CHRIS (speaking in 2006): Although I’m not in Madness any more, I still receive loads of time-consuming bollocks emails and such related to the band. Which I then act on according to its relative merits. The Delete button on my computer keyboard needs replacing about once a month.
JANUARY 10: Suggs begins hosting Disappearing London
The six-part ITV London series searches out quirky people and places around the capital, and discovers why they may not be around for much longer. It’s a good excuse for Suggs to wander round, chatting with eccentrics and poking in nooks and crannies stuffed full of weirdness. Highlights include Romford dog track, Italian café culture and Tooting Bec Lido.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): The band is such that we’ve all got our own lives outside of the band and we just get together every now and then. And a bit of television and radio has been one of my offshoots.
FEBRUARY 4: Suggs appears on the Chris Evans Show on Radio 2
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): We’ve the premise of a new album and some new material, which we started working on this week. Only four of the band turned up but there are seven of us so it’s like flexi work – flexi rock ‘n’ roll. Personally, I’m enjoying the band but it doesn’t have to always be the be all and end all of my life.
LEE (speaking in 2006): We had a really enjoyable rehearsal. Some of the band knuckled down and got their creative juices flowing swimmingly. It was all for fun, which I like. Keeps me all warm.
MARCH 25: Suggs appears with The Ordinary Boys
The Madness frontman joins the band for their encore at Brixton Academy, helping to perform My Girl.
JUNE: Chris begins recording with the band again
CHRIS: Mike called a couple of times and had obviously been put up to it, by Suggs probably. Anyhow, he was a bit apologetic and all. Then Clive Langer called and asked if I would participate, and he’s a guy I always have a lot of time for. Some six new songs had been recorded with a stand-in bass player, no Lee and so on. But they were good songs, no sort of desperation, a sort of 7 album feel. Some of them I could recall from way back before Wonderful, so I said to Clive I would play on them. I set off for Toerag Studios in merry London and I Goddamn laid down some geeeetar on them. Toerag is a very basic eight-track studio, which is part of the appeal for me. You just have to do the song in one go. I did three songs in about four hours. The usual stuff – twanging and so on.
SUGGS: We wanted to go to Pathway Studios, where we recorded our early stuff, but that had gone. Then we found out that a lot of the equipment from there, including the piano, was at Toerag.
CLIVE LANGER: Toerag was kinda my idea. The last album was incredible live, but then they got into the studio and put loads of synthesizers on it, so I wanted to limit them. Rehearse, play, go in, keyboards, one drum kit.
Chris’s involvement sparks new life into the band’s demos
CHRIS (speaking in 2006): The funny thing is, this will definitely make Lee come out of the woodwork and play some sax, and I think Bedders has done something as well. The situation is similar to the one before we did Wonderful, when a lot of songs were demoed without Suggs and Bedders. So I don’t know what will happen next. Carl, Mike and Woody really want a manager but Mike is apparently off to a Buddhist thing for three years, only stopping for anything lucrative and all that. Suggs is away for a while, but hey, who knows? Honourable mention to Carl who is sort of on the sidelines as it were. I actually might send him some tunes some time. What will happen regarding this project? Well, who knows? That is to say where and when it will come out and how. I’m sort of not in the loop, but from what I gather the next album will be a double concept with original songs about London. Don’t quote me on that though.
CLIVE LANGER (speaking in 2006): It’s all new material and Suggs has written his best song since Baggy Trousers which is called Norton Folgate. It’s quite exciting.
JULY 6: Tollwood Summer Festival, Munich
Still without Chris, the band begin a two-month tour that will take them across Europe and the Far East.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): I remember saying, in the first flush of youth, that I couldn’t imagine jumping about singing Baggy Trousers when I was 30 and that sort of came back to haunt me, but now I think, ‘Yeah, it’s great, why not?’ I mean you look out from the stage at the audience and there’s all these big skinheads who are about 45 years old squeezed into their Fred Perrys and there’s lots of red faces and lots of sweating and you think, ‘Well, we’ll keep going as long as they do.’
JULY 7: Museumsplatz, Bonn
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): People who come to our concerts do tend to know all the words. It’s interesting going round Europe and Japan. You get different reactions and expectations. A crowd in Japan is slightly different from a Glaswegian or a Mancunian audience.
JULY 14: Zitadelle Spandau, Berlin
Lee is ill and absent from tonight’s show. He also misses many of the following gigs, with Steve Turner stepping in.
One Step Beyond / Girl Why Don’t You? / My Girl / Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) / You Keep Me Hangin’ On / Embarrassment / Taller Than You Are / The Sun And The Rain / The Prince / John Jones / Shut Up / Chase The Devil / House Of Fun / Grey Day / Wings Of A Dove / Bed And Breakfast Man / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Madness / Night Boat To Cairo / It Mek / Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
LEE: I had a little internal problem. I wouldn’t have been any use to anybody. Bring on the knife!
JULY 15: After Dark Festival, Ahaus, Germany
CARL (speaking in 2006): Live music is the most immediate of all the art forms. I mean how much euphoria can you work yourself into regarding a painting or sculpture? It’s that toe-tapping melody thing, the stomping beat that inevitably pile drives its way through your defences and gets the old corners of your mouth turning up and your body moving along with it.
JULY 16: Zelt-Musik Festival, Freiburg, Germany
It Mek is dedicated to the late Desmond Dekker, while Taller Than You Are is dedicated to Tony Blair, who Suggs calls a ‘fucking idiot’.
BEDDERS (speaking in 2006): The nice thing about Madness now is you can be as involved as you want. It’s fun again, and you need it to be fun because when it isn’t, people can really tell. Mind you, it’ll be the 30th anniversary soon. There got to be a time when they take us out and shoot us.
JULY 22: Le Festival des Vieilles Charrues, Carhaix-Plouguer, France
Lee is again absent as the band play in front of 50,000 people.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): There are so many great festivals now around Europe, so it’s been rather nice. You sort of go home for a few days and then jet out and have a bit of fun in the sun and then go home to grisly old England again.
JULY 23: Benicassim, Valencia, Spain
In stifling heat, Madness appear at the popular five-day festival, which also features Depeche Mode, Morrissey and Franz Ferdinand. ‘We are Madness,’ announces Suggs. ‘We come from another dimension and space time continuum.’
SUGGS: Benicassim was really good fun because there was no Glastonbury, so there was a huge contingent of British people there. I’d barely heard of it, and yet there’s 50,000 people going crazy.
JULY 26: Namba Hatch, Osaka, Japan
Madness arrive in Japan for the second leg of their summer tour.
CARL (speaking in 2006): We’re happy to be part of the pop tradition. And it is pop y’know – not open-heart surgery.
JULY 27: Shibuya-AX, Tokyo
JULY 28: Fuji Rock Festival, Niigata
Gnarls Barkley is among the other acts on the Friday night of this three-day festival. In The City is included in the encore, with the band also joined by trombonist Rico Rodirguez.
WOODY: Fuji was just great. There were all these great Western bands and there was a great camaraderie, with everyone just hanging out. Someone would say, ‘I’m off to do a gig’ and go away for a bit, then come back and have a few more drinks and a bit of a laugh. The atmosphere was incredible. The Japanese love their music and go absolutely potty – Madness always go down very, very well there.
AUGUST 5: Sudoeste Festival, Zambujeira do Mar, Portugal
Madness are one of 70 bands playing live over four days. Other acts include Daft Punk, The Prodigy, Goldfrapp, The Kooks and Jimmy Cliff. Lee is again absent.
AUGUST 7: Chris becomes a dad again on the eve of his 50th birthday as his wife gives birth to a 7lbs 7oz daughter, Elfie.
AUGUST 7: Lokerse Feesten, Lokeren, Belgium
AUGUST 8: Geleen, Netherlands
CARL (speaking in 2006): There’s something weirdly alchemical about music. If you find the right vein, maybe it’s an alternative to the old philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life – it somehow keeps you up and young and engaged.
AUGUST 9: Radio Monte Carlo, Monaco
Lee returns tonight after his illness. The gig is an unusual one, with only 200 fans in the audience, all seated for a sedate dinner beforehand. This soon changes, however, with around 40 fans crowding on stage for the encore.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): Playing abroad isn’t like England where the audience knows every word of every song. But then we got more into the swing of playing to an audience that might not know every song when we did The Dangermen.
AUGUST 10: Puerto Banus Bull Ring, Marbella
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): We’ve had a fantastic time this summer – we’ve been to some places we haven’t played for ages, and some we’ve never even played before. We honestly didn’t know where we were playing some days, but it’s probably our own fault because we never really paid close attention to the itinerary. Some days it was like and Stars In Their Eyes; we’d run through the smoke from backstage and – ta-da! – we’d either be playing in front of 200 people in Osaka or 120,000 in France. Mental.
AUGUST 23: Woody guests with Franz Ferdinand at Reading Festival
The Madness drummer makes a brief appearance on stage with the Glasgow outfit for their song Outsiders. Madness sax man Steve Turner also joins in.
WOODY (speaking in 2006): It’s not very British to big yourself up, but I feel like we deserve it. The ’80s have been re-written as ‘It was only the New Romantics’. I’m sorry but that really annoys me.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): It’s true – whenever people mention the 80s, they always talk about the New Romantics and our thing gets slightly shelved. But with the passing of time, we seem to have re-emerged as something important from that time. I mean, no serious people ever wrote about Madness during those days. It’s only with hindsight you get people from The Independent saying how important they felt Madness were.
CARL (speaking in 2006): Madness were never considered cool. We liked a laugh. We took the actual making of the music extremely seriously but people didn’t see that. But over the years the beauty of well-constructed pop comes out. To me, the big hits was part one, Madstock was part two and it’s the start of part three for us now.
SEPTEMBER 11: Suggs appears at John Betjeman Gala
The frontman appears at a variety show to celebrate the life and work of the poet on the centenary of his birth. Suggs reads On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man, with its bleak, comically cadaverous images. ‘In Highgate now his finger-bones / Stick through his finger-ends.’ Also featuring at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London are Ronnie Corbett, Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Richard E Grant, Prunella Scales and Joanna Lumley.
SEPTEMBER: Suggs presents Inside Out for BBC One
The singer hosts another TV show about London, this time looking at surprising stories from familiar places.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): I’m endlessly fascinated by the people and the streets they live in. Those people and those streets are what I’d define as ‘the great landscape of London’. I was lucky enough to grow up here and once you have lived here, you never really leave the place.
SEPTEMBER 22: Cuba Solidarity gig, the Barbican, London
Suggs, Bedders, Woody and Lee appear with Ska Cubano as part of a 16-man supergroup performing Dreader Than Dread, Al Capone and Madness.
NOVEMBER 17: Personal Fest 06, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Continuing their newly-found enthusiasm for festivals, Madness make their debut in the South American country. Other bands on the bill include Black Eyed Peas and New Order.
LEE (speaking in 2006): I will not be performing at this ‘one-off’ performance as it is too far to travel for one show that is too expensive for a lot of the less well-off fans that may not be into headliners Black Eyed Peas. Standing in for myself shall be the charismatic Mr Stevie Turner, blasting and a-burning up the ego ramp.
NOVEMBER: Chris is coaxed back into the live fold for the upcoming Christmas tour
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): Chris is back on board – he’s back in the studio and will be with us at Christmas, which is great. The whole band dynamic works so much better when there’s seven of us onstage.
CHRIS: It had been quite nice living in anonymity – I almost had a new identity. Some people in the band are very driven, but I’m not, plus I didn’t really need the money, so I could just sit looking out of the window all day. But after a while I just decided, ‘What the hell.’ So I came back.
DECEMBER: Suggs starts a new afternoon DJ slot on Virgin Radio
DECEMBER 2: Appear on Strictly Come Dancing
A depleted line-up of Suggs, Carl, Mike, Woody, Kev Burdett, Clive Langer and the Violin Monkeys appears on the prime-time BBC One show, performing It Must Be Love.
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): The industry is so bizarre now. When we were kids you did Top Of The Pops, an interview with the NME, Radio 1 and that was it. And now somebody tells you there’s no point doing them – you’ve got to do Strictly Come Ballroom fucking Dancing instead because 12 trillion people are watching it. Then half the band refuse, but if you want to promote your record that’s what you have to do.
DECEMBER: Suggs wins Best Presenter for Disappearing London
The singer triumphs at the Royal Television Society London Awards 2006, with the show also winning the Spirit of London and Independent Production awards.
SUGGS: Because we received so many awards, I announced my retirement from TV at that ceremony. I’d had a few and was in my pomp, so I told them that was it. It was all a bit, ‘My work here is done.’
DECEMBER 7: Brixton Academy, London
To The Edge of the Universe and Beyond Tour begins in the capital, with Chris finally returning to the live line-up. Tonight’s show sees a rare airing of Rise & Fall, while other shows will feature The Return of The Los Palmas 7, On The Beat Pete and Swan Lake. Two new songs – NW5 and Sorry – are also unveiled, with the former becoming an instant crowd-pleaser. The Dangermen era is represented by Taller Than You Are and Chase The Devil, while support comes from a Jerry Dammers DJ set.
LEE (speaking in 2006): We were offered a chunk of change to play Europe and figured that we couldn’t really play Germany and Spain without doing shows at home – it wouldn’t be right. Plus, as it’s December, people tend to bring us presents.
MIKE (speaking in 2006): You try to escape it but you can’t. It’s in our blood. Every few years we have to release the Madness and soak up the pleasure that it brings.
CHRIS: I was onstage at Brixton and I got all teary-eyed and thought, ‘I love these blokes’. You get to a certain age and their habits become annoying, and you fall out. But you still love ’em.
DECEMBER 10: The Point, Dublin, Ireland
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): These are exciting times for us at the moment. The great thing that’s happened to us this year is that we’ve played much more than we have at any time in the last 10 years, so we’ve got about 50 songs we can play, including some of The Dangermen covers. We played a lot of obscure album tracks when we were going around Europe this summer. I like that. I remember Elvis Costello being able to do it.
DECEMBER 12: SECC, Glasgow
BEDDERS (speaking in 2006): The rain of Glasgow was a wondrous sight; it started when we got there and just kept going. But every grey Glasgow cloud has a silver lining – we went to see The Pogues on our night off there. To hear Fairytale of New York at Christmas with the crowd singing every word was very rousing and very emotional. The night after, at our gig, we had our official piper turn up. His name was John and he wanted to pipe us on to the stage. Well you can’t let a man in a kilt down, so he came on for the encore and did a fantastic version of Flower of Scotland. The crowd went bananas.
JOHNNY GAULD (piper): I’d just finished piping at a wedding in Glasgow, not too far from the SECC. Taking a shortcut through the venue to reach my car, I heard the calling of a saxophone. I’m no expert in the brass department, but the sax sounded awfully familiar; could Mr Thompson be on the end of the reed? I wondered, then I chanced, then I looked. Indeed it was him, soundchecking for that night’s gig. I quietly listened to a few bars of soul, then realised that the saxophonist had spied me. He came to the edge of the stage, so I moved over to say hello. ‘Och aye laddie. What you doing in the kilt…aye, aye, aye!’ I replied I was a piper. Lee didn’t believe me. I laughed. He then said – ‘Bring your pipes tonight, and we’ll put you on.’ So I did, and they did. I’ve now piped for Madness at several gigs throughout Scotland, and even in England, with various members of the band and management sorting it for me. The band have always only ever been kind, thoughtful and great to speak with. I personally find them very easy to sit with, and indeed, their crew and management are as pleasant as the band themselves. I have only good, nay great, things to say about Madness, and I don’t like singling any one member out, as they’ve all been great to me in different ways, but…one cold rainy London night, I was at the O2 Arena to pipe for the band on the last night of their annual UK tour. Everything had went like a fair and the audience were shooting off into the night like overloaded rockets. Suggs and I had a quiet conversation, and… well let’s just say that he was more than kind. From there on in, the offer has often been extended for me to pipe for Madness again. Special mention must be made to the once-in-a-lifetime chance to pipe the band on stage in Australia and also to pipe Suggs on stage in Melbourne on his solo tour.
DECEMBER 13: MEN Arena, Manchester
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): We’re back in the studio, working with Clive Langer and really enjoying it. He really is like the eighth member of Madness – he knows exactly how we work and how to get the best out of seven strong-minded characters. It’s been good to rejuvenate the juices and start writing again. We’ve done eight new songs that are coming along swimmingly well.
DECEMBER 14: Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
BEDDERS (speaking in 2006): NW5 has gone through a few minor changes, mainly just to make it a bit better for a live audience. But as you might know, the old memory is not what it used to be, so it wouldn’t be giving any trade secrets away to say that I have to rely on a few bits of paper to remind me of the chords and the order. The giveaway is if you see me and Chris looking down a lot.
DECEMBER 16: NEC, Birmingham
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): With the new material, it’s like we’ve leapt forward in time from The Dangermen and imagined what we would have done if we’d been making records every 10 years for the last 10 years. It’s a really rich album of great British pop songs. We’ve got this one track called The Liberty of Norton Folgate which is 15 minutes long and is a history of Brick Lane from beginning to end. It’s a tremendous piece of work, like Bohemian Rhapsody for pop kids, but it’s five songs stuck together rather than anything particularly indulgent.
DECEMBER 17: BIC, Bournemouth
SUGGS (speaking in 2006): We’re so lucky to be in a band and do something we love – no one forces us to do this, it’s what we love. You look at the blokes from the Buena Vista Social Club, they’re all about 80 years old yet they’re still carrying on and loving every minute too. I saw the singer and he had to be helped to the microphone because he was on two walking sticks. Yet suddenly he threw them in the air and was dancing and singing away, which is brilliant. I can definitely see us doing that when we’re 80 y’know; we just love what we do.
DECEMBER 19: Brighton Centre, Brighton
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / My Girl / The Sun And The Rain / Taller Than You Are / Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) / NW5 / The Prince / Sorry / The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 / Shut Up / Iron Shirt / Bed And Breakfast Man / On The Beat Pete / Grey Day / House Of Fun / Lovestruck / Baggy Trousers / Wings Of A Dove / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: Swan Lake / Madness / ENCORE 2: Night Boat to Cairo
CARL (speaking in 2006): Madness is all around, and you can hear it everywhere if you listen hard enough. Woody played with Franz Ferdinand at the Reading Festival and was treated like a rock legend apparently, so there’s a lot of love out there and we try to reciprocate. Suggs has done some stuff with The Ordinary Boys and the Audio Bullys and might do more with Sway. I like it that people think we’re an influence, just as the bands that came before were an influence to us.
DECEMBER 20: Wembley Arena, London
The band finish the year with a fistful of new songs taking shape, and others already in the can.
BEDDERS (speaking in 2006): There are a few tracks recorded but not finished. I took a bit of a break at the start of 2006 so I’m not on all of them. Like NW5, I might re-record the bass, at a later date. But there are plans to record a few more in the next couple of months. As for the future? Well, keep June free…
CARL (speaking in 2006): The plan now is that we’d ideally have another single around April/May, then release the album in June with some preview shows. The album has numerous titles that we’ll be fighting over at some length.
JANUARY 9: Suggs begins a second series of Disappearing London
This second affectionate look at the capital includes visits to Churchill’s secret wartime bunker, an Art Deco bakery in Richmond and London’s oldest football stand. Suggs also takes a trip to Toerag Studios.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): Presenting television programmes doesn’t come out of the blue, it’s something I’ve had to learn to do. But I get bored easily, and being with a band for too long would send anyone mad. So being able to mix and match has really suited. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve led such a fortuitous life. I never thought I’d be doing any of the things I do when I was at school; radio shows, making TV programmes, recording songs with my mates – and I have a nice family, too.
MARCH 3: Al Murray’s Happy Hour
As is traditional on the show, the band perform a Queen track – in this case Killer Queen – with Chris and Lee both missing. The comedian joins in half way through.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): We’ve got a new competition with our fans where they have to work out who is and isn’t appearing on the things that we do. For example when we did Strictly Come Dancing Bedders didn’t play, but he was with us on the Al Murray show when Chris wasn’t. We’re now like the Chelsea football team, with a bench of superstars who can be called on at any minute. We’ve got to the stage where if people don’t turn up, we’ve got a few friends who can play the various instruments and stand in. So as long as there are at least four of us then we’ll go ahead – if there’s any less than four it becomes ridiculous.
MARCH 5: The single, Sorry, is released
Given to them by their new managers Garry Blackburn and Hugh Gadson from Anglo Digital Management, the single is designed to fill the gap between The Dangermen and the next album. Although written by outsiders, Madness work on it enough to gain a co-writer credit. In an attempt to gain more airplay, two different versions are issued – one featuring just the band, the other with rap artists Sway DaSafo and Baby Blue. Put out on the band’s own Lucky 7 Records label, it enters the UK chart at No23 and also goes to No1 on the UK Indie Chart. Chris is absent from both the single and the video – the only Madness track he doesn’t appear on.
SUGGS: We had new management and they said, ‘Look, you’ve just got to put a record out, even if you haven’t got your album ready, just get on with something.’
CARL: The track had been offered to us by the house producer Tim Deluxe…
SUGGS: …but at that stage it was just a straightforward song about a bloke apologising to a girl for whatever reason. We felt it needed a little bit extra…
CARL: …and we thought Sway could perhaps add that certain something to it.
SUGGS: I remembered reading an interview where Sway was being nice about the band, saying he loved Driving In My Car because it mentioned Muswell Hill, where he grew up, even thought it’s hardly the deepest track ever. So it all just made sense. Collaborating with other people is not something we normally do, but I just thought he’d be the perfect person to work on a Madness track, without it being too contrived or grafting in Puff Daddy or something. So we gave him a ring and he said yes straight away. He told us, ‘I’ll write a little something and I’ve got a friend of mine, Baby Blue, and we’ll just do a little funny conversation.’ So he brought her along and did it in a day and it all worked out really well. It’s pretty much a straightforward uptempo ska track that you might play on a Friday night.
SWAY (rapper): I’d always wanted to do something with Madness, so it was an honour for me. I’m a massive fan, and even though it might not directly show in my music, I’m quite influenced by their humour and quirkiness.
SUGGS: My daughters had played me Sway’s album, which I thought was great. I heard what he was doing with those guys who work with The Streets, The Mitchell Brothers; Harvey Nicks was this hilarious song about being looked at as a thief just because they’re rappers. He wrote in the way we used to 25 years ago just about everyday life. Someone later told me that when he was about ten he moved into a flat and our Greatest Hits had been left there, so it was the first music he started listening to.
CHRIS: I wasn’t on it and didn’t like it – I don’t think it worked. I think the management had a bit of an idea and were trying to make Madness contemporary. I know some people did like it but it was trying to make Madness something they’re not. Personally, I think that never works.
SUGGS: When we were shooting the video, Lee had been and gone before the rest of us arrived, so we were like, ‘What’s he done?’ Then they showed us this bit of film with him leaping around in a tutu with a fez on – I’ve got absolutely no idea what relation that bears to the song.
CHRIS: There’s not a lot of the band actually on it apart from Suggs and Carl; no sax from Lee… not much piano… drum machine… written by someone else. I didn’t think it was as good as the new songs we were doing, to be diplomatic.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): We did one version with Sway and one without because the promotion people say that some radio stations don’t like that sort of thing. So we’re putting them both out and it can be the choice of the individual producer as to which one they play. I hope they play the Sway one as that’s my favourite.
MARCH 15: Appear in German film, Neues Vom Wixxer
Suggs, Carl and Woody make a starring role in this German comedy-thriller – literal translation News From The Wanker – singing It Must Be Love and NW5. The film is the sequel to Der Wixxer, which featured Right Said Fred performing The Wizard.
OLIVER KALKOFE (writer and producer): I’d been a Madness fan for about 25 years and tried to get them on the soundtrack for my first film in 2002, but it just wasn’t possible. When we came to make a sequel, I met Suggs and Carl in December 2005 and tried to convince them to work with us. They were very interested but we didn’t get a response for six months, due to a lack of management at that time. When they played Munich and Berlin in 2006 we went backstage and talked to them again, and it worked and we got a deal. We used NW5 in a montage sequence in the middle, and It Must Be Love as the final song of the film with the whole cast miming along, with an older and better Suggs singing better than ever. Unfortunately not all of the band could appear, but it was still one of the greatest days of my life.
MARCH: The band announces a summer of gigs and a possible release for the new album
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): We keep being offered this and that but it’s impossible to keep up with them all.
MIKE (speaking in 2007): We try and keep the tours quite short these days rather than doing it constantly. If we were on the road all the time it would end up being like a day job and we’d get bored.
CARL (Speaking in 2007): We tend to bring family along these days. Mike brings his kids and I’ll bring mine. They’re 20, 17 and 12, so the right age for festivals. It’s cool and funky to have them there.
WOODY (speaking in 2007): We let all the kids and family onstage to have a big dance and a jig at the end. They all come charging out and join us for Night Boat to Cairo – it’s getting bigger and bigger every year.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): We hope the new album will be ready in time to put out there when we do start touring, but it’s looking like it might be close. As a band, we do have a problem with time. So whatever month it is now, we were supposed to finish it the month before.
MARCH 28: The Clapham Grand, London
Madness appear at a modern music hall event, performing House of Fun and NW5. Also appearing are Bill Bailey, Harry Enfield and Phill Jupitus. The show is filmed as part of Edwardian Season for BBC4, for an episode dubbed Music Hall Meltdown.
MAY 1: Suggs appears on How To Dress Sensibly
The singer is among the guest vocalists on this album by fashion house English Eccentrics, reciting the Edith Sitwell poem Ladies How Vain.
MAY 10: Suggs In Soho, ITV
In yet another London-based TV show, the frontman takes viewers on a guide of Soho, and meets others who share his love of this unique corner of the capital.
JUNE 3: Peel Bay Festival, Isle of Man
Madness appear at the seven-day festival, which also features The Stranglers, McFly, Ronan Keating and the Bootleg Beatles.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): For me it’s still 1979 and I’m 18 years old – and I carry on like that. I get so much goodwill from people in the street. I don’t know if everyone in this business does, but I certainly do. That’s one of the joys of having done what we did. I’ve seen it in my own kids – they’ll hear a song they heard when they were 15 and they’ll suddenly go mad, and it reminds them at some rave they were at or something; one night of madness. Music is there – it’s your favourite track for a couple of weeks and then it’s gone and you don’t hear it for a few years. And then suddenly you hear it again and you remember that time.
JUNE 16: Ejekt Festival, Athens, Greece
Madness are third on the bill, beneath The Beastie Boys and Underworld. Trouble erupts after the gig as around 40 masked raiders vandalise the backstage area and rob the bars.
CHRIS: We decided to stay and watch the Beastie Boys and were in our dressing room when the windows were smashed. I realised when I saw the way the people were dressed – crash helmets, baseball bats and machetes – that it was some sort of anti-establishment, anti-global, anti-property thing. They could have easily killed us all if they wanted to but they just sort of ushered us out. There was a young girl working there who was absolutely terrified and tried to hide in a cupboard. If she’d done it she would have been killed as they petrol bombed the dressing rooms.
JUNE 23: Glastonbury Festival, Somerset
Madness return to Glastonbury 21 years after their first appearance, taking to the Lost Vagueness ballroom stage at 11.30pm with Lee in orange trousers, Suggs in a long wig and Bedders in large Roy Orbison-style shades. ‘Who needs The Killers?’ quips Suggs at one point, referring to the only other band currently finishing their set on site. For the encore, they’re joined by Lynval Golding from The Specials.
CARL (speaking in 2007): Los Vagueness was fantastic – it was druggy, muggy, peace and lovey. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Glastonbury.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): Something’s happening recently to do with our legacy in terms of what people feel about us. Like going to Glastonbury, doing it for no money on a secret stage but knowing we were going to blow the roof off the place. Without being big-headed, that’s our legacy.
JUNE 24: Knowsley Hall Music Festival, Liverpool
Madness play the second and final night, along with Keane, The Zutons and Joss Stone.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): I think there’s a lot of really great music around at the moment. I really like the fact that there seems to be a lot of great songwriting around at the moment, especially lyrics, a lot of funny quirky stuff, which maybe went away for a while, and I like that. I don’t think people should be fools, but I like that, not being too serious about yourself is a good thing. I really like that Jamie T album, I think that’s great and Lily Allen’s album when it came out, that’s great. There’s loads of really good music coming out every five minutes. The Kaiser Chief’s new album is brilliant, really good lively kind of up stuff. It’s a great time for music.
JULY 5: The Marquee, Cork
Today’s date is notable for two things – a delayed start due to high winds and the airing of new songs Bingo and Let’s Go, the latter of which features a distinctive Peter Gunn-style guitar sound.
SUGGS: It was a fantastic festival, but there was a huge hurricane-style wind and the aeroplane couldn’t land the first time, which is always a bad sign. In those situations, you do start thinking about your mortality for a second or two.
JULY 6: Rock Zottegem, Belgium
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): Short tours like this year are best. It is very easy to get jaded when you go on a long tour and I think that is totally unfair on fans who pay a lot of money to see us. It also means we can have more fun on stage as we feel fresher and rediscover our love of playing to a live audience again. At many of our gigs you can see grandfathers with their grandchildren sitting on their shoulders. It’s just a sheer delight to see that.
JULY 15: Guilfest, Guildford
Madness top the bill at the last night of the three-day festival, which also features Supergrass, Squeeze and The Dub Pistols with Terry Hall.
CARL (speaking in 2007): We do autopsies on how the sound was after every show, how the playing was, how the harmonies worked, what songs we need to rehearse again. We even watch videos of ourselves at festivals to make sure the lights are good and there’s nothing we’re missing. Even when we first started out we used to record every show we did and listen to it afterwards; we always wanted to become better and I think we’re close to it. Another 40 years and I think we might get it right.
JULY 20: Newmarket Racecourse
New songs Bingo and Let’s Go are again played to 22,000 punters at the racecourse gig. At one point, a drunken Lee decides to climb the lighting rig. When he returns to earth Chris asks, ‘Are you actually going to play any sax?’
LEE: I got on the Bushmills whisky on the way to Newmarket from Kings Cross. By the time I got there I’d done the bottle and decided to climb the lighting rig. I lived to tell the tale, but when we did it again a few years later, they put ant-climbing stuff around the rig so I couldn’t go up it. I also had to sign a disclaimer.
JULY 22: Blickling Hall, Norfolk
AUGUST 10: Sziget Festival, Budapest, Hungary
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): These festivals are a revelation to us. We’re playing places we didn’t even play when we were in our pomp. Like in France, 60,000 people went fucking bananas. When they see Madness they see something they’ve never seen before. We’re not the Arctic Monkeys, we’re not the Rolling Stones, but we’re not The X Factor either. Somewhere in that grey area, outside the norms of the music business, Madness exist.
AUGUST 11: Ascot Racecourse
CARL (speaking in 2007): We’re probably heading for a recession, the bubble’s bound to burst soon with interest rates going up and stuff. But that makes me happy in a way because we always do well in a recession. Along with small affordable luxuries like chocolate bars, Madness fits the bill to cheer people up.
SEPTEMBER 8: Bestival, Robin Hill Country Park, Newport
BEDDERS (speaking in September 2007): NW5 is getting better the more we play it. I hope we can do the same for Bingo and Let’s Go. We tried the latter at a couple of these festivals over the summer but it’s a bit low for Suggs, so we might up the key. We have been rehearsing a sort of madder version but it’s one we can never remember how to play live, so that might have to be recorded. Bingo is brilliant in parts but needs more work. We’ve been recording over the last couple of weeks and have another couple of gems in the pipeline, including one called Forever Young.
SEPTEMBER 10: Suggs stars in a new TV ad campaign
The frontman appears in the first of a string of adverts for Birds Eye fish fingers and other frozen food, which run into 2008. The ads feature Our House as the soundtrack, which doesn’t please all of the band.
SUGGS: Fish fingers are great fucking things, so I was really happy to advertise them. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t want me to get dressed up as Captain Birds Eye but you can’t any more, apparently not since Gary Glitter. I couldn’t be ushering kids into my cabin with my fake beard hanging off.
CHRIS: He got shitloads more money for appearing in the ad than we got for the music, which caused a lot of trouble.
MIKE: There was a feeling that it was a band thing. I mean, he’s got his solo career and then there’s the band. A lot of people felt that was a pretty Madness-y sort of thing yet it was a so-called solo thing. There was a bit of discussion; Bedders, Woody, Carl and me felt there was an issue there.
CARL: It looked like Madness were endorsing it, which I didn’t like. But it’s a confusing issue; he’s a TV personality and he’s in a band.
CHRIS: I wasn’t that bothered really.
SUGGS: There’s frictions that come with what I do. I try to keep the two things separate but obviously it can’t always be so. The problem is, a year goes by and no one is interested, and suddenly someone wants me to be the voice of some strange product I never thought would have the vaguest notion.
OCTOBER 25: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre
Madness fly out to the annual two-day Desert Rhythm Festival, which also features Joss Stone and Kanye West.
During their two-month break from playing live, the band continue planning the next record
CARL (speaking in 2007): We’re still putting the next album together, because everyone’s hit a creative vein. But there’s no immediate rush because we want to make our best record in years.
WOODY (speaking in 2007): The problem we’ve got is we’ve written too many songs…
CHRIS (speaking in 2007): …we’ve got about 23 at the moment, so there could be trouble.
WOODY (speaking in 2007): We’re definitely gonna have to whittle it down a little.
CHRIS (speaking in 2007): They wrote loads of great songs without me as the impetus was there. I have written some but they are sort of bottom of the pile as I’m an underachiever and we have so many good ones already. Suggs in particular has been very prolific – he’s been writing a lot of lyrics. Most of them are London-based but he’s also written a really good one about Las Vegas. What can you do with such a genius?
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): Writing Cracks In The Pavement a couple of years ago, helped because I’ve always been a bit scared about even trying to approach London as a whole subject.
CHRIS (speaking in 2007): Hopefully the plan now is to do an album and then another, in which case I’ll get more involved. I would like to carry on for a bit till we get it right. There is still so much talent in the band.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): I’m confident about the quality of it, I’m not so confident about finishing it, even thought we started it about two years ago.
CARL (speaking in 2007): It’s like trying to boil a kettle with candles, so we’re sort of on the boil… almost.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): Once it’s finished, we want to do an album launch that’s a bit different. One idea we’ve got is to present the new album in a special show at the Hackney Empire, just to show off the new songs in a more theatrical way.
DECEMBER: Suggs leaves Virgin Radio
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): When you have to go on the radio and you’re feeling a bit shaky you can get terrified by the whole process. There’s the odd moment when you think ‘Oh God, there’s going to be a lot of people out there listening.’ I enjoyed it while it lasted though – it was great fun.
DECEMBER 3: Astoria Theatre, London
The Christmas tour – dubbed Onboard The Nutty Express – begins in London, with The Bees as the support act. The setlist features several of the new songs that the band have been working on, including Bingo, Let’s Go, Sugar & Spice and Forever Young. At the start of the gig, the band carry a giant Christmas parcel onstage, which bursts open during the One Step Beyond countdown to reveal Lee wearing a small policeman’s helmet. Prince Buster is again a star guest during the encore, singing Madness and remaining on stage for Night Boat To Cairo.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) / Bingo / The Sun And The Rain / Return Of The Los Palmas 7 / Let’s Go / Shut Up / Chase The Devil / Bed And Breakfast Man / Sugar & Spice / Grey Day / Lovestruck / Forever Young / House Of Fun / Wings Of A Dove / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: Madness / Night Boat To Cairo / ENCORE 2: Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
CARL (speaking in 2007): For this tour, we didn’t want to put in more than three or five new songs – or ‘inserts’ as we call them.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): The thing is, people come and see Madness to hear Our House and It Must Be Love, especially at Christmas, when it’s one big office party. I know from my own experience you don’t want to hear the new concept album – you want to hear the big hits. So any new songs have to be pretty good to get in the set.
DECEMBER 6: AECC, Aberdeen
CARL (speaking in 2007): We are what we are – a great live band. I’m not Stevie Wonder and neither is Suggs, but when you put us all together we’ve got something, although I’ve no idea what that thing is.
DECEMBER 7: Odyssey Arena, Belfast
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): We play 12 to 14 concerts a year and that keeps our friendship going which is the most important thing. It’s quite a feat because we have known each other since school. Everything becomes a business in the end and that makes things hard… but making music with Madness is the best thing in the world.
DECEMBER 8: Aintree Pavilion Arena, Liverpool
MIKE (speaking in 2007): The fun thing about music is that it involves the whole band and we create the music ourselves through each of our own characters – which makes what we do unique. The main thing is that we enjoy what we are doing. There is always a danger that by being inspired and trying to follow a certain formula to reach success can stop your success from continuing. You end up on the wrong side of the bus and can’t get on it. You have to do what you really like, enjoy the music you really like, and make music you really like.
DECEMBER 10: Cardiff International Arena, Cardiff
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): I could be doing something every day of the week outside the band. But, ultimately, this is my favourite of all the things I do. We’re old mates, you know? It’s love and hate and all those other things. I’ve done solo records, but you’re never going to get an outfit like this, whatever money you pay.
DECEMBER 11: Plymouth Pavilions, Plymouth
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): I feel sorry for bands now. In my day, you could get away with taking drugs and getting pissed and falling over doing whatever and having a few birds and all that–- there wasn’t paparazzi hanging round all day and there wasn’t some pushy wife who wants to start a new clothes line, and there wasn’t macrobiotic diets.
DECEMBER 12: National Indoor Arena, Birmingham
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): I feel that I’m part of the first generation which didn’t want to let go of being young. It used to be pipe and slippers on the dot of 35 but that boundary is increasingly blurred. At the same time as I would like Madness to have the same energy we had as kids, it would be undignified not to realise it has to change slightly and that has been going alright.
DECEMBER 14: O2 Arena, London
Tonight’s gig is ‘in the round’, with a 360-degree stage. Madness enter gladiator-style by walking through the middle of the auditorium.
CHRIS: I had a radio mic on and sometimes you’d go off and come back and you wouldn’t know what was going on, y’know: ‘Where’s my drink gone? Where’s my drink gone?’ Then after, you can’t go off anywhere so then you have to hide underneath the stage, so everyone knows you haven’t gone, they know you’re gonna come back on cos you’re kind of hidden in this little thing. Safe to say we won’t be doing the round thing again.
DECEMBER 29: Carl hosts his own show on BBC 6 Music
The frontman plays two hours of his favourite tracks, from Prince Buster and Dennis Alcapone to Dean Martin and Public Enemy.
DECEMBER 31: Lee plays with Damaged Goods at the Red Lion, Barnet
In yet another spin-off outfit, the sax player performs a collection of Madness tracks and cover versions, including The Beatles’ Lady Madonna and Back In The USSR. The band plays another gig in Barnet in March 2008, as part of a fundraiser in aid of the Macmillan cancer appeal.
LEE (speaking in 2007): We do 50 per cent Madness songs and 50 per cent pop songs. We cover artists such as Amy Winehouse, The Kinks and other Britpop. We only perform the Madness songs that I wrote‚ like The Prince, Embarrassment and Lovestruck. I wouldn’t want to upset the rest of the band
DECEMBER 31: Appear on Hootenanny
Madness play pre-recorded versions of NW5, House of Fun, Our House and Baggy Trousers on the BBC’s ever-popular New Year’s Eve music show. Paul McCartney, The Kaiser Chiefs and Kylie Minogue also appear.
SUGGS (speaking in 2007): Maybe next year if we get this record going and get our profile in the right situation, we could do another Madstock and do a few mini ones around Europe. Take a load of bands that are like-minded with us and have our own sort of mini Lollapalooza kind of thing which would be great fun. I can’t imagine anything more fun than taking a lot of like-minded musicians and all having a bit of a scene together.
The band continue to work on the new album
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): I think the songs have come on really well and there’s some surprises in there. For example, we did The Liberty Of Norton Folgate all in one go in this eight-track studio with The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. I think it’s a tremendous piece of work.
JANUARY 8: Palace Nightclub, Bridgwater
Madness take part in a Joe Strummer tribute concert, performing in front of 800 people. The set ends with a cover of London Calling, with Suggs singing the words from a sheet of paper. Roxy Music sax icon Andy Mackay joins them onstage.
JANUARY 26: Release new single, NW5
Written by Lee and Mike, the catchy foot-stomper has already become a live crowd favourite and peaks at No24 in the UK charts.
CHRIS: It’s a brilliant track – just a classic Mike/Lee/Madness song.
LEE: It’s about a friend of mine from NW5 who I used to hang about with as far back as the mid-’60s, who unfortunately passed on. I went on to become a pop star and he got into the dark side of life. I’m no angel and got into alcohol a bit, but he got into the hard stuff; some pretty heavy drugs.
SUGGS: Lee wrote it about his own experiences, but it’s a place that we’ve all had dalliances in, passed through, gone round, gone under and lived around and about for a long time. I’ve realised so many of our songs are about passage of rite and we never quite make it; we’re always in the hallway, or the landing and you can never find the light switch. With music I think that’s the sort of curse of it – like Peter Pan, you’re given that opportunity to never have to grow up and actually at some point you think ‘I wouldn’t mind growing up’.
CARL (speaking in 2008): With this new single, quite frankly, I’m not really concerned about the chart position or anything like that, it’s just a banner, an awareness to alert people to the fact that we exist and we’re performing. I’m not that bothered about records and over time, chart position has become less important; it’s more about where that record sits in your long career and your development as an artist. Records were originally used by furniture salesmen to sell gramophones. When the gramophone came out, where did they sell records? Furniture shops. So as far as I’m concerned record companies are glorified furniture men. The real experience of a musician is the live experience and what happens between you and the audience.
JANUARY 28: Suggs' Survivors starts on ITV London
In yet another historical TV show, the singer travels the country looking for unusual relics.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): I’ve always thought every town has its own little bits of history that even some of the people who live there don’t know exist. So with this programme we’ve been travelling round the country trying to find some of the more obscure ones, have a look round and show them off to a wider audience. It’s strange, I wasn’t very interested in history at school. But I think you get more interested in it as you get older.
FEBRUARY: Suggs goes back to school for Teachers TV
The singer returns to Quintin Kynaston – the inspiration for Baggy Trousers – for the Sky channel show. Viewers get to hear his old school report and he conducts a music class, writing a new improvised group song about the school with the help of pupils.
APRIL 4: Snowbombing, Mayrhofen, Austria
Supported by The Cuban Brothers, Madness kick off another year of festival appearances at the six-day alpine bash, which also features Calvin Harris, Courteeners and Foals.
APRIL 8: Teenage Cancer Trust, Royal Albert Hall
Madness appear at the first of this year’s annual fund-raising gigs. Highlights include Mike playing the grand pipe organ for Swan Lake at the start of the encore, and Suggs looking out into the audience and quipping, ‘It’s like playing in front of a really posh block of flats. There’s someone up there pulling their curtains.’
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): We got involved after Roger Daltrey phoned one of the band. It’s great that there’s space for us to contribute and we’re very pleased to have been asked to take part. You do get asked to do lots of good charitable causes but they don’t always capture the imagination like this one has.
CHRIS (speaking in 2008): It’s a really good cause. We’ve all got teenage children and I met some of the kids affected by cancer afterwards and it’s really quite grounding. If it was me I’d be really miserable but these are really good kids.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): I hadn’t realised how many teenagers suffer from cancer until they come to the concerts and you hear their stories. Cancer is obviously a dreadful thing, so I’m pleased can help raise the profile of the TCT.
APRIL: Lee starts a new ska supergroup, The Dance Brigade
Lee reveals yet another new outfit, this time joining forces with ex-Belle Star vocalist Jennie Matthias, producer and pal Keith Finch, Dave Barker from Dave and Ansell Collins and Brazilian artist Chico Chagas to write and perform original material. Other guest artists come and go as the band plays a smattering of live dates over the next 12 months.
LEE (speaking in 2008): Keith is an old school friend. He’s been up in his attic writing with all the greats – Derek Morgan, Desmond Dekker. We’re now writing ska material and we’re getting a live band together for a September gig.
JENNIE MATTHIAS (speaking in 2008): Throughout the years, Lee has called on me to jump on stage once and a while, and late last year, he asked me what I was up to and if I would like to add my vocals to a friend’s music that he’d also collaborated on. Keith is the music master and main producer, putting the whole thing together‚ Lee and I both write lyrics and melodies and assist with arrangements and of course Lee also does his saxophone stuff.
APRIL: Madness announce special gigs at the Hackney Empire, where they will reveal their new album
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): We’ve been working on it for about two years and it’s finally seeing a bit of shape, and I’m very pleased with it. I suppose making a new record is announcing to the world that we’re here to stay, because up to this point we’ve been having a great time and adding new songs to our set but primarily just doing the greatest hits thing which is still enormously popular throughout the known world.
CARL (speaking in 2008): I’m hoping Madness are going into a darker phase, plumbing the depths of the ‘madder’ side of the whole thing. The thing is, I’m not sure competing is really our job now. We’re graced with a good live following which can support us, so it’s great to be able to do what you really want with the music.
MAY 2: Suggs and Carl appear at Heaven, London
The duo join the Pet Shop Boys on stage at the nightclub for a chaotic version of My Girl. They’re among musicians performing in a fundraising tribute to the band’s PA Dainton Connell, who was killed in a car crash in Moscow.
MAY 4: Lee and Chris play with Crunch! at Barfly, Brighton
MAY 13: Liberty of Norton Folgate teaser appears on YouTube
A six-minute preview mix of the band’s upcoming 13-minute opus appears online, complete with clips of London down the ages taken from famous films. The track namechecks a string of London locations, from Whitechapel to Petticoat Lane via ‘Mr Truman’s beer factory’.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): I was reading about Norton Folgate and thought it sounded great. It became a shanty town for people who’d been chucked out of the city, with immigrants, outsiders, writers, musicians, libertines and nutters. It was also outside the law and took on the status of a liberty, with its own rules and laws. So the law was in the inside of the walls and on the outside you could just do what you liked. It meant all the people on the inside on a Friday night would go to the outside and hang out with the newcomers and the crazy goings-on and the peculiar community of freethinking people, which I thought was a rather marvellous thing to contemplate. I think it’s a great analogy for the way London is; it’s always been like that. Every British person’s dream is to live slightly outside the law, under the radar, running their own village society. It’s a very romantic notion. The song itself is a history of Shoreditch from the Huguenots through to the Bangladeshis. It’s about how the joy of living in London is that it’s always changing. In the current climate, it seemed worth saying.
MAY 29: Our House reopens at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Former X Factor winner Steve Brookstein takes over as Joe Casey’s dad, with Only Fools And Horses star Gwyneth Strong also appearing as the musical gets a new lease of life as a touring production. NW5 is added to the song listing, with Sarah’s Song, White Heat and Prospects dropped.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): We wanted to keep the West End feel of the show, but there were still things we had to change to take it on tour. So it had to be re-written slightly, but there’s still a car onstage and everything – it’s not like we’re doing it on the cheap. I’m proud of how it’s all worked out. Put it this way, it would be a lot more difficult to make a musical of Depeche Mode songs.
STEVE BROOKSTEIN (actor, speaking in 2008): Madness was my music when I was at school – we were all into 2-Tone. When you see the show and see these kids who are too young to even remember Madness doing the nutty dance it’s really strange. It’s only now I’m working on the show and really listening to Madness songs that I realise how good they really are. They’re extremely well-written.
GWYNETH STRONG (actress, speaking in 2008): When I was 16 I was in the front row when Madness played to 200 fans at The Nashville Rooms in London, long before they hit the big time – I thought they were fantastic. I remember Carl doing that really iconic Madness dance at the front of the stage, and now I get to do it in our curtain call. It’s great to hear all those fantastic Madness songs again – they’re like poetry. It Must Be Love is a beautiful song and Baggy Trousers is so street.
SUGGS: It was a real privilege that people still loved the musical, in the same way it is for Madness to still be playing.
CHRIS: Unfortunately, we don’t sit here raking in cash from it – but we do get a sort of knock-on fee.
TIM FIRTH: There’s something in the story that speaks to continuous generations. So it was never a musical that was locked in time, which was what consistently proved terrific. I always felt the songs of Madness existed outside time, even though they started during the big ska movement when I was a kid. The songs were written slightly to the left of that. They were influenced by that but they were not bound by it so consequently they still play, they’re still used, the band still tours and not for no reason – genetically they have a longevity to them. So here we are with kids rediscovering the Madness songs, rediscovering the catalogue, 10 or 15 years later – which is fantastic.
SUGGS: It’s the sort of show where there’s so much going on it’s hard to take in the first time. You can watch it and enjoy it and listen to the songs and do all that stuff you do with any musical, then you can go back and you get another layer and another layer. I never tire of seeing the work Tim’s done with our songs – it’s got endless depth.
TIM FIRTH: I think part of its success is that the songs aren’t about London. They’re set in London but they’re about growing up, they’re about family and heart and home and hearth. In a way they’re as relevant to me growing up in the North-West of England as they are to anybody in London. That’s again part of the reason that they’ve lasted the way that they have. It’s extraordinary the degree to which I’ve not got sick of the songs because I’ve listened to them more than the band have and still if Our House came on the radio I wouldn’t switch it off.
MAY 29: Suggs And The City starts on ITV London
The Madness singer adds another TV show to his CV, this time with chat show hosted at the Colony Room members’ club in Soho. Guests over the next eight weeks will include Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Johnny Vegas and Lisa Stansfield.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): It’s a changeable business. I’ve done everything from karaoke game shows to scrabbling around on scrapheaps looking for parts for dustcarts and collecting an Olivier Award. And now the band’s back together again and working hard.
JUNE 13: Aintree Racecourse
Madness play their first Party in the Paddock show of the year, with only Forever Young given an airing from the new songs.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / My Girl / Return Of The Los Palmas 7 / NW5 / Forever Young / Lovestruck / Baggy Trousers / Bed & Breakfast Man / Shut Up / Grey Day / Chase The Devil / Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) / Our House / House Of Fun / It Must Be Love / The Sun & The Rain / Wing Of A Dove / ENCORE: Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): We’ve lost so much money over the years at horse racing we thought we’d claw a little bit of it back. We didn’t know what to expect, but in fact, everyone was in really good humour considering they’d all lost.
JUNE 17&18: Tripod, Dublin
Madness play two intimate shows in Ireland, performing at a 1,500 capacity venue. Support comes from local ska outfit, The Bionic Rats, with new tracks Dust Devil, Idiot Child and Forever Young being aired.
JUNE 20: Sonar Festival, Barcelona
SUGGS: When we were asked to play an electronic dance music festival, we thought, ‘What are we doing here at three in the flippin’ morning?’ But you play One Step Beyond and it’s universal.
JUNE: Suggs has a cameo in new film, The Edge Of Love
The wartime biopic of Dylan Thomas stars Matthew Rhys, Keira Knightly and Sienna Miller. Suggs also features on the soundtrack album.
SUGGS: They wanted me to play Al Bowlly, the legendary 40s crooner. You can imagine the eagerness with which I ploughed through the script trying to find my bit. Aha! Here it is: ‘Al Bowlly steps on stage at the Café Paris and sings Hang Out The Stars In Indiana… and a bomb drops through the roof, killing everyone.’
JUNE 23: Rehearsals, Hackney
Madness spend all day putting the final touches to their grand unveiling. They’re joined by Rhoda Dakar, who has been asked to provide vocals for one of the new songs, On The Town.
LEE (speaking in 2008): We were rehearsing until midnight and the one we thought was going to be hardest – Norton Folgate – turned out to be the easiest. I think it’s the ambience; we’ve finally got the theatre we’ve always longed for. It’s a great feeling and there’s a great sound. A couple of numbers, including That Close, have been dropped, because we haven’t done our homework on them. Luckily, the string section and brass section have definitely done their homework, so if we all fall on our arses at least they’ll come up smelling of roses.
RHODA DAKAR: Chris had rung me a couple of weeks before the shows and said Mike had a song which he thought my voice would be suited for, and would I be up for having a go. So they sent me a demo and the lyrics to see what I thought. Various conversations followed and it was finally decided I would record the track and perform it at the shows. A few days later, I was in the studio and from there we went to rehearsals at the Empire.
DIANE DOLE (pearly queen at Hackney shows): Rehearsals the day before were a surreal experience as we were in amongst the band and all the engineers. Madness were coming and going getting food and having quick chats with us – really a great bunch.
JUNE 24, 25 & 26: Hackney Empire, London
Madness unveil the songs that will eventually becomes their masterpiece album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate. The shows feature jugglers, ukulele-playing chimney sweeps, pearly kings and queens, and have a full orchestra, with Rhoda Dakar joining them on stage for On The Town. Split into three acts, Madness perform the major part of the album, topped off with a 40-minute classic singles set. Among the celebs in the crowd over the three nights are Bobby Davro, Shane Ritchie, Martin Freeman and Michelle Collins. The shows are produced by Luke Cresswell of Stomp fame and filmed by renowned director Julien Temple.
Overture / We Are London / Idiot Child / Bingo / NW5 / On The Town / MKII / Sugar & Spice / Dust Devil / Clerkenwell Polka / Forever Young / The Liberty Of Norton Folgate / One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / House Of Fun/ Baggy Trousers / Madness / Our House / It Must Be Love / My Girl / Night Boat To Cairo
Are all gigs like this? Jugglers, dandies, pearly kings and queens? Men with flowers in their pockets and girls with ribbons in their hair? ‘They look like something out of Charles Dickens,’ said the woman in front of me, nodding at the slipshod chimney sweep and the man in the top hat who were skanking to the ska beats in the box above the stage. Another box contained a 16th century courtesan and a slim version of Queen Victoria. I wondered what the Dickens was going on. Then I realised; London quirkiness, closely related to Great British eccentricity, was staring me in the eyes. It wasn’t of the forced and cutesy kind which is why I hadn’t recognised it; it was a tad cleverer than rhyming Tesco with Al Fresco or singing about Dalston in a mockney accent. ‘We’re celebrating London past, present and future,’ Suggs declared in that absent tone of his, but he meant it. A roll through material from the band’s new album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, revealed an obsession with our multicultural city and its history. This obsession was visible everywhere. The stage was done up like a cobbled street complete with vintage lamp-posts. By the time familiar road signs‚ Kentish Town, Prince of Wales Road, Malden Road‚ appeared on a screen behind the stage during a song called NW5, I was enraptured. Visually, the experience was like a cross between pantomime and period drama, the fantasy, perhaps, of someone who has spent too long buried in some obscure local history pamphlet. Musically it was just this side of cheesy to begin with, becoming sinister later. Orchestral strings and shades of Kurt Weill in the knee-slapping Clerkenwell Polka were more moving than lairy Baggy Trousers ever was. I wasn’t expecting to love this, but I did.
Josh Loeb, The Review
CARL: Playing a set of brand new material for the first time in 30 years was all a bit scary.
WOODY: We were worried that as soon as we walked on, people would throw tomatoes and go ‘Baggy Trousers! One Step Beyond! Get off! You’re rubbish!’
CARL: We’d always talked about doing something in the theatre, and we hadn’t played a set of new songs since ‘79. Usually we’d introduce new songs into the existing set, but we just decided to play a whole set of new songs, followed by an intermission, and then some of the old hits. Saying ‘listen to the whole album’ was quite risky for us.
BEDDERS: It was a bit scary because there was so much to remember, but afterwards everyone was really pleased.
SUGGS: It could have been a complete disaster. If, after four minutes, people started shouting, ‘Baggy Trousers!’ then the balloon would have popped and it was all over. The whole thing would have just collapsed in self-conscious hatred of each other. Going into that void and being absolutely shit scared, but then it was this great feeling.
LEE: It went very professionally so it was great. Great sound and great songs – much better than we did them in rehearsals. We were still cocking it up left right and centre, but it’s amazing what a little bit of adrenaline can do. So there were a few bum notes here and there but nothing drastic.
SUGGS: It was really good because we sort of plunged ourselves into the unknown, not knowing what sort of reaction to expect. I’m not mad on seeing a band play all their new material, but because we’d said we’d play the hits at the end, it seemed to go much better than we hoped. My wife was in the audience and said it was really nice because people were initially a bit confused but prepared to give it a go, and as it went on they obviously got a clearer idea of what was happening.
LEE: There were a few shouts from the crowd for Baggy Trousers but I was really pleased at Clerkenwell Polka. It got a great reception, with Dust Devil second in the running.
RHODA DAKAR: I stood at the side of the stage during the gigs just grinning. I was willing them on – I was really blown away. Amazing tracks, brilliant staging and a wonderful theatre. A masterpiece.
DIANE DOLE (pearly queen): On the first night the place was buzzing and we had numerous photos done with fans. During the show, we were in a box upstairs, where we could see that Madness were just professional performers who wanted to give the fans a fantastic time. The second half was their old songs which also went down a storm and it all ended far too quickly. On the last night, Suggs asked us to go on stage with the band for their last number. What a privilege – it was fantastic to look out and see all the fans. We, and they, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
JUNE: Uncertainty remains over the new album’s release
Despite the triumphant Hackney shows, the new album doesn’t have a release date, with the mixing still under debate. The band also don’t have a record deal, with a release via a Sunday newspaper giveaway being one option currently discussed.
CHRIS (speaking in 2008): We’re trying to get some sort of deal to release it. We’ve tried various ideas and at the moment we may get some sort of financing deal in place and then release it through a third party. A lot of people go, ‘Why don’t you just do it on Stiff?’ but Stiff Records doesn’t exist, and neither does Zarjazz. One wants to be realistic and the music industry isn’t very healthy. It’s not driven by emotion any more, it’s driven by business. People say, ‘Oh, Madness, what was their last album? Oh the Dangermen thing, that didn’t do very well.’ That’s the way they look at it – they don’t like listening to what we’ve done and going, ‘This is fantastic, let’s give them millions of pounds.’ But it will come out and it will be really good. It’s been ten years since the last one so what’s another couple of years?
JUNE 28: Doncaster Racecourse
CARL (speaking in 2008): We don’t dress it up – we’re a bunch of mates who love to play our songs, give the audience what they want to hear and see them leave with a bounce in their step. I’d like to be more intellectual about it but I’m not in Coldplay. Instead, I’m in a band with a load of nutters because we’re all fucking idiots. To me, it’s like a sociological experiment and Madness is a microcosm of society.
JULY 6: BBK Live Festival, Bilbao, Spain
Madness play the final night of the three-day festival, which also features The Police, REM, ZZ Top and Lenny Kravitz. Carl endears himself to locals by bantering between songs in Basque.
CARL (speaking in 2008): We don’t move around as much any more; these days we just do big shapes and then rush off for the oxygen.
JULY 8: Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland
Tonight’s gig is notable for a couple of rare clangers from Woody. First, he stops playing about a minute into Dust Devil, so they have to start again. Suggs laughs and blames it on being a new song. The drummer then misses his cue on I Chase The Devil, with Carl having to repeat his ‘Lucifer son of the morning…’ intro.
MIKE (speaking in 2008): We’ve done everything – we’ve been creative and we’ve dried up, we’ve been there and done it. We’ve dried up many times. After you’ve dried up about 20 times, you get so used to it that you don’t get scared any more. And then the old juices start flowing creatively again.
AUGUST 7: Sandown Park Racecourse
The band play two-thirds of tonight’s gig without Mike, whose flight is delayed as he returns from his holidays. He eventually rejoins them for NW5, about an hour into the set.
WITHOUT MIKE: Pigbag / One Step Beyond /Embarrassment / Baggy Trousers / My Girl / Taller Than You Are / Forever Young / House of Fun / Chase The Devil / Madness / WITH MIKE: NW5 / The Sun And The Ran / Grey Day / Shut Up / Bed & Breakfast Man / Our House / ENCORE: It Must Be Love / Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): We’ve done a couple of these racecourse gigs this year and they’ve been really good fun. The first time, I backed a horse at 20-to-1 and it finished at half past three. Boom-boom!
AUGUST 8: Newmarket Racecourse
After Lee’s climbing antics last year, the base of the lighting rig is now roped off with heavy tarpaulin. This keeps the sax player at bay for a while, until he can resists no longer, rips the material off and once again climbs the tower. After he returns to earth he grabs the mic and says, ‘Sorry. I promised I wouldn’t this year.’ Lee also takes to the mic during the encore, giving a speech in praise of birthday boy Chris as the band start playing Madness. It’s the last of the band’s four racecourse dates for the year.
PAUL FISHER (COO, Jockey Club Racecourse Ltd, speaking in 2008): A good band costs roughly £100,000, which includes stage and production. But we’ve found you need to get a good band instead of a tribute act because the return is much better. This year we reckon it’s added 150,000 to the gate across our courses – it’s created a great atmosphere and a lot of first-time punters have been having a bet.
SUMMER: Carl moves to Ibiza
CARL: I went to Ibiza for the first time and loved it so much I decided to stay. The weather is brilliant and there are many artists out there. I wanted to start a new life and it seems my kids spend more quality time with me there than they do in England, which is what I wanted. I just thought, ‘I’m not paying money starting again, getting a mortgage together to live in a rabbit hutch.’ So I moved and got happy with myself again. Quality of life – that’s what it was all about.
The band continue to rehearse tracks for the new album, with the final running order causing the usual debate
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): The tensions lie at the heart of the band. There are people who’d like us to be playing in a pyramid in Las Vegas and there’s people who’d rather we still played in the pub round the corner. We’re constantly having arguments all the fucking time. Carl and Lee have had their frictions.
CARL (speaking in 2008): Me and Lee only had that one big argument eight years ago. We fell out but we didn’t get separate caravans at the studio like some bands do. We stayed in the same room, and eventually sorted it out.
CHRIS (speaking in 2008): It sometimes seems everything’s going fine and then something happens to upset the old applecart. I’ve had many a run-in with Carl, but we have it out and that’s it; it’s not like some smouldering resentment. At the moment I’m not on his best friend list, but we have the occasional e-mail and sometimes they’re OK. I love everyone in the band, even Carl; he knows it and we all do.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): The arguments all blur, one after another. We’ve all had our turns out of the band, including Chris. You couldn’t replace Chris; you’d never get anyone as miserable. But at the end of the day, it’s about the seven of us. You take out any one of those elements and it’s just not the same.
CARL (speaking in 2008): We’ve had our ups and downs. I remember talking to Justine Frischmann and told her how we always talked through our decisions. She said her band couldn’t even sit in a room together. In Madness, we even share a dressing room. That’s why it works.
CHRIS (speaking in 2008): I get on with Carl really well now – we’ve probably both changed. It’s Mike who drives me mad the most these days.
CARL (speaking in 2008): Another artist asked me how we’d kept going so long. I told them, ‘Have a pension fund’. Never be greedy. We share money equally. You can be in Madness and never write a thing, but you’ll still get paid because you do contribute in some way. In other bands, you wouldn’t get royalties. A lot of bands are greedy but we’re a proper little democracy.
OCTOBER 21: Suggs’ Italian Job starts on Sky Arts
Yet another TV presenting role for the singer, this time exploring the length and breadth of Italy in a classic Mini. Suggs is an expert on the country, having purchased a holiday home in the southern town of Puglia in 2003. The house even includes a small vineyard producing his own vintage‚ dubbed Suggs Special.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): A friend had moved to Puglia and asked us to visit. She had done up a place in the countryside, just outside the beautiful city of Lecce, with the intention of selling it. She showed us round and as I sat on the roof terrace with the sun setting and a glass of wine in my hand, a light bulb went on in my head and I spent the rest of the night working out how I was going to buy the place. I’d never owned a home abroad before and was worried that I’d get bored going to the same place but as the years have gone by I like it more and more. Last summer we spent four months there. I was doing gigs with Madness on the circuit of festivals across Europe and I used Puglia as my base to fly in and out from.
DECEMBER: Chris releases footage of the band’s latest rehearsals
It is also announced that the album will be financed courtesy of an investment deal with Power Amp Music.
CHRIS (speaking in December 2008): We’ve been mixing the songs this week; when I say mixing I mean getting the guitar up louder. We start rehearsing next week, then through until December 20. Of the new songs, Rainbows is very good while That Close needs a bit of something. That’s the one I wrote with Suggs – a good Madness foot-stomper that sort of does the job.
DECEMBER 6: B1 Maximum Club, Moscow
Madness fly to Russia for a one-off festive gig.
DECEMBER 15: Forest National, Brussels
Supported by Belgium’s own Moon Invaders, Madness play six songs from the new album. The gig is noticeable for its unusual opener – Night Boat To Cairo.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): Madness is a funny organism. It’s been morphing for 30-odd years. It’s been more of a friendship than a business, and the nature of friendship is that it goes up and down a little, but when we’re in good form, it’s great and we’re in good form now. We’ve always recognised that we get paid to entertain and we’ve always endeavoured to do that. A lot of people get carried away by what they do, but we just try and give people a good time, whether it’s skinheads or people’s mums. We’ve done very well and been very good or, very lucky, or both. People just seem to like what we do.
DECEMBER 18: New album made available to pre-order
Fans are given the chance to snap up an exclusive limited edition box set of The Liberty of Norton Folgate for £40, which features the album on on CD and vinyl, as well as a badge, poster and membership card. Those placing an order can also download 12 of the 23 tracks recorded so far – We Are London / Forever Young / Dust Devil / The Liberty of Norton Folgate / Sugar & Spice / Clerkenwell Polka / Bingo / Rainbows / That Close / MkII / Idiot Child / On The Town.
DECEMBER 18: Manchester Central, Manchester
Each year, Christmas used to herald the appearance of an unfortunate creature in BacoFoil. But with Gary Glitter now as welcome as Scrooge, the Nutty Boys have stepped into the breach to become the annual clown princes of British pop. This huge gig sees everyone getting into the Christmas spirit. At least a third of the audience are wearing fezzes bought from the merchandising stall. Men in bowler hats wave umbrellas as they do theNutty dance. One man has come in full It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum military regalia, and launches himself into the breach with a raucous ‘Aaargh!’ On stage, Madness singer Suggs knows his audience. ‘It’s Chrish-mass,’ he quips. A slightly slow One Step Beyond suggests the band have been at the spirits themselves, and a fluffed intro to Embarrassment shows the cracks after 30 years of touring. But then Madness hit their stride on what must be the longest run of classic singles of any band since the 60s. Although it’s impossible to hear their Prince Buster homage, The Prince, without smiling, Madness are so much more than prankster ska men; their songs are steeped in English melancholy. Grey Day must be one of the bleakest hits ever. New songs – especially the terrific NW5 – suggest their touch hasn’t deserted them: it was just the times that changed. However, they seem to have found a new role in the Kinks’ old job as defenders of the British way of life. ‘Woolies is going… no pick ‘n’ mix! This is the end,’ sighs Suggs. However, the reception given My Girl, Baggy Trousers, House of Fun and the like suggest this great institution will keep trading for some time. You have to doff your hat to them – even if it is a fez.
Dave Simpson, The Guardian, 4/5
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): We’ve been around longer on this comeback than we actually originally existed as a band. After Finsbury Park, we were just doing them for the money. Not to say it hasn’t been really good fun. We’re like a family but it’s a fucking dysfunctional family – it’s all needy kids and no parents.
MIKE (speaking in 2008): When people talk about doing it for the money, there’s the idea of it being really desperate and you’re doing it only for the money. People probably wouldn’t get out of bed if they weren’t getting paid. But then you try to get paid for something you like.
CHRIS (speaking in 2008): We’re contemporary in a way, because we haven’t changed – we haven’t tried to become a dance band or whatever the latest thing is. Sometimes I think you remain contemporary because you’re just ploughing on, doing something that sounds old-fashioned, but then maybe it comes back into fashion. It’s like clothes – when we were kids we used to get stuff from charity shops that we thought was good, and then every now and then it comes back into fashion. We’re like good tailoring – we’re always gonna be in fashion.
SUGGS (speaking in 2008): Ninety per cent of it is a great joy. I’m very privileged to be in this band. They’ve all carried me at certain times and I hope I’ve helped to carry them at certain times.
DECEMBER 19: O2 Arena, London
Supported by Stereo MCs, and complete with string section, the band round off the year on home turf, complete with impressive video displays introducing the audience to the newer songs. Once again, Rhoda Dakar joins them for On The Town, while bagpiper Johnny Gauld once again appears, introducing the second encore.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / Dust Devil / NW5 / Grey Day / The Sun & The Rain / The Prince / Clerkenwell Polka / My Girl / Return Of The Las Palmas 7 / We Are London / Chase The Devil (AKA Iron Shirt) / Bed & Breakfast Man / Shut Up / Forever Young / Lovestruck / The Liberty Of Norton Folgate / House Of Fun / Wings Of A Dove / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE 1: On The Town / Madness / ENCORE 2: Night Boat To Cairo
CARL (speaking in 2008): I wake up every day thanking God for being alive and continuing to do what I do. It’s a charmed life we lead and I don’t think there’s any other band that has lasted this long with all the original members. Madness is the sum of its parts; I get an absolute thrill when I hear songs written by the others in the band and then how our contributions change it.