The band continue to rehearse and record the new album.
CARL (speaking in 2012): The Liberty of Norton Folgate really sparked the fire for us to do another album. It was a really enjoyable experience and sort of repositioned us in the eyes of journalists and fans. And it seemed to reignite a certain enthusiasm among us all too.
CHRIS (speaking in 2012): Once you get us all in the same room for a certain amount of time, it’s like chimpanzees writing Shakespeare; you’ll come out of it with some good stuff eventually. You just think, ‘Oh yes, I’ve got a few songs.’ And then someone like Mike will go, ‘I’ve got this riff,’ and suddenly it’ll be really good.
LEE (speaking in 2012): Mike and Carl have written the majority of the songs so far, but even Woody is getting in there and has written some good stuff. The songwriting has changed quite a bit and everyone’s doing their own thing.
WOODY (speaking in 2012): I’d always struggled with lyrics, but Carl and Lee were very nice, got excited by my music, and put lyrics over it. Then as the years went by I thought, ‘I need to step up my game. Why am I relying on other people? I should give it a go myself.’ I struggled a bit but now I’ve started writing full songs.
CHRIS (speaking in 2012): We don’t see a lot of each other, but thanks to modern technology, we all do music on computers and send each other MP3s and what not. Except Suggs – he’s old school. For example, we were rehearsing and he came in with a bloody cassette because it was a song he’d written ages ago and he had a really good version of it.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): Some songs do sort of float in the firmament until they’re ready, like this one that I wrote about three years ago. Another thing is, we’re now writing the words from the perspective of being old men – although we try and keep the music as lively as it was when we were younger.
WOODY (speaking in 2012): I think we’ve become more refined and a little grander. There are more brass and string parts and I think we have a richer and more complex sound. In the early days it was quite basic, which was good, but we’ve developed things a bit.
CARL (Speaking in 2012): There’s something in the code of the samurai that says it take a man 40 years to master his art. I’m up to 35 years now and I feel like I’m at my best as a songwriter. I know I’m not the best songwriter, or the best singer of all time, but at my own level, I’m approaching my maximum.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): The thing is, if you’re going to put a new song between Our House and It Must Be Love, it has to be pretty good, so that’s the sort of level we’ve set for ourselves now – to survive with the old classics. We don’t always succeed but we try hard. And you can’t really tell until you’ve played them a few times and got the audience reaction.
JANUARY 8: Something For The Weekend, BBC1
Suggs appears on the popular cookery programme, talking about Madness, Butlin’s and his upcoming one-man show. It’s the first in a series of promotional appearances this month, including TV’s Lorraine programme and the Steve Wright Show on Radio 2.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): I do enjoy the gigs more now, probably because I see time running out eventually at some point. So every gig I see as something very special and I really thoroughly enjoy it. Our career has been a weird one really, because first time round, it was only four or five years before it started to disintegrate, then it was six years before we played together again. So all our early work has been condensed and we’ve had a longer career ever since.
JANUARY 20: My Life In Words & Music, Playhouse, Oxford
Suggs begins the first of 22 nights performing his touring one-man show, ending in St George’s Hall, Bristol, on February 20.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): There is some cruel inevitability about this. It turns out I was never a rock’n’roller, I was just some funny old vaudeville act all the time, bursting to get out. Being on your own is very different to having six of your friends round you to distract the attention. But there’s something about it that goes back through to Max Wall and Tommy Cooper – the whole music hall tradition, with that black humour. Originally, the show was going to be a load of showbiz anecdotes, but a friend said, ‘You should really do the story of your dad.’ So while it is funny and is about the stupid things that have happened to me, it also includes what went on with my father, which has made it a more rewarding experience. The thing was, I never really talked to my mum about it. Like most English people, we just didn’t discuss the way we were feeling. But after this, we’ve talked in a way we haven’t done before. I think it’s been very cathartic for both of us. People talk about closure and that’s been the case as far as my father is concerned.
JANUARY: Speculation mounts that Madness will perform at the Olympics
With the 2012 Games being held in London, stories begin to circulate in the press, claiming that Madness are in talks to appear at the closing ceremony on August 12.
SUGGS: We’d got a call asking if we’d like to play at the closing ceremony, so we went down for a meeting at Three Mills Studios in Hackney. It was all top secret and hush-hush, and we had to sign all sorts of bits of paper saying we wouldn’t divulge any of the things we’d learned. In their office was a huge mock-up of the ceremony set, which was a sort of wonky version of London. They explained to us that there’d be a huge traffic jam involving lorries and Minis and vintage cars, then Michael Caine would go, ‘I only told you to blow the bloody doors off,’ at which point there’d be a huge explosion, with trucks blowing up, people flying in all directions and street parties emanating out of the backs of all these lorries, and on one of these trucks would be us playing Our House. It all seemed terribly exciting, although we weren’t sure what was happening before or after our bit, cos it was so secret.
FEBRUARY: Recording and mixing continues with different producers
New footage shows Madness working on My Girl 2 in the studio, under the watchful eye of acclaimed producer Owen Morris, who has previously worked with Oasis and The Verve. Other tracks are produced by fellow big name Stephen Street, whose credits include Blur, The Kaiser Chiefs and Morrissey. The duo polish demos recorded by young producer Charlie Andrew, who helped the band create Le Grand Pantalon in 2011, and will go on to have mega success in 2012 with Alt-J. Fellow producer Liam Watson also lends a hand as the band’s traditional knob-twiddler, Clive Langer, takes a back seat.
CARL: Clive had essentially always been the eighth member of the band, but we’d worked with him for so long it felt like a change would be interesting. So we thought we’d try a few tracks with different producers.
SUGGS: We still weren’t sure if we were going to use one person for the whole album, so we sent out some tracks to a load of different folk. We got a great reaction from three or four different people on different songs; they hadn’t all just gone for the same one. So we thought, ‘Well if they’re that passionate, let’s try them all.’
CARL: Obviously it could have gone really wrong, or it could have gone really right – it was just different energies. Stephen was very calm and collected, Owen boisterous and energetic, Charlie an up-and-coming set of ears and Liam very much old-school eight-track analog.
SUGGS: Even though we were working with people we’d never worked with before, we were still trying to capture the same sound: Madness.
CARL: The thing is you can work on any song you like, but once it goes through the process of being worked on by the band, it sounds like us, so there’s never any fear that you’re going to lose ‘the sound’. Unfortunately – or luckily – a song always sounds like Madness as soon as we play it. No producer can really change that.
SUGGS: Carl’s right. We’ve always written slightly diverse kind of songs, but once they go through the old Madness Mincer, they join together one way or another.
CHARLIE ANDREW (producer): I’d been asked to go along to the Madness rehearsals in about 2010. They were writing and rehearsing the new album, and they’d come up with lots of new songs, so I was asked to program some loops for Woody. It was quite a big opportunity for me to be in a room with one of the biggest bands in the country. They had the studio booked to lay down all the tracks they’d been rehearsing as a demo, but they weren’t all available at once to do it, so I put my hand up and said, ‘I can bring my rig in here, set up, and I’ll track it while you’re rehearsing.’ So I took my rig in with my mics and stands and the rest of it, and tracked them and then when they were going for a take I gave them all headphones. I spent a bit of time making sure the mixes were as good as I could get them, added a few production ideas which thankfully went down well, and it progressed from there. So every time they rehearsed throughout the year, I came in with my rig and tracked it.
WOODY: Charlie bringing us new ideas allowed us to continue to evolve, while keeping what we’d learned from our experience.
SUGGS: We were old enough to allow a kid like him to come and give us advice. Sometimes we took it, sometimes ideas were rejected, but at least we were listening. We couldn’t do that before. It was a good way to inject energy into the group.
WOODY: It was a challenge to work with him because he had that youthful innocence. For example, we worked together on one piece and he told me, ‘These words are too backward looking, you should be more modern.’ It gave me quite a kick up the arse.
CHARLIE ANDREW: Working with Madness was a different kind of challenge. They’re all great guys but I kept my head down to start with and got to know them before I started chucking ideas around. With a band like them, it was important to remember their past as well as trying to bring them into a new market.
Charlie Andrew’s original recordings make up a significant part of the finished album
CHARLIE ANDREW: In the end, I did about 18 demos, but a lot of them felt almost finished. They then got pushed to work with other producers who’d always been in mind — people like Stephen and Owen – who ended up doing a lot of the album. However, for some of the songs we ended up using pretty much the original recordings we’d done together.
CHRIS: Owen admitted to us, ‘I don’t really know what I can do with these songs.’ So in the end we did three songs with him and five songs with Stephen, using a lot of Charlie’s original rehearsal stuff. It meant the album was done in lots of different ways – some in the rehearsal room; some in the studio.
CARL: Ultimately, I think it was difficult to invite someone from outside and give them a free hand. Inside, we all know exactly what something has to sound like.
SUGGS: It was a difficult process. Usually we rely on the producer to pick the songs that go on the album, so as with all Madness decisions there were about five billion phone calls, fights, punch-ups, loving and hugging and making up and falling out.
CHRIS: I really wanted to go back with Charlie and Clive and do an album with a lot of songs on it. But I was fighting a losing battle because other people said it would be very boring.
FEBRUARY 10: Second House of Fun Weekender announced
Following the success of the first event, tickets go on sale for a follow-up Madness music weekend in November, again featuring guest bands, DJs and comedians.
SUGGS: We started to ask people who else would want to join us on the bill, and pretty much everyone did. So it was great.
FEBRUARY 11: Teen Spirit, Yesterday
Following his one-off TV show in 2011 looking at Mods and Rockers, Suggs begins an expanded series in which he looks at the music, fashions and attitudes of teenagers in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
FEBRUARY 21: Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert announced
It is revealed that Madness will join other legendary British acts – including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey – at a special concert in June to mark the monarch’s 60 years on the throne.
SUGGS: Not all the band are rabid royalists. But when they said, ‘Do you want to play at the Queen’s party?’ it seemed like a moment not to be missed.
CHRIS: I got a great letter from Buckingham Palace asking me to do it, so what can you say?
SUGGS: I also got a letter from the Her Majesty herself…
MIKE: …so did I, and they got my name wrong. How terrible is that?
SUGGS: But of course, one RSVP’d that one would do it.
Unlike other acts, who are performing on The Mall, it is revealed that Madness will play on Buckingham Palace roof.
SUGGS: Putting us up there was done to keep us out of trouble. Originally, we were meant to be on the main stage, but maybe someone didn’t want us down there and said, ‘Get them out the way; stick them as far away as we can get them.’ The idea of playing on top of the Queen’s house was very bizarre, considering the people we are and what we still get up to in the nefarious moments of our darker corners. The fact we were allowed up there means we must have been good boys at some point, but I can’t remember when.
FEBRUARY: A campaign grows for Madness to receive a Brit Award
After they are snubbed yet again at the annual industry awards on February 21, an online petition begins to have the band recognised for their 33 years in the business.
WOODY (speaking in 2012): A Brit isn’t important, but it would mean a lot to us. People like to be loved, don’t they? We’ve just been overlooked, and it’s becoming rather rude now. It’s bizarre. If you ask anyone who they think is the archetypal British band, they’d say Madness.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): The Brits are meant to be about achievement. Well, if we haven’t already achieved enough to win one, I don’t know what else we can do.
WOODY (speaking in 2012): Imagine being in a band who, throughout the 80s, outsell every other band and you’re in the charts for longer than any other band and you’re not considered the best; nothing, for year after year. We never once got any awards for best single, video, album… nothing. And you think, ‘We’re considered a joke.’ We got one Ivor Novello for Our House but it was an absolute one-off, given to the writers.
MARCH 25: Vive Latino Festival, Mexico City
Madness cross the Atlantic to play their first-ever gig in Mexico. The festival is the one of the world’s biggest, with more than 100,000 people attending. Apart from Forever Young, the one-hour set is mostly greatest hits, with no upcoming material aired.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / The Sun And The Rain / I Chase The Devil (AKA Iron Shirt) / Shut Up / Bed And Breakfast Man / Forever Young / House Of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
LEE: I had my reservations about doing this one at first because it was an in-out, one-off show. I would have preferred to have done several shows – when in Rome and all that – but it wasn’t to be.
APRIL 2: Forever Young: The Ska Collection released
Featuring seven hit singles mixed with album tracks and B-sides, this 24-track compilation features two previously unreleased numbers – a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam that was rejected for The Dangermen album, and a version of the classical instrumental, In The Hall Of The Mountain King – plus a poster and liner notes featuring interviews with Chris and Lee.
CARL (speaking in 2012): Madness in 2012 is a fucking nightmare. It’s conflict, it’s fights, it’s arguments, it’s inordinate hours of rehearsing, it’s fighting to go and do gigs where there’s no money involved but you’re doing it for the future, it’s keeping crew together with you for a crazy amount of years, it’s like being in a family but also carries the insanity and dysfunctionality of being in a family, it’s mad as fucking hatters and that’s a fact. But we still get the best out of each other and what we share together is an amazing thing. And for all our cranky and obdurate ways, that’s what makes us who we are. It’s been a benchmark for personal growth, because you can see who’s evolved and who’s not.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): These days, it seems like the madder ones in the group have got less mad and the saner ones have got more sane. Although that may be a sweeping generalisation that could blow up in my face.
CHRIS (speaking in 2012): We do still have a laugh – apart from a few strop-offs. I’m a doubter; I over-analyse. Lee calls me Victor Meldrew. I’d prefer to say I’m realistic.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): There IS a good deal of hot-headedness, which is why I tend to mediate quite a lot. This thing is, some of the band have developed brains, which is a bit unfortunate. It was much easier when we had one brain between the lot of us.
MIKE (speaking in 2012): The problem is, there’s a lot of chiefs and not a lot of Indians these days. I’d like everyone just to do what I say, but they don’t. Carl can be very difficult but he breaks boundaries – he wants every song to be great.
CARL (speaking in 2012): Whatever happens elsewhere, we always shake hands before we go onstage, and there’s an intense loyalty to each other, a base loyalty that is unshakeable. I was speaking to Justine Frischmann of Elastica once, and she said, ‘Jesus, we were together two years, and we can’t even sit in a room together now.’ Well we can. We may not do interviews together, but we can relate, it’s OK.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): We do argue often. But I think we need it for something to happen on stage.
CARL (speaking in 2012): I agree. We’re still all very passionate. When we started in the 70s, the atmosphere in London was very dark. There was a lot of poverty, a lot of violence. When you wandered in some neighborhoods, it was, ‘What you are looking at?’ Part of me wants to keep this constant notion of danger and use it to perform. The thing is, we have a lot more experience now, we’ve been through a lot, lost relatives, seen our children and grandchildren born. So it’s much more complex to know who we are on stage now, to continue the same parameters as those of our beginnings in a way still eccentric and crazy. Rudeboy on stage and then papa when you get home.
APRIL 10: Titanic: The Band Played On, Yesterday
Suggs presents another historical show, this time telling the story of the musicians who continued to play as the ill-fated ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.
APRIL 13: Empire Polo Grounds, Indio, California, USA
Madness cross the pond to join Squeeze and Buzzcocks on the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. During their set, the band give a shout-out to David Hasselhoff, who’s watching from the audience. After the gig, the band play a handful of other dates across Nevada and California.
APRIL 14: House of Blues, Las Vegas
APRIL 16: Club Nokia, Los Angeles
CARL (speaking in 2012): We’re not really playing the record-release game any more. It’s really about our live performance. That’s where the majority of income is. Records are more a signpost, in my view, of where we are as people.
APRIL 17: Concert by the Bay, Humphreys, San Diego
APRIL 19: The Warfield, San Francisco
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): We play a few festivals every year, make an album every three or four years, and it just seems to keep rolling along.
APRIL 20: Coachella Festival, Empire Polo Grounds, Indio
MAY: Mike announces on social media that he’s married his long-term partner
JUNE 3: Jubilee concert rehearsal
The band visit Buckingham Palace to rehearse for their appearance the following day.
SUGGS: We turned up on Saturday afternoon and everything seemed quite normal, like a municipal park with a few tents in it. They’d blocked off The Mall so it was eerily silent, as if the end of the world had come, but we could hear a bit of music drifting out behind us, Elton John and the like.
LEE: We had had these little golf buggies to get around and someone kept bashing into the back of us. I turned round and it was Elton himself, grabbing the driver’s wheel and putting his foot on the accelerator. We’re all kids at heart aren’t we?
SUGGS: Next minute we get a call to go and rehearse on the roof. So we jump back in our buggies and drive through the palace gates; policemen saluting us, Household Cavalry unflinching as we wave and smile.
CHRIS: It was mad, but very amusing. We went in the side of the building and up this little back staircase into the servants’ quarters.
SUGGS: They obviously weren’t letting us anywhere near the silver, so we were sent up the tradesman’s entrance, watched very closely by some very heavily-armed personnel.
LEE: There was also this little lift, but you’re only allowed a maximum of two people in it at any one time, so I decided to climb the spiral stairs too. At the top of each floor, there seemed to be the same fella – same haircut, same clothes – and I was told, ‘Not a good sight, walking into the palace with a bottle of Budweiser.’
SUGGS: After we got to the top, there was a whole floor of people who work in the palace, all having parties in their various rooms, which we were invited to. They were very charming, but we had to go to our own dressing room.
CHRIS: It looked like a youth hostel, with all these little rooms where the people that work there live. It was like Upstairs Downstairs; I was thinking, ‘Blimey it’s got its own culture. Maybe some people were born here.’
WOODY: The staff were nice – very lovely. I was even introduced to the man who deals with the pole on the roof; his nickname is ‘Flaggy’.
SUGGS: After a while we just hung around in this room in the east or west wing. There was absolutely nothing to nick; there wasn’t even a chair. We were locked in until such time as we were unleashed.
CARL: I was looking out of this small window and you can see up the Mall; it’s incredible. It was the best view of London I’d ever had – you could see everything.
SUGGS: You realise that the Queen has had every landmark in London arranged so she can see them from her bedroom window.
LEE: It was an amazing view: St Paul’s Cathedral… Nelson’s Column… the London Eye. It was a real moment for us – phenomenal. Never to be repeated.
SUGGS: Unlike The Beatles, I didn’t have a jazz Woodbine in there, but I did have a fag out of the toilet window, even though it was meant to be No Smoking. I remember there were shadowy figures on the rooftop opposite and I had one of those laser dots on my forehead. Then we were called to do our rehearsal and we climbed up some rather rickety wooden stairs and out on to the roof. We realised at this point that it was pitched, not flat, so we had to scrabble over the guttering. Around the corner they’d built us a flat platform out of scaffolding and planks that jutted out over the building so the audience could see us. It was quite precarious and because I’m not too good with heights, I found it difficult. And then of course it started to rain – and I mean really started to rain. But despite all that, we rehearsed the songs, and it all went fine.
After some debate, the band have agreed on a slightly unusual set.
SUGGS: Because we heard about the Olympics first, we’d agreed to play Our House for them – and then the Jubilee wanted us to play it too, so there was a bit of argy-bargy about performing the same song at both events. The Olympics people were particularly worried that the Jubilee would upstage them; would people really want to hear us playing it twice? We proffered the idea of doing House of Fun at the palace instead, but the fact it’s about a teenage kid buying Durex probably wasn’t the best celebration to end the Queen’s party. So in the end we compromised by playing half of Our House, and then going straight into It Must Be Love. So everyone was happy.
JUNE 4: Diamond Jubilee Concert, London
Bedders rejoins the band as Madness perform It Must Be Love and a truncated Our House on top of Buckingham Palace as part of the celebrations. Our House is swapped around so it begins with the usual middle-eight rap, then goes straight into the chorus, followed by the first verse. For the closing line, Carl and Suggs bow solemnly while singing, ‘Our House / In the middle of one’s street.’
SUGGS: I’d been fearing the worst, but on the day of the concert, it stopped raining, and there was a very jolly atmosphere backstage. We did another rehearsal, and then the day drew on without anything really dramatic happening. We just sat around waiting.
CARL: I’d brought my children along, and my son Casper called me asking how long ’til we started to play. Hearing the pride in his voice brought a lump to my throat.
SUGGS: The call came just as it was starting to get dark, about 8.30pm, and we basically followed the same procedure as before. So we jumped in the golf buggies, went up the staff entrance, and climbed the rickety ladder once more.
CHRIS: We were led out on to the roof again, but this time we were surrounded by armed police. I was a bit on edge – until they asked to have their photo taken with us.
LEE: One of the things I remember most was looking down and realising that they’d used zinc instead of lead on the roof. I thought, ‘Fucking cheapskates!’ I was tempted to take some of it home, but I didn’t.
SUGGS: It was a completely different view when we got out there and were greeted by I don’t know how many people stretching right down the Mall. It really was the most extraordinary sight and that’s when it hit home exactly what we were doing. Because of the crowd the adrenaline was going, so I wasn’t really thinking about where I was, which stopped the old vertigo.
CHRIS: I just remember that while we played, they had snipers on the roof to the left and right of us. You could just see these shadowy figures all over the place. That made it a bit more real.
SUGGS: It was like the Matrix – you can take the blue pill or the red pill and we’d obviously taken the wrong one and we were in some parallel universe where Madness were playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace. I can recall Mike saying, ‘What are we doing here? I can’t understand what we’re doing here.’ I had to tell him, ‘Just hang on in there; it’s happening. Don’t think about it too much or you’ll lose it.’
MIKE: I just found the whole thing very exciting and very unexpected. It was a great honour.
CHRIS: It was my idea that we should sing, ‘One’s house / In the middle of one’s street.’ So that’s what we ended up doing. Prince William enjoyed it – he told me later he thought it was really funny.
During their set, animated scenes are projected on to the front of Buck House.
SUGGS: I thought that because we were playing on the roof at night, we wouldn’t be very easy to spot, but of course the lightshow turned out to be the most iconic image of the whole proceedings. Or so I’ve been told.
CARL: The digital mapping people who put all that imagery on the front of the Palace really did us proud. It was amazing; we really owe them a lot.
SUGGS: I don’t remember ever having a reaction quite like the one we got to that. There was an audible gasp when we turned the front into a block of flats. People actually thought it had collapsed.
CARL: I wish my father had been alive to see that moment, because it really was something else.
WOODY: When we finished, there was this kind of hushly silence because we were so far away. And then we looked down The Mall and there was this distant roar which got closer as the sound travelled up to us. It was simply amazing.
SUGGS: It was certainly right up there with anything we’d ever done before, but the whole thing seemed to pass in a flash, as things of this enormity always seem to.
LEE: After we’d finished we were rushed downstairs on this tiny spiral staircase, through all these vaulted walls and catacombs.
SUGGS: We all piled down because they told us they wanted us to join the finale with Paul McCartney, singing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – not anyone’s favourite of all The Beatles songs, but at least the lyrics weren’t too challenging.
After the finale on The Mall, Madness are presented to the Queen.
SUGGS: We were ushered into this tent and stood in line ready to meet Her Maj. It was already pretty bizarre, then all of a sudden I realised, ‘Hang on, she’s coming towards us.’
LEE: So the Queen comes over and shakes your hand. Kylie Minogue says, ‘This is the man from Madness’ and then Gary Barlow says, ‘Yes, he’s the saxophonist.’ Now the etiquette is that you don’t speak to the Queen, she has to speak first. But I just couldn’t contain myself. I said, ‘Ma’am, we can now retire gracefully.’ She just looked up and walked off. And I was like, ‘Not you Ma’am! Me! Us! We can retire gracefully!’ It was quite embarrassing.
SUGGS: I had no idea what I was going to say. So I attempted a joke and said, ‘Excuse me Ma’am, are you still into football?’ She said, ‘No, not really.’ So I said, ‘Can I have your Cup Final tickets then?’ And she said, ‘That’s Tommy Cooper.’ And it must have been 40-odd years since he said that to her but she remembered it, quick as a flash. They say she’s bright, the Queen. She can certainly remember vintage comedy material when she hears it. After she’d passed up the line, Charles came along, who’s very nice, and then Camilla, who was also very charming. I said to her that I thought Charles made a great speech about how proud he was to be British and how proud he was of his mum.
Madness then join other celebrities at a post-gig party.
CHRIS: There was a reception in a posher bit of the palace…
SUGGS: …up in the Bow Room, which was full of princes and princesses and all these iconic showbiz figures, plus our families, including my wife and kids.
CHRIS: They sent the younger Royals down, like Harry and William, and they all mingled.
SUGGS: It was a big enough room, but not too big to feel like a crush. The champagne was flowing and the canapés were flying.
LEE: I gave Robbie Williams a kiss and also met Stevie Wonder in the toilet – that was a weird one.
CHRIS: I met him too, which was brilliant. I said, ‘Hi Stevie, I’m just a poor black kid.’ He knew I was joking and he was into it – I wasn’t being racist or anything.
LEE: Elton John also pinched me on the cheek and said, ‘Get out of my way you cheeky little bugger.’
CHRIS: He’d tried to sign us years earlier on Rocket Records, so I said to him, ‘We all really like you’ and he went, ‘Well why didn’t you sign to my fucking record label then?’ But he was only mucking about – he’s class.
CARL: It was like I was walking through a dream, seeing that sense of Royal protocol have its effect on people. The protocol when you’re around the Royals is very stiff and you’ve got to be on your best behaviour. The spine straightens, one behaves oneself, however Republican you are.
SUGGS: It had already got even more surreal by this point; Mike was having another meltdown standing between Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, still saying ‘What are we doing here? What are we doing here?’ Everyone was elbowing everyone else to go and say hello to someone, who was being elbowed to go and say hello to someone else. Will.i.am was talking to Prince William, so I bowled up to say hello and they both strolled off in opposite directions, leaving me standing on my own.
CARL: I introduced my daughter to Tom Hanks, which was a big moment; he was such a charming man. She’d just started out acting and he was very complimentary and encouraging. They spoke a little and he motivated her and gave her tips. She was actually blushing, which I’d never seen before. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and she was like, ‘Dad – it’s Tom Hanks.’
LEE: I’d promised the girl who did all our graphics and projections that I would get Kylie Minogue’s autograph; I was like, ‘Not a problem.’ But of course, when it came to do it, my bottle went and I couldn’t ask her. I just melted – what a plonker.
SUGGS: I remember I threw a plastic glass down on the floor and Princess Beatrice saw me and said, ‘Do not litter my granny’s house.’ She picked it up, and quite rightly gave it back to me. In a dressing room you just throw a plastic glass on the floor, but in the grand ballroom at the Palace, you don’t. She might have beheaded me or had us all sent to the Tower.
CARL: I also took a tiny bit of paper from the palace toilets that said, ‘Please turn the lights out after using.’ I framed it and put it in my toilet.
SUGGS: I just remember that they served the most delicious canapés; these royal vol-au-vents that were fluffed within an inch of their lives.
CARL: The whole day was unreal, like a wonderful anaesthetic. It was unique, brilliant, strange, odd and wonderful. Like walking through someone else’s life in slow motion. And you feel a bit like the grandfather sitting in the corner watching everything.
SUGGS: I don’t know about it being the weirdest but it certainly had the most impact. We only did one-and-a-half songs but you would have thought we’d done an experiment in popular music. All my friends were all quite amazed by the impact it had, certainly in terms of putting us in the ‘national treasure’ box. I don’t think we should really be in there. I don’t think we’re Cliff Richard, let’s put it that way. We haven’t always been good boys. Anyway, what is a national treasure? Fuck knows.
CARL: I just felt that the connection we seemed to have with the British public suddenly came into sharp focus. I really did feel that we somehow represented the people; the working man’s band.
WOODY: It was almost as if everyone had said, ‘Oh, I quite like that lot.’ There was an obvious fondess for us. We were quite surprised and didn’t expect it at all.
CARL: I felt there was a connection between the workers and the royals and we were somehow a bridge to that. It certainly felt like that.
SUGGS: It was an extraordinary feeling, and it’s only in hindsight that I’ve been able to think about it properly. So yes, it was mind-blowing to stand on the roof of Buckingham Palace singing Our House. Yes, it did feel like some sort of vindication of what we’re about. But most of all, it was just great fun and we had a brilliant day. And by 12.30pm it was all over.
JUNE 16: Indian Summer Festival, Netherlands
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): You can’t look backwards or forwards too much but I feel I’m becoming a better singer, but not necessarily in the classic sense. I’m more confident in what I’m doing for sure. I’ve been very fortunate with my voice. It was never a great voice but it’s stayed; it hasn’t gone anywhere fortunately. I drink and smoke and shout all night and it’s still there, thereabouts, whatever there is of it. I also feel deep responsibility about being the frontman, so I never play the ‘I’m not singing that’ card.
JUNE 22: Newmarket Racecourse
JUNE 23: Isle of Wight Festival
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): Ours is the kind of music that is very potent live and it makes people want to jump up and down for some peculiar reason. I worry sometimes about some of the people in the crowd trying to jump up and down like they’re 18 but it’s probably good because we’re providing a service offering aerobic exercise.
JUNE 24: Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Madness don’t take to stage until 9.45pm, as they watch the England v Italy Euro 2012 group game.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / NW5 / My Girl / Circus Freaks / The Sun and the Rain / Take It or Leave It / Taller Than You Are / Misery / Shut Up / Bed and Breakfast Man / La Luna / House of Fun / Wings of a Dove / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Hall of The Mountain King / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
JUNE 29: Albert Hall, London
Madness appear at an 80th birthday party for renowned artist Sir Peter Blake, playing a short set in front of guests including Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey and Eric Clapton. The concert comes as the band try and persuade Sir Peter to supply the artwork for their forthcoming – and as yet still untitled – album.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): There’s more wind in the sails now than there has been since the early 80s. I enjoy it more now, possibly, than I did then. When you’re young you’re flying around worrying about whether your trousers are heading in the right direction. And now I can take time to take it all in. The reception that we get these days is rather humbling. I feel like we’re on our way again to somewhere relevant. We don’t have to answer to whether we’re an 80s band or not – we’re a bit of both.
JUNE 30: Doncaster Racecourse
JULY: Olympic appearance announced
A press release reveals that Madness will be involved in the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. They will perform Our House at The Olympic Stadium on August 12. Other acts already confirmed include The Who, The Spice Girls and The Kaiser Chiefs.
SUGGS: By this time, we were all discussing what we were going to wear, which seemed a rather important thing. There was a thought that we should all wear grey suits and black turtleneck jumpers but that all fell to pieces, as it always does with us trying to do anything collectively. In the end I settled for a three-ply grey mohair suit, paired with a fantastic Vivienne Westwood tie with a very subtle sort of punk exploding Union Jack on it.
JULY 4: Henley Festival, Oxfordshire
Suggs is removed from the stage after gatecrashing Sting’s set at this black tie event. After paying tribute to the ex-Police frontman over the microphone, Suggs refuses to leave the stage and continues to dance behind Sting before hugging him. Three security men then come on stage and remove Suggs in front of the 6,000-strong crowd.
ANNE (Suggs’s wife): He wasn’t really drunk because he knew he had to go to Stuttgart the same day. He just got on stage, which he always does, and said how much he loved Sting. That was about it.
JULY 5: Stuttgart Jazz Open Festival, Germany
JULY 6: Haydock Park racecourse cancelled
Today’s gig, and the one scheduled for Carlisle Racecourse the following day, are both cancelled following heavy downpours of rain. Lee is also forced to cancel an LTSO gig at MFest on July 8.
JULY 14: Fiera Della Musica, Azzano Decimo, Italy
During The Prince, Lee sings ‘De-do-do-do-de-da-da-da’ in tribute to Suggs’s recent brush with Sting at the Henley Festival. Chris also sings O Sole a Mio in Italian, but his efforts don’t seem to be appreciated by the crowd.
JULY 19: My Life Story, Bridport Electric Palace
Suggs begins another run of his one-man show, this time interspersing solo duties with Madness appearances, playing 13 nights spread across four months, including five performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in August. The tour ends in Folkestone on Tuesday October 9.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): We were trying to think of some highfalutin’ title for it, but in the end it is what it is. It’s my life story, in words and music.
AUGUST: Death Of A Rude Boy made available as free download
A track from the forthcoming album, written and sung by Carl, appears for download on the Madness website, as a taster for what’s to come in October.
AUGUST: The band attend dress rehearsals for the Olympic closing ceremony
SUGGS: We were given an address in Dagenham which turned out to be the old Ford factory. It was a bit like a scene from The Avengers. We got down there and there were lots of circus tents and marquees approximating the kind of buildings that would be utilised for the backstage area. In the middle of the car park of the old factory they’d marked out an exact scale replica of the Olympic Stadium and the running track. We had the most bizarre experience of pretending we were in the most glamorous setting in the world rather than the car park of a disused car factory with a motorway beside us. So we just wobbled around the outer perimeter on the open truck singing Our House and trying to avoid the potholes. It was all rather intriguing and exciting.
CARL: The thing that got me was watching the volunteers. It really hit me how much they’d invested in it all. For me, that was the best part of it.
Lee also rehearses his usual flying stunt – but there’s an issue with his costume.
LEE: To try out the harness, I had to come back from France, where I’d been playing at the Reggae Sun Ska festival with the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra. I said, ‘Can’t we just get Agent 00 Thommo to test it?’ but the authorities insisted it was me. And as much as I love doing my own thing with the Ska Orchestra, Madness has, and always will, come first. So this bloke in a limo comes to pick me up, looking like the same bloke I saw at Buckingham Palace – same hair, same clothes. I remember thinking ‘Is this a joke?’ So he takes us all the way back from Bordeaux, off to King’s Cross, then Stratford, wearing a couple of dustbin liners as it was chucking down with rain. He drops me off and says, ‘Thank you sir’. What a palaver that was. So I go to the rehearsal and put on a kilt, which had the St George’s Cross on it, along with my Union Jack underpants, which looked more like a thong with my thighs. But then I got word from HQ that I can’t wear the St George’s Cross in case we upset the Scottish and the Welsh. So we came to an agreement, put another couple of stripes on and – hey presto! – we had a makeshift Union Jack and everyone’s a winner. I didn’t think the St George’s Cross would offend anyone, but there you go.
AUGUST 12: Olympic closing ceremony, London
Madness perform Our House as the 2012 games draw to a close at the London Stadium. As the first band up, they appear on the back of a moving lorry, with those around them on the improvised ‘street’ enjoying a British-style street party. The Our House mix used is a re-recorded speeded up version, with live vocals from Suggs, that segues into the Massed band of the Household Division drumming into Parklife. Bedders is again back on bass, with Lee sporting a white kilt with Union Jack sporran. Towards the end of the performance, he’s winched off the lorry by a crane, Baggy Trousers-style. The ceremony is watched by an average audience of 26.2 million on UK TV, and an estimated 750 million worldwide. Other performers include The Who, One Direction, Ray Davies, Liam Gallagher, The Spice Girls, The Pet Shop Boys, Muse, Jessie J, Queen, Kaiser Chiefs and Emeli Sande. To ensure its smooth running, organisers ban any acts from drinking alcohol before 10pm – an hour after the party starts.
WOODY: Backstage before the ceremony itself was lovely. We were hanging out behind the scenes with all these wonderful people, which was incredible.
CARL: We were talking to the likes of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Elbow and Kate Moss, and it was very relaxing and calm. When you’re a veteran, you’re much more approachable than when you were young, when it’s all about who’s got the best dressing room at Top of the Pops. You no longer feel you have to compete, but can chat as equals.
SUGGS: It was a bit like that TV programme Stella Street; I had Pete Townshend next door, Liam Gallagher in the room next to him, the Spice Girls next to him… it was an amazing atmosphere.
LEE: Scary was the only Spice Girl I met – she was absolutely gorgeous. I also said hello to Liam Gallagher.
CHRIS: I had a chat with Roger Daltrey, who really is top class. He told us some great stories and said The Who got turned down by Butlin’s back in the day; I was in hysterics.
LEE: I spotted Ray Davies among the crowd, so wearing my fez and everything I went over and shook his hand. He said, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘Baggy Trousers.’ He said, ‘Ah, the penny’s dropped.’
GUY GARVEY (Elbow): We’d been told it was a dry backstage until 10pm, with no booze. And I got really stroppy, so we ended up smuggling in a case of Guinness, a case of lager and a load of spirits.
NEIL TENNANT (Pet Shop Boys): We were just excited to see all the athletes as we waited to go on. ‘Oh my God, it’s Mo Farah and Tom Daley!’ All these faces we’d been watching on TV. It was quite a moment.
SUGGS: Next thing, we were ushered into this holding shed, where we had to wait before we were unleashed into the stadium. So in front of me are The Who. On our left are the Pet Shop Boys on bicycles with traffic cones on their heads. And on our right are some spotty herberts called One Direction. Bringing up the rear are the Spice Girls, who are behind us doing some vocal warm-ups. And Pete Townshend turns around and says, ‘Someone throw them a fucking fish.’
LEE: I had my photo taken with One Direction. Their lorry broke down, so I thought, ‘This is time for a photocall.’ They were a nice bunch of boys, although I didn’t have a clue who they were. Lovely haircuts – I tried to buy a bit off them.
SUGGS: It was nice chatting to One Direction. They reminded us of us when we were that age. Young guys just starting out in their careers – knocking about and having a laugh together. – They were the same kind of character I was 30 years ago, saying, ‘There’s no way I’ll still be singing Baggy Trousers when I’m an old man of 30.’ So there we all were, slowly being asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. Life does get surreal sometimes, but no more surreal than that.
CARL: Coming out into the stadium was breathtaking. I love Roman history, and it felt like being in the Colosseum. I don’t know if I was nervous; it was so surreal. It was like walking through a big marshmallow dream.
MELANIE CHISHOLM (Spice Girls): There was a huge roar as we all entered the stadium, which gave us an extra boost of adrenaline. We’re not known for being particularly slick. In fact, shambolic is more like it. But it went perfectly.
SUGGS: I suddenly realised I was performing in front of 75 billion trillion people, which made the old nerves ever worse. Then, as the lorry lurched out into the stadium, I actually forgot the words to Our House, which is strange after 30 years. I had to say to Carl, ‘Quick! What’s the first line of Our House?’ But I think I got away with it.
LIAM PAYNE (One Direction): The whole ceremony was amazing. It was a performance I’ll never forget.
SUGGS: It was amazing fun, although I couldn’t hear anything. And because we were on the back of a truck, there was nothing to hang on to. So it was a bit scary, trying not to fall off this bloody lorry in front of the entire population of the planet.
WOODY: I was just glad we were going round the track on a lorry and didn’t have to run.
CARL: It was certainly nothing like an empty car factory in Dagenham.
As is traditional, Lee flies through the air half way through Madness’s set.
LEE: The harness was light as a feather; all Velcro and nylon. They’d certainly moved on a long way since the Baggy Trousers days, when it was all nuts and bolts and big chunks of leather. I’m having to use a thicker wire nowadays though.
DAVE ROBINSON: I don’t know if anyone noticed, but underneath Lee’s kilt was a load of jewellery on a chain that suddenly dropped down; it was literally the crown jewels. Very funny.
LEE: I can’t think of a better place to be – up in the air with a jockstrap on, wind in me hairs, crown jewels hanging from me scrotum. The only thing was, by the time I got down and unhooked, I had to run to try and catch up with the truck. All the band were still playing, and I just put me hand out and Carl tried to pull me up but me legs and lungs and teeth dropped out and I waved it goodbye.
Like the Jubilee gig earlier in the year, bassist Bushers steps aside as Bedders returns to perform with his band-mates.
LEE: Bedders came back for this and Buck House after being on sabbatical for a couple of years and rightly so. It was great.
CHRIS: The ceremony had been arranged by David Arnold, who is friends with Bedders, so he knew all about it before us and of course we got him to do it – plus David wanted him to do it too. It seemed fitting to have the seven original members of Madness together for that and the Jubilee – two great events.
WOODY: It was just lovely to have him back.
SUGGS: Even though he hadn’t played on the new album and hadn’t been around for a little while, he knew he was welcome back any time.
CARL: The thing is, with us, you can’t leave this group; we know where you live, we’ll find you. Chris left the band for a few years, then realised he was missing it and came back. Mark was the same and was replaced by another bass player we loved but who was keeping his place warm – and he knew that. The group is the seven of us, no matter what happens. It is a magic number, a unique relationship.
SUGGS: I think we’re fairly unique. It’s not as if there are three leaders and five other members who only come to the concerts. We’re a real group of seven people and we’ve all known each other since we were kids; it’s a symbiotic relationship.
For the second time in three months, Madness are seen by a global audience of millions.
SUGGS: You start off and you’re happy to get a gig at the pub, then you have to make a record and you think that’s enough but it keeps rolling along and suddenly there you are playing the closing ceremony at the Olympics after being on the roof of Buckingham Palace and so it keeps going. We knew we were very privileged and did appreciate it. It’s a great job being in a band and we’d been through enough downs to appreciate the ups.
CHRIS: We got no money from it either time. Well, 200 quid from the Olympics for the publishing. I will carry that grievance to my grave!
SUGGS: The best thing that happened was right at the end. I was in a car, rushing to get home for a party, when I spotted Ray Davies. ‘Any chance of a lift?’ he said. How could I refuse the great London chronicler in song?
AUGUST 13: Total Madness rereleased
Timed to cash in on their Olympic and Jubilee appearances, this reissue of the 2009 best of album sees It Must Be Love and Our House moved up the running order to reflect their global performances. The cover is changed slightly to incorporate a Union Jack and to show Queen Victoria driving the bus.
AUGUST 17: Belsonic Festival, Belfast
Madness return to Belfast for the first time since 2009, playing this open-air festival at a rainy Custom House Square. Neville Staple is the guest DJ.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): You see a load of kids singing along to our songs that they presumably downloaded for nothing – the little swines – but they did learn the words so they do actually know something about the band.
AUGUST 19: V Festival, Hylands Park, Chelmsford
The band are joined on stage for It Must Be Love by X Factor star Olly Murs, who often performs Madness covers during his own shows.
OLLY MURS (singer): To come on stage and join Madness for It Must Be Love was an absolute honour. They were a big musical influence to me growing up so to go on and sing with them in front of my home crowd was awesome.
SEPTEMBER 27: iTunes Festival, London
Madness appear at the Roundhouse in Camden Town as part of 30 nights of free music. Despite its location, it’s the first time the band have played in the Grade II listed former tram shed. With Mike on a Buddhist retreat, Seamus Beaghan takes over on keyboards, with support coming from Reverend and the Makers. Earlier at The Monarch pub – renamed The Madness for the occasion – the upcoming new album is played in full for the first time to lucky fans. The event also reveal its much-debated title – Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da.
OCTOBER 1: New single My Girl 2 released
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): Mike wrote the original My Girl and he’s written this one. I don’t know exactly the details but he is on his second marriage, so it could be very specific – one song per marriage.
OCTOBER 11: Radio 2 In Concert, London
As part of a whirlwind of publicity, Madness play a 90-minute concert at the BBC Radio Theatre. The 17-song set includes seven tracks from the new album – My Girl 2, Never Knew Your Name, La Luna, How Can I Tell You, Kitchen Floor, Misery and Death of a Rude Boy – played to a 400-strong crowd and a listening audience.
OCTOBER 16: Later With Jools Holland
Madness play new tracks My Girl 2, Misery, Never Knew Your Name and La Luna on the popular live music show, with the performances split over two separate nights. Mike and Suggs are also interviewed by Jools himself.
OCTOBER 19: The One Show, BBC TV
Suggs and Carl appear on the popular magazine show, talking about the Jubilee, the Olympics and the new album.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): We’ve always struggled with the fact that some sections of the media think we’re a bunch of clowns. But we put a lot of effort into what we do; we’re not buffoons. It’s hard sometimes to express the idea of being positive without coming across like you’re a joke of some sort. It’s odd. But I’m not complaining – the public love Madness.
OCTOBER 24: Columbiahalle, Berlin, Germany
OCTOBER 26: Stahlwerk, Dusseldorf
OCTOBER 27: Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam
OCTOBER 29: Release new studio album, Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da
After a momentous summer, the band’s tenth studio album is finally released on the Lucky Seven label, in partnership with Cooking Vinyl. My Girl 2 appears at both the start and end of the running order – the first produced by Liam Watson, the album closer by Charlie Andrew. It marks a significant departure as, for the first time, the band have used five separate producers instead of the usual one. The sleeve, designed by legendary British artist Peter Blake, features crossed-out names that were considered for the album and ultimately eschewed in favour of the ‘Oui, Oui’ title, which comes from lyrics found in My Girl 2. Circus Freaks was among the front runners for a while, but not favoured by Dave Robinson among others who were polled for their opinions during the creative process. The album is notable for the increased songwriting input of Woody and his brother Nick, who get four credits between them for Kitchen Floor (D Woodgate / N Woodgate), Circus Freaks (L Thompson / D Woodgate), Leon (D Woodgate / N Woodgate) and Small World (D Woodgate). In comparison, most of Lee’s compositions end up on the extended deluxe edition issued the following year. The album peaks at No10 in the Uk charts.
TRACK-BY-TRACK: Click on song title
MIKE: I had a Serbian girlfriend who’s now become my wife, and the song is about her. And that’s where the ‘da da’ comes in. The ‘ja ja’ maybe comes in because of the Dutch, which I learned with the other one. It was a pretty uphill climb, but after 20 years I’m almost there.
CHRIS: I said, ‘Let’s go and do this in an eight-track studio.’ So to record it, we went back to Toe Rag, where we did some of Folgate.
SUGGS: When I first heard it, I did wonder what Mike was doing in a discotheque at his age, and the fact he went home alone is all his own fault. But then a pal said, ‘I know what that song’s about – it’s about a time before texting.’ So if you see a girl across the room, if you don’t speak to here there and then, you’ll never speak to her again. Those were the days!
CHRIS: Suggs and I wrote this one, and then because we were doing a gig in Mexico, Carl suggested we get a Mariachi band on it. So we sent the song to the El Bronx Mariachi band in Los Angeles and they did a really good job on it.
JOBY FORD (El Bronx Mariachi): Everyone knows Madness so it was an honour to play for them. They got in touch, sent over the tune and we added our sound to it, playing percussion, guitarron, guitar, trumpets and violin. It was pretty wild and added a whole new sound that combined our two styles which, for me, is what music is all about. The only downside was that we weren’t actually in the studio together, which was kind of a bummer, but both bands were so busy it was the only way possible. I’d still like to get together and perform at some point.
SUGGS: We try to make each song like a little epic in itself, so things like La Luna, obviously you’ve got a Mariachi band on it. We try and do that on every track; try and make a little atmosphere within itself. But hopefully not to make something that’s unlistenable as an album.
CHRIS: Despite the Mexican influence, the name of the song is actually Italian, as Suggs wrote it in Italy, where he spends a lot of time.
WOODY: This one was Carl’s and is a father’s wise words to his child: ‘Don’t become stuck in your ways, go with life.’ Simple, really. That’s the way I read it, anyway – get on with life and enjoy all the many experiences to come. Each lyric is personal to the writer, but when it’s good, it’s open to interpretation.
CARL: Stephen Street changed the brass section on my version, but I didn’t like it, so I undid it, played it to the band and they liked my version better.
WOODY: This was a mad song that my brother came up with, although it was a 50-50 job because I completed the lyrics and came up with the middle eight.
CHRIS: It’s just like an old ska song – it’s a great track, like Enjoy Yourself, that sort of thing. You think, ‘Flippin’ hell, it’s instantly like an old friend.’
SUGGS: Life is as all shit, shit, shit, but Misery is an affirmation of life. Any ideas of hope and optimism have been bundled into a small corner of the room, but we want to get them out again, put new cushion covers on them, dust them down and shine a light on them.
WOODY: I wrote all of the music and most of the lyrics, but my brother Nick came up with the melody and that one line which is the chorus, which actually sparked off me writing the song. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.
WOODY: I wrote the music and Lee wrote the lyrics. I haven’t got a clue what they’re about!
CARL: I wrote it about this girl I was with after my wife. You come out of a relationship for a helluva long time, and you play the field a little bit. You’re looking, and then you stop looking. You think you’ll never find love again. Then you meet someone, and you fall head over heels. You act like a stupid kid again. And even though it didn’t last, and she’s now married and has a kid with another guy, I think the thing is, thank God you at least felt that. So part of writing So Alive was processing those feelings without getting bitter, even though feelings that didn’t feel so good, the mere fact that you can feel that intensity of love, that sort of obsessional love, is amazing and encouraging. Fuck, it hurt at the time. But love involves risk. Without risking it, you never have it, do you?
WOODY: This one is looking from afar at the riots in London and England. We were in Rome when it was all kicking off in London and we were watching Italian television, not understanding a word, but I recognised all the streets. My daughter was texting and emailing me, telling me what was happening. And she was tweeting and Facebooking between her friends, so it was all happening in this small world on TV and in her hand. I never actually experienced it but it was like I was there, which was very strange, and is why I wrote about it.
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MIKE: This is one that Suggs wrote the lyrics for a while back. It’s about him being up all night, sitting on the sofa with his wife, the dawn coming up, and everything’s melting into that powder blue.
SUGGS: Mike and I wrote it with Robert Wyatt in mind. It’s about that thing when you’ve been up all night, all your mates have gone home and there’s a record going round and round on the turntable.
MIKE: There’s a very nice atmosphere to it. It’s a slow song – a bit of a different song for us. We were going to get someone else to do it, then the rest of the band said, ‘Oooh, we’ll give it a go.’ It came out very well – great lyric.
SUGGS: Mike sent me a demo and it was a shock hearing him sing it. It was so personal. But when I listened later I heard what he intended and what was great was he did get that feeling I was trying to express.
MIKE: As a songwriter I could taste the moment, I felt I was really…hitting the note.
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They’ve got more tribute acts working the live circuit than any other living band, but the north London originals can’t be cloned. Not even by themselves. Indeed, following a fractious break-up after the release of their sixth album, Mad Not Mad, in 1985, some of them tried. But the world needed this band who’d brought a sense of surreal fun and dancehall abandon to a world burdened with the sturm und drang of new-wave earnestness. So, after a few years, the self-styled nutty chaps reformed for a wing-ding in Finsbury Park. Dreading the possibility of a reheat of a once-powerful force, I saw them at Wembley. But, by Jove, it was a spiffing knees-up. Madness were better than ever live. Subsequent studio output was less successful. Not until the release of the ambitious The Liberty of Norton Folgate in 2009 did we learn their creative alchemy had been rediscovered. Now it’s like they were never away. In the year of the queen’s jubilee, Our House became Buckingham Palace. The Olympic Games were staged so that Madness could perform at the closing ceremony. A few months ago, the band dropped Death of A Rude Boy for free. An atmospheric ska-inflected narrative, it threw in a full-tilt rap section and demonstrated that the band still have the smarts. Covering all stylistic bases, from One Step Beyond to Baggy Trousers, must be difficult. But, this time out, Madness acquit themselves admirably. Never Knew Your Name is glorious bittersweet singalong pop. Unmistakably Madness, it feels like a time capsule from an era when classic pop was inventive and spontaneous. If there’s any justice, it’ll be a monster. La Luna, a lavish tango that mixes Max Bygraves and Los Lobos, must surely become a highlight of Strictly Come Dancing. They’ve a conscience, too. Circus Freaks is a poignant expose of loss and desolation on a dead-end street. With a leap and a bound, Madness are back to their best.
Eamon Carr, The Herald
Oh, cruel irony, thy name is Suggs. ‘Communication is a skill you must acquire… it is essentia’, he gurns on ‘How Can I Tell You?. Pray tell then, sir: why are you half-arsing your way through such thick slurry of clod-hopping ska-by-numbers? Or wallowing in the pits of cliche (So Alive), flapping your bits about and chasing fillies down the local disco (Never Knew Your Name), or grinning your way through frivolous ditties (Misery)? When you can no longer squeeze into your old ‘You don’t have to be mad to be in this band, but it helps’ T-Shirt, it’s time to hang it up for good. BEST TRACK: Non Non, Nada Nada, Nein Nein, Really, Don’t Bloody Bother.
Ben Hewitt, MNE
Oui Oui amounts to far more than a retread of past glories. The passing of time has infused Sugg’s writing with a careworn wisdom that his younger self would have struggled to carry off. A case in point is Powder Blue, a meditation of the decades shared with a significant other – while, on Circus Freaks, he casts a father’s eye over the grisly spectacle of Amy Whinehouse’s final days. There are depths to be found here, but perhaps the best thing about Madness’s 10th album is that it doesn’t draw undue attention to them. All you need to notice about Oui Oui is that, together these musicians can still rustle up a synergy no other band can imitate.
Peter Paphides, Q magazine, 4/5
Age and passing time get the odd look-in on the 10th Madness album. Suggs snuffs ‘faint wafts of nostalgia blowing gently on the breeze’ at one point. But Oui Oui is an affirmation of the evergreen joys of the band’s giddy ska-pop. A little paunchiness suits the skanking bounce and wobble of their songs and a good time brassiness dominates even on the more meditative tracks. Best is the woozy Powder Blue, which belongs in a fine Madness tradition of finding transcendence in the everyday – here love blossoms amid the dregs of a Holloway house party.
Ally Carnwath, The Observer, 3/5
SUGGS: The album was meant to come out in 2011, when obviously we didn’t know we’d be playing the Olympics and the Jubilee. So for it to come out after we’d been on TV in front of millions of people was just a happy accident. We’re not that well organised!
CHRIS: It’s very good, easily up there with our best. Sort of 7 era in a way, and definitely different to Norton.
GRAEME ‘BUSHERS’ BUSH (bass player): I liked Can’t Keep A Good Thing Down, La Luna and Death Of A Rude Boy.
SUGGS: Unlike Folgate, there was no concept behind it. We were just trying to make an album of great songs.
CHRIS: We actually had a lot of good songs that didn’t make the grade – most of which I wrote. I said, ‘Let’s put all 21 songs on the album’ but that was never going to happen. Some people were like, ‘No, no, no – we only need 11.’ In the end we ended up somewhere in between.
SUGGS: It was interesting that Woody and his brother Nick co-wrote a couple of the tracks. But it wasn’t the start of anything new – we just happened to really like them. Any song that makes it on a Madness album has to be one that we all like and has to have had some strength in the first place.
WOODY: Nick helping me to write a couple of songs did change the dynamic a bit. Every one of us has always put in our two penn’orth worth, but maybe I was just getting a bit pushier in my old age?
CARL: It was certainly an interesting experience not to work with Clive Langer, but in retrospect I have to say that it makes more sense with a single producer.
SUGGS: The problem with using a lot of different producers was that it did lead to a long and protracted process – including the sodding cover.
The album artwork is done (eventually) by renowned artist Sir Peter Blake
SUGGS: Being our tenth studio album, we wanted to do something special with the cover, but we couldn’t actually decide on a title. Lots of them were being bandied around and we were arguing, as we often do.
CARL: There were seven ideas brawling for a title…
LEE: …The Rake’s Progress, Doolally, Dial M For Murder…
CHRIS: …I’ve never known such consternation over what to call an album.
WOODY: The problem was, we all put ideas forward, but then we went, ‘Oh, I’ve gone off that one.’
SUGGS: You should have seen the teeth and the clumps of hair and the black eyes that went with it.
MIKE: I was quite keen on Men Of Steel – there was a plan that we would all appear on the cover in Superman outfits. But then someone didn’t fancy the tights.
SUGGS: The only thing we could agree on was to go to Peter Blake, the great British pop artist, to do the cover for us. We’d already been negotiating with his wife, Chrissie, to see if he’d be interested. And then she asked us if we’d like to play at his 80th birthday party at the Albert Hall back in June, which was a great honour and an enormous amount of fun.
CARL: So we went to see Sir Peter to see if he’d do a painting for us.
SUGGS: An excitable delegation was dispatched to his studio. What a place! An old warehouse down an alley, Fulham way, with two floors of the most weird and indeed wonderful. Stuffed squirrels playing snooker, watched on by a life size waxwork of Joe Louis, Max Miller’s shoes, Tommy Cooper’s fez, huge collections of model cars, boats, trains, fruit machines and painting covering every surface.
WOODY: It was a fantastic experience – absolutely brilliant.
SUGGS: After a guided tour, we settled in the kitchen with the great man. ‘To tell you the truth lads,’ he said, ‘I’m always a bit wary of doing album covers for bands because they change their mind.’
LEE: At this point, the front-runner for the album title was Circus Freaks – it seemed to be the only one we could all agree on.
SUGGS: So we said, ‘No no no, it’s definitely going to be called Circus Freaks Peter.’ And he went off and did this huge canvas of all things circus… and then of course we phoned him up a few weeks later and said, ‘We’ve changed our minds.’ And all I could hear in the background was the sound of a canvas being torn up and chucked in the bin.
WOODY: He was so pissed off that he said, ‘Right, what I’m going to do from now on, every time you call up with a new title, I’m just going to write it down and cross out the previous one until such time as you’ve decided.’ So that’s what he did.
SUGGS: People in our management were saying, ‘Do you really want to show the indecision in this band?’
CARL: I sort of liked it – it showed the real complexity of trying to come to a decision in a group like ours. And as usual, it was the consensus that saved us.
CHRIS: In the end, our manager Garry came up with Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da, which was the only one we all more or less agreed on.
SUGGS: It was just a line from My Girl II that means ‘yes’ in four different languages. After all the complicated titles, it just seemed like a simple statement of where Madness were at. Plus, given the climate of doom and gloom, and our responsibility as a band is to cheer people up, we thought it was better to say ‘yes yes yes’ rather then ‘no no no’.
WOODY: We half-thought that Peter had been joking about the crossed-out names thing, so when the cover arrived at our offices, we were still expecting a piece of art.
SUGGS: As you can see, he didn’t exactly put quite the same amount of effort into it as Sergeant Pepper…
WOODY: …but I still thought it was fantastic; it fitted the Madness spirit so well.
NOVEMBER 1: This Morning, ITV
The band embark on a flurry of TV and radio appearances to promote the new album.
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): Things couldn’t be better for us at the moment. It’s been a crazy, surreal and rather wonderful year and we’re just making the most of it.
NOVEMBER 3: Soccer AM, Sky Sports
NOVEMBER 3: The Dermot O’Leary Show, Radio 2
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): We were never that rock ‘n’ roll. I think ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in inverted commas is the one that gets a bit dodgy; your leather trousers and your tassled jacket and all that can start to look a bit manky when you’re over 40. But we set about our work in the same state of mind that we have now – the way we look, the sort of music we like. It’s not like we’ve deviated to some dark corner of young popular culture or ever tried to be fashionable, really. I think we just carved our own little world. And grew older gracefully.
NOVEMBER 4: The Xtra Factor, ITV
Madness appear on the spin-off version of the TV talent show. After performing My Girl 2, Lee’s much-loved Selmer Silver Mark IV saxophone goes missing, sparking a desperate appeal. It is finally returned two weeks later in a taxi.
NOVEMBER 11: Our House, Savoy Theatre, London
Suggs stars as Joe Casey’s dad in a one-off charity performance of the musical in aid of Help for Heroes. Overseen by original director Matthew Warchus, it also stars impressionist Alistair McGowan, EastEnders’ Tameka Empson and former Coronation Street star Wendi Peters. The show sticks to the 2008/9 formula, so there’s no return for songs like Sarah’s Song or White Heat. Suggs also reappears after the curtain call to sing It Must Be Love, backed by the musical band and Lee. The saxophonist also appears in the shown itself to play on NW5, during which he points Chris, who is sitting in the Dress Circle and imitates a guitar move. In return he is heckled loudly, much to the amusement of the audience which included Steven Fry and Tim Minchin.
NOVEMBER: The band begin rehearsals for the upcoming House of Fun weekender
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): The setlist is going through the usual process: we’ve had three punch-ups about it so far. It’s coming on. There’s never a dull moment in Madness, I must say. Quite seriously we’ve had 45 emails, six band meetings, 42 arguments and three punch-ups. And we still haven’t decided what it’s going to be yet. Of course you play the chestnuts and they’ll always be there and they’re a great joy to play. And then a certain amount of the new songs and then there are discussions about slightly obscure songs that we haven’t played for a long time, just out of interest. That’s when the arguing starts. After 10 albums it gets a bit complicated as to what songs are going to make it and what aren’t. I think that’s one of the saving graces of the band as well: the filtration process is so convoluted that nothing gets past it unless it’s good.
WOODY (speaking in 2012): I’m not really involved in it personally but I know that other members of the band are. Chris is very keen on making the weekend go well, so he’s really getting involved, picking films for the cinema, and mixing with the fans on the weekend itself. To be honest I’m not really up on what’s hip and what isn’t, so I leave it to people who have that energy. It’s lovely to think that Madness fans all come and congregate for a great weekend, and that’s all I’m bothered about. My part is to go along and play the music as best I can, so I try not to get involved in anything else.
NOVEMBER 23-25: House of Fun Weekender, Minehead
Braving torrential rain, the band and 6,000 fans head back to Somerset for the second three-day extravaganza. Also appearing are DJs David Rodigan, Don Letts and Craig Charles, plus Man Like Me, Buster Shuffle, Swagga, The Cuban Brothers and Lee’s very own Ska Orchestra, who play the Sunday afternoon slot. Friday night sees the band play the new album in its entirety, plus Ian Dury’s Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll. The fancy dress theme for Saturday night is circus freaks, with an assortment of strongmen, bearded ladies and other oddballs packing the main arena for the usual greatest hits set. The weekend is notable for another highlight as, wearing red and green elf hats, the band also try to sign 1,000 copies of the new album in one sitting.
CARL (speaking in 2012): I have to say that I enjoyed the Weekender tremendously and I’m sure I can say that all the band did too. A great atmosphere in the House of Fun and such a lovely vibe from the audience at both the shows. Great days and good memories.
NOVEMBER 28: O2, Dublin
Complete with matinees, and supported by Man Like Me, the Charge Of The Mad Brigade Winter Tour kicks off in Ireland, with the new album featuring heavily in the setlist, as well as the return of Michael Caine. Chris changes the song during his Showtime slot, which sees renditions of Delila in Cardiff, Tainted Love in Bournemouth and Robin Hood in Nottingham. Snatches of songs by the Human League, Elvis Presley, Lindisfarne and AC/DC also feature in other shows. The band also perform Powder Blue as a post-encore in Cardiff, sending the crowd into the night with the low-key Number ringing in their ears.
NOVEMBER 30: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
CHRIS (speaking in 2012): When we do these UK tours around Christmas in November and December, I take the train and go off on my own. You get on the train, read a little newspaper, have a little walk and it’s really nice.
DECEMBER 1: Brighton Centre
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): We always try and play five or six new songs when we play live, for our own benefit and for the future of the band. Because otherwise we would just have fallen into that black hole of 80s nostalgia. We needed to move forward a bit, and we have.
DECEMBER 3: Bournemouth International Centre
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): The greatest pleasure of being in Madness is that we really do have a good time on stage. It’s spontaneous – you never really know what’s going to happen. You can write a song that you think is going to go down great and it doesn’t, and vice-versa.
DECEMBER 4: Plymouth Pavilions
CARL (speaking in 2012): People look to us as a group in times of crisis because they want a little happiness. The motto of Madness, is that we know that people live and die, that horrible things are happening, but there is a place for it, as there is a place to be fucking happy to be alive: Call for Madness! We are unhappy! We need cheering up!
CHRIS (speaking in 2012): People do often say, ‘I was really depressed and your music got me through it.’ It’s very touching, it always is. To know that you helped someone, that listened to Madness and it helped them out, it’s quite nice.
DECEMBER 6: Capital FM Arena, Nottingham
SUGGS (speaking in 2012): Touring now is different in the sense that I can remember most of it. When I was 18 it was pretty much a blur.
DECEMBER 7: Echo Arena, Liverpool
DECEMBER 8: Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
CARL: Newcastle rocked, no other word for it. The crowd were fantastic – probably the best we’d had so far. What a night! A great reaction to the set and a whole heap of joy in the house. I was impressed, elated, pleased, satisfied and grateful. It’s moments like this that make it all worthwhile.
DECEMBER 10: SECC, Glasgow
CARL: Glasgow was sensational and the crowd excelled themselves as only Glasgow do. Owen Morris, who had worked with us on the album had turned up with his wife. It was actually the first time he had seen us live and he felt that he know understood us – it’s a live thing. I wiped a tear from his face as he choked on words of British pop, beauty, emotion and such…he’s a right softy.
DECEMBER 11: Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
CARL: After the show Suggs, Myself and ‘Dad’ (AKA soundman Ian Horne) watched the production being broken down, watching the riggers up in the gods on the girders – what a balancing act! – and all the gear in its allotted containers being humped out by a small army. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to break it all down and pack it away; surreal and mystifying after having had so many people in the room.
DECEMBER 13: LG Arena, Birmingham
DECEMBER 14: O2 Arena, London
Tonight’s gig sees Madness reunited with the Queen, as an Elizabeth II lookalike joins them onstage for the encore.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / My Girl 2 / Take It or Leave It / The Sun and the Rain / How Can I Tell You / Grey Day / Wings Of a Dove / Never Knew Your Name / Shut Up / Bed and Breakfast Man / Misery / Michael Caine / Leon / House Of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Death of a Rude Boy / Madness / Night Boat To Cairo
Like a shopping trolley that refuses to work when it leaves the vicinity of its supermarket, Madness’s appeal has always come to a grinding halt the moment they skank through United Kingdom passport control. After 36 years, it still rankles and when singer Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson announced: ‘We’ve just got back from our world tour of Great Britain’, everybody understood that Madness is a strictly British institution. No matter: the world’s loss is Britain’s gain. Half an hour late and taking an extra half hour to warm up, this threatened to be a few crinkled but amiable old duffers shrugging towards another pension top-up, rather than a reminder of past and current glories. But five songs in, as if they suddenly remembered their good-natured live act power, the evening began to soar with the double whammy My Girl and its new cousin My Girl 2, which sounded more like Tainted Love 2. From there, aided by string and brass sections and an audience packed with erstwhile geezers and children, it was a slalom. Most of the hits were aired but for an archetypal singles band they’ve become adept at albums of late and the newer fare, especially the jolly Misery and the unblinking Never Knew Your Name, slotted in seamlessly. Grey Day proved again to be Madness’s great, underrated moment but a punked-up Shut Up ran it close, while the lachrymose but uplifting Our House was always all you could ever ask for from pop music. When Suggs introduced Wings Of A Dove with ‘what’s wrong with a little peace, love and understanding?’, for a moment Madness had gone politically correct.
John Aizlewood, Evening Standard
DECEMBER 17: Polish Embassy, London
Suggs, Carl, Woody, Bedders and Lee represent the band as Madness are presented with Medals of Gratitude by the European Centre, Poland. These are to acknowledge the group donating their fees from a 1984 gig in Warsaw to help the Solidarity Campaign Movement. For the photos, Lee dons a Prince Philip mask.
CARL (speaking in 2012): What privilege we are enjoying, what affection we have felt. I find it all so hard to express, to be able to give a clear idea of what a wonder it’s been. After all the years and all the time we’ve spent together I can only say what a fabulous journey we’ve had and continue to have. It’s like a never-ending story and I don’t think we’ve got to the best bit yet. Madness has been like a grown-up playpen but with the ‘privilege of responsibility’. Here we are, old dogs for the long walks.
DECEMBER 22: O2 Arena, London
For the final night of the tour, the band are joined onstage for Madness by Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson.
CARL (speaking in 2012): We’re already talking about our next album, which is incredible. But for me it’s really all about writing songs and live performance. The large part of Madness is honesty and audiences know at a subconscious level whether you believe in yourselves or not. People talk about getting burnt out, and you need a re-injection of passion. If you look for beauty and the interesting things in life and be kind to each other, then you’re OK.