JANUARY: Carl sets up his own record label
Carl announces the creation of his own label, Rolled Gold Records (or RGR Music), run from Parkway in Camden Town. One of his first signings is Just Jack, AKA Camden teenager Jack Allsopp, whose debut album, The Outer Marker, is issued in September. The label will go on to sign hip hop act Border Crossing and dance act Autamata before closing down in 2004.
JACK ALLSOPP (aka Just Jack): I got into the music industry after blagging a job interview with Carl. I heard he was starting a record label and looking for a PA. I thought that if I played him my demo and he liked it, he’d sign me to his label. He did, two weeks later.
JANUARY: The band continue with plans for a musical
SUGGS: Writing a musical never occurred to me until Ian Dury did one called Apples , which I really enjoyed. It wasn’t, ‘Right, I’m going to be the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber!’ but it did make me think that, given the right circumstances, I wouldn’t mind having a go at this West End lark.
MIKE: Because our songs have always had an element of the theatrical, we’d starting talking about writing all these new songs for a musical.
WOODY: We thought, why shouldn’t we give it a go? It doesn’t have to be solely for Madness fans; the story could appeal to everyone.
SUGGS: We’d actually written the idea for the first half-hour years ago; it was set in a pub adjoining a house. So we started a few more ideas, on the back of cigarette packets in North London pubs…
CARL: …and then I went home and told my wife and she said, ‘Why bother writing new songs? Why not use the hits?’
SUGGS: We weren’t unaware of the fact our songs are quite narrative and we’d even sort of dabbled ourselves with the obvious – you know, we wrote songs about going to school, we wrote songs about your first girlfriend, we wrote songs about living in the house in the street you were brought up in. We always tried to write albums that had some sort of narrative arc, for want of a better pretentious phrase, but we found that to try and fit that together into a story that actually made a lot of sense was much more difficult than we realised. So that’s when Tim Firth got the phone call.
The band recruit the help of Tim Firth
Respected writer Firth had made his name with the 1992 play Neville’s Island and the BBC TV comedy (All Quiet On The) Preston Front. He’d also worked with playwright Alan Ayckbourn and co-wrote the script for the successful film Calendar Girls. He’s invited to come on board by production company Tiger Aspect following their success with – among others – Billy Elliot, Mr Bean and Teachers. In turn, he suggests Mark Warchus as director.
TIM FIRTH (writer): Producer Rupert Lord had approached the band with the notion of a stage musical. Having been given a papal blessing, he took the idea to chairman Peter Bennett-Jones at Tiger Aspect. Peter knew me from TV and radio and rang to see what I thought. From the moment I got the call I said, ‘That’s the only one that I can absolutely see working’ because I knew they were a band who spent as much time on their lyrics as they did at the piano and the guitar. I loved Madness and, like a lot of other people, my childhood had been largely underscored by their music. I can remember from the earliest times kids doing the dances and I have a terrible feeling that I lost my virginity at a party during the opening chords to Night Boat to Cairo. At the same time, I knew they weren’t a super-group. They’re not in the same league as Queen or Abba – they’re a very British, very London band, remembered with great fondness by British people of a certain age, with a very endearing spirit that made people love them.
CARL: After some networking, we were finally introduced to Tim and met him both individually and in pairs.
SUGGS: Tim was a great writer and spent a lot of time with us – I couldn’t even say interviewing us, but just hanging out and chatting. We went for long boozy nights out and told him about our teenage years.
TIM FIRTH: It was like being put through an insane car wash. I’d get bombarded from seven directions at once. I’d get patted, thumped, and then emerge at the other end reeling with a fresher outlook on life, renewed enthusiasm and smelling slightly of Guinness.
SUGGS: I always remember him saying right at the beginning, ‘I don’t want it to feel like we’ve dropped the songs into scenes just because we need a bit of music, I want the songs to drive the story and we shall make the story fit around those songs.’ It was a really incredible process to watch unfold.
TIM FIRTH: I suspected there was a musical buried in their lyrics – like you were looking at a mosaic of a story that had been shattered over six or seven albums. I can remember listening to Our House when I was young and thinking, ‘That’s so out of kilter with everything that’s being produced at the moment.’ Those proud brass and string arrangements made it feel like it had been pulled off a stage. Lyrically, their songs were driven by narrative and character. Though they were witty, they were coming from the heart, not the head, which is the crux of writing for theatre. In a way, they were all like mini-musicals, so my task was to find the stage show they didn’t realise they’d already written.
MIKE: He knew we didn’t want to do an autobiographical musical and he also knew we didn’t want to just throw our songs in there for the sake of it; that would have been a cop-out.
WOODY: We wanted a credible story, not a load of tenuous links like Mama Mia! where they seem to fit the story round all the songs: ‘Oh, here’s Fernando!’ Dreadful.
TIM FIRTH: I didn’t want to work on a musical where people cheered when the songs started. It worked well for the musicals featuring the music of Abba and Queen because there was an element of tongue-in-cheek camp endemic in their music. But I was drawn to Madness by their corresponding lack of sentimentality, something I shared. After all, this is the band who undercut their only out-and-out love song with a video implying the girl in question had just died! The madness of Madness has always been a by-product of the videos and the stage work. The songs themselves are lyrically of considerable substance. So I set myself the goal that if, at any point, anyone laughed when a song started, then I would have failed.
CARL: After we’d done all the initial interviews and stuff, Tim really immersed himself with our music for a few weeks,
TIM FIRTH: My rule was that if there wasn’t a musical in there, I’d walk away – I didn’t want to do a cringe-making march-past of songs. I was so passionate about it that when I was discussing it with Matthew, I realised I was shouting slightly and he’d moved his chair back. So to make sure I got it right from the start, I took all the lyrics, all of the songs, and spread them around the floor and read them.
MATTHEW WARCHUS (director): To prepare, I did the same as Tim – I listened to all the albums, watched the videos, read the cuttings and met the band. I’d been wanting to do a rock/pop musical for years but it needed to have enough substance to give me something to get my teeth into. I didn’t want to do something with an empty heart. It helped that I’d grown up with Madness and Baggy Trousers was the first single I ever bought.
TIM FIRTH: I spent three weeks just listening to everything, trying to see if there was something I could do, and I decided there was. I found there were a lot of songs about duality; it’s about this and that and the opposite, the sun and the rain, rise and fall, hopes running in parallel. They were there all the way through so there was something that was kind of niggling me about a dual story, a story that had two sides to it. When I thought, ‘You can do I Like Driving In My Car and it’s a Morris Minor but it’s also a Bentley or a Jag’ I then thought, ‘We’ve got a two-channel story here’. There wasn’t one single line or song that gave me the inspiration, but rather a dilution of the entire Madness canon. The themes of duality, adolescence, the underclass, the importance of home and family all coalesced into their own plot. If anything, the central shaded area of that Venn diagram was the seemingly innocuous line in Rise & Fall, ‘Casey Street in the afternoon / Once again it’s over too soon’. That was the trigger. It’s where I got the name for the lead character and a scent of the sentiment I wanted in the story.
CARL: After all this work, Tim and Matthew came back to us with an outline of the proposed story.
MATTHEW WARCHUS: We showed it to them at a workshop. They were friendly and genial, but I was still nervous about unveiling it in front of them. I think they were also anxious about what we were going to do with their songs. I felt like a godparent who had been given someone else’s children to look after – you don’t them to fall over and hurt themselves while they’re in your care.
WOODY: I’d been worried that it would be so far detached from Madness that it would become some cheesy old Cockney ‘Cor blimey! Here we go!’ versions of our songs.
BEDDERS: Absolutely. We didn’t want any Dick Van Dyke ‘Mary Porpins’ stuff and a lot of lapel and cap-tugging. But when we sat down with Tim and he had this first idea on piece of A4 paper, there was this massive sigh of relief…
CARL: …and a massive round of applause. It was obvious we had the right man for the job. Plus the Tiger Aspect guys had done a good job with Mr Bean and Billy Elliot, so we knew they were good people.
MATTHEW WARCHUS: While we were doing the presentation, I managed to sneak a couple of glances in their direction and they had the biggest smiles you could imagine. Once or twice I saw tears in their eyes. It was very surprising and clear from that early stage that it already had an emotional impact. For them, I think it was like watching their children grow up and leave home.
SUGGS: I was really impressed and realised that if you want to know anything about Madness you’d have done what Tim did, which was listen to the songs. He knew the interviews we did were pretty much irrelevant compared to the amount of truth in our songs. There’s stuff about going to borstal, stuff about stealing things, stuff about love, stuff about happiness and sadness and pathos.
MATTHEW WARCHUS: I realised their reputation for being quirky and clowny obscured the real emotion in their songs. There was a narrative force driven by feelings of loss, frustration, being an outsider and yearning for something different. In musical theatre, those are the things you want to exploit.
TIM FIRTH: The truth is that the only point of writing a musical is for characters to sing things that they can’t say. What Suggs said is true – you can say things in interviews and you can say things in a pub over a Guinness but what you say in your songs is very different. They’re defined and sculpted moments of thought that maybe you wouldn’t say. They’re barings of your soul if you like, and even though they’re funny and witty and may seem to be universal they’re incredibly personal things. In a way the songs were always saying what maybe the writers didn’t say publicly, which is why they’re precious. And suddenly you realise this is a more accurate biography of the band than we’ve ever had before, because that’s all our childhood stories up there.
CARL: After the initial read-though, an agreed draft of the book (theatrical term for script) was then workshopped with actors reading the parts. Various band members attended to stick in their valuable tuppence worth.
TIM FIRTH: The band’s support was unwavering but varied in tone. Carl would give huge numbers of thoughts but never demand they be included. Lee, Mike and Woody would make quiet comments about certain points in the early stages but everyone was respectful of the need to make the songs work in their new life, as bearers of a greater story.
SUGGS: We went down in ones and twos as ‘delegates’ to see how they were getting on. But they were doing so well, it was a bit, ‘I’ll get me coat.’
TIM FIRTH: What was the delight for me was sitting at a piano, then going back to the guys and saying, ‘Have you heard what happens to My Girl if you play it like this, and if you put The Sun And The Rain together with Tomorrow’s Just Another Day?’ Unusually, the band had a very corporate writing structure, because people would write with other people and it wasn’t just one person writing everything. The mindset was such that these songs unexpectedly linked in to each other. They joined. It was very special.
MATTHEW WARCHUS: It was funny – they talked a lot about their lack of conventional musical education, and how they had made a lot of mistake musically. But I thought it was those mistakes that added the personality to their songs.
MIKE: Tim chose which songs to include. That saved a lot of time, as otherwise you’d have the seven of us arguing about their choices. We’d have got nowhere.
MARCH: Suggs becomes a DJ on the newly-launched BBC Radio 6 Music
Lunch With Suggs runs in the 12-3pm slot every Saturday, with the singer playing a wide range of music from The Kinks and Trojan classics to REM and U2.
APRIL 13: Chris’s wife gives birth to their son, Francis Albert
The band continue to develop the Our House musical
SUGGS: Tim was insistent that even if some of the songs had been adapted, that there would be ones in there that were performed like the originals. You should be able to go along on a Friday night with your mates and have a good sing-song.
TIM FIRTH: The band struck me as a dysfunctional family who somehow functioned brilliantly. Sometimes you couldn’t understand quite how guys of such varying temperament had ended up together but the music was the emotional glue that bound them and in turn benefited from the differences in temperament. The reason Madness have enjoyed longevity is that they have seven guys co-writing in an incalculable number of permutations. I don’t know any other band that functions this way.
SUGGS: We tend to be possessive about things, but we soon realised that Tim knew what he was doing in this territory and we didn’t. He’d be talking about your ‘bang’ and your ‘whoopee’ and your ‘woof moment’ and ‘tears, right here’. He quite fancied doing this Camden market scene like a pastiche of Oliver! with people walking out from behind stalls singing, ‘Who will buy my marijuana?’
CARL: It was very exciting, handing your material over to someone and watching the scripts, the sets, the actors all coming together. It was a real treat and a real pleasure, because we’re all very enthusiastically lazy.
SUGGS: Tim said he found it strange having been a fan all his life then having to come to a Madness rehearsal and say things like, ‘No, that’s not quite right.’ But we felt no problems with pride about going back and changing things when they were specifically for a certain scene.
TIM FIRTH: I really wanted the songs to work hard. You hear all of them several times, as they’re remembered, then as you’ve never heard them before: in counterpoint, in ballad form, you name it. My ambition for the show was for people who didn’t know any of the songs to think they were all written for a musical.
PETER DARLING (choreographer): Before I started choreographing it, I watched all their videos and saw that they had a very distinctive kind of movement. The aim was to incorporate some of that into the show without it distracting from the narrative. Saying that, there were definitely some pure Madness moments in there.
APRIL 19&20: Heineken Night Live, Ahoy, Rotterdam
Madness play two nights at the annual Dutch event, which also features Shaggy and Chaka Khan. Some of the band wear their newspaper suits from the (Waiting For The) Ghost Train video and Lee stage dives the crowd on the first night. A shortened show is later made into a one-hour broadcast for Dutch TV station SBS 6.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / My Girl / Baggy Trousers / Lovestruck / House Of Fun / Our House / Night Boat to Cairo / ENCORE: It Must Be Love / Madness
BEDDERS: I don’t know why we all agreed to do this particular event. Who can say? It’s just the bizarre world of Madness.
MAY 19: Suggs appears on Desert Island Discs
The singer talks to Sue Lawley on the long-running Radio 4 show. For his eight records, he chooses The Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society / Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll / The Clash, London’s Burning / Prince Buster, Al Capone / John Betjeman, On The Portrait Of A Deaf Man / Peggy Lee, Is That All There Is? / Van Morrison, Cleaning Windows / Julia London, Cry Me A River. His book choice is a dictionary of Italian verbs, following the recent purchase of a house in Italy. And his one luxury item is a nucleus of bees. Suggs says the royal jelly would keep his skin smooth until he was rescued, and enjoy honey, beeswax and cough and cold remedies.
MAY 27: Carl releases England World Cup song, We’re Coming Over
Ahead of the upcoming tournament in Japan and South Korea, the song – credited to ‘Mr Smash & Friends’ – is based on the tune from The Great Escape. The video had been shot in London on April 28 and, as well as celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and boxer Gary Mason, featured fans who volunteered to take part. Backed by The England Supporters’ Band, the single eventually peaks at number 67.
MAY 31: Crunch! play 100 Club, London
Lee and Chris return to their side project, performing a 15-track set to celebrate the launch of a revamped and reissued version of their debut (and only) album.
Two new songs are written for the musical
As Our House continues to take shape, the band write a couple of new tracks – Simple Equation and ballad Sarah’s Song. The latter – which takes its working title from the Supremes classic, Back In My Arms Again – is even rumoured to be the band’s next single.
TIM FIRTH: I came to them when the script was first assembled and told them I needed two new songs. I met them in Camden a month later and they played me nine.
MIKE: The two new songs came easily. When we started the Wonderful album in ’99, it was a bit. ‘Right, what d’you do again?’ We’d found ourselves again by the end.
SUGGS: Having never written to order, that was a very enjoyable part of the process. The songs really arrived as naturally as possible out of a really good story, as opposed to the other way round. I found it enjoyable writing with Tim and tinkering with them.
TIM FIRTH: It was hilarious. I’d be getting lyrics from them, and I’d say, ‘That’s a strong first draft.’ They’d go, ‘A what draft? No one asks us for a second draft!’
SUGGS: Funnily enough, Sarah’s Song was written by Lee a while ago. It was supposed to be a follow-on to Embarrassment, all about a girl trying to reclaim a kid that she had taken away from her by social services. So 20 years later, we adapted it for the musical and it was sung by the lead girl about her relationship. Simple Equation related to the idea of these two parallel universes going on and not always knowing if you’ve done right or wrong until afterwards.
TIM FIRTH: When it was all completed, they told me that in never attempting to be a biography of the band, it had unwittingly become a virtual biography of their own upbringings – not in any single detail but in overall spirit.
SUGGS: Although he said he didn’t want it to be biographical, Tim very cleverly amalgamated a lot of our individual stories into the story of one person. So it still tells of being in borstal, as Lee was, and split families, which most of us came from. I certainly felt there was a bit of me in the central character, Joe Casey, and also a bit of every other member of the band. His whole story was about having these choices and crossroads coming along the way – and we certainly all had those too.
JUNE 14: The band officially announce details of the musical
Madness join writer Tim Firth and the show’s producers at a press conference held at The Scala cinema in Kings Cross. The team reveal details about the casting, design and inspiration for the £2.5 million show, which is to open at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre in October. The musical is to be directed by Matthew Warchus of the Royal Shakespeare Company and choreographed by Peter Darling. Firth says the only popular Madness song that may not figure is Michael Caine. He confesses that he hasn’t figured out how to incorporate it successfully into the story. ‘I haven’t given up on it yet,’ he says, ‘but I’m not willing to contort the plot.’ Asked whether he‘d considered setting the story in anywhere other than London, he says, ‘It would have been stupid and disloyal to have set it anywhere else.’
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): We were always kind of theatrical without ever really understanding theatre. Now we’ve got some experts to lead us gently by the hand.
CHRIS (speaking in 2002): The show isn’t about how the band started or anything like that. It’s about young people and the choices you make in life – you can go one way or another. The songs aren’t tagged in tenuously either. So it doesn’t start raining and everyone sings The Sun And The Rain for no reason. It’s a good story and the lyrics complement it. So Tim wrote the story first, then thought, ‘What song would go there?’
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): We didn’t want our reasonably illustrious career turned into a tribute show. It would have been easier to do a slap-and-tickle, here-comes-the-circus cockney knees-up but with Tim being a Madness fan, we’ve got songs in the show which even I’d forgotten about.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): The big battle has been incorporating the songs in the right way, making sure you’re not forcing them in there for the sake of it.
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): I understand the reservations, and people not wanting their memories trampled, but they’re more my memories than theirs. If I thought it was rubbish I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to make high art, but I didn’t want pure cheese, either. It’s more in between – it’s Montgomery’s, a small artisan cheese, rather than Dairylea.
Rehearsals and castings continue over the summer
TIM FIRTH: We cast Michael Jibson as Joe first, even though he hadn’t even finished drama school. At the time, he tried to suggest a girl he was at college with for the female lead, but we kept looking. The problem was, there were loads of great West End singers out there, but Madness are not West End. If someone had come on and sung My Girl in the same way they sang Bring Him Home then the audiences would have been straight out of the theatre. No vibrato, that was the key. A few months later we found Julia – the same girl Michael had originally suggested.
MICHAEL JIBSON (plays Joe Casey, speaking in 2002): I think they chose me because I’m quite young-looking; you can put a school uniform on me and I look 16. I don’t think it’s cos of the acting.
JULIA GAY (plays Sarah, speaking in 2002): I’ve gone from college straight into this, so it’s just been fantastic. I’ve loved every minute of it.
MICHAEL JIBSON (speaking in 2002): I’ve got to do lots of costume changes, which can look pretty impressive, but also means that more things can go wrong. I’m pushed to the very last second; sometimes I think, ‘Am I gonna make it?’ And sometimes I don’t make it, my trousers are falling down and I have to run on and improvise and fix it myself.
JULIA GAY (speaking in 2002): For me, it’s got every element you could want in a performance.
MICHAEL JIBSON (speaking in 2002): It’s a very real story; everyone can relate to it. It’s very similar to Blood Brothers, which is also about real people and that’s why a lot of people who work nine-to-five jobs love seeing it.
JULIA GAY (speaking in 2002): My older brothers were big Madness fans, so I always listened to It Must Be Love and Baggy Trousers, but I was too young when they were really at their height. But I’ve always thought they were brilliant and I’ve always enjoyed their music, so that’s handy. We’ve met Suggs and the rest of them a few times and they’re all fab and a wicked laugh. They’re all really down to earth.
JULY 11: The band are hired to play at a private party in Spain
Madness are flown out to Puerto Banus, Marbella, to play at a bash for Gadget Shop tycoon Chris Gorman and his wife Mary. The couple are renewing their wedding vows with a three-day party for more than 200 guests, with entertainment also provided by Hot Chocolate, Lily Savage and Cilla Black, who hosts a live version of Blind Date. At 2pm Madness arrive at Olivia Valereís Babilonia nightclub and open-air restaurant for their soundcheck. They return at 11.45pm and wait in secret to spring the surprise. At 2.10 am they are introduced by Chris as his ‘favourite band’ and appear on stage to a rapturous reception. The Gormans join them on stage for the encore
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / My Girl / Bed & Breakfast Man / Baggy Trousers / House of Fun / Our House / ENCORE: It Must be Love / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
JULY: Chris and Bedders play with Terry Edwards at the 10th annual Meltdown Festival in London
AUGUST 11: Madness are the subject of the SMASH! documentary on ITV
SEPTEMBER: Lee heads to Australia for a six-month house swap.
LEE: I was told by the management, ‘You cant go, you’re under contract and you’ll get sued.’ I was like, ‘Fuck off. I’m out of here.’ It was alright – my son had left college, my daughter had left school and my youngest son had a school place over there which was the main sticking point. Me missus – AKA the lady of leisure – sorted the arrangements out, got the visa and tickets and bits and bobs, and off we went. Brisbane and Gold Coast. Gorgeous.
SEPTEMBER 2: Suggs releases Oranges And Lemons Again
The new solo single is taken from the Small World Big Band album, and is a collaboration with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. The double A-side is Valentine Moon by Sam Brown. It doesn’t chart.
SEPTEMBER: The Our House producers decide to delay the musical to ensure it's ready.
TIM FIRTH: It soon became clear we weren’t going to hit the first preview date. Moving back the opening night would cost a fortune, but the producers agreed to give us more time. They talked of not spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar. When it eventually came to the dress rehearsal, we ran all the scenes together at speed for the first time. People were vomiting with exhaustion in the stage-right toilet.
OCTOBER: Woody sets up Drumadness, a team building firm that gets work colleagues co-operating together in exercises by using percussion.
OCTOBER 7: Previews of the musical begin
Fans are treated to a near-complete version of the show. The first night’s preview is followed by a Q&A with Tim Firth and some band members, during which fan Rob Wardlaw – who’s travelled all the way from Scotland for the preview – duets on an acapella version of Mistakes with Carl.
The story follows Camden lad Joe Casey who, on the night of his 16th birthday, makes a decision that will change his life. Trying to impress Sarah, the girl of his dreams, Joe breaks into a building development overlooking his home on Casey Street. But things take a turn for the worse as the police turn up. Joe’s life splits into two; the Good Joe who stays and gives himself up and Bad Joe who flees and leaves Sarah to run from the police. Our House follows the two paths that Joe’s life could take after that fateful night; one path means a criminal record and social exclusion, while the other will lose him the girl that he loves. Over a period of seven years and two alternative lives Joe deals with the consequences of that night. Whilst one Joe fights to keep Sarah, the other is marrying her in a glitzy Vegas wedding and, ultimately, while Good Joe fights to save his house on Casey Street, Bad Joe is determined to demolish it with tragic consequences. All this is watched over by Joe’s deceased father, who pulls the two stories together. The show boasts over 20 Madness songs incorporating all their major hits bar Michael Caine.
TIM FIRTH: For the first preview, I sat in the eighth row with a thousand people around me. Suddenly I realised that for half the cast, the last show they did was at drama school. As I watched them cope with all the teething problems, I felt immensely proud of them. It helped that the audience had gone bananas by the end of the first number.
CHRIS: The first time I saw it I cried, it was that good. There are a couple of moments that are very emotional.
TIM FIRTH: On leaving the theatre, the band told me they were more proud of the show than their first number one. So that was something.
SUGGS: I’ve been to see a lot of shows and I’ve seen a lot of shows by pop bands, which will remain nameless, where you can really feel the songs have been dropped clumsily into scenes because they were hits. With Our House there was so much depth, so much intensity, so much pathos. It was also a very human story and a very real story, which I think is difficult to do.
TIM FIRTH: I think there was a sense that the musical felt as though it owed more to Blood Brothers than to Mamma Mia! It’s a very different beast. It’s a tale that can be told with just a piano; it requires nothing else. If you invest in the story, if you invest in these characters – which I hope you do – then you really want them to come good and you are moved by them. You’re not just dazzled by the spectacle of the show. That’s what a musical, for me, is about. I’m not an unavowed fan of musicals. I think they’re the best and worst that theatre can be and when they are the best it’s because you find the music is allowing you as the character to do something you couldn’t do in just a play. The worst is when you’re just throwing music and spectacle at it and hope the audience is dazzled by the spectacle.
SUGGS: There are four or five times in the show where songs cross over and it’s almost unnoticeable to somebody who wouldn’t know those songs but it happens a lot. It Must Be Love is a great one, where there’s narrative while the song is playing intercut between the boy and the girl. It happens a lot and I couldn’t say there’s a favourite for me. There’s a lot of great moments of that.
TIM FIRTH: There was a Madness musical that you could have done, which would just be seven nutty guys turning up and going nutty for two hours. But the truth was that, even there’s this thing that Madness were the nutty band, they weren’t. The videos were full of comedy and full of wit but the songs were full of purely wit, which is a very different thing. They were bright and intelligent, the lyrics were funny and full of different colour, so I always thought there was a much deeper, much more interesting, funny but also emotional story to be had. It’s one of the things I’m still most proud of because I look at it and think, ‘Yeah, we found something that was always there’.
OCTOBER 12: Appear on Parkinson
The band play live versions of Our House and It Must Be Love, with Lee replaced by Terry Edwards on sax.
TERRY EDWARDS (musician): I played on my knees dressed as Toulouse-Lautrec. I told them I wouldn’t stand for it!
OCTOBER 16: Appear on GMTV with Eamonn Holmes and Fiona Phillips
OCTOBER 21: Our House soundtrack released
The CD features all 16 classic singles from the stage show, with new tracks Sarah’s Song and Simple Equation also included, along with album tracks Prospects, The Rise & Fall and White Heat.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): People are well entitled to go, ‘God, not another Madness Best Of.’ What can I say? The new songs are excellent – those who don’t own our hits should buy it.
OCTOBER 21: Divine Madness DVD released with video commentary by Carl, Mike and Chris
MIKE (speaking in 2002): For the voiceover, we sat down with a few coffees and talked nonsense. Honestly, I reckon all the videos still look good.
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): I was surprised at how well they stand up. They’re more timeless than the music. There’s a lot of depth in those promos.
WOODY (speaking in 2002): I always thought the videos and the music would date, but they have a freshness and an energy about them. The thing is, we were never pretentious and we never took ourselves seriously. We weren’t the kind of band who hired yachts and took them out to the Bahamas, or had scantily clad women hanging off our arms, I think that stuff can date a band.
OCTOBER 25: Appear on the Des & Mel Show
OCTOBER 28: Official opening of the musical
Our House opens at the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End. Celebrities for the premiere include David Baddiel, Denise van Outen, Eddie Izzard, Emma Bunton, Harry Enfield, Chris Tarrant and Sarah Lancashire. At the end, there is a standing ovation as the band join the cast on stage. Suggs proudly wears a traffic cone on his head. Reviews are mixed.
It started as a weird, wild idea, dreamed up by Madness and has grown in to a thoroughly modern pop opera. Our House is a compelling, knife-sharp affair and Warchus keeps things speeding at a terrific state. It is that rare thing – an original musical.
Making a musical out of the greatest hits of Madness creates an instant problem: their songs all sound very much the same. Despite occasional excursions into soul and vaudeville, they make constant use of a Jamaican dance rhythm known as “ska” and, in the course of a long evening, the law of diminishing returns inevitably applies. Tim Firth, of Neville’s Island fame, has tried to compensate by creating an ingenious book to cover the music’s monotony. His story concerns the twin possibilities confronting a Camden Irish lad called Joe Casey after a teenage break-in. Honest Joe confesses his sins, gets sent to a young offenders institution and, after an endless series of scrapes, takes on a big building-tycoon and wins both his sweetheart’s and his mother’s love. Dishonest Joe, on the other hand, makes money through alarm-system scams, goes into property and winds up allowing his mother’s house to be torched for the sake of a development deal. Given that Firth has worked a good deal at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, it’s no surprise his book is full of Ayckbournian moral dilemmas. But the kind of alternate choices that fuel a play like Sisterly Feelings simply become confusing in a musical: doubly so when they have to cue in pre-existing Madness numbers. Firth’s book is also forced into all kinds of logical contortions. The musical groans under the burden of too much plot; and after a time the raucous sameness of the numbers begins to pall. Admittedly one or two are imaginatively staged by director Matthew Warchus and choreographer Peter Darling. Baggy Trousers, for instance, turns a schoolroom into a riot of careering desks and Driving in My Car takes a battered old jalopy on a dizzying roller-coaster ride. But the strain of shoehorning the numbers into the story begins to tell with a song like Night Boat to Cairo which sends the characters on an implausible trip to a Thameside Oriental pleasure palace. The show is not only hard work to watch. It looks even harder work to perform with Michael Jibson, who has a clown’s mobile features, spending much of the evening frenziedly switching costumes and personae as the two faces of Joe. Julia Gay, as his teenage sweetheart, sings clearly but is also forced to shuffle between good Joe’s lost love and bad Joe’s disillusioned wife. And, despite decent back-up from Ian Reddington and Lesley Nichol as Joe’s parents, the evening as a whole seems less a celebration of Madness than a form of capricious folly.
Michael Billington, The Guardian
First it was Abba, then Queen. Now Madness have become the latest ’80s band to have their back catalogue plundered in a West End musical. But where Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You were exercises in audience manipulation, Our House does at least keep faith with its source. Suggs and co have given their wholehearted support to the show, writing new material and making the now-obligatory curtain call at Monday’s star-studded press night. Despite Tim Firth’s convoluted and downbeat book, this is a fitting tribute to the exuberance and wit of those Nutty Boys from Camden. Our House revolves around a Sliding Doors-style gimmick that enables us to follow two separate stories simultaneously. In one, 16-year-old Joe Casey (Michael Jibson) is jailed for breaking into a flat, a course of action that drives a wedge between him and girlfriend Sarah (Julia Gay). In the other, Joe evades the police and, emboldened, evolves into a wealthy yuppie scumbag. He gets the girl too. Such moral complexity is bold stuff for a West End musical, usually the place for comforting homilies and tooth-rotting sentiment. Since many of the Madness songs featured here deal with adolescent rites of passage – first love, first car, first condom – they fit fairly seamlessly into Firth’s double-headed narrative. Driving In My Car, for example, becomes an exhilarating set-piece thanks to nifty back projection which momentarily whisks the audience on a rollercoaster ride. The more outlandish ditties (Night Boat to Cairo, Wings of a Dove) are justified by having the “bad” Joe wed Sarah in tacky Las Vegas. And the timeless It Must Be Love is transformed into a charming duet as the “good” Joe finally wins Sarah back. The alarming lack of humour, particularly in the second half, works against the anarchic spirit of the Madness songs. And the all-seeing spectral narrator – Ian Reddington as Joe’s ghostly dad – invites unflattering comparisons with Willy Russell’s superior Blood Brothers. Still, it is the music that matters, and with Baggy Trousers, House Of Fun and My Girl on the bill we are never far away from a knockabout dance routine or Ska-flavoured sing-along. Matthew Warchus’s direction is slick and inventive, while the young cast are clearly having the time of their lives.
Neil Smith, BBC News
Madness were one of the all-time great singles bands, and whenever one of their hits comes on the radio, they still bring a smile to my face. The band’s mixture of ska rhythms and wittily observant Britpop has proved surprisingly enduring, and their singles collection, Divine Madness, became a huge seller years after the group had broken up. So, at a time when the West End has discovered through shows such as Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You! that old hits put bums on seats, Madness were clearly strong contenders for the musical makeover treatment. Unlike Ben Elton with We Will Rock You!, Tim Firth has clearly put some effort into the show’s script. Best known for the West End hit Neville’s Island and the television series Preston Front, he’s a protégé of Alan Ayckbourn’s, and it shows here, with Firth offering two alternative versions of the same story. He has also rooted the show in the Camden Town that provided Madness with much of their inspiration. With a raft of great songs, among them Baggy Trousers, It Must Be Love, Night Boat to Cairo and House of Fun, and with the excellent director Matthew Warchus at the helm, Our House ought to be a hugely enjoyable hit. Yet somehow the show adds up to less than the sum of its promising parts. One Madness song is great, two of them are fine, but a whole evening of what the band dubbed “the nutty sound” is altogether too much of a good thing. For the most part upbeat and relentlessly cheery, the music often seems more like a ramshackle karaoke session down the pub than a collection of carefully crafted songs forwarding the narrative. The vital quality of charm is also in short supply. There was always an element of loutishness about Madness, but it was sweetened with irony and good humour. Here there are long sections, particularly at the start, when all you get is the loutishness. The opening scene in which our hero Joe goes to buy condoms to celebrate his 16th birthday by deflowering his girlfriend Sarah, is dismayingly unfunny, and his two best mates, Lewis and Emmo, are the kind of morons you would change Tube carriages to avoid. At times I felt like the only sober person aboard a drunken coach trip to Margate. Rob Howell’s crude, cartoon-like designs don’t help, and neither does the sound, which is often unforgivably tinny. Yet throughout there are glimmers of what might have been. After half an hour, the show suddenly kicks in, with a terrific choreographed routine to that marvellous song about schooldays, Baggy Trousers, with the company whizzing around the stage on mobile desks. Firth’s story line also begins to grip. The crisis point comes when Joe tries to impress his girl by breaking into an unoccupied housing development. In one version, he gives himself up when the police arrive. In the other, he does a runner and embarks on a profitable life of crime. For much of the show, it looks as though good Joe is going to be the loser, and bad Joe the winner, but, since this is a West End musical, virtue is finally rewarded, vice punished and sentimentality triumphs. Michael Jibson doubles neatly as the two Joes and his quick costume changes are a wonder to behold, but it’s hard to become emotionally involved with such a divided leading character. Julia Gay is pretty but bland as his dismayingly dull girlfriend, while the supporting ensemble desperately try to conceal the threadbare nature of their characterisation with manic mugging.This is a brave attempt at doing something original with a greatest-hits show, but even fanatical admirers of Madness are likely to find themselves exhausted rather than elated.
Charles Spencer, The Telegraph
BEDDERS (speaking in 2002): It was fantastic. We’re just delighted with the way everything worked.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): It had everything we wanted on it. The story took you with it – highs, lows, tears chuckles – without actually ending up sounding too clichéd. My concern was whether the people who produced the show would add anything worthwhile to the songs themselves but in fact they really added to them substantially.
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): Being performers, it’s not like we’ve never had a good reaction to our music before, but to see it in that context was really moving.
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER (composer, speaking in 2002): It’s the most impressive debut by a musical director I have seen in my career. It was tremendous and the name of Matthew Warchus is one we will see many times in the future.
TIM FIRTH: As a writer of songs, to suddenly be given a different standpoint and a different viewpoint when normally you’re stood looking out at the audience having a good time, to move to the side and watching the audience having a good time and watching this refraction of your songs being sung by other people and also in a different way. It can be very hard to play with these songs and not all songs can do this because they don’t have the strength in them, but these songs can overlay, they can be slowed down, they can become parts of other songs so actually you don’t just just get this march past of hit after hit after hit. These songs redefine themselves and become part of other songs.
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): Writing some new songs for it did reawaken some small person in the back of my mind, saying I’m wasting the huge musical talent that I have. So maybe I’ll listen to that small person and write some more songs.
TIM FIRTH: I’d always thought there was an irony that everyone remembered Madness as the nutty boys, but that was generated largely by the videos. The songs were actually witty, moving and about something; they felt like they were part of a musical already. So I still don’t think I wrote the book of Our House – I found it.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): It’s worked out incredibly well for us, but I still hope we could one day do another musical of new songs.
CARL (speaking in 2002): I’m actually quite a long way down the road of writing my own musical, called Welcome To The Darkside. I began seriously writing new songs a few years back and have now about 20 written, along with the story outline. The plot is quite dark and I’m hoping to have something onstage next year.
NOVEMBER 15: Appear on Children In Need, performing Our House. Mike and Lee are absent.
DECEMBER 4: Appear on So Graham Norton
Suggs appears on the sofa on the last 10 minutes of the Channel Four show, answering the usual run-of-the-mill questions. Some of the audience are then invited to get into a large pair of trousers, whereupon the rest of the band come on stage and mime to Baggy Trousers.
DECEMBER 6: Manchester Evening News Arena, Manchester
The band play their first arena tour in three years, under the banner Don’t Watch That, Watch This! In place of a support band, shows warm up with videos by the likes of The Jam, The Specials and Ian Dury. Lee flies back for the shows, having agreed to a six-month house-swap with a family in Brisbane, Australia. Some shows include rarely-heard album tracks such as Not Home Today, Land Of Hope & Glory, In The Middle Of The Night and Razorblade Alley. Johnny The Horse is also performed with its acoustic introduction and half way through each show, the Drip Fed Fred video is screened in tribute to Ian Dury.
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): Our live shows just evolve organically. Whoever’s turn it is to choose the set goes ahead and we all agree. This year Carl is doing it, so expect some fireworks. The basic rule for a live show is to follow Berry Gordy’s advice at Motown: Hit ’em with your three biggest hits and then say, ‘Hi, we’re The Temptations.’ But people will probably notice we aren’t The Temptations.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): We like to give more value for money, put on a bit of a show. Do that and kids will roll along and have a good laugh. Going to see bands who just stand there and play the music is all very well, but we could never do that.
DECEMBER 11: Telewest Arena, Newcastle
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): Madness has a life of its own. Just when you turn your back to walk away from it, it wolf-whistles down the street and calls you back. But it’s a charmed existence. We’ve been through being controlled by Madness and now it’s the other way round. The joy of playing and writing together is that we don’t do it all the time. We’ve always been around each other and speak to each other all the time.
BEDDERS (speaking in 2002): It’s a strange thing, because the longer it goes on and the less we play, it has no relation to your daily life. You go off and do what you do, then you’re brought back into it again.
CARL (speaking in 2002): Madness, in a way, has become bigger than its members. Madness is now a thing that lives and breathes and exists whatever we’re doing in life.
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): The joy of playing and writing together is that we don’t do it all the time. You get people like U2 who have five years off between albums, and maybe that’s all we’ve really been doing. We’ve always been around each other and we all speak to each other all the time, so maybe we never really did split up and never really got back together. Who knows?
CARL (speaking in 2002): We’re now totally in control of what we do. We aren’t interested in global domination. We prefer being at home. At the end of three months on the road, you start thinking about the wife, or what you’re going to do the next day or what you’re going to have for dinner. It’s never about what’s going on stage. But three weeks’ touring is a lot more interesting. We all have fun with that.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): We don’t deliberately go out to win over new generations of fans either. They come along just the same.
DECEMBER 15: SECC, Glasgow
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): It’s great to feel like we’re rolling again but, you know, I was thinking about the lack of rock ‘n’ rollness in my life recently and I thought… good. You add up all the rock ‘n’ roll cliches and you get a huge neon sign above your head that just says, ‘Unhappiness’. I love my wife. I love my kids. I don’t want to fuck it up. I put my family first. They’ve taught me what unconditional love is and they’ve taught me wisdom. We laugh a lot. The most important, wonderful thing in my life is looking in my children’s eyes and knowing they trust me. The best bit, though, is being an embarrassment. I can be the embarrassing dad at times, I can be a bit loud and insensitive about things I find amusing. If I know there’s some pop star they like in a pub round the corner, I’ve been known to drag them round to meet him. They find that excruciating. I’ll say to the pop star, ‘Hey, they’re fans of yours. They have a poster of you’. They’ll tell me later that they actually took his poster down six years ago.
DECEMBER 16: Take It Or Leave It released on DVD, with audio commentary by Chris and Dave Robinson
DECEMBER 18: Brighton Centre, Brighton
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): I don’t suggest that people should know everything about Madness and love them, but certainly for the first whatever years of our career we were sort of overlooked.
DECEMBER 21&22: London Arena, London
CHRIS (speaking in 2002): In the band, me Mark and Woody are pretty reliable. Everyone else is on a different planet. A few years ago we did a gig and we all had suits the same colour. Barso put the trousers on and they were half way up his legs and he just couldn’t realise that he had Lee’s trousers on.
DECEMBER: The band hint at a new direction
SUGGS (speaking in 2002): It’s still very early days, but we’ve been talking to people at Trojan about doing a pure ska-ish reggae album, a back-to-the-roots kind of thing.
MIKE (speaking in 2002): We’d definitely be up for it. An album of covers something we’ve wanted to do for years. We got a strong love of that music – as long as we pick all the songs that I like.