SEVEN RAGGED MEN | Madness 2020-21
The story of what Madness did in 2020 and 2021 as the globe was brought to a standstill by Coronavirus - all told in the band's own words.
Madness, music, ska, Suggs, Lee Thompson, Mike Barson, Chris Foreman, Woody, COVID, lockdown, Bedders, Chas Smash, Covid-19, Camden, London
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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

2020

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: I’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.

The paperback edition

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.

 

BEDDERS (speaking in 2020): There’s a joke currently going round that the pandemic is nothing for musicians because they spend half their life hanging around indoors waiting to go and do something anyway.

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.

Mike, Suggs and strings

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.

Lee and Pauline on Pointless

NOVEMBER: Bedders appears on My 90s Music podcast

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The Madness bassist discusses the band’s return in 1992, the triumph of Madstock and subsequent Madness activity throughout the decade.

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. I still do a lot of design work, although I do try to avoid the music business because that would be a bit of a busman’s holiday. So I put a lot of catalogues and art books together, and do a lot of work in Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark. I just really enjoy it still.

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. So you do play these same songs for so many years, but we do try to play them in a different context when we can, like at The Roundhouse shows in 2019 when we mocked up The Dublin Castle. It was a shame that COVID-19 stopped us in our tracks with that because we felt we were onto something; almost like a second avenue or parallel idea, so we’ll see what happens in the future.

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

SUGGS (speaking in 2021):  I’ve been offered a lot of things recently, including The Masked Singer, which I turned down. Who wouldn’t want to be dressed as a bag of chips singing Britney Spears songs? I shouldn’t slag it off though – I’ll probably need it in a couple of years.

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.

 

WOODY (speaking in 2021): The studio is in Cricklewood, which is a bit of a bugger to get to for me, as I’m on the other side of London, but it’s been good to get together again.

 

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 settles 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. Some people wanted a bit more going into the band thing, but I thought I would save that for volume two.

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.

Woody makes his point on the show

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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As well as the talking heads, the second instalment of the AMC show features 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.

Suggs pontificates on Before We Was We

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 12: Suggs appears on Radio X

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Suggs chats with DJ Chris Moyles about his name, live music, The Get Up! and the band’s recent three-part documentary series. During their conversation he also praises dedicated fans and claims he is taking his 60th far more in his stride than his 50th.

MAY 13: Suggs guest-edits the Camden New Journal

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Suggs takes over the editor’s chair for a special edition of the free local weekly paper, appearing on the cover, in two double-page spreads and five other internal opinion columns throughout the edition. Topics covered include turning empty shops into temporary spaces for young artists and Suggs’s desire to save important local venues. The issue also includes a preview of The Get Up! rare out-takes from the My Girl single shoot and a full lockdown Q&A with Suggs himself. Read the digital edition here.

SUGGS (speaking in May 2021): There wasn’t much I could do as a performer during lockdown, which has made it so good to get back in the rehearsal room, play some music and see other people again. As a band, we’re very much looking forward to getting out there and doing our bit, doing a tour. I know there are some festivals taking place over the summer but I think people are also still feeling very cautious. Personally, I’m just really looking forward to seeing some gigs again. I’ve been looking at these great gigs coming up and it seems absolutely everybody is up for playing. There’s bands being advertised that I honestly thought were dead. Back in the old days, you’d sit at home and think, ‘I can’t be bothered to go out tonight’, but now I’m going to go to literally anything I can. The other thing I’m looking forward to most is going for a pint at the Dublin Castle – it’s almost like my home.

The recreation of Mike's bedroom

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

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Filmed at London’s Palladium in April, and written and hosted by The Fast Show’s Charlie Higson, this special streamed stage show features live music, classic Madness songs, comedy, special guests Roland Gift and Paul Weller 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

SUGGS: Doing the Palladium show felt a bit like putting together a quirky Ealing comedy, with a dollop of British comic malevolence thrown in. Having had the year off, getting back to work and rehearsing a new show brought together a raft of our shared experiences. And when you have the telescope of time to look back at things in retrospect together, you get a better understanding of what you’re doing today and why.

 

STEVE MARTIN (tour manager): It was a very difficult show to put together and the management, Garry Blackburn and Hugh Gadson, deserve a lot of credit – they really drove it. Everyone knew that the band had been too quiet when the pandemic first hit. Most bands and artists were trying to get online and do a stream and, while we weren’t slow, we were keen to do something different; we didn’t want to just go into a studio with three or four cameras, do a quick film and bosh it out on to the internet. So the management were very keen for us to do something special and we then had the idea of doing it somewhere like the London Palladium and got Charlie Higson involved, who lives next door to Suggs. A lot of the subsequent ideas came from Charlie but Chris also had a huge input and was heavily, heavily involved. Of course, when it came to actually filming it, we had lots of problems due to the pandemic, like social distancing and so on. We also had issues with the financing and getting the right production company involved because we wanted to work with someone we felt we could trust and who could not only film the concert correctly, but also do the vaudeville parts and the sketches properly too. So we struggled initially to find someone who we were really happy with, and in actual fact we got it postponed twice and I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen, but the management kept pushing and pushing. The other thing was that the boys knew there was no money in it for them, and yet they spent quite a bit of cash on it as they were genuinely keen to give something back to the fans because we had been away for so long. I mean, we’d lost the American tour, which was a huge blow for us because we were so looking forward to it, so were keen to so something extra-special. We also had some concerns about filming the concert parts live, because Madness thrive on a big audience, and there’s lots of audience participation at certain points in the songs. We knew it was going to very strange not to have the audience at the end of each song, and at least two or three of the boys weren’t exactly on board with the idea because of that concern. I mean, who wants to look out at rows of empty seats? So we knew it was going to feel really weird but we had two sets – the Barso 1978 bedroom rehearsal space and the normal Palladium show – and just tried to do both as live as possible, back-to-back. Although we had to stop occasionally for technical issues I thought the boys played great.

 

BEDDERS: It was unusual to just be playing to empty seats and no audience – very odd indeed.

 

WOODY: It was weird not having an audience there, we had to go into a totally different mindset of imagining what an audience would be like, but it’s never the same. There’s a certain natural adrenaline and energy when there’s a crowd there, so things are quicker and more exciting and there’s a kind of heartbeat that we all have. But at the Palladium, we started playing and Mike suddenly said, ‘Hold on, we’re way behind,’ because we were so slow, so we had to pick it up in tempo. We also took a cynical and piss-taking approach, which is why we decided to sit in the audience and pretend to watch ourselves, shouting ‘Rubbish!’ and so on.

Madness heckling from the audience

STEVE MARTIN: The heckling from the stalls was quite ad-libbed – Charlie hadn’t scripted that. So what the boys were shouting was probably what they believed and felt at the time. But it was also done with great humility, laughing at their older selves being on stage, and I think it worked quite well. Getting Roland Gift and Paul Weller on board was fantastic too. Roland is a friend of Mike’s and they used to wave to each other in the street in North London and Suggs may have known him too, ’cos he knows everyone. I think he also may have slept on the boys’ bedroom floors on a tour once, before he was in Fine Young Cannibals. Originally we had a Dusty Springfield song for him to do which the boys had rehearsed and was sounding good, but then he threw us a curveball by saying, ‘Yeah, it sounds good, but I just don’t like the song. How about The Concrete and the Clay?’ So the boys agreed to do it, but they wanted to do it in a more reggae-dub kind of way, which I think worked really well. For the bedroom they played in, we wanted it to look like a theatre set, but Mike was also very keen for it to be as authentic as possible and for there to be things on the walls and album covers that represented what he was listening to at the time. The boys were very keen on that and also on the story about Suggs going off to see Chelsea and the audition for a new singer. The whole part about Lee not being on time was also based on reality. I mean, he’s a beautiful guy and an amazing musician, but he’s also the most dysfunctional human being I’ve ever met. For every train he misses we have to buy another ticket, for every hotel room he ‘accidentally’ messes up we have to get another, and for every taxi he misses we have to order another. He’s either two hours early or two hours late, he’ll go to the wrong platform at the train station, he’ll go to the wrong airport… and he knows exactly what he’s like. He’s said to me, ‘Steve, I don’t mean to be like this and to make your life difficult, but I’ve always been the same; I’m just not very good with logistics.’ As a fan of the band, Charlie knew all this and wrote it in, so it was his script at the start but there were also a lot of ad-libs and extra bits, a lot of which Chris was involved with, and it grew organically in rehearsals the week before we actually went to the Palladium. I mean, the boys aren’t the hardest working band in the world, so they’ll come in and do three or four hours, but they were really committed to this and didn’t want it to come across that it was so scripted that they were acting. So Charlie gave them a direction and then they went off at tangents and stamped their own personality on it.

 

LEE: It was meant to have a touch of The Shining about it and I think Charlie did a bloody good job. The only thing was, they wanted to fly me on a Kirby Wire like in Baggy Trousers but I said no bloody way – I’m too long in the tooth for that now.

 

STEVE MARTIN: Even Paul Weller bought into the spirit of it, so when he says at the end, ‘I’ll let you know’, that was great because it was so dry and off the cuff – the boys really enjoyed that bit. Paul is a long-term friend and fan of the band, and of course had played with them a couple of years before at Clapham Common, so he just turned up on his own at rehearsals, we did an hour with him and he was incredible – he just gets it. Plus he’s such a lovely, humble and down-to-earth guy. Both he and Roland were great to work with and it was just wonderful to have everyone back together again, not just the band but all the crew as well. I was really pleased that so many people enjoyed it.

 

BEDDERS: I think we would probably do it a bit differently if we had a second go at it. What might have suited us more was to be in a rehearsal room, just arsing around. That would have been quite funny and got the band’s personality over a bit more; showing behind the scenes of how we write songs or sit reading the newspaper a lot or whatever. It would have cost a lot less money too.

The band in all their on-screen finery

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.

JUNE 12: Near Jazz Experience, Kino Teatr, Hastings

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As life slowly returns to whatever the new normal is, Bedders takes to the stage with his ongoing side project again, celebrating the release of a 12” collection of download tracks recorded by the trio.

JUNE 12: Beat Surrender, BBC Radio Newcastle

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Suggs joins presenter Nick Roberts to talk about the band’s 40-year career, agreeing that they play better now than in their early days and revealing that one of his favourite shows was headlining a stage at Glastonbury. The pair also discuss some of the band’s videos receiving the 4K treatment, along with the number of young people getting into the band through YouTube and the early days of pop video making. Our House is discussed for its recent lockdown resurgence and The Ladykillers tour at Christmas, with The Young Ones and Madness’s own TV pilot covered before the theatrical comedy of The Get Up! and lockdown in general. Suggs also says that rehearsing for the tour after such a hiatus feels like starting the band for the first time, and claims that Squeeze supporting them makes him feel like going along as a punter himself. The show ends with him choosing One Better Day to be played out on.

JUNE 19: Woody appears on Percussion Discussion

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The Madness drummer is interviewed for episode 47 of the podcast, during which he tells host Matty Roberts about his early influences, how he missed the band’s first ever recording session and how he played with Voice Of The Beehive after Madness split. Watch the interview here.

AUGUST 3: Lee appears on the SixPack Podcast

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Lee appears on the popular programme, in which Melbourne music-lovers and drinking buddies, Gareth and Ryan share a six-pack of beer and some favourite tunes from a randomly chosen year. After spinning his top tune from 1969 – Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman – he recounts some familiar Madness anecdotes and plugs his new book..

Suggs on stage at Victorious

AUGUST 27: Victorious Festival, Portsmouth

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Madness play their first live gig since the Roundhouse in December 2019, taking to the stage after 20 months to headline the Friday night of this three-day bash on England’s south coast. Appearing in front of more than 30,000 fans, the band play a standard Greatest Hits set, with Bullingdon Boys and In My Street representing the newbies. Woody is absent for tonight’s gig, with the official line being that he’s “on holiday”, with his place taken by regular co-percussionist Mez. After Suggs says “the rust is coming off the engine” the band falter on Wings of a Dove, with the front man quipping: “We can still find our way through this.” A mock argument with Lee then ensues, ending with the song being abandoned and Suggs announcing: “I’m not going to remember it any better a second time.” Instead, the crowd are urged to sing Happy Birthday to Lee’s daughter, Tuesday, to which they dutifully oblige.

setlist

Intro music: The Opium Eaters / One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / The Sun and the Rain / Bullingdon Boys / Wings of a Dove / Driving in My Car / One Better Day / Bed and Breakfast Man / In My Street / Shut Up / Mr Apples / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo

STEVE MARTIN: The setlist these days always contains the hits that everyone has come to hear, but the band are also very, very keen to play new songs. So they respect and understand the retrospective element of the band but they’re also still writing and recording and it’s very important to them to keep doing that. I was in the studio with them just recently and they were still writing songs together and it’s great stuff that they love to play live too; having two or three new songs in the set keeps them fresh and on their toes.  They really enjoy that aspect of the show.

Lee, Suggs and Mez at the Paralympic show

SEPTEMBER 12: Paralympic Homecoming, SSE Arena Wembley

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Madness top the bill at a special celebration concert for Team GB Paralympic athletes staged by the National Lottery. After being introduced by host Adam Hills, Suggs announces: “Congratulations to each and every one of you. What a privilege it is for us to be here.” With Mez still on drums, and Lee sporting Union Jack sunglasses, the band then race through a mash-up of It Must Be Love and House of Fun to close the show. Sharing the bill are Jamie Cullum, James Arthur, Birdy, Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson, with the two-hour event screened on Channel 4. As well as athletes returning from Japan, the crowd includes members of the public who have won tickets in a special ballot.

Performing It Must Be Love at Wembley

SEPTEMBER 15: Henley Festival, Henley on Thames

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For their second gig of 2021, Madness return to Henley for the popular five-day black tie festival. Appearing on the opening night on the Floating Stage, the band play the usual Greatest Hits summer set, with Mike’s mum Pat making a surprise guest appearance at one point. Woody is still “on holiday”, so Mez keeps his seat behind the drums.

setlist

One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / The Sun and The Rain / Bullingdon Boys / Wings of a Dove / Driving in my Car / One Better Day / 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

Suggs with Mike's mum at Henley

SEPTEMBER 25: Yellow vinyl edition of Absolutely released

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A limited edition version of the band’s remastered second album is released on yellow vinyl exclusively for HMV. Available in store and online, the repress is part of the 1921 Centenary Edition range as the record chain celebrates 100 years on the high street.

OCTOBER 7: Bedders appears on The Jamming! Fanzine podcast

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The Madness bassist is a special guest on the second episode of the music podcast, this time joining Guy Pratt (Speedball) and Brett ‘Buddy’ Ascott (The Chords) to talk about the band’s early days, along with discussions about fashion and music.

OCTOBER 14: Take It Or Leave It watch party

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To mark the 40th anniversary of its premiere, a special online watch party is held for Take It Or Leave It in which more than 1,000 fans watch and comment while watching the film via the official Madness YouTube channel. Chris, Suggs and Mike also chip in with their own memories as the action unfolds, with comedian Phill Jupitus among the audience.

OCTOBER 20: Lee hosts book signing, Holyrood Arms, Guildford

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After missing out on an in-person launch due to lockdown in April, Lee attends a special signing and Q&A event for his book, Growing Out of It. During the evening he chats with author Ian ‘Snowy’ Snowball and signs copies of the book for fans while DJ Dave Edwards plays ska and Mod tunes.

Thommo with Ian Snowball in Guildford

NOVEMBER 6: The Big One 10, Poole, Dorset

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Lee makes a guest appearance at the three-day Specialized fund-raiser, which is celebrating its tenth year. Despite being billed to appear on the Friday, he turns up the day after, signing auction items before taking to the floor to answer questions. With his book’s co-author Ian Snowball acting as MC, he talks about the early days in Kentish Town and buying Dr Martens in larger sizes in order to get thicker soles. Lee occasionally disappears into the crowd to answer questions more directly, before a book signing and meet-and-greet. Reggae legend Dennis Bovell is also at the event, with he and Lee having a chat to reminisce about The Dangermen project.

Lee signs his book at Specialized

NOVEMBER 19-22: House of Fun weekender

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Following the postponement in 2020, Madness return to Butlin’s in Minehead for their 10th three-day jamboree. Dubbed ‘The Final Curtain’, the weekend features the usual sprinkling of special guests, including Space, Craig Charles, Rhoda Dakar, The Pyramids, The Inflatables, Dakka Stanks, The Cuban Brothers and John Hasler’s surf-rock outfit, The Crabs. Official Madness DJ Darren Bennett is also in attendance to get the crowd going. The biggest news of the weekend is the absence of Mike, who is stricken with COVID-19, requiring former Madness collaborator Seameus Beaghen to deputise on keyboards at only a few days’ notice. This last-minute switch is reflected in the weekend’s setlists, which only feature three songs recorded after the ’80s, when Seamus played with the band following Mike’s departure: Dust Devil, Shame & Scandal and The Harder They Come. Friday night sees the ‘Greatest Hits and Other Bits Round 1’, with opener Uncle Sam neatly preceded by Seamus repeating his part in the original video by intoning: ‘We interrupt this programme to bring you an important announcement.’ A shorter-than-usual performance follows, with covers of Tears of a Clown, Shoparound and a version of Bed and Breakfast Man that segues into Wooly Bully. Surprise of the night is a rendition of Riding on my Bike, with Lee helped with the lyrics via teleprompter. As well as strict COVID-19 protocols backstage, the stage layout also sees more distancing, with Woody and co-percussionist Mez further apart and facing the audience at an angle on opposite sides, with a camera positioned above the former’s kit to show him driving things along. Saturday’s show starts with Suggs delivering the intro to One Step Beyond from inside a red telephone box on stage before the curtain drops to reveal the band in front of a city backdrop and Lee dressed as Peter Pan, complete with bulging green tights. The crowd are then treated to ‘Round 2’, with seven songs repeated from Friday, including an extended Grey Day and the Bed and Breakfast Man/Wooly Bully mash-up. Suggs seems less reliant on the teleprompter than Friday, and as a result flubs the lyrics on several songs, most noticably Baggy Trousers, Our House and Madness – not that the crowd seem to care. This year’s Saturday night fancy dress theme is ‘what I want to be when I grow up’, with the audience filled with policewomen, soldiers, footballers, train drivers, clowns, superheroes, Hooters waitresses and, best of all, a splendid 12-person rollercoaster. Other highlights of the weekend include a podcast recording with fans by Poly Collins from Stateside Madness, on-stage appearances on Friday and Saturday by regular Madness bagpiper Johnny Gauld, and MIS arranging for guests to pose with the original ‘Embarressment’ sign sported by Lee in the famous ‘flasher’ intro to the video. There’s also a welcome return for The Silencerz, with Lee and son Daley playing twice with their popular outfit. Saturday sees the band swelled by the addition of Mez and the Madness brass section, AKA The Violin Monkeys, while on Sunday Lee ask the crowd if they want a beer, before returning with a bin liner and tossing cans of Carling into the front row, with varied degrees of accuracy.

setlist (friday)

Uncle Sam / Shame & Scandal / Riding on my Bike / Dust Devil / The Harder They Come / Yesterday’s Men / The Young and the Old / Shoparound / Land of Hope and Glory / Grey Day / Tarzan’s Nuts / The Tears of a Clown / It Must Be Love / Encore: Bed and Breakfast Man / Wooly Bully / House of Fun

setlist (saturday)

One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / My Girl / Take It or Leave It / The Sun and the Rain / Uncle Sam / Grey Day / Swan Lake / Yesterday’s Men / Shut Up / Bed and Breakfast Man / Wooly Bully / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / Encore: Madness / Night Boat to Cairo

Suggs emerges from phone box

CHRIS: Mike got Covid just before the House of Fun. What happened was, me, him and Suggs had gone to meet our accountant, who then rang me up later and said, ‘I’ve got Covid.’ Suggs had already had it – and got it bad because he smokes – but I tested negative, so we were both OK. But then Mike started feeling ill and got it, so he ended up missing it.

 

SUGGS: During House of Fun, I normally go out and see all the other acts and DJs over the weekend, but this time we weren’t allowed to mingle due to Covid insurance cobblers. But I still thought it was a fantastic event and the atmosphere was amazing.

Thommo in tights as Peter Pan

NOVEMBER 27: Culture Bunker podcast

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Suggs appears as a guest on the weekly podcast to plug the upcoming tour and also discuss the band’s early years and his influences, with some well-known anecdotes thrown in.

NOVEMBER 29: 3 Arena, Dublin - CANCELLED

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Madness are due to kick off The Ladykillers tour in Ireland, supported by Squeeze, but the gig is cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The 14-date trek around the British Isles – the band’s first since The Sound of Madness tour in Christmas 2018 – starts in Scotland on December 2 instead.

DECEMBER 2: P&J Arena, Aberdeen

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The Ladykillers Tour begins north of the border, with Mike back on keyboards but Mez on drums instead of Woody, who is apparently boycotting the Scottish dates due to the country’s stricter vaccination policy. The setlist is the usual Greatest Hits rundown, with new songs Baby Burglar and If I Go Mad thrown in, and Wooly Bully surviving from House of Fun. Wearing a bright green Riddler suit, Suggs is in good form and only fluffs the lyrics to Lovestruck tonight. Fan Rob Wardlaw grabs the setlist afterwards and puts it on social media, from which it seems One Better Day and Yesterday’s Men will be interchangable and played in rotation during the tour.

setlist

One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / Take It Or Leave It / The Sun and the Rain / Baby Burglar / Wings of a Dove / One Better Day / Lovestruck / If I Go Mad / Shut Up / Mr Apples / Bed and Breakfast Man / Wooly Bully / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / Encore: Madness / Night Boat to Cairo

The Squeeze and Madness setlists

SUGGS (speaking in 2021): This is about the fourth time this tour has been postponed, so I gave up being optimistic back in 2020 but we’re finally here and the moment has arrived; I imagine the atmosphere is going to be quite hot and sweaty.

 

CHRIS: It was strange. We’d actually done the promo photos for the tour way back in February or March 2020 and were just about to announce it when – bang! – the world shut down. So finally, after a lot of bumpy roads we finally got together, got the set built and started the tour. We were just so relieved to finally be out there again.

 

STEVE MARTIN: Madness don’t spend vast fortunes on their live shows, but they always want it to be right, so they’re always happy to put their hands in their pockets and make it a good spectacle for the fans. Chris and Mark tend to be quite heavily involved in the design and the production of the show, Chris in particular has a lot to do with the imagery on the video backdrops and works hard on it. Plus we have a fantastic production manager who works very closely with the boys.

DECEMBER 3: SSE Hydro, Glasgow

Mike back behind keyboards on tour

DECEMBER 4: Sheffield Arena

review

“It’s been two years since we’ve played live,” singer Suggs declares, reflecting on how the pandemic derailed this British pop institution. “I’ve found myself singing at old grannies at the bus stop.” Still, within seconds, band and audience resume their positions for the traditional festive staple of a Madness December tour. Around a quarter of the crowd are wearing fezzes. The sunglassed, besuited vocalist begins the evening in a stage-left phone box, supposedly phoning his mum, and still has the charmingly befuddled air of someone who woke up from a dream to find himself onstage in an arena. At 60, he changes the “I’m feeling twice as older” line in 1980’s Embarrassment to “three times as older”. He doesn’t need to complete the “Hey you, don’t watch that …” intro to One Step Beyond – the audience do it for him. Without a new album to promote, this tour leans heavily on the hits, and The Prince and a glorious My Girl set a high bar which, in fairness, they don’t drop far below all night. More recent songs NW5 and Mr Apples easily punch their weight. The “nutty boys” image belies the rich content of Madness’s material, which documents all sorts of aspects of British life including homelessness and racial prejudice. Two songs are so new they are unreleased. Baby Burglar reflects on a misspent youth of “petty criminality” over a samba-ish rhythm. “I thought I might go mad in the last couple of years, but who’s to say I wasn’t already?” Suggs quips, by way of introducing If I Go Mad, which has enough hooks to become yet another Madness banger. The venue’s boomy sound and a missed vocal cue at the start of The Sun and the Rain can’t dampen a fearsome home run of classics, and that song is beautifully illustrated with film of Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. Their own street scene stage backdrop is perfect for Our House, and It Must Be Love becomes an epic sing-song. “No more singing to old ladies!” yells Suggs, surveying the crowd rapture. “This is the stuff!”
Dave Simpson, The Guardian

Chris and Suggs in Sheffield

STEVE MARTIN: I still pinch myself when I’m at the side of the stage – I’ve had a fantastic 20 years with Madness. I’d always been a massive fan, right from the very beginning, so to get the call and go and work with the guys was wonderful. What I love about them is that unlike some other groups, who play under the same banner even though there’s only one original member left, with Madness it’s still six of the original seven guys. We’ve added a great brass section, plus we have Mez on percussion, and each show has a good light show, great sound and video and, most importantly, the boys are having a brilliant time. It’s just an hour and a half of the same energy and tempo as when Madness first started; they could still be 22 or 23 years old. Plus they’re all fantastic musicians and often don’t get the credit they deserve for that.

DECEMBER 6: BIC, Bournemouth

review

When a band as wonderful as Squeeze are the support act ,it’s worth getting to the venue early to make sure you don’t miss a moment of what is sure to be a great night. Between them Squeeze and Madness have written some of the most instantly recognisable songs of their generation and you just knew that they would play a good portion of them tonight. Squeeze, who tour as a headline act in their own right, delivered a great set that was well received by a BIC that was already filling up to capacity. After a short break the lights dimmed before a single spotlight is trained on a bright red telephone box at the side of the stage containing the one and only Suggs making a telephone call to his mum explaining that he is has a few friends round in Bournemouth and he has to go. He duly emerges and the band go straight in to One Step Beyond, Embarrassment and their first ever hit The Prince. These three songs set the tone for the rest of the evening, which is up tempo, upbeat and definitely up there with the best gigs I have seen this year. The stage production is excellent with a combination of London terrace street backdrop and well-designed light show both contributing to the evening but it is of course those nutty boys themselves that are definitely front and centre in delivering a twenty two song set. The band never put a foot wrong as they delivered firm favourites My Girl, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Our House which nearly took the roof off while lesser-known numbers like Baby Burglar and new song If I Go Mad were welcome additions to the evening. My favourite Madness song Bed and Breakfast Man made an appearance toward the end of the evening with a couple of choruses of Woolley Bully thrown in for good measure. Main set closer It Must Be Love went down a storm ending the first part of the night on a real sing along high and made me rethink my earlier best song statement. A short encore ended with Night Boat To Cairo that once again had the crowd dancing up to the very last note and beyond as they made their way out into a night that didn’t seem quite so cold and miserable. Madness are definitely a tonic for the soul and just what is needed right now. Let’s hope it’s not another two years before we see them again.

Allan Jones, Daily Echo

CHRIS: The fezzes are still good sellers on tour. One year I said, ‘Let’s do blue ones with gold writing ‘cos they’ll look so cool’, but everyone still wants the red ones.

Bedders on stage in Bournemouth

DECEMBER 7: Brighton Centre

review

Madness frontman Suggs is asking the capacity crowd at the Brighton Centre if any of them are in school-age education. Quite a few are. There are actual young people here! Some are with parents (even, possibly, grandparents), but gaggles of teenagers are also in evidence on their own. They shout out. We all know what’s coming… a Madness song about school days… “Naughty boys in nasty schools, headmaster’s breaking all the rules…” And, we’re off again, jogging on the spot to perennial 80s classic Baggy Trousers, a sea of shaven heads, red fezes and porkpie hats bubbling with happy nostalgia. The night began with Squeeze who played, unlike most support acts, to a full house. They do, after all, have a bunch of bona fide hits under their belt too. Clad in blue suits – co-frontman Glen Tilbrook in a particularly natty wide pin-stripe – the not-even-hour long set pelts through them at a pace, with crowd sing-alongs, notably to a stripped back version of Tempted. They conclude with an uproarious double-header, first a driven take on Cool For Cats, a song whose brilliant lyrics suddenly make me feel old, as I consider what younger crowd members make of its very 70s Cockney parlance (“Meanwhile at the station there’s a couple of likely lads / Who swear like how’s your father and they’re very cool for cats” etc). This is followed by an extended Black Coffee in Bed which comes on like Led Zeppelin as each band member in turn impressively showcases their skill. Squeeze then disappear to massed bellows for more. Madness’s set begins with two large screens above the stage playing Pearl & Dean’s iconic cinema ident, which used to be a staple on Britain’s big screens until the Eighties. Then a spotlight picks out Suggs in a stagefront red telephone box, apparently chatting to his mum about dodgy business he’s up to… which turns out to be “holding a party in Brighton”. Here. With us. He sings the opening line of One Step Beyond, the crowd roars the rest, and we’re off. When the black curtain falls to reveal the band, a striking, theatrical stage-set is apparent. This is the Ladykillers Tour, as you can see from the image that heads this review, based on the classic Ealing comedy. The band plays amid a terraced Edwardian London street, the four main “street front” windows behind them constantly illuminated by footage, initially in black and white of a blues party going off. With additional brass to boost Lee Thompson’s sax, they rip into hits that ruled the early-80s. Keyboard player Mike Barson, Suggs tells us, has been ill, and, eyes ever-shaded, he’s wrapped in a giant fake fur collared coat. Guitarist Chris Foreman, meanwhile, whose forte is Hank Williams-meets-spaghetti western solos on songs such as the excellent Shut Up, wears a Homburg hat and seems to slowly be mutating into Winston Churchill as the years pass. Mid-Eighties Madness output is critically acclaimed but sometimes forgotten, even by their fans. The crowd is reminded of their two post-“nutty” albums, Keep Moving and Mad Not Mad, when they play One Better Day, a melancholic single about homelessness. Suggs, ever one for a sly gag, pronounces the final chorus line’s reference to sunshine à la Liam Gallagher in Cigarettes & Alcohol (i.e. “sunshy-eeeen”). The set is themed around petty youth criminality with new song Baby Burglar alongside oldies such as Take It Or Leave It, the latter given an upbeat spin compared to the original’s seedy sense of doubt. They also give us Mr Apples, the best song from their last album, 2016’s Can’t Touch Us Now, a number about a staunch disciplinarian community leader who, of course, is really deep-dipped in pervy sleaze. He’s played in a video above them by Lee Thompson, hamming it up. Unfortunately, the band suffers sound problems that come and go during the set. Despite their gusto, this affected the show. Suggs’s voice was regularly muffled, and during Wings of a Dove and later Bed and Breakfast Man, the sound as a whole was simply horrible, blurred, distorted and slipping out of key. Not sure what all that was about but it wasn’t good. They recover, though, leading from Bed and Breakfast Man’s well-intended but messy sing-along into early Sixties garage classic Wooly Bully, replete with footage of the song’s original performers, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, playing above them. Then on to their one chart-topper, House of Fun from 1982, which, again makes me wonder what today’s youth make of its ultra-oblique attitude to buying condoms. After a blissed, cheery It Must Be Love, sentimental but welcome in these post-COVID times, they disappear, returning to encore with their stomping anthem Madness and, finally, possibly their greatest song, not lyrically but in terms of sheer verve, Night Boat to Cairo, a jam led by Thompson’s sax until Suggs briefly halts proceedings, declaring: “That’s quite enough of that nonsense!” But he relents, wishes us a Merry Christmas, and the jam bursts into brief life again before folding. The lights go up and Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life immediately kicks in on the house system. The crowd leaves into the bitter winter night, singing it and whistling.

Thomas H Green, theartsdesk.com

Woody hard at work in Brighton

DECEMBER 9: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool

review

Madness have been around for four decades now, but there’s no denying they still know how to put on a show. The London band brought The Ladykillers Tour to Liverpool last night where they performed a selection of their hits from the last 40 years. Despite being someone who was born quite a few years after Madness first emerged from the hip streets of Camden Town, the band’s songs have been present throughout my life. On this tour, Madness is supported by Squeeze who did a brilliant job at opening the show last night at the M&S Bank Arena, with a selection of their songs. After their set, everyone was on their feet cheering and applauding. When the support act gets a standing ovation, you know it’s going to be a good night. It seemed the arena – which was a sea of red Madness Fez hats – couldn’t get any louder, but then lead singer Suggs appeared in a red telephone box wearing a dapper suit and shades, and a deafening roar erupted from the audience. The stage also had a red post box, a London underground tube station and a few terraced houses with videos playing through the windows during some of the songs. Suggs said a few words pretending to be on the telephone before stating that he had a show in Liverpool to do. Then Madness went straight into One Step Beyond, prompting the audience to get up on their feet in seconds. We knew we were in for a treat. “We’re all back together. Ain’t it been a dreary couple of years?” says Suggs. Throughout the night, he also made a few timely comments about Boris Johnson and the Downing Street Christmas party. One of the standout moments was when Suggs interacted with a young Madness fan on the front row who was wearing one of the red Fez hats. Suggs told him how important it was to get an education, and you could tell how much it meant to the band that they have new, younger fans as well as those who have stuck by them since the 70s. As expected, Our House, Baggy Trousers and It Must Be Love received the biggest reaction from the crowd. There was a special moment during It Must Be Love where Madness let the audience sing. Those 30 seconds or so felt quite emotional given the last couple of years. Many people wondered when they’d hear a crowd singing in unison again, and this was it. The Lady Killers tour explains how and why the band has stood the test of time. The music, singing and staging were simply perfect, earning a place on my list of most memorable live performances. It was my first concert since the pandemic and boy, am I glad it was Madness that welcomed me back to live music.

Phoebe Barton, Liverpool Echo

Lee and Suggs onstage in Liverpool

DECEMBER 10: First Direct Arena, Leeds

BEDDERS: It was a very different touring experience as we were in our own little ‘bubble’ and had to be very careful, testing every day along with the crew and so on. It also meant we couldn’t have guests backstage before or after, so we would finish a show and just say, ‘Oh. We’ll just go back to the hotel then.’ We did take it incredibly seriously.

 

STEVE MARTIN: It was a shame because the band usually always insist that after every show they have family, friends and a few fans back in the dressing rooms to have a few drinks. In normal times it’s really important for them to enjoy themselves – they’re just not the type of band to jump in the car and speed off while the last chord is still ringing out. So the dressing room usually looks like an off licence or a pub and if there’s not enough we have more drinks in flight cases, just in case we run out.

DECEMBER 11: AO Arena, Manchester

DECEMBER 13: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

CHRIS: As the tour went on, it actually ended up being a bit stressful. We got all the way through it, doing tests every day and all the rest of it, and then the drum roadie got Covid about four or five shows before the end. And then suddenly it was, ‘Omnicron! Omnicron! Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’ And because of that, more and more people started not coming because they had elderly grandparents or didn’t want to ruin their Christmas or whatever.

 

BEDDERS: We’d wake up and someone would say, ‘Oh, that tour’s gone down… that tour’s off… this tour’s finished…’ Some people were saying, ‘You should come off the road now, this isn’t safe any more.’ But we could only go by what was happening to us and checking the no-shows at each gig. These numbers were obviously higher than usual but they never got so out of control that we were thinking that people were too scared to come and that we should do something about it.

 

CHRIS: I later found out that for any kind of event, six per cent of people don’t come for whatever reason, like they lost the ticket or something, but for us it just kept going up and up and up. Folk were writing to Twitter and the website saying, ‘You’ve got to cancel it!’ But you just can’t, because we would have been liable for God knows how much. Plus you’ve got all those people who DID want to come, so it got a bit tricky.

DECEMBER 14: Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in Nottingham

STEVE MARTIN: Squeeze were an amazing addition to the bill for the tour – it was a real North and South London vibe.

DECEMBER 16: Utilita Arena, Newcastle

CHRIS: Lee had had a day off so turned up ‘refreshed’ for the Newcastle gig. He pitched up about 10 minutes before we were due to go on and he was in a right state – he had to get someone to try and sober him up. He said the next day that he couldn’t remember the gig. But he rehearses a lot so he was OK, plus we’d already done a few shows so he had the old muscle memory going on. It was a miracle he made it onstage at all to be honest, but who am I to judge as I’ve been the same way. Mind you, that was in 1981.

DECEMBER 17: Utilita Arena, Birmingham

STEVE MARTIN: To have this band together after so long is very unusual, but the thing to remember is that Madness are all normal guys and if they didn’t still enjoy it they honestly wouldn’t do it. Obviously, there are certain things we have to do to make them enjoy it because they don’t like travelling and don’t like sound checking. With Madness, you have to take away a lot of the stress of touring, but luckily I know which buttons to press. So if we can get a comfy train with a bite to eat and a glass of wine, that’s great. And if it’s five minutes from the station to the venue instead of two hours, so much the better. They like to arrive maybe one hour before the show, meet a few fans before they go on, and that keeps the machine well oiled. I mean, they’re the most dysfunctional band I’ve ever worked with, they’re difficult to manage and can be an absolute pain in the arse at times, but I love them and think they’re one of the greatest bands of all time.

 

SUGGS: The good thing is that we’ve gone through everything together. I remember reading about The Beatles at the height of their fame, all holed up in a room and George saying, ‘The great thing was, we were pals dealing with it together.’ And it’s been the same with us – to a lesser extent than The Beatles of course. Because there’s a very strange kind of vampirish business that goes around fame and money that you have to protect yourself from, and fortunately I’ve had the other guys around me to shield me from that and vice-versa. Tolerance is the other thing that we’ve all really got a handle of. Talking didn’t used to be something that was usual for us, but we had a lot of time to kill on buses travelling around, so we got to know each other and love each other that way.

DECEMBER 18: O2 Arena, London

review

Madness fans are a hardy bunch. While many of London’s sold-out shows have suffered from swathes of Omicron-induced empty seats and depleted dancefloors, the band’s (usually) annual Christmas concert at the O2 arena was a whisker from full on a night hampered by strikes on the London Underground. Ten thousand even turned up early for the smartly suited support act Squeeze, who left the stage to a lengthy ovation which set the mood for Madness to party as though the pandemic were over. “Mum, I’ve got a job,” announced Suggs in an opening skit delivered from inside a red phone box. “After two flippin’ years I got a job. No, not a bank job.” That was the cue for the curtain to drop to reveal a stage dressed to resemble a touristy take on London of old – terraced houses with gatherings going on inside, Big Ben, the entrance to an Underground station and spooky street lights included. Screens showed vintage film footage edited to match the music. The effort had an energising effect on the crowd and band. So long have Madness’s Christmas shindigs been going that Suggs in particular has often previously appeared to be going through the motions. Or perhaps having a year off helped. Either way, the suited, sunglasses-sporting singer was at his sparky, snarky best. Hardly any in the crowd bothered with masks – no use for howling along. And that they did, almost from start to finish. A near two-hour set included most of the Madness classics: One Step Beyond, Our House, House of Fun, The Sun and the Rain, My Girl, Embarrassment, Baggy Trousers and a tear-jerking It Must Be Love during which fans rendered Suggs a spare part. None of the songs had aged an ounce. There were also new songs, among them the as-yet-unreleased Baby Burglar, during which a technical hitch halted the show. Did it matter? Not a jot.

Lisa Verrico, The Times

Lee and Suggs at the 02

DECEMBER 20: SSE Arena, Wembley, London

CHRIS: The shows flew by and was still very enjoyable, but we really winged it in the end and those last couple of shows were really difficult. We were told that 40 per cent of people weren’t coming to Wembley – and we hadn’t sold that many tickets for it anyway – but when I came out it didn’t look embarrassingly empty, thank goodness.

 

BEDDERS: The 02 and Wembley gigs were difficult and we did feel that Covid was closing in on us. I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to get ill for Christmas’ and as we got closer and closer to that point, we gave the crew the option to come off the tour if they felt that they didn’t feel safe and wanted to go and see their families. And a few did that, which was fair enough. In the end it was quite incredible – and quite disciplined for us – that we managed to get through a whole tour. Looking back, we were very lucky to complete it.

 

STEVE MARTIN: I think it’s still incredible that, even after all these years, we’re still playing the same size of venues as always and haven’t had to down-size at all. And we’ve still got a few years ahead of us yet.

 

LEE: It is incredible. When you start out, you think that what you’re doing will last a couple of years if you’re lucky. Then it hits 10 years…25 years… and before you know it, you’re celebrating your 40th anniversary. I mean, 40 years! The Great Train Robbers got less. It’s been phenomenal really.

 

BEDDERS: These days we just enjoy it more because the pace is a lot better; we can pick and choose and chart our own course.