WOODY: We’d always said, ‘Once we stop having a good time we’ll stop.’ And that’s exactly what happened in 1986. We’d been on the treadmill for long enough and we weren’t enjoying it.
SUGGS: We’d started off with a nuclear blast of energy when we were 17 or 18, then started being a bit more reflective, but then started to lose that energy as well. So when yet another year rolled around, we were really confused and fed up.
WOODY: It was getting quite painfully stale. You knew in your heart of hearts that you shouldn’t be doing it. It wasn’t genuine – it was almost like a pretence. We were going against all the things we said we wouldn’t be; a staid old boring rock band.
SUGGS: Day-to-day was fine but it had become a long-term commitment none of us could see any escape from. Suddenly, you realise the wagon’s out of control; you’ve forgotten who you are, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. We’d had so much success and worked so hard that we were absolutely exhausted.
BEDDERS: We’d just been on the merry-go-round for a long while and were feeling pretty giddy. I’d started in Madness when I was 17 and was now 25, but I felt more like 65. The rot had definitely set in and I was at a complete low; no one was happy.
WOODY: We’d been there, done that, seen it all and made the film, printed the t-shirts and written the book. Everything that a band could do, we’d done. Musically, it was getting very difficult to be fresh and new.
SUGGS: There was nothing else we could do. We’d been around the world five times and dressed up as every single conceivable character from every Ealing comedy ever made.
CARL: When you’re standing onstage with a crowd going mental in front of you and find yourself looking at your watch thinking, ‘Oh, must ring my girlfriend once we’re off’ you know it’s time to step off the treadmill. Of course, it suits a record company’s interests to keep a band busy – less time on their hands to think up awkward questions – but we all had lives and wanted to live them.
LEE: In that last year, I more or less cut out. I was putting more time into the Madness fanzine than the music. I popped down to blow a few bits of sax here and there but basically the atmosphere was getting too thick for my liking.
CARL: It had taken a couple of years after Mike left for the ramifications to really trickle through. We’d got into the habit of doing tours that lost money and did absolutely nothing for our careers. We’d spent years flogging our guts out and we were knackered.
SUGGS: Also, the people around us let us down. We never stopped being a great band with great ideas, but we were pushed in the wrong directions. And we weren’t strong enough to tell people to fuck off.
BEDDERS: It needed the coup de grace. I think we were all secretly thinking, ‘This has got to end now really.’ But we didn’t know how to.
JOHN WYNNE (Madness sound engineer): I knew the writing was on the wall. Once they all had wives and kids and houses, they didn’t want to go to work. They didn’t want to tour. They weren’t producing new stuff. Fair enough – they’d earned a lot of money. But you’ve got to stay in the public’s perception. It was the wrong move because they fell out of the eye-line.
SUGGS: We were so young, and we couldn’t go on forever. We had our own families, I had my own kids. We had to take a step back. It’s difficult to keep that kind of thing going. We couldn’t go on in that wacky madcap 24-hour-a-day existence.
JANUARY 8: Janice Long Show, UK radio
Barely recovered from the New Year’s Eve celebration, Suggs is interviewed by the BBC DJ. He says he regrets that he hasn’t seen footage of the Hogmanay show, and talks about the Madness dummies that will appear in the upcoming video for The Sweetest Girl (Suggs says recent plaster modelling left him with a bruised nose). Other subjects of discussion are the pros and cons of being in the music business, the reason why Madness signed to Stiff, the nutty side of The Specials and his huge record collection. Martin Aberdeen of The Potato Five joins them and they do a quick snippet of The Prince together. He also says there is a dearth of decent live acts at the moment, except for Microdisney and The Farm (who he’ll manage and produce in the early 90s). To round off the show he requests Kilburn & The High Roads’ Huffety Puff, then admits that Madness initially didn’t want to play it with Ian Dury at the Xmas Party because Dury didn’t do it at his late 70s shows by making up excuses.
JANUARY 27: Red Wedge Tour, Odeon, Birmingham
Madness join the Red Wedge tour for two shows, acting as special guests to reinforce the regular line-up of Billy Bragg, Tom Robinson, Lorna G, The Communards, DC Lee and The Style Council. Jerry Dammers acts as DJ in between performances. All acts are given 20 minutes to showcase new material. Lee and Woody are missing, the latter being replaced by a Roland drum machine nicknamed Ron. Carl takes to the piano for Alligator With A Stanley Knife, which refers to murderers, homeless people and drug addicts. Of the new tracks played, only Winter In Wonderland ever appears as a studio version, appearing as In Wonder on The Madness album in 1988. Suggs cracks his regular jokes about a man getting mugged in London every 20 minutes – ‘and he’s getting very sick of it’. Seamus Beaghen plays accordian solo to cover up for Lee’s absence on Yesterday’s Men, with a guest sax player filling in on Madness. Madness join in with the traditional all-star closer of Tracks of My Tears, Many Rivers To Cross, Don’t Look Any Further and Move On Up (People Get Ready).
BEDDERS (speaking in 1986): Red Wedge is fantastic for the fact that it’s going to make people sit up and think. One woman said to us, ‘Why do you have to be intellectual to be into politics?’ And you don’t have to be – it’s just a gut feeling really. It starts from things like, ‘My granny’s ill and she can’t get a bed in a hospital. Surely there’s something wrong in that?’
SUGGS (speaking in 1986): Someone said, ‘If the things are so awful why don’t you opt out of the music industry?’ But the only tool we have comes through the industry. The fact is that we are all recognisable faces and can attract a crowd and use that medium to get our message across, but we’re doing it positively and using people’s interest in pop groups to a positive effect.
CHRIS: At the time, I looked on Red Wedge as a way of making kids more politically aware. It was obviously very left wing, with a name like that. We were the less serious ones and we had a great time, it was quite well intentioned. I remember having a few drinks with Ken Livingstone and I was trying to scam some money out of him as the GLC was on the way out.
JANUARY 28: De Montfort Hall, Leicester
The setlist for this second night of the Red Wedge Tour is the same as Birmingham, minus Alligator With A Stanley Knife. All Red Wedge shows are filmed for a highlights video, to be released in April. Madness pick tonight as their contribution, with the last two songs used. Ron the drum machine is replaced by The Blockheads’ Charley Charles for Madness.
FEBRUARY 10: The Sweetest Girl/Jennie (A Portrait Of) is released
The divisive single (JAZZ 8) will only spend six weeks in the chart, peaking at No35. On the same day, the CD Peel Sessions (SFPS 007) is also released.
CARL: The video for this was filmed in a water treatment plant in South London.
JOHN MILLS (video director): We shot it in an old pumping station near the start of the M3 somewhere.
CHRIS: It was a bit difficult to film as we didn’t have many ideas really. The big suit ideas was one of Suggs’s.
JOHN MILLS: We used Jim Whiting, who did all the robots for the Rockit video by Herbie Hancock. He made plaster casts of the band’s faces and then made masks that we twisted so all their faces were distorted. I felt it suited the song.
JIM WHITING: Madness came over to my house in Archway Road and I made rubber heads of each band member. They were great fun and it was quite interesting – it was right at the beginning of special effects.
CHRIS: Having the rubber heads made was most unpleasant. To make the mould, they cover your face up so you’re almost suffocating, then stick two straws up your nose to help you breathe.
JIM WHITING: In the end, John wanted to interject the images subliminally, which meant the heads didn’t really get seen.
CARL: It’s a nice song but I don’t like the video; the girl, the dress, the balloons, the dummy bits…
MIKE: …and what was the point of the bow and arrow bit? Can anyone explain that?
CHRIS: The guy was a zen archer. John Mills said, ‘Can you let us know when you’re ready to let the arrow go?’ And the guy said, ‘I’ll let it go when the arrow wants to go.’
MIKE: It’s very 80s. It’s like all these videos where they suddenly have a ballerina in the middle or something. I dunno who was in charge here.
CARL: Green from Scritti got really annoyed because the girl in it was an ex-girlfriend of his; he got the raving hump. I think he dropped a cup in a pique of anger.
FEBRUARY: No73, UK TV
Madness perform The Sweetest Girl with Afrodiziak supplying backing vocals. Carl holds a sax but proves he’s got a long way to go before he can even play it.
FEBRUARY: Razzamatazz, UK TV
Madness perform The Sweetest Girl on the popular kids’ TV show.
SUGGS (speaking in 1986): Doing television starts off really boring, then after about five rehearsals it’s alright because you get so bored you start animating your expressions just to allay the boredom. Unfortunately it does give people the wrong impression; in Belgium they think we’re really funny all the time.
LEE (speaking in 1986): If it’s live it’s OK, but recording is a bit of a headache; standing about, being shuffled along here and there.
MARCH 1: Saturday Live, UK TV
Madness perform The Sweetest Girl in yet another promo on kids’ TV.
SUGGS (speaking in 1986): You can’t always repeat what you do in a video live or in a TV studio. People expect a lot of you in the flesh, but we’ve never tired of doing videos.
BEDDERS (speaking in 1986): Making a video is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. We make up a lot of things on the day and the script usually goes out the window. You can do anything you want – as long as it’s cheap.
WOODY (speaking in 1986): I personally don’t like doing videos. If I’d wanted to become an actor, I would have done so. I can see the relevance of doing them, but I don’t find any enjoyment in the actual making of them. I prefer watching them.
MARCH 15: Heartbeat City benefit gig
Madness perform at a televised concert in aid of a local children’s hospital, again collaborating with UB40..
MARCH 21: Hammersmith Odeon
Although Red Wedge officially ended on January 31 in Newcastle, an extra show is added in London as part of the Greater London Council’s farewell festivities. Press reports suggest that Madness will play, but only Carl turns up for his solo debut, during which he accompanies himself on piano. He gets a positive review in the NME.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF: It always seemed to me that, once they learnt their instruments, the songwriting got more complex and consequently less poppy. They were growing up and it was more adult but consequently less commercial. Sales were definitely on the decline.
MARCH 24: Appear on Top of the Pops to perform The Sweetest Girl
SUGGS (speaking in 1986): Everyone likes the songs but no one’s buying the records. I guess we’re caught in a chasm in between, along with others like Elvis Costello and Squeeze. We’re not taken seriously as say Dire Straits and yet we don’t appeal to the kids who like Duran Duran.
APRIL: Financial worries grow
Madness prepare for their massive upcoming tour but the finances aren’t adding up. The band are still running the office and studio complex at Caledonian Road and also paying their road crew, despite a lack of touring revenue. It becomes clear to the management that something’s got to give.
JOHN WYNNE: I was talking to Chris and I said, ‘This can’t go on.’ We were all on weekly wages, a company car and so on. They had loads of people in the office: Hector Walker, Debbie, Tamsin, Robbie Forrest. The cleaner was Lee’s mother-in-law, Pam. I said, ‘You need to have a serious think about this.’ They were planning to go to Australia and Matthew [Stzumpf] was going through the budget with me. I said, ‘The money isn’t there for three crew.’ I knew it was coming to an end so I resigned. I didn’t want to see the death throes.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF (Madness manager): The accountant advised us to close the office, the whole thing down. ‘You cannot afford to run it any more,’ they said. It was haemorrhaging money.’
HECTOR WALKER: Quite suddenly, what seemed completely out of the blue, a load of people got laid off. I remember being in the office and people were in tears. It was bloody awful. Then we went off on that tour.
APRIL 4: Manhattan Club, Leuven, Belgium
The Mad Not Mad tour resumes after four months, with support from Sante’s Soul Six. Initially just a trip to France for two shows and TV appearances, Madness decide to add an extra show in Leuven, where they haven’t played since January 1980. Reviews in the Belgian press are mixed.
It was a performance with ups and downs, hits and misses. Madness were far from motivated and were cynically going through the motions. They set sail with Keep Moving, fell over, re-arose with a breathtaking Tomorrow’s Just Another Day, went shaky again, came back on course with House Of Fun, Yesterday’s Men and Night Boat To Cairo, but then headed for troubled waters again. Inaccuracy mixed with brilliance and the varying quality mainly took its toll on Suggs’ and Carl’s vocals. The encores were one big ska party, with one local skinhead taking to the stage to show off his dancing skills. The crowd turned wild when a spirited One Step Beyond closed an unbalanced show.
CHRIS (speaking in 1986): You look forward to going on tour, and after one day I’m sick of it already. You think you won’t stay up late but you do, then you have to get up early the next morning, get on the coach and feel terrible. So you do the gig, go out again, and it goes on and on and on….
APRIL 6: Palais des Congres, Bourges, France
Madness are one of 250 acts at the Festival le Printemps. The Thunderbirds theme is the new PA intro track, and three new songs are unleashed. Suggs quips: ‘I’d like to speak to you in French for a moment…but I can’t.’ He then goes on: ‘One word: merci. Oui, non, s’il vous plait. Chris wrote this song and he’d like to play it on his own. This is called Precious One.’ On Natural Act, Carl and Suggs take turns on vocals, while Chris is dubbed ‘Jimi Hendrix’ when he plays the guitar solo on 4BF. Be Good Boy is the only new song which makes it to the studio, appearing on The Madness in 1988. Surprisingly the crowd keep shouting for Please Don’t Go, and also strike up the Chipmunks Are Go! chant.
Keep Moving / Samantha / Take It Or Leave It / Precious One / Michael Caine / Grey Day / My Girl / Be Good Boy / Tomorrow’s Dream / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / Night Boat To Cairo / Time / Natural Act / It Must Be Love / Burning The Boats / Shut Up / Uncle Sam / Embarrassment / I’ll Compete / Our House / ENCORE 1: 4BF / Madness / ENCORE 2: Baggy Trousers / One Step Beyond
BEDDERS (speaking in 1986): Touring is 20 per cent excitement and 80 per cent boredom. The excitement is when you play live on stage; that’s the most fun you can have.
APRIL 8: Le Grand Rex, Paris
The French tour culminates in a show in Paris, which has had to wait five-and-a-half years to see the band live. Suggs calls Burning The Boats ‘an old song by Bill Haley and the Comets. Chris here was in The Comets’. Before the second encore, Suggs announces: ‘Now something that’s very odd.’ Accompanied on piano, Carl sings a snippet of Please Don’t Go as an introduction to The Prince. The setlist is the same as Bourges, with the addition of The Coldest Day and Please Don’t Go and The Prince replacing Baggy Trousers.
APRIL: Mad Not Mad Tour: Australia
After a week of rest, Madness fly to Australia for a 20-date tour, their most extensive Down Under. The Allnighters, Australia’s hottest ska band, support them. Shortly before the tour is confirmed, the UK music press claim the band are to perform at a Greenpeace benefit concert on April 23, which is also Mike’s 28th birthday. Obviously, they don’t make it.
WOODY: That six-week tour of Australia was the final straw. We were told it would do us good. But when we got there our records shot down the charts. We should’ve learned from The Specials; it was America that split them up, they went on tour for ages and got on each other’s nerves. The same thing happened to us, only in Australia.
LEE: The whole thing was a kind of ‘cash-and-grab’ thing, with us crammed into a little light aircraft.
APRIL 18: Bridge Hotel, Mildura
Like most of the tour, the first show takes place at a mid-sized venue. Madness are pleased with the first night.
CHRIS: This first concert is, in my opinion, one of the best. The reason is that the people are ‘out in the sticks’ and therefore have no pretentions about getting down and boogieing.
APRIL 19: Westwind, Whyalla
APRIL 20: The Barton Theatre, Adelaide
It was a maddeningly unsatisfying show, exhilarating at one part, cold and badly-handled at the other. Some of the new stuff seemed forced and almost desperate to break away from the Madness mould; there was very little of the joy and infectiousness of early Madness classics. If Suggs and Carl hadn’t worked so hard on stage the show would have flopped. However, when it was good it sparkled. All the touring has meshed Madness into an efficient if flexible outfit, and they handled songs like Michael Caine, Burning The Boats and Yesterday’s Men with an enthusiasm that only caught on with the crowd in a big way when they moved on to familiar teritory of Madness, Our House, Embarrassment, House of Fun etc, when the hall turned into the sort of high-kick extroversion of their very first visit. When Madness went offstage after less than 90 minutes it was hard to work out just who were more disappointed – the band or the rude boys in the audience.
Jon Forsythe, Juke magazine
APRIL 22&23: Sweethearts, Sydney
Four shows are scheduled for the Sydney area, divided over two venues. While dancing around during Shut Up, Lee accidentally cuts off the power supply to Chris’s guitar…and gets a boot up the backside for doing so.
APRIL 24&25: Selina's, Coogee Bay Hotel, Sydney
Madness play two successful shows and agree to come back for a third gig as the tour finale.
BEDDERS: I remember being there and thinking, ‘I am a fucking long way from home, I am knackered, and I don’t want to be here.’
LEE: And I remember we were playing this venue and I looked up at a poster on the wall advertising who else was playing there and it said, ‘The Swinging Blue Jeans, Mud and Gerry & The Pacemakers’. I think we knew that was when it was time to knock it on the head.
APRIL 26: Shellharbour Working Men’s Club
APRIL 27: Newcastle Working Men’s Club
CARL: We didn’t have the heart for it. We were seeing the ramifications of Mike leaving the band, and no one felt entitled to step into his place. We lost loads of our own money. We were knackered and we didn’t have any new ideas. It was just the tail-end of it all, the spark had gone.
APRIL 29&30: Palace, Melbourne
Madness play seven shows in the Melbourne area, three at the intimate setting of The Palace. The driver responsible for the stage equipment does a Lee and drives the truck under a low bridge. The soundcheck is then cancelled because Ian Horne blows up the PA. Suggs, Carl and Lee watch the Allnighters’ set.
LEE: I wish I could erase that whole tour from my memory. The atmosphere was fucking awful and fingers started pointing. I don’t ever want to get in that position again.
MAY 1: Latrobe University, Melbourne
MAY 2: Monash University, Melbourne
MAY 3: Deakin University, Geelong
BEDDERS: We’d started to demo another album but there was no zest there. It just wasn’t happening and you could see people were drifting away. We knew the time had come to end it; the enjoyment was gone.
MAY 4: Union Hall, Melbourne University
MAY 6: Lismore Working Men’s Club
SUGGS (speaking in 1986): The dream of all these bands is for this tremendous Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle with everything done for you; but when you get there, you realise it’s really boring.
CARL (speaking in 1986): It’s so boring – you’re fucking around with your own sanity. Not many people tell the truth about what it’s like. They want to sustain the fantasy a bit more… because it makes them feel important.
SUGGS (speaking in 1986): It’s the dream of 50s America: a car, a quiff and a guitar, rebelling against your mum and dad. We did that. We rebelled for about three years, then suddenly, you’re rebelling in your lawyer’s office with your accountant.
MAY 7: Bombay Rock, Surfer's Paradise
The tour reaches the Gold Coast area. With the show being recorded, Precious One appears in July 1992 as an extra track on the My Girl double CD reissue.
Keep Moving / Take It Or Leave It / Precious One / Baggy Trousers / Michael Caine / Grey Day / My Girl / Be Good Boy / Tomorrow’s Dream / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / Night Boat To Cairo / Time / Natural Act / It Must Be Love / Burning The Boats / Shut Up / Uncle Sam / I’ll Compete / Embarrassment / Our House / ENCORE: Madness / ENCORE 2: One Step Beyond
MAY 8&9: Mansfield Tavern, Brisbane
A hot-blooded crowd turn up at both shows. After a night out, Lee and Chris are fined $10 each for walking through a red light on a crossing in a deserted street.
MAY 10: Mooloolaba Hotel, Queensland
MAY 11: Powerhouse, Toowoomba
The tour reaches its finale one day earlier than planned. The farewell show, scheduled for Selina’s, Sydney on the 12th is cancelled after the tour bus breaks down.
CARL: That tour was particularly nightmarish. It did our heads in and we came home wondering, ‘What’s the point?’ Everything we were doing was ‘for the band’ and we decided it was time to start doing stuff for ourselves and our families.
WOODY: We were in a bubble and couldn’t see the wood for the trees. We’d been touring and recording non-stop – it was absolutely brutal. If we weren’t in America, Australia or Europe, we were back in England trying to write a new album. New bands were coming through and we felt that people were getting a bit fed up with Madness and, whatever we did, they’d seen it all before. So we were desperately trying to do something different but were so tired.
MAY 12: Selina’s, Sydney
MAY 15: Fillmore, San Francisco, USA
Madness fly straight to the USA for the American leg of the tour. Both San Franciso and LA are treated to multiple shows, supported by The Romantics.
MAY 16: Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles
MAY 17: UCSD, San Diego
MAY 20: Paradise Club, Boston
SUGGS: The premise had always been to have a good time and make a bit of money. When one of those stopped, the other was sure to follow – and the having-a-good-time part definitely stopped on that tour. By the time it was over, I don’t think any of us ever wanted to play any Madness songs ever again.
MAY 21: Trocadero Theatre, Philadelphia
MAY 22&23: The World, New York
‘Next time you see us we’ll have long white beards,’ Suggs announces before One Step Beyond. The show gets a bad review in Melody Maker. The eccentric club owner insists on introducing the band before they go on at great length. On the second night, Lee has a go and fares somewhat better at getting the crowd going. Some months later, Chris sees the same guy being refused entry to the Wag Club in London, screaming at the bouncers: ‘But I own the World!’
JUNE 1: Pirates & Parrots party, UK radio
Madness play a homecoming show at a boat floating down the Thames. The show is aired live on Gary Crowley’s show and is basically a kids’ matinee. Suggs dedicates Grey Day to ‘all the folks back home’. He then quips: ‘Thank you for coming to Madness’s Greatest Hits launch. This is a song you can dance to: Embarrassment – a pop song in F.’ One Step Beyond has a false start with Carl claiming he was only trying it out. He then adds: ‘Thanks, it’s been a great pleasure. You’ve made a happy man very old.’
Night Boat To Cairo / Grey Day / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / I’ll Compete / It Must Be Love / Our House / Madness / Embarrassment / One Step Beyond
JUNE 17: Listapopp festival, Reykavik, Iceland
A handful of appearances at European festivals will prove to be the band’s final shows of the decade. This show takes place on Iceland’s Independance Day, which celebrated the end of Danish oppression. After the soundcheck, Madness meet mayor Dave Gardiner, who later watches the show. Due to the season, the sun doesn’t set until 2am so when Madness take to the stage at midnight it’s still bright sunlight. Keep Moving opens the set for the final time.
CHRIS: I didn’t like all the extra musicians on stage by the end. I always used to like it when there was just the seven of us. People come to see you live, do they want to go, ‘Oooh, that was just like the record’, or do they want to go, ‘That was really rocking’. If it’s just like the record, they might as well sit at home and play the bloody record. It’s like they’re going, ‘We’ve got to have two keyboard players’ and that’s stupid. I used to overdub the guitars on the albums but I didn’t say, ‘We better take another guitarist so I do all the fiddly bits’.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF: The sum of the parts was greater than the individuals. As great as it was to have Paul Carrack come and tour with us, it was never Madness again in the way it was when they were a gang.
JUNE 20: Artists Against Apartheid, Brixton Academy, London
Madness headline the second in a series of benefit concerts staged by the UK branch of AAA, set up by Jerry Dammers. Take It Or Leave It opens the set, and a stage invasion interrupts Michael Caine. After One Step Beyond, Madness close with a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come. They are joined by The Potato Five’s horn section, Jerry Dammers, Gil Scott-Heron, Working Week’s Juliet Roberts and Sarah-Jane Morris from the Communards. The show gets rave reviews in the UK press, with other artists including The Potato Five, Pato Banton, Working Week, Tippa Irie and Vaughn Toulouse.
JUNE 22: Glastonbury Festival
Madness headline the CND stage on the third day, precisely a year after they cancelled their appearance as they weren’t ready to perform. In between songs the band keep the crowd updated with the England v Argentina World Cup score. ‘Tomorrow’s Dream – England win 3-0,’ Suggs tells the crowd to a huge cheer. ‘Not really, I don’t wanna know the score myself.’ For Night Boat To Cairo, Lee is introduced as ‘a resident of Caledonian Road, USA’. ‘Not really,’ says the man himself. ‘It was the camp site I came from in Bournemouth yesterday.’ Our House is dedicated to Tommy Cooper. Upon the encore, Suggs kids the crowd that there is no score in the game. ‘So it’s gonna be a penalty shooter, and after that a real shooter,’ he quips. During The Harder They Come, Lee takes his daughter in his arms for a little dance. The Special AKA’s Free Nelson Mandela plays after the band leave. Other artists appearing on the third day are GP Thompson, Microdisney, Christy Moore, Robert Cray Band, John Martyn, Robyn Hitchcock, The Woodentops, Simply Red and The Housemartins. The festival gets mixed reviews in the Press.
Take It Or Leave It / Baggy Trousers / Precious One / Michael Caine / Grey Day / My Girl / Tomorrow’s Dream / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / Night Boat To Cairo / It Must Be Love / Shut Up / I’ll Compete / Embarrassment / Our House / ENCORE 1: Madness / ENCORE 2: The Harder They Come / One Step Beyond
SUGGS: Glastonbury back then was the Wild West and we weren’t into hippies and mud and all that. Losing one of your brogues in the mud and not finding it for two days…
WOODY: I just thought, ‘Thank God I’m in the luxurious comfort of backstage!’ Cos tents and things? Nah, I don’t do any of that stuff. Give me a hotel any day.
JUNE 29: Parkpop Festival, Zuiderpark, The Hague, Holland
A warm welcome awaits the band at Europe’s largest free festival. The 160,000 crowd go so wild during Baggy Trousers that the festival ground shakes on its foundations. Lee’s intro for Night Boat is now a glorified cabaret act: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, now that I have your absolute attention I’m going to play a technical solo for you. What a treat. Aren’t you lucky – and for this feat I need absolute silence.’ Embarrassment is introduced as ‘a song that was written by Frankie Miller for Madness in 1963, the year Dumbo was assassinated’. Despite mixed reviews in the Dutch press, Madness are considered one of the festival highlights. Other acts include Dr & The Medics, Kissing The Pink, Gil Scott-Heron, The Bangles and INXS.
Take It Or Leave It / Baggy Trousers / Michael Caine / Grey Day / My Girl / Tomorrow’s Dream / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / Night Boat To Cairo / It Must Be Love / Shut Up / I’ll Compete / Embarrassment / Our House / ENCORE: Madness / One Step Beyond
BEDDERS: By this stage, everything was slowing down and everyone knew what was coming. The last few singles hadn’t done much… we’d done a few tours no one’s hearts were in… what was the point? We were all totally fucked.
CHRIS: We’d started to prepare some new songs and write new material but things were a bit tense.
LEE: It was a right sour old time – the heart had gone out of the band.
CARL: The things is, there were different barometers among the group. Certain tasks were given to certain members, certain members were looked to for certain decisions, and everyone had their own little job and played a certain role. But suddenly the body language had changed. You’d notice that Chris was a bit under the weather, maybe a bit annoyed. Then you’d notice that Suggs was a bit glum. And when Suggs and Chris get a bit depressed about something, then you know things aren’t good.
SUGGS: Absolutely. You’ve hit the nail right on the head there.
LEE: Being in a band is like a marriage – it has its ups and downs and you learn to live with everyone else’s little idiosyncrasies over the years. But it seemed we were growing less and less tolerant of those things and each other.
JULY 4: Dock Rock festival, Hartlepool
Hartlepool near Newcastle is Madness’s last domestic gig of the decade. Take It Or Leave It begins with the intro for New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. With an eye on the future, Suggs tells the crowd that the band have only eight more weeks to live. On his request, the stage lights are dimmed precisely at the moment that he suggests: ‘We should play the rest of the concert in darkness.’ After One Step Beyond, the crowd take over with Chipmunks Are Go! The No Limits TV show later airs highlights. Other acts on this first day of the festival include Dr & The Medics, The Wailers and Black Uhuru.
Take It Or Leave It / Baggy Trousers / Michael Caine / Grey Day / My Girl / Tomorrow’s Dream / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / Night Boat To Cairo / Time / It Must Be Love / Shut Up / I’ll Compete / Embarrassment / Our House / ENCORE 1: Shoparound / Madness / ENCORE 2: One Step Beyond
JULY 5: Festival Ground, Roskilde, Denmark
The festival tour reaches its climax at Roskilde, in front of 100,000 fans. Madness play their last gig of the 1980s on the second day, along with Claw Boys Claw, The Men they Couldn’t Hang, The Red Guitars and Blue In Heaven. ’For the last time,’ Carl tells the crowd prophetically before they start. Rain pours down immediately and throughout the show. Suggs sings a snippet of the Sun And the Rain at the end of Yesterday’s Men, but regrets that it isn’t the full version. Shut Up is introduced as a Run DMC song and I’ll Compete is dedicated to those standing in the rain without an umbrella. During their set, one of the toilets catches fire, blowing unintentional smoke affects across the stage. Then during the encore some fans strip off – Suggs tells them he wishes he could speak Danish but he can’t. Upon the second encore, Terry and Seamus play Zorba’s Dance, while Suggs sings: ‘Want to dance? We’ll be out to dance.’ One Step Beyond is dedicated to those who stayed until the end. Before leaving the stage, Suggs insists that the strippers put their clothes back on. The festival gets mixed reviews, with some claiming Madness were one of the low points.
Take It Or Leave It / Baggy Trousers / Michael Caine / Grey Day / My Girl / Tomorrow’s Dream / House Of Fun / Yesterday’s Men / Night Boat To Cairo / Time / It Must Be Love / Shut Up / I’ll Compete / Embarrassment / Our House / ENCORE 1: Shoparound / Madness / ENCORE 2: One Step Beyond
HECTOR WALKER: After the festivals around Europe, that was it. Nothing was said about work for everyone. It just fizzled out, really.
JULY: Announcement in Nutty Boys comic
‘The pencilled-in plan for the next three months is to record one single in early August for release in October and carry on to record (also in August) at least a 10-track LP.’
PAUL CLEWLEY (Madness sleeve designer): I remember Lee coming up with a concept [for the new album] which would have involved the band being photographed sitting in front of a blazing fire in a large, dark and gloomy room. The only illumination was to be the flames with the shot being taken from the actual fireplace, looking through the flames out at the band’s faces. I think the idea was that they were telling ghost stories to each other.
AUGUST: Recording and rehearsing
After a month’s rest, the band record demos in an attempt to work on a new album. However things do not go well. Even though at least 11 tracks are demoed, the age-old chestnut of musical differences begins to surface.
WOODY: Bedders, myself and Seamus the keyboard player were working really hard, concentrating on the songs. And we’d get together what we thought would be the right rhythm section, or the right feel or beat, and one by one the rest of the band would come in, and go… basically it was like that Harry Enfield thing: ‘You don’t wanna do it like this, you wanna do it like that.’ We’d worked so hard, but it was just this constant battle. We found ourselves being left more and more alone.
AUGUST: Financial pressures mount
While the strained rehearsals continue, the band watch their money – £420,000 by Carl’s eventual estimate – drain away as they try to maintain both the Liquidator recording studio and a road crew with nothing to do.
SUGGS: We had our own record label and we thought we could run it successfully. And we couldn’t. We didn’t have a clue; it was just a fucking mess. We ran the studio like some sort of socialist concept, so we lost every fucking penny we had.
CHRIS: Every year Virgin gave us a colossal amount of money. Out of that we’d have to make an album and pay ourselves wages and pay people who worked for us and it was just working out that the money they gave us…
LEE: …was working out less than the album was costing to make. We also had a crew and an office that cost a fortune every month, so before we knew it we were slowly sinking under and under, clutching at straws. It was a rudderless ship going down.
CHRIS: We ended up a corporation. We were paying roadies retainers for not roadie-ing because they were mates. We were paying fan-club people, a secretary…
CARL: We kept a tribe of 13 people for two years longer than we should’ve. We had no records selling but we did it out of good old street guilt.
CHRIS: We blew 250 grand. That was when it was really worth something.
CARL: Yeah, when you still had change from a yacht! When you could buy seven Mini Coopers and still have enough change for a bag of chips!
SUGGS: It seemed like a great idea, and who hasn’t had the idea of creating the new Motown? But the unfortunate thing about a record label is that you have to have a megalomaniac to make it work and none of us were megalomaniacs. We wouldn’t even get in the room together to decide what we were going to do. We completely lost our way. It was very strange.
CARL: We really felt that we wanted to give free studio time away to people. Unfortunately, we really didn’t have the time to do it properly or look for the right bands.
SUGGS: We used to listen to tapes every Friday afternoon, but we never heard anything that really got us going.
CARL: The best thing I did was write a song and give it to Feargal Sharkey. But then we forgot to sign a contract and he fucked off.
SUGGS: So we signed up all our mates instead; put them on really long contracts and gave them lots of money.
WOODY: We did everything except the thing we did well – being musicians – and ended up working on other people’s careers instead of our own.
SUGGS: When you first have some kind of success you begin to get carried away by meeting lawyers and accountants, thinking you really know what you’re doing. And you don’t. We learned that we’re not good businessmen. We were too socially aware, giving too much free time to people and employing too many staff, paying eight or nine wages. It came to about a million a year that we had to find.
SEPTEMBER 1: Madness officially announce they are to split
From the moment saxophonist Lee Thompson was hoisted into the air for the Baggy Trousers video, Madness were confirmed as one of the best-loved bands around. But it was always a seat-of-the-pants-style operation. Almost as soon as they affirmed that status, their record sales began to drop. They were simply not the same after the loss of key figures Mike Barson and Dave Robinson. Now the Virgin record company has announced that the group is disbanding. Close friend and press officer Mark Cooper said yesterday: ‘They had a straight run of 20 Top Twenty singles but the last two sold less well. It’s a very dignified end.’ There may yet be a final single and farewell concert. In their time Madness emerged as witty and acid social commentators, drawing comparisons with the Beatles. But Barson’s departure brought a new seriousness and maturity to the group – and the gulf between this and their public image may be the real clue to their split. ‘When all this is over I’d like to manage a football team,’ 25-year-old lead singer Graham ‘Suggsy’ McPherson once said. ‘More seriously I want to keep an open mind in my declining years and not be stuck in my youth.’
Today, September 1986
WOODY: Eventually we got summoned upstairs and there was this meeting, and it was like the rest of them had all sat down together and, allegedly, said, ‘We’ve had enough, let’s call it a day.’ Mark and I knew it was coming ‘cos it wasn’t fun any more and it just wasn’t happening. For me, it was a relief it was all over because by that stage it just was just hard work. Thank goodness we had the bottle to stop it – or at least some of us did.
BEDDERS: The four of them said, ‘We’re gonna stop this and go off and do something else.’ It was a relief, really, in the end, because someone had to pull the plug.
WOODY: Mark and I weren’t stupid and we realised that from what they were saying, ‘Well, we want to split up the band but we might be doing other projects together.’ It was really like, ‘Why don’t you just say that you don’t want to work with us? Why don’t you just be a bit more honest?’ It’s kind of sad really, ‘cos we knew what they needed to do. The four of them needed to go off and do their own thing. But I was just hurt that they didn’t have the balls to tell us that really they’d like to carry on, but without Mark and me.
SUGGS: We didn’t really boot Mark and Woody out – we’re not those kind of people. They left because it just wasn’t working. It was hundreds of tiny instances, really – we’d all just got slightly different ideas about what we should do. Chris and Lee just wanted to get in the studio, which we didn’t use half enough, and do some recording and get on with it. Carl had different ideas every day about either getting a band and playing or doing it with machines, or not doing it. I wasn’t sure myself what we should do, I didn’t have a clear enough idea where we were going, I didn’t feel strong enough to lead in any direction and I didn’t feel like I wanted to go in the direction that anyone else who was still in the band wanted to go. So that was it.
CARL: We thought, ‘Shit, this isn’t good enough, it’s not happening, the energy we want to come out of these songs isn’t coming out, so let’s call it a day’.
SUGGS: It’s a cyclical thing; if things aren’t going so well you start finding things to argue about. You end up niggling with each other when things aren’t going right, looking for things to blame.
WOODY: I don’t think that working that closely together with the same people for that amount of time is healthy.
SUGGS: It’s the old joke, isn’t it? We split up for medical reasons; we were sick of each other. But if you take any seven individuals from school and you say to them, ‘You’re going to be stuck together for ten years in a van, and you’re going to have to become businessmen and look after quite a lot of money and your own egos and still be creative and share that experience without it getting too argy-bargy’ I don’t think many people could survive. You’re talking about leaving school, joining a band, spending ten years immersed in complete lunacy, and then being spat out the other side as a grown man. It was hard for me because we’d been so close for so long, but I’d stopped being me and was now just a member of Madness.
WOODY: It always surprises me how long we conned the public. It was dreadfully dull and boring for a very long time and it’s amazing that we kept it from the public eye. But it had got to the point where we weren’t really enjoying ourselves, it was just a way of life. We knew nothing else; we were secure.
CHRIS: Also, being in Madness had become a double-edged sword. We wanted to do more but people wouldn’t allow us to expand. You’d write a song like Baggy Trousers and then do another that wasn’t anything like it, and everyone would say, ‘Oh, this is bloody awful. Do it like Baggy Trousers.’ So we’d do it like Baggy Trousers and they’d all say, ‘Oh, this is the bloody same thing.’ We couldn’t win.
WOODY: We were fighting against ourselves because we were fed up with being us. We were trying to expand our horizons and we didn’t want to be Madness particularly; we wanted to be better.
SUGGS: It’s why, towards the end we were doing really complicated albums that were a lot less fun.
MIKE: I reckon people just got tired of Madness – there was even a time when it wasn’t cool to like us.
CHRIS: But we did have some tremendous laughs. We meet people who come up and say, ‘You changed my life!’ Kids who were just 16 or 17 when they got into us.
SEPTEMBER 6: Roundtable, UK radio
Recorded a few days before, Suggs tells Janice Long more about the split. He compares it to a near-death experience where your whole life flashes before your eyes like a film played fast-forward. He also admits that the band’s relations were challenged after Mike’s departure. As for the future, he says Madness will release one more single, but there are no plans for a farewell show. Long plays The Prince at the end of the show. The next day Suggs collaborates on an all-star single recorded as the official anthem of Britain’s anti-drugs campaign. The numerous ‘MADNESS SPLIT’ articles in the Press fuel the anger of MIS subscribers, as they weren’t the first to know as the band always promised. Chris explains in the subsequent and final fanzine issue that the previous one was already mailed out before the decision was made.
SUGGS: I’m not blaming anyone. But if someone had said, ‘Go and have a year out’ it would have been a different end to the band. A lot of dust would have settled and things may have turned out very differently.
CARL: Since 1979, we’d been on the go constantly. We’d not had a really decent break. For the first few years it was incredibly exciting of course, an adventure, a gang on the road, but we all had relationships and families and gradually you’re worn down by being away for most of the time. We felt that we were working for the record company, not having fun. So it wasn’t so much that we felt we were drying up or anything – we were just knackered.
SUGGS: We had some great people around us and the record label we were on was very interesting, but they realised that we were a fatted calf and it was just a bit relentless. We were going round the world and the notion that we were always going to liven up a dull scene got very wearing. We were probably only at home two weeks every year for five years and we just got tired of it.
CARL: Record companies keep you on the road to maximise their return but they think nothing of the psychological effect on the band. It was incessant, we lost touch and it became a drudge.
SUGGS: There would be steam coming out of our suitcases as we got down to recording a new album. We were very against the rock ‘n’ roll image of bands such as Pink Floyd taking years to produce an album. We thought they were self-indulgent gits, but really they had it sussed out, and now every band takes a break from the pressure. We should have done the same.
CHRIS: It wasn’t like it is now. We didn’t have the luxury of recording one album, touring it for a while, then taking a year off. We were putting out records at an incredible pace. We simply burned ourselves out.
SUGGS: I think in the way we worked it was almost like the 60s. We used to release three singles a year, do 148 live dates, put an album out, year after year after year. As your market expands round the world it gets worse. You’re in Germany, and you’ve been up since whatever, and you’re on Top Pop, and there are two rows of topless girls holding up giant blow-up bananas, and you’re expected to do something serious. And you never really get the chance to reflect. It’s only when we split up we could look back and say, ‘Wow! That was a pretty extraordinary body of work.’
CARL: We were just pushed and pushed in the old style of record companies. Kept on the road, there was no imagination towards promotion, we got given all the kiddies’ TV slots and no real guidance. We worked too hard, lost sight of dance and got really depressed.
WOODY: When you start writing songs about motorways, hotels and venues because that’s all you’re seeing, then you know it’s bad news and you need a reality check or you’ll have nothing to write about.
LEE: Looking back, we should have just had a break.
CARL: It was all executed the wrong way. We should have just let everyone take a rest and then come back together again.
SUGGS: The problem was, in those days no-one ever talked about taking a break – they just split up. We were from that school of music left over from the 50s and 60s. The idea you could take a couple of years off and reflect on a new album was a total mystery to us. That was the idea of the band itself: three minutes of pop music. Wham! Bam! Off we go. What’s next? What’s happening now?
WOODY: It’s the old story. The first album: ‘This is the one that`s gonna break you!’ The second album: ‘This is it!’ The third album: ‘This is really the most critical!’ It was the same story all the time and we were under non-stop pressure. We were told, ‘If you don’t tour you don’t sell records’, so we toured non-stop.
CARL: In retrospect it’s hard to know what should’ve been and what might have been. Maybe if we hadn’t worked so long and so intensely… maybe if we’d just stopped for a couple of weeks between tours and records to write… maybe if we’d have allowed ourselves some time to rejuvenate our ideas because we were running out of them…
DAVE ROBINSON: Quite honestly, Madness didn’t understand that the business they were in was a work business. A lot of people don’t realise that. They get a few hits and think that for some reason life has changed. In fact, the more successful you are, the more work you have to do to keep it up. To make money in the record business, you have to be international, and to do that you have to take each major territory and put time into it. It’s not by chance that people make a lot of money in this business and have long careers. It’s down to hard work. You couldn’t make them do anything they didn’t like. They worked from the gut. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t like it.
MIKE: There have been times when we’ve discussed whether it was a good decision to stop when we did. It may not be the greatest business move to take a break but sometimes it’s necessary. In the long run if you take a break, especially if you’re feeling pressured, you ultimately don’t spoil your creativity.
CHRIS: We should have made much more money.
CARL: We came to the conclusion that we must have been ripped off. We knew we were ripped off in one instance, but we must have been really ripped off, because in the end we didn’t make a penny. Even though you don’t make much from singles, we sold enough records around the world to make a few bob. We were stitched up, but we never stitched each other up.
DAVE ROBINSON: Madness were never ripped-off. Certainly not by me or Stiff.
SUGGS: The thing is, if you think of a fortune, then divide it by seven and take away 40 per cent, it’s not a fortune any more.
OCTOBER: Madness film introductory sketches for the Utter Madness video collection.
OCTOBER 27: (Waiting For) The Ghost Train/Maybe In Another Life is released
Mike returns to play on the final Madness single (JAZZ 9), which was about apartheid, but doesn’t appear in the video. The song will go on to spend nine weeks in the chart, peaking at No18.
So, farewell then, Madness.
You are bowing out with dignity, and none of you has ever worn a codpiece even though Lee always liked wearing dresses and flying. Before you go, you are releasing your 23rd ’45’ on October 27, 1986. Written by poet, melody man and lyricist Suggs, (for it is he), produced by the old firm of Langer/Winstanley and b/w Maybe In Another Life, a Liquidator production composed by Messrs. Thompson, Woodgate and Neal. Neal is a mate of Woody’s. The accompanying 12″ has both these tracks on the ‘A’ and the ‘Seven Year Scratch’ on the ‘B’, a scratch mix of most of your finest moments courtesy of DJ Noel Watson.
What’s more, none other than station master Mike Barson has returned to tinkle the ivories and lend his organising skills for the first time since his retirement and release of his last performance One Better Day.
You are going out in style by making a lot of train noises and posing at Marylebone Station like Paddington Bear.
Virgin Records 1986
SUGGS: It’s all about Madness and their desperate struggle for success. When I wrote it, it was gonna be for the new album which we were working on when we broke up. In fact, it was one of the last things that we finished. I was playing the piano one day and I had a line, ‘Waiting for the ghost train that never comes’, and I thought, ‘That’s fuckin’ really good.’ It’s just like all the songs I write; they shoot off on one subject and then end up on another and it ended up being about South Africa. I imagined this ghost train, full of the spirits of the people who’d been done wrong, coming back for revenge. It’s also about thinking that nothing will (or has to) ever change: ‘Waiting for the train that never comes.’ But the ghost train is rumbling along the track…
MIKE: I thought this was a great song – the demo was certainly great. I played piano on it, but I wasn’t really involved; I was a bit like a session man. I wouldn’t be surprised if I did it for nothing. Coming back after being away was quite funny at first.
CHRIS: For the video, we had a meeting and someone had the idea of suits made out of newspaper. The ‘Soweto bloodbath’ headlines on the suits were taken from The Guardian but I’m not sure if we picked them specifically because the song was about apartheid. I thought it was a coincidence and that it had just been in the newspapers but maybe not.
JOHN MILLS (video director): It was difficult because I knew it was their last one. What do you do for the last Madness video? I think Mike was meant to turn up but he didn’t. We thought we’d do the flying properly so we got a skydiver to jump out with a saxophone and play the sax solo. And then we had them all on a conveyer belt at Mornington Crescent Station. I remember editing that and thinking, I don’t know how to end it. We just did this rough and ready bit of polystyrene with ‘The End’ which worked OK.
CARL: My favourite bit is when I come down the ladder; my tempo is fantastic. After it was finished, we all went off thinking, ‘Well, that’s it.’
NOVEMBER: Tyne Tees Studios, Newcastle
Madness make two TV appearances to promote farewell single (Waiting For) The Ghost Train. They playback the song on The Tube, in a Hammer House Of Horror-style room, with Lee being lifted up in the air to mime the trumpet solo on his sax.
CLIVE LANGER: They went on for such a long time and we had so much fun working on them. We had a lot of hits together and became so comfortable working as a team that it was always really enjoyable being in the studio with them. When you work with a band for that length of time, you’re bound to end up close friends. I used to hang out with them more than Alan did, because I lived near them in north London. For a while I was even living in the same house as Suggs.
IAN WRIGHT (Virgin records): I always thought Madness were special and yet sometimes, in retrospect, The Specials got all the accolades, probably because of Jerry Dammers. They were the natural successor to everything they were influenced by – they were the perfect British pop band.
NOVEMBER 13: Top Of The Pops
Madness close seven years of TV appearances on the show where it all began in September 1979. They playback (Waiting For) The Ghost Train with Chris and Mark turning their guitars over at the end to reveal ‘THE END’ on the back. The following week the band release the Utter Madness album, which will reach No29. Ghost Train peaks at No16 and becomes their 23rd Top 40 hit.
SUGGS: The split itself was nothing very interesting. It’s like the kind of bit that you’d have in your biography and it’d be really depressing to read; just really boring.
NOVEMBER 24: Utter Madness released
The band’s second Greatest Hits compilation is released, picking up where Complete left off, with all the singles from Driving In My Car onwards. I’ll Compete and Victoria Gardens complete the track listing. Alas, it only scrapes to number 29 in the charts and is out of the listings by Christmas, a damning indictment that the band’s star is on the wane.
‘Suffice to say, they leave a whole heap of fond memories and a mammoth void. They were a national bloody asset and they spoilt us rotten. Madness. Yesterday’s men, tomorrow’s inspiration.’
‘The release of a greatest hits album was inevitable, though necessary. Complete appeared in what was still an initial burst of fervour. Utter is a far more concise and accurate reflection of their career, encompassing all their elements – the humour, the sadness and the cynicism.’
‘Utter Madness is ample proof that their heavy heavy monster sound didn’t so much dilute over the years as progress… Their particular genius lay in their ability to project their vision of our life and times in Britain through that normally most banal of mediums, pop music.’
CARL: We didn’t look at splitting as sentimentally as other people expected us to. We were quite happy just to fade out rather than go out with a big pretence of glory and, ‘Wow, weren’t we great?’ We came, we saw, we left.