MIKE (speaking in 2017): We’re very lucky to still be able to be at it after all these years; I never would have guessed it.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): We hope there’s still some new music to come too. We’ll keep writing for as long as we still have something to say, which personally I do.
JANUARY 11: RTL2, France
Recorded the previous year during promotional duties for Can’t Touch Us Now, Suggs and Mike play an acoustic session for the French radio station. Herbert, Mr Apples and My Girl all get an airing.
JANUARY 25: Maida Vale Studios, London
Madness play a short seven-song set for broadcast on Radio 2, after which they’re interviewed by Jo Whiley about their origins and new album.
Mr Apples / Embarrassment / Blackbird / Cardiac Arrest / Shoparound / Herbert / It Must Be Love
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): I’m very pleased with the way the band is at the moment, we’ve been very, very lucky – I’ve got a lot of contemporaries from when we were doing it the first time around who either aren’t around or aren’t doing it any more or whatever. You know, we started this band as friends, and that’s really our main focus – having a laugh together and being friends, and then making music and whatever else is required as a consequence of enjoying each other’s company.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): We are all good friends. We grew up together and that definitely helps. A lot of bands are just put together and don’t really know each other but that isn’t the case with us. We’re all different, interesting characters who each write songs and come up with ideas.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): The only downside of being in Madness is that things move slowly but that’s because some people appear in some things and not in others, but you can’t push anyone too much – it starts becoming unpleasant and the fun starts going out of it.
LEE (speaking in 2017): You definitely have to go through a democratic process to get various things done and dusted and agreed. Which is fine, it’s the reason we’ve stayed together in this marriage for nearly 40 years. We discuss things and work it out and if one or two strongly disagree, Chrissy Boy advises them to go for a long walk and have a re-think.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): The good thing about everyone having a say is that you get some positive things from people that maybe you didn’t respect or give the time of day to. But when you’re forced to listen to them you think, ‘Well maybe that’s not a bad idea.’ That’s happened a lot in the band and it’s nice that everyone has a say now. It’s important in a band that everyone feels like they have an input. If you get these Adolf Hitler-run regimes – I dunno, like The Rolling Stones – some of the band get a bit cheesed off. It’s better that everyone is a happy bunny. Nowadays, when things get difficult we use a democratic principle and the band can vote on it. Not everyone gets involved, and it’s interesting because everybody’s character comes into it. Lee doesn’t like everyone arguing and just wants the band to get on, so he makes a decision to just get everyone to shut up and get on with it. But it’s not too bad – we all get on pretty good these days.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): For me, the good thing about still being in a band is that I’m terrible at organising my own life. But this way, there’s always someone there to do it for you.
JANUARY 26: Unveil special plaque at Dublin Castle
Joined by Chris’s dad, John, Madness return to their old haunt to unveil a plaque commemorating their first gig at the DC in January 1979. The PRS for Music Heritage Award is handed to the Parkway pub to recognise venues that have played a crucial role in music history by giving famous acts their first break. After Mr Foreman Snr does the unveiling, Suggs and Lee take to the stage in the back room to reminisce about their early days.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): I’m still very fond of this place. Without it we wouldn’t be standing here today.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): We found our mojo in here. It’s funny how things happen. If they’d said ‘Bugger off’ other bands wouldn’t have come and it wouldn’t have become a famous music venue.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): I still reckon they only gave us a residency because we have a thirsty demographic.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): There certainly was madness taking place in here when we played. It got to the point where you couldn’t get another person inside – it was pretty maniacal with sweat pouring off the ceiling and people collapsing and climbing on top of each other. It was a wild time.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): You couldn’t get a better feeling of live music than in a place like this, where you could almost touch the artist. Seeing a good young band starting out like that is something you remember for the rest of your life.
FEBRUARY 10: Another Version of Me is released
The third single from Can’t Touch Us Now features another Monty Python-style animated video. Once again, it doesn’t chart.
MARCH 2: Suggs appears on Lorraine
The singer takes to the sofa on the ITV breakfast show to talk about the new album, songwriting, observing London, the House of Common and football.
MARCH 19: The Andrew Marr Show, BBC
With Chris not appearing, the five-piece band close the politics show with a decidedly below-par performance of Another Version Of Me.
APRIL 3: EX Theatre, Tokyo, Japan
The band head to the far east for the first date of 2017, with Cardiac Arrest and Yesterday’s Men both back in the set for the first time since the 1980s.
Can’t Touch Us Now / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Herbert / Wings of a Dove / Good Times / Cardiac Arrest / Blackbird / The Sun and the Rain / Yesterday’s Men / Mumbo Jumbo / Grey Day / (Tomorrow’s) Just Another Day / You Are My Everything / One Step Beyond / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Mr Apples / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
MIKE (speaking in April 2017): We’re all looking forward to it, everybody wants to go – in fact we’re partly going just to go to Australia. I’m staying out there for a little bit longer and some of the others are as well, so it’s great. It’s obviously very far away for us so it’s kind of exotic to go that far but at the same time, you’ve got this English sort of connection. Very similar to back home but obviously quite different, with the landscape and the environment. We’re definitely looking forward to it. It’s nice to have a bit of variation. Australia doesn’t come along every day so when it was suggested we thought, ‘Nice one!’ It’s a refreshing change and then onwards and upwards to other stuff. I remember one time, years and years ago, when we were in Australia and we were having a pretty hard time, heading on a downward tailspin, you never really know at those times that they’re going to pick up. To imagine that you’re still going to be doing it this much later is amazing.
APRIL 6: Rugby Sevens Opening Concert, Hong Kong, China
Madness get the party started at the famous Hong Kong Sevens event, playing a half-hour seven-song set in the middle of the pitch. The noise – or lack of it – is soon apparent, with the Hong Kong government not allowing more than 65 decibels of noise at night.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): Hong Kong is interesting. It always gives me this feeling of Blade Runner. And it’s still got some of the old Victorian architecture down certain streets.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): When we were driving from the airport you all these huge flat blocks really, really high and hundreds of them together. It looks really otherworldly.
APRIL 10&11: Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth, Australia
Supported by Caravana Sun, the band play two nights in Perth, with a second date added after the first sells out quickly.
A sold out (largely 40-plus) Fremantle Arts Centre crowd were treated to a cross section of the Madness song book from the debut album, One Step Beyond (1979) through to 2016’s Can’t Touch Us Now. The chilled Monday clientele made for a less boozy and, dare I say it, ‘mad’ experience with more than a few tunes from the new record gently peppered throughout the set. Fans of the early stuff were more than catered for with at least 10 numbers coming from 1982 and earlier, however it wasn’t until at least seven songs in until they were treated to the first big (UK) hit of the night, 1984’s Wings of a Dove. It didn’t seem like anyone was too bothered, being a balmy Freo night in a historic setting meant folks were happy to dance along in the night air or sit back on their picnic chairs and blankets and chat during the songs they didn’t know. Blackbird was a poignant tribute to fellow London lass, the late Amy Winehouse and in homage to the West Aussie crowd, the band launched into a (karaoke style) version of Highway to Hell by AC/DC. Singer Suggs was strangely absent during this one and later remarked that the band may, ‘fuck that one off in future.’ Probably for the best, as Bon Scott was rolling in his (nearby) grave at Fremantle Cemetery. The band recovered well with their classic take on Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond (possibly the greatest three-word song in history) and from there it was into the anthems. House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love followed in succession and by now the Monday night crowd were all up on their feet reliving the glory days. The band then disappeared for a quick breather and rolled back on stage with a three-song encore including the classics, Madness and Midnight Boat To Cairo. All in all, the band was super-tight (from the signature brass section to the all-important bass and drums), the sound was brilliant and Sugg’s world-famous ‘Landahn’ banter was on form.
APRIL 13: Festival Hall, Melbourne, Australia
APRIL 15: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, Australia
WOODY (speaking in 2017): I wake up every day thanking my lucky stars and thinking I’m a very lucky individual. Not many people get to do what they want to do musically and get paid for it and travel the world. When I do a gig now, I look out in the audience, I really enjoy it, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is really special.’ Whereas years ago, it was all just a bit of a blur. It’s only years later when you manage to take in your achievements by slowing it down and enjoying it more.
DAVE ROBINSON (speaking in 2017): The band do seem to be having a good time now and it looks good on stage. There was a period where it looked like a bit of an effort. But lately I notice that everyone seems to be getting on together and good work does come from that.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): When everyone’s feeling comfortable and happy and they’re being listened to you get something more; it’s a synergy. There’s nothing like seeing the band all getting on. When I used to go and see bands when I was a kid, the thing I really used to enjoy was seeing them smiling at each other and having a good time – it would elevate the gig. When you see a bunch of moany whatevers, who don’t like each other’s company and are ignoring each other, it’s all so sterile.
APRIL 16: Byron Bay Blues Fest, Australia
APRIL 20: My Life Story in Words and Music, Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Suggs stays on Down Under to carry out three performances of his one-man show. He also plays in Perth on the 22nd and Melbourne on the 24th.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): Being in this business means I’ve been in some pretty crazy situations over the last 30 or so years, so there’s still plenty to talk about. I’m actually now in the process of writing another show, which might be a bit more theatrical.
MAY 3: Appear in Benidorm, ITV
The band make a cameo appearance in the last episode of the ninth series of the long-running sunshine sitcom. The episode had been filmed on location in Spain the previous year.
SUGGS: We’re all fans of the programme, so the idea that Madness might appear appealed. We spent two days out there and it really was good fun – we went out the night before filming and took in all that is Benidorm with the cast, who were great people. It was so much fun I was singing in a karaoke bar at 4.30am and Chris actually wanted to stay there – he was saying, ‘Couldn’t I play an out-of-work musician who keeps trying to get a gig in the pub?’
MAY: Woody seriously injured in quad bike accident
The drummer suffers three fractured vertebrae and two fractured ribs when his bike overturns while he’s out riding with wife Siobhan. The accident means he misses six dates of the summer tour.
CHRIS (speaking in May 2017): Woody and his wife came off a quad bike and literally fell off a cliff. They both spent time in hospital and are now recovering at home. He was told he’d be on his back for six weeks but I spoke to him recently and he’s now able to walk. He hopes to be back by August but the way he’s progressing, who knows? Quite a resilient man, our Woody.
MAY 19: Wirral Live, Tranmere Rovers stadium, Birkenhead
With the Ska Orchestra’s Mez Clough standing in for Woody, who is still recuperating, the band play the first of their usual domestic summer festivals, with Bed and Breakfast Man back in tonight’s set. Suggs also forgets the words to (Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying, quipping afterwards, ‘Can you tell it’s the first time we’ve done that?’
Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / Mr Apples / My Girl / Herbert / Cardiac Arrest / The Sun and the Rain / Blackbird / Shut Up / Wings of a Dove / Yesterday’s Men / Bed and Breakfast Man / Mumbo Jumbo / Grey Day / (Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying / One Step Beyond / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
MAY 28: Bearded Theory Spring Gathering, Derbyshire
Madness headlines the Pallet Stage at the performing arts festival, which each year tries to set a world record for most people wearing fancy dress beards.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): A little kid asked me recently, ‘Is it fun being a pop star?’ And I would have to say yes, it is great fun – and Madness are the absolute epitome of having fun.
MAY: World War II Treasure Hunters, History Channel
Suggs begins filming a new eight-part history series, teaming up with amateur World War II archaeologist Stephen Taylor to uncover new finds across the UK. The first of the one-hour episodes sees him helping to unearth a buried Canadian tank in Dorking, Surrey. The show is eventually screened in October.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): I’ve been offered loads of reality telly stuff, but I don’t fancy eating worms for six months. With this show, there’s a great mix of archaeology and history. So there’ll be experts talking about this stuff and I’ll wander in asking stupid questions.
JUNE 16: Eden Project, Cornwall
For the Cornish leg of their UK festival tour, Madness play the huge biodomes as part of The Eden Sessions.
JULY 1: Community Festival, Finsbury Park, London
Carrying a pot plant, Suggs joins Slaves on stage to perform People That You Meet as part of this one-day festival celebrating the best in new music.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): I saw Slaves on Jools Holland and really liked them so singing with them was good fun. I’ve got a reputation for being onstage with bands that don’t want me there, this desire to get attention. Even my cousin’s wedding, I managed to ruin that.
JULY 2: Madness Q&A, Spiritland Talks, Kings Cross, London
A seemingly refreshed Suggs and a seemingly recovered Woody appear on stage with Mike to talk about their career in a Q&A session hosted by journalist Miranda Sawyer. The night features brief snippets of seven songs, with the band then discussing the tracks and their influence. Blue Skinned Beast is one of two Madness tracks played, with Mike talking at length about its creation. The final song is (Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying, with the trio discussing the recording of Can’t Touch Us Now before being joined by producers Clive Langer and Charlie Andrew.
JULY 9: Bospop, Weert, Netherlands
JULY: Woody starts rehearsing again
After a two-month lay-off following his quad bike accident, the Madness drummer picks up his sticks for the first time.
WOODY (speaking in July 2017): As predicted, I paid for it the next day with my back, but it was worth it. Anyway, I know now that nothing can hold me back and it’s only pain. I’m still getting stronger every day and in the weeks to come drumming will have less impact on my back. Considering what my injuries were, it’s not that bad in the circumstances.
JULY 22: 100 Club, London
Lee performs at the famous venue with son Daley and The Silencerz as part of the 100% Specialive fund-raiser for cancer research.
JULY: Corporate event, Abbey Road
The band play a short set of hits, plus Mr Apples, at the legendary Beatles studios as part of a private shindig.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): We used to find these kind of shows very difficult to perform at, but we do a few more of them now.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): It’s your attitude. If you come with a negative attitude, it’s not going to help the atmosphere.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): It’s funny, you get middle-aged business men with their wives and they get really into it. If you’re not biased, if you think they’re just the same as you and me, you get into it and they get into it. Sometimes it’s brilliant.
JULY 29: Camp Bestival, Lulworth
Woody finally returns to his drum kit as Madness headline the Saturday night slot at the 10th anniversary of the family-friendly festival.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): I could barely walk afterwards, but I keep reminding myself I could have died, so I need to get over myself when it comes to pain. To be honest, the drumming takes me out of myself; it’s only when I stop I feel it the most. Three fractured vertebrae and two fractured ribs takes no time to heal – it’s the nerve, and muscle damage that takes the time. It’s been challenging physically, but I’m getting better every day.
AUGUST 3: Scarborough Open Air Theatre
AUGUST 4: Falkirk Football Stadium, Scotland
Tonight’s support comes from The Farm – the Liverpool band that Suggs produced and managed in the 80s and early 90s.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): To still be doing this is a privilege. I’ve managed to temper all my success with an enormous amount of failure. It’s the old Charlie Chaplin thing – you step over the banana skin in the street, only to fall down the manhole.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): I think people connect with our honesty; we just have simple stories about normal people. We’re not pretentious, we don’t often stand there gazing at our shoes, we don’t wear flamboyant clothes that people can’t relate to. We’re just six blokes who connect with the people we grew up with.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): Certainly the broadsheets are now talking about us with a lot more interest than they did in the past, which is nice.
AUGUST 5: Lytham Festival, Lancashire
AUGUST 7: Lokerse Festival, Belgium
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): The whole festival thing has changed beyond all recognition. I’ve been around for 400 years so I’ve seen the development. When we started there was just about two. Now there’s all sorts of amazing things going on all over the place and we play all sorts of festivals. There must be a lull in the conversation among the organisers and then someone says, ‘Let’s get those old farts out there’.
AUGUST 11: Carl announces he’s beaten cancer
After more than a year out of the spotlight, the exiled Madness singer reveals he’s completed a successful course of chemotherapy following a battle with illness.
CARL (speaking in August 2017): In January I had a cancerous tumour removed from my daft old head and in late March began six weeks of radiotherapy. Today I got the all-clear. The many who kept me in their thoughts and prayers, I cannot thank you enough. Isn’t life a beautiful adventure?
AUGUST 12: Kent County Showground
AUGUST 16: Steve Lamacq Show, Radio 2
Suggs makes a special appearance as part of Radio 2’s Classic Album series, talking about the story behind One Step Beyond.
AUGUST 18: Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
AUGUST 20: V Festival, Weston Park
During tonight’s gig, Suggs pays tribute to the recently departed Sir Bruce Forsyth by telling the crowd, ‘Nice to see you, to see you nice!’ He also joins Rudimental on stage during their set after guest starring with the drum and bass outfit on a new track, We’re Going Out.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): When we play these festivals, you see these little grandchildren that have been dressed up by the grandads in all the 2-Tone Fred Perry gear. Sometimes it’s a bit worrying because you see these old guys who were obviously around in 1979 and haven’t danced like that for 30 years. You start to worry that there might be a few collapses in the front row.
AUGUST 25: Victorious Festival, Portsmouth
It didn’t even take for them to come onstage to accurately guess the reaction that Madness would get. I only had to see how many audience members were wearing fezzes. There were a lot and there is no denying Friday’s booking felt more like a standalone Madness concert than ‘Festival Day 1’. This was confirmed by most of the crowd knowing how to recite the entire 30-second spoken monologue opening to One Stop Beyond, word for word. It was a brilliant clash of old classic chaos, and not quite so enticing new material from their latest album, (or ‘long play’, as Suggs describes it, as he often proudly referred back to 1979 between songs), but the shallow and blunt fun factor meant that it was great start-to-finish. The start of the show defined it well – opening with rumble and explosion sounds, only to goofily launch into Embarrassment. It’s to be expected of a band with a saxophonist who spent half of a song playing hoopla with a tambourine and a microphone stand.
AUGUST 26: Nutty Bar Pop-Up, The Social
Lee plays a Bank Holiday afternoon DJ set at this London pub, organised by ex-Madness roadie Harry Wandsworth.
AUGUST 27: The Big Feastival, The Cotswolds
Madness headline the final night of this three-day family and food-oriented festival. Once again, Lee causes chaos when he decides to climb the lighting rig during a DJ set by Fatboy Slim, AKA Norman Cook.
LEE: Jamie Oliver and the cheese fella from Blur were there, so the food and the backstage area were second to none. They had big Chesterfield sofas, Doom Bar on tap and a Jack Daniel’s bar in the corner, so it was a bottomless pit of drink; a never-ending glass.
NORMAN COOK (DJ): At one point there was a big roar and I seemed to take the crowd higher than usual, without really intending to or knowing what I’d done.
GARRY BLACKBURN (Madness manager): We looked across the stage and there’s this guy climbing this diagonal lighting rig. And of course, it’s Lee.
NORMAN COOK: My production manager had to argue with the health and safety people not to have the gig stopped.
LEE: It near enough cost me my final cat life. It was really bad and could have been terrible – I had nightmares for days after. I think it was the last time I took my feet off the ground.
SUGGS: Lee will insist on climbing up the lighting rig, even though he’s not as slight as he used to be. So he’s dangling over your head and you’re thinking, ‘I am going to catch you if you fall, but I know I’m going to die if you land on me. You big fat fuck.’ Then he can’t move for two days because he’s pulled all the tendons out of his arms.
CARL: It’s just typical Lee through. I remember sitting in a 30-storey hotel in Australia with Suggs and suddenly he appears. He’d jumped across a gap of maybe four-and-a-half feet from one tower to the next and he was like some sticky frog on the window.
AUGUST 28: House of Common, Clapham Common
For their second Bank Holiday jamboree south of the river, the band let in scores of firefighters, nurses, police and teachers for free. Support acts entertaining the 20,000 crowd include The Skatelites, De La Soul, Craig Charles, Dawn Penn and Soul II Soul. Dennis Bovell introduces the band onstage, who perform the standard Greatest Hits set, peppered with guest performers. Janet Kay joins the band for a cover of Silly Games, followed by Uptown Top Ranking, while Dawn Penn also appears for a joint version of No No No. Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson also receives a huge cheer as he recites Sonny’s Lettah, a spoken word piece about racism. The final guests are four musicians from Jamaica and the Alpha School, who swell the band to nearly 20 people for the encore of Madness and Night Boat to Cairo. Mike’s son, Tim, also takes over on keys while his dad plays harmonica.
Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Mr Apples / Herbert / The Sun and the Rain / Silly Games / Wings of a Dove / Blackbird / Shut Up / No, No, No / Mumbo Jumbo / Uptown Top Rankin’ / Bed and Breakfast Man / Chase The Devil (AKA Iron Shirt) / One Step Beyond / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must be Love / ENCORE: Sonny’s Lettah / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
WOODY: Giving out free tickets was a nod of appreciation to the people who are not normally acknowledged. We just wanted to say thank you because they really do the most amazing job. It must be tough to find the money to go and see a concert these days on the wages they’ve got, and they’ve done so much for us, so we said, ‘Here, have a freebie’.
SUGGS: We just thought we should do something nice for people who are overworked and underpaid. OK, it won’t change the world, but maybe it will make folk think about the people who look after us. It just helped make it a beautiful day out for everyone.
AUGUST: Rumours of a Madness film circulate
Press reports claim that the Oscar-winning team behind the 2015 Amy Winehouse film and Oasis: Supersonic are set to make a similar documentary about Madness.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): A warts-and-all film about a band that are still together might be a little awkward. It’s easy to slag each other off when you’re not together, isn’t it? I’m neither for or against the film at this moment in time, I’ve got a severe fence stuck up my bum, very uncomfortable. Besides, there’s still life in the dog yet and there are some people that think, maybe it’s a little premature to be doing a film when our career hasn’t even ended.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): It’s just a rumour that’s been going around, but there’s definitely a story to be told there. I couldn’t see myself in Hollywood though – more like Holloway.
SEPTEMBER 1: Near Jazz Experience release Afloat album
After gigging together regularly for many years, Bedders and Terry Edwards finally commit the fruits of their passion project to a long-player.
Having managed to establish a cult following for their longstanding monthly residency in the East End, freethinking trio The NJE — short for near jazz experience — bring their fluid experimental stylings to CD. Experience is paramount here: bassist Mark Bedford and drummer Simon Charterton are seasoned veterans of the UK’s pop and rock circuit, while multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards has gigged with everyone from P J Harvey to St Vincent. Edwards’s knack for playing alto and tenor sax simultaneously, à la the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk, brings a winding melodicism to tracks that evolved on the fly, unfettered by rehearsals. Featuring an electronic intro from guest Alex ‘Hot Chip’ Taylor and a surging take on Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile, the only cover, Afloat, is the sound of three musicians delighting in their synergy, and relishing the unknown.
Jane Cornwell, Evening Standard
SEPTEMBER 2: Electric Picnic, Ireland
Early evening on day two of Electric Picnic and Madness frontman Suggs was struggling to make sense of it all. ‘Electric Picnic?’ he pondered, as the ska-pop veterans kicked off their set. ‘When I heard the name, I was worried.’ He may not recall, but Madness also played the 2009 Picnic. They were a bit lost headlining the main stage after dark. The audience craved something tempestuous and cathartic – not the original Nutty Boys stretching their legs. With the sun poking through and the dreaded overnight deluge yet to manifest, second time around they were far more in their element. A greatest hits performance was peppered with sardonic asides from the frontman and a few new songs (‘this is our most recent single – it was number one in Antarctica’). To put it another way, Madness were giving the huge crowd exactly what it wanted – chart classics, delivered with a wink and a grin. My Girl prompted an early sing-along – while House of Fun and Baggy Trousers sparked outbreaks of ironic dancing. Still, the band weren’t quite in Best Of mode. The experimental NW5 from 2009’s opinion-dividing The Liberty of Norton Folgate showcased Suggs’ obsession with his native London’s underbelly and a cover of Max Romeo’s Chase The Devil found the 10-piece communing with the ghosts of ska music past. Agnostics may have yawned through these segments. For fans, it was a welcome reminder that Madness continue to push forward creatively and have no interest in becoming their own covers act. A mix of familiar and the unexpected added up to an unsurpassable afternoon treat.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): I still get a lot of kids coming up to me saying stuff like ‘Oh my God, on the weekend I was so embarrassed because I was at a wedding and I’ve never seen my dad dance before. Night Boat To Cairo came on and my dad and uncles all jumped up dancing like they were 18 again!’ Young kids seem to really identify with the stupidity. We made those videos to have a good time; we were dressing up and messing around just like kids. I think that is still attractive to kids today.
OCTOBER 1: One Man’s Madness, Dingwalls, Camden
Lee’s almost-finished full-length ‘rockumockudocumentary’ is unveiled to the public. Backed by a crowd-funding campaign, the 90-minute Jeff Baynes flick gets afternoon and evening screenings, with Mike and his mum Pat among the crowd, and a Q&A session afterwards. Both sessions also include a performance of Madness, Crunch! and Ska Orchestra tracks by the Lee Thompson All Stars, who include son Daley, LTSO stalwart Louis Vause on keyboards and Violin Monkey Mike Kersey on muted trombone. The final DVD is due to go on sale early in 2018.
Razor Blade Alley / Wickerman / Raindance / Benny Bullfrog / Boy in the Box / Drip Fed Fred / Going Solo
JEFF BAYNES (director): I’d been the cameraman on Baggy Trousers and House of Fun, so I already knew that Madness were interesting people and I was fascinated by Lee’s versatility as an actor and the characters he created in the videos. I also live in NW5 and used to bump into Lee and Chris quite a lot, so got to know them quite well, and ended up making some of their videos for Crunch! I’d heard about a similar project on the radio, where a woman was doing a lot of interviews and then playing all the characters herself and thought, ‘That sounds good.’ I checked with Lee and he said he was up for it.
LEE: Jeff just rang me up and said, ‘I’ve had this idea about filming all the people you know – band members, friends and family. And then you dress up as those people in front of a blue screen and we’ll put images on it, and you’ll play them as you see them.’ I thought, ‘Ooh, quirky, different. Let’s have a go, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be too time-consuming and it won’t get in the way of any Madness stuff.’ To be honest, I was more concerned about who it would appeal to. I mean, obviously the Madness camp, but why me? Why not pick on one of the other band members? I asked Jeff why I’d been chosen as the main focus of the film and he said it was because I was a bit of a show-off – a Phil Mitchell-meets-Bob Hoskins type. He just said that, judging by past interviews and stories and what people have told him, he thought I’d have a bit more of an interesting story to tell.
JEFF BAYNES: Having worked with Lee and the boys before, I knew that he would bring loads of ideas to it. They always dreamed up loads of new things for every video and were adding to it as we went along, and Lee was a central part of that.
LEE: I think the other lads in the band were a bit suspicious about it at first and only really saw it had legs after Jeff sat down and had a chat with Chris. After that, they seemed to come on board and we duly started filming.
JEFF BAYNES: Most of it was shot in my front room and kitchen…
LEE: …and his wife was very tolerant.
JEFF BAYNES: When we were filming, I’d write down the words and tape them above the camera, and within three or four takes we’d get it. Lee would add little details and gestures and always found a little something to lift it.
LEE: It was as simple as Jeff pointing the camera and me putting the costume on. It was all very nice and casual; no one was cracking the whip so it was very enjoyable. There was only us two to answer to, so if something did go wrong, it was down to us. Luckily, nothing did go wrong at all other than putting filming off now and again because of other duties with the Ska Orchestra and Madness. The only really difficult part was some of the tongue-twisting mouthings.
JEFF BAYNES: One of the early characters we did was Dave Robinson. Lee said, ‘Give me that shirt… and that hat…’ and we sort of created the character like that, with the glasses and the pencil behind the ear and all that stuff. If you ever met Dave, there’s definitely bits of him there.
LEE: I did Dave as this mad, bully-ish Irish navvy type. He wasn’t keen on how I perceived him and was gonna ask to have it pulled. But he watched it a few times, we had a beer, and he then calmed down and he was fine about it. Once he got into it, I thought, ‘This has got legs. If he likes it, anyone will.’ Out of the other characters, I loved playing Mike’s mum, but portraying the musicologist, Neil Brand, was the most fun, as was the woman who talks about my split personality. On the flip side, it was quite difficult to do Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, but we got there in the end.
JEFF BAYNES: Watching Lee’s facial expressions and hand movements unfold was just magic. He’d always find something relevant to match the dialogue.
LEE: The only real hiccup came when the BBC wanted something like £30,000 for us to use ten seconds of the Olympics footage. Mike suggested we use someone’s phone footage but in the end we just used a puppet, so that’s why that’s in there.
JEFF BAYNES: Because Lee doesn’t like to hang around, we didn’t spend too long on each scene, but it still ended up taking around three years to do.
LEE: We originally thought we could do it in about a year, but with Jeff’s patience and perseverance we got there eventually. He makes a fantastic cappuccino and his wife was also most patient with my array of props, wigs and slap. It meant the whole experience was a sheer joy and, for once, I didn’t get bored. I was really pleased with how the whole thing turned out.
MIKE: It’s very interesting and very different film; I think it’s kind of a window into the band.
SUGGS: Absolutely – by looking through Lee’s eyes you do get a good insight into the internal workings of the group.
OCTOBER 7: Voice of the Beehive, Kentish Town Forum, London
After a small warm-up gig a few days earlier, Woody reunites with his old bandmates after 25 years for the Indie Daze all-dayer. Also on the bill are House of Love, Apollo 440, Crazyhead, Salad and Bis.
TRACEY BELLAND (Voice of the Beehive, speaking in 2017): This is the last thing I expected too. A lot of it had to do with Woody agreeing to play with us again.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): It’s been a real buzz. At first there was a lot of reminiscing and middle-aged men stories of aches, pains, bad eyes, gratitude for regaining our hair, relationships, properties and kids. Then it was down to work. It took a bit of time re-familiarising ourselves with the songs, but once we were back in the groove the songs sounded massive. I’d forgotten how powerful we were.
OCTOBER 12: The Clang Group, Dublin Castle
Suggs guest stars with Clive Langer’s outfit, joining the producer’s band to once again perform Had A Nice Night.
OCTOBER 19: Suggs and Friends, Porchester Hall, London
The singer’s fifth annual fund-raiser in aid of pancreatic cancer is held later in the year due to touring commitments. After two years at the Emirates Stadium, it returns to its more modest original venue, with the 450 guests entertained by acts including Jools Holland, Tony Christie and Andreya Triana.
OCTOBER 27: My Life Story, Barcelona
Ahead of the band’s European dates, Suggs heads out early for a premiere screening of the film version of his one-man stage show. Afterwards he answers a few questions and plays four songs – Baggy Trousers, My Girl, It Must Be Love and Lola – accompanied by his faithful pianist, Deano.
OCTOBER 28: Live Club, Milan, Italy
In lieu of a domestic UK tour, the band embark on an end-of-year ‘European Vacation’, playing 12 dates in Italy, Germany, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Belgium. This first night sees the addition of Skylarkin’ and I’m Walking to the set, the latter in honour of the recently-departed Fats Domino. Subsequent dates on the tour will see two such ‘extras’ performed each night.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): We’ve changed the set around over the years. We’ll say, ‘Oh, we’re going to play this song for a while, we’ll stick it in.’ But generally, there’s a rule of thumb that the cream rises to the top. We’re very, very sensitive to any song that doesn’t go down well; if people aren’t bouncing up and down and enjoying it, then it’s gone. It’s down to the audience, you know, ‘Oh, not everyone was singing along. That bloke in the third row looked a bit miserable. We’ll drop it.’ It’s a bit like that.
OCTOBER 29: Gran Teatro Geox, Padova, Italy
For tonight’s gig, Benny Bullfrog and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s A Place in the Sun are both added to the setlist.
OCTOBER 31: Baloise Session, Switzerland
Tonight’s gig also features Manfred Mann’s Earth Band as support, and is duly billed as Mad Mann Night.
NOVEMBER 1: Stahlwerk, Düsseldorf, Germany
Fans at tonight’s gig are treated to an airing of both Tomorrow’s Dream and a cover of reggae classic Upside Down.
SUGGS: One night on that tour we were trundling around northern Europe in this tour bus and we’d had a few cold drinks too many and we started talking about politics and it all went a bit haywire. ‘Fake news this, fake news that…’ I was arguing with pretty much everyone and anyone.
NOVEMBER 2: Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany
John Lennon classic Oh My Love and Seven album track When Dawn Arrives are both performed as the ‘extras’ tonight.
NOVEMBER 4: Rolling Stone Weekender, Wangels, Germany
NOVEMBER 5: Store Vega, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tonight’s rarities are the B-side Guns and a cover of Lieber and Stoller classic Poison Ivy, which was also a hit for The Lambrettas in 1980.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): There’s a feeling that it’s ongoing now. Without being arrogant, we can sort of do what we like, when we want, and the pressure comes from us: ‘Can we do something that’s a bit better than the last thing we did?’ So someone sends the Mad signal into the sky, like on Batman, and we come back to the Mad Cave in Camden, and so it goes on.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): We’ve been through a lot, and the whole fact that we’re still together I think says a lot. I think we all become a little less tolerant of things as we get older and more stuck in our ways. But I do think that’s our strength; love and tolerance. For us, we speak our minds, and it’s like a family. Of course we fall out and we come back together again. But it’s like, ‘I can have a go at one of my band members – but no-one else is allowed to have a go at one of my band members.’
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): 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 here we are playing the closing ceremony at the Olympics, on the roof of Buckingham Palace and so it keeps on going. We’re very privileged and we do appreciate that it’s a great job being in a band – we’ve gone through enough up and downs to appreciate the ups.
NOVEMBER 7: Globen Annexet, Stockholm, Sweden
Tonight’s ‘newbie’ is Cardiac Arrest B-side In The City, originally written for a Japanese car commercial.
NOVEMBER 8: Rockerfeller Music Hall, Oslo, Norway
In The City is again aired tonight, along with a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam.
NOVEMBER 10: De Roma, Antwerp, Belgium
Fan favourite Never Ask Twice (AKA Airplane) is tonight’s extra, along with another airing of A Place In The Sun.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): I think we still put on an entertaining show. We’re certainly better than some bands, where it’s really serious and intense all the time, like Paul Weller. And then you get the other end, like Kylie Minogue, where it’s all plastic and fabricated and the music is almost incidental. But with us we’re doing the whole circus – we’re making the music and we’re putting on the show.
WOODY (speaking in 2017): I reckon people still like us because on the surface our stuff is all nice, danceable pop music, but it’s also got an undercurrent and a depth and a different meaning. And that has a certain longevity to it.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): It’s embarrassing; I get people stopping me in the street crying, saying, ‘Me and my mates played that record over and over. We know every single word of every single track.’ It’s humbling but you can’t have false modesty.
NOVEMBER 11: Salle Pleyel, Paris, France
Lover Please is tonight’s cover version, with Oh My Love again being performed as the second extra.
NOVEMBER 13: Muziekcentrum Enschede, Netherlands
NOVEMBER 14: TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, Netherlands
NOVEMBER 15: After flying back from Europe, the band spend two days rehearsing for the upcoming House of Fun Weekender.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): They used to say back in the old days, ‘Careful or you’ll end up playing at Butlins’ which was a massive criticism but in actual fact they really are the most fantastic thing. Butlins is part of all of our firmament and everyone who I talk to, if I ask them if they want to come down and play at our weekender, they all say the same thing, ‘Oh yes, Butlin’s, that would be brilliant.’ Butlin’s is great; it gives us the chance to spend some time with our fans in a very relaxed atmosphere which is unusual for us to be in a position to get that experience. And it just keeps getting better and better. On the Friday night we also play something unusual which is for us a bit of a challenge, maybe an old album or some new songs and then on the Saturday we play all the hits so everyone is happy.
NOVEMBER 17: Full House…The Very Best Of Madness is released
Yet another greatest hits compilation hits the shelves in time for Christmas. This two-disc version features 42 tracks from the band’s 38-year career, from The Prince right up to Another Version Of Me. Sarah’s Song and Simple Equation are also included, but singles Sorry, The Harder They Come, Sweetest Girl and Shame & Scandal are not. The artwork is by Paul Agar, who did similar collages on Can’t Touch Us Now. A four-LP vinyl version features a special pop-up gatefold.
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): It’s good listening to your old stuff like this again and being reminded that you did actually do some good things.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): These songs have been a big part of our life, so things like this bring memories of the bloody weeks and months in the studio, the rehearsing, the recording, the overdubs, the arguing…
SUGGS (speaking in 2017): The only thing is, in my house, being caught listening to your own music is worse than being caught watching porn: ‘Mum! Dad’s downstairs listening to his own albums again!’ But once or twice a year, when the family’s out, I might play one of our records. It’s certainly good to listen to how we developed over the years. I also watch the odd video of myself on YouTube. To be fair, I never get to see what the audience sees, so it’s an interesting experience.
NOVEMBER 17-20: House of Fun Weekender, Butlin’s
Just three days after returning from Europe, Madness take to the stage at Minehead for the seventh Weekender. Billed as ‘the Jamboree Bag’, Friday night sees the traditional assortment of album tracks, B-sides and rarities, most of which have been practised on the recent European tour. Saturday’s fancy dress theme is Madheads at the Movies, with an assortment of wacky big screen icons watching the usual Greatest Hits set. Other acts across the weekend include Geno Washington, Dennis Bovell, Russ Winstanley, Craig Charles, Don Letts, The Skapones and The Aces. Also playing is Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, who are joined by Suggs for an extended version of Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile). Sunday afternoon sees a special performance by Mez and the Fezzes, with the Madness percussionist joined by Lee and Bedders for a packed-out set that includes the Benny Hill theme tune. Other highlights include a preview of the Suggs: My Life Story film and Madheads Got Talent, judged by Lee and Chris.
In the City / A Place in the Sun / Benny Bullfrog / Guns / Tomorrow’s Dream / Poison Ivy / When Dawn Arrives / Upside Down / Never Ask Twice (AKA Airplane) / Lover Please / Skylarkin’ / I’m Walkin’ / Madness (Is All In The Mind) / Vietnam / Oh My Love / House of Fun
MIKE (speaking in 2017): This year’s Friday setlist was a joint thing, although there was a bit of an argument, which we don’t need to go into. It was enjoyable and Chris got his way, to an extent, and I got mine. It was a good show but we always enjoy the Friday night because we can do something a bit different. A Place In The Sun was one that I chose; it’s a great song, with a lovely melody. We also did some B-sides, which Chris is always keen on doing. I thought we’d done a lot of B-sides already, but Chris is a pedantic fellow, so he sent me a list of what we’d done on the Friday nights. Me and Suggs wanted to do more of a Dangermen-type thing again, but it ended up being a real mixture that we certainly enjoyed. I know if I was a fan of a band, I’d love to go and see them do all sorts of different stuff.
DECEMBER 1: One Man’s Madness, BFI, London
Lee’s talking heads film gets a special screening at the South Bank, followed by a Q&A with its star and director Jeff Baynes. Clive Langer and Dave Robinson are among those in the audience.
With no Christmas tour, the band put their feet up and prepare for 2018.
MIKE (speaking in 2017): We don’t really know what we’ll be doing in 2018. We’re talking about doing some recording and we will do another album at some point I suppose. I wanted to have a bit of a break, but then again you start thinking, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t mind going in the studio.’ It gets a bit boring doing the same thing for a long time, and that includes playing live. That’s why it’s great to go to the studio. It’s like the weather you know – it’s good to have different seasons and it’s nice to change things around. Next time round I fancy doing a few covers, but apparently Chris doesn’t like them and says they never come out good. But I think it’s nice doing other people’s songs as there’s no pressure – it’s quite relaxing. Plus when you pick a song you like, it’s usually because it’s a great song in the first place.
JANUARY 14: Sunday Brunch, Channel 4
Suggs appears on the magazine show on his 57th birthday to discuss Madness and plug his upcoming film. It’s just one of a host of promotional TV and radio appearances made by the singer this month, including Good Morning Britain, where he hits the headlines after inadvertently saying ‘shit’ live on air.
JANUARY 17: Suggs: My Life Story UK premiere, London
The singer’s film, directed by Julien Temple, makes its UK debut at Koko in Camden, followed by a Q&A with actor Keith Allen and short three-song performance with Deano on keyboards. The event is shown in a simultaneous cinema link at selected venues across the country before being released on DVD later in the year.
A must for Madness devotees, this is essentially the filmed version of Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson’s autobiographical one-man show. It’s shot at Hoxton Hall in London, before a packed house of groupies and sycophants, who laugh far too loudly at every (frequently flat) punchline. McPherson is not, it transpires, a natural comedian (‘Wikipedia? Wiki-what-fucking-ever!’ is one of his ‘good’ ones). However, he is a born raconteur and carries us through this 96 minutes effortlessly with shaggy-dog stories about violent school days and pub riots on the live circuit, with musical interludes (his half-spoken Baggy Trousers is fabulous) and brief excursions into real emotion when he discusses the heroin junkie father whom he never knew. The co-director Julien Temple (The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle) provides the archive footage and animated inserts, but for better and for worse the film is all Suggs.
JULIEN TEMPLE (director): I’ve known Suggs for a long time. Clive Langer was at William Ellis School with me and I knew Mike’s older brothers, so I was aware of the band early on. I later tried to cast him in Absolute Beginners. He said he had a broken toe and couldn’t do the dance audition, which was his way of getting out of it. Suggs is kind of a music hall character – you have this great juxtaposition of this 55-year-old man singing the same songs as his 18-year-old self. It’s a shame, because Madness have been dismissed as yobs, yet they’re an interesting record of the emotional history of the late 70s and 80s. People should understand there is a lot of politics in their songs, lots of layers, lots of information on the world they came from and told in a very contagious way. They were pioneers of celebrating the London we live in and embracing it.
JANUARY 31: What A King Cnut, Wyvern Theatre, Swindon
Subtitled ‘A Life In The Realm Of Madness’, Suggs starts another one-man stage show, this time focusing on his (often drink-induced) adventures with the band. Suggs says the title is based on the famous story of the king unable to hold back the waves, with the singer claiming that fame is the same, whether you’re holding back age, people’s indifference or a wave of reaction. Once again accompanied by faithful pianist Deano, he plays 32 dates up and down the UK, finishing at the London Palladium on March 21. Dates in Dunfermline, Glasgow and Newcastle are cancelled due to heavy snow and rescheduled for later in the year.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): My first show was about me getting to 50 years old and starting to think about my life and looking for my dad. This second part is what happened to Graeme McPherson after he climbed the ladder of success to become Suggs. Without getting too morbid, fame has given me everything I’ve got but it’s also a very dangerous substance. You only have to think of people like George Michael and Amy Winehouse who were moths to the flame and got burnt up. Luckily, because of wife and kids, I’ve always had three voices telling me when it’s time to go home — although it used to be kind of embarrassing when my 17-year-old daughter was telling me I’d had enough to drink. However, it’s probably saved me from jail or, worse, death.
FEBRUARY: Madness cruise idea floated
The band’s management reveal that they’ve been approached to do a European cruise in summer 2019, featuring a floating festival for 2,500 fans to mark their 40th anniversary. The high cost of tickets means the idea never leaves port.
FEBRUARY: Suggs reveals he has a long-lost sister
As part of his new one-man stage show, the singer reveals that his mum Edith gave birth to a daughter and put her up for adoption before he was born. He says the woman made contact in 2012 and had actually been in the audience for some of his shows.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Mum had a Facebook friend request from someone she didn’t know saying, ‘I think you’re my mum.’ This woman, Julie, had seen a repeat of my This Is Your Life on which my mother was introduced by her maiden name, Edith Gower. Julie recognised the name and spotted the resemblance so she got in touch five years ago. Mum flew to Dublin to meet her and when she came back she was different. It was as if she’d carried a tension inside her every day since she’d been forced to part with her daughter, but her shoulders had dropped and an innate sadness instantly disappeared. It was a marvellous surprise – a very miraculous thing for sure.
EDDI (Suggs’s mum): At the time she was born I wasn’t even coping with myself and was coping very badly with Graham, so I couldn’t have managed with another child. People would say, ‘How could you give up your baby?’ But to me, she wasn’t my baby, so I made the decision to have her adopted while I was pregnant. I felt no regrets since it was the best thing for all of us. I had thought of finding her over the years, but part of me always said, ‘Not yet.’
MARCH 1: Music Producers Guild Awards, Grosvenor House, London
Veteran Madness collaborators Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley receive the Award for Outstanding Contribution to UK Music.
MARCH 25: One Man’s Madness, The 100 Club, London
Lee’s film gets a screening at the famous venue as part of the Sound Screen Festival. The sax man also plays a set of tunes including a cover of Ian Dury classic England’s Glory.
APRIL 6: Lee appears on Dave Robinson’s radio show
The sax man is the special guest on his old boss’s digital show, Free Yourself, to discuss how they first met, why the band chose to sign to Stiff and the upcoming release of One Man’s Madness. He also reveals that the band are in the process of writing new songs.
LEE (speaking in 2018): It’s starting to fire back up. Everyone’s put their head above the parapet and is writing now – even Bedders. Chris and Mike are bang at it, plus Suggs has a book of lyrics ready.
CHRIS (speaking in 2018): Everyone has a few songs knocking around but there’s nothing concrete yet. We need to get in the rehearsal rooms.
LEE (speaking in 2018): I’m working on one myself called British Film Standards, which is all to do with TV programmes. It was inspired by this Channel 4 show called Cucumber, which had a picture of a cucumber to advertise it. So I sat down with a cup of tea to watch it, and there’s two blokes sat on chairs, and all of a sudden one of them throws the other to the floor and starts taking the other from behind. And this is 5 o’clock in the afternoon! I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ Another song is called Wild Card, which is about megalomaniacs and big horrible bullies.
APRIL 13: Suggs’s mum passes away
Known affectionately as ‘Eddi’ among the Soho community where she was a regular for more than 40 years, Edwina McPherson dies aged 79.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): When my mum was ill, I went to see her in hospital with my long-lost sister, and we were both standing there beside her bed, and suddenly my mum knew that her adopted daughter was alright. It was a great privilege. Some time afterwards, I was sitting outside a pub by Mornington Crescent tube station. I’d just picked up my mum’s ashes from the funeral directors; they were in a carrier bag on the table beside me. I ordered Mum a glass of prosecco and I had a pint. Then I spotted one of my contemporaries who’d obviously fallen on hard times, having an argument across the road. So I went to lend him a bit of support and, when I looked back, there was some druggie polishing off the prosecco, about to sink my pint and with my mum’s ashes under his arm. When I shouted at him and told him what was in the carrier bag, even he was a bit ashamed. It made me realise, though, that there but for the grace of God go I; I wasn’t that druggie or the one having a row about a tenner.
APRIL 21: I Do Like To Be B-Side The A-Side released
A special 12” vinyl is released for Record Store Day, containing the B-sides from the first 11 Madness singles. The sleeve features a 1950s style black and white image of the band mocked up on a diving board.
MAY 22: Showcase Cinema, Bluewater, Essex
Two weeks after its DVD release, Lee attends a special screening of his one-man film, after which he takes part in a Q&A with director Jeff Baynes. The film is screened in nine other UK cinemas the following night, as well as at the Southend Film Festival on May 28.
JUNE 1: One Man’s Madness soundtrack released
This double album features music from Lee’s rockumockudocumentary, including Madness singles and album tracks, Crunch! and Ska Orchestra songs and some dialogue and opera inserts by ‘Thommosina Leigh’. Also included is an early demo of Drip Fed Fred and Lee’s own cover of the Prince Buster classic, Sit and Wonder, recorded during studio sessions for the first Ska Orchestra album.
LEE (speaking in 2018): We were a bit concerned that the soundtrack was just going to be yet another compilation of Madness hits, so we put on a few tracks from the Ska Orchestra, a few from Crunch! and a demo version of Drip Fed Fred, which I’m really glad we got on it. Originally the artwork looked awful, like it had been done by a little kid, so we had it changed and now it looks like a cross between something from Monty Python and Yellow Submarine.
JUNE 1: The Fall of Emporer Less is released
Lee guest stars on sax on this charity single in aid of mental health and youth music. Written by David King, the reggae track also features singer Jen Cherene, Fishbone drummer Gil Sharone and Ska Orchestra alumni Steve ‘Chalky’ White and Julian Rodric.
JUNE 9: The Silencerz album launched
Lee appears on his third record in a week, this time playing sax on the debut CD from the band that features son Daley on vocals.
JUNE 23: Liz Kershaw Show, Radio 2
Lee appears on the popular show to talk about the early days of Madness, the infamous stolen sax incident and the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra.
JUNE 29: Provinssi Rock, Seinajoki, Finland
The band’s by-now annual round of summer festivals kicks off in Finland, with a standard Greatest Hits set, boosted by the welcome addition of Return of the Los Palmas 7.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Mr Apples / Return of the Los Palmas 7 / The Sun and the Rain / Cardiac Arrest / Shut Up / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / ENCORE: It Must Be Love / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
BEDDERS (speaking in 2018): There are a few album tracks that are quite dear to the band that we try to shoehorn in, but when you’re playing in the summer, you’re just flying in to play festivals, so you don’t have time to rehearse much or throw new things into the set. If you do play something new, it’s because you’re confident of knowing it. It’s always difficult because you just don’t have the time.
JUNE 30: Tinderbox, Denmark
JULY 4: Rock ‘N’ Roll Book Club, Dublin Castle
Bedders joins author and Near Jazz band-mate Terry Edwards for a lengthy Q&A about One Step Beyond, based on Edwards’s excellent book about the album.
JULY 6: Englefield House, Reading
After tours of racecourses, forests and sports venues, the band play the first in a series of summer gigs at ancestral homes, dubbed The Stately Madness Tour. The setlist is still strictly Greatest Hits, with Chase The Devil (AKA Iron Shirt) occasionally thrown in for good measure.
JULY 7: Euston Hall, Suffolk
JULY 13: Ragley Hall, Alcester
BEDDERS (speaking 2018): To this day, when we’re playing live, Lee is still off to one side, fiddling round and talking to someone, not doing his backing vocals like he should. We all say that he’s the most natural performer in the band and there’s always something going on with him when we’re playing. Out the corner of your eye you can see him picking up bits of equipment and throwing them off the stage, or jumping in and giving things to people, like hats and jackets. Even after 35 years, his legend still precedes him. If you haven’t seen him for a little while, there’s always a story doing the rounds about what he’s been up to.
JULY 14: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
JULY 19: Bellaria Igea Marina, Beky Bay, Rimini, Italy
JULY 20: GruVillage Festival, Grugliasco, Italy
JULY 22: FIB Benicàssim Festival, Spain
LEE (speaking in 2018): I’m seriously enjoying it more now than ever before. We know how to take the piss out of each other, sit back and then laugh it off. It really is a charmed life; I’ve been in a gang since I was a kid and I still am, and it’s wondrous and joyful.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): I feel the same way. I would certainly rather be surrounded by this noisy, violent, frustrating gang of fools than be here on my own.
LEE (speaking in 2018): At the moment, it’s all red-carpet treatment and we’ve even got carers on board to give us our medication when we need it. We’re wearing neck braces and leg braces, and while the other 22-and-a-half hours is a fucking pain, for the one and a half hours we’re on stage it’s sheer joy. So I won’t be retiring just yet.
JULY 27: Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland
As well as playing their usual Greatest Hits show, Suggs MCs during a DJ set by old 2-Tone pal Jerry Dammers.
JULY 28: 3 Arena, Dublin, Ireland
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Being on stage is the main thing; that’s what touring is all about. I think it was Charlie Watts who said, ‘The only problem is the hanging around. I’ve been on the road for 40 years but only actually worked for four of those years.’ The key is ensuring you’re with people you get on with, and doing things that are entertaining and that will occupy your mind. The whole thing revolves around that two hours on stage, which is the best job in the world as far as I’m concerned.
JULY 29: Car Fest North, Bolesworth Castle, Chester
Madness play the annual charity bash, organised by Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans.
JULY: The band reveal they’re busy making plans for their anniversary year.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Next year will be the 40th anniversary of our first record, so we’re planning some big things and maybe a new album. We’d started to think, ‘Shit, if we want an album for next year, the big one, we had better get on with it.’ So we got in the rehearsal room and wrote four songs in a week.
LEE (speaking in 2018): I don’t know exactly what we’re doing for the 40th yet; I probably won’t know until the day before, but I know it’ll be good.
CHRIS (speaking in 2018): We’d like to do an exhibition in London, and hopefully a new album, but we have to get together and write it first. I’m always writing loads of songs, and have been writing some reggae-type stuff, so hopefully something will happen. I just need the others to start writing some lyrics.
LEE (speaking in 2018): Chris has sent me one called Prove Me Right, which has been hanging around for a few years and I need to finish off. There’s also some other material in the mix that we’re hoping to play later this year, and we’re hoping to maybe have an album out next year.
AUGUST 3: A Summer’s Tale Festival, Westergellersen, Germany
AUGUST 8: Near Jazz Experience, Varanger Festival, Norway
Bedders slips in a separate European gig with the side project he performs in with long-time friend and sometimes Madness collaborator Terry Edwards.
AUGUST 10: Strijp-S, Eindhoven, Netherlands
Tonight’s gig sees Jimmy Cliff classic Vietnam added to the summer’s Greatest Hits setlist.
LEE: After the Eindhoven gig, we went back to the hotel, got a taste for it, and I said to Suggs, ‘Fancy having a late one?’ As we left, we passed these bowls of fruit and veg for juicing, so we grabbed a carrot each, I stuffed mine down my trousers, and we went running off to the town centre. We had a few beers and then went for a hot dog and got talking to a couple of women. And when I stood up one of them went, ‘Ugh!’ I’d forgotten about this carrot, which had slipped down my trousers and was poking out the bottom. I think I said to her, ‘You want to see it when it’s hard – you’ll faint.’
AUGUST 11: Nostalgie Beach Festival, Middelkerke, Blegium
Madness play their final festival date of the summer before having a few months off to unwind and work on various solo projects.
SEPTEMBER 6: What A King Cnut, Festival No6, Portmeirion, Wales
Suggs bring his one-man show to the arts festival, where Carl had played a solo set some years earlier.
SEPTEMBER 25: Near Jazz Experience, Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Bedders and Terry Edwards start a 10-date tour supporting The Nightingales, finishing in Nottingham on October 5.
OCTOBER 6: Celebrity Juice, ITV2
Suggs appears on the bawdy celebrity quiz show hosted by Keith Lemon, starring in a bizarre segment called Suggs in a Rug.
OCTOBER 14: My Life Story, The Pleasance Theatre, London
Suggs’s one-man film gets a special screening in front of about 150 guests, with Lee keeping a low profile in the audience. Accompanied by pianist Deano, Suggs also performs a few Madness songs, including a cover of Chas & Dave’s There Ain’t No Pleasing You.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Being in a pop group is no better than being a fucking milkman. All we do is supply something that people want or need or like, but when you start taking yourself too seriously, that’s when it becomes a problem and that’s what leads to fucking danger. I don’t feel badly about people who take that attitude, but I just don’t like it myself.
OCTOBER 15: What a King Cnut, Severn Theatre, Shrewsbury
Suggs begins another tour of his new one-man show, playing 20 dates across the country. He plays his final show in Glasgow on November 7 – the performance having been cancelled twice earlier in the year due to heavy snow and a fire in a neighbouring building.
After snow and then fire had twice postponed a visit to Glasgow for Suggs’s second autobiographical show back in March the Madness front man finally made it to Glasgow with this broad comic riff on his life in and out of the band. Taking the idea of the rock and roll raconteur holding forth at the bar and giving it a theatrical makeover, Suggs enthusiastically played the part of an alcohol-fuelled front man getting pie-eyed at Glastonbury, recalling the petty thievery that got Madness up and running and forgetting the first line of Our House while performing in front of a TV audience of billions during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. All of which came with the odd break into song when appropriate. In some ways the songs were the least of it. Despite the best efforts of his pianist ‘Deano’, they were often mere music hall singalong punctuation. Fine enough when it’s a tune like House of Fun which always had that in its DNA. But when Suggs ventured into the more thoughtful end of the Madness songbook on One Better Day, the song’s empathy and compassionate observation felt slightly at odds with the beer-burping tone of the stories that surrounded it. That said, by the second half, for all the fun Suggs has at the expense of Bono and Brian May’s hair, a warm welcome sentimentality begins to creep in as he raises a glass to the late, lamented Amy Winehouse and we get to hear more about the singer’s family. Still, it’s a show played primarily for laughs. And Suggs combines adroit physical mugging and a sly facility with language to make the most of comic anecdotes that involve a bag of feline ashes, pigeon excrement and Chelsea football fans. All in all, the theatrical equivalent of that pleasantly woozy feeling you get after two bottles of wine.
Teddy Jamieson, The Herald
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Doing this second show has been really interesting and I’ve really enjoyed it. I like having the chance to sing a few songs in a different acoustic fashion, and then explain how I wrote them and what they’re all about. It’s been a huge challenge but deep down I sort of knew I could perform like this. I’ve done a bit of TV and radio, so I had a vague idea that I’d be able to wing it, but it’s still been a big learning curve. Originally I thought that I’d just go onstage and tell a few funny stories but you have to write it, and you have to learn it, which all involves self-discipline. However, it’s very helpful because it means that now I’ve got the confidence where I can ad lib and mess around a bit.
NOVEMBER 1: Suggs and Friends, Porchester Hall, London
Suggs throws his sixth charity fund-raiser in aid of pancreatic cancer. This year’s special guests include Emeli Sandé and UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey. The event raises nearly £250,000.
NOVEMBER 11: The Big One 7, Parkdean, Dorset
Lee appears in a special Q&A session at the annual charity fund-raiser, discussing his career and influences with Nick Welsh.
NOVEMBER 12: World War II Treasure Hunters, History Channel
Suggs returns for a second series of his six-part historical TV show.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): I’ve come to all these things later in life as I’ve got more interested in history. I suppose I’ve found myself a niche, although I’m still not quite sure why they chose me: ‘We need someone to talk about the restoration of Victorian steam engines. Oh I know, how about the singer from Madness?’
NOVEMBER 19: Steve Wright Show, Radio 2
Suggs appears on the popular afternoon show to talk about his new History Channel show and the upcoming Madness Christmas tour.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): We spent 20 years wondering why people didn’t take us seriously, as we were singing serious songs. But then someone would say, ‘Would you mind dressing up as the Foreign Legion?’ And we’d say, ‘Oh go on then.’ Because we were such extroverts, all fighting for the limelight, we could never say no.
NOVEMBER 30–DECEMBER 2: House of Fun, Butlin’s, Minehead
The eighth fan weekend starts with a rather sub-standard Lucky Bag set on Friday night that is marred by problems. Hiccups include misplaced equipment, struggling vocals and uneven sound quality. As well as old album track Pac-A-Mac and resurrected Crunch!-era song Culture Vulture, the band try out five new numbers – Almost By The Sea (Barson), Bullingdon Boys (Barson), In My Street (McPherson), Goodbye (Woodgate) and Pussy Galore (Thompson/Foreman), which has been renamed from the British Film Standards title that Lee discussed earlier in the year. They are also joined by singer Yasmin Hendrix for covers of Ring My Bell and Ball of Confusion in a set that features versions of tracks by Prince Buster, Ian Dury, David Bowie, Chas & Dave and The Clash. They close with Giddy Up A Ding Dong, which they haven’t played since their early days as The Invaders in 1978. Stung by criticism of this rather shambolic performance, the band perform a storming Greatest Hits set on Saturday, watched by a sea of caped and masked fans dressed up for the theme of superheroes and supervillians. Earlier that afternoon, Bedders stands in for an AWOL Lee as he and Chris judge another Madheads Got Talent. Sunday sees a slightly hoarse Lee hosting a knockabout Q&A after a screening of One Man’s Madness, during which he reveals he’s been approached to write a book about his life. In the afternoon, he joins son Daley onstage as The Silencerz play a rousing set, including a father-and-son rendition of Drip Fed Fred. Other acts playing during the weekend include Chris Difford, Mungo Jerry, The Simmertones, The Pioneers, Tankus the Henge and Bez from Happy Mondays.
Green Onions / Pac-A-Mac / Free Love / Almost by the Sea / My Old Man / Culture Vulture / Kooks / Pussy Galore / Werewolves of London / London Girls / Bullingdon Boys / Ring My Bell / Ball of Confusion / In My Street / Goodbye / Guns of Brixton / Giddy Up A Ding Dong / House of Fun
CHRIS: We were under rehearsed on the Friday night because Suggs had been doing his one-man show and the day that finished, Mike went to India with his son. So all we had was three days in London and a day in Butlin’s. OK, some of it was iffy, but are we not human?
MIKE: It was kind of my fault because I went on holiday to India with my youngest, Joey, who lives with my ex, to spend some time together. It was a bit of a ‘now or never’ trip which I felt I had to go on, and I only came back two days before we went to Minehead. Despite my suggesting we do something simple, we ended up doing new songs we were still working on and 12 covers because each band member chose two. So it was a bit on the complicated side rather than simple.
CHRIS: We were under par for sure, but then Friday night is always difficult. We’re under no contractual obligation to play twice, but we like to do something extra and different. I know there are some people that would be happy for us to just do the same greatest hits set twice, but on this occasion we picked songs from our many influences and it didn’t quite come off.
MIKE: Ultimately, it was a too short a time to rehearse properly and it was possibly a rare occasion that we bit off rather more than we could chew. We weren’t at our best and it also didn’t help that my keyboard stopped working for half a song.
DECEMBER 6: First Direct Arena, Leeds
The first night of the Christmas tour – dubbed The Sound of Madness – kicks off in Yorkshire, with new songs Pussy Galore and In My Street both getting an airing after their debuts at Butlin’s the week before. They end up being rotated with fellow newbies Almost By The Sea, Goodbye and Bullingdon Boys throughout the tour. Another change sees Chris provide a new backing video for My Girl 2, with energetic footage taken from Sweet Charity, a 1969 Neil Simon musical.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / My Girl 2 / Take It or Leave It / Tomorrow’s Just Another Day / The Sun and the Rain / Pussy Galore / Wings of a Dove / Driving in My Car / Bed and Breakfast Man / In My Street / Shut Up / Mr Apples / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
Madness singer Suggs walks on and says just two words: ‘Hey you!’ He doesn’t need to say anything else – the arena audience do it for him, yelling, ‘Don’t watch that, watch this! This is the heavy, heavy monster sound…’ As soon as the crowd reach the words ‘One Step Beyond’, Lee Thompson’s sax tears into the intro of the Prince Buster cover of the same name, as it must have done thousands of times before. That an arena full of people of all ages (many wearing a Madness fez) know every word of a spoken intro from a 1979 single says everything about the esteem with which the Camden Nutty Boys are held by the public. They’re a British pop institution, with a reputation – and the core of the setlist – still based on an incredible 1979-86 run of 21 Top 20 hits, and why not? Few bands have had such a Midas touch that such giants as Embarrassment, The Prince and a lovely reworked My Girl appear within the first six songs. They can afford to constantly shuffle the setlist and leave several whoppers out. This time, Cardiac Arrest, Grey Day and Yesterday’s Men make way for Bed and Breakfast Man, a terrific Shut Up and Driving In My Car, a cheery homage to British motoring’s days of empty roads and old bangers. Madness are far more than a nostalgia act, though. Suggs may joke that 2016’s Mr Apples, a darkly entertaining tale of an uptight citizen who secretly visits seedy clubs, was ‘No 1 in Lithuania’, but that and 2008 Kentish Town homage NW5 have become much-loved live favourites. Old or new, the songs blend ska, pop, observations and British humour to document a changing Britain. In My Street – one of two tracks aired for the first time – seems to revisit the family home of Our House, to find it full of teenagers, ‘getting off their heads’. The 1982 smash itself appears in an epic six-song finale including It Must Be Love and an uproarious Baggy Trousers. “Are we still here?” jokes Suggs. Long may they remain.
Dave Simpson, The Guardian, 4/5
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Here we are – all stuck together like fucking Steptoe and Son. We’re all stuck in that house moaning at each other; we’ll most probably all be there until we die.
DECEMBER 7: Manchester Arena, Manchester
DECEMBER 8: Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
DECEMBER 10: Plymouth Pavilions, Plymouth
LEE (speaking in 2018): I looked out at one gig recently and I could see this dad putting his son on the grandad’s shoulders, and that’s when it really hit home to me. I just loved that – I was all choked up.
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): We do get a lot of kids coming to see us now who’ve obviously seen those funny old videos and, to them, it’s the best kind of kids’ TV there is.
DECEMBER 11: Bournemouth International Centre, Bournemouth
DECEMBER 13: Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham
DECEMBER 14: The O2 Arena, London
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): I never stop being grateful for what I’ve got, and my family have always kept my feet well and truly on the ground. I was very lucky that a lot of the other band members got married and had kids at the same time, so there was a lot of normality around. Unlike solo stars like Boy George or George Michael, we didn’t get into that surreal trajectory of people saying yes to you all the time. We’d come back from Hollywood and just have to do normal stuff, like put the bins out and live family lives. And it’s still the same now. If I started getting ideas above my station, Anne or the girls would just tell me to shut up. We have a family WhatsApp group full of sarcastic rubbish and I get the rug pulled from under my feet all the time. I’m definitely not the one who wears the trousers, baggy or not, in my house. That’s Anne. So whenever I complain about my one-man show or something she says, ‘How can you sit there and complain about getting paid to talk about yourself? You’ve got to be joking.’ There’s no sympathy there, that’s for sure. The other thing is, I’ve lived in the same house for years, so I know everyone in my street and they all know me and are bored of me, so they never talk to me about what I do for a living. It means I can act in a relatively normal way.
DECEMBER 15: Birmingham Arena, Birmingham
DECEMBER 17: SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Madness remain the party band of choice for men of a certain age and the jauntiness and irreverence of their pop ska sound has aged far better than some in their audience – many a middle-aged bald pate was conveniently covered by a novelty fez purchased from the merchandise stall as the band celebrated nigh on 40 years of knees-up nutterdom. But while they were still happy to play up to the Nutty Boy image, encouraging their fans to take up the exaggerated spoken word intro to their hyper cover of Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond, there were understated layers to their lyrical portraits of London street life. Brexit Britain has thrown up any number of alternative targets for the ire of shameful soap opera Embarrassment, while My Girl remains a bittersweet dissection of why men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Mr Apples, from most recent album Can’t Touch Us Now, continued their socially conscious tradition with a character study of how power perverts. In a wide-ranging set, the band rooted out an old album track Rise and Fall, stepped right back in time to their debut single The Prince and made a stretched attempt to pass off The Sun and the Rain as a Christmas song with a ‘jingley bells’ version. This was immediately followed with a nostalgic homage to summer holidays and a further tenuous connection to air travel in The Wings of a Dove during which the audience were left to handle the gospel choir breakdown. Lovestruck, a jaunty exploration of the art of steering drunkenly home by lampposts, has its resonance at this time of year but nothing quite hit the spot like the triumvirate of classics with which they romped up the home straight – House of Fun, the greatest song ever written about purchasing prophylactics, Baggy Trousers, their schooldays fantasia infused with a sliver of darkness, and the affectionate Our House completing the unholy trilogy. Their beautiful cover of Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love injected a note of sensitivity before a bagpiper (and true Scotsman as it turned out) bridged the gap to the encore and the ultimate skank of Night Boat to Cairo.
Fiona Shepherd, The Scotsman, 3/5
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Because of the link to my dad and his family, I genuinely do feel something when I go to Scotland. I don’t want to sound like Rod Stewart and all that shit, but there’s definitely a connection in my blood. When I go back there is something about that crazy place which stirs me.
DECEMBER 18: Venue, Hull
DECEMBER 19: Rivermead, Reading
SUGGS (speaking in 2018): Touring these days is still like being plunged into a lunatic asylum. Most of the crew are friends we’ve had for a long time, so we all get along very well; it’s a bit like going on holiday or getting on the school bus.
LEE (speaking in 2018): We do still socialise with each other sometimes when we’re on the road, but mostly it’s a case of ‘Get up on stage, do your thing, then have a quick drink together afterwards.’
DECEMBER 21: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
DECEMBER 22: Brighton Centre, Brighton
DECEMBER 31: Central Hall, Westminster, London
Madness ring in the new year with a special appearance that is also shown live on BBC TV. Among the audience – who have all been given free fezzes – is a cutout of Mr Bean, smuggled into the venue by a fan. Waved enthusiastically by the crowd, Suggs remarks at one point, ‘You can shove off Mr Bean, you’re freaking me out.’ At the end of House of Fun, Suggs also pays a touching tribute to his mother, looking to the heavens and ad-libbing, ‘We’re having fun Mum.’
BEDDERS: That gig was a funny one. Because it was in a Methodist hall, they were very funny about having drink in the public areas. They wouldn’t allow spirits to be sold, only beer and wine.