JANUARY: The Liberty of Norton Folgate finally nears completion
Following the digital download in December 2008, the band continue to prepare for the physical release of Norton Folgate, tweaking some tracks and adding new ones to the running order of the special editions that will appear later in the year. Working with long-time collaborators Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, and with Suggs in particular fired up, a year of promotion and live appearances is duly pencilled in.
SUGGS: We all thought there was life in the old dog yet and that it was time to put some effort into attempting the great British pop album. So with that in mind, we asked everyone to devote 2009 purely to Madness and forget everything else. We wanted to see if we could breathe life into the group again; to rediscover our passion. We had to re-energise ourselves otherwise we’d have carried on in ever-decreasing circles until we were playing Pontin’s.
WOODY: We just felt refreshed and duly started writing songs again – and really good ones at that. We were really enjoying the process. It energised us.
SUGGS: We were still constantly being mentioned in relation to the 1980s, so the idea was to make an album that would be warp factor 12 and get us right out of that black hole and into the world of being a real band again. And the thing was, I knew we had it in us to make one more really great Madness pop album with real density and quality. I just thought, ‘Fuck it, if we make one record I’m really proud of, it will prove a point – even if it’s the last one we make and we fizzle out afterwards.’ Even if I had to go back to making frozen food commercials afterwards that would be fine, so long as we’d done that record.
WOODY: We realised we needed to get right back to our roots. We were better than just doing covers, we could write our own songs, so that’s exactly what we did – although it took a bit longer than expected.
SUGGS: The difference was that we decided to make the album without the help of a record company, so we had no pressure and nobody had to do anything they didn’t want, which was a first. But having all the time we wanted was a hindrance too, because we all have rather strong views, so it slowed the record down a lot.
LEE: There were various reasons for it taking so long, the main one being longer and more frequent toilet breaks; at times there was such a clamour we had to double up. But seriously folks… we ran short of finances and had to get the arrangements right. All these trivial things take up a lot of time and, in all honesty, we’re not the most active of bands. I’ve noticed that as we’ve got older, our kettle seems to take much longer to boil.
SUGGS: The thing is, we’re not in the same space-time continuum as most people. What seems like 10 minutes to us is 10 years for everyone else.
WOODY: What can I say? It just seems to takes us a year each to write a song, and then it takes another three years to make the album that it goes on.
MIKE: I think it took so long as we had a principle of rehearsing every song we had that was half-way decent. And we also had another principle of recording every song. Then we went through all the stuff we had, which made it a lot easier – but also took a lot longer. So we put a lot of work in and didn’t rush it, which was nice. It’s good to be able to do different versions of a song and refine it. Music gets better and better when you’re able to do that.
SUGGS: The thing is, you kind of make a rod for your own back if you only make one new record every ten years because you’ve got to hope it’s relatively reasonable sounding. So without getting too serious about the whole thing, as we were writing the songs we realised they would have to go between tracks like Our House and It Must Be Love when we were playing live. So we felt a certain amount of pressure to write classic Madness songs, which I think we subsequently achieved, on a number of occasions at least.
LEE: So we had this great pack of songs, but we needed to be together to really get them right. Then suddenly we found this spice warehouse, in the 60s style, that was the perfect place to meet.
SUGGS: It was like a click – we found this old shop that was going to be destroyed and for three months we went there almost every day, just before the wrecking ball arrived. It was the first time we’d all been together for more than 10 days in a row, so it was a test of whether we could even be in the same room, without killing each other. And, for the most part, we had a good time. We could all come and go as we pleased and we took the time to listen to everyone’s suggestions and had a blast. As a result, we ended up with 35 to 40 songs, compared to the 15 or so we usually have for an album.
MIKE: It was a great position to be in – although at the end we had to make a few unpleasant decisions when it came to the final listing.
By this time, recording has taken place at three separate studios in London – Toe Rag, The Garden and The Yard.
SUGGS: We tried to catch the spirit of some of our earlier albums, in that we were less concerned about the technology of how we recorded it and more about the arrangement of the songs themselves. We spent a lot of time learning and practising the songs and then went into the studio and tried to capture some of the spirit of playing together in the same room.
WOODY: We went back to basics, stripped the band right down, and it was so exciting. For some godforsaken reason, we kind of rediscovered what we did back in 1979 and remembered why the hell we did this; it was pure music with a tale to tell.
SUGGS: It was a lot more like when we started out, when we spent a lot more time rehearsing and arranging than we did recording. We were in a very low-tech studio but with really complicated arrangements, we really tried to capture the sound of all of us playing together in a room.
CLIVE LANGER: I really wanted to do the whole thing on eight track, like the old days. I was thinking of something like Exile On Main Street – or maybe Exile On Camden High Street.
WOODY: Toe Rag had an eight-track desk and so we recorded there straight onto two-inch tape. All the editing was done by cutting and splicing. In this day and age you can go into a studio and record two seconds of something here and patch things together and it’s lacking in heart and feeling. But at Toe Rag, we had a thoroughly fantastic time because had to play properly as a band again. There were valves everywhere!
SUGGS: Initially, we tried to record the whole thing there. But then when Chris came back half-way through, we had to move on to bigger studios.
Brass arrangements are supplied by Mike Kearsey
MIKE KEARSEY (trombonist): As ever, it was the result of a late-night conversation in a hotel bar with the band’s management. I met Clive to discuss what was needed for the brass on the album and we went through it all track-by-track, with Clive giving great guidance about the effect they were after. By this point, the band had spent a long time rehearsing and recording, so the demos I was given to work with were, as a whole, pretty close to the versions that appear on the album. With such a rich melodic content, it was a joy to write the horn arrangements. A lot of ideas came from Mike’s keyboard parts, which contained so much character, and then Simon Hale worked his magic on the string arrangements and orchestrations.
A new financial structure is also finalised
Financially, the band are now in their strongest-ever position, thanks to an investment deal with Power Amp Music. Instead of a traditional advance from a record company – which then requires paying back from the sales of a new album – this agreement sees the band receive a more significant investment in return for a cut of all their future revenue sources, ie record sales, gigs, merchandising, sponsorship and publishing. Any releases are put out on their own label, Lucky 7 Records.
GARRY BLACKBURN (co-manager): Through this agreement, the band felt they had much more control over their commercial activities than ever before and stood to receive a much fairer share of the revenue they generated.
JANUARY 9: Alo Conlon passes away
The Dublin Castle landlord, who gave Madness their first residency way back in 1979, dies aged 73 after suffering cancer. Members of the band attend his funeral, which sees his coffin carried from the pub through the packed streets of Camden.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): Alo was such a friendly chap to talk to and he gave us a break when we had barely started getting going.
FEBRUARY 7: Suggs appears at charity event
Along with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, actor Bob Hoskins and comic Tim Minchin, the frontman stars at a fund-raising auction and concert to help a local boy with a brain tumour visit America for treatment. Taking to the stage at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, North London, he quips, ‘Before I can perform, I need Bono’s sunglasses to cover my eyes, I need Tracy Emin’s handkerchief to mop my brow, and I need Gordon Brown’s whisky, for which no explanation should be necessary.’ These items are among those that have been signed and donated for the auction, which raises £50,000 for seven-year-old Fabian Burke-Georgiou.
FEBRUARY: Trinity Street goes bust
The e-commerce firm, which has been handling orders for the upcoming Folgate box set and Madstock tickets, goes into administration. After a few hiccups and delays, all orders are resolved.
MARCH: Complete Madness is reissued
A remastered CD version of the 1982 greatest hits album is quietly released. With no adverts and no promotion, it’s a rush job, designed to get Madness back on shelves before a proper compilation package (Total Madness) is put together. Despite the soft launch, and to everyone’s astonishment, it climbs to No38 in the UK charts and, by the end of the year, has sold more than 30,000 copies. At one point, it is even withdrawn from sale for a few weeks to stop it hindering the success of The Liberty of Norton Folgate.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): With all our music, we were obviously following the tradition of people like Ian Dury and The Kinks, and there was always a black comedy element to what we did. It’s certainly what I look for in other people’s songwriting. I think most recently, Dizzee Rascal has certainly got a touch of the eye for London life. Lily Allen has a touch of it; the absurdity of watching people in the street. I’m always keen on people who have a sense of humour with it too. I’m pleased it still exists.
MARCH 7: Suggs appears on Comic Relief
The singer partners with Zoe Ball to recreate the iconic Vincent Vega/Mia Wallace dance scene in Pulp Fiction. They crash out in fifth place.
MARCH: Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley announce they’ve finished work on the new album.
SUGGS (speaking in March 2009): It’s sounding great now but we’re still wrangling. We used to argue about what trousers we should wear, now we’re arguing about what the first single should be.
WOODY (speaking in March 2009): The album is good, it’s got lots of energy and we feel really refreshed; we feel really good about it. I think our pent-up frustration has come out – ever since the early days we’ve had lots of really good material welling-up inside us, bursting to come out.
LEE (speaking in March 2009): The only thing is, we’ve had to do everything ourselves as our ‘handler’ will no longer tolerate our mood swings. Also, we have more important issues outside the music and entertainment world that seem to take much, much longer to sort out.
SUGGS (speaking in March 2009): Now we just have to get the final pieces of the jigsaw in place. I mean we’re doing this all by ourselves, so it’s hard to work out what comes first and how we promote the album and simple things like whether we should even make a single for radio.
Although not officially a concept album, it’s clear the new record has a definite – and deliberate – London influence
CARL: The nature of the album was definitely based around London and its history. It’s difficult to say who said what and when and where it all began, but I think it just came from our interest in London and wanting to express that interest.
SUGGS: I’d been on Desert Island Discs a few years back and one of the songs I chose was The Clash’s London’s Burning. The author Peter Ackroyd was listening and asked Paul Simonon from The Clash to introduce us. I was big fan of Ackroyd’s book London: The Biography, so I went to meet him and Paul and I were just chatting about London’s history. That’s where the initial idea came from.
CARL: At the same time, I was also reading the books of Patrick O’Brian and he mentions Captain Jack Aubrey going into ‘The Liberties’ where he couldn’t get nicked. So it was like all of our mutual interests slowly converged into this one project over a period of years.
SUGGS: We’ve always written about London, but the idea here was to delve into its history a bit more. I love the idea that the very dust that blows around your feet when you stand in an East End street is the same dust that blew around Dickens’s feet. I’m also very fond of Ackroyd’s idea that certain areas have something in the air that you can catch culturally.
WOODY: Even the market sellers and newspaper sellers are musical in London. It’s just one of those things – ‘Stannit! Staaaanit! Stannit!’ – it’s like a tune of London. That’s the sort of thing we really wanted to harness.
SUGGS: Because we’re very observational, we write what we see, so we wanted to talk about what was going on in the streets around Norton Folgate itself. We wanted it to be a social history of the place, like a musical version of Peter’s biography of London. I knew the area quite well because we all used to go down to Spitalfields and buy our second-hand Crombies from the market, but I had no idea of its actual history until I started reading up on it. What I found was fascinating. At school I didn’t really listen, so the idea of history had no appeal. But having discovered history, you kind of begin to think that understanding the future and the past is equally important.
CARL: It’s only when you delve into the historical aspect that you realise things don’t really change; a man’s needs and fears are essentially the same. I picked up A Tale Of Two Cities and on the second fucking page, in about the third paragraph, he goes on about the French printing paper money and spending it, the fact that the mayor of London’s been held up by highwaymen, and that crime and prostitution on the streets is virtually accepted. And you think, ‘Fuck me, nothing at all’s changed, absolutely nothing.’ Poverty exists and people still shrug it off.
SUGGS: I suppose we were just continuing the folk music tradition of the real London, using that rich mixture of jolly tunes with dark lyrics about everyday life. We got it from Ian Dury and The Kinks, who obviously got it from their old man playing piano in the pub, who in turn got it from seeing someone in a music hall and so on and so on. It praises working people, but not in a patronising way.
CARL: It also came from that side of us that likes to be a bit theatrical, so there were elements of Samuel Beckett and Oliver Twist swirling around in the mix too, all caught up with things we saw and language heard every day as we were walking about.
WOODY: It’s like those market sellers who bark about bananas and apples and all that. I remember Camden Market when it was a proper market; people used to sell fruit and veg and stuff. It just had that atmosphere, people almost singing. There’d be tunes everywhere. No one ever says, ‘Oi mate, d’you want to buy a banana?’, it’s all done in that kind of ‘roo-de-loo-do-doo’ melodic way.
SUGGS: The whole process just served to emphasise that London is what I care about. We take the mickey out of bowler hats and pin striped suits but at the same time I find something charming about the idea that we drink tea and are very reserved. I like the fact we don’t go Hollywood and go to the psychotherapists. We just get on with it. It made me realise I love London. All my songs are about the city and as Samuel Johnson said, ’When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’. The best thing about London is the people, the diversity of the people, you can hear every kind of music, you can eat every kind of food and talk to people from every single part of world, just walking down your own street. The worst thing is… it’s not such an obvious thing, the worst thing, because London is such a massive place, it’s different from area to area. It’s that old thing of, you can get up one day and someone will give you a smile and you think it’s the best place in the world, and the next day, someone will try to ram you off the road with their car and you think it’s the worst place in the world and it’s because there’s so many people in it, you never know who you’re going to bump into next, but I wouldn’t take the bad out, because that’s what makes it what it is. It’s got a slight edge, and it’s a bit dangerous, but that’s life.
MARCH: Bedders takes a break
The bassist announces he won’t be joining the band on the upcoming Australian tour, with his place taken by Graham Bush, AKA Bushers. Bush had first played with Madness at a charity gig in Wrexham in 2005, and had been introduced by previous stand-in and Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy, who had originally taught him how to play. Bedders does return for UK album promotion appearances and tie-in gigs later in the year.
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): Bedders just had too much other stuff on, that’s all. He will be back.
CARL (speaking in 2009): Mark has decided that he wants to quit the tour and have a rest. There’s a space for him to do that and there’s a mutual respect and love for him to do that.
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): Some are a bit annoyed which is a pity, because my ambition is that we become like the Sugababes and all slowly leave.
CARL (speaking in 2009): The tensions are still there. Chris drives me nuts and vice versa, but at the same time there’s a mutual passion underlying our beliefs. We look like a band, mostly, but sometimes we look like a bunch of people in group therapy. As in all families, some people evolve, some don’t and some are in the process of it. With art there’s always going to be some kind of conflict, there has to be, and with seven people in our band there are 21 decisions to be made. In that environment, there’s an air of compromise – we have to give each other space.
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): I’ve tried to stay calm but I still argue and get annoyed. But it’s quite levelling, what the people in the band tell you about yourself. I try to learn from it. I’ve found out that letting fly on email can be very dangerous too. I react too quickly, send out something vitriolic and wish I hadn’t. I have to remember that if I don’t agree with something to simply say ‘no’ and not try to rationalise my own curmudgeonly nature.
CARL (speaking in 2009): I’m quite tense about going into rehearsals with two band members in particular. But that’s OK – if you go into the boxing ring too cocky you get knocked out. I don’t mind that tension, it comes with the package and it keeps you on your toes and keeps you aware.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): We certainly still have arguments but we get something special out of that arguing. I mean, we could sit around with a computer and make music, but where we get the most fun is the collaborative process; the rich mixture.
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): The issues that made me leave a couple of years ago are never resolved – they are ongoing. But you can’t really leave Madness. It will carry on without you like a mighty colossus.
CARL (speaking in 2009): Madness is a slow behemoth, and it takes a long time to accept new people. But once we accept them it takes three times as long to get rid of them.
MARCH 26: Luna Park, Sydney, Australia
Madness head Down Under for a seven-date tour of Australia. The set is a mix of classic tracks and new numbers from the upcoming album.
MIKE (speaking in 2009): It takes a bit of thought about how to present new material. When Absolutely was about to come out and we said, ‘Here’s a new one’, the audience just sighed and went, ‘Oh no, bloody hell.’ And that was Baggy Trousers! But finally I think we’ve got it right.
MARCH 28: V Festival NSW, Sydney
MARCH 29: V Festival Gold Coast, Merrimac
MIKE (speaking in 2009): I just love the music more than ever now. We get a fair amount of respect these days, and in the beginning we didn’t. Recently we were rehearsing and Ray Davies was next door, and at the end we were talking and I think even he respected us.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): The other wonderful thing is that we appreciate everything now and appreciate how wonderful it is to do something you love. So every time we’re on stage and we see people going mad I really feel it now, whereas before it was all a bit numb.
MARCH 31: Palace Theatre, Melbourne
Pork pie hats, cherry-red Doc Martins, suspender belts and the occasional mohawk were sprinkled throughout the crowd, with the crowd density a step up from the recent diluted Stranglers concert at the same. Dispensing with any suggestion that the band had degenerated into a flaccid imitation of its former glorious self, the Twin Geezers of Ska, Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson and Chas Smash, bounded onto stage with the same youthful energy of yore. With their dunny-brush flat-top haircuts, Ray-Ban sunglasses and dapper suits, Suggs and Chas have safely preserved the visual aesthetic readily associated with Madness. Guitarist Chris Foreman wore a bowler hat and matching grey suit, while saxophonist Lee Thompson – arguably the only band member to genuinely betray the band’s longevity – forewent formal attire in favour of the cloth cap and Fred Perry shirt look favoured in various London working class circles. Opening with the rousing One Step Beyond, the Palace was soon littered with white-boy imitation ska dancing and bouncing bodies, the crowd chanting along with Chas’ bellowing vocals. With a set-list that borrowed well from the band’s back catalogue punctuated with the odd new song (which while certainly not generating the acclaim of the singles, were politely received), Suggs did his finest ‘nutty Kray brother’ routine, Chas continued his distinctive ska shuffle, Foreman accentuated the generally subtle guitar licks and Thompson battled the effects of middle age in invoking the squawking saxophone so critical to the Madness sound. But it was in the latter part of the set that Madness brought out its classic hits, rendering the atmosphere in the venue as thick as the proverbial London pea soup fog. House of Fun was a shot in the arm for any old fart moaning about the good ol’ days of Thatcher’s Britain, Baggy Trousers was a welcome trip into latent high school memories and forgotten ‘80s fashions, the lush harmonies of Our House reminded us of those crazy days of housing affordability and sanitised domestic solitude and the emotion generated from It Must Be Love was so compelling it might have reconciled the warring parties in the Middle East. The final bracket was the icing on an already rich and satisfying cake. Opening with Tarzan’s Nuts, followed by Madness and finishing with the all-too-easily forgotten Night Boat to Cairo (and a certain Beat editor in the ska-pit), Madness were in its absolute element, a bunch of London geezers with a bagful of great songs and a host of vivid memories. Not bad for a nutty band.
Patrick Emery, beat.com
APRIL 1: The Barton Theatre, Adelaide
APRIL 4: V Festival Melbourne, Ascot Vale
Suggs quips, ‘I don’t know why it’s been 23 years since we were last here?’ A voice then pipes up on the backing mic, ‘I do! It took us that long to save up the fare.’ The band also poke fun at the lighting guys by thanking them, because due to Victoria’s extended daylight savings period, it’s still broad daylight.
APRIL 5: V Festival Perth, Claremont
APRIL 17: The Liberty of Norton Folgate film premiere, Notting Hill
Julien Temple’s film of the 2008 Hackney performances is screened at the Coronet as part of the London Independent Film Festival. Each song is intercut with funny interludes or dark commentary, including an epic poem by Carl, performed in the style of the Dickensian character he played on stage at Hackney. He and Suggs also pair up for a wander along the cobbles through the smoke-filled streets of London, passing gravestones of old friends, tramps, and Jack The Ripper, telling tales of hardship and woe.
JULIEN TEMPLE (director): Concert films are normally boring. Not this one. The audience are characters themselves, shown in the best chosen moments or their joy, while city of London plays a part too.
APRIL 21: Later With Jools Holland
The band open the show with Dust Devil and close it with Embarrassment, with Suggs and birthday boy Mike interviewed in between.
APRIL 24: Camden Crawl, London
Travelling on an open-top double-decker bus, members of Madness play at four locations at the popular North London music festival, which is also broadcast on BBC 6 Music. Firstly, Suggs (vocals and tambourine), Bedders (ukulele) and Lee (sax) busk a couple of numbers outside the Roundhouse, Edinburgh Castle and Dublin Castle, with a lucky competition winner joining them on kazoo. They’re then joined by Woody, Mike, Chris, Carl, Steve Turner (sax) and Joe Auckland (trumpet) at Inverness Street Market for the gig proper. Here, they perform One Step Beyond, Dust Devil, NW5, Forever Young, Baggy Trousers, Clerkenwell Polka, House of Fun, Our House, It Must Be Love and Night Boat To Cairo.
You can’t possibly not have fun watching Madness perform live. Even the band themselves, some of whom are in their fifties, still bounce around with the youthful enjoyment they began depicting over thirty years ago, and here in Camden’s Inverness Street Market, round the corner from the Dublin Castle pub where they started their career, their trademark exuberance was as evident as ever. Though the boys know most North London venues better than any young band playing at the Crawl, this gig was the first they had played on top of a bus. That’s right, a double decker bus was parked up on Camden High Street, Inverness Street Market was cleared and chaos was ready to ensue. Arriving 45 minutes late (insert your own buses being late joke here) didn’t matter a jot once the words ‘hey you, don’t watch that, watch this…’ were bellowed from Carl Smyth’s lungs. The unpunctuality was forgotten, and a party was ready to commence. Even new songs ‘NW5’ and ‘Forever Young’ carry the celebratory appeal of the band, leading to a wave of skanking sweeping the crowd. Dancing to Madness basically seems to consist of jovially jogging on the spot or pogo-ing up and down with maximum energy. Both moves are utilised to the maximum. ‘Let us delve into the big velvet bag of Madness classics’, says Suggs, pulling out ‘Baggy Trousers’ to a rapturous reception, following it up with ‘Our House’. With the band attempting to address the audience from all angles, which included a crowd that the band had their back to on the High Street, people standing on top of pubs and bars along Inverness Street and hanging out their windows on the opposite side of the road , the unique atmosphere of this festival was captured. Ending on a beautiful ‘It Must Be Love’, that when sung by a crowd of people sends shivers down the spine, and coming out for an encore of ‘Night Boat to Cairo’, the North London boys are a band that could not sum up the festival feel better, particularly on their own stomping ground.
SUGGS: Every pub and club in Camden – of which there were about 20 or 30 – had young new bands playing for the whole weekend and it was really extraordinary, vibrant and fresh.
APRIL 25: Woody runs the London Marathon
Running in aid of the MacMillan Cancer Support Charity, the drummer completes the race in three hours, 42 minutes and eight seconds, finishing 6,209th out of 35,000 runners.
MAY 9: Dermot O’Leary show, Radio 2
Mike and Suggs play Dust Devil and Tomorrow’s Just Another Day, acoustically on piano and egg shaker, while talking about all things Suggs, Dangermen and the new Madness material.
MAY 11: Dust Devil is released as a single
The 7” vinyl version features The Roadette Song on the B-side. The single reaches No1 on the indie chart and No64 in the UK chart.
WOODY: We’ve written tons of songs but that was one of our finest.
CHRIS: When Lee first wrote it, it started out a bit like the Rolling Stones, if you can imagine that. I don’t usually get too involved in changing things, but it was quite slow and I said, ‘Why don’t we try and reggae it up?’ So we did and it turned out really good.
WOODY: I think it’s about something that vibrates in a young lady’s bed at night. Or it could be a cleaning device. I’m not sure.
BEDDERS: Lee always writes with fantastic innuendo; there’s always something in there that’s sexual, I’d say.
LEE: I think it may have something to do with my sex drive, which has always been extremely active; even though I’m now clocking half a century, I still chase my wife around the house. Writing about the norm or another broken heart/hard luck story has never been that inspiring to me. Check out Ian Dury’s You’re More Than Fair or I Made Mary Cry, Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartache, or the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s N.E.X.T., I Love The Dead from Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies. It’s all their fault.
MIKE: Some of Lee’s lyrics, I think, ‘Bloody hell. What’s going on in his head?’
LEE: I sometimes listen to Madness albums and think to myself, ‘What the fuck is he talking about?’ I seriously don’t know where some of the lyrics or ideas for the songs come from, it’s as if I’m being taken over by someone or thing, I open the dictionary and I’m drawn in to a world of letters that make up words that I have no knowledge of and which I’m a novice bouncing up and down on a bed in a sideshow full of word play. Then I check the clock and it’s blackbirds singing in the dead of night.
The video features Jaime Winston and real-life boyfriend Alfie Allen.
Directed by Adam Smith, Jaime plays an out-of-control drinker on a night out, with the hand-held camera following her as she causes mayhem, with Alfie trying to get her home. Suggs, Carl and Bedders make a brief appearance, but otherwise it’s Madness-free as a few of the band are still in Australia when it’s filmed.
SUGGS: We got in this great director called Adam Smith, who’d done Skins and a lot of other stuff on TV. In turn he got Jamie Winstone, who’s a great actress, and Alfie Allen to re-enact the song in the west end. We were hoping to get their dads, Ray [Winstone] and Keith [Allen] in to have a fight, but we couldn’t organise that.
ADAM SMITH (video director): I’d worked with Jaime before and think she’s brilliant so wanted to work with her again. I couldn’t think of anyone else that would play the role better.
SUGGS: Jaime was perfect for the video – although we’re not suggesting she’s like the girl in the song, who’s a bit wayward and enjoys a night out or seven – but she and Alfie did a great job.
ADAM SMITH: There wasn’t a specific brief – it sort of came from a few pub discussions with the actors and then some trust on their part. It was then filmed over one lively night in Soho, from 8pm to 5am, and was all shot solely using a body harness attached to Jaime. Luckily she loved the idea and was probably the only person I know who’d have the guts to take on Soho on a busy night with a camera strapped to her. I wanted to make a story based on the character that’s described in the song and through this process ended up remembering a lot of nights trying to chaperone spirited girlfriends out of some of the situations that pop up on a night out when you’re a bit over-spirited. It was also important that the characters really loved each other, so the Alfie casting was brilliant because of the instant intimacy you got between the two of them. Because we all know each other, there was a shorthand while working and we really enjoyed the shoot. Madness even made little cameos as angry minicab punters, with gregarious gesticulating replacing nutty dancing. They’d just got back from touring in Australia so there were only a few of them about.
SUGGS: They asked us to come down to Soho at about 2am to film our little cameo as the stars waiting for a cab. All I could hear was these expletives echoing around the corner and I thought, ‘We’re going to find Jaime pretty quickly I think.’ It was a remarkable sight, with all these transvestites coming out of clubs, trying to work out what the hell was going on.
ADAM SMITH: Quite a few of the local Soho ‘residents’ really got involved and made minor cameos. Jaime was incredible at just going with whatever happened and staying in the moment. She’s a very dedicated, hardworking and brave actress.
SUGGS: In the end, I think it was a pretty good video.
MAY 16: New TV advert
The band star in a spoof washing powder promo to plug the upcoming album. The ad also trails the upcoming Madstock gig in Victoria Park on July 17.
MAY 18: The Liberty of Norton Folgate is released
The band’s long-awaited ninth studio album is finally unveiled – and is well worth the wait. Released to universal acclaim, it enters the UK charts at No5 in its first week. The extended version of the album features additional tracks Let’s Go, Mission From Hell, Seven Dials, Fish & Chips, One Fine Day, The Kiss and Hunchback of Torriano, which was originally demoed for Wonderful with Lee on vocals. The album eventually makes 3rd and 9th place respectively in the BBC and Mojo ‘Best albums of 2009’ lists.
TRACK-BY-TRACK: Click on song title
SUGGS: The clue’s in the title – it’s about London, as are most of the other songs on the album. It’s a lovely explanation of all the diversity that London has to offer, with a very positive and optimistic take on the idea that it’s not always easy to live in a sprawling metropolis, but if we all put in a bit of effort, maybe we can all rub along smoothly.
BEDDERS: The words and the music were written by Mike. It was actually recorded some time before the rest of the album tracks in Toe Rag . The idea was just to make it very, very simple and very, very 60s and very much of that time.
BEDDERS: I think what struck everyone about this song when we heard it was that it sounded instantly good. Suggs came in, he’d written the lyrics, and he’d also written a very simple reggae piano part. And that was all it needed.
SUGGS: It’s a very simple song that partly came out of The Dangermen. Playing those tracks made me remember how simple great songs can be. So I was trying to write a song that was quite simple sentimentally, and also about the dangers of getting too crystalline in your old age, so you may be getting creaky physically but you don’t have to be creaky in your mind and can still keep the same excitement for life.
BEDDERS: We did try fiddling a little bit with it, adding some bits and remixing it, but in the end we just felt it was best left alone to be what it is; a really lovely reggae song.
SUGGS: I think I was looking into my own kids’ eyes for it. As much as old people teach young people, young people can teach you when you get older; if you’re not careful, you can get bitter and twisted about your failings and regrets.
LEE: By the time we finished, we had six versions of this in the bag – the Bob Dylan one, the T-Rex one, the Johnny Cash one…
SUGGS: This is a lovely little toe-tapper about the gaieties of life and skipping to and fro between various parties and people.
BEDDERS: This was written by Lee and Mike. When we were sitting in the rehearsal room trying to get it together, the idea was to just have one groove and make it go on and on and on. We wanted to make it as simple as possible and just have the rhythm pulsing away. I think, once again, it just harks back to old soul records – that’s certainly what we were trying to aim for.
SUGGS: This is a reference to a certain style of Jaguar car from the 1960s, which I very much liked. They were always very evocative of old spy films and 60s gangsters and all that sort of stuff, and that’s really what the song is trying to evoke. It’s about a guy leaving a girl to go and do a bank job, but it’s sort of left hanging in the air as to whether he gets away with it or comes back.
MIKE: We were going through everyone’s songs, old and new, for the album and I came across this and thought it was a good song – some tunes are just darn timeless.
SUGGS: It’s about a rather disgruntled girl who’s fed up of her husband being boring and goes out on the town. So it’s a bit of a role reversal from the normal situation when the man’s out causing all the trouble. And he’s sitting at home, waiting for her to come in, all worried about where she’s been. It was nice to get Rhoda [Dakar] involved and sing on it because we know her from a long time ago. We were looking for someone with a bit of character so it was good to get someone with a connection to our past too.
SUGGS: This one is the story of an old tradition in London called being ‘rolled’ outside a Tube station.
LEE: It’s about a bad experience I had down in Camden Town, when I got mugged. I went to a club and ended up having my bag and bits ‘n’ bobs taken off me. It was my own fault though. I got a bit of a whack on the chin, but due to the amount of alcohol consumption, the legs gave way. I thought, ‘Cor, they’re a bit rude, those dudes walking away from us, looking over their shoulder. Bit unsociable.’ Little did I realise. I woke up the next day, had a shave and realised I’d been done over. It happened outside a Mecca ballroom – hence the name.
LEE: This one is about me and my childhood friend and former partner in crime, Bobby Townshend.
SUGGS: It’s a very serious song about being treated like an idiot; a universal theme.
BEDDERS: When we were sitting down to put it all together, it just said to us that it should sound like Diana Ross and the Supremes. That was definitely our influence – to get that sort of Motown groove going.
SUGGS: This is about someone in London daydreaming that they’re in Africa. It’s got a nice melody and a simple, rather dreamlike, state ensues after listening to it.
CHRIS: It’s certainly an evocative and atmospheric little number. I did a good moody Edge-like tune on it, plus some wah-wah as well. The rest of the band? Well they’re on it somewhere.
BEDDERS: It’s yet another product of the fertile writing partnership between Lee and Mike. It was done a long time before the rest of the album and is about our old stamping ground, Kentish Town, NW5.
LEE: It’s about friendship and how life can change you. I wrote it when I was feeling very sorry for myself. It’s basically about friendships – starting, being, ending – and some that last forever, and some that don’t. I mean, me, Mike and Chris have known each other since we were 11 or 12 years of age, and have been through those ups and downs. It’s about falling out with friends that you’ve known for so long and all the memories that go with that.
CLIVE LANGER: It’s a great example of how Lee’s an amazing observer of life; he really puts it down like it is.
SUGGS: This one was about the emigrés who started all the radical newspapers in Clerkenwell. It’s got a lovely toe-tapping beat and if you’re not careful, it speeds up towards the end.
SUGGS: If you’d said to me when I was 18 that one day I’d do a ten-minute song, I would have been shocked and horrified. I was working on it for some time, but basically it’s just four or five songs stuck together; there’s some stuff from Carl, some stuff from Mike and some stuff from me, without too much indulgent noodling or guitar solos that go on for weeks.
LEE: Suggs and Chris were really at the top of their game when they wrote this one. It has such great lyrics and it’s all over the place.
WOODY: Once we got the idea that we could really stretch it out, it became Madness’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It was really an experiment in how far we could extend one track.
SUGGS: It was quite complicated and quite a challenge, because we don’t really write songs that long. It took a long time to put together, and because we were recording in an eight-track studio, we had to rehearse and rehearse. We’d start at the beginning and say, ‘Right, see you on the other side.’ And eventually we managed to play the whole thing the whole way through.
WOODY: It was an epic journey but we all really enjoyed. It explained London, where we came from, and it opened up a new understanding of the band itself, our history and influences.
SUGGS: It was seven minutes longer than I’d been used to. But I had too much to tell for a mere throwaway pop song. Instead, it tells the history of Shoreditch from the Huguenots through to the Bangladeshis. Hundreds of years ago, the places outside the city gates were called ‘liberties,’ because that’s where the police took liberties with young boys and prostitutes and where new immigrants arrived. They established their own communities outside the gates because they couldn’t get in. Norton Folgate was one such liberty and became a shanty town for people who’d been chucked out of the city, full of immigrants, outsiders, writers, musicians, libertines and nutters. It had its own rules and laws, becoming a peculiar community of freethinking people, which I thought was a rather marvellous thing to contemplate. If Madness had been around, that’s where we would have lived. So on one hand, the song is about that, and on the other it’s about how the joy of living in London is that it’s always changing. In the current climate, it seemed worth saying. Plus I just thought that The Liberty of Norton Folgate was such a great name for a record. 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.
LEE: It’s a phenomenal track and was a really enjoyable experience to do – it’s something I wished I’d done years ago.
WOODY: It gave us a ton of confidence to be able to say, ‘What we do, we do well, so let’s not pretend to be anything else’. In the past we used to say, ‘We’ve done that, let’s try something new’ but by now we were comfortable in our own skin, comfortable with what we did. We thought, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’
LEE: I love it because it’s got that real Pink Floyd type vibe to it – you sit back, light up a jazz woodbine, have a glass of wine and it just takes you into different dimensions.
CHRIS: The line ‘In the beginning / Was the fear of the immigrant’ was derived from being Irish in London when there was, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs around. Through travelling and seeing the perpetual scapegoat in every society, you develop an understanding that there’s always someone to blame – whether it’s the Americans blaming the Polacks or the Dutch blaming the Belgians.
CARL: It’s very strange – on one side the government encourages an influx of cheap labour and yet they do nothing to protect people from the hatred it brings.
WOODY: It was a bit of a departure for us as we don’t really do political comments. All we do is comment on our own experience in life and our own experience in life is us growing up in this big town called London.
CHRIS: It’s allegedly about a guy who lived in Torriano Villas, a block of council flats off Torriano Avenue. I was riding my bike along the canal and the guitar part just came to me – it had a bit of Keith Richards, a bit of Duane Eddy and a bit of Angus Young.
At a point in their history when you’d confidently expect them to be creeping about the gaff in elderly slippers looking for their reading glasses, Madness have instead made a really good album. Ambitious, tuneful, exciting, wise, and with a finale that kicks them up a level into an undreamed-of musical dimension. Over the years, Madness have had quite a few false-ish starts. There was The Madness, a very odd semi-reunion album. There was Suggs’ karaoke solo album, there was the Dangermen collection…all target-missers on various levels. But The Liberty of Norton Folgate – a title which makes sense in context but is otherwise unlikely to be jamming up the ringtone sites – is Madness in both their pomp and their prime. Like most grabs for reheated glory, it sounds like their entire career in one go. There are echoes of melancholy stompers like The Sun And The Rain; there’s the rocksteady, bass-heavy (lots of bass on this album!) Forever Young, which is a slightly less-grey cousin of Grey Day. Any number of brilliant Madness character sketches are recalled in the splendid Idiot Child (which also has the spectral quality of the post-Mike Barson Mad Not Mad.) But none of these stylistic revisits are retreads. Everything is infused with some of the best melodies of the band’s career, and everything is enthused, too. The tiredness of Keep Moving and Mad Not Mad has been replaced with an older, but fresher, sound. Songs like Forever Young and Sugar And Spice sound like singles, and should be. Everything seems to gel – the arrangements are the best ever, the production is thoughtful and smart, and the influences melded perfectly (we all know Madness were more than the sum of Ian Dury and The Kinks, but we all chose to ignore the huge, conspicuous chunks of Mowtown and The Beatles also in there). And there’s a new layer to Madness, as well. Previous efforts suffered because the band seemed unkeen to leave their comfort zone. Every musical territory that Madness had ever visited was revisited again and again, with diminishing returns (by the time Suggs got round to covering I’m Only Sleeping, the template was starting to look like tracing paper). But this time round, things are different. Idiot Child may be a short, sharp character sketch, but it’s more barbed and less cosy than before. Africa is Madness’s most extraordinary lyric in which for once they stop banging on about London (on an album obsessed with the capital to the extent it contains a song called We Are London) and write a song about, amazingly, leaving the capital and going to Africa in a dream. It’s a lyrical fantasia slightly related to Michael Nesmith’s Rio and unlike anything else in the Madness jukebox. What else? Well, there’s Clerkenwell Polka, which is a spookier cousin of Waiting For The Ghost Train and contains the best and possibly first use of the word ‘rectilinear’ in a song. There’s NW5, as good an entry point single to this album as anything. And – oh yeah! – there’s The Liberty Of Norton Folgate itself, which gets its own paragraph. There’s a lot to say about The Liberty Of Norton Folgate. For a start, it’s 10 minutes long, which is unusual for a tune by Britain’s Official Greatest Singles Band. It’s a song simultaneously influenced by Ian Dury, Peter Ackroyd, Bollywood, Charles Dickens, Kurt Weill, John Barry, and, so far as I can tell, Muffin The Mule. It is in some ways The Pogues doing Good Vibrations and in others Oliver! performed by Prince Buster. Best of all, for a band who began their career in skinhead controversy while writing great songs about miscegenation, it’s a song that takes their obsession with London, the city of nations, to its logical conclusion, being a historical and musical tribute to a brilliant mixed-up mongrel culture. ‘In the beginning was the fear of the immigrant,’ they chant, implying that such fears are for the weak of mind and chin. It’s a song that only Madness could write, and it is quite mad, a great argument against racism that makes you proud to be British, and a fantastic conclusion to a very, very good album.
David Quantick, Uncut, 4/5
‘We are London,’ contends Suggs on the bouncy tune of that name, which opens Madness’s first studio album in a decade. Of all the bands in the capital, his sprightly survivors have a better claim than most to ‘be’ London, and the quintessential Camden geezers’ love affair with their city is still going strong. On this album, London is the backdrop for little dramas about capitalism’s deleterious effects (Clerkenwell Polka), departed friends (NW5) and the East End’s status as a haven for artists and eccentrics (the title track). The songs are wordy and disappointingly light on the knock ’em dead catchiness that was once their forte, but what The Liberty of Norton Folgate lacks in hit singles it makes up for in glorious ska/reggae arrangements and Suggs’s perpetual chirpiness, which is laced with the bemusement of a chap who can’t work out where the years went. A graceful return from the nutty ‘boys’.
Caroline Sullivan, The Guardian
The public appetite for the ska-infused 2-Tone sound of 30 years ago is, apparently, as hearty as ever. In the past couple of weeks, the Specials have been packing in the crowds on a sensational reunion tour. Meanwhile, Madness, their erstwhile label-mates, recently performed atop a double-decker bus at the Camden Crawl festival, filling the surrounding streets with joyous scenes of ‘nutty dancing’. It’s an auspicious moment, then, for Madness (with all seven original members still in place) to offer up their first album of new material in 10 years. Nominally, The Liberty of Norton Folgate is a concept piece inspired by the once self-governing east London district of Spitalfields. Fans will probably not notice any major deviation from the septet’s usual service; as Suggs, their garrulous singer, points out in his colourful liner notes, what have they ever done, apart from celebrate their native city? What some may have forgotten about Madness is the fact that their albums were never about unremitting escapism and hilarity. Even on many singles, they were the masters of maudlin, bittersweet pop. Here Sugar & Spice, a corker penned by pianist, Mike Barson, looks back on marital dreams gone sour with ‘bitterness and pain’, while Idiot Child is a caustic portrayal of encouragement-free parenting. By the finale – the panoramic, 10-minute Norton Folgate – Madness today seem less like chroniclers of London, than of adult life, in all its complexity, disappointment and anxiety chroniclers of London, than of adult life, in all its complexity, disappointment and anxiety. Lovely, lovely music, though.
The Telegraph, 4/5
It’s probably stretching a point to suggest that the current 2-Tone revival says as much about our present social corrosion as any learned sociological treatise; though certainly, the last time blue-eyed ska bands were this popular, the country was riven with inner-city riots and being bled dry by complete bankers. Sound familiar? But while the gloss may have been taken off the Specials comeback by the non-involvement of Jerry Dammers, the return of Madness lacks no such lustre. After 2005’s insipid Dangermen Sessions set of reggae covers, even the one-time nutty boys themselves accepted that, to all intents and purposes, the game was up. Which just makes the success of The Liberty of Norton Folgate all the more extraordinary. A concept album about London town might seem no great surprise, but the aplomb and intelligence with which it’s been executed may surprise those who have taken the band’s ‘tasty geezers’ image as their actual character. The album derives its title, and its 10-minute title-track suite, from a short stretch of Bishopsgate in east London which until 1900 was administered by the inhabitants rather than the surrounding boroughs, accordingly attracting a populace of rogues and artists. For Madness, it clearly represents the essence of the freewheeling Cockney spirit sketched out in the album’s 14 songs: as they claim in between the blizzard of namechecked locations in the opening We Are London, anything is possible ‘if we all live together as one big family’. And so it proves, across the capital, from the Kentish Town celebrated in typical jaunty good-time style in NW5, to the Chelsea Mews equivalent of a bedsitter vignette retailed in Mk II (a Jag, rather than a Cortina). Sugar and Spice is especially well-wrought, a Squeeze-style short story of youthful romance, marriage, and inevitable disillusion set to piano and reedy organ: ‘Sugar and spice / Everything was so nice / Now it’s just not the same / It’s bitterness and pain’. Similar territory is covered in the haunting That Close and On the Town, about a relationship past its snog-by date; while elsewhere Idiot Child, Rainbows and Forever Young chart the progress of scallywag kids, the latter pithily summarising youth as ‘paradise lost and innocence gone’. Musically, it may be the band’s most successful work, their ambition summarised both in the morphing movements of the title track, and in the way that the Clerkenwell Polka transforms from tuba-driven oompah band into a sort of double-time Balkan/Dixieland knees-up, without straying too close to Chas and Dave country
Andy Gill, The Independent 4/5
A decade since last testing the murky waters of the album market, the septet make a triumphant return with an impressively sophisticated set of songs. Opening with the complex culture clash of Mike Barson’s Overture, the erstwhile Nutty Boys proclaim We Are London. From anyone else it would sound both presumptuous and pretentious, from Madness it is but a cheery matter of fact. Sugar And Spice is a great narrative, Suggs waxing nostalgic about getting a flat in Golders Green ‘with a second-hand fridge and a washing machine’, with shades of Squeeze’s Difford and Tilbrook. But the strength is in the consistency and the rich diversity of the record’s musical texture, the vocal exchanges of On The Town, or reflective melody of Forever Young, illuminated by an out-of-the-box electric guitar solo. Mk II boasts the most sumptuous of pop melodies, stacked with dramatic chord changes to match, all packed into less than two-and-a-half minutes. Idiot Child puts the skids under progressive education through gleefully gritted teeth, and NW5 is a deceptive sing-along with a sting in the chorus. This is how a truly modern musical should sound, full of colour with razor-sharp lines. Beaming out from the footlights is Suggs, a vocal entertainer at the top of his game.
Colin Somerville, Scotland on Sunday
At a stage of life when they might be endlessly revisiting Our House and Baggy Trousers on the 1980s nostalgia circuit, the much-loved ska-pop band, 30 years after their debut, have ripped up the form book and delivered a knockout album.
Norton Folgate is Peter Ackroyd writing for The Kinks, it’s Sherlock Holmes in Albert Square, it’s a Mike Leigh movie of Parklife, it’s Passport To Pimlico meets Brick Lane, and it is Madness’s masterpiece.
Still totally themselves, Madness have made the album of their career.
Their best album in 20 years.
MIKE: You never know how it’s gonna pan out with these things, but it got really great reviews.
SUGGS: The reviews were all very charming and flattering, and I think they did reflect the enormous amount of work we’d put into it. In particular, we got great critical acclaim from the more intelligentsia end of the market, but it was funny because we hadn’t put in any more or less work than on any of our other albums. We’d always tried to make great records. We just knew it would be a waste of time trying to do anything to fit in with current fashions, so we just decided to make a record that we wanted to hear. And it just happened to be the most well-received record we’d ever made.
CARL: I suppose I’d thought about it being our Sgt Pepper’s, which is a bit cheeky, but there you go.
SUGGS: It does have that atmosphere, but it’s not really a concept album. Instead, we tried to write a pop album, but one written by men, rather than kids. It’s as much about entertaining people on a Friday night as expressing the sad loss in your heart.
WOODY: Freed from the shackles of trying to be too clever, we just wrote songs with lyrics that made sense to us and that were about our experiences. Then suddenly Bob’s your uncle, people say it’s refreshing and new, and the reaction is, ‘What a relief, it’s Madness again’. Over the years you can get a bit self-indulgent and go up your own bottom. But we just realised all the old stuff is still being played on the radio and we are Madness – and we’ve never stopped being Madness.
SUGGS: It was a real life- changing moment for us. Making an album that stood up against all our hits propelled us into being a working band again, as opposed to being a museum piece. It didn’t sell in its millions but was extremely well received in the intellectual music circles and that has an effect on how you are perceived generally. If we just knocked out some old crap then you wouldn’t be held in high regard. It all added to the pot of being perceived as a working band again; we aren’t just lolling on the lilo of novelty we’re actually sailing around a bit on our own steam. People started treating us like a group who made great records again, instead of being seen as something compared to our past – although our past will always be there of course.
MAY 19: HMV Oxford Street, London
The band play live and take part in a signing session. During the event, Suggs jokes that the stage is too near to Heavy Metal and should be moved closer to the Urban and Dance section. The band play One Step Beyond, Dust Devil – which is introduced as ‘the number 1 single’ – NW5, Forever Young, Baggy Trousers, Clerkenwell Polka, House of Fun, Our House, It Must Be Love.
MAY 19: The One Show, BBC1
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): Our kids were all quite small in our heyday in the 80s, so seeing us come back now is a bit of a shock to them I think; to see what Dad does in his real life, apart from sitting on the sofa watching beautiful daytime TV. I don’t hear it coming out of their bedrooms every day but I think they’re quite pleased with what we’ve done.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): Mine are just used to it: ‘Yeah alright Dad, you’re in a band, on the telly again.’ They’re not impressed by anything. My youngest, Mary, wanted to be like Lisa Simpson until she realised how heavy it was to carry a saxophone around with her. So that was it.
MAY 21: Album launch party, London
The official launch party is held in – where else? – Norton Folgate, at the Light Bar. In attendance are the band, management, creative partners, industry, friends, family, residents, celebrities, web workers, and some lucky fans, not forgetting a pearly king and queen or two. Madness play a short 14-song set, including nine tracks from the new album. Suggs introduces the title track by saying, ‘It’s great to see so many friends and faces, some we haven’t seen for a few years. Here is what the press are calling Madness’s 10-minute masterpiece, heaven forbid that I should contradict them. What do I know? This is the title song of our album, we are standing right where this used to be: The Liberty of Norton Folgate.’
We are London / Dust Devil / Embarrassment / Bingo / NW5 / The Prince / Sugar and Spice / On the Town / House Of Fun / Clerkenwell Polka / Forever Young / Our House / The Liberty Of Norton Folgate / It Must be Love / ENCORE: Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
Two hundred years ago, Spitalfields in east London contained an anomalous self-governing enclave known as the Liberty of Norton Folgate. Free from the laws that governed the rest of the capital and administered by trustees, it became home to a host of writers, artists and bohemian types, plus a significant population of drunks and libertines. Madness have long been London’s prime chroniclers in song, with Suggs in particular taking a dogged interest in the city’s history that extended to presenting the Disappearing London series on ITV a few years ago. The upshot is this show in a tiny but heaving Spitalfields bar to launch The Liberty of Norton Folgate, their first album in 10 years and possibly the strongest of their three-decade career. The tone is set by the rambunctious opener, We Are London, which sees a bowler-hat-sporting Suggs undertake a whimsical travelogue across the capital from Baker Street to Camden and Soho. ‘We used to write songs about burgeoning relationships; now we write about them disintegrating,’ the frontman notes before Sugar & Spice, a song about love and loss in Golders Green. But in truth, Madness songs have always covered the whole spectrum of emotions. The band throw in a few crowd-pleasers – House of Fun, Our House, It Must Be Love – but new songs such as Bingo, a wide-eyed reel through the capital’s secret pleasure points, also sound like instant classics. ‘We’re just a clapped-out 80s pop group,’ jokes Suggs, but London’s perennial house band are patently nothing of the sort.
Ian Griffiths, The Guardian, 5/5
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): We’re proud of the new album and very pleased at the reception it’s got; it changes the perception of our own position in the world. If we’re just getting together for a best-of concert, it’s easy to get bored.
CARL (speaking in 2009): I think it’s a credible album and I think it’s worthy of being released. Someone like James Brown goes on for 30 years playing the same set – but for us it’s not about the same set, it’s about delivering something that people expect and want.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): It gives us hope as a band. We haven’t gone down a corridor to find a brick wall at the end. We’ve fund there’s more of the corridor left and it doesn’t get narrower; it gets wider.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): It’s a pop record, but made by people our age; a really dense British pop album. There’s a ton of clichés that people make their best records when they’re young, and that’s often true. We felt it was important not to let the vitality go just because we understand more things – so you might be writing about your first divorce rather than your first girlfriend, but it’s still in a three-minute pop way.
CARL (speaking in 2009): We began in a recession, in a difficult time for the country. It was a wave, so there was something being expressed by The Specials, Madness, The Beat. Then we reformed, again in an economic recession, almost because people wanted us to. And now we’re back in a recession again, and this album is the third energy bubble. I like to think of Madness as a bright shining bit of joy.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): I do feel this is our coming out record. This is where we’re meant to be. We’ve tried to make it an amalgam of all the tings we’ve loved and thought, ‘How can we stretch it a bit?’ It’s a great feeling after all these years of dawdling and procrastinating. I just wanted to deliver a really strong Madness album again before my hopefully not-too-quick death. After all the years of plodding around, it’s a great feeling to know, I can close the eyelids and sleep soundly forever, metaphorically speaking.
MAY 22: Breakfast Time, BBC
MAY 22: Suggs reconvenes the parliament of the Liberty of Norton Folgate
In a light-hearted promotional stunt at the Light Bar, the singer is joined by Bedders to call the long-defunct ‘parliament’ back to session after 100 years. Daytime news crews capture the event as Suggs announces new laws, with a town crier starting proceedings.
MAY 23: Soccer AM, Sky Sports
MAY 25: Ken Bruce Show, Radio 2
Members of the band take part in the Tracks of my Years feature, picking two songs each day.
CARL (speaking in 2009): Madstock is a brand – I want us to be building that live. I don’t really care much about records and recording, I like the live experience. It’s financially sensible because you get 85% instead of 20% on a record.
MAY 26: This Morning, ITV
MAY 30: Newbury Racecourse, Newbury
The band kick off another summer of live gigs back with a racecourse appearance.
CARL (speaking in 2009): I don’t care about competing in the record sales game any more. Having worked in the industry, I just see the people in it as jumped-up fucking furniture salesmen. For me, the true experience is live performance. I want us to be like the Grateful Dead, a massive nomadic touring entity which has a tribe around it: Madheads.
MAY 31: Pinkpop Festival, Netherlands
Madness embark on a European jaunt, playing a mix of old and new songs on their first stop at the annual Dutch festival since 1981. New tracks Dust Devil, Clerkenwell Polka and Forever Young go down well with the 60,000 crowd.
CARL (speaking in 2009): I get bored with being asked if we’re doing it for the money – you don’t ask an actor if they’re acting in a film because they need the money. I’m an artist, you know.
JUNE 5: Citadelle Music Festival, Berlin, Germany
Tonight’s gig is noticeable for two things – Lee is missing and That Close gets its first-ever live airing. Forever Young is also announced as the next single, and during Shut Up, Carl changes the usual ‘One, two, three’ count to ‘Eins, zwei, drei.’ Support comes from The Pokes.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / Forever Young / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Dust Devil / The Sun and The Rain / Return of The Los Palmas 7 / Shut Up / I Chase The Devil (aka Iron Shirt) / Clerkenwell Polka / Grey Day / That Close / Bed & Breakfast Man / House Of Fun / Wings of A Dove / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE No1: Madness / Night Boat To Cairo / ENCORE No2 : Pigbag
JUNE 6: Rock am Ring, Nuremburg, Germany
JUNE 7: Rock im Park, Trier, Germany
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): I never underestimate that our fans have been very loyal to us and presumably forced their own children to listen to our music, which is why there’s a whole new generation of kids that like us.
JUNE 9: Lisbon Calling Festival, Nations Park, Portugal
JUNE 11: La Riviera, Madrid, Spain
CARL (speaking in 2009): When we reformed for Madstock in 1992 people asked: could we pull it off? I always believed we’d be fine. We’re a band that cares – a really good live band with great songs. This year we’ve had Elbow and Snow Patrol watching us from side of stage at festivals. Someone told me Gary Lightbody had to go away… watching us was making him nervous. But hanging out with all these young bands has been affirmation that we’re decent people. We get on with everyone. They sat comfortably in our zone. We’d be talking to the Kaiser Chiefs, who are five years in and they’re wondering where they’re going as a band. I told them that when they get to 17 years I’ll give them some real advice.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): The most important thing I say is, ‘Rediscover your marbles.’ All this, it’s just a game.
CARL (speaking in 2009): People ask us for advice. Adam Ant did, Brett from Suede did years ago. I tell everyone to stick together – share! Share! Take time out at five years and get off the treadmill. All these kids having all these new experiences, they’re getting their orange squeezed the whole time and they don’t know what to do. It’s like John Belushi – where were his mates when he needed them? Someone should help you get back to reality.
JUNE 13: Norfolk Showground, Costessey, Norfolk
Madness return to the UK briefly, supported by Aswad and The Dualers.
JUNE 17: L'Aquarium de Paris, Cinéaqua, Paris
Madness play a private concert for Radio Nostalgie, which is later broadcast on July 12.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): If we’re playing in England, we obviously play a more Madness-orientated set, with maybe a lot more new songs. We come to France, where they seem to have a respect for us and our music, and we can also play some new songs. You can adapt to different situations.
MIKE (speaking in 2009): We try and give a good balance that will be enjoyable for the people coming to the show. We try and balance it with new material and also the old songs that everyone very much wants to hear.
JUNE 20: HMS Belfast, London
Repeating their roles from the Camden Crawl in April, Suggs, Lee and Bedders make a one-off appearance on the ship for the Busking Cancer event, which sees musicians raising money for Cancer Research UK. The trio play a shortened One Step Beyond, as well as versions of Dust Devil, Waterloo Sunset, The Prince, It Must Be Love and Madness.
JUNE 26: Gatcombe Park, Gloucesteshire
In a nod to tonight’s stately venue, The Violin Monkeys finish one song with the opening bars of the National Anthem.
JUNE 28: Glastonbury Festival, Dorset
Madness perform on the Pyramid Stage on the final night of the festival, third on the bill behind Blur and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and following various veteran acts such as Status Quo, Tony Christie and Tom Jones. (The Specials had already played on the Friday). During their set, fan Chris Carter-Pegg holds aloft a two-sided banner that reads, ‘Give Madness their f**king Brit/Norton Folgate 4 Mercury Prize!’ The banner is picked up by the BBC cameras, and Suggs also announces, ‘We have to say thanks to the guy with the ‘Give Madness an effing Brit Award’ banner.’ During the performance, Lee takes to the air during Baggy Trousers, to the delight of the 75,000 crowd; his flight is admired even more when Suggs tells the crowd that he’d broken several ribs the night before, falling from a human pyramid with son Daley. The set contains 10 tracks that also featured in their previous Glastonbury appearances in 2007 and 1986.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Dust Devil / The Sun and the Rain / Iron Shirt / Clerkenwell Polka / Bed and Breakfast Man / Shut Up / Forever Young / House Of Fun / Wings of A Dove / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
SUGGS: When we were young skinhead yobbos, Glastonbury would’ve been a bizarre situation to have been in. Now we’re grown-up skinhead yobbos, it’s more feasible. For example, at one point there was a guy being lifted across a whole wave of the crowd, on a sofa, smoking a fag. But as Joe Strummer once said, ‘We’re all hippies at the end of the day.’ So what’s so funny about peace love and understanding?
CHRIS CARTER-PEGG (fan with sign): Knowing that the majority of serious fans take flags and banners along to support their band, I realised that it would probably have to be me. The next concern was what to have on it. The obvious would be merely to print ‘MADNESS’, but I thought if I was going to go to the effort of doing something, it might as well have a useful purpose. Thinking beyond Glastonbury to the next targets for the band over the coming year, I realised that two of these were to try and finally receive their long overdue Brit Award in 2010 and to win the Mercury Music Prize for best album with Norton Folgate. Perfect! The idea for the banner was complete – a double-sided sign to alert the world to both causes. We were very pleased to see that it was picked up by the cameras, with numerous close-ups on the big screens.
JULY 3: Receive Silver Clef Icon Award
Madness are presented with the Icon Award for their musical achievements spanning more than 30 years. The Awards, which have been running since 1976, raise money for the Nordoff-Robbins music charity, which specialises in working with children.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): We’re on a bit of a high at the moment and I need to get off for a couple of days. We’ve been part-time for the past 10 years and so this all feels a bit full-on. I’m getting a bit fed up with people congratulating me.
JULY 4: Heineken Open'er Festival, Gdynia, Poland
JULY 5: Roskilde Festival, Denmark
Madness return to Denmark for the first time since 1985.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): We get great satisfaction from playing and we’re sounding absolutely amazing at the moment, if I say so myself. We’ve really hit our peak, musically. That’s very rewarding but none of it would be rewarding at all if it wasn’t for the reaction of the crowd and the critics in the press right through to the radio. People are being very warm towards us, which is very nice. The whole package keeps you going.
JULY 10: Hultsfred Festival, Sweden
JULY 12: Exit Festival, Petrovaradin, Novi Sad, Serbia
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): We’ve had a lot of beautiful and colourful experiences all round the planet this year. We’ve had an eclectic year; we’ve been to Croatia and Serbia. In both places, you’ve got to be absolutely sure which country you’re in before you announce, ‘Hello Croatia!’
JULY 14: Suggs appears with Simon Mayo on the Radio 2 Drivetime show
JULY 17: Madstock 2009, Victoria Park, London
The fifth Madstock takes place away from Finsbury Park, with two stages. On the first are Suggs’s daughters Scarlett & Viva, Hayseed Dixie, Gregory Isaacs and Bjorn Again. On the other are Man Like Me, The Aggrolites, Jerry Dammers and the Spatial AKA Orchestra, The Blockheads, The Pogues and Madness. Along with Rhoda Dakar and Terry Edwards, Jerry Dammers joins the band for Night Boat To Cairo, during which he’s heard to shout, ‘What key is it in?’ Suggs replies, ‘It’s in fucking C, Jerry!’ Unfortunately, the gig is marred by two things. Firstly, people without the costlier premium tickets rush the ‘Golden Circle’ at the front. Secondly, gangs of organised pickpockets cause chaos during Madness’s set, with numerous fans being robbed of cash and phones. At one point, Suggs has a wallet thrown at him – one of dozens that’s been stolen, stripped of cash and hurled towards the front. Ugly scenes ensue amidst the drizzle, with numerous fights erupting and security struggling to control pockets of irate fans taking matters into their own hands.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Dust Devil / Take It Or Leave It / The Sun and the Rain / Forever Young / Shut Up / Iron shirt / Clerkenwell Polka / Grey Day / Taller Than You Are / That Close / Bed and Breakfast Man / 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
There’s nothing quite so dispiriting as a festival on a dark, dank, damp, Dickensian evening. And with the briskest of chill winds whistling through Hackney, you could have wept for the fifth Madstock, where ice cream vans were unpatronised and coffee stalls were doing better trade than the beer tents. On one stage Shane MacGowan sported an ominous eye-patch as The Pogues stumbled through their hits. On another, Bjorn Again’s Abba karaoke battled with the rain and lost. I don’t recall the original Take A Chance On Me having a spectacularly inept rap halfway through. And then there was Madness and suddenly all was well with the world. As young men, Madness always had an umbilical connection with their crowd. Thirty years since their debut single The Prince, the connection is unbroken and unquestioned. From the opening One Step Beyond, the sodden turf was awash with middle-aged folk doing the Nutty Boys dance, grinning like children, alongside their own children. When the wind didn’t distort the sound, the hits remained undimmed by time, be it the knowing innocence of Our House, the all-too-apt Grey Day or the delightfully silly Night Boat To Cairo, which featured Specials leader Jerry Dammers, whose regrets about missing his own band’s reunion can hardly have been assuaged. As singer Suggs said, ‘it’s a London thing’ and Pearly kings and queens introduced the encore, before dozens of smiling, gyrating relatives invaded the stage for the grand finale, the song Madness. Cor, and further more, blimey.
John Aizlewood, Evening Standard
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): Seeing as we had a new album out, and it was the 30th anniversary of the first record we ever made, we thought it would be nice to have our own festival kinda close to where we all grew up. Madstock for us is our homecoming, musically, socially and geographically. There’s no other day like it, for us, our families and for the people that come to see us.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): Everyone who was a fan when we first came out brings their grandchildren. We’ve got some real youngsters coming to our gigs now.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): In fact, if you took away all the over-40s you’d just have a field of four-year-olds.
JULY 18: Broadlands, Romsey, Hampshire
JULY 19: Splendour Festival, Wollaton Park, Nottingham
WOODY (speaking in 2009): If you play every night you lose it. That’s why we are quite sparing with our performances and we pick and choose which festivals we do. The worst thing in the world is when you are on stage and you’re completely numb to it all. You start thinking of things like ‘Oh blimey, I need to get my trousers washed’. The one thing we’ve learned is if you overdo it you lose the spark. It’s like everything: repetitiveness kills things.
JULY 25: Jonathan Ross Show, Radio 2
JULY 31: GMTV Breakfast, ITV
Minus Carl, who is in Ibiza, Madness perform new single Sugar & Spice on the daytime breakfast show. The band talk about filming the video for the new single, which was completed the previous day, and also answer questions on the new album, Madstock and their fans. Lee also reveals that his two grandchildren appear in the new video.
AUGUST 2: Suggs starts new four-week show on BBC6 Music
The singer stars in a two-hour afternoon show called A Month Of Sundays, playing his favourite tunes and those that have influenced his career.
AUGUST 3: Sugar & Spice released as single
For the first time, Madness’s new single is available as a download only, with no physical formats. The lyrics are slightly different from the album version, and an accompanying track also features an original demo with Mike on vocals. Filmed on stage at a local theatre, the video see Lee cavorting in a wedding dress. The single doesn’t chart.
SUGGS: I don’t know why, but Lee feels it necessary to dress as a woman in all our videos. He’s a beautiful blushing bride in this one.
LEE: Originally, I was going to use my daughter’s dress, but it was a little bit tight, so another one was eventually provided.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): I do miss the physical single format, there’s something about having a single in your hand and all the information and the artwork. They generally got played a bit more. But I’m not a Luddite, I move with the times. I embrace modern technology. I do have an MP3 player and I know how to download.
AUGUST 8: Picnic Afisha Festival, Kolomenskoe Park, Moscow, Russia
AUGUST 14: Øyafestivalen, Middelalderparken, Oslo, Norway
AUGUST 20: Suggs and the City released
Following on the heels of his TV shows, this 320-page hardcover book sees Suggs taking a journey through the main drags and side streets of his beloved London, uncovering the city’s hidden treasures as he goes.
AUGUST 28: Rock en Seine, Saint-Cloud, France
Headliners Oasis cancel their huge show at Rock en Seine Festival at the last minute. Promoters panic and plead with Camden’s finest – who had already played earlier – to fill the empty slot. Madness agree, to the delight of both fans and shaken festival bosses. During the set, Violin Monkey Mike Kearsey plays a short burst of Wonderwall during his trombone solo.
SUGGS: So we were on the train to Paris, and there’s cousins, and there’s aunts, and there’s people being thrown out of first class, and there’s bottles flying through our compartment, and two of the band are having a row in the corridor and one of them’s shouting in my earhole, ‘Whose fucking side are you on?’ and I’m just trying to enjoy the journey. And we get to Gare du Nord, and this rabble tip off the train and I stare up the platform and I see Noel Gallagher standing on his own with a guitar. And I thought, ‘How nice would it be to be him, and not with this shower?’ I thought he had it all worked out, travelling alone, just turning up to the gig. Little did I know…
WOODY: There were two stages at the venue and we just presumed we’d be on the same stage as Oasis, seeing as we were going to be their support act.
SUGGS: Then when we got there, we were suddenly told that they didn’t want us to play before them.
WOODY: I don’t know if it was their doing, or their management’s or someone else, but some bands don’t like Madness playing on the same stage as we’re very hard to follow.
CARL: It turned out that, unbeknown to use, they’d been saying for a few months that they didn’t want to go on after us. So we just said, ‘Fuck it, we don’t care, we’ll play the second stage’.
SUGGS: We were pissed off, but we’d never blown out a gig before and we weren’t about to now. So all the crowd who wanted to see us on the main stage were suddenly crushed into a field half the size. People were hanging out of trees, trampolining on top of beer tents and crowding on the roofs of hot dog vans. It went berserk but it was a cracking show.
WOODY: Afterwards we went back over to the main stage to watch Oasis come on.
SUGGS: So there we were, standing about backstage in our smoking jackets enjoying a post-gig drink or three, but we could tell something was up.
BEDDERS: We’d played with Oasis before, during which Lee put on a monobrow and went in their dressing room and stuff like that, so we knew them.
WOODY: Normally they were really friendly, and always came and said hello. But this time they kept themselves to themselves; they weren’t saying hello to anyone and they certainly weren’t coming out of that dressing room.
NOEL GALLAGHER (Oasis): Liam hadn’t turned up for the previous V Festvial gig because he had a hangover. There was a lot of bad press around it, which he somehow blamed me for. So then we got to Paris and he was getting violent, and there was all this toing and froing going on; all this ‘Fuck you… and fuck you… and fuck you.’ So as he storms out the dressing room, he picks up a plum, hurls it cross the dressing room and it splatters against the wall.
WOODY: We could hear them and they were really, really arguing – like really kicking off.
NOEL GALLAGHER: For whatever reason, Liam went to his own dressing room, grabbed a guitar and came back wielding it like an axe. It was a really unnecessary, violent act – he was swinging it around and nearly took my face off with it. It ended up on the floor and I put it out of its misery.
SUGGS: We heard this terrible clang – it sounded like the first chord of A Hard Day’s Night – and it turned out Liam had smacked Noel over the head with his own guitar.
NOEL GALLAGHER: I was like, ‘You know what? I’m out of here.’ As I walked out, Chas came up and was like, ‘Hey! Awright mate?’ and I might have told him to fuck off. So I need to apologise to him for that, but it had been a stressful afternoon.
SUGGS: The next thing we knew, the promoter came in and said ‘I can’t believe it, they’ve left the building. Oasis have split up!’ He was desperate.
CARL: He then turned to us and said, ‘Will you play? We’ve got no one! We’ve got no one!’ And after a little negotiation and mucking about, we said, ‘Of course we’ll play’.
SUGGS: He didn’t have any luck that promoter, ’cause he booked Amy Winehouse the year before.
WOODY: We then thought, ‘Whoever goes on, it’s going to be disastrous.’ But the crowd were fantastic. When it was announced that Oasis had split up, there were horrendous boos and jeers; it was just terrible. But when they announced that Madness were going to come on they all cheered, thank God.
SUGGS: I threw on my pink suit and we headed for the stage. ‘Alright, let’s not mention Oasis. Let’s have some dignity and respect – don’t take the piss.’ So of course we all walk out on stage doing the Liam walk, ‘All right Pariiiiiisssssss! Let’s fookin’ have itttt.’ And as the band struck up One Step Beyond, I looked down at the stage and there, between my feet, was a very small strip of tape with the word ‘Liam’ written on it, on the very stage they didn’t want us on in the first place.
CARL: That feeling of the underdog was very motivating – it was a real buzz and it made us perform better. I think we’ve always fed off that energy, right from the day we supported The Pretenders at The Lyceum and blew them offstage.
WOODY: It was a great show – we really gave it some. The crowd were fantastic and very patient to have to put up with Madness twice. It was wonderful.
SUGGS: It turned out to be one of the best gigs of our lives. I absolutely loved it.
MIKE KEARSEY (trombonist): The idea of playing the Wonderwall melody as a solo just came about as a tribute to a great band. I wouldn’t like to predict what will be coming out of the end of my horn in future solos as I rarely know myself until the moment.
NOEL GALLAGHER: I regret it really, as we only had two gigs left. If I had my time again, I would have gone back and done the gig, although it would have been dreadful as Liam was out of his mind.
SEPTEMBER 4: Blackpool lights switch-on
Madness play a short set at the annual event, which also features Tony Christie, Paloma Faith, Pixie Lott and JLS. Comic Alan Carr presses the button to turn on the famous illuminations.
SEPTEMBER 5: Electric Picnic, Stradbally Hall, Ireland
Madness take to the stage for day two of Ireland’s Electric Picnic festival
SUGGS: We had a great night afterwards. We ended up in a bar with an Irish folk band and our brass section were trying to approximate Irish folk music, which is very difficult to do on a trombone. Ireland is very conducive to having a good time.
SEPTEMBER 8: Miss out on Mercury Prize
Despite being universally acclaimed, The Liberty of Norton Folgate fails to make the nominees list for the annual music prize, awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. The trophy is eventually won by rapper Speech Debelle for her debut album, Speech Therapy.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): We did think that we had a good chance, but to be honest, we’ve never been given any of the great accolades in the music industry. We’ve never even won a Brit Award so we’re quite used to being rejected. I don’t think it makes any difference. I would have been chuffed to bits to get the Mercury Prize but I don’t know what qualifies you these days. We can only do the music that we do and hope that people like us. The most important reaction is from our listeners; a bit of metal or glass is neither here nor there.
SEPTEMBER 21: Total Madness released
Supported by an extensive TV and billboard campaign, another greatest hits package hits the shelves. This new CD/DVD box set features 21 tracks and videos from The Prince to Lovestruck, plus album tracks Madness and Bed and Breakfast Man. The digital download has the same track listing plus Johnny The Horse and Drip Fed Fred. Due to licensing problems, none of the four singles released on Zarjazz in 1985-6 are included. It goes on to reach No11 in the UK charts, making it the band’s third hit album of 2009.
SEPTEMBER 25: National Lottery Show, BBC1
Suggs and Woody appear on the draw, plugging both Norton Folgate and Total Madness.
SEPTEMBER 27: Regent Street, London
Madness play a free 45-minute set in front of 250,000 people at the tenth Regent Street Festival, which sees the famous street closed off for the first time ever. The band are supported by Suggs’s daughters, Scarlett and Viva, with the gig also broadcast on Absolute Radio. Following this gig, Bedders decides his break from the band will be permanent.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Dust Devil / The Sun And The Rain / Clerkenwell Polka / Taller Than You Are / Forever Young / House Of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENORE: Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
SUGGS (speaking in September 2009): We live in a world full of clipboards and folk who don’t want people to have fun, but today we’ve burnt the clipboards and got permission to close off the whole street. It’s the first time they’ve ever done it, so it’s one of the biggest highlights of our year.
WOODY (speaking in September 2009): Our job is to entertain all of London, the real London. So people will be entertained by us, whether they like it or not.
SUGGS (speaking in September 2009): We’re on the edge of Carnaby Street, near to where The Beatles played their most famous gig on Savile Row. But unlike them, we’ve got the whole of Regent Street to play on. So have that! That a large street in Central London is completely sealed for a band is not a matter of course – it’s a privilege.
WOODY (speaking in September 2009): I’ve talked to a few people who just came shopping and didn’t know what’s going on.
SUGGS: During the gig, there was a child on someone’s shoulders, so Lee jumps off the stage – as is his wont – and gives the kid his saxophone mid-song. The kid’s face lit up in amazement and Lee proceeds to climb up the lighting rig. Moments like that are extraordinary – you reach a place where everyone laughs and cries simultaneously.
OCTOBER: Suggs and Mike collaborate with Audio Bullys
Following their work with Suggs and Lee in 2005, the duo get the Madness keyboard maestro to play on album track Twist Me Up, with Suggs on backing vocals. Suggs also plays harmonica on ska house tune Goodbye. The subsequent album – Higher Than Eiffel – is released in March 2010.
OCTOBER 4: Madness night on BBC4
The channel devotes an entire evening to Madness, with back-to-back screenings of the band live at Glastonbury, the Young Guns documentary, Julien Temple’s Norton Folgate film, and Take It Or Leave It.
OCTOBER 21: Record for French TV
Madness travel to Paris, where they perform four songs for ARTE, to be broadcast early in 2010.
OCTOBER 26: One Step Beyond is re-released
On the 30th anniversary of its original release, a remastered two-CD version of Madness’s debut album goes on sale with five promo videos, the John Peel session and bonus tracks, including singles, 12-inches and B-sides. The digipack also features original album artwork and a 24-page colour booklet, including liner notes by Trainspotting author and Madness fan Irvine Welsh. Entering the UK charts at No67, it gives Madness their fourth chart album of the year.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): All the B-sides are on it and stuff from the 12-inches that people won’t really have heard unless they were avid collector. I think we have released pretty much everything we can get our hands on over the years. There are loads of gigs out there that people have got dodgy recordings of but that’s for the purist. I hardly imagine it’s good listening.
NOVEMBER 20: Children In Need, BBC TV
Still minus Bedders, Madness appear on the annual telethon, performing a live version of It Must Be Love.
NOVEMBER 27: The One Show, BBC TV
The show devotes a small segment to Our House, with Suggs and Carl both interviewed.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): We’ve matured, of course we have. We’ve all got families and responsibilities, which we didn’t have when we were kids. I mean, when we play live and when we perform in any situation, we try and enjoy ourselves. You know. I think it’s important for me, for us, to retain something of what it is to be young in your mind.
CARL (speaking in 2009): It’s not crazy. We actually just enjoy each others’ company now and then. And it is a lot of fun.
NOVEMBER: Record Catherine Tate Christmas special
The band film a guest appearance in a festive edition of the show. During a break, Tate appears in character to present their gold discs for The Liberty of Norton Folgate.
DECEMBER 1: BIC, Bournemouth
The Liberty of Norton Folgate 30th Anniversary Tour kicks off on the south coast. The tour is noticeable for its smaller venues and for the introduction of old album tracks such as E.R.N.I.E. and new songs like Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion. Matinee performances are reintroduced at the Southend and Newcastle shows, with a nutty-decorated Routemaster bus also rolling up at some venues. The gigs see Chris’s ‘Showtime’ routine become a regular feature, where he takes the mic towards the end and tells a joke or sings a song before introducing some of the band’s best-known hits to close the show. Madness also ask fans to send in pictures of their homes, which are flashed up on the big screen behind them during Our House. USB audio sticks are made available to buy after every gig, with a recording of the night’s performance.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Dust Devil / The Sun And The Rain / Idiot Child / Take It Or Leave It / MK II / Sugar & Spice / Chase The Devil / Clerkenwell Polka / Mother And Child Reunion / Girl Why Don’t You? / That Close / E.R.N.I.E. / Forever Young / House Of Fun / Wings Of A Dove / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: We Are London / Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): Showtime happened because we did a gig last year – I think it was the O2 – and I was a bit ‘refreshed’. I looked at the setlist and something occurred to me that was related to the Matrix film. Suggs, Carl, Lee and me had gone to see the first one in New York in 1999 and there was this guy sitting in front of us with his girlfriend and he was quite excited and animated. During the scene when they ask for ‘guns, lots of guns’ this bloke was rubbing his hands with glee and anticipation and he turned to his date and said quite matter of fact and calmly, with no shouting, ‘Showtime’, meaning some ass was about to be quite righteously kicked. Which of course it was. So back to the gig, I thought, ‘This is the last part of the set here, it’s all killer, no filler, all thriller, just House of Fun, Wings of a Dove, Baggy Trousers…in other words: SHOWTIME!’ So I decided to introduce it as such. Now, Suggs always makes me do it and the brass boys seem to be quite amused by it. I ask Suggs not to give me the mic but he always does.
DECEMBER 2: Brighton Centre, Brighton
WOODY (speaking in 2009): The easiest thing that big bands of our stature could do is the Manchester MEN Arena, whatever big venue they have in Birmingham and London, we could possibly go up to Scotland and that’s about it. But we really have not been able to get out to people that don’t particularly want to travel to other cities. This is us going back to basics to promote the new album.
DECEMBER 4: Plymouth Pavilions, Plymouth
MIKE KEARSEY (trombonist): I really enjoyed that tour – the best thing was rediscovering and playing some of the older tunes like E.R.N.I.E and In the Rain. It had been exciting getting them together in rehearsal as they had a real vibrancy and energy to them.
DECEMBER 5: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea
As well as the evening gig, Madness play a special matinee show for younger fans.
DECEMBER 7: Oasis, Swindon
WOODY (speaking in 2009): To do a tour of small to mid-sized venues is fantastic. Normally we would play 10,000-seater arenas; to play smaller theatres of 2,000 to 3,000 people is really ‘buzzy’.
DECEMBER 8: O2 Academy, Leeds
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): What I really enjoy about doing a tour of smaller venues is the fact that you can actually see who’s in the audience. When you do arena tours you can’t even see the people at the back of the place. Whereas with somewhere like the O2 Academy you’re staring them in the face and there’s nothing better than seeing all those smiles out there with everyone singing along. We still see the same fans from 30 years ago, and they’re getting on a bit, just like the rest of us. But then you also have fans from about 1992 when the compilation albums came out and when they started liking us. But best of all you get very young people whose parents, or even grandparents, might have a Madness record lying around so it’s quite interesting – quite often it’s quite young people you’ll see in the audience.
DECEMBER 9: O2 Academy, Sheffield
DECEMBER 10: O2 Academy, Birmingham
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): Seeing an audience generate the love they do is such a privilege. My epiphany was seeing Buena Vista Social Club, with that guy in his 80s who’s dead now, and he came on stage with two walking sticks. But when the music started, he threw the sticks in the air and he went into one. I thought, ‘Well, there is a dignified way of doing this. You don’t have to be a juvenile buffoon.’
DECEMBER 12: O2 Academy, Newcastle
A special Saturday afternoon performance is again provided for younger fans.
DECEMBER 13: O2 Academy, Glasgow
‘Are you alright up there?’ a concerned Suggs asks the balcony. ‘They’ve been stuck up there since Rod Stewart in ’74 y’know.’ Groan. The Nutty Boy’s gag is the mouldiest of mouldy old Christmas chestnuts, but no one seems to mind – they’re just here to dance. After being bagpiped on in a skirl of Scotland The Brave, co-frontman Carl Smyth bellows: ‘Hey you! Don’t watch that watch this…’ The first fruity sax snorts of One Step Beyond squelch into life, the fezzes fly and the elbows pump. Ladies and gentlemen, Madness are here, you’re 13 again…go mental. Warming up for their Hogmanay headliner in Edinburgh, the magnificent seven (with a lookalike standing in for bassist Mark ‘Bedders’ Bedford) then tear through foot-stompers Embarrassment and The Prince without a pause. However, punters expecting the usual nostalgic string of smashes trotted out as a Crimbo cash-in are in for a surprise – it’s mixed nuts all the way tonight, with newies and classic album tracks served up slap-bang in the middle of a Greatest Hits sandwich. The first section includes My Girl, the classic tale of marital strife, and the homage to British weather, The Sun And the Rain, which has 3,000 souls bouncing along bellowing: ‘Doo-da-doo-doo-da-doo-doo-doo’ (but only after keyboard guru Mike Barson fluffs the intro and they have to stop and re-start after some good-natured ribbing). As well as the expected nod to the past, stonking new album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate features early on too, with Barson’s menacing piano intro on NW5 giving way to the delightfully infectious chorus, followed by the nudge-nudge-wink-wink of the saucy Dust Devil (‘She keeps a gizmo/Under her pillow’). So far it’s Utter Hits 5 Other Bits 2, but all that’s about to change as the Nutty Boys suddenly veer away from The-Ones-You-All-Know formula with some more unusual choices – to the delight of the diehards. ‘We decided in this 30th anniversary of the band to do a tour playing a mixture of old, new, borrowed and whatever,’ Suggs announces…and he’s as good as his word. Classic singles like Shut Up might have 3,000 souls bawling along lustily to every word, but there are some surprise – and welcome – presents in this Madness stocking. Long-forgotten album tracks In The Rain and E.R.N.I.E. are given a dusting down and receive a rapturous reception – particularly the latter’s garbled tale about, er, Premium Bonds. There are also four other numbers from Folgate, with the pick of the bunch Clerkenwell Polka, which sounds like a bizarre Russian drinking song and has the sea of novelty fezzes bobbing in appreciation as it reaches a dizzying crescendo. In the relatively cosy Academy, it’s just great to see the lads up so close – particularly the antics of sax player Lee Thompson, who spends the evening pulling faces, gesturing to the balconies, chatting to the front row and, like his bandmates, generally having a bloody good time. Meanwhile, Suggs is still throwing out those chestnuts: ‘I like to drink my whisky neat…but sometimes I loosen my tie, take off my jacket.’ Boom, and indeed, boom. He also forgets the words to Bed & Breakfast Man and sings the same verse twice (hey, five series of Night Fever would rot ANYONE’S brain) in a mid-section that also includes Max Romeo classic Chase The Devil (aka Iron Shirt) and the gloriously catchy Johnny The Horse from 1999’s Wonderful album. I make that Utter Hits 6 Other Bits 11…is that the sound of an office party getting restless? But of course, you don’t stroll into town as the biggest singles band of the 1980s without giving the punters what they want – and luckily Madness have plenty of classics to choose from as it’s back down Memory Lane for the triumphant third act. Guitarist Chrissy Boy Foreman takes the mic and, in the worst Scots accent since Groundsman Willie, announces: “Let’s get rrrready to rrrrrumble..the louder you scrrrream, the faster they’ll gooo!” It’s the cue for a storming five-song climax that begins with a joyous version of House Of Fun, then rips into the gospel-tinged Wings Of A Dove before everyone’s favourite tales of youth, Baggy Trousers and Our House. The place goes barmy; you can’t tell up from down and it’s BRILLIANT. Next up, Barson’s tinkling ivories herald the mass singalong that is It Must Be Love, prompting the extraordinary sight of thousands of roly-poly rude boys in a group hug, clammy Fred Perrys clasped together in a sweaty, swaying embrace, heads thrown back bellowing the chorus as the backdrop shows fans of various age and girth sharing that love (maaaan). The band depart but local lad Johnny Gauld pipes them onstage again for oddball instrumental Tarzan’s Nuts and the chaotic Prince Buster classic that started it all: Madness. They set sail for the evening on Night Boat To Cairo, Suggs donning a towel as a makeshift head-dress and Thompson plucking a lucky blonde fan from the front row, handing her a spare sax and urging her to join in the chaos. It’s a fitting end to what’s been a true Christmas cracker. And that final score? Hits 12 Bits 13. Now that’s what you call a selection box. Bring on Hog-mad-ay…
Iain Mason, News of the World, 5/5
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): A few years ago I took my girls up to Newtonmore on a camping roots trip. That’s where the McPhersons hail from. I met three other Graham McPhersons, which I was really chuffed about, although I mustn’t come over all Rod Stewart about my tartan heritage. All my Irish pals grew up wanting to be someone else. They got fed up seeing collection buckets being passed round the pubs for the IRA. An over-sentimentalised attitude can be dangerous.
DECEMBER 15: O2 Apollo, Manchester
DECEMBER 17: Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): Just doing the old stuff all the time is a bit of a doddle. In Grey Day, where I have a guitar solo, sometimes I can start that and I can’t be bothered really. Sometimes I start it and I know it’s going to be crap. And there is no way I can stop it being crap.
DECEMBER 18: O2 Arena, London
Before tonight’s gig, the Total Madness tour bus takes 35 lucky fans on an hour-long journey from the Dublin Castle to the O2, with hits and videos played on board. During the gig, the band are joined by Clive Langer and Rhoda Dakar for a special rendition of Madness, while Lee takes over the lead vocals on Tarzan’s Nuts. Support comes from Jerry Dammers and his Spatial Orchestra.
DECEMBER 25: Nan’s Christmas Carol, BBC TV
The band appear as carol singers in Catherine Tate’s pre-recorded festive special. She interrupts their rendition of Good King Wenceslas and instead, they sing over a backing track of Baggy Trousers.
DECEMBER 28: The O2, Dublin, Ireland
CHRIS (speaking in 2009): We’d done about six arena gigs before this tour, so I thought switching to an 18-date tour of smaller venues would be a lot more work for less money – I know that sounds terrible when people don’t have any jobs. But I really enjoyed it in the end, which led me to actually apologise to the managers and my band mates because I was proved totally wrong. We still get a massive rush out of hearing that places are sold out, even though I’m a bit of curmudgeon and getting on a bit.
DECEMBER 29: Odyssey Arena, Belfast
GARRY BLACKBURN (co-manager, speaking in 2009): Most marriages don’t last 30 years. For this lot to still be together and still have the chutzpah that has always made them so compelling is amazing.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): I’m just glad we can still walk down the street. Rod Stewart lives in a yacht in Hollywood. As much as I love Rod, he can’t write about girls like Maggie May any more can he? I’ve floated off the ground in a cloud of my own fabulousness before now, but I would never say, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ because I’ll never forget seeing Billy Idol say that to a taxi driver. The cabbie just went, ‘Yeah, I know who you are, and you can fuck off.’
GARRY BLACKBURN (speaking in 2009): Their songwriting is as strong as it has ever been. Although it’s matured and developed, it still has that special quality that makes them stand out.
DECEMBER 31: Hogmanay, Edinburgh
Madness end the year north of the border, headlining the Concert In The Gardens. Also braving the -8oC chill are The Enemy and Noisettes. It’s been a successful year for the band, selling a combined 250,000 copies of The Liberty of Norton Folgate, One Step Beyond, Complete Madness and Total Madness. The latter greatest hits collection has sold well over 100,000 on its own.
Aggressive Coventry lad-rockers the Enemy and the pleasant but insubstantial Noisettes didn’t quite have the populist appeal to carry off an event of this scale. So it’s fortunate that Madness manage to dominate it with a cheeriness, professionalism and good humour that entirely dispel memories of Suggs hosting cheap karaoke-based TV shows and the sense of enduring dismay that they’re now the kind of group who have inspired a musical based on their songs. For nearly an hour-and-a-half, with a five-minute break for the countdown to midnight and a monumental firework display, the black-suited 10-piece group deliver a cavalry charge of instantly recognisable hits that are perfectly pitched towards the party atmosphere. Suggs, a white silk handkerchief sprouting from his suit pocket, summons a performance of such droll, expletive-peppered deadpannery that it raises the question, has he been indulging in the party spirit(s) before taking to the stage? If so, it only aids the show, with his cheerful introduction of the band’s sound technician LJ – whose birthday the bells also heralded – and their manager’s pregnant wife building up a charming communal atmosphere. That the more reflective half-hour that saw out 2009 could find room for such lively tracks as One Step Beyond, Embarrassment and The Prince was demonstration that this group have never really made music to sit still to. These were mixed with an a cappella take on the Beatles Help! from Suggs, which naturally doesn’t remain a solo version once the crowd find their voice, and the group’s final live track of 2009, Forever Young, which is thematically appropriate but probably the set’s least entertaining song. No stop remained unpulled for the second portion of the set, however, with House of Fun, Shut Up, Baggy Trousers and Our House joined by a smooth cover of Max Romeo’s reggae classic I Chase the Devil and It Must Be Love, the one point at which balladry is positively demanded from this group. Yet it provided only a short break from the mass skanking, and the band’s own title track then the closing Night Boat to Cairo finished out a celebratory set that was more successful than even the event’s organisers must have hoped for.
SUGGS: That gig was being broadcast live by Radio 2 and they’d specifically asked us not to swear. So of course I walked straight out on stage and immediately said, ‘Fuck me, it’s cold.’ It was great apart from that, though. I remember we were in the hotel before heading to the castle and there was this big crowd of Brazilians, who said, ‘There’s no better place to be on New Years Eve.’ And they were right – there were people there from all over the world, it was amazing. Apart from my swearing we had a great time and really availed ourselves of the Edinburgh hospitality.
After a momentous year, the band start thinking about their next project.
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): We’ve had another chance and we’ve taken it. And I think we’ve created a new position for ourselves. We could have gone down a decreasing circle of greatest hits and just been an 80s comeback band, but instead we’ve created a new vista, almost a new Madness. This is a whole new thing for us. Almost.
WOODY (speaking in 2009): The thought of doing another album is not in our minds because we’re still enjoying this one. But never say never…
SUGGS (speaking in 2009): On the one hand, it’s terrifying to think of a new record because Folgate was such hard work. But personally, I’d like to get something done really quickly. We’ve got such a momentum with this record doing so well, it would be interesting to see what would happen if we tried to do a new album in record time.