SEVEN RAGGED MEN | 2020-2021
The story of Madness... in their own words
madness, ska, camden, music, suggs, barso, kix, woody, chrissy boy, thommo, chas smash, john hasler, dublin castle, london, the nutty boys, pop, 2-tone, two-tone, seven, ragged, men, baggy, trousers, house, of, fun, our, house, my, girl, one, step, beyond, story, words, interviews, embarrassment, Madstock, doc martens,
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2020-2021

So Much Trouble In The World

A busy schedule of touring and activity is scrapped when COVID-19 brings the globe to a standstill

JANUARY 15: Pointless, Elstree Studios

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Lee records a special music-themed edition of the popular BBC1 TV quiz show, appearing in a two-person 2-Tone team with Pauline Black. Other musical celebrities taking part are Barbara Dickson, Heather Small, Steve Brown, Cathy Dennis, Steve Hogarth and Kimberly Wyatt. The show is screened later in the year.

Lee films Pointless with Pauline

JANUARY 20: Ticket giveaway, Margate

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Suggs and Fatboy Slim, AKA Norman Cook, appear on the seafront in an ice cream van to give away 100 free tickets to the town’s new summer festival, Hi-Tide. A large crowd duly flocks to meet the pair, with babies and dogs even posing for photos. Madness are due to appear at the event on July 5.

Suggs and Fatboy Slim sell tickets

SUGGS: The first thing I thought when I was approached was, ‘Well, I am a vintage theme park and I’m in a vintage theme park band.’

 

NORMAN COOK: It’s always been on my bucket and spade list to play there.

 

SUGGS: We’ve known each other for all our professional lives but not played together since 1985. We have lots of parallels really – we both want people to just have a good time, dance, sing and let yourself go, and what better place to do it than in Margate?

MARCH 3: Music Walk of Fame, Camden Town, London

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Carl makes a surprise appearance as Madness become the second band to be inducted into the local Walk of Fame. The exiled singer joins Suggs, Mike, Bedders and Woody as the quintet unveil a special pavement plaque outside the Electric Ballroom, with The Specials’ Lynval Golding, DJ David Rodigan and rapper Dizzee Rascal leading the tributes. Afterwards, Mike, Suggs and Carl take part in a game of Madness bingo at the Mecca hall in nearby Arlington Road. Chris is absent from the event, while Lee is on holiday. Madness follow in the footsteps of The Who, who were the first act to be honoured with the special award when it was launched in November 2019. Other acts being honoured with plaques later in the week are Amy Winehouse and Soul II Soul.

Carl, Mike, Suggs, Bedders and Woody with their icon plaque

SUGGS (speaking in 2020): Camden has always been a hot bed of culture and music and we had the great privilege to have been given lift off from this great town. Without Camden we would have been nothing so it’s a great honour to be the recipients of the Music Walk of Fame stone. Although saying that, we did single-handedly turn the area from a shithole into one of the greatest tourist destinations on the planet.

 

DAVID RODIGAN (speaking in 2020): Madness are truly iconic because of what they have achieved – they are special. They took ska and rocksteady and energised it in a different way, giving it their own twist. They didn’t replicate or duplicate, they were themselves, which is why they are here today.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 2020): It is quite remarkable how we’ve brought people with us and they’re still coming to see us today. Maybe it’s because, as the years pass, we remind them of when they were younger and what they were doing at the time. What’s also great is seeing them bring their children along and enjoying it together.

MARCH 5: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai - CANCELLED

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Madness are due to jet to the Far East for the first of five international gigs in 2020, but the gig is cancelled at the last minute due to the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. Lee jets into Dubai anyway, and spends the day in the pub with some fans who’ve made the trip. The gig is rescheduled for September.

BEDDERS: They called off the gig literally as I was just leaving for the airport – it was all a bit odd.

 

LEE: We’d been to Bali for several weeks and stopped off in Dubai to do the Madness gig but while out there the band were told to stand down as there were no flights into Dubai. So it just meant a few extra days at the swimming pool bar along with some Scousers, some people from Portsmouth and a couple here and there. They were a bit disappointed and I sort of tried to entertain them, even though I just wanted to get home pretty sharpish; I think I’d spent enough time twisting by the pool and wanted a bit of rainy, cold, windy, grimy ting.

MARCH: Further gigs cancelled

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With the coronavirus pandemic raging around the globe, and many countries going into lockdown, this year’s gigs in the USA, Mexico and UK are cancelled. Many of the dates are rescheduled for the following year, although Suggs reveals they are planning a potential Christmas tour with another much-loved British band.

BEDDERS: We were all wondering what would happen next and then like dominoes, gigs just started to fall. We had a pretty good year all mapped out, and were just about to announce some dates in December, but then everything just stopped.

 

SUGGS (speaking in March 2020): It looks like all the summer gigs have been cancelled and we’re just hoping that when this old nonsense comes to an end that we’ll be doing a big tour with Squeeze at the end of the year. That’s what we’re hanging on for.

MARCH 31: Lee begins hosting online sax lessons

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To help pass the time, Lee starts uploading Facebook video sax lessons with the help of fan Simon Roberts. First up is an introduction to the tenor sax, which Lee jokingly claims children could do with their eyes closed. Watch the first lesson here.

APRIL 7: Paperback edition of Before We Was We released

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The band’s only autobiography of their early years is released in soft cover. The paperback features a new foreword from Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, who pens both a summary of what the book is and what Madness mean with regards to class lines and British history. Welsh also tells of his encounters with Madness, from pre-fame early Camden gigs up to the modern era and his failure to buy the band dinner. A Q&A and signing had originally been planned at the Dublin Castle to mark the book’s launch, but the event is cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown.

SUGGS (speaking in 2020): I think my bits of the book are quite good but I actually haven’t read it yet. Apparently it’s great, so maybe I’ll give it a go now the paperback is out. I like the fact that our stories contradict each other, which of course they always do; you all remember things in different ways.

APRIL: The summer becomes a write-off

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As the COVID-19 death toll rises, it becomes clear that Madness won’t be out on the road any time soon, with Suggs also facing the cancellation of his one-man show. The band settle down in isolation to concentrate on solo projects and a little light songwriting here and there.

SUGGS (speaking in April 2020): We’re currently isolating in Whitstable, in the old ancestral seat of my Missus. We came down for a weekend because our house is being redecorated and we obviously thought there’s no point in going back because, as much as you want to be near your family, you realise you can’t be, even if you were next door to them. Music is my escape from the turmoil that’s going on around us. I don’t have good Wi-Fi down here, but I’ve found an old jazz CD and it’s been so nice to sit through a whole album without skipping any tracks. The news is so depressing but the music is like an exercise in meditation. Music, for me, is a great way of losing yourself. When you listen to it, you’re not intellectualising or over-analysing your life.

 

LEE (speaking in April 2020): I’m currently somewhere on the south coast, self-isolating with the wife and we’re getting a bit of a system going. I’ve got my saxophone, a couple of decks of cards, a chess board and I’m doing plenty of walking. I’m basically up, breakfast, wash, 5km walk, back, catch up on the news, practice for an hour and a half and then lunchtime. After lunch we play a little chess and I have a little read and try and do a bit of writing. At 3pm we stop for a tea break and another little game of cards or something, Ker-Plunk or Twister, and then the same old thing again; it’s mind boggling. At some point we have dinner, which is nice to prepare, in fact I made a lovely soup the other day because I haven’t made soup for over a year. We usually go for the chicken-in-a-carton thing from Sainsbury’s, but I’ve now made a truckload of it, in fact it’s filled up the freezer and I need to buy another freezer and pop it in the front room. I mean the rest of ’em are doing it why shouldn’t we? With dinner we try to distance ourselves in the local store, pick up a crate of red wine – well alright, two crates of red wine – polish off one of those, watch a film and round about 10.30pm go to bed. And then the same thing the following day. In a strange way I’m quite enjoying it but I don’t have to go out to work. I suppose what I’m missing the most is my two sons Kai and Daley, who are supposedly self-isolating.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 2020): To help keep me sane I’ve done a bit of musical pass-the-parcel. Thanks to modern technology you can record bits and then give it to someone else to record some more bits on top and pass it back, then pass it on to someone else.

 

LEE (speaking in April 2020): I’ve no plans really to meet up with the band. We were supposed to be going into rehearsals working on new songs, but it’s been put off till further notice. Last time I saw them was at a session over in East London, where we had a brief chat about upcoming events – or not as the case is now. I’ll hopefully meet up with them again at the end of April, but if not, then the other side of summer. Then once the dust has settled and we’re out of lockdown, I’ll be straight round gathering all the family and sit round having a catch up and a little tipple and a meal, then I’ll head over to Kite Hill, take a wander up and see what’s going on down in the city from the views there. I’d probably like to do something for the NHS too – they’ve been absolutely brilliant.

JUNE 6: Chris’s Covid Cupboard No1

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Chris spends two hours answering questions and talking to fans via an online Zoom chat, hosted by fan and poet Owen Collins. As well as showing off his magic extending loft ladder and discussing current activity (or lack or it), Chris take part in a quiz, guessing famous albums with his face superimposed on them.

Chris shows off his ladder

CHRIS (speaking in June 2020): We have been writing stuff, but obviously we haven’t been able to meet up, so it’s been tricky. We’re never really all together on a social thing anyway because we’re too scattered apart these days. We do email each other, but I’m terrible because I get really annoyed and send something, and then we end up arguing. So really it’s much better when we physically get together. Bedders is always saying we should meet, and when we do, we get so much done. When we’re working, that’s when it all clicks. We did record some of the new tracks last year, and hope to start working on something new when we can, but we have no idea when it will come out – it depends when the world goes back to normal. At the moment, House of Fun is going ahead, but who knows what will happen further down the line?

Chris as Bowie

JUNE 6: Two Mad Men and a String Quartet

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On the same day as the fan call, Suggs and Mike appear on YouTube in a socially distanced performance pre-recorded in North London. Accompanied by the four-piece London String Group, the duo run through Night Boat to Cairo, MK II, My Girl, The Sun and The Rain, Rise and Fall, Our House and It Must Be Love, plus new songs Theatre of the Absurd and All The President’s Men, and a cover of Life on Mars. Watch the performance here .

CHRIS (speaking in 2020): There was a bit of an argument about that because we were asked to do it and said, ‘Yeah, I think we can.’ And then I suggested doing one thing, and Suggs and Mike wanted to have a string section, but it didn’t get communicated very well, so by the time I found it was definitely on it was too late and it turned out there was only the string section anyway. Social distancing didn’t help either, because you could only have so many people in the room etc.

JUNE 12: Lee appears on new Paul Weller album

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The saxophonist guest stars on a track called Walkin’ on the Modfather’s 15th solo album, On Sunset. It follows Weller’s guest appearance with Madness at House of Common the previous summer.

PAUL WELLER (speaking in 2020): I’ve seen Lee playing blinders in recent years, both with Madness and with his Ska Orchestra. He’s a terrific player.

JUNE 13: Chris’s Covid Cupboard No2

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Chris is joined by Bedders for another exclusive online fan video call, during which they spend the first hour answering questions, and the second providing a track-by-track run-through of Absolutely, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020.

Chris and Bedders on the call

CHRIS (speaking in June 2020): At the moment, if I have an idea for a song I sing it into my phone and then email it to myself, then work it up, add some drums etc. Most of the stuff I’ve been doing recently has been Motown or reggae style – I dunno why. I actually sent one song that I’d thought up to Suggs because I thought he’d like it, and he forwarded it to Paul Weller, who added some lyrics and it’s sounding really good. So we’ll see what happens with that – I could have a new career writing songs for Paul Weller.

AUGUST 8: Art Camp 20 Festival, Devon

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Appearing via Zoom from his Whitstable bolt-hole, Suggs is a one of the virtual guests at this festival at the School of Art in Honiton. After taking part in an interview with Chris Sullivan and answering questions from around the country, there is a live screening of his one-man show.

AUGUST 17: The Last Supper, Pikes Hotel, Ibiza

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Carl appears at a dinner hosted by The Music Walk of Fame, to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry. Other guests appearing in the flesh include Andy Taylor of Duran Duran, with Henry Conlon from the Dublin Castle among those joining in via Zoom.

Watch trailer

AUGUST 28: New version of Full House released

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Previously only available as a pop-up four-disc gatefold LP, the 2017 compilation is re-released as 13 tracks on one heavyweight 180g disc, taking a potted history through Madness’s back catalogue. Instead of the original’s 43 tracks, the abridged listing is now: Our House / It Must Be Love / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Madness / Embarrassment / My Girl / One Step Beyond… / The Prince / Mr Apples / NW5 / Never Knew Your Name / Night Boat To Cairo.

The new version of Full House

AUGUST 29: Work, Rest & Play reissued

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Released for Record Store Day, rescheduled from April, the annual vinyl lovers’ jamboree sees a special 40th anniversary re-issue of the Work Rest & Play EP. The limited edition double 7” format features one track on each side – Night Boat To Cairo, Deceives The Eye, The Young And The Old and Don’t Quote Me On That – along with a triple gatefold sleeve that includes photos from the time of the original release.

The reissue of the Work, Rest and Play EP

SEPTEMBER 19: Madness: Before & After, Sky Arts

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This special 90-minute programme features live performances from the 40th anniversary Past Present Future concerts at The Electric Ballroom and Camden Roundhouse in 2019. The programme is followed by a screening of Lee’s own film, One Man’s Madness.

BEDDERS (speaking in 2020): What’s kept us going this far is a fantastic sense of compromise. So no matter how bad things get – and we do have our arguments – we always manage to compromise somehow. I don’t know where it comes from and whether we’re similar in that respect, but fundamentally we know we need to do that to keep ourselves going. As much as you try to dig your heels in, you know you’re going to have to give way a little bit. It’s like any group of people I suppose – it’s how you get over those stumbling blocks that keeps you going.

SEPTEMBER 26: Dance Craze reissued

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As part of the ongoing Record Store Day celebrations, a special 40th anniversary edition of the Dance Craze soundtrack is released. The exclusive new 180gm half-speed master features Razor Blade Alley, One Step Beyond and Night Boat to Cairo as the Madness contributions.

The special Dance Craze reissue

OCTOBER: The band reconvene in a new rehearsal space

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After lockdown restrictions are relaxed, the band briefly begin rehearsals in a converted warehouse that they’re renting. Plans are in place to film a gig at the London Palladium in place of the House of Fun Weekender in November, but the sessions are brought to an end when restrictions are tightened again at the end of October.

CHRIS (speaking in 2020): There was a kind of moment where it was like, ‘It’s calmed down a bit and you can almost go back to normal.’ So we started renting this kind of industrial unit, put a load of equipment in there and got together. We even came up with a couple of new songs.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 2020): We did manage to get together for a few days, just to do a bit of playing, come up with a few ideas and try a couple of new tracks, but once lockdown happened again that was it.

NOVEMBER 14: Lee appears on Pointless

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Teaming up with Pauline Black from The Selecter, Lee dons his colourful check suit in this special music edition, which was filmed way back in January. After recounting the story behind the Baggy Trousers video, Lee fails to identify an obscure enough Elvis song, and he and Pauline are out in the first round. Watch the episode here

Lee and Pauline on Pointless

NOVEMBER 27: Absolutely reissued on vinyl

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A special 180g vinyl re-release of the band’s second album is released to mark its 40th anniversary, priced £19.99 and featuring extensive new sleeve notes by Chris and Lee.

The 2020 reissue of Absolutely

NOVEMBER 28: House of Fun Zoom

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Chris returns to Zoom as he takes part in a two-hour online Q&A session in place of the cancelled House of Fun Weekender. Praising the quality of all the other songwriters in the band, Chris airs some more demos and confesses he once ripped off the theme from TV detective show Bergerac when writing for Madness. He also says he’s penned two new songs lyrically, one about the band’s past and another about wandering the world. Chris also reveals that Madness have purchased a rehearsal space and have been working on a streaming concert idea that includes new songs. The chat is one of four sessions organised over the weekend by fans including Steve Jacob, Owen Collins, Jon Rathe and Leah Rix to chat about Butlin’s memories. The weekend also sees Lee unveil a new demo version of It’s For the Best, an unreleased song from 1986 about Barso’s departure. The tune had previously only been heard through leaked demos, but now Lee and Chris say they’ve crafted a new version that’s ready to be considered for the next album.

Listen to It's For The Best
Chris chats to fans on the HOF Zoom

CHRIS (speaking in 2020): Next year we’re planning to release all the old albums on vinyl. We wanted to put some extras in but there just isn’t anything left – we’ve used it all. On the later albums there’s always some other tracks kicking about, but not on the early ones. So the well has completely run dry.

2021

JANUARY 4: Pork Pie & Mash Up

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Bedders is the special guest on Rhoda Dakar’s monthly show for Totally Wired Radio, where he discusses Brexit, borders and side projects while the former Bodysnatcher and Madness collaborator spins the tunes.

BEDDERS (speaking in 2021): Because we’ve not been touring anywhere, there’s been a gigantic space in my schedule, so I’ve been keeping the design work going, which has been one positive. Last year I helped launch a new candle company and also did a book, so it’s been good really.

JANUARY 14: Absolute Radio 80s

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Suggs joins host Sarah Champion for her regular walk down memory lane, discussing 40 years of Absolutely and life during the current lockdown.

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): Looking in my diary at all the events we had to cancel last year was so depressing; it was going to be our most successful year of all time! It’s also a bit depressing that we have to go through this process again, but on we go. As far as I’m concerned it just means more crap paintings, more rubbish poetry and another half-finished novel. I’m used to having months off, but not having the full-on months in between is starting to take its toll a bit.

FEBRUARY 1: Pork Pie & Mash Up

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Bedders once again appears as the special guest on Rhoda Dakar’s monthly show for Totally Wired Radio, as the second part of their interview covers everything from the band’s influences to the longevity of The Rolling Stones.

BEDDERS (speaking in 2021): People often say to me, ‘How can you play those same songs every night, for the number of years you’ve been going?’ But like growing older, you adapt to the songs and find different ways of playing them. Not like, ‘I’m now going to play Baggy Trousers very slowly, with a drone and some bagpipes’, but you just find new ways of moving from part to part and getting from A to B by pushing your technique. There are definitely ways you get round it. We’re also lucky because, although we have a basic set, we do rotate things in and out that we like to play, plus we put in new songs too.

FEBRUARY 12: More Love Letters to London

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Suggs begins a second series of his aural portraits of the capital. In this opening episode, he takes Radio 4 listeners to Oxford Street, telling stories about Europe’s busiest shopping thoroughfare and throwing in a song and joke or two.

FEBRUARY: More gigs and King Cnut tour postponed again

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With uncertainty still affecting live events, planned gigs across the globe are slowly cancelled one by one. Suggs’s rescheduled King Cnut tour also becomes a casualty of the pandemic as the 2021 shows – already rescheduled from 2020 – are cancelled and all dates moved to 2022.

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): At the moment we’re bored and going up the wall, but we’ve all been writing new songs. Lee has written a brilliant one called Baby Burglar, which is right up there in the great canon of Madness songs. And I’ve written one with Paul Weller called Who Do You Think You Are Sunshine? We haven’t recorded anything yet, but it’s all there. So there IS going to be an album – a fucking quadruple one.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): We’ll definitely be doing a new album because we’re always doing a new album. I’ve done a lot of songs that aren’t any particular genre, including one that’s kind of reggae that I wrote while sitting on the toilet. I wasn’t actually, you know, going to the toilet, I was just contemplating, probably on Instagram. But suddenly I thought of this tune and sang it into my phone, then emailed it to myself and dragged it into a music thing. So that’s a good one – plus I’ve been writing some lyrics too.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 2021): The only thing we can hope is that we get back to playing music soon – it’s one of the things to hold on to. We’ll try and get House of Fun in too, as last year’s was supposed to be the last one, so we have to do that.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): I’ve missed playing live. In fact, my wife says I’ve got performance Tourette’s cos I’m singing at anybody and everybody – there’s people running away from me at bus stops. It’s been like being in a void for a year. I even started making Belgian wheat beer which turned out nice and was a huge success, even though I didn’t see any of the first bottle – the cork flew off and it went all over the kitchen floor.

FEBRUARY 19: More Love Letters to London

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In the second instalment of his two-part Radio 4 show, Suggs takes listeners on a trip around Docklands and along the River Thames to Greenwich, discussing pirates, sailors, yuppies, lightermen and Madness gigs. The episode includes renditions of Drunken Sailor, Waterloo Sunset, Bob Marley’s Can’t Blame the Youth and Sweet Thames, Flow Softly, which was originally performed by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger.

MARCH 6: Chris appears on Stateside Madness podcast

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The Madness guitarist and songwriter drops by the Stateside Madness studio for an exclusive interview, answering questions from hosts Laurie Alfaro, Poly Collins and Bobby Rubin. During their chat, Chris discusses lockdown, the upcoming new American compilation album, how Showtime came to be, what’s next for the band and his love for Van Halen. Listen to the podcast here.

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): I still have all this stuff in my calendar that keeps coming up, telling me that I’m supposed to be in Paris today, and instead I’m shopping. So it’s been a terrible time. I know I’m lucky because I’ve got a nice house and a big garden and all that, but this whole thing has been difficult for everyone, hasn’t it? I’ve written a few songs, so that’s good. And we’ve met up a few times so, y’know, we’re ready.

MARCH 12: Our House: The Very Best of Madness released in USA

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Released by BMG on vinyl and CD, this is the fourth Greatest Hits album to hit US shelves, but the first to feature the band’s post-1986 output. With a slightly different sleeve to the UK version – including Uncle Sam popping out of the chimney and a limousine replacing the Morris Minor – the 12 tracks are: Our House / It Must Be Love / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Embarrassment / NW5 / One Step Beyond / The Prince / Wings of a Dove / Mr Apples / Bullingdon Boys / Night Boat to Cairo (US Version)

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): This compilation was supposed to tie in with the US tour we had planned. So I guess they kind of had it on the spreadsheets for a while and we had to release it at some point.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): For the track listing, we took songs off the albums that had been put out in America, and then a couple of new ones just to remind people that we’re still alive. Apart from Our House, I don’t think we really did a great deal in America, but I don’t have any complaints about songs that weren’t as well received as they might have been.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): We’ve done loads of greatest hits albums, but everybody does. It’s kind of like that Walt Disney thing, where they used to re-release the films every few years. I’m not ‘anti’ it, but we do try and make sure that the artwork’s good. We did a similar album in England, with similar artwork, and I thought it might go down well with our American friends.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): Hopefully it will wet the whistle about Madness again.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): It HAS been designed to kinda like keep the wheels going, so maybe people think, ‘What’s this? It looks pretty cool’ and discover us, that kind of thing.

MARCH 26: The 7 album is rereleased on vinyl

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Following in the footsteps of One Step Beyond and Absolutely, the band’s third album gets a special rerelease on vinyl, 40 years after the original. The special heavyweight 180gm vinyl edition includes new liner notes from Lee, Mike and Chris.

MARCH 29: Suggs appears on Walking the Floor podcast

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The Madness frontman is the special guest on the American music podcast hosted by Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett. Speaking from Whitstable, with the sound of seagulls in the background, he discusses everything from 2-Tone and Tommy Cooper to the House of Fun Weekender and how Madness fared in America. Listen to the podcast here.

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): Self-deprecation was always a big thing with us; you take what you do seriously but you don’t take yourself seriously. That was what we were about – and still are.

APRIL: Suggs appears in new advert for Very

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Following his previous appearance in fishfinger adverts, Suggs is the star of a promotional campaign for the online clothing retailer, which uses a reworked version of Our House. The frontman sings the opening lines, then crops up again in between clips of various families and lockdown video celebs singing along at home, with the strapline ‘Our house is our world this Very moment’.

Watch advert

APRIL: Band rehearsals begin again

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With lockdown restrictions easing, members of the band meet up in their new rehearsal space to thrash out new songs, with Bedders tweeting a snap of his bass set-up and the caption: ‘Hello old friend – it’s really good to see you again.’

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): When we got together last year in the lovely warehouse-type place that we’re now renting, two songs came out of it. So given the chance we’ll be doing it again as much as possible. It was suggested that we do it three times a week, like the old days, so hopefully we’ll put that into practice.

 

LEE (speaking in 2021): Rehearsals are going well – we’ve definitely got enough ideas for a double album.

 

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): I’ve written quite a few songs recently and thought ‘what the heck’ so I’ve written some lyrics too, which have had the approval of Thommo and Suggs – who I rate most highly as lyricists.

 

LEE (speaking in 2021): Baby Burglar is one of the new songs that I’m really proud of. We got robbed at the end of last year, and I think it gave me a burst of creativity. So I scribbled down all this stuff, literally gave Mike a bunch of lyrics and – bosh! – he came up with a fantastic melody. It also helps when your frontman is into it, so Suggs has done a great job. It was also inspired by that poor copper who got dragged under the car.

Suggs sells tickets at the start of the premiere

APRIL 15: Online premiere of Before We Was We: Madness By Madness

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Fans are treated to a virtual premiere of the first episode of the band’s upcoming three-part TV series, Before We Was We: Madness by Madness. Streamed online to a limited audience, the first instalment begins outside the Odeon in Leicester Square, with Suggs appearing on the red carpet towing a caravan behind him. The mobile home is Sol Cinema, AKA ‘Britain’s smallest cinema’, inside which the premiere is taking place. Suggs then plays various cinema staff welcoming viewers to the 45-minute screening, and he settle down with Chris to watch the show. Following the same path as the book of the same name, the programme features band members talking about their early years, from childhood and school days up to petty crime, graffiti and their first musical steps, intercut with period clips, scenes from Take It Or Leave It, and voiceovers from the audio version of the book. Afterwards, Suggs and Chris answer some questions in the caravan about lockdown and the origin of the series. The actual episode will be screened to the public on AMC on May 1, with subsequent instalments following on the next two Saturdays.

PAUL O’CONNOR (owner of Sol Cinema, speaking in 2021): I’ve loved Madness for years, since the ’80s, so I brought down a couple of albums to get them signed while we were filming. It was quite surreal to be sat there having a beer with Suggs. You couldn’t make it up.

Chris and Suggs answer questions after the screening

APRIL 22: Growing Out Of It is released

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After several years in gestation, Lee’s autobiography finally hits the shelves. Subtitled ‘Machinations Before Madness’, and written in partnership with author Ian Snowball, the book charts the saxophonist’s life from his early days as the son of a burglar in North London, right up to the release of One Step Beyond. After Lee suffered a health scare in late 2020, the book includes a dedication to ‘all the staff of the NHS (and emergency services), in particular Dr Kennon and Dr Locke, surgeons at the Royal Free Hospital, who gave me an extension of life, and without whom, this ‘can of worms’ would not have been opened!’

LEE: The book covers the first 22 years of my life, starting with my humble beginnings in NW5, on to petty criminality in N6, then onto the wide open spaces of 681 Hitchin Road, Stopsley, Luton and all the shenanigans in between before parking up on that mental bus: the 2-Tone Tour in October of 1979.

 

IAN SNOWBALL: It’s an enjoyable read – Lee’s certainly had an interesting life and is a colourful character, to say the least.

 

LEE: It does go on a lot about my criminal activities in the pre-band years, but that’s what it was.

APRIL 23 & 24: Web chat with Lee

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To promote the official launch of his new book, Lee takes part in two Q&As via Zoom with author Ian ‘Snowy’ Snowball and special guests. The intimate online event is limited to 100 fans per night, with guests given the opportunity to ask questions. On the first evening, Lee is a bit croaky, blaming his sore throat on recent interviews, including one with Adrian Chiles. The duo are also joined by Lee’s wife Debbie and friend Lynn Milsom as they discuss Lee’s early life and the genesis of the band, with a few well-known anecdotes revisited. As well as confirming that the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth in September will be the band’s first gig of the year, Lee also makes the surprising admission that he’d most like to work with Neil Finn of Crowded House. The following night, Lee and Ian are joined by ex-Madness drummer and manager John Hasler and former roadie and merchandise king Harry Wandsworth.

Lee chats to fans about his new book

IAN SNOWBALL: As well as telling the story of Lee’s life, the book is a bit of an historical journey through London in the 1970s.

 

LEE: London at that time was all very grim and grey; lots of washing lines, not many cars and lots of bomb sites. So that’s the kind of environment I grew up in, although I had a great childhood really.

 

DEBBIE THOMPSON (Lee’s wife): I just remember that when I first saw Lee at school, he was quite sweet-looking, a real baby-face. He was also wearing a blue sheepskin, and the pockets were full of money that he nicked from a telephone box. I thought he was a flash little git – not my cup of tea at all.

MAY 1: Before We Was We: Madness Before Madness starts on AMC UK

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AMC UK and On Demand via BT TV begin screening the first of a three-part docuseries on the history of the band, inspired by the book of the same name and directed by Bill Jones and Ben Timlett. Featuring talking head interviews mixed with vintage footage and clips from Take It Or Leave It, the three 60-minute episodes offer insight into the band’s ‘inevitable rise to the top of the charts, pop fame and fortune against the backdrop of the ska, punk and new wave revolution’. The first episode is also streamed live on YouTube.

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): Doing the show was great. We’re not necessarily obsessed with nostalgia but we thought it was worth having another look back. The book went really well but we didn’t want to do a big hagiography and luckily the documentary makers were into the same premise: ‘Why don’t we celebrate who we are in a simple way and just talk about how we got to where we got in 1979?’

 

CHRIS (speaking in 2021): Because it was made during lockdown, we went into all these old empty theatres and filmed our bits to camera there.

 

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): I remember seeing Julian Temple’s Sex Pistols film, which juxtaposed people’s stories with what was on the TV at the time; things like Bruce Forsyth, Tommy Cooper and Rod Stewart at No1. We wanted to do the same and find some context with the footage, so you see film of the era we’re talking about, like a time capsule. It means the programme visualises what the book is and expands it, augmenting our stories with something relevant.

MAY 2: The Reunion, Radio 4

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This special programme sees presenter Kirsty Wark interviewing the band to discuss their 40-year musical journey, covering their early days in North London right up to performing at the Olympics and Buckingham Palace. Suggs, Chris, Mike, Bedders and Clive Langer chat in the studio, with archive contributions from Dave Robinson and the other band members. The programme ends with a discussion about the upcoming streaming gig, The Get Up, which Suggs describes as “a history of the band in sketches”. The programme is part of a few weeks of heavy media activity, during which Suggs appears in print and on radio shows and podcasts to promote the three-part TV show and the upcoming broadcast of the stage show.

MAY 8: Part 2 of Before We Was We: Madness Before Madness

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The second instalment of the AMC show features archive footage of Madness’s first TV appearance on Magpie, to which Suggs didn’t turn up, street scenes and fashions, Carl explaining the intricacies of Nutty dancing and plenty of gig footage.

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): I think doing this has helped us to learn that maybe we were better than I thought. When you hear your old records, you think, ‘Oh, I could have done that so much better.’ But seeing the whole process, it was pleasing that we developed from pretty naive to something a bit less naive. One of my favourite bits is when we’d done The Prince and went into Woolworths and it was in the Novelty section. Carl went up to the counter and went, ‘That’s gotta go in the Reggae section mate?’ But because we were white Herberts, it was in the Novelty section.

MAY 11: The Jimmy Kimmel Show

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Filmed at the London Palladium, the band appear on the popular American TV show playing Our House. The appearance is used to promote the US version of their latest greatest hits album, Our House: The Very Best of Madness.

watch performance

MAY 14: The Get Up! stage show is streamed globally

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Filmed at London’s Palladium in April, and hosted by The Fast Show’s Charlie Higson, this special streamed stage show features live music, classic Madness songs, comedy, special guests and even Mike playing the part of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Three new tracks are also given an airing – Baby Burglar, If I go Mad and The Cruellest Comedy, which was previously performed as Theatre of the Absurd by Suggs and Mike during last year’s lockdown gig. Tickets are sold for four separate global screenings in different time zones.

Review

Playing a concert without an audience? That would be madness, surely? Please excuse the terrible pun, but it’s been a very long year. Since the pandemic shut down venues back in March 2020, music fans have had to rely on so called “livestreams” to provide a facsimile of the concert experience: shows filmed in socially distanced settings and broadcast over the internet.

There have been spectacular examples but even the best have suffered from an absence of human interaction, the crucial compact of communication between artists and audience that is arguably the essential element of the live experience. And for a knees-up, singalong party band as joyously personable as Madness, the prospect of performing to an empty room seems antithetical to their very nature.

For a livestream debut billed as The Get Up!, the superannuated Nutty Boys came up with a pleasing solution. Using split-screen effects and clever cuts, the six surviving members served as their own audience. They were shown seated at the otherwise empty London Palladium, applauding and heckling their own performance on stage. “I’d forgotten how rubbish we were,” snorted singer Graham Suggs McPherson as he watched his band delivering rowdily energetic versions of early hits on a set built to resemble the bedroom of keyboard player Mike Barson. “I told you we should have gone to the Sting livestream.”

Wittily scripted by comic actor Charlie Higson, with plenty of space for improvised badinage from the band, the concept was that the band were attending the gala opening night of a Madness musical in a haunted Palladium. The beautiful venue was deserted but for Higson himself as the tatty ghost of an usher theatrically lamenting the effect of the pandemic on live theatre, and Barson in drag as Her Majesty the Queen, dancing surprisingly energetically in the Royal Box. Filmed interlinking passages offered affectionate ruminations on theatrical life. Lost in the mazey corridors of the Palladium, saxophonist Lee Thompson asked the ghostly usher “How do I get on the stage?” “Three years in Drama school, get yourself an agent and go to as many auditions as you can,” Higson responded. “And you may need to sleep with the producer.”

In the “first act,” Madness played their younger selves at a slapdash rehearsal, interspersing songs with corny gags delivered with all the enthusiastic gusto of amateur panto. Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals (“they’ll never get anywhere with a name like that!”) and Paul Weller (“Apparently he’s forming a band called The Jam, but don’t spread it about”) turned up to audition as lead singer. When Thompson arrived late to his seat, Suggs shrugged: “You haven’t missed anything. The geezers playing us are far too old.”

Well, he had a point. Madness have been around a long time, a teenage north London gang from the seventies punk explosion who have grown up to be regarded as national treasures, performing Our House from the roof of Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s Jubilee in 2018. For the second act, the band returned as their older selves, nattily dressed in suits and backed with percussionist and horn section to deliver a slick set packed with life-affirming hits. It was an uplifting reminder of how Madness earned their place in British pop hearts, blending English Music Hall silliness with sleek reggae grooves and giddy melodies, all topped off with bittersweet Kinks-style observational songcraft. It was a crowd-pleasing affair, even if the crowd they were pleasing was themselves.

Neil McCormick, The Telegraph

Mike as the Queen during the show

MAY 15: Final part of Before We Was We: Madness Before Madness

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The third and final part of the documentary again features the band discussing their early years.

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): Doing something like this has been more interesting than ploughing through the history of our success. I think they’ve done a great job, but towards the end I DID get a bit fed up of going on about the past and wanted to new something new. Saying that, we’re not daft, so there could be another two, three, five shows – who knows? I’d love to do one about the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll in the 80s, but it’s the naming and shaming of people that’s the problem, plus we’d have to have a right good chat about what we could say to about each other. But if it’s interesting to the public, maybe it’s worth looking at.

JUNE 12: I Do Like To Be B-Side The A-Side Volume II is released for Record Store Day

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The second instalment of the B-sides collection is released for the annual vinyl jamboree, featuring the flip sides from 11 hit singles from Driving In My Car to (Waiting For) The Ghost Train. Side 1: Animal Farm (Tomorrow’s Dream Warp Mix) / Walking With Mr. Wheeze / Madness Is All In The Mind / Behind The 8 Ball / Fireball XL5 / If You Think There’s Something. Side 2: Guns / All I Knew / Please Don’t Go / Jennie (A Portrait of) / Maybe In Another Life.