SEVEN RAGGED MEN | 1984
The story of Madness... in their own words
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1984

Don’t Look Back

It’s onwards and upwards for the new Magnificent Six, who already have an eye on life beyond Stiff.

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): Losing Mike means the start of 1984 has been turmoil for us.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): The group sound is bound to change simply because Mike has a really distinctive way of playing and he’s not here any more. We also notice now that new songs take longer to organise and arrange, because Mike used to learn a song straight away.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): Mike was a sort of coordinator, which is something we haven’t got any more. But Clive Langer plays keyboards now and he’s like another member of the band. He’s the only person we’ll take criticism from, other than ourselves.

 

WOODY (speaking in 1984): As a band we’ve reached a real turning point. It all became a bit serious for a while, I felt the old pressure again and it was like being suspended in mid-air. Still, with these characters the future should be good – I’ve got faith in them.

 

LEE (speaking in 1984): I try not to think about the future much, but the atmosphere is still very good. You couldn’t find better geezers to have in a band.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): Me and Mike go back a long way, and I did have a feeling something would happen, but I didn’t think he was going to leave. I’m not so close to him now – I don’t know him so much.

JANUARY 3: Polish TV, Warsaw

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The band travel to Eastern Europe to appear on a Polish TV special, accompanied by NME journalist Paolo Hewitt. This show’s location is switched from a Warsaw TV studio to the Victoria Intercontinental Hotel where the band are staying. Suggs sings live over a backing track, with the setlist including House of Fun, Shut Up, Night Boat to Cairo and Our House. On leaving the country, Madness donate their fee of a million zlotys (about £400) to Solidarity, the Polish trade union.

PAOLO HEWITT (NME journalist): When we got there, we went to clubs and nobody would talk to us, because the Communist Party had arranged the gig. If you imagine Margaret Thatcher had put a show on in England in 1984, no one would want to go. So their show was full of 50-year-old communist party members looking like Brezhnev, all clapping politely. It was cold, we had this translator and stayed in the best hotel in Warsaw. But we were going to shops where there were literally two cans of baked beans on the shelf. In supermarkets, we’d say, ‘Why are they all queuing?’ ‘Oh, the socks have arrived so they can all get one pair each.’ So we hit the vodka because it was the only way through. It was their first interview after Barson left and they needed a Dave Robinson-type figure in there; that strong someone they could respect who made them buckle down. But the strength of it was that Barson leaving actually brought them together. Suddenly, Carl came through. If there was a leader, it looked like Suggs. Chris was the joker. Bedders was interesting: he’d be talking about art or books, a more literary side. He was quite shy, maybe held back a bit. Woody was pleasant, straightforward. I was pushing them on the politics because Thatcherism was at its height and they were wary of that – they saw it was something which wasn’t quite them.

JANUARY: Relations with Stiff continue to sour

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Towards the end of 1983, Island Records had bought 50 per cent of Stiff in an arrangement that allowed Robinson to run both labels. Needless to say, with his new responsibilities, the Stiff boss was no longer hands-on with the band to the same extent. The Stiff offices were also vacated and Robinson given a smaller office at Island HQ – which conflicted with his traditional ‘open door’ policy.

CHRIS: I don’t know how well Dave was doing financially, but there were these rumours that he was going to leave Stiff. There was this thing about having a ‘key man clause’ – if he leaves, we can go. And what happened was, he said, ‘I’m not going to go’, then he went to Island and even though he was still MD, it wasn’t the same. Mike wasn’t there and our relationship just ground to a halt.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: It definitely soured when I went to Island. They didn’t like it and thought my time was being spent on other things; they didn’t feel they had the access. Our relationship seemed to disintegrate and suddenly people didn’t seem to be catching my eye. It didn’t help that the band had heard that there were a load of signed records being sold in Camden Market and thought I was making a quick buck on the side. Of course, it turned out Lee had been telling them to sign all these records, claiming that I wanted them to do it.

 

CARL: We were really unhappy by that point. Robbo had always worked with us on a friendly basis, but he became a typical businessman.

 

SUGGS: He began to talk about us as a ‘viable product’ and how many ‘units’ we were shifting. The last straw was when he wrote and directed those meat commercials the year before – people thought it was us doing it. I know the music business is very establishment and always will be, and the more bits of plastic you sell, the more important you become. But to me, music is entertainment that should have some content.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: I did have an attitude which eventually they disliked. I would preach to them, ‘You’re now seen as a pop band. You may not like it but that is the essence of it. You’re making quality albums but the singles are the vehicle that we are getting the mileage from. And key for a pop band is to bring out material regularly. So in between the albums, you make singles. Every three months, there’s Madness on Top Of The Pops.’ Eventually, they said, ‘Dave, you’re just trying to make money out of it.’ Well, I didn’t mind selling a lot of records but the bottom line is that Madness were always there. There might be a lull but the new record then came. Eventually, Madness found this onerous.

 

SUGGS: When we were rollercoasting along in the early years, I didn’t care what my input was; it was good fun and it was easy to let others do the work. But as I grew up I wanted to become more involved, make the group how I wanted it. And there were six of us who felt the same so it got harder to keep going in one direction and the volume got louder and louder and louder.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: What I hadn’t realised was that Madness needed a strong, tough leader. So when Mike left, Carl took his place, which was different, because Carl – although he wrote some hit songs that were very good – wasn’t a musician or player. And Mike was very grounded compared to Carl; when Mike was running things, there was a logic and reality to aspects of it. When Carl was running it, it got a bit flighty, shall we say, because he’s a more flighty character. Carl was a bit more hippie in his music tastes. He felt the music was more serious whereas Mike had a really pragmatic attitude where he knew it had to be successful to keep such a large band together. So it became difficult, somewhat due to Carl’s attitude and his wish to control. I knew there was going to be trouble because Carl didn’t have his feet on the ground like Mike.

 

MIKE: In the early days, a lot of the band had been caught in the headlights and didn’t know what was going on, but slowly people wanted to get more involved in the decision process, which was interesting. I don’t know if I made all the decisions, but I do have a certain quality about wanting to get things done. If there’s a good idea, I don’t like it to be just dropped under the table. My attitude was: Do the good stuff and make sure it gets done.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: On top of the whole leadership thing, the band wanted more money, but sales were starting to dip. Plus they weren’t writing a lot and they didn’t want to tour Europe – and we’d sold zillions of the first album so they were huge there. But you could only hit major cities then they’d want to go home because they’d all got married or had girlfriends. Not that the extra money would have lasted five minutes if I’d have given them Maserati catalogues and houses in Guildford, especially as I’d sneered about that concept to them over the years.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): I’ve been in a limousine with a colour telly and a bar and it’s quite good, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. But we’re never treated like that by Stiff. Once they sent a van to pick us up at Heathrow and it broke down and we had to push it through a tunnel. Then we got to Suggs’s house and the door fell off. That sort of treatment does keep your feet on the ground.

JANUARY: The band prepare for their upcoming album release without Mike

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): When we first started, the things we wrote about were very personal. We wrote about where we lived and what we did. Now it’s getting a bit more general. Bigger subjects, more general subjects — like politics and so on. We’re four or five years up the road and we’re still going forward, trying to push forward. I like feeling happy at the end of the day, knowing that you’ve pushed yourself a bit.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): We develop individually, and then as a group it comes through. But we don’t sit down and say, ‘Well, this year we’ll go in this direction or that one,’ because we all write and it’s too diverse a group. We don’t do anything at breakneck speed any more.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): I think some of our old fans still follow us, although some got disillusioned when we weren’t as happy-go-lucky as when we started. We’ve always been happy, it’s just sometimes we’re a bit moody.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): We’ve got this envelope downstairs with a letter that says, ‘Please give these badges to someone else as I no longer like Madness’. And I thought, ‘If I could find their address, I’d be interested to see why they’d gone off us and who they like now.’ I might show the letter to Lee.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): It was probably him who sent it.

JANUARY: Shoot episode for The Young Ones

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Filmed in Brighton, the band tape their second appearance on the anarchic BBC comedy. Armed with toy instruments, they mime to an edited version of Our House – where else? – in the middle of a street. Towards the end, Suggs, Chris and Bedders hit each other with their guitars, then the other band members pile in as a full-scale riot erupts.

SUGGS: It was pretty exciting and was what they called ‘alternative comedy’ in those days. They knew we were fun and they just said, ‘Do you want to come on play a song and what would you like to do?’ We said, ‘We’d like to get a load of police vans and smash them up with sledgehammers while we sing Our House’. They said, ‘Yeah fine, no problem’. So there we were singing a lovely song about family life, while standing on the roof of a police van throwing polystyrene bricks at each other.

 

LEE: It was a lot more controlled than it looked. We performed on an outdoor stage and the cast were faking a riot scene. I had a saxophone made out of plastic and I jumped from a wall and hit the camera with the sax. Splinters of plastic came off and broke the camera guard. Thank God it wasn’t the lens – breaking that would have set me back £30,000.

JANUARY 11: Poland article appears in NME

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Under the headline Six Go Mad In Poland, Paolo Hewitt’s interview recounts their earlier adventures in Warsaw. Read the full article here.

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): If every band in Great Britain was really going on about Margaret Thatcher then we’d be off, playing those organs and drum machines singing, ‘Oh the flowers and the trees!’ We’re trying to do the opposite. You’re saying we should do really serious things for the sake of impact, and it’s something we have talked about – not letting Dave Robinson direct the next video, for instance. But there’s always that thing of having seven people in the 
band, all doing their own thing. And I still think humour is a really powerful thing. Also you can’t generalise because some humour is a load of time
wasting old cack and some serious music is also a load of old cack. I mean, seeing Sting on TV does nothing for me. But the things that I 
always remember and have real impact are the humorous things. Seeing lan Dury. Taking yourself seriously is the worst crime in this business. We
 tend to take the piss out of it and ourselves.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): You’ve only got to say, ‘Who tried to push a piano up a set of stairs and it kept falling down?’ And everyone knows it’s Laurel and Hardy. If we came out and tried to be really impactful and go, ‘Yeah! You’ve got to see the pain in this world…’ well, everyone knows this, everyone knows how you get let down. That you get optimistic when it’s a bit silly to be optimistic these days, that everyone is out of work and another Wall Street crash is coming. People know it from the minute they leave school. They go, ‘Hello, this is a very cold place.’ When we first started I opened up magazines and every band in there was, ‘I’m serious, I’m an individual, I dress in black and I’m very pale because I stay in thinking all the time.’

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): I think that individually none of us are geniuses, but collectively we seem to be able to reach things. Also I think we’re terrified of being bored. Maybe that’s because if you think about it, doing serious things is much more fucking boring than laughing.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): It’s true that we are very similar. Like you’re sitting at home watching telly and something comes on and you think, ‘Cor, this is brilliant!’ Then you get a phone call from Chris. He says, ‘Turn it on to so and so’ and you’re going, ‘It’s alright, I’m watching it, I’m watching it!’ Then you get a phone call from Lee, ‘Yeah, I’m watching it.’ And that’s what goes on between us. It’s very close.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): I still really enjoy it and look forward to the future of the group. It’s funny now that we’re the elder statesmen in rock, in a strange way, seeing groups coming up with the same enthusiasm for the business. Enthusiasm for the business – that’s what wears off after a while. But, as Chris has said, the fact that we’re still together must mean something pretty amazing.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): I think we know where to draw the line with each other; we’ve known each other for so long.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): It does undermine your confidence a bit if someone leaves. The funny thing about it is that for the first time we’ve actually asked ourselves what we want to do. Before, we just went ahead without thinking about it. There was an initial panic. But if you think about it logically, we’ve always had a lot of songwriters in the group.

FEBRUARY 11:
 Michael Caine / If You Think There's Something is released

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The first single from the upcoming album (BUY 196) is released. It will eventually stall just outside the Top 10 at No11.

CARL: I wanted to write about Northern Ireland when there were all these supergrasses, and the way the Government were using them to put people in internment camps and prison, which was really shabby. Once you’ve informed you’ve blown it. You’ve got no friends cause the people you inform to don’t like you cos you’re an informer and a traitor anyway. And the people you’re informing on are looking for your knees, so you’re stuck in the middle with 25 quid and you can’t go anywhere with 25 quid can you? It’s a bit sad.

 

WOODY: Sequence of events: 1) I record music at home. 2) I play the tape to Carl and Matthew Sztumpf in a car on the way to I can’t remember where. Carl sings along to it, as though it’s an old song and says he’d written some lyrics the night before. The music fits perfectly. 3) Band rehearse song. 4) Song is recorded for Keep Moving and becomes the first single to be released from that album.

 

CARL: I didn’t want to make it too obvious, so I tried to hide the fact that it was about informers and didn’t tell people at the time. It was basically the atmosphere I was looking for – the atmosphere of mistrust – and I threw Michael Caine in as a red herring. Quite a few of our songs were chilling but we tended to write it so it wasn’t obvious. You’ve got to be careful about what you say things are about. I don’t think I could have openly said what it was about back then, even though it wasn’t that obvious in the song. But that’s what’s good about music – you can listen to a song for years and years and suddenly it’ll make sense; it’ll suddenly click what it’s about. Then I think you feel a bit closer to the band because you realise what they were actually writing about.

 

WOODY: This happened when I’d just started getting into home recording; a little 8-track, ¼ inch tape, a mixing desk and an effects unit. It’s where my abilities in engineering and music technology started to come out.

 

CARL: One particularly chord grabbed me and made me think of living in Northern Ireland in 1971; a feeling of unease and propaganda, a weird time to have an English accent. That was the inspiration behind it. I said I wanted that feeling of subterfuge and espionage and mistrust and all that, then someone said, ‘Let’s get Michael Caine on it’. So we wrote to him and asked him.

 

SUGGS: He didn’t know who we were but his daughter was a Madness fan so she persuaded him to do it.

 

CARL: Luckily, his people said that he was in London that week and was going to be at this gentleman’s club for five minutes. So if we turned up and taped him, he would do it.

 

CHRIS: We sent an engineer round to do it, so unfortunately we didn’t meet him in person.

 

SUGGS: He went to the club with a tape recorder and sure enough Michael Caine was there and said, ‘Yes, go on’. He literally just said, ‘My name is Michael Caine’ a few times into a microphone and that was that. We didn’t have to pay him anything.

 

CARL: I remember hearing the tape and he did it about five time in a row.

 

CHRIS: We got Mike back from Holland to appear in the video, but the only bit he does is at the beginning. We also had to do a photo session for Fleet Street. He hung around on the edge, as he didn’t know whether he should be in the line-up or not.

 

MIKE: Coming back to make the video was pretty weird. It was like nobody missed me. They were like, ‘You’ve finished, mate’. They were getting on without me. It was a bit strange; I didn’t really have much say in the rest of it really.

 

CHRIS: We shot it on 35mm film to really make it look like a proper film, based on The Ipcress File. It took a long time to light everything and so on. For some reason, I ended up having the main role and Suggs is hardly in it. I asked my dad to be in it, as a Russian spy I passed the money to, and of course herefused to do anything until they paid him. Now I know where I get it from.

 

MIKE: This was done at the time when everyone wanted to be taken seriously. I think they were losing the plot around about this time, if I’m honest. The vibe had gone. The music was great, but the energy and the videos and stuff just wasn’t the same.

 

LEE: Dave Robinson had to stop us putting all the funnies in because it was supposed to be a serious promo.

 

WOODY: In a lot of ways, it was our downfall, breaking out of the funny stuff.

 

CARL: I didn’t like it when we tried to look serious. It wasn’t really us.

 

CHRIS: We filmed the video on January 30 1984. I don’t know why I can remember that, I just seem to have a photographic memory about some things.

 

CARL: We asked Michael to be in it too but he said no.

 

CHRIS: Somehow, I got the starring role as Harry Palmer and went around Trafalgar Square and other such places filming on a black and white Super8 camera, which all the rest watch before they come to kick down my door and interrogate me.

 

SUGGS: We shot it down in Docklands on 35mm because we wanted to give it that spy film feel, to be serious – like a feature film. The only problem being that we all started laughing. Usually we can’t laugh when we do something stupid, but this time four of the band were supposed to be coppers grabbing Chris and we kept breaking up with laughter even though it was a straight piece.

 

LEE: The Jaguar in the video was mine – a Mk H. They wouldn’t hire one so they used mine. The wheel alignment went out as it pulled up to the pavement. Later, when the band split, I panicked and sold it.

FEBRUARY 9: The band perform Michael Caine on Top Of The Pops, with Carl taking centre stage on vocals

JOHN WYNNE: Carl had started to become more vocal and powerful. He was on a ladder going up. It’s like a slow process. Now he’s writing songs, playing the trumpet or the bongos. Carl pushed himself to the forefront so he was noticed. Fair play to him: that’s what you’ve got to do. But he did start taking more control of everything – money matters, song lists – always trying to drive the band. Massive get-up-and-go. A whirlwind.

FEBRUARY 10: Carl and Suggs appear on the Oxford Roadshow, talking with host Peter Powell about their new single and the upcoming album

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): Money’s never been our main motivation and that’s the reason we haven’t really been to America for any great length of time. You really have to be prepared to be out there for six months. If we had that attitude we would have ended up more successful, but we would have been at each other’s guts. If you start doing it for six months a year you end up a casualty. We’re not a group like Duran Duran who want money to live their lifestyle.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): You can only play live so many times. It gets boring, especially in England, where they’ve seen the same band for five years. I live right in the centre of London, as do all the band, and we’ve cut down touring because a lot of us have families now.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): We don’t do anything that we feel we really have to. We do what we want to do. That means we don’t do anything that gets anybody pissed off, that’s all. Maybe it’s because there is no need for anyone to be an upfront person. It’s different from other bands where one person writes and the others just do the music. To us, that must be a bit weird.

FEBRUARY 11: The Saturday Show

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After the video for Michael Caine is shown, Suggs and Carl are presented with a drawing of Judge Dredd by 2000 AD artist Brett Ewins.

FEBRUARY: CBTV

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Suggs answers questions from school kids about making videos, before Michael Caine is shown.

FEBRUARY 19: Fly to USA for promotional appearances

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The band jet off for a six-date tour of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, with ex-Squeeze man Paul Carrack replacing Mike on keyboards.

SUGGS (speaking in February 1984): We’re going to America and we’ve got Paul to fill Mike’s spot. We’ve had a modicum of success there and we’re going to go and reinforce it.

 

CARL (speaking in February 1984): We were going to do a date just for recording for TV, but seeing as we’re there we thought we’d do some more shows.

FEBRUARY 20: 
The Keep Moving album is released

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The band’s last album on Stiff (SEEZ 53) enters the charts at No6 and goes on to achieve gold status, despite mixed reviews.

TRACK-BY-TRACK: Click on song title

1. Keep Moving

SUGGS: I wrote this after being inspired by Spike Milligan in a film called The Bed-Sitting Room. It’s a post-holocaust setting and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are in a hot air balloon with a loud hailer going, ‘Keep moving, keep moving’. I identified with that – the ridiculousness of where we were going.

 

CHRIS: Suggs, Carl and me met at my house in Camden Mews, trying to evoke the atmosphere of a film in which Spike Milligan is hanging out of a hot air balloon berating raggedy people stumbling round in a post nuclear wasteland through a loud hailer with the words, ‘Keep moving, keep moving.’ There’s also a bit in which a family live on a tube train going round on the circle line. The Dad, who is Roy Kinnear (it’s Arthur Lowe – Ed), jumps off at various stops to rob chocolate machines to feed them, but sometimes misses the doors and has to wait for the train to come back round. Anyway, that wasn’t what we ended up evoking.

 

PAUL SPEARE (TKO Horns tenor saxophonist): The track was already laid down when we came in to play the brass parts. We were only there for a couple of hours. The only band member there was Lee; he said something about not being confident enough to do the parts himself and needing ‘proper’ players to do them, which was quite flattering.

2. Michael Caine

CHRIS: At the very end, you can hear Michael Caine say, ‘I think we’ve go it there, don’t you?’ I think he was getting bored after a few takes.

3. Turning Blue

SUGGS: In this one, we raised the issue of spending money on nuclear weapons. It’s difficult to put a message into a song because it may not make an inch of difference to the people who are involved. That’s why we don’t say, ‘Go and support Greenpeace’, just that we support Greenpeace.

4. One Better Day

CHRIS: It’s one of the last and best songs that we all worked on together before Mike left. We were trying to get serious without being patronising.

 

BEDDERS: I’d started to write again and came up with the music. I surprised Suggs by turning up at his house with an acoustic guitar and playing it very loud into a tiny tape recorder. THRANG!!! The machine had a spasm as I hit the guitar too hard and the needles clattered into the red. It had not got off to a good start. Eventually, at a softer level, we recorded a rough version. Several chord changes later, Suggs had the first verse and chorus.

 

SUGGS: Mark’s emotive chords instantly produced these lyrics in my mind, which Mike then wove together with an on-the-spot melody. The title refers to the phrase, ‘He’s seen better days’, like when you see a guy in a suit looking a bit tatty. I thought, ‘What was that one better day?’

 

LEE: Lyrically, it’s one of the best Suggs has written. It’s the only track on the album that brings me out in goose pimples after the first verse. By the end of it, I’m in tears – touching.

 

SUGGS: Originally, it was going to be about how much I liked living in London. Whenever I get home from tour I tend to look at London a bit nostalgically, so I’d just come back from America, was walking along and felt great. I’d had a bit to drink and kept bumping into people that I knew, and when I looked at Arlington House, I thought, ‘Oh this is great. All the characters that Camden’s got’. So I started writing this song and it was all optimistic and jolly, all about the people I knew, as well as Holt’s Shoe Shop and all the pubs and stuff. And then the next day, when I was more sober, I kind of looked at it in a different light and I kind of knew that Arlington House wasn’t really like that at all. It’s a terrible place. It’s for displaced persons, not a home for psychopaths or loonies, but that’s the way they’re treated – like not being allowed in their rooms during the day. There are lots of people that aren’t there because they’re tramps or can’t cope, just because they’ve got nothing. No money, and no life. So I added a bit more realism. I’d had a verse about a tramp that I used to see walking up and down Camden High Street, plus there was a bag woman I used to see all the time in Parkway, being moved up and down the road. She had 60 white carrier bags and when she got thrown out of a doorway it’d take a week to move her on, ‘cos they’d have to move all her bags by hand and she’d just move them all back again the next night. So I associated these two characters and started writing a song about how they met and fell in love. Between them I thought they could engender one better day as people who had, supposedly, seen better days.

 

BEDDERS: The song progressed bumpily through rehearsals and even into the studio. In fact we recorded three different versions finally settling on the one you can hear today, and that nearly never made it. If you listen to the record as it fades you can almost hear the bass and drums grind to a halt. Who says it’s all done with machines? But with a sympathetic string arrangement from David Bedford and a great vocal it fell into place at the death. The song should really be called Perseverance.

 

SUGGS: If you live in Camden you know the streets are full of Arlington House people whether you chose to notice them yourself or not. As kids we used to walk past here every day, and see the guys on the streets. It’s loomed large over our career and always figured in our imaginations. The street theatre in Camden in those days wasn’t Mediterranean goths juggling and fire eating – it was the fellas of Arlington House. There were 1,500 men in there and they’d all have to leave the building between 9am and 4pm. Among the huge gang of geezers drinking cans outside the supermarket in Inverness Street, I remember very poignant images. You’d see fellas in their jackets, washing their only shirt in the launderette; you’d see this old guy we called The Shroud wearing full Edwardian undertakers’ gear, or another fella sitting on a bench dressed as a naval captain.

5. March of the Gherkins
6. Waltz Into Mischief
7. Brand New Beat

MIKE: It was a great song that fell into place because I was inspired by Lee’s lyrics. Clive Langer felt that the original was too similar to Shut Up, so he tried to change it. But I always thought it needed to be done straight. Suggs and Carl did some great harmonies that never appeared.

 

CHRIS: Personally, I always liked Thommo’s lyric: ‘Looking at my possessions / Wondering which ones I own.’

8. Victoria Gardens

CARL: It was a song about Barso leaving…

 

SUGGS: I’ve heard it all now!

 

CHRIS: Fuckin’ hell, I’ve always thought it was about that park you used to go to. Are you sure it wasn’t about what’s happening next week?

 

CARL: You start off writing about one thing and you end up writing about another. I used to walk down the Embankment before they turned Charing Cross into the Embankment. I was walking past Heaven and that was cardboard city land, where all the tramps sleep in cardboard boxes and there was this tramp sitting on one of those salt bins and, sprayed up above him, was ‘Burnt out star…’ and that’s the image of the first verse. But one of the verses is also about Barso leaving.

 

CHRIS: So how come it was written after he’d left?

 

CARL: No, he’d said he was leaving. If you look at the verses, it’s about Victoria Gardens, Barso leaving and the CND march we went on. It’s just a diary of a song.

 

DAVE WAKELING: It was one of those nice accidents that Madness happened to be recording in London at the same time as we were. And so, it was like, ‘Oh, we got this song’, and somebody said, ‘Oh, it would sound great with those boys from The Beat on it, wouldn’t it? Would you like to come down?’ And so we did. It didn’t take very long. I wish it’d taken longer, as it was great fun. It was an honour to be on a Madness song, because they had the three-minute pop single down, didn’t they? Sometimes, coming from Birmingham, we didn’t really understand what they were on about ’cause they’re from London, so it all seemed like rhyming slang. It’s like, ‘What’s he on about? What’s he on about? Well, it probably means something in London’.

9. Samantha

LEE: This was inspired by my first experience with Lucy D (LSD) in 1983 when a couple of gentlemen named Alex D and Mad Pete happened to perchance pass. I was very cautious but, at 26, was willing to try anything once. Mean Machine had just finished and I was wide awake, unable to get any shut eye, so I scrambled from my bed, unknowingly putting on my wife’s jeans. I had my keys, fags, ‘England’s Glory’ and a new gizmo called a Walkman with none other than Ian and The Blocks inserted. So, bread and dripping, I make my way into the autumn night air with Wake Up And Make Love To Me trucking me along. As I approach the entrance to Parliament Hill, a car draws up beside me with half a dozen mean-looking, unmarked dudes screwing. Mashed as I am, I casually look away and slip my hands into my pockets only to find a lipstick in one and a Tampax in the other. Thank God stop-and-search had yet to be introduced.

10. Time for Tea

LEE: This is in fact the tragic story of a group of kids innocently playing a game of hide-and-seek. Willie experiments with solvents on some barren wasteland. He’s a bit of a loner and, while looking for somewhere to rest, finds a dumped fridge and settles down for the night. When he doesn’t arrive home his distraught mother goes in search for him. Sadly there is no happy ending.

11. Prospects

SUGGS: It’s the story of a man coming to this country for work, having been invited, only to find the welcome not as he expected.

 

BEDDERS: This one and Samantha are the songs that deserve to be people’s favourites off the album.

12. Give Me a Reason

LEE: It comes from the story of a young cousin of mine. His Mum went off to live with this bloke who used to play really vicious games with the kid. He’d start off playing ‘pat-a-cake’ and end up hitting the boy across the room. In the end the kid finished up half-dressed and bruised, running across London to our place, and stayed with us for a while. Be it sex and drugs, rights or wrongs, like any normal-thinking person I cannot tolerate bullies and depravation, especially when dished out to the helpless or timid. This sort of behaviour goes beyond me. The problem is generally deep rooted, so I tend to give child abusers a wide berth into a bottomless pit without mercy.

 

CHRIS: It’s one of my favourite songs. A hard subject matter, but a great song. I liked the solo I did too.

ALBUM REVIEWS

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I’m told Madness are in decline, and for someone who found Grey Day and House Of Fun to be the only tracks he wanted to hear off Complete Madness it doesn’t make Keep Moving something to look forward to. As I’m also coming to detest the phenomenon of ‘Englishness’ in pop – as in getting one’s kicks on the Walworth Road – another shovel of nutty slack isn’t about to light my fire.
Stone me, then, if Keep Moving isn’t stuffed with marvellous new pop. In spite of the glum faces of my colleagues, something told me Michael Caine was a masterpiece first time I heard it – that royal blue chorus, those finely-rung voices, everything – and it’s the keynote of most of Keep Moving. Madness are moving slowly, pausing over details, searching out finer points instead of clouting over the bonce.
They’ve grown almost desperately sad in the subjective world of their music. If Rise & Fall had its moments of sourness, that taste has been refined to a humorously quixotic flavour that suits these insinuating and softly springy melodies exquisitely. It scarcely sounds like what Madness were supposed to be about. When I say that one of the important songs is called Brand New Beat you probably think you know what it sounds like – and it doesn’t, at all.
The England Madness write about is Michael Caine, Arlington House, Victoria Gardens, girls called Samantha – something not quite middle class, not exactly urban/suburban. It isn’t the miserable pained bourgeois satire of Ray Davies, or the drab seaside postcards of Difford and Tilbrook, or the acid lexicon of Costello. The difference that counts is their youth. Where those peers are men grown prematurely old, Madness – for all their understanding of early marriages and treadmill careers – still sound young, cavalier.
Much is down to Suggs’s voice, part insolence, part cheeky tenderness – one of the great sounds in our native pop. And further because, as Mark Bedford remarked last year, Madness are a band: the way the writing credits are littered through the 12 songs implies a group testing each other. The General Public vocals on Victoria Gardens turn a Madness song into a sub-Beat stomp that doesn’t interlock: they don’t need star guests.
There are some failures – Waltz Into Mischief is a Gumbie novelty I can do without, for one. But in Brand New Beat, Samantha, Turning Blue and the gorgeous One Better Day especially, they are sifting, texturing, outcropping classic pop harmonies with a verve and knowledge their old songs would squash. Langer and Winstanley have focussed them again as they tautened Costello on Punch The Clock; the TKO horns turn the title song into a great brassy rave, and some strings sweeten a few of the seams.
Does it fit too snugly into a middle ground of intelligent, satisfactory pop? There are too many ideas in here for that, reflections on attention and troubled happiness and the loneliness of being in love – there are three – which play around graceful, addictive, singing pop arrangements. I expect to play it and find a lot more things inside yet.
I would say this is the best Madness record.

Richard Cook, NME

BEDDERS: As Mike’s leaving album, this one was a bit of a blur after the grandiose Rise & Fall. Should we carry on? A lot of soul searching. I think the constant strain of being in the public eye had got to everyone. I remember standing on a street corner near Hampstead tube very late one night with two old school friends. I was totally fed up. They thought I was mad, being ‘the boy who had everything’. They told me to carry on.

 

LEE: When we first started recording, we had about 10 tracks, but once we started rehearsing and really getting into the spirit of the thing, 10 soon became 16. From 16 it was easy to choose 12 final tracks.

 

CARL: It was a well-crafted record rather than an album of great emotional depth. Mike put in 100 per cent to the making of it though.

 

CHRIS: It was made under a cloud, what with Mike leaving. It was a bit of a mess and still doesn’t seem complete to me. Suggs and Carl had both become more musical, which was obviously a bonus. But I had some songs that wasted away in the cupboard because there was nobody to write lyrics for them. That was part of the problem after Mike left. Not a balance of power, but a balance of who does what.

 

SUGGS: We had run out of ideas at that point. Because of Dave we had the success we did, but we were also burnt out. Stiff Records survived on a shoestring that required Madness hits to keep them going. And we were tired.

 

CHRIS: It was the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, depending on how you look at it.

 

WOODY: Classic songs, clever drums, complex arrangements… crap cover.

 

SUGGS: The cover was the worst one we ever did.

 

CHRIS: The artwork was terrible – totally crap. Robbo thought we should have something to reflect the forthcoming Olympics – bonkers. So we ran round a running track and he said if we didn’t like it then we wouldn’t use it as a cover. Hah! There was also some iffy rumour that a fee of £30,000 was paid by Nike for us to wear the shoes on the cover. I never got to the bottom of that but I did get a pair of trainers which lasted me many a year. Whoopee fucking do. The pictures taken in Thommo’s Jag that we used for the Michael Caine single were far better and would have made a far better album cover. But the rest of the band weren’t bothered as per usual; they were a bit disparate on the issue and there was no collective agreement.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): It came out as a very reflective record because of Mike leaving, almost teary-eyed. But actually, it was a good thing for us. Not because he left, but because of what happened next. After Mike left a lot of us dabbled with the piano. Because now we can’t go up to Mike, hum a tune and then beg him to turn it into a song. We all play the piano now, or try to. We’re rethinking what we’re doing as a group and as individuals. Mike was saying that the years were flying by and he really couldn’t remember what he’d done all that time. That makes you think, ‘Is this a good path or a bad path I’ve taken?’

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): It’s funny because our singles tend not to be a reflection of the album they come from. It’s good in a way. They’re all really jolly, because obviously you tend to pick the happy ones…

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): …then you buy the album and its, ‘Eurgh! What a downer!’

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): I think we’ve naturally matured, and the songs have too – and that’s affected the audience we have. I think One Better Day might have attracted a lot of people who might never have bought a Madness record before, the same with Wings Of A Dove and Our House. We’ve been going for five years now and when we release a new single it’s not going to be as special as when Two Tribes comes out and we realise that, we’ll just have to write better songs. We’re not new any more, we know that – but it doesn’t mean you have to stop. You just keep going and try to turn out some good records.

FEBRUARY 22: Rock Palace, US TV

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As well as Paul Carrack on keyboards, the band are joined by Dick Cuthell on cornet and three female backing vocalists. The band play new US single The Sun and the Rain, plus Our House, Keep Moving and Michael Caine.

FEBRUARY 23 & 24: Kabuki Theatre, San Francisco

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Supported by Chris Ketner and Hard Attack, Madness embark on the Keep Moving tour. ‘Good evening Alaska,’ Carl quips. ‘We have come with a pair of moon boots.’ For the encore, Paul Carrack plays the Squeeze hit Tempted, a tradition whenever he plays with other artists. Suggs and Carl provide backing vocals.

setlist (second night)

Embarrassment / Disappear / Bed & Breakfast Man / My Girl / House Of Fun / The Sun & The Rain / Samantha / Tomorrow’s Dream / Night Boat To Cairo / Blue Skinned Beast / Grey Day / Michael Caine / Shut Up / Keep Moving / Madness / Our House / ENCORE 1: Tempted / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 2: One Step Beyond

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): When we first went to America I looked like a redneck. Now that long hair and sporty gear is in fashion I’ll probably seem very conservative. I have noticed that the dodgy flat top is peaking though, which is a bit worrying.

FEBRUARY 25: Akerman Ballroom UCLA, Los Angeles

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The first of three shows in LA sees a backstage visit from former Sex Pistol Steve Jones, who now lives in LA. The next day, Madness travel to Long Beach to play KROQ in another charity softball game. They win again.

setlist

House Of Fun / Disappear / Close Escape / Bed and Breakfast Man / My Girl / The Sun and The Rain / Keep Moving / Tomorrow’s Just Another Day / Take It Or Leave It / Razor Blade Alley / Embarrassment / Grey Day / Tomorrow’s Dream / Shut Up / Night Boat To Cairo / Madness / Baggy Trousers / Our House / ENCORE 1: Madness Is All In The Mind / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 2: Tempted / The Prince / One Step Beyond

FEBRUARY 27: Palace night club, Los Angeles

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To coincide with the show, the band tape a performance for TV show Rock of the 80s. Set up like a live gig, Madness play Keep Moving, The Sun And The Rain and Our House. The show is broadcast on March 24.

CARL: We crashed a hired car in LA and that was great. We also went off into the desert with these weirdos and then found out they had guns and that was dead worrying.

FEBRUARY 29: 
Lee gets married in Los Angeles

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The highlight of the tour comes when Lee marries long-term girlfriend Debbie Fordham at the local Hard Rock Café, with the band decked out in white tuxedos and training shoes and Woody’s wife Jane as bridesmaid. The couple honeymoon in Las Vegas and a larger, more lavish wedding party is later held for family and friends back in London.

LEE: I’d been going out with Debbie since February 6, 1974. It was the glam rock era and she was with someone at the time. She said, ‘I’ll give you an answer when I get back from my holiday’. And she did. I remember taking her to the Hampstead Classic and telling her not to dress smart cos we were going to bunk in. I went through the skylight and dropped 12ft into the ladies’ toilet. A woman walked in and ran out screaming. All for the sake of 50 pence – and on our first date too! We’ve been with each other ever since. She’s the level-headed one. She keeps my feet on the ground.

 

JOHN WYNNE: My wife was at home and rang me out there and said, ‘Did you get The Sun newspaper?’ There was an article that said the one person who won’t be at Lee’s wedding will be his dad because he was in prison. But Lee’s dad was actually dead. It was a big furore. The lawyers basically said the papers had so much power – and at that time, they really did in the Thatcher years – that you had to go along with them. It was upsetting for Lee.

FEBRUARY 29: Palace night club, Los Angeles

SUGGS (speaking on tour in 1984): You can’t help but get cynical about it all. After a while you don’t believe anything anyone tells you. I just don’t want to hear anyone else tell me the records are good, or the show was great. You send most of the time thinking how bloody ordinary you are, and then everyone wants to feed you this myth.

MARCH 2: 
University of California, San Diego

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As it’s the last show on the tour, Madness decide to record it. An exclusive live recording will be given away as a prize when they return home.

MARCH 3: New American Bandstand, US TV

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Madness perform The Sun and the Rain. Dressed in a red onesie, Lee pinches host Dick Clark on the backside, prompting him to exclaim: ‘Have you no respect?’ The show is screened on March 31.

CARL (speaking in 1984): In the really early days, we used to do crazy things because each gig was two weeks apart so we used to try to make each show a special event. So one night I’d be wheeled on in a box and the next… ah, I dunno, it was just fun. But if you’re doing it every night, you haven’t got time to think up these things because you have to keep the show going.

MARCH: Comic Tracey Ullman releases a cover of My Girl called My Guy’s Mad At Me.

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): I think it’s fantastic (grinning with mock admiration). Actually, I’ve got no feelings about it at all. I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t like slaggings off.

 

LEE (speaking in 1984): It didn’t knock me down with a feather. We were asked to appear on Top of The Pops with Tracey and we said no. When you do a cover you should try and make it better than the original.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): She should’ve done it really slow. It’s alright, I suppose. We’ve always wanted people to cover our records. I’d like Grace Jones to cover Grey Day.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): And I think Sammy Hagar should cover Baggy Trousers.

MARCH 16: Appear on The Tube

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Madness perform a live session on the popular Channel 4 entertainment show– their first UK live TV appearance UK without Mike. At the start of Michael Caine, Carl says, ‘We’ll get IRA’ in place of, ‘We’ll get ay-ya-ya’ as a reminder of what the song is about. Victoria Gardens is dedicated to Mike. Keep Moving and Samantha are also played.

JOHN WYNNE: Chris was quite astute; he kept his eye on what his management and record company were doing. Chris had been in the outside world. He’d been to work, had a wife, lived in a flat and had a kid. All the rest hadn’t played at real life. Prior to Madness, Lee was ducking and diving as opposed to living in the real world. The rest had been looked after at that point by their mothers.

MARCH 17: Saturday Superstore, UK TV

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Carl, Lee and Bedders answer questions from fans and Lee gives away an exclusive copy of the recording of their March 2 gig in San Diego to a prize-winner.

MARCH 19: The Language of Music: Reggae, Madness & the Wild Things

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Suggs and Bedders star in this BBC schools programme, sitting in the studio with Langer, Winstanley and strings arranger David Bedford to talk about the making of One Better Day.

MARCH: 
Hope & Anchor benefit gig, London

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A surprise fundraising concert is staged at Dingwalls to save the financially-troubled Hope & Anchor from closing. Madness mingle with the crowd to watch the first two bands, Amazulu and Darts. The gig raises £100,000 but it isn’t enough. The H&A closes until the mid 1990s.

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): A lot of good groups started out there and without it we may not have been where we are today. I spent many a happy hour there in my youth and it would be a shame if it gets covered in flock wallpaper.

MARCH: 
Open new Liquidator studio

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The band launch their own recording studio, housed in their nondescript offices in Caledonian Road.

CARL (speaking in 1984): We bought the Madness office in our heyday with Stiff so that if anything happened we had our own place, so having our own studio seems like a natural progression. We’ve met a lot of people who we get on with and who we’d like to do something with. It means maybe we get into engineering or production. Just broadening one’s outlook, like with the TV series.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984):We used to get into a big studio and there was enormous pressure to make a hit single or album because studio time is so expensive. So this means we should be able to experiment a bit more. And it makes us a bit more self-sufficient because we own the building that it’s in.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): With all the facilities we’ve got, we could run at least five or six bands from here.

MARCH: 
Record Listen To Your Father with Feargal Sharkey

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Madness go into the their newly-opened studios with the ex-Undertones frontman. The song had been road-tested as far back as sessions for 7 in 1981, but somehow never gelled. It will be released in October. The band also begin writing songs for a new album.

CHRIS: We originally recorded it, and although the vocals were good, they just weren’t good enough. I thought it really needed someone like Feargal, who we’d met at the Top of the Pops studio, so we asked him and he did it.

 

FEARGAL SHARKEY (speaking in 1984): We have a lot of mutual friends so, although I didn’t physically meet them ’til about 18 months ago, I was quite aware Madness were well into Feargal Sharkey. We had a lot of respect for one another. It was nice to be asked to do something with them… now they’re a really good bunch of friends. Lee Thompson’s just a nutter – for the first three hours of the recording session he just messed about making everybody laugh. Then we got down to it and six minutes later he’s done his bit, got his sax under his arm and he’s on his way home. It’s good that people can have a laugh like that but then, when a job is done, it’s done very well.

APRIL 9: Isabelle Adjani Show

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Madness fly to Paris to perform Victoria Gardens, which has been earmarked for the next single. The band perform beside a pool, with Carl diving in at the end.

JAMES MACKIE (replacement keyboard player): Lee went completely AWOL and even the band were talking about it. Some of us found a central restaurant and had lunch, then the fire water was brought to the table. After an hour of shots, we left. The guys were singing and I was zig-zagging, on and off the boulevard. The piss was taken but we did the show (Lee must have turned up) and then recommenced drinking at the hotel.

APRIL 12: Saturday Night Live, US TV

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Madness fly from Paris to New York to appear on this hugely popular comedy show at the Rockefeller Plaza, playing Keep Moving and Our House. It’s their last US TV appearance of the 80s. One of the studio staff bears a passing resemblance to Bobby Charlton and is ribbed mercilessly. The show is aired two days later.

JAMES MACKIE: We ended up in the TV studio half way up some enormous skyscraper waiting to sound check. Lee had disappeared to the concern of everyone except the band, who seemed used to it. He did turn up just in time and a few hours later, with a dry mouth and shaking hands, I stabbed away at the opening piano riff of Our House, feeling a bit sick and overwhelmed by the tens of millions of live viewers that we knew were tuning in. New York loved the guys – and so did I.

 

DICKY BARRETT (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones): I went down to New York with some friends. After the show we hung around outside waiting for Madness and they spotted us, took us in their limo and then let us hang out with them. Suggs was introducing me as his American cousin. That, to me, has given me a lot of the way I treat people to come and see our band. I was thrilled; if I haven’t been in the Bosstones afterwards, meeting Madness would’ve been the biggest musical thrill of my life. It is just as easy to say, ‘Hey come on hangout’ or ‘Yeah I will sign that’ as it is to say ‘Get the fuck out of here’.

APRIL 15: Tommy Cooper dies on live TV

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One of the band’s heroes passes away after suffering a heart attack while performing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.

LEE: I was actually watching when he died on TV. It’s amazing ’cause you can never really spot where the routine exactly ends and when it is he starts dying. He’s doing this magician routine and these two girls come along to put the cloak on him. He staggers as if under the weight of it, then you see like a premonition. Then his hand goes towards his heart and the audience starts roaring, and he’s staggering around the stage and still the audience are just splitting their sides. Then he collapses at the back of the stage and this hand just comes out from behind the curtain and drags him in, and the audience are just going haywire. What a way to go, eh? The finest performance of his life.

APRIL 30-MAY 4: Sotto le Stelle, Italian TV

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The band film six numbers in five days for an Italian TV special with Italian actress, film director and screenwriter Eleonora Giorgi. Victoria Gardens, Keep Moving, Waltz Into Mischief, House of Fun, Michael Caine and One Better Day are performed in locations around London, including Victoria Gardens, a cinema, nightclub, peep show and open top bus. They’re shown later in the summer.

MAY 5: Rocking Chair, French TV

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A string of European TV appearances begin in France, where One Better Day is introduced by the presenter as ‘Bag Lady’.

JAMES MACKIE: Like so many of their fans, I desperately wanted to be part of their gang. It was great being with them but always frustrating that I would never actually be ‘in’ Madness. Mark was a good player and always struck me as serious about his music. When Woody and he got going properly, it was good stuff. Chris was a great bloke – they all were. I treasure my memories of being with them as a band and as individuals but I suspect that that particular brief period is not one that they relish.

MAY 8: French TV

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Madness perform Michael Caine on another French TV show, with Seamus Beahgen on keyboards.

MAY 9: Musikladen, German TV

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The band again playback Michael Caine, this time on German TV with Suggs playing piano.

WOODY (speaking in 1984): My attitude to success is that it’s a joke, a game. It’s all in your imagination or ego. I know that I can go to most places in the world and people will know about Madness, but it doesn’t make me feel different.

MAY 11: Montreux Golden Rose Festival, Switzerland

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Chris plays with UB40 at this famous music festival, then he and Lee go clubbing with the Brummie reggae outfit. They later join a CBS Records party at the Palace Hotel, where mayhem ensues.

SUGGS: We were at this party with UB40 in a room that Rod Stewart had just vacated and it all got a bit boorishly out of hand; things were flying out the window and all that.

 

LEE: So there we were, all the partygoers and gutter press. As I went to sit on a glass wall table, it gave way with a crash. It was my fault I suppose – I had put on a bit of weight.

 

SUGGS: There was this huge marble fireplace and we decided we’d all sit along it like the seven dwarfs, and of course it collapsed, and we thought we’d better shove it out the window, forgetting that we were 18 floors up. That is a sight I will never forget, as it hit the fucking patio below. Marble mantelpiece! Eight feet long! Pssssckkkkwwwwsssshkk!

 

LEE: There was a chair and a speaker literally lozzed from a sixth-floor room, landing in a fountain, nearly drowning an all-night gardener.

 

CHRIS: I can honestly say the most disgraceful behaviour was from the hacks from the Sun, Star, Mail etc, trying to pull each others’ trousers down and such pranks.

 

LEE: We left soon afterwards and headed for an all-night spaghetti house. Chris spilled his spaghetti down himself and then we went to bed.

 

SUGGS: What was great was, in the papers the next day it said, ‘Madness wreck Rod Stewart’s suit.’ They’d misspelled suite – I was baffled for weeks. We only did that sort of thing once or twice, but it has to be done every now and then.

MAY 12: Montreux Golden Rose Festival, Switzerland

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For the third day of the festival, Madness line up alongside Thomas Dolby, Status Quo, Ultravox, Cindy Lauper, The Alarm, Adam Ant and Queen.
 James Mackie again joins them to playback Michael Caine, One Better Day and Our House. The performance is later sold in various edits to 35 countries.

SUGGS: Funnily enough Queen, were staying in the same hotel. Freddy was very nice – a very charming man. We partied with him and got him to shriek very loudly over disco music in the nightclub. It was the only time I ever met Queen and what jolly nice chaps they were too.

 

JAMES MACKIE: It was Switzerland so I bought an expensive pipe and some fragrant tobacco and puffed away on it through the entire trip and our gig. One night in the hotel, Suggs leant over and pushed a brownish lump into the smoking bowl of my new briar and told me to go play the piano at the bar – which we did until the early hours when we were politely asked to go to bed.

 

LEE: We met Adam Ant and his manager at the airport as we were flying home. He’d just finished a very big tour of the USA, so we talked of this and that – he was a very nice chap. At Gatwick, we got through Customs sweetly, except for Woody who was stopped for carrying an offensive weapon in the shape of his 14lb bar of Toblerone. Adam Ant attracted the crowds while the rest of the bands just breezed through. Good luck to the man.

MAY 19: Ear Say, UK TV

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Suggs is quizzed by host Gary Crowley about the band’s recent escapade in Montreux, but insists: “It was just a party and the bloke from The Sun was having his trousers pulled off.”

MAY 21: 
Madness leave Stiff

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Madness’s contract with Stiff Records expires and they refuse to sign a new document, ending a relationship which had benefited both parties for nearly half a decade.

LEE: There were so many little bombs going off at the time with Stiff Records and the management.

 

JEREMY LASCELLES (Head of A&R at Virgin): Mike had left and there was a certain degree of self-reanalysis and reappraisal of what sort of group they wanted to be.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: In hindsight, things had changed and their day was passing. They said to me, ‘We want to make more serious music’ and suddenly things were more wishy-washy, with slow tempos; more about the underbelly of life, but without hit choruses. They didn’t want to do pop singles, instead they wanted to write deeper stuff and make movies instead of videos. I didn’t really think it was a great idea. My reaction was, ‘Now Mike’s left, do you want to make an extra special effort and build it back? Well then, now’s the time for everybody to make kind of a slightly larger effort’. They said no.

 

BEDDERS: I think we did want to be serious in the sense that creatively we wanted to push it forward. And sometimes that didn’t involve doing a Nutty Train, but working out what we wanted to do and write. I’m not trying to intellectualise it, but I think that was one of our strengths – we did try to think about things.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: They also wanted more money, so we upped the amount of their royalties. Originally we only had a five-album deal, so we agreed to add two records and they got a retrospective push on all their records. Then their lawyer got in the way of it and decided he didn’t want them to actually give us any more records. He decided there was a big deal with a major to be had and started 
having enquiries with larger record labels.

 

MATTHEW SZTUMPF (Madness manager): I was shopping them around and had meetings with Paul Russell, the head of CBS, and Muff Winwood, their head of A&R. We almost did the deal with them except they changed the terms dramatically when it came to the final contract.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: So anyway, their lawyer said, ‘The band don’t want to give you the extra two albums now.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve been paying a higher royalty on the first few albums, which was down to being promised two more records, so where does that leave me?’ So I retrospectively looked at their arrangements and deducted the amount that I’d overpaid.

 

MATTHEW SZTUMPF: Dave didn’t pay us – it was as simple as that. The statement came through and he owed us a quarter of a million pounds in royalties. The 90 days passed and he hadn’t done anything about it so we put him on notice. I went into his office and said, ‘Are you going to give us a cheque, Dave?’ And he said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Right, we’ll see you in court’ – which we never did. Stiff didn’t have the money.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: They never understood why I did it. They thought, ‘Dave’s pulled some fast stunt here and cut £400,000 out of our income.’ But I was just reclaiming for something that I didn’t ever get.

 

MATTHEW SZTUMPF: At that point, Madness owned their back catalogue, so I went to Virgin and got an advance of quarter of a million pounds from the MD, Simon Draper. Then I went back to Stiff and said, ‘OK, I’ll give you quarter of a million pounds if you give us the back catalogue’ which they did to settle out of court. We licensed it to Virgin for 12 years.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: I was quite happy to go along with it – they did very well.

 

LEE: So We left Stiff, signed to Virgin, and went from this little company to a big conglomerate.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: It might have been different had Mike been around as he was always a strong influence, but it got a little out of hand. Unfortunately, like a divorce, their lawyer got involved and we both got a 
little upset with each other and inevitably in those circumstances you don’t perhaps make the right long term choice. As it was, both parties decided, ‘Sod it.’ So that was that.

MAY: The band form their own record label, Zarjazz, with Virgin.


MATTHEW SZTUMPF: We said to Virgin, ‘We want our own label.’ Ian ‘Dad’ Horne became the in-house engineer and did all the recordings. They were all enthusiastic but Carl was particularly excited about it.

 

SUGGS: We didn’t want it to be like a business. We wanted to give people room to breathe; make it a sort of community. But I think it was doomed from the start – it wasn’t what we were good at.

 

JEREMY LASCELLES: As was often the case, Zarjazz was just a vanity label for them to put their own records out and sign a couple of things. Like all artists do at a certain stage, they think they’re brilliant A&R men and undiscovered talent is coming their way. It’s been done many times over the years, whether it’s Apple or Swansong, and is very seldom successful. It ends up, all too often, just doing deals for their mates instead of making sound commercial and creative judgement calls.

 

SUGGS: I think that was the point when we just lost our sparkle; both in ourselves and with our fans. Really, it would’ve been great if someone had come in and said, ‘Look, guys, just concentrate on what you’re good at’.

 

DAVE ROBINSON: They went to Virgin wanting to put out songs they felt were meaningful. They tried to move their market from liking them for one reason to liking them for another and that was very difficult. If you get a market, you have to appreciate it; it won’t come back if you lose it. The basis of the Nutty Boys was the stuff that all those kids growing up remembered, and serious music it was not! But all their stuff was serious in a ‘folk’ way. They were writing about stuff they were culturally linked to, in this area of London. The problem was, musically, they moved off ska and didn’t really replace it. Suggs had that music hall thing he liked and you had that carnival swirling organ vibe and also the two producers got stuck with adding strings. And the social comment didn’t quite have the hooks that Mike would put into the tunes. Also, you can’t swap markets. Once you’ve got a market, it’s difficult to say, ‘They’re too young, we’ll go after these older people.’

 

MIKE: When we were having a laugh, people would slag us off, particularly compared to the New Romantics, who all took themselves so seriously. And yet, after I left and they tried to be serious, people would still slag them off for being boring. I suppose it was inevitable.

 

CARL: We should have stuck to our grand design.

MAY 24: New Brighton Rock, Granada TV

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Madness appear on the last night of this four-day Festival, playing Keep Moving and One Better Day in front of 20,000 people on a stage over an outdoor swimming pool. Their performance appears in a 90-minute special shown on TV in June.

CARL (speaking in 1984): When the band got a few bob together, Suggs and I decided to branch out so we both bought trumpets. I’ve progressed slowly but I’m lucky to get the opportunity to play it live.

MAY 26: 
Saturday Morning Picture Show, UK TV

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Madness playback Keep Moving and One Better Day. The songs are broadcast separately.



JOHN WYNNE: We used to call Chris ‘The man who never sweats.’ Onstage, everyone else would be pouring in perspiration but Chris used to walk off and there wouldn’t be a bead on him. They’d all be in bits and he looked exactly as he went onstage, in his shirt and tie!

MAY 31: Appear on Top Of The Pops with One Better Day

LEE: While we were waiting to rehearse, I tried to make myself some toast on the in-house toaster. Well, you know how it is when your mind’s on other things…suddenly I heard a scream and someone shout, ‘Fire!’ I’d never seen so many part-time acts move so fast for the kind of work they’d previously been doing. One young boy had to be given the kiss of life by Russell Harty. There was uproar, and all because I’d forgotten to collect me two slices. I never did admit it was me.

JUNE 2: Just Amazing, UK TV

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Suggs, Lee, Carl and Chris appear with their kung fu instructor Dave Lea, who breaks some bricks and beats them up.

JUNE 2: 
One Better Day/Guns is released

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Madness’s last single with Stiff (BUY 201) tells the story of 
Arlington House, which was opened in 1905 by Victorian philanthropist Lord Rowton to give low cost accommodation to working men. Famous guests include Irish poet Patrick Cavanagh and author George Orwell. Dave Robinson had originally voted for a remixed version of Victoria Gardens but changed his mind at the last minute, which is why the sleeve depicts a back garden. The song will later reach No17.

BEDDERS: There was some talk that Victoria Gardens might have been a single, so there was a cover all ready to go for it.

 

LEE: Of course, Stiff changed their minds at the 11th hour, so the cover that was meant for Victoria Gardens became the cover for One Better Day. I’m not sure anyone noticed or cared by that point anyway.

 

SUGGS: The lyric for the B-side, Guns, came after reading that there were four guns to every person in Texas, with a little something about the arms race in the Reagan era. It’s hard to talk about our songs in general because we all write in different ways. I never think my own lyrics are particularly brilliant but I’ve always stuck to writing about things close to me.

JUNE 5: Shoot One Better Day video in London

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Mike flies back from Holland and joins the band to film an impromptu video in Camden Town, filming outside Arlington House and in Camden Lock.

CHRIS: Because we’d come to the end of the road with Stiff, they didn’t want to do a video, so we sort of financed this one ourselves. It was mostly scripted by Lee and pretty much sticks to the story of the song, with Suggs as the old man sitting in the road. It also included a most unglamorous role for his wife, Anne, as a bag lady.

 

NIGEL DICK (former Stiff employee): They rang me up and said, ‘We’d really love you to direct the next video.’ But it was the first video where they didn’t want to be funny. Everything else was in colour, this was in black-and-white. Everything else was funny, this was maudlin, about homeless people. Oh, great, I’m going to be the architect of their doom, killing the Nutty Boys!

 

LEE: After a few minor disagreements we finally got under way with a £12,000 budget and time very much against us. It seemed funny not having Robbo around to shout at people. I remember we lost two reels of film that took five hours to shoot because we got dust in the camera. And Mike had rather a rather smart-looking suit for a tramp, as that was all we had. But everyone really put a lot of oomph into the video, especially Mark, Woody and Chris. I think it was because it was our own thing; it was really us.

 

CHRIS: It was our most ‘Camden’ video ever. Locations included Arlington Road, Camden Lock, Camden High Street and Mornington Crescent Station, all within gobbing distance of each other.

 

LEE: The first location was Mornington Crescent, where Suggs sings the line, ‘Short white line etc.’ He got a pull off a copper who objected to him sleeping in the middle of the road. He didn’t recognise Suggs and didn’t notice the cameras either.

JUNE 6: Breakfast Time, BBC

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A reporter visits Madness at a pub in Islington for the second day of filming One Better Day.

CARL (speaking in 1984): Mike really made life easy. I’d come in and say to him, ‘I’ve got this idea’, and I can’t write music. But he knew exactly what you wanted. You’d click with him, which was brilliant. But now all that’s going to change. It’s not going to be easy from now on.

 

LEE (speaking in 1984): We used to have a rough idea about something and Mike would be the one to go, ‘Bang! This is it!’ There’d be no grey areas. Whereas now everyone’s taking more time about things – sometimes too much time as it’s a bit of a headache with six people trying to agree. Because we’d been hanging out with each other since we were kids it came as a bit of a knock when he left). It was like losing me wife. It felt like a brother had gone to another planet or another country. Which he did.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): It was a weird sort of period after Mike left and with the Stiff thing to contend with. Like we had commitments that had been made before Mike left, so it was like doing something and then rewinding it and doing the same thing again; instead of going forward we were kind of lingering. When Mike comes over we do meet, and he’ll probably be writing still. We’ll probably send him some stuff to write. Obviously he’s still a mate and he started a lot of it off, so he’ll always be involved in one way or another, no matter where he is.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): At the beginning of the year everyone was really testy, and we were leaving each other alone to sort of give us time to think whether we wanted to continue together. Then suddenly we thought, ‘Well all right, we’re going to do it, we’re going to stay together.’ And then we just sort of got our enthusiasm again.

JUNE 6: 
Razzamatazz, UK TV

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Former Tenpole Tudor guitarist Bob Kingston stands in for Chris, who has hurt his back after drunkenly falling off a car boot in Liverpool. The band playback two versions of One Better Day. For one, Woody mimes bass and Mark sits behind the keyboards. For the other, Woody wears a false beard.

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): I’ve enjoyed it and I don’t hanker for anything else really, other than to enjoy what I’m doing and to have the freedom to do what I want. When I’m 90 I’ll look back and all there’ll be is a few bits of plastic and a load of old videos. But what does anyone have to look back on?

 

JOHN WYNNE: Suggs wasn’t too bothered about, say, the money side of it. He was more interested in enjoying himself. If you met him in the pub, smoking his roll-ups and drinking his pint, he’s a funny bloke, interesting to sit and talk to. He was going with the flow. I mean, the flow couldn’t go unless he was going with it. But rarely was he a stumbling block.

JUNE 9: Earsay, UK TV

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Madness playback One Better Day before a backdrop displaying a screen-projected footage of real-life tramps outside Arlington House. James Mackie makes his final appearance.

WOODY (speaking in 1984): Six years ago I went to all the parties, did the social bit. Now I’m more reclusive. I’ve got into home recording because I’ve always loved fiddling with electronics. I can’t bear not taking machines to pieces. I’ve also started doing pencil and ink drawings again and begun to paint. You could say I’m a self-indulgent drifter.

JUNE 12: The Young Ones episode is screened

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The band become the first to play on the show twice as their performance of Our House is broadcast.

SUGGS: They really did say, ‘Just do what you like’ because the whole point was that it was meant to be anarchy.

JUNE 15: South of Watford, UK TV

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This special show, hosted by comedian and Madness fan Ben Elton, features interviews with the band around London, including Camden Lock and The Dublin Castle. Carl is also shown playing an early version of Time on the piano.

CARL (speaking in 1984): I do worry. I really do. But I’d rather worry about writing songs than anything else.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): We were saying the other day, ‘How hard do we have to work, how much do we have to sell, just to make it so that we can continue?’ As long as we can cover the cost of each album that’s fine by me.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): We can’t dictate what direction we’re going in when there’s six different people in the band. All of us could do a solo thing without the others on the next album if they wanted to.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): What we want to do and what we actually do are sometimes different things. It’s very difficult to capture what you want on record. Obviously you can’t write a song that’s going to stop all the wars in the world and still sound as good as the Beatles’ A Day In The Life. But that’s what you keep trying to do. Sometimes you can reach your own estimations and most times you can’t… but that’s what keeps you going.

JUNE 20: Razzamatazz, UK TV

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Recorded two weeks earlier, Suggs and Carl talk about their search for a new keyboard player.

WOODY (speaking in 1984): Sometimes we’re ridiculously understanding of each other, which can be negative. Now everything is very finely balanced. With seven people there was always a casting vote. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now there’s six of us.

JULY 7: 
Liverpool University, Miners Benefit gig

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Along with The Style Council and Bronski Beat, Madness perform at a benefit concert to raise awareness of the miners’ strike. ‘We’ve just come to fill a gap,’ Suggs quips. My Girl is dedicated to comic Tracey Ullman, but a fart noise makes it clear what the band think of it. Amputated versions of Grey Day and Shut Up cover for the absence of Carl and Lee. The night ends with an all-star version of Shoparound, with Suggs and Paul Weller taking turns on lead vocals.

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): Of course it’s worrying that we don’t sell as many albums as we used to. We’re not a new band any more. In a lot of people’s eyes we’re old and we’re not going to have the impact of Marilyn or the Thompson Twins. We could’ve carried on doing ska songs, but we haven’t. If we had we could’ve sold more records.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): I enjoy being in Madness for different reasons now. We’re less in the public eye, recording seems easier and I have time for outside projects. Success isn’t something that troubles me – Duran Duran epitomise success. It’s nice to be recognised but I don’t feel like a star. I go on the Tube and use the launderette the same as everyone else.

JULY 27: Good Morning Britain, UK TV


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Suggs, Carl and Lee are quizzed by Anne Diamond and Nick Owen, who also read out viewers’ messages. Other subjects discussed are individual and collective growth and the message of Cardiac Arrest.

SUGGS: I did feel sorry for some of the people who did breakfast TV programmes, and we’d go in with bananas on our heads, just cause you’re bored. It may have been a little intimidating for some of the poor people who were trying to get a serious something out of us.

AUGUST: Work continues in Liquidator studios

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Madness rehearse and record in the new studio in their Caledonian Road office. They also employ ex-Stiff man Jamie Spencer to assist manager Matthew Stzumpf.

CARL (speaking in 1984): I think we just came to the end of an era with Stiff. It was pretty good while it lasted, but we just came to a point where we just couldn’t work together for various reasons. But with the record label and building our own studio, we’re pretty confident.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): Losing Mike and now leaving Stiff are probably the two most major changes a band can go through. But we’re riding the storm. The studio has been a great leveller. It lets us get in and write whenever we want, so I think there’ll be a rainbow at the end of the road.

SEPTEMBER: Continue rehearsing and recording

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): We’re not in it totally for the money, we don’t need to have the record company, but we would like it to do well. Out ultimate aim is to get bands that are unknown and have a reasonable amount of success with them. A small label will stick by a band they believe in but aren’t becoming successful instead of dropping them like a fuckin’ brick.

 

CARL (speaking in 1984): We want every record to be good and for the Zarjazz label to be known for a certain high standard. The main thing for me is that if you see a Zarjazz record you know it’ll be a good record with a good B-side and it’ll be well done.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1984): I’d be disgusted if we put out a record that we didn’t like but that we thought would be successful, for its novelty value or whatever. The worst situation we’ve been in so far is having to sit down and work out what we should give someone, like as a shopping list, and you’ve got to have so much money for the rest of the year, and the fuckin’ new Beatles might turn up next week and we won’t have any money left. It’s a horrible thing to have to do, apart from being really boring; an aspect of the music business I never expected to find myself doing.

OCTOBER 1: Listen To Your Father is released

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The first release on the Zarjazz label is by Feargal Sharkey. It goes on to spend seven weeks in the charts, peaking at No23.

MATTHEW SZTUMPF: Feargal had an input into the B-side and there’s this story about Carl saying he’d buy him a couple of pints. But Feargal understood it to be that he’d have a couple of points. And I had to have this difficult conversation with his manager. It sounds like points but that’s because he’s Irish.

OCTOBER 23: Join Feargal Sharkey on Top Of The Pops

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Suggs is missing as Madness and a fake horn section back Feargal Sharkey to playback Listen To Your Father.

CHRIS (speaking in 1984): Suggs is an extremely likeable, and easy-going chap. He gets embarrassed by stardom but he’s very approachable.

 

WOODY (speaking in 1984): He used to be nervous and jumpy. He’s matured quickly, got a wife and kid… he’s solid.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): I’ve known Woody the longest, since he was 15. He hasn’t changed. He’s easy-going, which today some people think is a minus, I find his shyness quite appealing.

 

WOODY (speaking in 1984): Mark thinks he’s sane, but he’s mad. I admire him for his professional attitude. He believes that as a musician you should play to the best of your ability. Like me, he sometimes takes it too seriously.

OCTOBER: Saturday Starship, UK TV

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As Listen To Your Father climbs the charts, Carl and Bedders join Feargal Sharkey on the kids’ show to talk about his single and life at Zarjazz.

BEDDERS (speaking in 1984): It’s very hard to separate my social life from Madness. Everything seems related. I find it impossible to relax unless I read. I love Tom Wolfe and Gonzo journalism, people like Hunter S Thompson. Graham Greene is a big favourite too, and all the 30s authors like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. They were called ‘The Ruin Boys’ – all socialists experiencing great pain because they were brought up middle class. When my time isn’t taken up with the day-to-day Madness business I enjoy going to art galleries, films, the occasional club. Normal things. I don’t plan to get married – the rest of the band call me the fresh-faced bachelor as a wind-up.

DECEMBER 6: 
Wag Club, London

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Madness perform at an invite-only event with Paul Weller and Jerry Dammers. The band act as DJs in between performances by Bananarama, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Proceeds are donated to the Ethiopian Famine Appeal.

CARL (speaking in 1984): We don’t want to be a political band. If we do Greenpeace we’re not going to stand up and say, ‘Hey! You’re all here for Greenpeace, everyone go out and join it.’ It’s there and they can figure it out and that’s our way. We’re not going to put chairs onstage and have a debate. You can clutter up things and I think we’ve got enough on 
our plate already. But it is nice to make things happen.

DECEMBER: Bedders and Woody play on charity single Starvation

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After missing out on Band Aid, Madness perform on an alternative benefit single with members of UB40, The Specials and General Public. Co-ordinated by Jerry Dammers, the song is a new rendition of The Pioneers song Starvation, backed with a specially written piece of African-style pop, Tam Tam Pour L’Ethiopie.

WOODY: Madness were originally asked to appear on the Band Aid record but at the time we were out in the country – not out of the country – going through a writing crisis and we didn’t feel that it was worth going all the way back to London just to shake a tambourine or something.

 

CHRIS: We were asked to attend a photo session but we were deep out in the sticks writing Mad Not Mad. So we didn’t go and sort of got blanked from Band Aid. Ah well. Starvation was our reply.

 

BEDDERS: A fan of ours, Mick Tuohy, just walked in off the street the day after the first TV documentary about Ethiopa and suggested we cover The Pioneers’ Starvation in aid of the famine appeal. We were already planning on doing something with some of the old 2-Tone people again, so it gave us the ideal opportunity. We thought it was a brilliant idea so we immediately contacted Jerry and it snowballed from there.

 

JERRY DAMMERS: We actually got the idea for the record before Band Aid – it’s just that Bob Geldof was a lot better organised than us. They took about 48 hours to record and release their record; we took about four months.

 

WOODY (speaking in 1984): It’s not such a big deal. People tend to think that when you leave a band or label you fall out with everyone involved, but it’s not the case with 2-Tone; we’ve all been friends ever since, and we still bump into each other regularly.

 

JACKIE ROBINSON (The Pioneers, speaking in 1984):): We always used to write songs about things that were happening in the world. Starvation was just one of those songs. It wasn’t written for any specific purpose or with any particular country in mind. I’m very pleased with the new version, it’s much better than the original.

 

ALI CAMPBELL (UB40, speaking in 1984): Recording Starvation was great fun. The Pioneers were always one of my favourite groups, so it was quite an honour to work with them. I know the song really well, but I was nervous when Jerry asked me to do the vocals because the original version is sung in a really high key so I had to stretch my voice to reach some of the notes… I think I sound like Simon le Bon.

 

LYNVAL GOLDING (speaking in 1984): Jerry phoned and asked me to get involved and I agreed straight away. Food is not a problem for us, we’re all alive and kicking, most of us have no idea what it’s like to be hungry. I know it’s a clichéd thing to say… but music unites people. It’s an international language that breaks down so many barriers. While we were working on it there was a very special, warm feeling.

DECEMBER 26: TV-AM, UK TV

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Suggs and Bedders back the show’s Caring Christmas Campaign by giving away Starvation and Madness goodies as competition prizes.