SEVEN RAGGED MEN | 1993-1998
The story of Madness... in their own words
madness, ska, camden, music, suggs, barso, kix, woody, chrissy boy, thommo, chas smash, john hasler, dublin castle, london, the nutty boys, pop, 2-tone, two-tone, seven, ragged, men, baggy, trousers, house, of, fun, our, house, my, girl, one, step, beyond, story, words, interviews, embarrassment, Madstock, doc martens,
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1993-1998

Tomorrow’s Just Another Day

Despite being resurrected, the band spend the next five years in limbo, surfing the nostalgia wave for all it’s worth.

1993

CARL (speaking in 1993): The best thing we got out of last year was a truckload of money and the ability to really communicate with each other honestly. Everyone’s grown as people, so we’ve been able to realise that we really are rich in terms of what we’ve learnt. We’ve all come out of it really level-headed and really strong. If the old magic and power is still there, we’ll go and get ourselves a deal.

 

SUGGS: Madstock and the subsequent tour were fucking brilliant, just like the old days. The problems arose when we set aside three months to rehearse and write new material.

FEBRUARY: The band start rehearsals in Camden

CARL (speaking in 1993): We’ve rented a little place where we meet and throw ideas around. Our approach to writing is the same now as it’s always been – someone comes up with a tune, someone else thinks of the lyrics and then there’s a free-for-all until the song’s fully finished. It’s too early to know what direction we’re heading in – that’s going to be as much a surprise for us as it is for you. We’re still big ska and Motown fans, and being a Muswell Hill lad, I’m not averse to borrowing the odd idea from The Kinks and Rod Stewart.

FEBRUARY 16: The Brit Awards, Alexandra Palace, London

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Dressed in chimney sweep-style outfits, Madness open the annual Brit Awards with a live performance of the upcoming rerelease, Night Boat To Cairo.

SUGGS (speaking in 1993): Our main preoccupation is that the band doesn’t mess up our family lives in any way.

 

MIKE (speaking in 1993): What I found unpleasant was the way touring made your home life seem unimportant – and that’s wrong. There’s nothing more important to me now than kissing my child goodnight.

FEBRUARY 27: Night Boat To Cairo is rereleased

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The band’s classic gets another airing courtesy of Virgin, complete with four dance remixes of differing quality by Paul Gotel. The single spends two weeks on the charts, peaking at No56.

MARCH 20: Suggs and Carl appear on The Big Breakfast, being interviewed during the 'Snap, Cackle & Pop' feature.

APRIL: Rehearsals are abandoned

SUGGS (speaking in 1993): We were going to make an album but we just didn’t come up with the songs that we thought would stand against our old stuff. The amount of emotional turmoil was beyond comprehension. In the end, there can’t have been more than a couple of occasions when all seven of us were together. When we were 18 the band came before anything – football, women, beer – but now our priorities lie elsewhere. For that reason, I can’t imagine us recording together again as Madness.

MAY: Carl appears on Irish TV

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Carl is interviewed on breakfast TV. He talks about the reunion, his job as an A&R man and his Irish roots. The interview closes with a prize question about the number of hits Madness enjoyed.

JULY 16-18: Gurtenfestival, Bern, Switzerland

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Madness play at the popular three-day festival, which also features Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, UB40, Toots & The Maytals and Sam Brown.

AUGUST 1: Feile Festival, Semple Stadium, Tipperary, Ireland

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Madness appear on the second day, alongside The Frank & Walters, lndigo Girls, Aztec Camera, Sultans Of Ping, Squeeze, Chris De Burgh and Bjorn Again. All acts are given one hour and 15 minutes, but Chris De Burgh overruns by 45 minutes, so consequently Madness are forced to cut theirs short. ‘It’s great to be back in Scotland,’ Suggs quips. ‘You’re not as tight as they say you ought to be. I’m only serious. This ironic song is all about Wash ‘N Go, it’s called The Sun And The Rain, and thank you Chris De Burgh for dampening us down.’ Later he pays tribute to their long-serving soundman, Ian ‘Dad’ Horne, by announcing: ‘I’d just like to apologise for the poor sound quality tonight. It’s the birthday of the man who does our sound and has done for a few years now. So if you can’t hear it now, you’ve never been able to. But please, I’d like you very much to bring your hands together for our soundman Ian Horne, who has his 97th birthday.’ Some fans start to sing Happy Birthday, and the band join in with: ‘We love you Dad, we do.’ Carl dedicates Bed & Breakfast Man to ‘everyone out there in the rain. You know who you are.’ As the set draws to a close, Suggs adds: ‘We’ve been told to stop shortly, but we’re not stopping yet. All grown­ups are bastards, never be a grown-up. They’re selfish miserable bastards.’ As another dig at De Burgh, before the final track, instead of M-A-D-N-E-S-S, Suggs spells it out as M-I-N-D-L-E-S-S.

setlist

One Step Beyond / The Prince / Embarrassment / My Girl / The Sun And The Rain / Grey Day / It Must Be Love / Razor Blade Alley / Shut Up / Bed And Breakfast Man / House Of Fun / Our House / Night Boat To Cairo / Madness / ENCORE: Rockin’ In Ab / Baggy Trousers

With Mike attending a lengthy Buddhist retreat, the band play no further live dates until December.

NOVEMBER 29: The Business is released

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Cashing in on their newly-rediscovered popularity, Virgin release a triple CD collection of singles, B-sides and 12-inches, interspersed with interview snippets from friends, fans and colleagues.

review

I FIRST saw Madness early in 1980 in a San Francisco club. It was the city’s mecca of punk but the locals didn’t know quite what to make of this new thing from England.
The suits were ill-fitting, the rhythms suggested one of those table-top robots on speed and although Chas Smash looked menacing as he yelled ‘One Step Beyond!’ Madness clearly weren’t opposed to smiling. They rushed around the tiny stage like air escaping out of a balloon, striking poses lifted from silent comedies and suggesting a small crowd in panic. They’d already had two or three hits back home but their set was long on attitude and short on songs and they came over like a novelty act with a short shelf life.
Five years later, I wound up working as their press officer as they tried to get used to not having Stiff’s Dave Robinson bellowing at their backs. They’d lost Mike Barson, signed to Virgin and were trying to get their label Zarjazz up and running while writing Mad Not Mad. Virgin found them bafflingly clannish and Madness simply weren’t very interested in anything any more. They’d spent the first half of the ’80s changing from a gang of Camden chancers into the best singles band of their era and, after 19 straight hits, countless tours and a stream of brilliant videos, they were married or in long-running relationships and stoking Madness was no longer the most important thing in their lives. The poignant Yesterday’s Men was the work of a band that already knew the old days were over.
Nothing defines the ’90s like nostalgia and Madness have made a successful second career out of shared memories. Yet there is something painful about listening to them using up a complete life in little more than five years, moving from the hi-jinks of the 2-Tone era through the young adulthood of It Must Be Love and House Of Fun and into the darkening middle-age of bitter-sweet epics like Michael Caine and One Better Day.
Madness were a pop group but they never sold fake tans and fairy lights. They started off like a pick-up side having a kickabout in the park and wound up, well, almost professional. They never completely abandoned ska but their music slowly became richer and stranger until their blend of clipped rhythms, honking sax and tinkling Joannas evolved into a new kind of English cabaret music, tangled up in pub singalongs and fairground sideshows but with its finger firmly on the pulse of an England that was choking under Margaret Thatcher.
Madness actually sounded like the last gasp of a neighbourly working-class culture that was dying on its feet. With hindsight, you can actually hear the life going out of their music; Madness were a classic pop but they were also an argument about the fate of a certain kind of national life, an argument about what it meant to be young and British in the early ’80s.
The Business is a track-by-track record of Madness’s seven years of hits, kicking off with The Prince in August 1979, and winding down with (Waiting For The) Ghost Train in June 1986. A three CD affair running at around three-and-a-half hours, complete with all the B-sides, various jingles and a 56-page booklet, The Business is for collectors. There are a few jewels among the B-sides, like One Second’s Thoughtlessness and If You Think There’s Something, but the feel remains that Madness lived and died by their A-sides.
However, The Business’s biggest drawback are the fragments of old interviews from Madness sidekicks and business associates that are thrown between tracks like a bad radio programme. The material clearly dates back to the early ’80s because the idea is virtually abandoned on the third CD, but the chatter is edited on to the end of songs in a manner that makes it distinctly hard to avoid. Madness have worn very well indeed but their comments sound old on the first play.

 

Mark Cooper, MOJO

DECEMBER: The Steve Wright Show, Radio 1

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Suggs and Mike are interviewed and talk about the support act on their forthcoming Christmas tour, the split in 1986, rediscovering success, and how they fill their spare time.

DECEMBER 18: G-MEX Centre, Manchester

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Dubbed The Man In The Mad Suit Tour, the band’s second Christmas tour since their reunion begins in the north of England. Support comes from Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. The tour sees Lee dressing up as the genie from Aladdin.

setlist

One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / Driving in My Car / Yesterday’s Men / Victoria Gardens / Shut Up / The Prince / One Better Day / Never Ask Twice (aka Airplane) / The Sun and the Rain / My Girl / Our House / Tomorrow’s Dream / Michael Caine / House of Fun / Grey Day / Wings of a Dove / (Tomorrow’s) Just Another Day / Baggy Trousers / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: Bed And Breakfast Man / Madness ENCORE 2: (Waiting For) The Ghost Train / Night Boat to Cairo

CARL (speaking in 1993): What I’ve enjoyed is rediscovering the strengths and simplicity of the songs. Towards the end of Madness Mark I, we changed a lot of the arrangements to keep it fresh and interesting, but now we’ve gone back to the way they were originally written and they sound better for it.

DECEMBER 19: Cardiff International Arena

DECEMBER 20: NEC Arena, Birmingham

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During tonight’s gig, Lee decides to climb into a bag and hop across the stage. Predictably, he falls off.

CARL (speaking in 1993): In conversation with Mr G ‘Suggs’ McPherson one night, not long ago, we both agreed that if we didn’t continue as a band, never sold a record again and hit the skids, we would be rich, we had more than money, we had what we learnt about life and people, over the years; from the experience that being in the band had given us. Of course money is important, but more than that it is your attitude to money that is the key. Success is having choice. As my father always said, ‘Money can’t buy you happiness but it gets you whatever misery you like.’

DECEMBER 21: The Brighton Centre, Brighton

LEE: When we were doing that tour, I stepped out on the stage and started to say, ‘This will be our last-ever gig unless we do some new material.’ But before I could get the second part of the sentence out, the rest of the band put their hand over my mouth and started kicking the shit out of me.

DECEMBER 22 & 23: Wembley Arena, London

CARL (speaking in 1993): If you overdo the greatest hits bit you run the risk of taking the piss and turning into Gary Glitter. So we’ll knock it on the head before we become an embarrassment.

1994

With no new material on the horizon, and Suggs putting the feelers out on a solo TV and music career, the band’s only gig this year is a repeat greatest hits gathering in Finsbury Park to boost the coffers.

SUGGS (speaking in 1994): The first gig came together, then we were asked to do some Wembley Arena gigs the following Christmas and all of a sudden two years had passed and we were asked back to Finsbury Park. There are arguments about whether you’re doing it for the money, but it certainly wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t enjoyable.

AUGUST 6: Madstock II, Finsbury Park, London

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Madness’s only live show of 1994 is supported by dance act the Tyrell Corporation, reggae favourites Aswad, hip-hop act Credit To The Nation, punk stalwarts Buzzcocks and a return from Ian Dury & The Blockheads. Madness’s set is notable for Suggs quoting The Rolling Stones classic (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction towards the end of Driving In My Car, and My Way at the close of Wings Of A Dove. The support acts are thanked – particularly ‘Ian and his Dury’ – and Carl shows off his soccer skills by kicking back a ball that someone’s thrown onstage. Suggs dedicates Bed And Breakfast Man to John Hasler, then Lee takes the vocals for a reggae version of The Kinks’ 1970 transvestite classic, Lola. Underlining the subject matter, he does a striptease to unveil a pair of stockings and suspenders. Earlier on, he brings a coffin onto the stage, sparking rumours that this is Madness’s farewell show. A tradition begins as the band’s children come onstage for Night Boat to Cairo, with Suggs’s daughter Scarlett taking over the vocals from her dad.

setlist

One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / Driving in My Car / Yesterday’s Men / Shut Up / The Prince / One Better Day / The Sun And The Rain / My Girl / Our House / Michael Caine / House of Fun / Grey Day / Wings of a Dove / (Tomorrow’s) Just Another Day / Baggy Trousers / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: Bed And Breakfast Man / Madness / ENCORE 2: Lola / Night Boat to Cairo

STEVE FINAN (Madness manager): There were no major incidents. Everything by now was running really smoothly, like clockwork. We had a really good team behind us – in fact, I was almost redundant, walking around saying, ‘Everyone OK?’ ‘Yeah, we’re fine thanks.’

With the band still undecided on whether to write new material, further live appearances are shelved.

STEVE FINAN: I don’t think at that time the appetite was there for a new album. The promoters were all centred around having hit records to sell a ticket and Madstock went against the grain but you weren’t growing the audience much. You were re-playing to your core people. So they needed a break. You couldn’t play to them every year, otherwise it would have become pantomime.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 1994): The trouble is, as you get older, you naturally become more introspective, more miserable. It’s much harder to find inspiration, because finding an old Blue Beat album in a second-hand record shop, or a great button-down shirt, is no longer novelty. They call it Rod Stewart syndrome. If you’re just sitting on artificial grass next to your swimming pool in LA, there’s not much to fuckin’ write about, is there?

Suggs continues to explore his solo options

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The singer teams up with old friend Rob Dickins, by now a powerful and influential figure in the music industry. In late August, he uses an appearance on Radio 1 to announce his plans for a solo career.

ROB DICKINS: Suggs wasn’t out looking for a record deal. It was just a guy who ran a record company and a guy who wanted to make a record coming together. I told him, ‘You’ve got a following. A bit like Sting, you have a name that everybody knows. You’ve got a brand.’ He’d written a couple of songs and realised Madness wasn’t going to be a recording thing and said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I liked what he’d done and said, ‘Why don’t we do a solo record?’

Suggs spends the rest of the year writing and recording his debut solo album.

ROB DICKINS: There was a long gestation period because it wasn’t a career move, more a slow process of songwriting and getting ideas.

NOVEMBER 12: Suggs appears on Danny Baker After All

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For his first solo TV outing, Suggs performs two cover versions – The Beatles’ I’m Only Sleeping and Suedehead by Morrissey.

SUGGS (speaking in 1994): Being in a band is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have to fit in; it’s like having six brothers and being last in line to go to the toilet all the time. But on the other hand, you’ve got that interaction. I’d been in that band all my life really, and when you’ve done that, and had your friends around you, being solo can be a lonely old business – sitting in the green room on your own, waiting to do the Chris Evans show.

1995

To be continued…