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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.’
With Mike attending a lengthy Buddhist retreat, the band play no further live dates until December.
NOVEMBER 29: The Business is released
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.
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
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
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.
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
JIM BOB (Carter USM): We thought supporting Madness would be great – we loved them and felt we had things in common with them, so we thought the Madness fans would probably love us too. Wrong. The gigs were already sold out before we were announced as support, so nobody had bought a ticket because they wanted to see us. Every night we’d go on to cold stages, where for 40 minutes we’d be booed, heckled and have things thrown at us. Not by the whole crowd, obviously – the majority of the audience were there for a good time and a sing-song. It was like a huge wedding reception every night, with us as the world’s most unpopular wedding band. But one per cent out of a crowd of 10,000 throwing stuff at us was enough to make us fear for our lives every night before we went on. I ended up wanting to tell the crowd, in a tongue-stuck-out ner-ner-ner-ner-ner way, that Madness had asked us to play and that while they were standing in the rain waiting for a night bus we’d be back at the hotel bar with their favourite band, listening to Suggs take the piss out of us for being from South London where we all live in caravans with pots and pans hanging from the windows.
DECEMBER 19: Cardiff International Arena
CARL (speaking in 1993): What I’ve enjoyed by touring again is rediscovering the strengths and simplicity of the songs. Towards the end of Madness Mk 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 20: NEC Arena, Birmingham
During tonight’s gig, Lee decides to climb into a bag and hop across the stage. Predictably, he falls off.
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: Wembley Arena, London
JIM BOB (Carter USM): On the first of those two nights at Wembley Arena, a pound coin hit me just above the eye on the first verse of the first song, cutting my head open and – on the positive side – making me look really hard and cool for the rest of the set.
DECEMBER 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.
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
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.
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
LEE: The first Madstock had been both a minor earthquake and an emotional journey, but the subsequent editions were diminishing returns.
CHRIS: The second one was quite enjoyable but I must admit I was very drunk. This was due to the fact that I arrived early and my wife and I had found someone to look after our baby Felix. That gave me time to wander off into the crowd and get drinks from our fans, so my playing was not very good, especially the solo on Shut Up. But Madness songs play themselves really and the audience all sang along. It was much the same atmosphere, a good crowd, not too much trouble and the support acts all went down well, without too much verbal abuse.
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.’
CHRIS: It was a shame that we didn’t do Land Of Hope And Glory, Razor Blade Alley, Close Escape, Take It Or Leave It, Swan Lake or Rockin’ In Ab, but we did Michael Caine, Yesterday’s Men and One Better Day instead. Plus Lee sang the Kinks song Lola which was funny as he took his trousers off to reveal the fact that he was wearing women’s underwear. OK, the song’s about a transvestite, but why had he been wearing them for two weeks?
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
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
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.
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): One of the great strengths of Madness was that we never were millionaires. We were hugely successful in this country and maybe Guernsey and the surrounding islands, but nowhere else particularly. I remember being among my contemporaries who were buying walled mansions in Hampstead and then losing their marbles slowly but surely. I was still living in Camden. I’m very happy with my lifestyle because I’ve never really been broke and I’ve never had enough money for it to spoil things.
Woody tours with new band FAT
With an acronym for Fuck All That, and the motto ‘sample it, loop it, stick big guitars on it, then rap all over it’, the band tour throughout summer, including the Phoenix Festival. Their debut single, Downtime, is issued on Dink Records in August.
WOODY: I had first put FAT together with my good friend Paul Andrews in 1992. My brother Nick played guitar in the first incarnation, then we put together a new FAT playing more rock-rap. We got a record deal, put out Downtime as a single with a video and toured the UK extensively, but not much happened until the Americans came calling. I left the band just before they got a US deal and they toured the States until they imploded a few years later. Great band.
With Madness still in hiatus, Suggs makes a series of promotional appearances on TV as he embarks on his solo career.
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): It’s a lot lonelier on your own. But I’m doing a solo record because I want to do a solo record, not because I don’t want to be with them. I’ve got a real burning desire to get it out. I’m ready, ready, ready. You know how people get more and more desperate, as they get older, to cling on to whatever vestiges of fame they have left? I can feel those primeval urges bubbling up. Maybe there aren’t many more chances left to have a dance in the glitter and the glamour.
AUGUST 12: Suggs releases I’m Only Sleeping/Off On Holiday
The frontman’s first solo single – a cover of The Beatles classic – reaches No7 in the UK charts.
SUGGS: I wasn’t really sure about it being the first single – I wanted Off on Holiday instead, so we compromised and put out a double a-side with Off on Holiday on the b-side of I’m Only Sleeping. But of course, I’m Only Sleeping got the big push and Off on Holiday got pushed under the carpet.
SEPTEMBER: Chris divorces his second wife, Laurence.
OCTOBER 15: Lee’s wife, Debbie, gives birth to their second son, Kye Clay.
OCTOBER 16: Suggs releases his second solo single, Camden Town
The singer’s anthem to his stomping ground enters and peaks at No14 in the UK charts.
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): Madness started in Camden Town, so my roots in the area are sunk pretty deep, and this song was one of the first I wrote as a solo artist. Part of the song is about things I’ve seen while just sitting outside a pub in Camden. I once saw this old drunken busker fall over and trip up these tourists, who immediately dropped their hot dogs. I’ve also seen lots of other surreal things, such as the geezer who comes along and empties out a tin of baked beans for his Alsatian. He does the same thing every day – empties a tin of baked beans on the pavement for his dog. He’s an old dosser kind of geezer, but why it isn’t dog food and why he empties it on the pavement, I really don’t know. It’s coincidental that Camden has suddenly become fashionable. I don’t think it’s any better than anywhere else, but I have spent a lot of my life there.
OCTOBER 16: On the same day as the single, Suggs releases his first solo album, The Lone Ranger. Like Camden Town, it also peaks at No14 in the UK charts.
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): I’d been writing with Mike with a view to doing an album. I really wanted to do it, whatever the machinations of Madness were. It was a strange experience. I decided I wanted to produce it on my own and two or three months of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. Then someone said Sly and Robbie were in town, which I thought was perfect. It was like someone lifted the curtains or the cassocks and the light shone in. It was fantastic just to let go of the control, so I let them produce the other half of the album. It was just fun – Top 40 in the Faroe Islands and I’ll be happy.
ROB DICKENS: It had hits but should have sold more. Looking back, it didn’t play through like an album. It wasn’t one piece of work, it was a compilation of ideas, some of which really clicked with the public. But it didn’t work as a whole.
DECEMBER: Rehearsals for Christmas tour
Madness convene at Sir John Henry Studios in London for the third Christmas tour since their reunion. A small problem has occurred since a photo session in mid-November – Bedders doesn’t want to play any more. The subsequent tour programme states, ‘Bedders is not appearing due to the fact that he has now got a nice, cushy well-paid job in graphic design, which is a far greater challenge than playing 15-year-old hits once every couple of years for loads of money.’ Rather than cancelling the tour, it’s decided that Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy will fill the vacant spot. New music station VH1 films the rehearsals and interviews Suggs, a bespectacled Carl and a short-haired Woody for its 1:1 series.
WOODY: Mark took a couple of years out because he wanted to go back to school and become a graphic designer, because it was something he always loved and was interested in. So he took a large chunk out to expand his life.
DECEMBER 14: Dundonald Ice Bowl, Belfast
The Mad Dogs tour begins in Northern Ireland. To make sure everyone knows this isn’t one of the many tribute bands that now terrorise the club circuit, the adverts bill them as, ‘The Original Madness’. Support band on the Emerald Isle are Scary Eire, a Clive Langer & The Boxes offshoot. During the tour, Madness use a London-skyline themed backdrop and Lee is dressed as The Joker from Batman.
DECEMBER 15: The Point, Dublin, Ireland
‘Good evening Dublin,’ says Carl. ‘We are Madness…North London geezers in the area, come out, come out, come out.’ Our House is introduced as ‘a song called Country House’, but the recent Blur hit is not played. Suggs urges the audience to make some space at the front because ‘people are all going purple and they’re putting me off my dinner’. Fan Michael Farmer is invited to have an onstage drink with Lee and Hector Walker, and the consumption of a yard of ale becomes a ritual on the tour. The second encore starts with In The Rain, but Carl – dubbed ‘Chassy O’ Smash’ by Suggs – misses it as he’s backstage calling his mum.
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 / The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 / House Of Fun / Grey Day / Wings Of A Dove / Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) / Baggy Trousers / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: Lola / Bed And Breakfast Man / Madness / ENCORE 2: In The Rain / Night Boat To Cairo
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): I’ve got the luxury of having been out of the business for donkey’s years so I can have a laugh again like it was the first day I ever did it. I just think that pop music is one of the greatest art forms. It’s been the only one over the last 20 years that’s actually done anything, said anything, changed anything, communicated on such a great level to so many people. It can move you to tears or laughter. How many paintings have you ever actually laughed or cried at? You may have occasionally tittered at a bit of Damien Hirst, but not actually roared with laughter. Music is a great medium. It’s three minutes of noise and a little plastic disc, and it holds your whole life; the first person you met, the first girlfriend you had, the first garden shed you blew up. It’s all there.
DECEMBER 16: Suggs releases another solo single, The Tune
Co-written with Mike Barson, Suggs’s third sole effort also includes a festive version of Sleigh Ride and a cover of the Supergrass classic, Alright. It goes on to peak at a lowly No33 in the UK charts.
ROB DICKINS: Suggs did the two cover versions in his little four-track studio at home. Sleigh Ride was a real favourite of mine – he did it with his wife and their two daughters and I thought it was so disarmingly charming. We thought that and The Tune as a double-A side would be a big hit record, but it wasn’t.
DECEMBER 17: G-MEX Centre, Manchester
For the mainland gigs, Madness are supported by Laxton’s Superb, who Carl had discovered while working as an A&R man.
This was the second time I’d seen the Mads at the GMex, the last being the Mad Suit tour of December 1993, and I must say the boys were even better this time around. After negotiating what seemed like a mile-long queue, we managed to squeeze our way to the front. Shortly to appear was a young bunch of power popsters by the name of Laxton’s Superb. In all fairness I thought they were pretty good, but they went down like a lead balloon with the expectant masses. Eventually Madness appeared minus Bedders (Suggs did explain why, but I couldn’t hear for the racket). Chas was decked out in what appeared to be the same outfit as two years ago with top hat etc, while Lee looked more and more like Jack Nicholson in Batman. One Step Beyond opened (as usual) and by now I was trying to concentrate on keeping my rib cage in contact with the crush. One of the lads I was with lobbed his fez onstage and we managed (briefly) to persuade Suggs to don it. There was also the strange sight during a rendition of Los Palmas of two lads on stage having a yard-of-ale drinking competition (mad indeed).The playlist was pretty much what you’d expect with the exception of the two encores, In The Rain and Lee’s brilliant version of Lola. By now the crushing seemed to ease a little due to the continuation of tiring dancing feet and more and more people carried out. The gig seemed to fly and before you knew it we were saying adios with Night Boat To Cairo.
DECEMBER 18: Newcastle Arena, Newcastle
During tonight’s show, Lee invites a girl onstage to take part in the yard of ale drinking contest during Los Palmas Seven.
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): Lee still lives his life as if it’s a video shoot. I saw him the other day on his motorbike. He was riding on the pavement with his legs sticking out and no crash helmet on.
DECEMBER 19: NEC Arena, Birmingham
Support act Laxton’s Superb are booed off, but they don’t seem to mind. As often is the case with One Step Beyond, Carl inserts the line ‘Sound to sound / Nation to nation.’ ‘Were you here last time we were in Birmingham?’ asks Suggs. When some people at the front raise their hands he quips: ‘ls that all ?’ Later he peers at the seats up to one side and says, ‘Oh, hello. My goodness, those seats must have been cheap. You can’t hear, you can’t see and we can’t hear you though, that’s the main thing.’ During the Los Palmas Seven drink-off, a fan called David stands back-toback with Lee, who switches his yard of ale for an empty one until he’s caught in the act by a booing audience. When the band leave the stage, the backdrop displays ‘Merry Christmas’ with a witch on a broomstick flying over it. The appearance of artificial snow during the encore adds to the festive spirit.
DECEMBER 21: BIC, Bournemouth
Lee wears his It Must Be Love suit, rather than his Joker outfit. Dressed in his Grey Day suit, Carl repeats his ‘Sound to sound / Nation to nation’ riff during One Step Beyond, and also plays trumpet during the sax break of Embarrassment.
SUGGS (speaking in 1995): Without getting evangelical about it, I look at some of my contemporaries, and they’re up their own arses with ‘moving on’ and ‘taking another step forward’, while their pop careers go slowly down the plughole.
DECEMBER 22 & 23: Wembley Arena, London
Earlier in the day, Chris and Lee take time out to shoot the first part of the video for new Crunch! single Magic Carpet. At the gig itself, Carl appears in a blue suit similar to Lee’s. During Yesterday’s Men, Suggs adlibs ‘Are you sure?’ to the third mention of ‘Has to get better in the long run’. Shut Up sees Carl sitting on the PA while the audience fill in the piano solo at the end.
Finally, after four years of begging my parents, I was allowed to go and see the one band who have influenced my life more than anything. Perhaps I should say that I am just 17 and have been a devoted Madness-follower since their huge revival in ’92. Up till now I have not been allowed to go to a gig. I was not disappointed at all. I was right at the front of Wembley with my friends. It started as ever with a rumbling voice. Carl stood there booming those almighty lyrics “HEY YOU … ” I was so amazed I could have cried, there on the stage less than two metres away were the lads who I never thought I’d get to see. Suggs stood wearing a checked suit (not the Shut Upone) it was small black ‘n white checks, and a bowler hat. He stood with his arms in the air for a second and everyone cheered so loudly. Mark wasn’t there for some reason. The programme hints that he didn’t want to be. Which was a shame. The whole capacity of the area was moved at one point when Suggs and Carl decided to get the into the male bonding thing and hug each other. All the girls said, ‘Ahhhh’. All the lads laughed. The set was a classic one with all the old favourites. Baggy Trousers had the arena jumping as I guessed it would. It was incredible. Suggs posed for my photo. I called him in a quietish moment and he looked straight at our little crowd and said, ‘Yeah?’ I screamed out, “SMILE SUGGS!’ and aimed the camera and he did pose for a second. The lads also did a rendition of The Kinks’ Lola which they did at Madstock ’94. Lee was climbing all over the monitors at the front. There was also a good moment during Los Palmas Seven when Lee picked a girl out of the audience and made her try to down a yard of ale. Carl took the opportunity of having a quiet fag while Suggs went to change his jacket. I have never had such an amazing night out.
APRIL 13: Suggs releases his fourth solo single, Cecilia
The upbeat Simon & Garfunkel cover version will be Suggs’s most successful solo single release, peaking at No4 on the UK charts and spending 22 weeks on the charts.
ROB DICKINS: It just wouldn’t stop selling. It stayed at No4 for weeks – one of those records where you think, ‘Is it ever going to get to No1?’ Big marketed records would come in above us then fall below. And the video we had was fantastic. The naivety that Suggs brings to a song really clicked. Done by Simon & Garfunkel it was slick, which I didn’t like, but Suggs’s version had an honesty. Then the rap was just wonderful, so much energy. Everything came together.
JUNE 21: Rehearsals for Madstock III
Madness practice for the first of only two shows in ’96, during which they finally add some new material after a year of tinkering. You’re Wonderful, Saturday Night Sunday Morning, Culture Vulture and Soul Denying are slowly taking shape, although the latter is only played at rehearsals as Madness struggle to find its shape. Bedders is still no longer with Madness, but his bass-guitar isn’t gathering dust and he plays with BUtterfield 8 at the Jazz Café the same evening. The next day he flies to Japan with members of The Blockheads for recording sessions.
SUGGS (speaking in 1996): What keeps happening is that the demand keeps growing rather than diminishing, like what is supposed to happen. And promoters keep asking if we want to do the concerts and we say yes. It’s all been rather easy.
CARL (speaking in 1996): We’re possibly close to recording now. If the vibe is right, we’ll record. If it’s not, we won’t. It’s a question of belief, and if we believe in what we’re doing we do it.
JUNE 22: Madstock III, Finsbury Park, London
The support acts for the third North London jamboree are King Prawn, The Gyres, Audioweb, Catatonia, Wilko Johnson, Mike Flowers Pops, The James Taylor Quartet and Squeeze. Today’s gig takes place on the same day as the England-Spain match in Euro 96, which sees a win on penalties for the home nation. For this year’s shows, Madness wear grey Beatle-style suits, with Carl surprising everyone by having his hair dyed peroxide blond. Suggs interrupts Driving In My Car to say hello to the crowd before the song starts anew. Four years after the teaspoon act at the first Madstock, Suggs now picks up a lollipop left on stage by Carl’s son. ‘I’ve got a new dance I’ve been practising all morning,’ are his words to introduce the first of the three new tracks to be premiered tonight. During Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Chris inserts the intro of The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself. Fully aware of the high expectations, Suggs adds that the new songs ‘will not be available in your record-shops on Monday morning’. The gig also takes place in the same weekend as the reunion concert by The Sex Pistols. Thus The Sun And The Rain is announced as ‘Anarchy In The DHSS’. Carl dedicates Our House to his mum before Suggs announces, ‘We may not have any walls or a roof, but today this is our house.’ Michael Caine is played for the first time since December 1995 and precedes the second new song, Culture Vulture, which is performed for the only time until 2018, although the instrumental break is used later for Drip Fed Fred. You’re Wonderful opens the encore, with Carl dedicating it to his father, who had died the year before of cancer. The fans’ reaction makes it an instant crowd favourite. The show is also notable for an unusual ending after Night Boat To Cairo, and the usual stage invasion of children and family. As the band leave the stage and some fans begin drifting away, Carl suddenly reappears and announces: ‘Thank you for coming. We love you and we’ll miss you.’ A circus fanfare then suddenly strikes up as, unbeknown to the crowd, some of the band have been putting on harnesses backstage and are winched into the air, flying back and forth across the stage. Lee performs his trademark somersaults as Carl bellows ‘We shall return!’ in a fittingly surreal end to the show.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / Driving in My Car / Yesterday’s Men / Shut Up / The Prince / Saturday Night, Sunday Morning / One Better Day / The Sun And The Rain / My Girl / Our House / Michael Caine / Culture Vulture / House of Fun / Grey Day / Wings of a Dove / (Tomorrow’s) Just Another Day / Baggy Trousers / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: You’re Wonderful / Bed And Breakfast Man / Madness / ENCORE 2: Return of the Los Palmas 7 / Land of Hope and Glory / Night Boat to Cairo
Sting. Weller. The Pistols. What is it about Finsbury Park that fast sees it overtaking Eastbourne as the place for old codgers to go and spin out their remaining days? Today it’s the turn of Madness with their annual, no-really-that’s-the-last-ever, gig. Nightnurse to Cairo anyone? Before all that though there’s a bill of younger tykes and assorted oddballs specifically designed to bamboozle the boots-and-braces brigade. Still, the cropped ones seem much more comfortable with Squeeze’s middle-aged spread rock. But after Cool For Cats and Up The Junction they could fart into a trumpet and still go down better than ten pints of lager after a scraped England victory. And so to Madness who, surprise, surprise, play all the hits, all the sensitive songs, and all the later stuff that no-one knows. There’s all the nutty dancing, all the banter, and these are indisputably classic pop songs, but there’s something intrinsically sad about seeing Chas Smash (the proto-Bez, kids) still pretending to be a 12-year-old overdosing on Tartrazine. Ultimately this is Theme Park Britain, wherein you can indulge your adolescence once again. And surely that’s what tribute bands are for. Stop the madness. NOW!
After standing up for at least ten hours, right at the very front of the crowd, listening to numerous support groups, of which personally Squeeze was the best, the lights went out and the chants of “MADNESS” began to fill the air. Smoke filled the air as all eyes turned to the stage and seven figures all dressed in grey suits took their places at the front. Madness were at last here. ‘HEY YOU,DON’T WATCH THAT, WATCH THIS !’ boomed around the park as Mr. Smash (sporting a trendy blond hairdo) got Madstock 3 under way, with a brilliant version of One Step Beyond followed by classic after classic Madness songs. Embarrassment was next followed by Driving In My Car which had to be started again after the first verse, because of a computer problem or something. Yesterday’s Men, Shut Up and The Prince all came and went, then we were in for a real treat – a new Madness song, Saturday Night, well worthy of a place in the charts. Back to the hits with The Sun & The Rain, a fab My Girl, Our House, Michael Caine and another new song, Culture Vulture. I don’t remember too much about the next song, House Of Fun, as I was lying at the bottom of about 80 people during a mild bundle. Grey Day was next, then Wings Of A Dove and Tomorrow’s Just Another Day, then there was a small pause because Barso’s keyboard lost its power. After God knows how long, a bell sounded out, and the boys went into a storming version of Baggy Trousers. It Must Be Love was next, and then Madness were gone. After about five minutes of
“OLE, OLE, OLE, MADNESS, MADNESS”, they were back where they should be, on stage. Mr. Smash dedicated the next song – Wonderful – to everyone at Finsbury Park and to his Dad, it was another new one and definitely a top 10 hit. Bed & Breakfast Man followed, with a stomping version of Madness after that. Then they went off stage again, and returned to do their last encore. Los Palmas began with Land Of Hope & Glory next. Then there was only one more song to play – a brilliant rip-roaring version of Night Boat To Cairo. Then it was all over, Madness said their goodbyes, with Suggs, Smash, Thommo and Monsieur Barso flying through the air on swings. After the concert had ended I met a man called Melvyn who works with the Mean Fiddler and he managed to get me a set list and got all the members of Madness to sign it for me (apart from Bedders of course). A brilliant end to a Mad-tastic day.
SUGGS: I remember the old ticket sales were going a bit slow for this one, so we flung in that it was gonna be our last one.
CARL: My father passed away on June 22, 1995 and a year later, I played You’re Wonderful, which I dedicated to his memory and which was about being in the band and missing those who had passed from this mortal coil. I miss him dearly. He gave me so much of my character and always had a good ear and sound advice. In his immortal words, ‘There are those of us who are and those of us who aren’t and those of us who are must stick together.’ I often repeat these words, and in me and in my son Cathal Caspar Smyth, my father lives on.
JUNE 30: Euro 96 Extravaganza, Old Trafford, Manchester
Supporting Simply Red, and with Norman Watt-Roy on bass, The Extravaganza is taped for semi-live broadcast on BBC Radio and TV. Madness enter the 360-degree main stage dressed in the same Beatlesque suits as worn at Madstock (save for Woody’s trademark shorts), hiding behind umbrellas before embarking on a 12-song set. The intro of The Prince is interrupted again because the crowd finish the spoken ‘Buster’ part for Suggs. ‘Who said that?’ he bellows. ‘Do you think we’re paid to stand here to let someone else sing the song? Then fucking swap places.’ Suggs continues to rave about his yellow-tinted shades (another flavour of the late 90s) and throughout the show he refers to the revolving stage. At one point there’s even a request to ‘turn that bloody stage’. My Girl not only goes out to the girls, but also to ‘men dressed up as girls’ while Carl dedicates You’re Wonderful to the English football team as an encouragement for next day’s Euro 96 semi-final against Germany. Again the song gets a rapturous response. As It Must Be Love ends this ‘nice day out’, Carl gives thanks to headliners Simply Red and Suggs to ‘Mr Sun’.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / Shut Up / The Prince / Saturday Night Sunday Morning / The Sun And The Rain / My Girl / Our House / Wonderful / House Of Fun / Wings Of A Dove / It Must Be Love
SUGGS (speaking in 1996): I love Madness and I love all the individuals in the band and I always have. It’s a fantastic thing; I wish I could show it more often but I can’t.
WOODY (speaking in 1996): Madness are simply a wonderful pop band who make people happy.
SUGGS (speaking in 1996): In everyday life I couldn’t be a more boring person, and then I get this hour-and-a-half on stage where I seem to be projected ‘up there’. It’s funny, because you can go a whole year without even thinking about getting on the dining room table, and all of a sudden you’re up there with the Greek gods.
SEPTEMBER: Suggs releases (No More) Alcohol
The fourth single from The Lone Ranger reaches No24, dropping out of the chart after only four weeks.
OCTOBER: Suggs takes part in the Huntsham Sessions
Suggs joins 14 others musicians and performers in rural Devon for the annual EMI songwriting course. Among them is Chris Difford (Squeeze), Graham Gouldman (10cc), Kirsty MacColl, Lamont Dozier and Mike Barson’s brother, Ben. Suggs collaborates with Gouldman and Difford on five songs – There Was A Day, Sad Old Man, That’s The Way We Do It, Me & You Against The World and Two Bacon Sandwiches.
SUGGS (speaking in 1996): Even for an old cynic like me, the first night was tear-inducing. Just hearing a song that people have written that same day is brilliant and strange. They put you with someone who you think you’ll click with and it’s all pacing around, fuck-all happening. Then they stick you in with someone bonkers and a banjo player and you’ve got 19 top hits in an afternoon.
NOVEMBER: Suggs announces a solo tour
Shows are scheduled for the Ilford Island (December 8th), Ipswich Regent (9th), Wolverhampton Civic Hall (17th), Poole Arts Centre (19th) and The Forum in Kentish Town, London (21st).
SUGGS (speaking in 1996): I’ve done a few charity things, turning up at small venues to do a couple of acoustic numbers, but I’ve never actually performed a full-blown show on my own, so it’s quite nerve-wracking. I’ve got a half hour set so far, then a couple of cover versions. Then my mums coming on to do a couple and then it will just be dancing and juggling for the rest of the set.
NOVEMBER: Suggs’s solo tour is cancelled due to disappointing ticket sales.
For the first time since reforming five years earlier, Madness play no gigs in 1997. Instead, Suggs concentrates on his solo music and TV career
ROB DICKINS: At this point, we’d had some success but we also needed to think seriously about the next album. And then TV shows started ringing him up and it was clear Suggs was back on the radar.
APRIL 5: Suggs starts presenting Night Fever on Channel 5
The celebrity karaoke show sees Suggs assisted by a disembodied voice dubbed ‘The Big Guy in the Sky’ announcing the scores. He’s also helped and hindered by Pop Monkey, a man in a costume who gives him the choice of songs. The show will eventually run until 2002, with subsequent presenters including Will Mellor and Sarah Cawood.
ROB DICKINS: I remember Suggs saying, ‘I’ve been offered this programme hosting a karaoke show. I don’t really want to do it.’ I said, ‘Suggs, it’s television, a possibility you should be looking at in your career. It’s Channel 5, nobody’s going to watch it and you’ll get all the experience.’ When it became the No1 show on Channel 5 he said, ‘Rob, I thought you told me no one was ever gonna see it!’ He had a little bit of stage fright from doing television but it was basically a party he was fronting which is in the spirit he feels comfortable. By doing those shows, his confidence built without the pressure of being on your own fronting a programme.
SUGGS: It was good fun. But again, it was like, ‘Urgh, what am I doing? Pop monkey, come on, you know you want it!’ But I’m being Suggs, I entertain people and I get paid to do it. You get on with it, don’t you? But of course I know what are the cooler bits and what are the less cool bits.
WOODY (speaking in 1997): The sheer and simple fact that Suggs is on the TV does raise our profile. Even if some of the programming is slightly dodgy.
SUGGS: Every week we’d have a band of some sort or another, but sometimes it was a bit of a struggle to get good guests. I remember one time we got The Three Tops, another time we managed to get one Weathergirl as the other one had got stuck in a shopping trolley. She’d been pushed in one down a corridor by the producer and couldn’t get out again. So we stooped low – we had a hairdresser from Emmerdale and a hairdresser from EastEnders.
APRIL: Suggs records Blue Day, the FA Cup Final single for Chelsea
ROB DICKINS: A producer called Mike Connaris called and said, ‘I’ve written this song for Chelsea and I’d love Suggs to do it.’ Along with Cecilia, my pet hate was football records but the demo came along and it was really good – a cross between Blackberry Way and Penny Lane. It pushed all the right buttons so I rang Suggs, who said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do a football record.’ But then we played it and he didn’t need a lot of persuading.
MIKE CONNARIS: I got a call from Rob saying, ‘Don’t give Suggs a beer until after the session.’ Fine, OK. ‘And when you record him, double-track his vocal.’ On the Tuesday evening, Suggs arrived at the studio and his thumb’s broken – if you watch the video, his arm is in a sling. ‘Hi, I’m Suggs, have you got a beer?’ What could I say? Anyway, he was unbelievable. We did it in an hour and it’s not the easiest song to sing. Then we got talking about Chelsea and went out until 3am. Because he knows Soho so well, he showed me all these places: one place shut at twelve so he knew one around the corner. And I never double-tracked his vocal.
SUGGS: Heading for the studio to record the bits with the team, I was very nervous. The bus turned up and we had a really great bunch of characters piled out; Vialli, Zola, Dennis Wise, Mark Hughes etc. Legends all. There was a real feeling of fun and camaraderie in the room. The Italians were a bit bemused at first but Dennis soon got everyone going. Vialli played the piano and Wisey was reading out the lyrics and giving English lessons to some of the less confident English speakers; lessons that up to this point had mostly involved swearing.
MIKE CONNARIS: By the time we got to Wembley, three weeks later, half the crowd were singing it – it was just incredible.
MAY 17: Blue Day is released ahead of the FA Cup Final
ROB DICKINS: Something quite strange happened which – because I’m not a huge football fan – I should have realised. When you wear your colours, to the people who loved you in Manchester or Tottenham or Highbury or Leeds, suddenly he was the enemy. We got letters saying, ‘I can’t believe you did this.’ It was really quite telling and Blue Day only got to No 22. It’s not like an England record; some people weren’t going to buy it under any circumstances.
Madness rehearse without Suggs in John Henry Studios
While Suggs is caught up in his solo career, other band members convene to rehearse new tracks, including The Wizard, Going To The Top and No Money.
Plans for Suggs’s follow-up album continue for the rest of the year.
ROB DICKINS: We had to get serious about the next record, so Suggs wrote Invisible Man with Mike and I Am and Our Man with one of my A&R guys, Nick Feldman.
MIKE CONNARIS: Suggs would give me lyrics and I’d come up with melodies and chords on the piano. We made rough demos. We had one with the most unusual title Venus Refusing Chips, an incredible song, so way out and Beatle-ish. They were desperately trying to find songs for him to get a direction.
ROB DICKINS: I thought, ‘We’re going down this road again, which gives us hits but doesn’t give us an album.’
OCTOBER 23: Terry Edwards All-Stars, Dingwalls, London
Chris and Bedders play with the rotating line-up at Ska Extravaganza 3, with a set that includes ska favourites Liquidator, Phoenix City, Return Of Django and Madness. Lee had been billed to appear, but failed to show.
NOVEMBER 21: Children In Need, BBC TV
Suggs presents a special episode of Night Fever on BBC as part of the annual Children In Need telethon. A total of £20million is raised for charities dealing with disadvantaged children.
CARL (speaking in 1998): You really don’t know how much I look forward to performing live onstage with the rest of Madness. It’s something I almost need … the adrenaline rush is just something else and the camaraderie that we enjoy makes it special.
Work continues on Suggs’s solo album, with experienced producer Steve Lironi brought on board.
ROB DICKINS: We had a meeting and Steve said, ‘I’ve always loved Madness, I’d love to do this but I want to do the whole album and I want to write it with Suggs.’ We thought, ‘This is a good move.’ He and Suggs got on really well. And it also meant I could step away. The combination of him and Steve was fantastic. They made what we wanted: from beginning to end, this really strong Suggs record and not sonically inconsistent bits and pieces.
Carl approaches Peter Rudge to be the new Madness manager
After the departure of Steve Finan in 1995, the manager’s shoes are finally filled by experienced no-nonsense operator Rudge, who has previously worked with The Who, The Rolling Stones and Duran Duran.
PETER RUDGE (manager): When I got involved with them, Suggs wasn’t in the band, and Mike and Bedders had left, so it was Chris, Lee, Woody and Carl. You could tell right away that unless it was all seven of them, it wasn’t going to work on any level so I brought the seven back together again and tried to re-launch them. There was something quite endearing about them; they were so unbelievably, wonderfully dysfunctional. All seven of them were strong characters who marched to their own drum individually. Each had a slightly different perception of who and what Madness was. Suggs popped in and out as he was building a career around and inside it but hadn’t left the mothership. Mike was strange, one of the most complex figures I’d ever managed. Undoubtedly, he was incredibly talented, the musical anchor and creative force, but he was also dysfunctional. He was a strong character but he’d be sitting on a houseboat in Amsterdam in an ivory tower, completely unaware of what was going on in the world. Chris was adorable, one of the funniest, nicest guys. Lee was amazing – mad, eccentric, brilliant, totally uncontrollable. He was still going around at 4am on a motorbike fly-posting for a living. He saw himself as the protector of Madness’s street image, the boys from Camden Town. That was the role they let Lee play. Woody and Bedders were lovely – the Greek chorus. I liked Bedders a lot, very straight and took it all with a pinch of salt. He established his priorities in life, with a career that Madness had to coexist with. He had a great deal of integrity. Woody was a simple, gentle soul, a nice guy. They were the glue, not the predominant personalities or talents. Chris was somewhere in between. He was the Charlie Watts of the band, who everybody talked to, the lightning rod. Mike and Suggs and Carl – as much as he’d listen to anybody – would listen to Chris. Carl was slightly in awe of Suggs and what he’d accomplished and he also respected Mike’s musical ability. Carl saw himself as the band’s in-house organiser and recruited the managers – as he did in my case. He had this vision of Madness as something which they frankly aren’t. He aimed particularly high. His vision was wonderful but his expectations were just so unrealistic. He was one of the most unreliable, unpredictable, inconsistent human beings. Totally scatter-gun, he never closed anything and it was all big ambition, big money. Carl pushed it out and the band would pull it back in a little – provide barriers. A strange chap. So Chris had the relationship with Lee. Suggs had a relationship with everybody. Mike had a relationship with Lee and also looked to Carl to tell him what was going on in the business. They all clucked: Wasn’t Mike difficult? Wasn’t Lee out of control? Wasn’t Carl an embarrassment? Wasn’t Suggs duplicitous – one minute he wanted Madness then he wanted his own TV show? But it worked for them. It really was like a family.
APRIL: Madness depart for the USA to play a series of gigs on the West Coast
PETER RUDGE (speaking in 1998): I think they just felt like doing it. They’re all living comfortably, but they’ve just become aware of the huge resurgence of the ska phenomenon in America.
APRIL 22: South Padre Amphitheater, Las Vegas, Nevada
APRIL 23: UC Davis Rec. Hall Davis, California
APRIL 24: County Bowl, Santa Barbara, California
WOODY (speaking in 1998): To be honest, the money’s really good, which is half the problem. I’ve tried to move on but you have to be free for a couple of gigs every year. Plus I absolutely love playing with Madness. I can’t get enough of it.
APRIL 26: Universal Amphitheatre, Universal City, California
Supported by Dance Hall Crashers, Royal Crown Revue and Hepcat. A recording of tonight’s gig will be released on CD on March 2 1999 as Universal Madness.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / The Sun And The Rain / My Girl / Shut Up / Baggy Trousers / It Must Be Love / Bed And Breakfast Man / Our House / ENCORE: Swan Lake / Night Boat to Cairo / Madness
For a while, with the ‘nuttiest sound around’ in deep hibernation (as far as this country was concerned), it was hard to tell if that last truth was merely myth. So it was with great glee that the British septet returned kicking and raving to a Southern California stage after 14 years away, making it an event that drew the likes of Gwen Stefani, Brian Setzer and Elvis Costello, as well as a large, though not sold-out, crowd. Fronted by the still dapper, screwy, vocally clipped and utterly charming (and now plenty paunchy) Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson and Carl ‘Chas Smash’ Smyth, the band delivered a rousing, randy and downright wonderful performance Sunday night at Universal Amphitheatre, a set that found the band as lively and energetic as in its heyday. Well, almost. These days it’s more Dadness than Madness, and an opening One Step Beyond displayed a distinctly pre-geriatric tempo that suited these mostly 40-ish players. These days, it takes them a little while to warm up. It made sense, then, for the group to coast at the start through some of its mid-tempo (though still offbeat) singles such as Embarrassment and the jaunty cover of Prince Buster’s The Prince. By mid-set, however, after high-stepping versions of My Girl and House of Fun and with keyboardist Mike Barson in full (if choppy) effect, Madness had hit its stride, deftly shifting from more dramatic tunes such as Grey Day, It Must Be Love and an excellent Tomorrow’s Just Another Day to all-out workouts such as a sprinting Baggy Trousers. All of it was delivered as if Madness were as vital to young music fans as the music it has influenced – No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger and countless others who learned the basis for their craft in part from these kooks’ records. But, foolishly, the new breed only picked up on the zaniness of Madness, the most obvious component. Like so many others, they often overlook the deceptively simple nature of the band’s songs, where minor keys and moody chord progressions creep up unsuspectingly and are deflected (or sometimes bolstered) by plainspoken, British working-class storytelling, long believed the sole domain of Ray Davies. That’s partly why Madness was never taken completely seriously, but it’s also why the lovely Our House (played superbly here) is one of the finest singles ever. It’s so much more than mere ska (though the band can do that as well as the best of them). It’s grand pop that communicates a broader range of emotion than just being happy. Just as it was 14 years ago, so is it today. And though, at this point, the Madness gents may amount to nothing more than a supreme nostalgia act, theirs is a welcome return.
Orange County Register
APRIL 28: UC San Diego's Rimac Arena, San Diego, California
It isn’t often you get a chance to see rock legends perform live. It’s even less often that you get to see Madness perform. Tuesday night, Madness put on an incredible show at RIMAC as part of their Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, their first American tour in 14 years. After patiently waiting through the slew of opening bands, the huge crowd became antsy while the stage was prepared for Madness. Finally, the band took the stage, a huge ‘M’ banner was unfurled behind the drum kit and the RIMAC crowd went crazy. Madness kicked off their set with one of their most recognizable songs, a bouncy cover of Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond. Clad in sharp suits and sporting their usual flat-top haircuts, the band appeared confident and commanding. The musicianship was impeccable, and Madness had the crowd eating out of their hands. Madness made their way through most of their hits, including It Must Be Love, Grey Day and Tomorrow’s Just Another Day. Between songs, lead singer Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson bantered with the audience, often giving the songs humorous introductions. Other highlights of the hour-and-a-half set included House of Fun, Shut Up and the band’s 1983 signature piece, Our House. Throughout the set, the RIMAC floor was a sea of dancing people, all hot and sweaty but jubilant in witnessing the spectacle. After Madness left the stage, the audience clamored for more. The band returned for a short encore, which featured an instrumental song that kept the crowd moving. After Madness left the stage again, the audience immediately called them out for a second encore. Looking a bit taken aback by the audience’s enthusiasm, McPherson said, ‘Any time you’d like us to come back, please give us a call. It’s been a pleasure.’ Madness then launched into a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come, before closing the show with a repeat performance of One Step Beyond. Upon the band’s exit, McPherson said, ‘We’ll see you again. Who knows where, who knows when.’ Hopefully it won’t be too long.
SUGGS (speaking in 1998): Financially, I’m not secure enough to survive if it all stopped tomorrow. Every couple of years I get to the point where I’ve got hardly any money left, then something comes up, and so it goes on.
APRIL 29: Henry Kaiser Arena, Oakland, California
As on previous dates during their US trip, Madness are supported by Blink 182, Dance Hall Crashers, Royal Crown Revue and Aquabats
The performance began with their customary soundbite from Mick Jagger, ‘The only thing that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is one that achieves madness…’ as six of them (minus Lee) lined the front of the stage facing the audience. Lee ran in last with his military helmet on and dismissed them to their ‘posts’ onstage.
A few chairs were put out on the side of the stage just before the concert started for Sandra, Barson’s wife and kids one of whom could be seen occasionally crawling around Barson’s feet as he played the keyboards.
No surprise that they started with One Step Beyond and Embarrassment, and
on a couple of occasions, Bedders and Chris came out holding a small video camera and were grabbing home videos from the stage.
There were a few attempts to mosh from a small number of people, but it was met with great opposition as it was a reasonably civilized crowd.
Overall, the concert went without a hitch, except when Lee attempted to play Night Boat to Cair” from atop a stack of speakers. The speakers were probably placed directly in front of other speakers, as there was a great deal of feedback as he attempted the first blasting note a couple times. He nixed the idea, and after a ‘Sorry about that’ proceeded to play it from his original spot on the stage. Oh well, that’s showbiz.
Later I got every single one of them to sign the Madstock CD, starting with Lee, Mike and Woody. All of them were perfectly gracious. Lee was particularly kind as he could see my apprehension in getting Mike to sign the CD cover, since Mike was already on his way out the door. “GO ON!” he shouted. “Get BARSON to sign it!” I told Mike (who was accompanied by his family) I had recently seen Take It Or Leave It again and was it true that he’d left Carl in the car as depicted in the film? He said: “Naaaaaaahhh, it’s not true. They just wanted something INTERESTING to put in there, and it made me come off looking rather NASTY.” I introduced myself to Chrissy Boy as the person who’d recently asked ‘Where are the rest of the band right now’ on their webpage. He immediately perked up, stuck his hand out and Said “What a good question! I had a lot of fun with that one!” And he and Bedders confirmed that everything in that answer was actually what was happening that day. He really HAD called everyone to see what they were doing at that very moment. I enjoyed talking with him briefly, then slipped off to nab Carl and Suggs. Carl, as expected was perfectly charming. Anyway, we all went outside, the vans started to pull away, and Madness were off on the road again, leaving for Hawaii the very next day. I asked Bedders if he’d ever been to Hawaii before. He said, ‘No, but I’ve seen Hawaii 5-0.’
MAY 2: Turtle Bay, Oahu, Hawaii
JUNE: The Heavy Heavy Hits is released
Another greatest hits album is released by Virgin – basically it’s a re-packaged version of Divine, with the addition of the single version of The Sweetest Girl, placed in its correct chronological position after Uncle Sam.
JUNE 7: Madstock IV, Finsbury Park, London
The fourth Madstock features a line-up of Jazz Jamaica, Desmond Dekker, Alabama 3, Toots & The Maytals, Catatonia, Space and Finley Quaye. In the morning, Chris and Lee appear at a Madmeet in the Dublin Castle, answering fans’ questions. A small group of fans are invited to the soundcheck during which the band play Our House, Yesterday’s Men, Toots & The Maytals’ 54-46 That’s My Number and Michael Caine. This year’s element of controversy is Scottish singer Finley Quaye who angers the crowd by firmly questioning England’s survival prospects in the World Cup. The PA plays A Town Called Malice and Euro 96 anthem Three Lions before Madness take to the stage doing the classic Nutty Train pose. Suggs is wearing a straw hat and Hawaiian necklace, while Bedders kicks a ball offstage by way of a greeting. An abruptly ended One Step Beyond opens the set. ‘Good evening Finsbury Park, have you had a good day so far?’ Carl asks. During the familiar greatest hits set, Suggs quips, ’First time, we were coming back. Second time was our last concert. Third time was our second last concert. And now we’re coming back again. They say your day is over, but it ain’t.’ One Better Day is plagued by three false starts and Baggy Trousers is devoted to Ian Dury, who has recently revealed his battle with cancer. During the encore, giant balloons are thrown out the audience before the band’s kids pour on to the stage for Night Boat To Cairo. The second encore brings a surprise as Frederic ‘Toots’ Hubbard and Desmond Dekker join them to perform 54-46 That’s My Number.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / The Sun And The Rain / My Girl / House of Fun / Shut Up / Wings of a Dove / (Tomorrow’s) Just Another Day / One Better Day / Baggy Trousers / It Must Be Love / Bed And Breakfast Man / Our House / Madness / ENCORE 1: Swan Lake / Night Boat to Cairo / ENCORE 2: 54-46 That’s My Number
Outside the park it’s chaos, a white Notting Hill Carnival. More Fred Perry than Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. One Kray-wannabe blasts a football against a police van with the ferocity of a Psycho free kick. It ricochets off, smashing a pub window: ‘Get in there!’ This, Keith Allen, is your ‘vindaloo’ generation, people who make Grant Mitchell look like a Norfolk vicar, lads who recognise no irony whatsoever when dancing to Jamaican-inspired music while draped in the St George. They feel no shame in adopting foreign culture as their own – which is why Allen’s subvert-the-plebs experiment is so offensive – and why Madness have the biggest working-class audience in pop history. Billed as a ‘Pre-World Cup friendly’, the En-ger-land mentality is antagonistic, though that’s OK because I’d rather be at a gig where I’d be lynched for shouting ‘Chelsea are f***king scum’ than the come together vacuous bliss-a-delia of, say, Spiritualizzzzzed. Finlay Quaye chucks down his mic, his drummer hurls drum sticks at the taunting, wanker-signing crowd, but the trouble’s self-inflicted because a) he predicts that England will f**k up in France and b) he is a total arse. It’s meant to be a friendly, but Finlay vs The Crowd is an Argentina vs Uruguay bloodbath. Then booting footballs into the crowd (on me ‘ead Suggs!), Madness arrive, Chas skanking away his middle-aged spread, Baggy Trousers inducing a Trevi Fountain of laggg-ahhhh! For House of Fun one suedehead dives from a human pyramid, cracking his head on the floor – I wonder if it’ll leave a ska (ho-ho!). Embarrassment starts and his mates bundle him, before leaping up in one beer-drenched group hug, drunken snogs all round. Aaah, It must be love, love, love.
Madness proved they were still Madstock for it as they topped a superb bill of talent old and new. Suggs and the Nutty Boys ska-ed, stomped and laughed their way through this pre-World Cup friendly at London’s Finsbury Park. Before ageing skinheads and rude boys, they belted out old classics including One Step Beyond and The House of Fun. With them was a younger crowd along to see current chart stars Space, Catatonia and Finley Quaye. Catatonia’s winsome Welsh singer Cery Matthews held the audience transfixed with haunting songs including Road Rage.
But Quaye muttered and mumbled his way through a tepid set before adding anti-England football jibes, These were greeted with boos and beer cans from an angry crowd. He could have learnt lessons in manners and music from Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals. But for the crowd, it was a clear result – Madstock 4, Finley Quaye 0.
SUGGS: All the Madstocks were great, but I have to say that we considered them more or less as a matter of course. They came, we played them, done. There was just too much chaos in our heads in the 90s to give them any perspective. By the end, I felt they were verging on cabaret. We knew we couldn’t carry on playing to the converted like that. It was too easy.
JUNE 20: KROQ Weenie Roast, Irvine Meadows, California
For their last show of 1998, Madness return to California and join a festival line-up that also includes The Prodigy, Blink 182 and Green Day. Plans for an East Coast tour with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones don’t materialise, so they settle for being No2 on the bill here. All proceeds are donated to charity. No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani is watching the show and is no less enthusiastic than the rest of the crowd – although UK fans present are disappointed with the predictable 40-minute greatest hits set.
Suggs’s song, I Am, is chosen for the upcoming movie remake of The Avengers.
ROB DICKINS: We got a call from Warner Brothers saying they wanted to use I Am in The Avengers on the condition it was released as a single. It was certainly a contender so we got the record ready for release.
SUGGS: I thought that getting a song into a film like that would virtually guarantee me a worldwide hit. A whole new career would open up for me – writing music for films. I wrote my Grammy acceptance speech and booked myself in to have my teeth capped.
ROB DICKINS: We went to see the first cut of the film and I thought, ‘God, this is quite dull, pretty dire. And where’s our song? We’ve built the whole single around this film.’
SUGGS: I was surprised not to hear my song played over the opening sequence. As the final credits rolled in the now empty cinema I did hear it; albeit for ten seconds, until it was drowned out by the cleaner, vacuuming around my feet.
ROB DICKINS: When the film came out and died, it took us with it.
SUGGS: Never mind the big hit, I was just happy to come out of it unmentioned.
SEPTEMBER 5: Suggs releases new single, I Am
SUGGS (speaking in 1988): In the heyday of Madness it used to get pretty out of hand in pubs. Now people just come up to me and say, ‘Didn’t you used to be Suggs?’ I tell them ‘Yes, but now I’m Sting’. I still feel like I did then. I still go out, I still get excited about records and meeting people, like I did when I was younger. Just maybe not as often.
SEPTEMBER 19: Suggs releases second solo album, The Three Pyramids Club
A lack of promotion means the album only reaches No82 on the UK chart. A review in the NME sneers, ‘The music swings drunkenly from the vaudeville cheesiness of Straight Banana to the rinky-dink cod-ragtime of Our Man, with Suggs out front like some Cockney karaoke king.’
SUGGS (speaking in 1998): The Three Pyramids Club is an imaginary establishment. My mum’s always worked in clubs in Soho, and I’ve always hung around them – I used to pop up there to get my dinner money for school. After that, I worked as a butcher in Chapel Street market, and I used to deliver meat to places like the Colony Rooms, to Jerry’s, McCready’s. Most of the formative experiences of my life have taken place in Soho. There was one particular place that has stuck in my mind called the Kismet Club, closed long ago. This is why I called the album The Three Pyramids Club, because you had all these clubs with the most exotic names that were, in fact ghastly dives. The Kismet had stars and moons cut out of blue cardboard on the ceiling, and it had Diana Dors and all that lot hanging round. It was full of theatrical types. And that’s what the album is about. Not to get too poncy about it, but I’ve used those places as a kind of metaphor for my life. There’s a certain view that’s been defined by my having spent a lot of my childhood alone. I’m not saying it was bad or good or whatever – it’s just what happened to me.
ROB DICKINS: The album was a noble failure – it’s as strong as a Madness record but maybe without the personality. All the things we thought we’d achieved with the record didn’t really come through in the reviews.
The band decide to regroup properly
With Suggs’s solo career seeming to have run its course, and fans and critics pointing out that Madness are just wheeling out their greatest hits every two years, it’s clear action needs to be taken if Madness are to continue in any meaningful form. Peter Rudge discusses the possibility of a new studio album with EMI-Virgin.
SUGGS: We really were tempted into the black hole of 80s nostalgia. For a long time we weren’t really a band – we were dipping in and out, just doing a bit of this and a bit of that.
LEE: It was like dancing on the spot. Doing the same thing over and over. We were heading for Status Quo territory and almost out-Sinatra’d The Voice with our comebacks.
SUGGS: It wasn’t so much the loot was running out, as the loot was running in. The shows and the offers we were getting were better than we’d had in a few years, but we were on a kind of never-ending last concert tour.
LEE: OK, we were selling places out – great. But we were back on the treadmill again. I just felt we should be a bit more courageous and write something new before it was too late. The problem was that Suggs wasn’t interested; he was too busy with his solo career and the Night Fever thing he did for telly. We recorded a few tracks without him but it wasn’t happening. So he stayed on the sidelines until the end of 1998, when his solo stuff kind of fizzled out a bit. All seven of us were then individually approached by our manager Peter Rudge, who asked the right questions at the right time, and Suggs finally said yes to coming back full-time.