The Prince and Robbo started to believe that’s what I was, so suddenly I was put on a rollercoaster. I kind of knew the process because I’d worked with Alan but I couldn’t engineer and certainly needed help with that side of things.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: I’d already been doing bits and pieces for Stiff, so Robbo originally had me in mind to be the producer but the band wanted Clive for that, so I came in to help engineer things instead. It all worked out well.
CLIVE LANGER: Compared to the band, I knew a lot, but compared to most producers I probably didn’t know anything. But I got on with them really well because I wasn’t a studio boffin; I was a musician and could talk their language.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: The boys themselves worked really hard. It was serious for them – it was their first album.
CHRIS: It was so enjoyable. We were all in the studio all the time. Even when other people were doing their bits, we’d all be there.
SUGGS: We’d been rehearsing and playing for a couple of years, so we had a set of about 15 or 20 songs and knew what would be on the album. Then Clive came down to rehearsal and said, ‘Well these are the ones that I think should on it.’ We argued about it a bit, but it was pretty much ready to go.
CHRIS: We didn’t write anything especially for the album – it was all the songs we were doing live. We’d done the single already, so recording wasn’t a mystery to us, we knew that you go in and play the songs to the best of your ability. It was quite a breeze to do – the only album where we are all in the room together playing.
BEDDERS: It was an assembly of all our influences, which weren’t all 2-Tone or early ska and reggae. We know from what we’d written that there would be pop songs on it.
SUGGS: Because we’d been doing it for a log time, we actually spent very little time in the studio. We recorded it live, did about three songs a day, and it ended up resonating more than any other of our albums ever did.
DAVE ROBINSON: They knew I was quite an interfering individual, so part of the deal was that I wouldn’t go to the studio. They made me agree because they were aware that I was prone to fiddle with people’s music. They were straightforward about it.
CLIVE LANGER: We did the whole album in three weeks, working around the clock, rehearsing and recording. None of us had any money, but the enthusiasm and excitement was overwhelming.
WOODY: I remember Clive stripped my drumming down even more to give the music extra space.
BEDDERS: My memories of making it are mixed. From the rat-like existence of being caged by studio screens to keep the sound in, and me from getting out, to re-recording a lot of my bass parts when I was very ill. Clive believed my playing sounded better when I was close to collapse. Did this mean I had to be sick for every album?
LEE: I don’t recall much of the One Step Beyond period, as I had just taken up drinking and everything was a bit whirlwind-like. One day, I’d be down the Hope & Anchor watching a band, the next in New York watching a native stirring Southern Comfort with his bell-end.
SUGGS: It was a lot of fun. Those songs still resonate because we recorded the atmosphere of the room. I don’t think we could play that naïvely and have that much fun again.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: During the sessions, Clive turned to me and said, ‘This feels like something special doesn’t it?’
MIKE: We’d been playing the songs a lot for two years, 1-2-3-4, no fiddling around, so the work had been done already in gigs and rehearsals. We just whacked it out and had two weeks completely in Clive’s hands. Because we’d already been playing those songs, things worked really quickly in the studio. In total it only took us three weeks to finish all the recording, mixing, artwork and cover.
CLIVE LANGER: One challenge we had was to fit all seven members of the band on the record. As a producer, your first inclination is to take things out. Some tracks, for instance, might sound fine with just piano and bass, or lots of tracks don’t really need a saxophone or guitar. But it became clear, very early on, that every song had to have all the members of the band on it, otherwise it wouldn’t be a Madness song. Every song is stamped with each member’s personality.
WOODY: It was amazing. I remember recording Tarzan’s Nuts with Robbo’s face peering in at us from the control room of Eden Studios… bacon being slipped into my breakfast by Chrissy Boy in the cafe down the road… and learning how a song sounds better with fewer or no fills. Clive tried to get me to hit the bass drum hard, cut out the rolls. The adrenalin and the nerves were unbearable and when that red light went on, I was just relieved to get to the end. The snare was horrible to play, all papery. But it sounded brilliant on record: really crisp and punchy.
LEE: Alan used to look us sort of side-on, as if to dodge something. Clive had been into the 2-Tone session, and was now accepted into the gang… or so he felt. ‘The sax sounds great, Lee.’ Bollocks, it sounds like it’s being blown through a sock; it sounds out there on its own. Anyway, we could always quadruple track it.
CHRIS: I can’t remember much about it, except doing the guitar solo on Rockin’ In Ab with our publisher, Rob Dickens, shouting encouragement. The songs contained on it were the bulk of our set at the time, so we knew them inside out. At the time, I used to sing Bed and Breakfast Man and expected to sing on the album, but Suggs put in a performance that surpassed mine. Mike had sung My Girl up to then too, but was also replaced.
LEE: It was good fun – in and out. Alan and Clive were grateful that there was a glass barrier between us and them because when I had to redo a part, I would scream obscenities. I also remember walking up and down the brand new wooden floor at Rushent Mansion with 6″ nails taped to my soles to give Land of Hope and Glory that hobnail boot of authority sound, and ruining the floor.
SUGGS: The Specials had just finished an album in the same studio and there were bits of tape lying around. So we looped them into the reel-to-reels and crowded round the speakers to hear what their album sounded like.
CLIVE LANGER: When we listened to it, we thought, ‘Oh blimey, that sounds a bit good.’ There was definitely a healthy competitiveness there.
SUGGS: Although it was friendly, we were absolutely trying to make an album that was better than theirs.
CHRIS: We were just checking out the competition, but not in a sneaky way.
SUGGS: Of course we were checking each other out. John Bradbury [Specials drummer] used to get these amazing rimshot sounds, and I remember asking him how, and he said, ‘It’s the way I fucking play it, it wasn’t the way it was fucking recorded.’
CLIVE LANGER: We were creating fashion and following fashion. As with most bands, we were looking over our shoulders to see what The Jam and Elvis Costello and The Specials were all doing, just checking out everything at home while being influenced by American records.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: While I engineered, Clive would get more involved with the songs’ arrangements and we’d meet somewhere in the middle. Both of us worked on getting the performance, and that was probably one of our strengths – one could walk out of the room and the other could carry on, even with vocals. No one was in charge, we just took it in turns. In fact, when someone was singing, we were usually both there, so it was pretty equal, and then when it came to the vocal comping I would do that on my own. We were both also there for the other instruments, but if at some point one of us wanted to bugger off for a half-hour break because things were getting intense, that’s what would happen; one of us could leave the control room while the other carried on alone. Still, 95 per cent of the time or more, we were in there together.
CLIVE LANGER: At the time of doing Madness we were kind of flying along together. Alan’s very precise and very particular, and I’m more slapdash and in a hurry and probably tend to like rougher-sounding records. That’s a generalisation, because in the end we do like the same records, but sometimes the whole process with Alan can be laborious for me. He normally does the vocal comps whereas I’ll do a lot more work in the rehearsal room on the arrangements, deciding what instruments should play what where, how long the chorus should be and things like that. Still, we’ve got on fine considering how long we’ve worked together.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: We’ve had our arguments. Early on we’d both argue our point, but as you grow older and a bit longer in the tooth you tend to think ‘Oh, bollocks. Whatever.’ In the early days, if either of us really felt strongly about something we would stick up for it, and sometimes we might even try something both ways. Neither of us was too proud to say ‘OK, yeah, your idea is better.’ So, it always worked out in the end.
CHRIS: The album was mixed by Clive and Alan while we entertained the masses on tour.
SUGGS: It ended up being a great album with great songs, and the production is really clear. Not naïve – but not overly sophisticated.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: Lee’s sax was the one wildcard. He didn’t realise that the sax was a transposing instrument, so when the rest of the band were playing in C, he had to play in B-flat. It’s why he was never quite on the note and always sounded slightly out of tune.
CLIVE LANGER: He’d never been taught what to do, so to try and get the notes right he was over-compensating by pulling his mouthpiece out, loosening the reed and over blowing wildly.
WOODY: I remember Lee constantly struggling with tuning. He was always pulling the reed off the end of his sax to get the right tuning.
LEE: I never realised that to tune the saxophone you had to move the mouthpiece – and I was moving it in the wrong direction. You’ll never hear a sound like that ever again.
CLIVE LANGER: To get him back in tune, we ran his tracks through a Harmonizer. It was a really good effect, like David Bowie’s sax playing – out of tune but full of character.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: Since it was such an identifiable part of the Madness sound, we didn’t even consider getting in a session guy to play those parts. It was all part of the charm.
CLIVE LANGER: We found that whole aspect of Madness very exciting. We wanted to keep that old pub vibe, basing what we were doing on things like Thunderclap Newman’s Something In The Air, while also going in for the whole German cabaret feel.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: It’s why we deliberately wanted the piano to also sound out of tune to get that Madness honky-tonk sound. Clive and I soon developed a talent for making a £20,000 Steinway sound like a beaten-up piano.
CLIVE LANGER: We occasionally put thumb tacks on the piano hammers to make it sound even brighter. But don’t tell anyone from the studio that.
SEPTEMBER 19: Top of the Pops
Madness interrupt recording sessions to play back The Prince again. Chris makes a comment in Lee’s ear during the sax solo close-up, which makes him visibly laugh while miming the song. The song is aired the following night. Woody’s mum worked in the BBC studios for Top Of the Pops at the time, so was transferred to another department so that there would be no perceived bias.
WOODY: It was the done thing, y’know: ‘This is a bit rich: Annie Ogden’s the floor manager and here’s her son on the show.’ So mum was moved to Play School and Dad’s Army. Later, people were always saying, ‘I know your mum’… David Bowie … Mick Box from Uriah Heep, out in the middle of America.
SUGGS: My daughters look back now and say that I look so little, but I was only 18 when we first went on TV. When I think about it, I was just a kid; we were all just kids. But saying that, I felt I’d had a pretty sort of accelerated existence by that age. I grew up really fast so I felt quite old by that time. I was used to big characters, and I was already infused with some of that. And I remember very clearly the pace of dialogue and the pace of life in London – you had to be quick on your toes.
OCTOBER 2: Warwick University
On the same day as The Prince peaks at No16, Madness start a 10-day UK tour as a warm-up for the forthcoming 2-Tone tour. Dave Robinson recruits experienced road manager John ‘Kelloggs’ Kalinowski to take care of things on tour.
DAVE ROBINSON: Kellogs had been a tour manager for everybody. He knew his way around the tours which the Nutty Boys didn’t know anything about. They didn’t know about an awful lot. I was amazed how naïve they were – very streetwise but naïve about the business.
WOODY: We certainly had a great sense of naïvety of what the music business and the world in general was all about.
BEDDERS: We were literally just pushed forward on a big wave – we didn’t have much time to think about anything.
DAVE ROBINSON: Kellogs didn’t gel with them. They’re quite shrewd guys. They don’t take bullshit from anybody, they’re always thinking, ‘What’s happening?’ They were like me – they didn’t like the majors, they didn’t like authority. That’s one of the reasons maybe I got on with them in the first place.
KELLOGGS: I had been tour manager for the Be Stiff ‘train’ tour in 1978. After that, Robbo gave me a job as in-house tour coordinator for all these various acts. I knew something about Madness, then he said, ‘You can take care of these guys as well’. ‘Well, wait a minute, I’m much too busy. I can’t possibly.’ And I was! To be honest, I was a bit frightened of what I knew to be seven likely lads from Camden Town. ‘Oh God, no, I can’t deal with this!’ Their roadies, Chalky and Toks, were sweet as anything but I was a professional guy and they weren’t. Madness had their mates as roadies and they drove me crazy because they just wanted to hang out with the band. It was demanding physically and you had to be inventive about what you did, dealing with situations as they came up. They were fantastic, as it turned out, but I found them initially quite difficult.
SUGGS: We were a bunch of wild kids going through a frenetic series of changes, and Kelloggs was a proper old hippy with deep rock ‘n’ roll experience. On paper it shouldn’t have worked, but it turned out to be a great combination because we respected him and he was tolerant enough to let us get on with it.
CHRIS: In the end, we got to quite like him because he knew stuff. He seemed quite aggressive but he was a hippy really.
OCTOBER 4: Brannigan's, Leeds
The band play their second warm-update, supported by News.
CHRIS: The best tour we did was that first major UK tour, just before the 2-Tone Tour, so we weren’t that well known. Those early days were my favourite time, when it was just a few of us in a mini van whizzing up and down the country without a care in the world. It will never be like that again – it’s the naievety of it all.
SUGGS: The big change came when we got a deal, then we had to commit to something – it was no longer a hobby. But there’s nothing to regret. It was brilliant fun. We just did something inadvertently about community and family and getting on together. We weren’t going to wait for someone to stick us on a TV talent show. We just wanted to be out there having fun and I think we did. We kind of grew up together and shared this whole rollercoaster experience. It was like some mad social experiment. It wasn’t just a band – it was an education, my upbringing, the way I am.
OCTOBER 5: Porterhouse, Retford
Lee celebrates his 22nd birthday and the band enjoy a party afterwards.
CHRIS: We met the owner Sammy Jackson who was a bit of a character and a North London boy as well. We had a lock-in drinking session in his club and he played a great trick on Suggs and Chas by filling a tray with water and placing it on a table. He then got two matchsticks and floated them in the water. He then asked Suggs and Chas to blow the matches towards each other. As they bent down a barmaid slapped a tea towel in the water, soaking them both.
OCTOBER 6: Huddersfield Polytechnic
In the afternoon, Madness start taping footage for a video for Bed & Breakfast Man, originally intended as the second single. The film crew’s van ends up trashed.
CHRIS: Trouble hit the tour as ‘fans’ from Middlesbrough caused a riot because they were refused entry. We were travelling in two Ford Transit vans. One contained Chuck Stadler who was an American video maker who we liked for his work with Devo. He was filming for the One Step Beyond video as the tour progressed. Our van and the one belonging to the film crew ended up with smashed windows and slashed tyres. I tried to fix the windows with cardboard and gaffer tape which looked secure until we drove off and it all blew out, leaving us with a freezing and long journey home.
SUGGS: We were driving round in a van with no windows, being chased out of universities in Leeds. For a period you’re thinking, ‘What is the point of all this?’
OCTOBER 8: Oldham Civic Hall
During the security checks, a lot of weapons are confiscated by staff.
CARL: We had some hard gigs in those early days – people chucking bottles and all that. A lot of kids from Kings Cross squats used to come. They were all on Tuinols and other downers – real no-hopers. At three in the morning you’d see loads of kids out on the street out of their heads. Most of the people we knew there were skins: they used to get busted all the time. A mate of ours from there worked with us a bit, but then he got into smack.
SUGGS: Being the band we were and the kind of fans that we attracted, we weren’t anarchists but we were attracting the underclass in those days. And you’d see real deprivation – kids who couldn’t afford to come to the concert so would just stand outside in the rain.
CARL: Although we were quite humorous in those early days, there was a harder edge to the fans and the whole thing. The early gigs were quite heavy – there was a vibe in the air. In hindsight, it was quite good, cos if you can get through that, you can get through anything. Three thousand skinheads baying for blood at a concert. It’s like, wow! Difficult times in the sense of the audience being a bit over the top.
BEDDERS: At that time, there were lots of fights at everyone’s gigs – it wasn’t confined to just us particularly. The punk thing had been occasionally violent too.
SUGGS: Those early gigs were rough times, we had to break up fights in the audience and jump off stage. There was stage invasions, stages collapsing, local rivalries. You had the Bridlington mods versus the Bridlington skins. Every fucking gig was just chaos.
OCTOBER 9: The Limit, Sheffield
KELLOGGS: I remember a trick being played on me around that time. I had been driving the van and had got out to seek some directions. Somebody got into the driving seat and drove away, leaving me in the middle of the night standing there. Antics were high, all the time.
OCTOBER 10: Nottingham University
Madness support Merton Parkas, Mick Talbot’s first band before joining Paul Weller in The Style Council.
OCTOBER 11: Hull University
OCTOBER 12: Electric Ballroom, Camden
Madness headline the Ballroom for the first time, supported by Bad Manners and Echo and the Bunnymen. Apart from skinheads and other ska fans, the band’s music and image also appeal to neo-Nazis who bring violence to some gigs. The Bunnymen fall victim and are booed off after two songs. Suggs unsuccessfully tries to calm things down, with the situation not leaving Madness’s set unaffected.
Without being able to pin it down to anything, I thought it was a bad night for them. They lacked their usual energy and there was an air of restraint. OK, Chas Smash was there with the usual introduction, but even his dancing flagged half way through. The band themselves didn’t seem to be having a good time. The set opened with One Step Beyond, and went on to include their magnificent version of Swan Lake, Tarzan’s Nuts (accompanied by nuts thrown at the crowd), the original Madness, and ending with The Prince. A lot of ill-feeling surrounded this gig and it took its toll on Madness’s performance.
Gill Pringle, Record Mirror
RICK ROGERS: The Bunnymen were being moody, psychedelic, and the audience were shouting, ‘What a load of rubbish’. Suggs came on after the second song and said, ‘Look, this band are on the bill because we like them,’ and he quietened the audience down which is another one of those great moments: ‘Give them some respect,’ y’know? And the rest of their set was fairly uninterrupted.
MIKE: It was like a bloody rally. The Young National Front were passing out leaflets at The Lyceum the week before saying, ‘We want a good turnout at this gig.’ And then all the Mods were going round saying, ‘Should be a good bundle lads.’ What could we do? The way we dressed and everything was reminiscent of the skinheads before our time, so it was obviously something they could relate to.
MR C (singer with The Shamen): My first gig when I was 13 was Madness and Bad Manners at the Electric Ballroom. I don’t remember much about what Madness played, but I do remember there were lots of rude boys and skinheads jumping up and down. I also remember Buster Bloodvessel coming on and doing all that weird shit with his tongue. Everyone threw their beer at him which I thought was hysterical. It wasn’t a big production at all – it was very basic. I went with a couple of skinhead mates, but I was a rude boy. I lived in Camden and Madness were local boys. I first heard The Prince at a house party and loved it immediately because it was about Prince Buster. After that I went out and bought the album, One Step Beyond. I thought Night Boat To Cairo was a fantastic track as well. I was only into them for about a year. The scene all went a bit racist and that wasn’t what I was in to. It wasn’t until I started making house music that I realised what an influence it had made.
OCTOBER 13: Brighton Polytechnic
Supported by The Lambrettas, the last show of the warm-up tour takes place where the 2-Tone tour will start six days later. Again, neo-Nazis turn up to spoil the gig. Two years of gruelling gigging and promotion are about to begin. At the time, Stiff produce a promotional clock bearing the motto: ‘When You Kill Time You Murder Success’. Madness’s career will epitomise this philosophy in action.
OCTOBER 15: Tour rehearsals, London
Three days of rehearsals start at the Roundhouse on Chalk Farm Road. Four days later, Madness, The Specials and The Selecter will hit the road on the 2-Tone Tour.
JOHN HASLER: There were strong personalities in the band, and once they’d worked out that the money was in songwriting, they were pushing to get their own songs on the new album, so I came up with a fifty-fifty formula.
CARL: The writer, or writers, got 50 per cent, and the other 50 per cent was split equally among all seven members of the band, so that we were always happy. It was about as fair as you could get.
RICK ROGERS: I remember thinking it was a genius solution.
BEDDERS: It was like the National Health Service – the sign of a civilised society.
CARL: I don’t know why more bands didn’t do it. This way, everyone was getting something.
MIKE: There are a lot of egos and a lot of pushing and pulling, but if you share the publishing the way we did then you don’t get the arguments. And it’s fair. Plus, there are seven musicians and several songwriters in the band, and what comes out at the end is something you couldn’t envisage on your own. So there was never a hierarchy.
SUGGS: Regardless of whether you wrote anything on it or not, that’s the way we did it because we always felt that was the process – it all goes through the Madness machine and everyone contributes something. I mean, Lee’s sax can’t be played by anybody else, Mike’s keyboard too. So even if you wrote the song, you gave a little bit to everyone else for what they brought to it to make it into Madness. Otherwise it wouldn’t be Madness.
RICK ROGERS: You see The Beatles with Lennon/McCartney and George getting bitter about not getting his songs on. In Madness, everyone got a piece of all the songs. It also helped that, out of all the 2-Tone groups, Madness were probably the closest as friends in the first place. I think that was the main reason for their subsequent survival.
SUGGS: The band’s first cheque from the PRS (Performing Right Society) was probably for about £100 and I think we probably all bought a pair of shoes.
OCTOBER 19: One Step Beyond released
Produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, the band’s debut album will eventually go platinum and peak at No2 during a 78-week stay in the UK charts.
TRACK-BY-TRACK: Click on song title
CLIVE LANGER: In many ways, the album seemed quite easy to record… apart from One Step Beyond, which was a different story.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: At that point, it was never intended to be anything serious. It was just going to be a short instrumental to open up the album.
BEDDERS: We just thought of it as this nice little tune; we never gave any serious thought to actually doing anything with it.
WOODY: We didn’t like it at all – we just thought it was a throwaway.
SUGGS: We definitely didn’t want to record it – it was just the 30-second novelty intro for when we came on stage We’d always start our set with something funny, then we’d start the set proper. Originally, it was Hawaii 5–0, then we moved on to One Step Beyond. The other thing was, The Prince had been an homage to Prince Buster and One Step Beyond was a Prince Buster cover version, so we didn’t want to be seen as just a Prince Buster tribute act.
DAVE ROBINSON: It ended up being a crucial track that really opened the door to the public. But originally, they tried to cheat me out of it.
SUGGS: We gave Dave the list of songs we were gonna record and he had a heart attack when he saw One Step Beyond wasn’t on there. But we just hadn’t thought about it; for us, it was just a bit of nonsense to introduce the band.
DAVE ROBINSON: They said, ‘We’re not going to record that.’ And I said, ‘Whaaaat? That’s the one; that’s the track.’ So I got them round a table and bored them brainless for two hours about why they had to do it. So they started recording and after about three weeks I was called down because they’d finished it. They played all the tracks for me with Clive and it was fine. At the very end I said, ‘So, where’s that instrumental then?’ They said, ‘Oh we’re really not gonna do that.’ I couldn’t believe it. As far as I was concerned, One Step Beyond was the key to the whole ball game, and they’d still decided not to record it. I was sick as a parrot and thought, ‘They’ve stitched me up completely here.’ So then there was another all-night discussion where I kept them up, reasoning with them, telling them how it should be the single and the album title, until they finally agreed to record it. But they still decided they were gonna be clever about it.
WOODY: We just did a few bars of it and thought, ‘Ah, there you go.’
DAVE ROBINSON: When they gave it to me, they were all sitting around kind of laughing. They stood back and I could see them looking at me – I knew something was on. They thought they were being clever because they’d only recorded a 1 minute and 25 second version that was too short to be a single. However, they weren’t aware you could edit it.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: Robbo gave it to me and said it was going to be the first single. I laughed and said, ‘But Dave, it’s just over a minute long.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but let’s remix it and make it twice as long. Go once more around the houses and double up the whole song. If you remix it now you can have it on my desk by 10 in the morning.’ When he said this it was about 3am, so when he buggered off we felt it was a bit late to do a whole remix. However, to demonstrate and work out for ourselves how the song would sound at twice the length, we just put the second half through [an Eventide] Harmonizer to make it sound a little bit different to the first half, tagged it together and copied it to quarter-inch tape so Robbo could listen to it on the Revox in his office. Clive shoved the tape through the Stiff letterbox on his way home that morning, and then we returned to the studio to mix it properly at double the length so that the second half sounded a bit different. However, by the time we got to the studio, Robbo had already been to the mastering room and cut the record and it was practically on its way to the shops! So, we never really mixed it.
DAVE ROBINSON: The band were so amazed when I played it back a couple of days later and it was now a 3 minute 25 record. They hadn’t come across that sort of thing, and didn’t know you could cut up bits, duplicate them, and then edit them all together. They just couldn’t understand it: ‘How did you do that?’ Lee in particular couldn’t work it out. He came up and said, ‘What actually happened there? Did someone else record that bit?’ In the end, they were so amazed that they agreed to let it go out as a single. It was a great moment for me.
WOODY: We just thought, ‘Blast – didn’t get away with that one.’
DAVE ROBINSON: They were like that throughout our entire relationship really – they were always trying to put one over on you. You had to get up a little earlier in the morning and think about it; they were constantly having a laugh at your expense.
SUGGS: The dynamic between us and Dave was great in that sense. He could shoulder the responsibility of making us a success while we could pretend that we were just the crazy gang running around pulling people’s wigs off.
LEE: Although we’d all felt it was a novelty track, when Carl added his vocal by cobbling together various lyrics from reggae artists, then Robbo spliced together the extra minute, it actually started to sound appealing.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: You can hear the guitars clanging, and the saxophone – as it happens, we always Harmonized the saxophone, and that was all part of the Madness sound, but on the second half of that song everything goes through the Harmonizer.
SUGGS: If we did One Step Beyond today we’d be going, ‘What about the middle eight? Maybe we should have a key change?’ Do that and you get into committee mode, and before you know it you haven’t got the single-minded approach you had when you were young. I mean, the song’s got like two or three chords, it goes round and round, someone plays a solo all over it, someone else shouts nonsense in the background, and everyone jumps up and down in time to the drum rhythm. That’s all it takes – it doesn’t have to be too complicated.
MIKE: Because he didn’t know how to tune a saxophone, Lee was actually out of tune on One Step Beyond. Some music professor noticed and said, ‘The BBC can’t play that.’ Luckily, people wanted to hear it, so they had to.
BEDDERS: It’s a fantastic pure pop song, written quite early, before 2-Tone and The Prince. It’s a real indication of the way we already wanted to go, even in 1979.
MIKE: I wrote this on the piano upstairs in my bedroom before the band had had any success. I was actually trying to rip off Watching The Detectives by Elvis Costello, which I used to listen to on the radio while wandering about the wastelands of South London, mowing lawns and washing stairs. I wasn’t very successful, which probably saved a lawsuit or two. I was also a bit worried that it sounded like Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. But if there was going to be a court case, it would have happened by now.
CLIVE LANGER: When I first heard Madness, My Girl stood out. Mike sang it and it was an incredible song – it was like hearing a 10CC song with emotion. It was brilliant, so simple and so colloquial, like someone just talking to you in an everyday way, and yet incredibly clever.
BEDDERS: The piano solo in particular was incredible – so spiky and different from anything else around at that time.
MIKE: It was my attempt to write a reggae song and was inspired by a bloke I’d worked with who was always going on about ‘my girl…’ this and ‘my girl…’ that. After I left that job and I was writing the song, it just came to me, all the ‘my girl…’ this and ‘my girl…’ that, cos it wasn’t something that I would ever say. But the lyrics were also about my girlfriend of the time. We were having difficulties, talking on the phone for hours and all that – plus the long silences when nobody said anything. And I suppose I did used to watch a lot of telly in those days. And that got into the song.
KERSTIN RODGERS: It was quite frustrating on the phone. He’d call me and he just wouldn’t talk for hours. And I’d get really frustrated and upset. And that’s what the song was about. Mike is someone who expresses himself through his music – it’s all in his fingertips. He could sing it to you but he couldn’t tell you.
MIKE: At first, I felt uncomfortable recording it. I never imagined it would connect with millions of people. It’s funny, often when you think something is very personal and about yourself, a lot of people share it. Especially if it’s something authentic and genuine.
CLIVE LANGER: It defines the poppy Madness sound, everything they typify – the down to earth lyric. I don’t know if Mike thought it was funny but I was amused by it. God knows how you write an intro like that. It’s quite mad.
SUGGS: Up to that point, we were doing pretty kind of up-and-down pub, club, Friday night get-the-fellas-jumping-up-and-down music and then Mike came in with My Girl. He did a little demo of it on a cassette with him on the piano and I remember just playing it over and over. It was strange because there’s all sorts of things wrong with it – it doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t end, there’s no chorus, it’s got a title that’s been used about a trillion times before…
BEDDERS: It’s not 2-Tone in any way, shape or form. But it’s such an important song – the start of everything, really, about writing a pop song.
MIKE: It’s my favourite song off One Step Beyond. I’ve just listened to it again and it sounds really good. Quite often when I write a song, I sort of get an idea from another song. When I wrote it, there was sort of a certain energy that I got from Ian Dury, like he would be singing just about day-to-day things, life situations. I always felt like there was a sort of honesty in it.
CHRIS: It was a genius song with very realistic lyrics. Mike liked singing it in the early days.
SUGGS: I think it added to the shows having Mike sing something, then Lee doing Razor Blade Alley and so on. A nice bit of vaudeville; something happening all the time. Mike sounded like Robert Wyatt and that’s one of the influences on Madness that’s gone unnoticed over the years. Wyatt sang in his own vernacular in the same way that Ian Dury did.
MIKE: Clive wanted Suggs to sing this, so he got me to try lots of different ways, none of which worked, so he could suggest that Suggs sang it instead. What could’ve been eh?
ROB DICKINS: I went down to TW Studios and they were playing back the re-done version of My Girl. Mike was still singing. I just said, ‘Clive, you can’t.’ Mike sings a little like Bernard Bresslaw. It was endearing but it wasn’t commercial and the song was brilliant. I said, ‘This is just such a hit record. You’ve got to have Suggs sing it’. Suggs said, ‘I’m not saying anything – this is Mike’s song. I’ll sing it but someone’s got to tell Mike.’ They said, ‘Rob, you tell him.’ And I said, ‘Mike’s always wary of me anyway.’ So I ended up in this burger bar, trying to be as diplomatic as I could. And Mike said, ‘Go on, get Suggs to sing it then,’ and walked off. It was something I didn’t want to do but no one else would do it.
KERSTIN RODGERS: Mike said, ‘What do you think of this?’ and played me My Girl. I said, ‘God, you sound so much better there, Mike,’ not realising. His face went pale and he said, ‘That’s Suggs singing, actually.’
MIKE: Singing’s a funny thing. You’ve got to have a good voice, but some people just have a certain tone to their voice that works. Suggs has a certain tone. Maybe he’s not a great technical singer, maybe he is, but he’s got a character to his voice. I haven’t listened to my version for ages and probably don’t want to either. But my version is definitely better.
BEDDERS: I think Mike still fancies himself at singing it.
TERRY EDWARDS (musician): David Bowie later stole its drum rhythm for Ashes To Ashes.
BEDDERS: He admitted it to Clive Langer that they’d heard My Girl and loved the rhythm of it.
LEE: If I’m being honest, it’s not one of my favourites. I remember not getting inspired by it at all, but the public likes it.
CHRIS: Robbo always wanted another instrumental – I felt we were gonna become like The Tornadoes, just doing instrumentals.
SUGGS: We used to rehearse at Mike’s place in Muswell Hill and I heard the dulcet tones of Night Boat coming down the stairs as I was coming up. It started with a title and a very Eastern sounding tune that sparked something in my mind – Morecambe and Wise, sand dancers, old light entertainment. That was what informed what we did – telly, movies, old jokes, football, stories. So I wrote a story in a similar vein about the Nile, Cairo an old barge and a toothless oarsman. A feeling of no beginning and no end, just (hopefully) a few mysterious images conjured up in the brainbox. It was a parody of the Western view of Arab countries – the way those places were depicted in BBC newsreels and Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy films.
MIKE: It was supposed to be an instrumental and then Suggs bloody got hold of it and wrote all those dodgy lyrics which made it a bit more trite – I mean, ‘It’s just gone noon half past monsoon’ – it’s not very serious is it? It’s nice we wrote the song together but at the time I didn’t rate it. It came over to me as a bit lightweight, a bit jokey, but it turned out all right.
SUGGS: I wrote two verses with the full intention of expanding them into a chorus and middle eight and all the rest of it. But it never happened. So the whole song ended up as this peculiar mix of one minute of instrumental at the beginning, two verses in the middle, one minute of instrumental on the outro and a fake ending.
BEDDERS: At this point in the band’s life, a lot of the music just followed the lyrics. We were not unlike Squeeze; Chris Difford just presented Glen Tilbrook with a basic story and he created the music around it, and that’s what we were doing. We weren’t really worrying about tradition and how songs were meant to be put together.
CLIVE LANGER: It’s a definite nod toward comedy; Ealing comedies and Carry On Up The Khyber, that sort of thing.
SUGGS: It’s an atmosphere with great music and words – of course it is a song but not a traditional one. It’s miles of introduction, a couple of verses then miles of instrumental, no chorus and the title isn’t even mentioned apart from me shouting it at the beginning. In fact, if you look closely, Night Boat To Cairo is a good example of how people like Roxy Music influenced us – very long, lots of saxophone, obscure lyrics, no real chorus; that was Roxy as far as we were concerned.
MIKE: At that time, particularly, I really had a strong idea of what worked and what didn’t. That long instrumental at the beginning just sounded great to me. The guitar sound I was never overly mad about. It was based on a lot of songs we were listening to as teenagers, like There’s A Moose Loose, all those instrumental records. It’s a bit nicked off The Specials, plus the bassline’s a bit Gangsters and a bit like One Step Beyond. But that’s the litmus test – if it comes together nice and you think it sounds good, that’s it.
CHRIS: Clive Langer suggested putting strings on it and I thought it was the ponciest idea I’d ever heard, but it turned out really good. Maybe we should have had strings on some of our other tracks too.
WOODY: This was around my time of thinking I’d got to play like reggae or ska, maaaan – despite not knowing a thing about it and being a rock-orientated drummer all my life. The thrill at the beginning was a desperate attempt to play like someone I’d heard on a dub record.
SUGGS: When we played it live, we used to do the false ending as many as four times… thankfully no more.
WOODY: Believe Me and Sunshine Voice were the first songs I ever did with the band.
SUGGS: Lots of bands at the time did ‘pub rock’ versions of the same songs or style of music… ours was a bit more wonky.
CHRIS: Lee had been in reform school – that was what Land Of Hope And Glory was about.
BEDDERS: It was about his time in borstal and the experience of being locked up. Simple as that.
LEE: Spot on. It’s the true life story of my two-year stretch in the Chafford correction centre, where I spent some time after getting in a bit of trouble. When I came out I started knocking about with Mike and Chris and the chaps from NW5 and decided to go for more kids’ stuff; silly bits of shoplifting.
SUGGS: For the roll call, Lee insisted that it was the real people on the recording. Live, we often substituted them.
CLIVE LANGER: Lee’s songs sounded great. They were very much him, and this wasn’t going to be a single, so why mess with it? I didn’t try to turn it into a pop song or anything like that. It is what it is – Lee’s story.
CHRIS: Thommo’s songwriting is the benchmark. Carl and Suggs aspire to his writing.
SUGGS: Lee has a great imagination and he’s good at getting his ideas down successfully. And for somebody that I admired as a person, with a rich, colourful past – I could relate to his songwriting.
BEDDERS: I stayed up to listen to John Peel when the session was broadcast and I remember him saying he thought the session version was better than the single itself. That’s probably because we’d been playing it for two months longer and were more confident in the studio by then. The album version doesn’t roll like the other two, It just doesn’t have the feel.
CLIVE LANGER: The band weren’t around for the mixing. For the guitar sound, we recorded the reverb plate, not the signal, like some old ska and reggae tunes. [On the first version] we developed Mike’s trademark piano sound, which was derived from Thunderclap Newman via Deaf School. We put the upright piano through a chorus effect to make it more out of tune, more honky-tonk. That became part of the Madness’s sound for the future without anyone realising it.
WOODY: The Prince is a classic example of me not knowing anything about reggae drumming. I know nothing about drop-beats (not playing the downbeat, as far as I can work out), so I just came up with something. Even the opening roll doesn’t sound right. It’s innocent but it seems to work.
SUGGS: It’s a good song, even if you don’t know who it’s about.
SUGGS: God only knows what was going on there. It was a funny little bit of instrumental.
CHRIS: It was from the old Tarzan TV series. I remember whistling it to Barso in the studio so we could work it out, although I think we missed a bit out.
BEDDERS: I get the feeling that Mike had another song in the style of One Step Beyond and Night Boat and it became this and was put on the album very late in the day. I can’t remember the machinations of why it got chosen, but there was probably a lot of arguing. You can tell it’s written at the time, in the moment of what was going on around us, and it probably felt right to include it at that particular moment.
CLIVE LANGER: I think it was just done for the record, constructed in the studio using various ideas from other tracks. It could have been a Robbo thing, wanting yet another instrumental.
MIKE: It was a bit spur of the moment. I remember writing the middle eight, and it seemed to write itself. It seemed so familiar when I made it up. I’m not sure; maybe we should leave it that way.
LEE: The key change at the end sounds like typical Barson. But it could be Clive.
BEDDERS: It sounds like Clive to me.
MIKE: We’d never heard of a key change before working with Clive, so I think he started off all that sort of thing.
WOODY: I had loads of tom-toms and used as many as I could possibly hit. If you’ve only got one riff you’ve got to use every trick in the book. We refined it later.
CLIVE LANGER: I wanted to use Madness to use skulls [round woodblocks] as Ian Dury had. Suggs had some, then they got lost.
CHRIS: Toks and Carl did the vocals, but we could never get Toks onstage when we did it live.
LEE: I think everyone was round one mic singing it – I’ve got a picture somewhere.
CHRIS: I don’t know how it ever became credited to Mike and Chas. I think on the album it says ‘Arranged by Barson’ but if I hadn’t whistled it well, who knows?
CARL: I don’t know why I’m credited on it either – I had very little to do with this album, I was just to the edge of it.
BEDDERS: There were definitely other songs that we were playing at the time that could have gone in its place, like Mistakes for example, which we always played live and which I think is really good.
LEE: This one of my favourite songs; it just conjures up so many images.
BEDDERS: It’s one of our first examples of a happy song against quite a dark lyric.
CHRIS: As far as I can recall, Suggs read an article in a newspaper about an underwear thief which inspired the lyrics.
SUGGS: Usually lyrics are written out of an experience that’s particularly moving, but in the case of In The Middle of The Night, it’s from an exaggerated memory. I used to work in a newsagents when I was supposed to be at school. The proprietor was a large Italian bloke named George. I often had to go down to the basement to get cigarettes and whenever I did I’d notice odd bits of underwear, probably belonging to his family. But I often imagined stranger thoughts and the image if George clambering over garden walls stayed with me. So, I wrote down a few notes about him that I could remember, and a few imaginary ones as well, to give it a bit of a story. Then, a rough outline with a dash of humour: In The Middle Of The Night.
CHRIS: I’d say it was one of my favourites. Suggs was great. He just came round my house and we wrote it sitting in my son Matthew’s bedroom. He showed me the lyrics and I immediately reached for my battered acoustic – on which I’ve written all my sparse handful of songs – and started to thrash out some sharp harsh chords. ‘Sounds OK,’ mumbled Suggs, and he began to croon the lyrics over my furious strumming. I think we both realised it wasn’t all that hard to write a song after that. But if I’ve made it sound easy to write a tune, I must emphasise that sometimes it can take me as long as three to four minutes to come up with the winning formula, and usually I have to rely on Mike or Lee to apply a strong melody.
SUGGS: Chris is redecorating his plush Kentish Town apartment. He takes me into the beautifully restored bedroom of his newly born son, sits on a tea chest and plays a melody so sweet his son drops into a deep sleep and I go and write words about a man who steals underwear from washing lines.
MIKE: It’s very English subject matter. It’s why we didn’t make it in America.
SUGGS: It just fitted with the idea of eccentricity, something that’s not superficially wacky – ‘I’m mad, me!’ – but has some sort of reality in the darker side of the British psyche. But it’s also funny. Comic. Black humour. What is it about England though? Rather than have normal sex lives, fine wines and dining, we have perversions, greasy macs etc.
CHRIS: We were full of ideas. For the beginning, you can hear Lee calling out like a newspaper-seller. We went out on the street and recorded him doing that in the traffic.
BEDDERS: Chris came up with the intro, which the whole song stems from. It was also definitely Chris’s idea that the guitar should go ‘chunk-a-chunk-a-chunk-a’, then Clive changed the middle bit so it was a bit more reggae. We were playing it much more complicated before – there’s a tendency to overplay early on because you don’t have the experience.
WOODY: It was the most painful but rewarding song I’ve ever done. I was a flamboyant player, doing lots of fills and crazy bass drum patterns and Clive made me strip it down to nothing. I remember I played so few parts, it felt alien to me, the emptiness, the gaps – painful. I felt so awkward and thought it was the most minimalistic drum beat on the planet, but when I heard the final record, it made sense. I just went, ‘Oh my god, that is so cool.’
BEDDERS: Lee later took the character of George on to Absolutely. We were into that sort of thing and you can’t underestimate the influence of TV at the time. There were a lot of sitcoms and a lot of things culturally that people were doing. We always go back to some sort of weird perversion – much later on it was Mr Apples.
MIKE: It’s about John Hasler, who used to go round Chris’s house round about dinner time.
CHRIS: I started it after Garry Dovey once said, ‘Do you know what they call Hasler these days? The bed and breakfast man’.
BEDDERS: I was sure Chris thought I came up with phrase. He claims I once said, ‘Oh, he’s the bed and breakfast man.’ At one point, John was going through a bit of a rough period, didn’t have anywhere to live and he just used to stay at everyone’s house. Him and his dad didn’t get on and he did leave home quite early on.
CHRIS: He would turn up at your house at dinner time, eat all your food and then sleep on your sofa. The next thing you knew he was there for breakfast too, eating the kids’ leftovers. He did it to me at least once – he ate a whole load of mashed potato and baked beans – but always stayed skinny. ‘What a great idea for a song’ I thought. So I started off writing a song in honour of the great freeloader.
BEDDERS: Although credited to Mike, Chris swears he wrote most of the lyrics.
CHRIS: Barso insists that I only wrote about one word of it but actually it was a couple of verses and the chorus. The line, ‘He used to kip on my sofa / They used to call him a loafer’ is definitely mine.
MIKE: Chris started the song and made up the first line, ‘There’s a man I know…’ After he got a bit stuck, I took over and finished it while driving around London in my delivery van. I remember having a little pad on the passenger seat and bit by bit, between pick-ups and drop-offs, I wrote the song, visualised the instrumentation and earned a few quid to boot. Chris claims he wrote some of it, but according to the label, he didn’t.
CHRIS: Barso wrote the music and middle eight, but I should have got a songwriting credit – it should have been Foreman/ Barson (words/music) or at least Foreman/ Barson/ Foreman (words/music/words). It’s a shame really because in the entire Madness catalogue there’s no song which I’ve written with Mike. It was ‘my’ song, which is why I used to sing it live and also sang it on The Peel Sessions.
BEDDERS: When Chris sang it on stage, he’d give Suggs the guitar, and Suggs would play it with one finger.
CHRIS: I tuned it especially so Suggs could play it with one finger on the tune. But when we got in the studio to do the album, Clive wanted Suggs to sing it, which is right really – I couldn’t ‘cut it’ without an audience. Barso used to sing too, but when we did the album only Thommo’s singing passed muster.
MIKE: We were a bit amateur then if you notice. I think it slows down at the start of the piano solo.
CHRIS: On the album, I used one of these amps called a Roland Chorus Echo that had a really nice ringing sound. But most of the time on the One Step Beyond album it was just rhythm and playing the guitar on the offbeat. There are only a couple of songs where I did different things.
BEDDERS: It feels like it could be like a Motown song, with a big backbeat and a snare and so on. It’s not a straight copy, but does reflect our influences. I always think of Motown when I listen to it.
MIKE: Originally the idea I had was for it to sound a bit like Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown but it didn’t. They’re sort of similar, although they sound miles apart. Nobody would say, ‘Oh bloody hell, Bed and Breakfast Man sounds like Tears of a Clown.’ Everything, any sort of human endeavour, has got such a history behind it. Somebody makes the first fridge and it’s like Fort Knox and then somebody makes a smaller one. It’s all about refining and building on other stuff. In music you get inspired by other people’s music.
BEDDERS: I think it started off as Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. The bass moves more than the chord sequence. The drums are straight, but the bass bubbles along, trying to kick it along.
SUGGS: It went verse / instrumental / verse / instrumental / middle eight, with no choruses, no key change, no nothing. It’s the same meter for every verse, just a really simple song, about someone who comes round and eats stuff out of your fridge.
CLIVE LANGER: It’s dead solid – a great song. Barson comes up with something in a melody that no one else does. And he writes a great mundane lyric.
SUGGS: It hasn’t really got a chorus, so we made up the bit at the end, repeating the title over and over, which I don’t think Mike really liked. It’s ‘the football bit’.
WOODY: It doesn’t make sense calling us a ska band when we did songs like this right from the very beginning; songs with a regular back-beat. There’s a lot of bass drum beats in this. You could take this beat and put an AC/DC song to it. There was no correlation between what I was playing and ska right up until we did The Dangermen sessions.
SUGGS: It was what we were at the time – really simple.
BEDDERS: It was going to be the fourth single, so we made a video for it and Stiff even went to the trouble of mastering it. But we were so quickly on to Absolutely, we felt it was best to leave it, as we knew what was coming with Embarrassment and Baggy Trousers.
CHRIS: We filmed the video at the same time as One Step Beyond, using the same crew. The location was at the Clarendon Ballroom which was where we played Dave Robinson’s wedding. This room was our dressing room and I remembered the ‘2-Tone’ carpet. So when we were going to do the video I suggested it as a location. It features Joe 90, a 7ft tall follower who wore glasses. I can remember being really interested in the process of film making and realising that we could film whatever we liked, so I suggested filming loafers for the ‘called him a loafer’ bit. But of course it was never used. The bit with Carl in front of the curtain was actually from One Step Beyond, so he seems even more manic than usual.
CARL: I love it in the video where Lee just walks off the stage, because that’s just so unlikely to happen.
BEDDERS: And I just love this song because it always reminds me of John, who was a fantastic part of the band and who should never be forgotten. He sang when Suggs was off watching football a lot, he played drums and was very dogged, particularly early on. He thought there was something in the band and that we should go out and play and be seen by people, and he was also one of the first people to think that we should be writing our own songs. He wrote Rich Girls and Mistakes, which I’m sure got Mike going as well, so he was a real catalyst and spur for the band and is still a good friend. He’s an amazing guy.
LEE: This was not actually a true life experience but a sort of dark fantasy I had about actually paying for sex and catching a dose to boot. It was a dark lyric about a school kid who was taken to a red light area by his teacher and gets VD after sleeping with a prostitute.
DAVE ROBINSON: Lee certainly has very strong social comment in his songs.
SUGGS: It’s another great lyric from Lee, which he used to sing live. He got so nervous about singing he’d have his hands behind his back, and you could have put a clave [percussion instrument] in his hand and he wouldn’t notice it. He’d just grip onto it and not let go.
LEE: I don’t know how it came about – I’ve got a thing about fleshy bits and diseases. The razor blade bit came from a film called The Boys In Company C, set in war-torn Vietnam, and that’s how I started the song – from the line in it where a GI goes AWOL, gets a dose of the clap and says, ‘I feel like I’m pissing razor blades’. That stuck in my mind.
MIKE: Lee would write lyrics to other records and then we’d make up another tune around it. I remember him showing me the piano parts for this – he wrote all the parts. I don’t know if what we ended up with was what he envisaged, but he had a clear idea of the whole song.
BEDDERS: This track, and Land Of Hope and Glory, are very worldly songs which were beyond me at that time because I was so young. But it’s one of my favourites because it’s just so completely different – it’s the forerunner of Embarrassment and goes all the way through to Lovestruck. It almost falls apart on a couple of occasions but I think it’s a great song and it still sounds really strong.
SUGGS: I used to play the organ on this live as Mike couldn’t do both piano and organ at the same time.
BEDDERS: I don’t know what made us do it in that jazzy way; Lee tries to croon it a little bit and give it a jazzy delivery. I’ve a feeling I was playing along with the vocal too. A bass figure mimics the singing , so either they used the guide vocal for real or replicated it.
WOODY: This was a cover we did right from the beginning, along with Hawaii Five-O. In fact, I can’t remember if we also recorded Hawaii Five-O and just didn’t use it.
SUGGS: I love it. It’s always had a sort of magic for me, but I don’t remember whose idea it was to cover it.
BEDDERS: Mike would have worked this one out and then brought it to the band. It’s pretty much a straight-ahead copy of The Cats’ reggae version.
MIKE: I shared a songwriting credit with Tchaikovsky. I imagined conducting some seance and him telling me, ‘Cut out the middle bit, Mike, it’s boring’.
CLIVE LANGER: I don’t remember that much about it except that I enjoyed recording it. It was Madness, rather than trying to emulate the ska sound. We had the English poppy sound which came through all of us playing in New Wave or punky bands.
BEDDERS: Our love of instrumentals like this came from all the old reggae hits, where they would cover nearly anything. They’d just go in and do them in three hours. There’s even a reggae version of Coronation Street.
WOODY: Trying to do a beat to a classical song isn’t that easy. I made a right cock-up, but fortunately Clive kept it. It was a mistake which seemed to work.
LEE: This was a Bazooka Joe song written by their keyboard player, Willy Wurlitzer. We used to go and see them in the local pub in the mid-70s as there was a big resurgence in all things American and 1950s.
BEDDERS: Mike just suggested that we have a go at it. It’s pretty close to the original.
CHRIS: Bazooka Joe were the local rock ‘n’ roll band. We used to see them a lot. Once they’d seen the Sex Pistols they had a bit of an epiphany and changed.
WOODY: I’d never heard of Bazooka Joe and to me it was just throwaway rock ‘n’ roll. Very pub-rock.
CHRIS: The drum riff is lifted from Beatnik Flyer by Johnny and the Hurricanes. Bazooka Joe used to cover that too.
CLIVE LANGER: This is them tipping their hat to their rock ‘n’ roll influences; See You Later Alligator and all that sort of thing – rock ‘n’ roll being really close to ska anyway. Anti-hippie music.
SUGGS: It went down really well with even the most hardened ska fans. Great song and a great lyric, which really suited us. I’ve even got my Buddy Holly voice on at one point.
BEDDERS: Suggs definitely sings a bit like Adam Faith in parts too; that kind of British 60s pop style.
BEDDERS: We didn’t want to repeat what was on the 2-Tone single and were having serious pangs of guilt that both The Prince and its B-side would be on the album. Not having it listed on the sleeve was a compromise we reached with Robbo – we thought it would be funny to have the track the band was named after on the album, but not even mention it.
LEE: We always tried to keep the B-sides off the albums, try to keep it VFM – Value For Money – for the punters.
CHRIS: We thought it was ripping off the fans to release loads of singles, so we always made sure that the B-sides were new songs or totally different.
CLIVE LANGER: The artwork had been done before we decided to put Madness on the album. Robbo said we couldn’t put it on because the artwork was finished and I remember saying, ‘Of course you can – just stick it on. How brilliant for everyone who listens to it.’
SUGGS: Madness was one of the Blue Beat singles I bought at Berwick Street market. I particularly liked it as it was a 12-bar, but not quite, and it had quite a nice lyric which I thought would suit us a band.
CHRIS: With, One Step Beyond, we really did something with it to make it distinct. I don’t think this track is – it’s a straighter cover.
LEE: I really wanted to do a big old growling solo on this, but I wasn’t confident enough to d it, what with the tuning problems. So I was a bit disappointed with the solo on the album. The 2-Tone version was a throwaway anyway.
BEDDERS: This was written while I was still at school – or fresh out of school at least. It’s about a teacher I had who was a bit of a strange bloke all round. He made a chance remark that he still lived at home with his parents which set me thinking. I found it quite shocking and couldn’t quite believe it – why would he still want to live at home? I thought, ‘Don’t you move away from home when you get older?’ Because at that time I was a hot-headed teenager and independent – I wanted my own place.
LEE: It’s not one of your normal pattern of songs. Nice. My sort of lyric as well, a bit quirky – not your usual lovey-dovey song.
BEDDERS: Musically, the song is close to Lee’s description of The Nutty Sound – part fairground, part music hall. I wanted it to sound like a theme for a comedy sitcom. Steptoe and Son was one of our favourites, so it fits into that sort of idea; it wouldn’t sound out of place at the beginning of a TV programme. But there are lots of different musical parts within it that were added when we recorded it because the original idea was so short.
LEE: There’s the rocky bit, the poppy bit, the sad bit. It reminds me of The Last of the Teenage Idols by Alex Harvey.
BEDDERS: Originally there was just the up/happy bit, then the reflective bit. The punk ending wasn’t there when we first played it, it was added later because the original idea is so short. In the end I felt it wasn’t really a song – it was three different bits of music glued together. But it encapsulates what we were thinking at the time, so there’s a bit of reggae, a bit of R ‘n’ B and punkiness, and a bit of the swirly fairground sound.
CHRIS: The end is the token punk bit, with Suggs doing his Les Dawson impression.
SUGGS: I kind of turned him into a pervert at the end, which is a bit of a shame really. I think I just got over-excited.
BEDDERS: On reflection, the line ‘She was 12 and he was 30’ was a mistake because it sent the song in a different direction. Today it also takes on a much darker meaning. I think it’s best to listen to it as is was written – as a teenager who wondered if the adult world was going to be how he imagined it.
MIKE: I’m sure Mark could write more songs if he put his mind to it.
SUGGS: He definitely should write more songs. He writes good ones.
LEE: Mark should’ve carried on. If he wanted to, he could write a lyric or tune. One Better Day brings a tear to my eye. Fantastic.
BEDDERS: It’s a complicated question as to why I don’t write more. If they come along, they’re quite good, but if they don’t they don’t, and that’s always been my attitude to it. Part of it is because it’s difficult to write songs when others are doing it so well. In later years I tended to do other things in the band, like thinking about the arrangements a bit more.
MIKE: We’d end the set with Chipmunks but it didn’t make me think, ‘Wow! We’ve got to do another piece like that for the next album.’
BEDDERS: We did it as an encore, all at the front of the stage.
WOODY: I had absolutely no love for this whatsoever. It became part of the set after the album was out and we had to go to the front of the stage at the end, which was not my idea of fun – I like to be behind a drum kit. ‘Please leave me alone, I don’t want to do this silly chant!’ I’ve no idea why we did it; absolutely no idea.
JOHN HASLER: It should never have been on the album.
CHRIS: They just got a bit drunk and recorded it.
CLIVE LANGER: It’s a great end to the album, good for kids. Just a bit of fun as far as I was concerned. It’s a bit aggressive – their aggressive side.
SUGGS: We’d all get on the Tube and start singing songs from these old American army movies when they’re on the march.
CARL: We used to wear Lonsdale tops, Levis and sneakers, have crop haircuts and call ourselves The Chipmunks. My father used to sing that Marines chant because he’d been in the American corps of military engineers.
BEDDERS: It’s a strange thing that was pretty much made up on the spot as we were recording. Again it’s based on 50s films and the whole Boy From Company B thing. Carl was definitely behind it.
CLIVE LANGER: It was Carl stamping his authority on the album; like a gang’s calling card. He wasn’t a member of the band as such at that time.
CARL: I always felt insecure in the band; never totally safe.
Hot on the tail of fellow ska men The Specials, Madness release their debut album and prove that they have a style and distinctiveness of their own. Like The Specials, Madness have a lot to live up to. With a reputation as one of the liveliest, craziest live acts around, playing infectious dance music ‘to the heat & the beat’, compered by cartoon character/funny man Chas Smith, who introduces, demonstrates and entertains with his lightning footwork and cheerleader vocals, they had to prove that such spontaneous and natural communication could successfully be transferred onto inflexible, permanent vinyl. But from Chas’s familiar intro, ‘Hey you! Don’t watch that, watch this…’ and the surge of jostling saxophones, keyboards, guitars and percussion, you know that everything is going to be alright – because that is, and this is ‘the nutty sound’, defying you to resist its magnetic charismatic beat. Their most comprehensive live numbers are also the most compulsive on record: Land of Hope & Glory with all its genial bank-holiday-in-the-pub feel, the alternative dance instrumental Swan Lake, their cap-doffing single to names and inspirer The Prince (Buster) and Rockin’ in Ab with its sharp kid growing up, youth club, discos, birds, bikes and bands cramming all the fun into one moment until it sounds about to burst with exhilaration and energy.
The songs are short, sharp and snappy, seven tracks a side with slower numbers such as My Girl, Believe Me and In The Middle of The Night offering breathers as Suggs (Graham McPherson) tells assuming local tales with chirpy, colloquial humour.
Here Madness sound like any good singalong pub band, but the tugging chords and sawing rhythms still nudge insistently, tickling the feet and bluntly demanding to be accommodated. There is a warm, easy familiarity about Madness, and none of the underlying cynicism of social comment of The Specials. And the audience are just as much a part of the album as the live show, their photographs, requested by the band, making a collage on the album’s inner sleeve fronted by Madness’ chosen four, gap toothed, cloth-capped, ‘Prince Nutty’ punter. Here is proof of the numbers and the varieties attracted – and affected – by Madness. Prototype Madman Chas (backing vocals, assorted shouts and fancy footwork) does his best, as he does onstage, to disrupt any attempts at organisation, and fulfils that last contractual obligation on the back of the album cover, where he dances a series of snapshot pics of a ska Fred Astaire in action, clearly demonstrating each major dance movement, and its all important facial expression. Essentially live, essentially active, Madness go ‘one step beyond’ and bring you the first audio-visual aid to ska.
Deanne Pearson, NME
BEDDERS: One Step Beyond really showed us we could do it.
WOODY: The moment we first held the album in our hands, with our picture on the front and our name on the back, was incredible. Vinyl is a piece of history. The fact that the record went on to be so popular was equally incredible. The whole album is completely fresh, a fantastic innocent, raw sound.
BEDDERS: Dave’s philosophy had been, ‘Get all the singles on up front on the first side, one-two-three.’ It seemed to work.
WOODY: When I listen back to it now, it’s just so naive musically, but it’s still wonderful. The magic is because it’s being played by kids – it’s just seven very young individuals having a great time.
LEE: Suggs sounds fantastic on it – very youthful.
SUGGS: If you listen to it, only half the album is really ska. And it’s an odd kind of ska, anyway – a very British/London version. Because of the Ian Dury influence, there’s also a lot more Cockney on there than there actually was in real life. Just like later on, we were trying to show English life but say, ‘It’s not always jolly’ and, hopefully, have a few good tunes along the way. We had so much stuff. Our advantage was that four or five of the band were writing. Again, I’d seen John Hasler doing it with Mistakes and I thought, ‘Well he’s thick, if he can do it I can do it’.
BEDDERS: I never felt any pressure to write songs, because we had so many good writers, and anyway we’d all put our two bob’s worth in, bashing someone’s song into shape.
CHRIS: We never set it up like, ‘I’ll write with him and they’ll work together’. At first Mike was the main writer – he could write by himself. And if someone gave him lyrics he could soon think of a tune.
BEDDERS: It sounds silly, but I think we benefitted from being a pre-drum machine band. You couldn’t go off and demo a song on your own, you had to be part of the band. It made us stick together. When drum machines came in, all that changed. We had to do a tour with a drum machine once, ‘cos Woody was ill, and it was hilariously bad.
CLIVE LANGER: I remember listening to it the day after it came out thinking, ‘This is a load of rubbish!’ Then suddenly it was a hit, and all the singles were hits and it was a stepping-stone and other record companies wanted me. I went on to work with The Teardrop Explodes, Elvis Costello and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
CHRIS: People liked it. We were very entertaining and, dare I say it, still are.
SUGGS: I don’t remember whether it got good reviews or not, but we weren’t bothered anyway. It was clear that the intelligentsia thought we were just a load of yobbos, so we didn’t really care what they thought.
CHRIS: It’s still far and away our most popular album. People have asked us, ‘Why don’t you play a gig where you do One Step Beyond in sequence?’ But in truth we play most of the songs most nights anyway. The songs endure the test of time.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: Personally, I was quite disappointed with the finished master. Possibly thanks to his time as Jimi Hendrix’s tour manager, Dave Robinson was partly deaf. I mean, his ears had no top end whatsoever. That’s why, because he couldn’t hear much top end, he got the mastering engineer to really, really brighten it up.
BEDDERS: He had this portable radio in his office and he used to take a lead from the stereo and plug it in, so he could hear what the records would sound like on the radio.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: Of course, in those days we didn’t have FM radio, it was all medium wave, so he did make it sound better on the radio, but I also wanted it to sound good when the kids got the record home. That wasn’t the case, so over the years, as the compilation albums came out, we remastered things to hopefully make them sound better.
The Nutty Train
The One Step Beyond cover, shot by Cameron McVey, features six members of the band doing the iconic Nutty Train pose. Different band members remember its origin differently…
CARL: The nutty train evolved from Mike’s girlfriend, Kerstin, who took a photo session and we were all sort of walking in a weird way.
WOODY: We were doing ‘the walk’ quite far apart and got closer and closer, but I think the finished article came from many things.
CHRIS: I thought it started because we all loved the Two Ronnies and Porridge – Ronnie Barker was a genius. One sketch was really funny. Basically a man comes out of a house walks along the street and knocks on a door. A second man comes out of that door and walks really close behind him followed by a third and so on till there about six people walking in a tight formation train style. They walk up the street and go into… the sardine factory. I thought this hilarious and was always trying to do it. When we did a photo session for the NME we did a prototype walk but we were too far apart. It eventually got refined and became the One Step Beyond cover. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. [It’s actually this Dave Allen sketch – ed]
SUGGS: Because there were so many of us, it was hard to get us in the photograph for the cover so we had to get really close together. The Kilburns did the duck walk on the back of their album, all standing at a bus stop. It’s unusual to see people side-on in profile and they were squashed close together and it was a really charming picture. So we did the same for a laugh – squashing close together and doing this thing like a train – and it became iconic. We’d been doing that kind of dancing anyway, a bit like the Skinheads in the 60s, holding their braces.
MIKE: ‘Paul Hangs Loose’ on the back of Handsome by The Kilburns is what we copied, although I don’t know who Paul is.
BEDDERS: ‘Paul’ was a student at Canterbury Art College, where Ian taught – it’s a picture of him jiving I think. The funny thing is that when I walked to school, I used to see this spray painting every day that Mike had done. It was on a wall at Highbury & Islington Station and just said, ‘Paul hangs loose.’ Every morning I used to think, ‘I wonder who did that? Bloody vandals.’ It was only later I found out it was Mike, as he was so taken by the Kilburns. We took some early pictures where we were in a line doing ‘Paul Hangs Loose’ and we just got closer and closer and closer together.
CHRIS GRABIN (original photographer): Dave sent Chas round first and we decided to do a series of shots of him dancing. He worked very hard, an incredibly nice bloke, we got on very well. The following day, I was meant to do the album front sleeve, but they turned up four hours late. I was just about to go home. It was an evening session and I’d hired an assistant. Chas kept apologising but there was no word of apology from the others; they went into a big band huddle, nattering in the office and wouldn’t talk to me. I did a Polaroid of the ‘nutty train’ but got so pissed off with them I told them to fuck off and kicked them out. They were new and fresh and treated people like me, photographers, with a great deal of suspicion. That classic thing of young blokes cast into the deep end.
CAMERON McVEY (photographer): They showed me the cover Stiff had done for them and I thought it sucked, so I blagged Dave Robinson to let me try. He was OK with this so I got them to a rented studio where I set up a white background with a soft light and a sharper spotlight within this to sharpen the image. It was a method I’d been using for my Vogue brides photos at the time. They were pretty dynamic performers and all their moves were very graphic. All I did was force them to exaggerate it to the max.
WOODY: Mike was very specific about the shape of the arms – very ‘train-like’.
BEDDERS: We lined up in order of height…
MIKE: …more like order of importance, with Lee at the back. Or in order of the best chance of getting there, most organised at the front, chaotic ones at the back and Chas nowhere to be seen.
BEDDERS: Nah, it was done in order of height, definitely.
WOODY: It was taken in a photographic studio in Covent Garden, near to where I used to work in the summer. We were clinging onto some sort of rail to stay in that position. Cameron had been my father’s assistant at one point.
CHRIS: That cover was a classic that we were never able to match again, but Bedders could never get the hang of it. The secret is not to look down and just keep looking ahead. He was always looking down but you’ve just got to keep looking forward and trust in Barso.
LEE: It was quite awkward to do; you had all the weight on the front of your knees.
BEDDERS: We used to actually be able to walk like that – but we haven’t done it for quite a while.
JULES BALME (Stiff employee): I designed their ‘M’ logo. It was a Friday morning when they briefed me: ‘We want a 2-Tone man but not – if you know what I mean.’ They went to the Durham Castle next door and by the time they surfaced, I’d drawn it. I also co-ordinated all the photo booth pictures on the liner bag, which included sticking ’em all down.
CHRIS: It was my idea to get the inner sleeve together, to get all the fans to send in photographs.
CARL: It was a lovely idea which went down well with people.
BEDDERS: An advert was put in the Evening Standard, asking for fans to send their pictures in. Quite a lot of people answered. The idea was to try and get people who were fans of the band early on. Totts and Whets followed the band everywhere at the time; Prince Nutty was a guy called John who came to most of the gigs. There are a few girls from Camden Girls’ School, but we haven’t got a clue who some people are. It’s interspersed with the band too, so Carl’s in there, and half his family. Cameron McVey is there too.
LEE: I’m on there wearing my Mum’s petrol-blue sheepskin. Six heads down, third column from the right is Ray; we used to dig up old bottles, spent cartridges and shrapnel on a dump near Finchley. He sold them at a market by Dingwall’s.
BEDDERS: I don’t know why the Colonel Sanders lookalike is there. Si Birdsall found several copies of his photo in a skip in Camden. I also have no idea who the naked lady is.
WOODY: I have no idea either.
CHRIS: She looks familiar, I think Chas might know who she is.
SUGGS: No, I don’t know.
LEE: I was told it was my wife, but I’d recognise her bum anywhere. And that ain’t it.
MIKE: I know who it is. You’d better ask Carl…
CARL: Nope, I don’t know who it is.
WOODY: The guy labelled Prince Nutty – real name John – borrowed my motorbike once, no insurance, no idea how to ride it, and managed to crash it into a car without getting out of first gear.
OCTOBER 19: Top Rank, Brighton
The 21-date 2-Tone UK tour starts on Woody’s 19th birthday, and soon needs extra dates due to phenomenal ticket demand. Most shows see The Selecter warming up the crowd, Madness keeping up the spirit, and The Specials headlining. Although the tour lasts until December, Madness quit after November’s shows in Scotland to go to America.
Set list: One Step Beyond / Mistakes / Believe Me / My Girl / Swan Lake / Razor Blade Alley / Land Of Hope & Glory / In The Middle Of The Night / Bed & Breakfast Man / Tarzan’s Nuts / Rockin’ In Ab / Night Boat To Cairo / Madness / The Prince. Encore: Shop Around.
The sound of Madness is entertaining in a very laddish sort of way. Their humour almost forces you to a have a good time. A few intrepid skins dance around the group. One attempts to snatch Lee’s sax. After closing with The Prince, they come back for an aill-considered version of Shoparound which is really rather dreadful. ‘Thanks, you’re fucking wonderful,’ Suggs shouts at the end, retreating before another beserk wave of delirious skins. Suggs returns to watch the Specials onstage. As will be the case on most nights, an all-star performance of ska anthem Skinhead Moonstomp closes the show.
Allan Jones, Melody Maker
I caught them when July was just under starters orders and must admit they didn’t impress me as much as either The Specials or The Selecter did first time round. One Step Beyond the album finally put them in a proper perspective, illustrating firmly their joint parentage – the 60s ska of Prince Buster and the cockney vignettes of Ian Dury. Chas’s kid sibling Brendan (mickey sends his love), who’s working on tour as product salesman and patience tester is also a keen supplier of nutty phrases, viz ‘I’ve had a touch’ ‘Over & out’ ‘Kamikazi’ and ‘On the case’. Brendan’s joined by manager John ‘Tintin’ Hasler, roadies Chalky and Toks (Drummer Woody: ”If Toks pushes you backwards you know that Chalky’ll be kneeling behind ya”) and usually a fan away team – Totts & Whets, not to mention Lyndsay, Wandsworth Harry (who apparently still owes Chalky 12 quid) and the fabled Prince Nutty.
Garry Bushell, Sounds
WOODY: What a day October 19 1979 was – our debut album released, the first date of the mega-multi-talented 2-Tone tour, and my birthday. I was n-n-n-n-nineteen years old and it was the beginning of my manhood. We knew not where we were going, all we knew was that we were going to do some gigs around the country. So we all just packed a bag and went off on this great adventure.
SUGGS: We got on a coach at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm and the first stop was Scratchwood Services, where we were due to meet The Specials and The Selecter. All sorts of things were in the air by the time we pulled up .
LYNVAL GOLDING: We were supposed to be there to do a photo session and get all the bands pictured together. It was only about 5am or 6am but it was already absolute chaos.
NEVILLE STAPLE: I’d had this big fight with some skinheads…
SUGGS: …so there was this riot going on by the time we got there. It was mayhem, somebody called the Old Bill and suddenly loads of coppers arrived. Rightly or wrongly, due to a series of misunderstandings, Lee and Neville got nicked for something or other.
LEE: Neville and I both took a slap, and we were the two picked out from the crowd. I remember dancing backwards on the Tarmac of this car park and this security bloke telling me, ‘Stay where you are. Come here.’ I reckon they couldn’t get hold of a football mob, so they picked on us.
SUGGS: Looking back, for the coppers, that mixture of black kids and white kids must have seemed a bit dangerous. But it added to the whole excitement of us setting off. The tour hadn’t even started but by golly gosh, the bonding had.
BEDDERS: Eventually, we all piled on to one coach and it pulled away with every seat taken. It was amazing that I hadn’t missed it and even more amazing that I had fitted four weeks’ worth of clothes into a suitcase the size of a cheese sandwich. ‘Welcome to THE TWO-TONE TOUR!’ shouted Jerry Dammers, bellowing down the coach PA system like a deranged stewardess. It wasn’t long before it broke down under a hail of spittle from his toothless mouth.
SUGGS: Filled with adrenaline, the 21 band members and assorted others headed into the unknown. It was a complete fucking blast. We were a bunch of tearaways, most of whom had fucked up childhoods, suddenly being allowed to run around the country with unlimited money in our pockets. It was the highlight of my life, in a musical sense. The feelings are still unforgettable, even though some of the memories may be gone.
CARL: That tour was the fuckin’ greatest – the best I’ve ever been involved in. It was like having the Spice Girls, Boyzone and Take That on a single tour. We felt part of something important. It was a real movement, a family for us and our fans.
LEE: We’d done many gigs before, but once we got on that tour, we felt like we had the music world in the palm of our hands. We were all together and all aiming for something. It was phenomenal – some of us were just fresh out of school but everyone was clubbing in and making it work.
SUGGS: It was so fast. You’re talking about one summer, going from playing in the pub to your mates to suddenly being on a bus with The Specials and The Selecter. I was 19, had only been out of school for about 10 minutes, yet here I was off on this coach with what I thought were the best bands of that time. It was a pretty amazing feeling.
PAULINE BLACK: At that point, 2-Tone was taking over. I remember walking down Oxford Street. Every shop display was taking off the 2-Tone label’s black and white. Even Evans, the large size women’s clothes store. It was amazing.
JULIET WILLS: It was during the height of Thatcherism, Britain at its most right wing, and along came these bands from Coventry with black and white kids playing together. Jerry Dammers was the guiding light but they were all into the same ideals.
PAULINE BLACK: We didn’t think of ourselves as a political movement but by its very nature the 2-Tone Tour was a political statement – that black and white people could work together, be together.
WOODY: 2-Tone really was that simple – black and white coming together. It was a celebration of multi racial music and was just so fantastic; a wonderful ideology really. Maybe it was naïve, but it had freshness and energy.
SUGGS: For the first time you had black, white and Asian kids into the same thing – the only band with black and white members up till then up was Hot Chocolate. And pow! Suddenly there was The Specials and The Selecter. So you had this great mixture of being able to play live and make records, even if you weren’t very good. The ska/reggae/West Indian influence on the music meant that it was a bit more dance orientated, and a bit less frantic than punk.
TERRY HALL: We wanted to make it as good a bill as possible, three superb bands so it was full-on. Jerry wanted it to be like a 60s soul revue.
SUGGS: It was fabulous – especially as a young, working class person from London, to be able to travel and play music was a revelation. It changed my life. You had three really fabulous bands and we took it in turns to headline. An experience that will never be repeated, certainly in my lifetime.
ROY ELDRIDGE (Chrysalis A&R man): The Specials’ manager, Rick Rogers, was very conscious of value-for-money pricing and he made sure the top ticket price was pegged at £2.50.
SUGGS: It was a pretty spectacular thing. Sometimes it was a bit nasty – bottles flying, things being set alight, stages collapsing under the weight of people, the siege of people trying to get on it to either hug or bash your face in. Or just dance manically and perhaps hit someone by accident and that would cause another chain of events. Generally, apart from the fighting, it was fantastic. I remember it as one movable party. Brings a tear to the eye.
CARL: We were all on the same bus; us, The Specials and The Selecter. It was puffers at the back, puffers in the middle and puffers in the front. We were having the time of our lives.
SUGGS: You’d need a whole book to write about those times. It was a really gay old time, in the old sense of the word. You know, 21 different individuals, seven in each band (for some reason there is always seven in a ska band. You always have to have one bloke dancing and one playing the trumpet occasionally, whether you like it or not). All squashed together on a bus with trombones sticking out of the windows and all that. Really, really tremendous time. We had a rivalry with The Specials but it was a good one though.
WOODY: The whole tour was just brilliant. We all travelled on one coach up and down the country doing all these gigs to packed houses and it was just the most exciting thing I’d ever done in my life and I felt a real affinity to these other musicians. They were really nice people, we got on really well. Obviously there were punch-ups and all kinds of things amongst the band and there were some nutters and all the rest of it, but generally it was a great time.
BEDDERS: This coach would just kind of roll from town to town and we’d play… and it always gets quite romantic then.
SUGGS: It’s probably one of the things I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was like one of those jazz shabangs, driving across the country with everyone sticking their arms out of the windows.
CARL: The old Motown revues must have been just like that. We had all the band people in one coach, then everybody else behind in another. It was like a small army on a march across England. I think the biggest disappointment for all of us was that it didn’t go on to America. The Specials came over here and left, and then we came. It was a shame that we never all got together again.
SUGGS: It was funny to think that, just a few months before, we’d opened for The Specials in a pub, then the next thing we were on this massive tour with them and The Selecter and it all was kicking off – quite literally.
BEDDERS: The Specials had made it happen so quickly for us. Almost from the moment we found another band that was doing our kind of thing, we got swept up in the 2-Tone Tour. In fact it was a bit wasted on us because we didn’t realise what an amazing thing was happening. But you don’t when you’re that young.
CHRIS: I started off sharing a room with Mike, what an experience. Then Suggs ditto and eventually Thommo – oh we had some right old times, I can tell you. Once Thommo and I had this all night battle with Suggs and Chas. Fire extinguisher fights, putting massive piles of bricks in their doorway. Chas called Thommo and I ‘Victor and Valiant’ – what great nicknames! Other sharers were Woody/Bedders, Chas/Suggs, Suggs/Barso and various other combos but usually stuck with those. I don’t know who the odd one out was; we must’ve taken it in turns.
OCTOBER 20: Oasis, Swindon
Madness were afflicted by a hollow balance that seemed to flatten all their attempts to carry the audience away with them.
Allan Jones, Melody Maker.
PAULINE BLACK: Obviously, we were reflecting what was going on in society within our band, and that made for some very uncomfortable situations while we were on tour. Madness didn’t have that problem. They were all white, and they were all male.
JULIET WILLS: Right from the start there was a heavy skinhead element in the audience. You’d have this bizarre spectacle of them Seig Heil-ing and chanting when there was no music playing, but as soon as each song started, they’d be skanking away like crazy. It was a complete cultural contradiction. On the whole the bands were very good at cooling it. Even Madness always made it clear to the skins that they didn’t want any violence.
LEE: There were many boisterous moments. I was always hidden behind a hat and dark glasses, so I never really noticed it much, but Suggs and Chris could see it coming and became really good at dealing with it before it kicked off.
CARL: We’d simply point the spotlight down onto troublemakers and refuse to play until those people had been thrown out.
LYNVAL GOLDING: There was a big scuffle with the skins out in the middle of the hall one night so me, Jerry, Neville and Roddy jumped down off the stage and got stuck into them. Nev grabbed Roddy’s guitar and whacked one guy on the head. We manhandled them out, brushed off our clothes, climbed back on stage and started playing again.
SUGGS: There were times, right at the heart of it all, when you’d think, ‘Oh Jesus, what on earth are we going to do?’ Suddenly you realised that it was out of control. There was a brief period when you thought, ‘It’s happened. We’ve been taken over by the Nazis.’
CARL: We were all white, but there wasn’t a lot we could do about it. We didn’t really feel that we should get a token black in or anything like that. We didn’t feel that we had to justify anything. I don’t think a lot of the kids knew what they were doing – they just wanted something to join up to; some sort of club.
SUGGS: It was very tough for us. No one can know what we went through, seeing a thousand people Sieg Heil-ing. We’d jump in the audience to try to put people off, but there came a point where it was overwhelming. It was fucking everybody, and you’d see the National Front geezers at the back organising these skinheads. You’d see people you knew with a swastika tattooed the wrong way round on their forehead. I don’t think they even knew what the fuck they were on about. We got the credit for it, but they were doing it at Specials concerts, too. It was all over the place for a bit.
JERRY DAMMERS: The amount of violence has been exaggerated down the years. I really wish there hadn’t been any. The great majority were trouble-free, but there were a few where a minority thought they were supposed to have a scrap. With about four exceptions, any sign of trouble was nipped in the bud by the band stopping and Terry explaining that it wasn’t part of the deal.
DAVE WAKELING: There were so many fights at the early 2-Tone concerts that we were a bit dismayed in The Beat. We could stay home and watch the boxing. We didn’t have to come out for this. So I had this idea that it was because the 2-Tone Man was dancing alone, and that all that [the skins] had to do is impress each other, and the way drunk skinheads impress each other is to try to hit each other on the bridge of their nose with their forehead. Getting nutty; The Nutty Sound. So, I said, ‘I bet if the 2-Tone Man had a girl to dance with, skinheads would be, like, putting on a little extra aftershave. They’d put that energy into showing off for the girls rather than showing off to each other, you know, and it’d stop the fighting.’ So we got the Beat Girl up there and loads of girls started coming to the concerts, dressed kind of like the Beat Girl, and the skinheads were around them like a honey pot and the fighting stopped. There were hardly any fights at Beat shows compared to other 2-Tone bands. And the guys in Madness and The Specials and The Selecter got jealous. ‘How come you don’t have any scraps at yours? It’s like a bloodbath at our gigs!’ I was like, ‘Thank the Beat Girl’.
OCTOBER 21: Stateside Centre, Bournemouth
Madness keep their centre loose, fluid & flexible & their edges filed down with cheeses grater chords, sturdy Farfisa & reckless raucous sex. Madness have the edge, they also have the mobility. At some point in their set, it dawns on me that if this isnt Heaven, it has to be the place next door. Square jawed Suggs & his attendant skanker Chas Smash reckon much the same thing & treat us to some flailing choreography – a stop/start idiot routine for The Prince, & one of those three in a line cake walk numbers with the saxist in Madness.
The Selecter (who open) are less adventurous but still a fearsome dance force. Their sound’s so bass-heavy that when the dreadlocked Charlie busts a string mid number, the mix all but disintegrates without him. They deliver steam locomotive bluebeat jangling with angular chords, rattling with percussion & fronted by Gabs & the frenetic wide eyed Pauline who belt around like a couple of yo yos wired to the mains. Two numbers punch you right between the eyes, the single ‘On Your Radio’, with a disarming echo vocal from Pauline & their suitably sinister reading of the ‘James Bond Theme’. For the rest The Selecter merely keep your feet warm.
Same goes for The Specials who compared with the last three times I’ve sampled their wares come suspiciously close to going through
the motions.After the colours of the Madness set, Its Up To You, Concrete Jungle & Doesnt Make It Alright sound flat, drained & lifeless. I’m left unmoved maybe because – unlike Madness – their ever tighter sense of disipline seems to be clouding their will to expand. That tends to be the case with Skaville, a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Mark Ellen, NME
Madness weren’t easy. To me they sounded interesting but I didn’t warm to them until the last couple of songs and Shoparound. The instrumentals such as One Step Beyond and Tarzan’s Nuts were honking, rough fun alright, but the songs had a rueful quality which made me wish Suggsy was getting the words through to me and giving me more of a feeling for what they’re about. I partially caught up with In the Middle Of The Night, a funny tale of a knicker nicker. Are they seriously mad or not? Tell me more, I don’t need to think about the future of rock ‘n roll, I don’t need the Specials, I need resuscitation.
Phil Sutcliffe, Sounds
SUGGS: We were quite different as people. I can remember how it was on the tour bus. There was more of an amphetamine influence up the front; the chatting and shouting and sticking your arse out of the window gang, ie Madness. And it sort of mellowed out as you got to the back, where all the smokers were, and through the clouds you’d find Rico the king, on the one big back seat.
PAULINE BLACK: Madness were like the Boy Scouts sitting together.
SUGGS: We’d be at the front like speeding wasps, away with the fairies on the excitement of it all. The Specials were like the bees, chilling out up the back, making honey.
JULIET WILLS: The black music drug of choice in those days was always marijuana, and the white bands tended to go for speed.
RODDY ‘RADIATION’ BYERS: I think I sat somewhere in the middle and did both.
PAULINE BLACK: I don’t remember it like that. I remember Horace and the terrifyingly cool Terry Hall holding queenly court on the back seat. I have to say I have never met such a bunch of prima donnas as some of The Specials. I don’t accuse Neville Staple of this behaviour, but the remaining sextet should have been sent down by ‘Judge 400 Years’ for a long spell of personality rehabilitation.
LEE: I was pretty much the tour’s court jester – I used to make Terry Hall and his fiancée giggle in particular. I also remember passing the tour bus in a car and seeing Pauline, so I did a moonie out of the window.
OCTOBER 22: Exeter University
CARL: I remember looking down into the crowd and right in the front there were 10 kids dressed exactly like me. That’s when I realised how big it was getting.
PAULINE BLACK: There were clones of The Specials in the audience, and as we did more gigs I began to see girls who were clones of me, with a red Harrington and a trilby hat on.
SUGGS: I remember seeing David Bowie when I was a kid, and he’d come out in GI gear, and the next week all the kids would be wearing GI gear. Then one day you were in a band and everyone was wearing what you were wearing… like, fuck me! A huge whirlpool of disparate youth had suddenly found what they were looking for, although at the time I don’t think we realised that. They were grey times back then, so seeing all these kids with their Harringtons and badges, trying to look like us even though they had no money, was very humbling. But the great joy was that we were there to cheer them up.
CARL: Every band on the tour was trying to outdo each other in the live performance. It was pretty mad – in those days everyone wanted to get onstage.
NEOL DAVIES : The audience went home very, very happy every night, although I suspect most people only recovered about three days later.
WOODY: During the tour we swapped the headline bill, so some days we’d headline, some days it would be The Specials, then it would be The Selecter’s turn.
JERRY DAMMERS: You can’t imagine bands doing that now, can you really? But that was a good thing about the whole 2-Tone label – all the bands were into a similar thing and we all sort of helped each other. I don’t think any one of those bands would’ve made it without the others.
CHARLIE ANDERSON (The Selecter, speaking during the tour in 1979): What we’re aiming for is a family of music. That is what 2-Tone is all about. We’re not aiming for competition. We’re not gonna go out to try and say that The Selecter are trying to run off The Specials or that Madness aren’t as good as The Selecter. It’s a matter of trying to present each band at their best.
CHRIS: All the bands had something but, at the same time, they were quite different in their own way.
CARL: The Selecter did it like a pastiche of an authentic ska act, that was how they dropped it. Madness were, ‘We’re fucking different, a bit of this, a bit of that and… wooooohhhh!’ Everyone had a different approach.
WOODY: The Specials and The Selecter were very much down one single road. They would be desperate to try and recreate the original, authentic sounds such as the bass and drum sound from the original record, whereas we just wanted to play music and didn’t care about trying to recreate anything. We had many more diverse influences.
CHRIS: It was great to be a part of it, but we also transcended it really rather quickly. I don’t think the Specials were just a ska band, either. It was just a label.
OCTOBER 23: Fiesta Suite, Plymouth
DAVID SAUNDERS (Fiesta Suite DJ): Madness created a massive party from moment I introduced them. I didn’t realise it was going to be as wild as it was but they were truly nutty and I had a great view from my DJ booth beside the main stage. The guys bounced around with Suggs, Lee and Carl really giving it some. I remember trying to hand Chrissy Boy a pint a few times but it was chaos and almost totally lacking in control. Madness were a lot of fun. Yes, they were a bit raw and rough around the edges, but the atmosphere was superb. The only thing that soured it a bit were some ‘new’ skinheads who didn’t get the concept of just having a good time. Some gave Nazi salutes and the like, but we had some fearsome doormen who chose their targets and threw them down the stairs at the stage exit. A couple of other twats also thought they were at a punk concert and I could see they were getting to the band, but again the doormen tossed them out. It meant the majority could just enjoy the gig. There was also a Chinese restaurant immediately below the Fiesta dance floor, and the owner Mr Wong suddenly appeared, bellowing at our staff about how his ‘FOCKING’ chandelier was swaying and dropping glass onto diners. It was all very surreal.
OCTOBER 25: Kimberley Recreational Hall, Nottingham
CARL: The Specials seemed to be a bit more punky and harder, but I think really a lot of it was driven by Jerry Dammers. He was the political mind. His father was a Liberation Theologist priest, so I think he came from quite a radical background, in that sense. And The Selecter were more of a good time band, dance-wise, but they were pretty crazy in their own way, too. The keyboard player was a schizophrenic, tried to bite someone’s ear off once.
DAVE WAKELING: The Specials and The Beat had big mouths and a lot to say politically, but that might have been the times. For me at the time, it seemed, how could you live in England in the late 70s and bring out 12 songs and not have politics in them? Seeing that was what everybody was talking about at each bus stop, everybody was talking about in each bar. And so to get on stage and sing a load of songs that didn’t reflect the society you lived in seemed to me more a political act than just calmly mentioning what was going on in your own backyard.
SUGGS: Going on the road with The Specials was a huge education. They were much more politically enlightened than we were; we were just daft kids running round in circles. We were more keen on having a laugh than saying anything. But we did have a moral fibre, and as we went along we learned how to express it.
CARL: The whole multicultural thing was a big deal for us, we felt we were part of a wave, y’know? It was dance, it was good time, its ideals were honourable and progressive, pretty cool. Its camaraderie was strong, too, being on the coach, the three bands increased your chances of being played, the big boomers, a lot of fun. We took over every hotel, going in with loads of spliffs. We got thrown out of one, just couldn’t handle it. But it was very nice, funny.
KELLOGGS (speaking in 1979): They make me feel so old. They just don’t stop. Up ’til four every morning, boozing. They’re fucking loving it. They’re on top of the fucking world. A hit single, on the telly, on the road away from mum, drinking, smoking – all yobbos together. They’re having the time of their lives.
OCTOBER 26: University of East Anglia, Norwich
NEVILLE STAPLE: Such was the power of the three bands that the halls were full up from the moment the doors opened. There was no lingering in the bar before the main act. If you were into 2-Tone you had to catch all three.
JULIET WILLS: I remember watching from backstage one night and realising that the balcony was shaking up and down because of all the kids dancing. It was terrifying to think what might happen.
SUGGS: Some of the Top Ranks still had the plastic palm trees and the sprung dance floors, which meant the PA would be bouncing around. Jerry would invite the audience up as well, in his inimitable style. I remember a couple of nights I was hanging on like the rodeo or a pirate on the high seas.
KELLOGGS: At the University Of East Anglia, I handed over the reigns of tour management to Cameron McVey.
CAMERON McVEY: They were quite a handful to keep in order and Kellogs just couldn’t take any more of their antics. I was on the road taking photos and having a laugh so he asked if I wanted to take over.
OCTOBER 26: One Step Beyond/Mistakes is released.
The band’s second single, and their first on Stiff, goes on to reach No7 in the UK.
WOODY: I thought One Step Beyond was OK, but never in a million years did I think would we have it as a single. It didn’t represent the band as Suggs wasn’t on it. We sat for hours arguing against having it as a single but Robbo was adamant that it should be the one.
MIKE: Dave was good at picking songs and having a great strategy. At that time, to choose that song took a great mind.
SUGGS: Thank god for Robbo having the vision to make this the first single on Stiff, otherwise things could have turned out very differently and we’d be sitting here discussing the state of sanitation.
WOODY: It was the right choice – it just kicked the band in, right away.
DAVE ROBINSON: I’d picked something they couldn’t see at all. So when Once One Step Beyond was a hit – which they hadn’t really considered – then they figured that I knew something that they didn’t. So from then on they allowed me pretty much to choose the singles from the material that they were writing.
CARL: Sometimes, bands can be too close to their own music, so after that we pretty much left it to Dave’s judgment.
SUGGS: Of course it went on to be a Madness classic. We’ve tried starting gigs without that ‘Hey you…’ but it doesn’t work. It’s a cure-all song – people dancing, buildings destroyed, wars stopped.
MIKE: For a while, Ajax played One Step Beyond every time they scored a goal. Once they stopped doing so, it went all downhill.
CARL: The B-side, Mistakes, is actually my favourite Madness song. I’m very proud of the lyrics, which were written when we were very young. It’s like most of our songs, which have a message of some kind.
BEDDERS: The subject matter was what you came to expect from Madness in later years.
CARL: It’s such an astute observation of life at a young age. It’s way ahead of its time. And poignant. I’m a massive fan of the darker aspect of Madness.
BEDDERS: There’s still quite a lot of affection for that song because it was one of the first we wrote that wasn’t a cover. It’s a shame we didn’t get it on the first album, but it wouldn’t really have fitted as the track listing was so tight.
CHRIS: For the 12″ version, we had The Nutty Theme, which was our attempt to create our own genre.
BEDDERS: Lee hummed the tune, Suggs chipped in with the lyrics and Mike would have fleshed the chords out.
SUGGS: It was us saying we didn’t want to be ska or 2-Tone, but to have our own sound. We wanted to make it clear we never wanted to be a ska band – we just had a few ska songs in our repertoire.
CHRIS: For our first-ever video, we got in Chuck Stadler, who had previously worked with Devo on Satisfaction which was, and still is, one of my favourite videos. It was filmed in location all over England.
BEDDERS: It was just four people following us around on tour and filming us coming out of a barbershop or whatever. It was great and only cost two grand.
CHRIS: Basically we stopped every time we saw a good location. The shot of us doing the Nutty Train was somewhere in Leeds. We literally stopped, got off the bus and did the walk down the road. We didn’t give a fuck how silly we looked. It all felt really strong.
SUGGS: None of it was really choreographed. We just went back to London, did basic footage of us playing in a pub and just clipped all the best bits together together.
MIKE: The ‘live’ bits were recorded in the Hope & Anchor, where we did a lot of our early gigs. We had to take a few days off the 2-Tone Tour to record it.
CARL: This was the period when I was still left in the dressing room for the videos.
MIKE: Yeah, we always had Carl on a separate reel…
CARL: …just in case the cutting room floor was looking inviting.
CHRIS: He was in the band, but in the videos he didn’t perform with us, but that was all about to change.
DAVE ROBINSON: The joy of Chuck was he was very quick. I think we made two videos in one day.
CARL: Chuck was very good…
MIKE: …he was always up for spontaneous this and that.
CHRIS: Chuck and his small crew – one sound man and one lighting man (the way it should be kids!) – were in one Transit van, christened ‘The Chuck Wagon’. They had adopted a fan of ours called Faron who was a monosyllabic young man – he’s the one in bed at the beginning – who would travel with them. The video also featured ‘Prince Nutty’, who was a fan-come-minder/Nutty dancer at the time. Chalky does a quick dance with Toks, the other legendary roadie, leaning on a wall behind him (Toks refused to dance unless he was paid). There were also some bits that didn’t get used – I seem to remember running up and down a street festooned with sheets hung out to dry.
DAVE ROBINSON: Madness were a complete unit. They didn’t like photo sessions so they would dream up moves, so the session would be an hour rather than four hours with people prancing about trying to think of something. They were fast movers – it was great.
OCTOBER 27: Hatfield Polytechnic
The violence reaches an all-time low: anti-fascists invade the Poly while chasing neo-Nazis and inevitably hurt innocent bystanders and cause £1,000 worth of damage. Affected by the news that 10 youths are hospitalised, Carl decides that he can not perform. The media make Madness scapegoats as they’re the only all-white band on the tour, and have the largest appeal for skinheads. Road manager ‘Kelloggs’ is subsequently sacked by Stiff as he wasn’t there.
CAMERON McVEY: It was a heavy night. Some hostile skins broke into the venue and a lot of kids got cut and stabbed. I saw some of the so-called toughest blokes run that night once the trouble started. But the whole Madness crew and band held pretty firm.
NIKKI CLARK (fan): There had been no trouble; everyone was in a good mood. Then this lot just broke in and started cutting any bloke who had short hair. It was awful.
GRANT FLEMING (fan): There was about 30 of them and they were really tooled up. They smashed in at the side of the hall level with the front half of the audience, who were mostly skins, and started properly slicing people up. It was nasty. The doors flew open, the windows smashed in – it was a proper attack. It was also dark and the band was playing so it took everyone completely by surprise. People were panicking. They couldn’t work out what was going on, or why it was happening.
CARL: Kids of about 14 were getting cut up. I couldn’t go on stage that night. I had to sit it out. It was strange, because the whole point of 2-Tone was that it was socially and racially aware – we even named our first single as a tribute to Prince Buster. Maybe it was because we were all-white.
NEVILLE STAPLE: Lynval snapped that night unable to take any more of those meatheads insulting him. Off he went with his guitar into the audience as I watched slack-jawed in amazement. Obviously I had to follow.
CHRIS: Hatfield was the worst violence I’ve ever seen at a gig. To this day, it’s definitely my worst-ever Madness gig.
SUGGS: We kind of inherited that National Front faction from Sham 69. It was a football thing originally, and then they started showing up on the 2-Tone Tour. A lot of venues got smashed up. That music creates a lot of energy, and on the horrible odd occasion it can go the wrong way.
CARL: The other bands knew we didn’t like it, but there was an outside perception, blown up by the media, that we were allied with the right wingers.
PAULINE BLACK: All I really remember is looking out from the stage and seeing a sea of skinheads who were Sieg Heil-ing in our direction.
CARL: The fact that we were an all-white band as opposed to a mixed race band gave them something to latch on to; it was their assumption. And it did turn into a monster for a while.
SUGGS: There were a lot of skinheads. Five concerts out of ten would be stopped by some chaotic fighting or horribleness.
LEE: It got to the point where these fascist groups were handing out leaflets. Our promoter had to go out there and frogmarch them off.
CARL: We were naïve enough to think that by calling ourselves Madness after Prince Buster’s song, by our first single being a tribute to Prince Buster, who was black, by being on the 2-Tone Tour, surely that said enough? We said that we weren’t fascists.
SUGGS: The fact we didn’t have any black people in our band was something they could attach themselves to. It was a very dark period and we did struggle with it. We were in the thick of something no one will ever see again, I hope. But so were a lot of bands. They were clamping down on football hooligans, so all the hooligans were aligning themselves to bands. That whole era was very violent and mad, and we were right in the middle of it. The lucky thing for us was, at the turning point in Britain between the 1970s and 1980s, those fuckers went on to Oi! and punk. Praise the lord, we were just seen as pop lightweights, not standing up for our nation. They left us behind.
CARL: In the end, we just kept saying we weren’t interested and they went away. What’s more disturbing, I find, is not the kids themselves but the people who back them up. These things are mainly socio-economic, though, aren’t they – if more people had jobs it wouldn’t happen so much.
KELLOGGS: Robinson hauled me into his office and fired me on the spot. I think it was Lee that got on the phone and who was really sorry saying, ‘Hey you got fired, that was our fault, what happened? etc’. And I suddenly realised, ‘God these boys really care for me’. In a way, they appreciated what I was trying to do for them and show them the ropes.
CAMERON McVEY: I think I was road manager for a few more shows. That’s probably an exaggeration: my job was more like that of Radar on M*A*S*H – trying to think ahead and outwit the group before any real trouble started.
OCTOBER 28: Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
JULIET WILLS: We wanted to keep the prices down but with such big groups – 43 people, with transport, accommodation and everything else – it turned out to be more expensive than a normal tour. We realised there was a serious cash shortfall, so reluctantly a decision was made to increase the ticket prices.
CARL: Jerry went berserk. He refused to go on until the money was refunded. In the end, he took it to extremes. He wouldn’t sit down on the tour bus. He’d give his seat to a fan while he crouched on the floor because he felt guilty. He’d sleep on park benches instead of hotel rooms and refuse to go in limos.
OCTOBER 29: Top Rank, Birmingham
OCTOBER 30: Golden Palms, Blackburn
SUGGS: Rick Rogers was stopping at every phone box he could find to try and book bigger venues as it snowballed out of control. There were riots going on with kids wanting to get into the gigs, and we’d have to play at bigger and bigger places in every city we got to. I remember very clearly he’d get off at every service station and phone ahead, and then he’d go, ‘Fuck, the venue’s been trashed! There’s 4,000 kids outside, and they’re smashing the place up.’ So he’s trying to ring ahead, trying to find a bigger venue while we’re driving to the venue that’s already been burned down. Meanwhile, Gangsters, The Prince and On My Radio are shooting up the charts and stages are collapsing as the bands and half the audience join The Specials for a communal encore of Monkey Man.
JERRY DAMMERS: We weren’t really prepared for it because no band had ever made it from Coventry before, except Lieutenant Pigeon. We were running around like headless chickens, yelling, ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’ at each other. No one really knew how to react at all. It was astonishing how fast it was. Suddenly the 2-Tone sound was everywhere.
TERRY HALL: If I’m totally honest, 2-Tone was okay but I can’t go overboard. It was brilliant at the time because I was 19 and part of something. But looking back, the music was a bit shit and the songs a bit token. I look back on it as a very naive period – our heads were in the clouds. We were supposed to be at the head of some new ska movement but it was only really Jerry who was heavily into ska; I thought it was crap. It was fine in the beginning – we were kicking back against Coventry, bad schooling, no jobs, racism. But it became difficult when there was nothing left to rebel against. We couldn’t sing about unemployment when we were buying ready-made meals for two from Marks & Spencer.
OCTOBER 31: Victoria Hall, Hanley
CARL: What I was doing dance-wise; no one else was doing. We could see The Specials – Neville especially – watching what Lee and I were doing. I would climb to the top of speaker stacks, jump off and do a combat roll… completely frenetic.
SUGGS: Most of the band liked dancing and bit-by-bit we’d managed to develop our own kind of style.
WOODY: Our road crew, Toks and Chalky, were excellent dancers and had this unique style. They had it, Carl had it, Suggs had it… Lee was just a brilliant dancer.
BEDDERS: Lee is quite a remarkable dancer –‘non-traditional’ I think you’d call it.
WOODY: Back then, it was all like, ‘Get your arms right up to your chest and stick your bum out and wiggle away.’ I don’t know where it stemmed from.
CARL: My moves were an amalgam of the vaudeville aspect of Tommy Cooper and Max Wall, mixed with the old skinhead thing of pulling on your braces when you danced to reggae; me and Lee used to practice it in front of a mirror. I’d also done a bit of martial arts, so I did a bit of kapow! too and it became all mixed up together. I come from a long line of performers, so I just loved to get up there and do it.
SUGGS: I’m not sure we should have encouraged it because now, when you’re going into hotels, you see 50-year-old blokes still doing it. Saying that, my hand has been shaken on a number of occasions by people who’ve thanked me, in part, for making blokes dance again.
HORACE PANTER: Madness were obviously aware of the bigger picture. They had merchandise. Three types of t-shirts, one with the unforgettable ‘Fuck Art, Let’s Dance’ logo. Despite my years as an art student, I blagged one. Madness’s merchandise was sold by Carl’s brother, Brendan and a little guy called Wandsworth Harry, or ‘Wandswer Farry’ to use his proper name. They sold their t-shirts for a fiver, and every three to four days, another ten boxes would arrive – they were cleaning up. Fair play, I suppose.
NOVEMBER 1: Apollo, Manchester
MARK RADCLIFFE (BBC Radio DJ): That night at the Apollo, it was all irresistible ska showpieces – The Prince, One Step Beyond, Night Boat To Cairo and Swan Lake, during which Tchaikovsky may have been rotating in his tomb, but if he was, he was doing it in a series of rhythmic jerks. The great thing about Madness was that they exuded good humour, like they were just a bunch of mates out for a laugh.
SUGGS: When I see film of it, I can’t believe the energy, fucking hell. I have these images that flash through my head – of fucking unbridled joy and energy and arms and legs and hats and lights and people shouting, of putting damp suits on from the night before, and being 18. It was the best time of our lives.
NOVEMBER 2: University of Lancaster
HORACE PANTER: That was the night we heard our new album, The Specials, had gone into the charts at No6, so some champagne was sent up. Jerry went into a sulk and threw his organ on the ground, like: ‘What is this monster I have created?’
NOVEMBER 4: Top Rank, Sheffield
NOVEMBER 5: De Montfort Hall, Leicester
NOVEMBER 6: Guild Hall, Portsmouth
The Selecter were good, they had Pauline and she was pretty sexy, but with attitude. Madness were excellent and the crowd loved them, but the Specials were even better. They seemed to have everything – joy and seriousness mingled in the melodies and dancing, a perfect blend of black and white. The atmosphere was ecstatic.
Pete Giaconda, audience member
HORACE PANTER: After Portsmouth we had a mad dash back to London to be in time for Top of the Pops the next day. We got to our hotel at about 4am and then we were up again a couple of hours later.
NOVEMBER 7: Top Rank, Cardiff
The only 2-Tone show in Wales, where Suggs spent three years of his childhood. In the afternoon, Madness join The Specials in London, where they playback One Step Beyond on Top Of The Pops.
RICK ROGERS (The Specials manager): Although all the bands appeared on Top Of The Pops that night, The Selecter had been pre-recorded. It gave us a headache getting the other two bands to the gig in Cardiff but The Selecter were able to go on first. Madness had to hire a private plane because they were in the middle slot and The Specials got the train and arrived five minutes after Madness.
NOVEMBER 8: King’s Hall, Derby / Appear on Top of the Pops with The Specials and The Selecter
The three bands arrive in Derby. The night before they find that portable TVs and clothes were stolen from the coach during the show, and police involvements keep them in Cardiff longer than the schedule intended. As in Brighton, the sound check is cut, giving Madness enough time to hunt for a place to watch their own Top of the Pops performance. The end up asking the staff of taxi firm Eagle Cars to tape it in return for signed copies of the One Step Beyond single and free entry to the show. A power failure occurs during the first song and after an onstage sound check it becomes clear that the bass and organ are not working properly. The other bands come to the rescue by lending their instruments even though time is running out. Madness play a five-song set during which Carl plugs Eagle Cars.
There’s no crowing and jeering when the band stumble into their first number and come to a ragged halt after just a few bars. There is no abuse when they are forced into an embarrassed, flustered sound check on stage, and there are no riots when the band say sorry but their organ and bass aren’t working and they can’t continue. There is only a general air of disappointment. But the other bands rally round and soon Madness are back onstage, doing a much-shortened set, for which the audience are generous in their appreciation, and oblivious to the still poor quality sound.
Deanne Pearson, NME
TERRY HALL: We didn’t want any make-up because we’d been on German TV just before and they insisted on this make-up which made us look bright orange. It was embarrassing.
CARL: The whole show was a total stitch-up. We got herded around like sheep and so did the audience. There was no interaction allowed between bands. We were told to stay in our individual dressing room and not to come out until we were called. The audience were told when to clap, when to duck when a camera zoomed over their heads and when to move as cables were coming through.
TERRY HALL: I remember just shitting myself doing it. Try smiling when you’re going to fall over because you don’t know where you are. It was never my intention to be Sheena Easton.
NEVILLE STAPLE: Roddy and Brad got thrown out of the bar for getting a bit too lubricated while I just tried to get my head round the fact that we were in the BBC TV centre.
WOODY: The producers asked us to do the nutty train, but it’s a bit difficult for me, being the drummer, because I can’t really take my kit with me. So it turned into more like a conga.
NOVEMBER 9: Mayfair, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Madness decide to alter the set for a change tonight – Tarzan’s Nuts has One Step Beyond’s ‘Hey you…’ intro attached. Madness closes the main set, after which they return to play The Prince. The band are accompanied by Journalist Deanne Pearson from the NME. Her subsequent article later that month will only serve to stir up the row about racist fans.
Madness in particular have tightened up (reggae pun) almost beyond belief and are currently a more than fair investment for your LSD. Ironically the most moving moment of the night was the final encore after the Specials sparkling performance which featured all three bands and several fans on that ‘ol Skinhead Moonstomp – Chrissy Boy tried to get me up for vocals but, sob, I lost me Aristotle. (Call yerself a man – Indignant Ed.) Puritanical viragos will be pleased to learn that there was a noteable absence of both River Ouse and oedipus Rex (Booze and Sex – Ed’s translation) back at the hotel so most people just hit the hay. Brekkers next morning was hectic what with Selecter Desmond hollering for bacon sarnies and Special Neville dishing out the insults a la ‘Bloodclaat Monkeyman’. Soon the hotel foyer was like Casey’s court too with poor old Andy Murray flying around like a blue arsed fly, tugging lumps out of his barnet, trying to organise his troops for photos with Turbulent and then ta ra, the serious interview.
Author unknown, 1979
MIKE (speaking in 1979): All that bloody right-wing stuff is just fashion. One week they’re in the NF, the next it’s BM. If you try to have an intelligent conversation about it, they have no idea what you’re talking about.
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): If we wanted to talk about politics, we’d have formed a debating society not a fucking band.
NEVILLE STAPLE: I don’t believe the Nutty Boys had a racist bone in their bodies but there was a growing subculture which had adopted the skinhead look and NF politics. As a multi–racial band there was no way they were going to follow us, so sadly they tacked on to Madness. Pauline felt they could have done more to speak out and eventually they did distance and lose themselves from their original followers but at the time it created an uncomfortable atmosphere.
WOODY: We started to become aware that there was a miniscule handful of hard-core National Front and British Movement. It’s like at the football – you’ll always get a few idiots who start a fight.
LEE (speaking in 1979): We’re only in this game for a laugh. And if we are forced to drop out then none of us would have any regrets at all. We don’t want anything to do with the National Front. As far as I’m concerned if they start venting their political feelings at our gigs then we can call it a day.
JOHN HASLER (speaking in 1979): The band aren’t in a position to issue an ultimatum as that might just encourage people to wreck gigs but I would think that if it got really heavy they would jack it in.
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): Now that Sham 69 have broken up or lost it, the skins are looking for a new band to follow. We love our mates but we don’t want any of that violence or the National Front stuff. Music’s got nothing to do with politics – that’s nothing but trouble. Look at Tom Robinson – he’s disappeared. It’s the music that counts.
NOVEMBER 10: Stirling University, Scotland
CARL: The Scottish gigs were great. I remember sweat dripping off the ceilings, our suits were drenched and the dye on our pork pie hats started running.
SUGGS: It’s a blur of adrenaline and running down hotel corridors, people going fucking mental. Those old Mecca ballrooms had sprung dance floors, so the whole room was jumping. The lighting rigs were collapsing, the balconies looked like they were going to come down… I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. It was the energy of punk, but with the dancing.
BEDDERS: I loved the whole tour. I wish someone could capture that time properly because it was an unbelievable thing.
NOVEMBER 10: One Step Beyond enters the UK singles charts, where it will stay for 14 weeks, peaking at No7
NOVEMBER 11: Glasgow, Scotland
NOVEMBER 12: Tiffany’s, Edinburgh
SUGGS: The power base was shifting between the bands as all of us were growing and learning as it went on. There was the most unbelievable atmospheres in the venues – literally everybody on the stage at the end, the floors collapsing, the PAs falling down. It was chaos and anarchy and a fantastic time to be in a band – but it had to be the last time it could be that chaotic and hectic.
NOVEMBER 13: Ruffles, Aberdeen
NOVEMBER 14: Pavilion, Ayr
Madness play their last date on the 2-Tone tour as they leave to undertake dates in the USA.
BEDDERS: Signing the Stiff deal had meant we would come off the tour early and go to America.
CARL: To mark our departure we did the Nutty Train through the middle of The Specials’ set, carrying our suitcases and waving goodbye.
SUGGS: We walked across very purposefully – it was an evocative moment. We were off because we’d made the decision that we didn’t want to be on 2-Tone any more. It was The Specials’ label and we’d have been under their wing when we wanted our own thing, have our own style. It was with gratitude that we were on their label but we didn’t want to be second best when we knew we could be the best in our own right.
NEVILLE STAPLE: Madness leaving early caused some irritation on our side. That said, they never cracked the US to anything like the extent we did, in spite of bolting there early.
NOVEMBER 15: Market Hall, Carlisle
Dexys Midnight Runners replace Madness on the 2-Tone Tour.
SUGGS: I remember seeing Dexys in The Music Machine, which was just a little club in Camden Town, to see another band. And they all came marching in – and this was a night out for Dexys – and they all had their bags, scarves and woollen hats, and they all stood in a line at the front of the concert.
LYNVAL GOLDING: We never got on with Kevin Rowland. He had this big thing with Dexys being a gang, and he told the rest of them not to talk to any of us. We had this roadie, Hartford, who worked for The Selecter. The guys from Dexys would try to give him a hard time and he thumped the lot of them.
KEVIN ROWLAND (Dexys, speaking in 1979): We don’t want to become part of anyone else’s movement. We’d rather be in our own movement. The most important thing to us is the show. We’re not interested in drinking or the best seat in the van.
STEVE SPOONER (Dexys): Joining the tour was an eye-opener for all of us, Kevin included. We’d done a few gigs by then, but we hadn’t gone on tour, we hadn’t played to audiences. We’d played to pubs. I look back and think how natural we were. Yet The Specials were such a fantastic group. And The Selecter were pretty hot in their day too.
KEVIN ROWLAND (Dexys): If I had my time again I’d vote to not to do it and stay as we were. I was weak and went along with aligning us to something which we weren’t.
STEVE SPOONER (Dexys): The places were always heaving. There was terrible violence in those days, but people were buzzing, dancing; just fantastic gigs.
LYNVAL GOLDING: I met a wonderful girl in Carlisle, a nursery school teacher, and we ended up in bed. The next morning we’re lying there naked and all the rest of the band burst in, pulled the covers off and started slapping her on the arse.
NOVEMBER 16, 17 & 18: Electric Ballroom, London
Madness play a few London shows to end the tour properly, supported by Red Beans & Rice and Bad Manners. Due to high ticket demand, an extra show is pencilled in on the 18th, and the multiple nights in London become a trend for future tours. A lot of neo-Nazis get hold of tickets and chant ‘Sieg Heil’ at Red Beans & Rice, because their lead singer is black.
Suggs is forced onstage to plead, reason and yell at the audience. I feel sorry for him as he spreads his hands in despair and admits that he doesn’t know what to try. He’s not only saddened, he’s ashamed – this is a Madness audience? Finally he storms offstage, kicking his microphone over as he goes. Chas has a go, and even his brother Brendan, and finally the audience majority, seeing not only their entertainment but also their money being wasted, back up Chas’s ”fun not politics” line and welcome Red Beans & Rice back onstage. After Madness’s set, the meaningless ‘Seig Heil’ bleating is quickly quelled by Suggs’s patronising sneer of: ”Alright, I can see what you are, I’ve got eyes haven’t I?” Then he simply ignores them, like the rest of the audience who are old enough to enjoy music.
Deanne Pearson, NME
CHRIS: Missing the end of the 2-Tone Tour was sad, but we did our own show in London before departing on a merry-go-round of fun, japes, and wheezes that was to last four years. We were given finished copies of the album at this point, and it was very pleasing to actually have.
SUGGS: Red Beans & Rice were this great local R ‘n’ B band supporting us, a couple of whom were black. This sea of skinheads was there. They went onstage and there was Sieg Heiling at the front. Me and Carl jumped in the crowd and thought, ‘Oh, fucking hell, what have we done? Let’s get back out quick.’
WOODY: We had problems with getting it right with support acts and stuff, because people were very loyal to us. And sometimes the crowds didn’t always treat the very good support acts with the same respect as us.
NOVEMBER 21: Irving Plaza, New York
Madness embark on the three-week US tour they were offered to sign to New York-based Sire. Although One Step Beyond isn’t out in the States yet, the album is available at import stores and local radio stations play it regularly. The tour begins with four concerts in New York at four different venues. The shows sell out thanks to a group of fans who’ve been reading articles about the UK ska revival. Madness are keen to crack the USA before The Specials, who won’t play in New York until January 24 1980. By then, the Nutty Boys will have played California, Texas, Massechussetts and New York.
SUGGS: We knew Seymour Stein at Sire for quite a while, we thought he was really a nice geezer. We had the choice of signing with whom we wanted, so we broke off from the 2-Tone tour to go to America before The Specials did, to get some interest going.
CHRIS: We badly wanted to go to America. Robbo didn’t care because Stiff didn’t have a presence in America. They had a label and, in retrospect, we should have stayed with Stiff in America. But we just thought, ‘Well, they’re no doing anything’ and Seymour Stein at Sire Records was after us, and we just loved him. He was greatly a real character. He used to take us out for meals, but he knew music and he was a lovely guy. So we signed with Sire and we went to America.
BEDDERS: I’d turned down the chance to go to Hornsea College of Art in the hope of going to America – it was my childhood dream. So when we went it was everything I’d dreamed of.
LEE: We couldn’t wait to get there. America, and New York in particular, was fantastic. We looked like midgets out there. I remember standing by a manhole cover for a photo by Jill Furmanovsky and it was the size of the end of an oil tanker.
JILL FURMANOVSKY (photographer): I remember when the went to visit Warner Brothers, all seven of them piled into an elevator and poured out at the 15th floor, or wherever the reception was, and fell to the ground to worship the Warner Brothers logo, and the welcoming committee just stood there completely baffled. That’s what I remember about Madness in New York; the Americans not understanding them. The other thing was that they set up their own shots and the photographer just had to wait – they would organise the entire thing. It was great as it took a lot of the pressure off us having to think of ideas. Not many bands can do it but I think because Madness had so many members and were so aware of the comedy angle and visual side of what they were doing, they took it on as their own responsibility and were really brilliant at it.
CARL: On the way over, Suggs lost all his luggage. We’d both bought kilts and stuff and I had mine but he’d lost all his. So he was like, ‘Can I borrow some socks?’ And I looked stupid on me own in the kilt.
SUGGS: Sire didn’t want to release the album in November when it was out in England, because it was too near Christmas, but we said, ‘We’re coming over anyway.’ Unfortunately that meant there was no publicity. We had to go round plastering stickers everywhere and ringing people up, but that’s pioneering.
BEDDERS: Because nothing had been arranged, we just arrived at various towns, found somewhere to play, put up our own posters and phoned the local radio stations. It was good fun really.
KELLOGGS: We sort of got talking again and it transpired that before the end of the 2-Tone tour they were off to America to do a couple of weeks there for good old Sire Records. They asked me to go with them as their sort of tour manager to look after them. We flew out to the States at about the same time as One Step Beyond was released. I remember being at the airport thinking, ‘Shit, these guys have a hit’. It was very exciting. I was thrilled to be back in the fold from being excommunicated. There was a lot of excitement and support for the band on both coasts and key cities like Boston and Philadelphia.
NOVEMBER 22: Mudd Club, New York
After being regaled with tales of how electric the previous night’s show had been, this merely proficient set by Madness was disappointing’. I’m left, alas, with reporting on a show that had all the right elements but didn’t reach much of an exciting level. They played most of ‘One Step Beyond’ and fed my own partiality to My Girl, In The Middle Of The Night and Tarzan ‘s Nuts quite sufficiently. And they had the crowd bopping along with them (and cheering by the end of the set even if the response had only been lukewarm earlier).
WOODY: We definitely wanted to beat The Specials to America.
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): We are going to crack America. We can do it. We’re bloody good. And everyone wants to start dancing again, don’t they? That’s what we’re here for – to get everybody dancing and having a good time. That’s what it’s all about – fun. As for The Specials, I’m just sick of being someone’s younger brother, no matter who they are. We’re just us, we aren’t anybody else, even if the music is similar and all that.
NOVEMBER 23: Hurrah, New York
No record out here yet, but the place is packed full, and not with curiosity-seekers but with fans – it’s the makings of a cult. People shout out the group’s name, mob the stage and jump around. Madness get the best, the wildest, the loudest reception I’ve ever seen any band get at this particular club. Chas Smash does the intro and they’re off into One Step Beyond. Purely on the basis of prejudice, I’d have thought a bunch of white yobs playing ska to be an unlikely proposition, but they do it. Supercharged ska is their speciality, but this isn’t a one-trick band and the set did have the virtues of pacing. Razor Blade Alley was a particularly good reggae-fied break, slowed down, sexy and insinuating. Frontmen Suggs and Chas are a nonstop visual treat; lively, funny and captivating. For Night Boat To Cairo they remove their pork pie hats and put on fezes. During Swan Lake they engage in a comic display of head-bumping and mock aggro, shoving with arms and feet swinging in time. They’re natural comics in the best Laurel and Hardy tradition. The only trouble is that if Madness gigs here were threatened by the kind of violence that disrupts gigs in London, this mock-aggression wouldn’t seem funny. Our distance provides a certain innocence, the concerns about the NF audiences that figured predominately in Deanne Pearson’s recent Madness article wouldn’t ordinarily arise here, so it’s possible for us to accept Madness as exactly what they profess to be – a good-time dance band. Madness are one of the most appropriately named bands I’ve encountered. That’s what they projected; that’s what they inspired.
Richard Grabel, NME
BEDDERS: They said Mick Jagger saw us in New York but it must have been for five minutes to prove he’s the hippest dude in town.
SUGGS: We were having such fun. In those days you weren’t controlled by some Svengali or TV show or stylist. We were just genuinely out there, hardly believing it ourselves that we were being paid to go around the world and make music and have fun.
LEE: Our manager took us to this gay bar and I just remember playing the pinball machine and this cowboy came over. So I’m kind of thrusting myself against the machine to make it work and I can see this dude next to me, salivating, and I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m out of here.’
NOVEMBER 24: Paradise Club, Boston (2 shows)
Madness interrupt the New York leg of the tour for two shows in Boston on the same evening.
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): We played in Boston with this band called the Atlantics. Everybody sat at tables eating hamburgers. At the end of our set we had a lot of them dancing down the front. One of their roadies seemed a bit cheesed off ‘cos we’d moved them, so he says, ‘Oh, they’re just a dance band’.
WOODY (speaking in 1979): The only thing they know about reggae in America is Bob Marley. They don’t know the difference between ska, Blue Beat and dub. All black music to them is either soul or disco.
LEE (speaking in 1979): There were only four or five reggae artists in the racks at Tower Records: Bob Marley Jimmy Cliff and Johnny Nash – that was it.
MIKE (speaking in 1979): It’s the same with what they call ‘rock music’. They put Chuck Berry and some band like Toto into the same category. I had to explain to one of those radio people that Toto is not rock ‘n’ roll.
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): Half these bands don’t even do a soundcheck – I don’t suppose it matters to them as long as it’s loud enough. A lot of them are proudly competing for the ‘worst band in the world’ title. Proud of not being able to play. Music is everything to us. If any one of the instruments loses the balance, the whole thing goes.
NOVEMBER 24: Controversial race row article appears back home in the NME
Confronted with racist allegations, Carl tells the NME’s Deanne Pearson that the band aren’t interested in fans’ political views as long as everyone behaves and enjoys themselves. His comments are then inflated to worsen the negative publicity.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE
CARL (speaking in the NME, November 24 1979): We don’t care if the crowd are in the NF or BM or whatever as long as they behave themselves and are having a good time and not fighting. What does it matter? Who cares what their political views are? We don’t ask them if they’re Conservative or Labour when they come through the door. There’s no difference, they’re all just a group of kids who, like any kids, have to take out their anger and frustration on something. Some it’s football, some it’s music. NF don’t mean very much to them. Why should I stop them coming to our gigs? That’s all they’ve got.
SUGGS: The headline comes out that we don’t care who comes to our gigs, with the implication that we were encouraging racist skinheads, which we certainly weren’t. All we could do in interviews is say, ‘We don’t like it,’ and continue to make music of black origin. We weren’t the brightest sparks.
LEE: You’ve got to remember, back then we were a bunch of normal fellas who just wanted to have a whole lot of fun.
SUGGS: It didn’t help that we were white, skinheady-looking geezers.
CARL: When you’re 18 you’re not particularly qualified, especially if you’ve not done university, to be subtle with a journalist who has done university and is a master of words. She said, ‘Well what about skinheads?’ and I tried to say you can’t judge a book by the cover and you can’t judge people by the way they look. And I tried to explain that the people that worry me are the people in the grey suits who support the right-wing behaviour through funding and influence. The poor fucking bovver on the streets who is disenfranchised, those who are lost, those who capitalism has dropped and written off as the lowest strata and the acceptable cost of capitalism working for the many. They’re fish food for these fucking organisations. I came from a time when it was ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ and I pumped concrete on the M27 with my Uncle Brendan and my family dug holes for this country, so I know the immigrant reality and quite frankly what I’ve learnt is this: It’s a capitalist world – it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, where you come from, or your politics, or your sexual orientation; all they care about is if you are fucking rich.
SUGGS: It meant that for years and years and years, the press treated us like shit: ‘Just a load of fucking oiks, encouraging all these blokes to punch the fuck out of each other.’ And that’s exactly what we weren’t doing.
NOVEMBER 24: The band defend themselves from accusations of racism in Sounds magazine
A separate interview appears on the same day as the NME article, in which the band try to play down the racist accusations, and insist they have zero-tolerance to troublemakers.
SUGGS (speaking in Sounds, November 24 1979): Now personally I hate all this BM business, but a lot of the kids get taken in by it. When I was 13 all the kids used to go down Brick Lane and it’s easy to get pulled along by it which is why I don’t turn round and say, ‘Kill ’em all’. They’re just ordinary kids being like their mates, and the BM thing gives them a sense of identity. It don’t mean a lot to most of them outside of that. The way I see it if they’re all dancing to black music that means more than shouting at ’em or slicing ‘up up. Personally I’m more worried about violence at our gigs.
CARL (speaking in Sounds, November 24 1979): If they fuck around at our gigs we don’t wanna know. They’re out.
SUGGS (speaking in Sounds, November 24 1979): They fight all the time so we say just don’t do it at the gigs… better don’t do it at all.
CARL (speaking in Sounds, November 24 1979): There was these three kids who we’d banned ‘cos they’d caused trouble at gigs and the other day they asked if it was alright if they came back and promised to behave. Cos they do care y’know.
SUGGS (speaking in Sounds, November 24 1979): Yeah, like at Dingwalls it was the skins who went around stopping all the trouble.
WOODY (speaking in Sounds, November 24 1979): One thing you can never do is generalise about skinheads, and when the audience get dancing there’s nothing else on their minds ‘cept enjoying themselves. But we get all kinds at our gigs, not just skins.
RICK ROGERS: There were problems from the press, particularly as Suggs and Carl had been skinheads and were young and fairly naïve at the time and not too sure about their political persuasions. I mean, they’d been in their youth gangs, I suppose. We used to talk about things like that on the tour. They were ideologically sound but just unable to know how to deal with the press.
DAVE ROBINSON: They did have a high proportion of skinhead guys in their audience – red Doc Martens, trousers and braces. I just thought of them as the Madness crowd. I mean, we had the Blockheads and now we had the Madness crowd. They were always a bit iffy.
WOODY: The thing was, we didn’t want to stop anyone coming. You can’t say you’re into equal rights but then say, ‘Skinheads can’t come to our gigs.’ It’s exactly the same – it’s a form of prejudice. You can’t tell by appearance and we found it really distressing that people were being discriminated against because of their fashion. There were so many skinheads who were complete wimps. They might have had all the clothes but really they were just fashion victims.
DAVE ROBINSON: When it all sprang up, we had a meeting with the band and they were very bright about it. They knew who their boys were, what was happening, they knew they weren’t going to be involved and I think it was decided that Carl or maybe Suggs would make a statement to the press and give interviews. Dealing with it quickly in a straightforward fashion, rather than the PR guy from the record company spouting on their behalf, it went away. They were starting to attract a lot of younger kids, a whole new audience, and the skinhead thing started getting sidelined. It might have been nasty.
SUGGS: It didn’t help that it was all so tribal back then, even on top of the NF kind of thing. We were from North London, we went to West London and they immediately thought we were being aggressive or something because there were seven of us in the band, plus eight of our mates, so we’d get out the van and already people would be saying, ‘Who are they?’ We went in a pub in Liverpool. Almost inevitably someone would tell their mates that these Cockneys were trying to take over their pub and you’d find your windows and your van smashed in. It was just after punk, everyone was very aggressive. And of course football hooliganism was a very big thing in this country then.
NOVEMBER 25: Tier 3, New York
Madness are saddled with a heavy burden, and it is impossible to write about them at this point without dealing with it. Kids who fancy themselves members of far right and neo-Nazi political groups show up at Madness-gigs in England, wearing swastika armbands or other nasty paraphernalia. They get into fights and there is tension and trouble. And the press can’t stop debating whether Madness ought to publicly disavow this segment of their audience or stick to their policy of steering clear of political talk. None of this was on the audience’s mind at Tier 3 either, where Madness played their last New York date to a crazed, overflow crowd. Because there is no stage at Tier 3, only the people right up front could see the band. That didn’t matter, the whole club was dancing and jumping.
Richard Grabel, New York Rocker magazine
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): Three or four months ago, playing the Hope & Anchor was out of this world. Now here we are playing America. And yet it’s not that different – you’re still there to dance. And Stiff keep us really busy. If we have a day off they make us feel guilty, tell us we should be practising.
NOVEMBER 26: Hot Club, Philadelphia
In order to stir pre-release interest for One Step Beyond, Madness embark on a DIY promotional trip, visiting radio stations wherever they are. The promotion pays off as local station GLX gives the album massive airplay. Another highlight is when one bemused DJ insists on calling the frontman ‘Sluggsy’.
CARL (speaking in 1979): We don’t know how we found it and we can’t explain it but we’ve found something. This is Madness and it’s new.
NOVEMBER 27: Austin, Texas
BEDDERS: We did loads of small clubs but during our set everyone there seemed to be playing pool. It was lots of hard work for a very few sales.
CARL: I think the majority of people thought we’d just left Marine training or something. People used to think we were army cadet kids or something.
SUGGS: We did have our hair quite short, which was not the norm for people in America.
LEE: With the flat-tops and the boots, they thought we were either in the army or gay. Suggs was also asked to sing in an American accent and he thought, ‘No way.’
NOVEMBER 29: Mabuhay, San Francisco
CHRIS: It was a lot more foreign that we thought. The trouble was they couldn’t understand the way we talk. At the San Francisco gig, for a bit of fun we tried to give a car away – an estate with 2-Tone stripes which our American label Sire had got hold of – and nobody wanted it! All the kids had their own cars anyway.
WOODY: We’re about to go on stage and someone passes me a tiny, single skin roll-up containing a bit of blow. I’m thinking, ‘Well it’s only a tiny little rolly – surely one drag won’t hurt? Yeah, what the hell…’ Next thing I know I’m sitting behind what I assume is my drum kit wondering where the hell I am. Somehow I’ve got to play an entire Madness set in front of a couple of thousand people. I really don’t know how, but my autopilot kicks in and I find myself playing the drums reasonably well. My mind wanders a bit and I’m having to concentrate on keeping myself in check; it’s not easy but it looks as though I’m going to wing it, but at one point it gets really scary. We’re into My Girl and my mind wanders a bit too far. Suddenly I wake up from my reverie to discover I’ve no idea how far we are into the song. We seem to have been playing this song for ages, so I begin to go into what I think should be the ending. I start crashing the cymbals, one after the other, which is what happens towards the final stop. However, at the very last moment, something stops me from stopping. I’ve no idea how, but somewhere deep at the back of my mind, a rational voice quietly informs me that we have only just come out of the piano solo that’s featured in the middle of the song. I pull myself together and go back into the song. Ever since then I’ve never smoked anything before playing the drums, it’s just not worth all the problems it can cause.
NOVEMBER 30: Whisky-A-Go-Go, LA
After the success of New York, Madness arrive in California and the club where The Doors played their early gigs. They share the bill with San Franciso-based The Go-Go’s (to whom they recommend Stiff for European album release) and play two shows each night. Due to overwhelming success they’re promoted to headliners for the last night. British film-maker Joe Massot watches the final show and is so impressed he says he wants to make a short film about the band. His son Jason tells him to check out the other 2-Tone bands too. In early 1980 Massot will captures live performances by Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, Bad Manners and the newly-formed Bodysnatchers for his Dance Craze film.
BELINDA CARLISLE (The Go-Go’s): Madness hit the town with a unique sound and fun attitude. At the sound check, I clicked with Suggs. By showtime, we were flirting and having a good time watching each other onstage. Afterward, everyone from both bands went back to their hotel, the Tropicana, and partied pretty hard. I woke up next morning in a chaise lounge next to the pool.
CHRIS: New York and LA knew what was going on. Everywhere else, they didn’t understand it.
BEDDERS: They liked us in the big cities because I think our music is city music, but we didn’t have a big following outside of the big centres. We were treated as something quaint and English… just the way American tourists treat policemen.
SUGGS: America is so big it’s like a lot of separate countries. The 2-Tone thing goes down well in ‘hip’ places like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco but go to Detroit or Cleveland and they have no idea.
LEE: New York was fantastic and when we got to Los Angeles we thought that was even better. But we soon got bored of that – it was just a dust bowl. We didn’t spend more than two or three weeks out there as we longed for our PG Tips.
BELINDA CARLISLE: After Madness left town, Suggs wrote me a few letters and sent me some English cigarettes. I knew he liked me, but I didn’t let myself imagine anything developing since I knew from following the bands in the English magazines that he was involved with punk beauty Betty Bright. Still.
DECEMBER 11: The Old Grey Whistle Test
After returning to the UK, the band appear on TV performing Bed and Breakfast Man and Night Boat To Cairo, with Suggs dressed as a tramp. ‘Shut up, listen and dance,’ he advises at the start of Night Boat.
MIKE (speaking in 1979): All the guys who work on Whistle Test are pissed out of their brains all the time. The woman who’s supposed to run the teleprompter fell off the chair when we were there. She just sparked out.
DECEMBER 12: Top Rank, Brighton
For the third time in two months, Madness tour Britain, this time on the One Step Beyond Tour. This time they visit places neglected on the previous tours as well as returning to Brighton and Derby.
MIKE: We were a bunch of nobodies living in nowhere land and suddenly we were on the telly. It was fantastic and there was a lot of excitement. I think we enjoyed it. When the old rocket ship started blasting off it was great. Suddenly being on Top of the Pops and in the hit parade. That was unbelievable.
SUGGS: There’s a flame that burns for a few years for every band where it’s not mindless, but it’s not intellectualised either… it’s just happening. We didn’t think about it, we didn’t intellectualize it. We just played music you could dance to. A few bands were doing that at the time, then it went to that ska, 2-Tone explosion and we were just sort of ready in the right place and swept along with it.
MIKE: It was a combination as well. We had a lot of songwriters in the band, a lot of creative musicians and a lot of characters. We were getting better at playing, a lot of circumstances came together and it suddenly became this ‘in’ thing – the ska thing. So we quickly changed our outfits (smiles) and decided to copy The Specials. But obviously if we’d been a naff band… I mean there were a lot of bands who popped out of the woodwork at that time and then they popped back in again pretty quick. We managed to sustain a bit of a career, in the UK at least.
CARL: I don’t think any of us thought it would last long. We were all pessimistic but I thought we had the front. We had the attitude of: ‘We are the Nutty Sound – stand back, we’re coming.’
DECEMBER 13: Pavilion, Hemel Hempstead
CARL (speaking in 1979): I think in the future I’ll be doing more background vocals and stuff – you can’t just dance all your life. I’ve been dancing for years. I used to go down the clubs and jump on stage. It was a way of being me and then as the band finally came together it seemed to fit.
DECEMBER 14: Odeon, Canterbury
DECEMBER 15: Sports Centre, Bracknell
SUGGS (speaking in 1979): We’re all the fashion now but we’re going to keep changing. People jump on the bandwagon. I followed Kilburn and the High Roads for years – nobody knew them. Now since Ian Dury’s made it everybody suddenly remembers them. We’re more than a bandwagon.
CHRIS: When we started we had a certain image and that’s how people subsequently always thought of us, even though we changed.
MIKE: You’ve got to be careful. In some ways you play to your strengths and think, ‘Yeah, this is what we’re about.’ But there’s also a danger when it becomes like a formula and that really doesn’t work; when you’re only doing what the people want. It’s got to be what you enjoy. Sometimes in our career, very very slightly, we were pulled into things we weren’t convinced about.
DECEMBER 16: Stateside Centre, Bournemouth
DECEMBER 17: Pier Pavilion, Hastings
DECEMBER 18: Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, BBC1
Madness appear on the popular children’s TV show, taking the first step towards appealing to a new audience.
DECEMBER 20: Victoria Hall, Hanley
DECEMBER 21: King’s Hall, Derby
DECEMBER 21: My Girl/Stepping Into Line is released
The single (BUY62) later reaches No3 in the UK and No1 in France. It’s subsequently covered by another Stiff artist, Tracy Ullman, as My Guy.
DAVE ROBINSON: Some of the band didn’t want it out so soon, but it was about getting plays across Christmas, keeping the band’s album in the shops. One Step Beyond was fine and had its selling cycle but My Girl was, to my mind, a more Christmassy record.
SUGGS: Things changed with My Girl. Up until then, I could understand what was happening, but then suddenly, it was loads of girls, young girls, screaming – which wasn’t what we were after.
CARL: We thought our sunglasses would shatter with all the screaming.
WOODY: It was a dangerous time. We went through that thing of, ‘No one takes our music seriously.’
SUGGS: It wasn’t what we expected and things changed: we became a pop group. And suddenly, I was faced with the realisation that I was maybe becoming a teenybop idol. Success changed it dramatically. Suddenly you’re in this world that you want, because you want to make money out of it, but it also gets out of control and you find that it’s running away with you.
CHRIS: We shot the video for My Girl in the Dublin Castle, in the very same room that we used to play in. The stage was much too small to fit us all on, so we used the Stiff carpenter to rebuild it especially. It was a mostly live performance, and the first video with Dave Robinson at the helm.
DAVE ROBINSON: I was running a record company so didn’t really have the time to spare, but we didn’t have the budget to hire directors. I’d also seen how they worked – taking copious amounts of notes and then doing something entirely different to suit themselves. I watched a couple in action and thought, ‘What’s so difficult about that?’ For My Girl, we had very little time so I shot it in two hours at the pub. It’s not very well lit and we did it very quickly and simply – we didn’t have any professionals working on it.
CHRIS: Robbo got us all to sing a line each, a device that we were to use a lot in the future.
DAVE ROBINSON: Videos are commercials. You have to be able to shoot it in a day and cut it in a day, otherwise it’s no use. Audiences don’t want anything too clever; they just like a laugh. Although this wasn’t one of the greatest or trendiest videos, it had the feel and style of Madness during that period. While I was shooting I thought, ‘God, this band are going to be huge. They have everything – the songs, the style – and the public are really going to relate to them.’
SUGGS: For Stepping Into Line, John Hasler wrote the first half of the words and I wrote the other half.
CHRIS: It’s my moment of glory, trying to keep it all together.
LEE: A lot of the bad playing habits I had actually turned out for the best, like the ‘blurty’ sound on Stepping Into Line. When I went for a lesson the teacher told me not to do that, but sometimes you get better results by bypassing the rule book.
CHRIS: There was an alternate cover with girls on it. They were my wife and the girlfriends at the time of Bedders, Mike, Lee and Woody. Believe it or not, Suggs didn’t have a girlfriend, so Carl’s girlfriend stood in.
DECEMBER: Film short TV interview
Holding copies of My Girl, Madness are filmed in a rowdy pub as part of a TV documentary, British Rock: Ready for the 80s.
SUGGS (speaking in TV interview in 1979): I just do what I feel like. We all love it really, we just pretend not to. But we don’t overdo it – we do it as it comes. I don’t go out of my way not to be a pop star.
WOODY (speaking in TV interview in 1979): If we knew what was happening tomorrow, we’d give up today.
DECEMBER 22: De Montfort Hall, Leicester
SUGGS: John had about as much idea about business as we did.
KELLOGS: It became evident that Hasler was out of his depth or couldn’t do what was required and they needed a manager. We got together at a rehearsal studio E-Zee Hire in Brewery Road and discussed that I would take over the reins. We came to some financial agreement after some bickering and off I went.
DAVE ROBINSON: I said, ‘Why don’t we get him back because we need somebody to do the running?’ These boys were very time consuming. They got a habit from early on of popping into the office at some point during the day – they all used to come, not together, and they expected to walk into my office. Which was fine but I needed somebody to be handling their tax, asking where’s the equipment, who’s in charge, what’s going on?
DECEMBER 23: Locarno, Bristol
CARL: In my view, Madness became a sort of surrogate family. What drew us together was the fact that most of us had absentee or divorced parents. Mike’s father left, Woody’s parents split up, Chris’ parents split up, Suggs’ dad disappeared, Lee’s dad died in prison, my dad was always away. I think Mark’s the only one who’s got parents still together. So Madness became closely knit, I believe, because of those absences.
WOODY: We all had each others’ backs. We had a shared experience, which was that we were out there in the world doing it for ourselves. It was us against the world and also the industry in a sense: ‘Don’t trust anyone.’ The band were my family in a sense. And still are.
CHRIS: Someone once said, ‘It’s like seven kids without a dad’ which it is a bit; unruly badly-behaved children.
SUGGS: We were a disparate band of loners but we found a similar attitude and a similar taste in music and fashion. I was a child when I joined but the guys helped me grow up – and we all grew up together.
DECEMBER 28: The Lyceum, London
Supported by The Bodysnatchers, The VIPs and Bad Manners, the tour resumes with the first of two homecoming gigs in front of 2,000 people. Tonight’s show is added after tickets for December 30 sell out.
BEDDERS: There is some truth in the fact that Madness became a sort of surrogate family. We were talking about a possible title for a book about us called A Gang Of Loners.
DECEMBER 29: Friars, Aylesbury
CARL: That was the secret of Madness – we were all loners, It’s a question of co-dependency and dysfunctionality. Our families of origin are dysfunctional, so we came together looking for some sort of family substitute. All art is based on neurosis, isn’t it? Suggs is very gregarious and a great raconteur, but I would say he’s a loner. So am I. Madness became something solid within our lives.
SUGGS: Not having a father figure around definitely shaped me in a certain way. I met, and was attracted to, strong male characters. The band as individuals were all very strong characters locally who I’d met before the band started. And so the band itself did become some sort of surrogate family.
MIKE: There was something wonderful about being in a band – just that whole group thing of being together was so cool.
DECEMBER 30: The Lyceum
Madness end the tour with a successful show, again supported by The Bodysnatchers, The VIPs and Bad Manners. After the controversy stirred up by the NME article, Suggs assures the crowd that the band have no connections with the National Front, the British Movement or any other right-wing extremist organisations.
PAUL SHUREY (drummer with support band VIPs): The Lyceum show was halted for a brawl in the crowd – it felt like the show could descend into full-on chaos at any minute. Having played with all the other 2-Tone bands, the Madness tour definitely felt different, like something special was happening; an uncontrollable force. It would have been impossible for anyone not to have been swept along by this energy. I remember Woody describing it as an unstoppable steam train as the momentum built through the tour. They were a great bunch of lads, genuine and supportive. They didn’t play any of the normal headline band tricks and shenanigans.
DECEMBER 31: The Venue, London
Madness support Secret Affair again at a New Year’s Eve concert organised by Johnson & Johnson. Third on the bill is Bette Bright, Suggs’s future wife. Proceeds of the show are donated to Multiple Sclerosis research, marking the beginning of Madness’s involvement in charity events.