SEVEN RAGGED MEN | NME interview 1984
The story of Madness... in their own words
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NME interview 1984

NME interview 1984

With Mike Barson’s departure from Madness, are Camden’s finest now fast approaching the pop parody stakes? or will a three day trip to Poland, fighting off mad Lebanese tourists and getting to grips with Polish TV sort out the nutty boys? Paolo Hewitt investigates the rise and fall of Suggs and co.

WITHIN SECONDS of Chas Smash launching into his absurd Kung Fu routine, the three Lebanese guys were upon him, their wild kicks and savage punches crashing into his body, his blonde head snapping back from his neck as they knocked him down the hotel corridor.

Standing ten yards away, the four of us watched in amazement as the whole scenario, here on the third floor, viciously turned from Chas’ genial attempt to befriend these men, into ugly violence.

Taken by surprise, the next thing I knew we were in the melee of bodies, throwing out punches into thin air, shouting at the top of our voices, and tugging on Chas to free him from the Lebs’ tight bodygrip. Faced with five of us, the Lebs quickly started towards the lift, but not before the biggest of them grabbed a sharp silver ashtray and wildly hurtled it into the scrum of bodies, cutting Suggsy’s ear and splitting open Chas’s head in the same manner it gashed mine.

Dazed and shaken, we stumbled back to the hotel room clutching our heads as blood rushed through our fingers.

The Lebanese, meanwhile, fright scored in their eyes, were scurrying back to their rooms, closely followed by Chas intent on explaining and apologising.

When he entered their room they surrounded him, nervously glancing at the door in case he’d brought us along to continue the fight, demanding an explanation. Was he Polish? Police? Was he trying to get them in jail? What the hell was he playing at with those Kung Fu moves?

Quietly Chas explained that he was only joking. They’d misunderstood him. He was trying to establish friendship not violence and… well, things had got out of hand, as they do round about four in the morning when you’re in a strange land with a stomach full of Polish vodka and you meet some strangers in the corridor. He was sorry. So were his friends. Could they shake hands?

By the time Chas got back downstairs, the lump on his head was swelling by the minute and the blood starting to congeal, matting up his hair in the process.

“They thought we were the f**king Polish KGB,” he announced as he blustered his way into the room. “That’s why they bolted so quickly; they thought we were out to put them in prison.”

As he spoke, Suggs and I passed a wet towel between us, gently daubing at our cuts, trying to figure out mentally along with Chrissy Boy and Pete, what exactly had happened, wondering at how such violence could erupt so easily.

“You know what I think,” said Chrissy Boy, pacing up and down the room, his sleeves rolled up and his body consumed by nervous energy. “I think that was the most pathetic thing we’ve ever done. I mean it. It was really bloody stupid. Pathetic.”

A murmur of agreement passed through all our lips, shame hanging heavily in the air as we considered the damage and the sheer wanton behaviour.

“Well,” said Suggsy, “at least there’s one thing on our side – we did beat them.”

He surveyed the room: Chas and I holding towels to our heads, Peter Anderson strangely quiet and Chrissy Boy’s frustrated expression. He groaned. “Perhaps we didn’t.”

Welcome to the house of fun. And Madness in Poland.

Late last year I ran into Chrissy Boy, Madness’ guitarist, in a London club. I’d first met him round the time of their second LP when Madness were a bubble of pure excitement and colour. Confidently breaking out of their ska roots, they’d begun to widen out, lyrically mapping a similar area to Ray Davies and Ian Dury.

Born out of Mike Barson’s rolling piano, Lee Thompson’s huge sax breaks and Suggsy’s deadpan vocals, Madness had found themselves the perfect pitch, a unique combination that was exclusively theirs.

With newfound confidence, a string of great singles arrived. And kept arriving. ‘Grey Day’, ‘Shut Up’, ‘Embarrassment’, all songs that worked faultlessly within pop’s given boundaries, sparkling with verve and humour, displaying sharply their magical chemistry.

To promote them came videos and like any good video, they reflected and caught the spirit of the group with triumphant panache, exploiting their humour with vivid wit and imagination, establishing the group’s irresistible charm in a series of memorable stunts: Suggs and Chas on top of a bus in Oxford Street painted as clowns; Lee flying through the air whilst playing his sax; and of course, the famous nutty walk.

Entertaining and intrepid, it was hard to fault them, hard to dislike their unpretentious stance and amiable characters. Hard, of course, until the initial excitement they generated began to wear thin. And the records started to sound the same. With the same production. And the videos got wackier and wackier, but not necessarily better. And although they came up with the occasional gem – ‘Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day)’, ‘Blue Skinned Beast’, ‘Primrose Hill’ – Madness had become predictable and safe, as reliable and as much a part of life as Coronation Street maybe, but a tired life nonetheless.

Although they professed to be changing with each LP, in reality these were nothing more than gestures, ineffective moves simply because of the routine they’d fallen in of Langer and Winstanley producing their every note followed by singles that, ‘Driving In My Car’ excepted, although far from annoying, swang with a routine uniformity.

As for the much vaunted videos, it’s now got to a point where people are more interested in them than the actual music. (New Madness single? Oooh! Can’t wait to see the video …)

So when I aimed all this at Chrissy Boy he just smiled discreetly at me and said, “There’s some changes in the air. Things are happening. Believe me.”

Naturally I didn’t, and kept on the same conversational track, the need for them to drastically change, reinvent themselves before they became another parody pop group. Chrissy Boy took no notice. As I babbled on, his mind was already winging it’s way back to 4 October, 1983 and their rehearsal rooms in London.

It was here that Madness had gathered to begin preparations for their new LP as well as to decide on future plans. After establishing what new material they had, talk fell to the Polish government’s offer to come to Warsaw and appear on TV.

Simultaneously, the British had offered Madness their own TV show, to be filmed in 1984 and set around the concept that Madness were running the country.

They’d just begun discussing the proposals when Mike Barson stood up from his piano stool and in a simple sentence announced that before they made any further decisions it was only fair to let them know he intended to leave the group. Then he sat down again. For a moment there was silence. And then Suggs, Chas, Chris, Woody, Lee and Mark broke into fits of laughter, quickly followed by Mike Barson.

By quitting, Barson had finally cracked the ice and broken the tension that had been mounting in the group ever since he had permanently moved to Holland with his wife and become something of a recluse, severing his bond, albeit unconsciously, with this thing called Madness.

Barson’s increasing unhappiness with the lifestyle forced upon him by their success was no secret to the other members. As their popularity grew so Barson began retreating, turning up for shows five minutes before they were due on stage, spending as much time as he could away from the group in an attempt to gain some much needed solace and sanity. Alternately, he still remained the group’s ‘unacknowledged’ leader, the man who crystallised all their ideas into a musical shape, who arranged everything and was their driving force, musically at least.

After they’d finished laughing, Barson explained that he was prepared to work on one more LP with them, appear in any necessary videos for the singles and complete their commitment for the rest of the year. After that he was through.

In 1984 there would be six of them to continue as Madness.

They all smiled and joked and then went home separately. Out of the seven, six didn’t sleep too well that night.

With Langer and Winstanley once again producing, Madness saw out the year by completing, bar the shouting, their fifth LP and playing, unannounced their final show with Barson at the Lyceum with a benefit gig for Greenpeace.

A week later the news was out. Barson had quit and Madness were going to Poland, that turbulent country, to do some TV work. It seemed as good a time as any to go with them.

Grey days and grey smiles, Warsaw somehow became slightly unreal, a disturbing dream that revealed itself slowly over the three days. You couldn’t quite believe the things you were seeing: the 60 strong queue in a supermarket, waiting to buy a pair of socks each; or the 20 people crammed into a tiny room that functioned as a butchers patiently trying to buy meat; the small shops, strangely reminiscent of the English corner shop, that you entered through heavy curtains to be greeted by shelves sparsely lined with only the barest of essentials.

The music shop that had just one drum kit for sale and then out of the price range of most people. The grim stoic expressions of the people who walked past you, wrapped up against the bitter winds as they strode through the gloomy Warsaw streets. Day to day survival for most people had robbed the town of any human characteristics save for the imposing buildings and churches that people congregated around. There are no time for jokes when you’ve got a family to feed and you’re one of the 30 percent unable to afford food vouchers.

Amidst this despairing scenario were occasional moments of humour and fun. A young Polish kid had somehow held onto the first ever NME Madness interview and he approached them in the hotel lobby with it seeking their autographs.

“Hello,” said Chas, studying the Two Tone caricature printed on the page, “it’s Walt Jabesco.” The article was short and to the point, full of Madness’ enthusiastic quotes about their “fairground sound” and dreams of the future.

There was an incredibly young looking picture of Madness. Just boys out for a lark, clowning around and talking about the “nutty walk”. Four years on and an awful lot has changed. Madness have grown up.

And one of them has walked out.

What happened when Mike Barson told you he was leaving?

Suggs: I think what it did at first was undermine your confidence, which is probably good because you’re happily trundling along and nothing really changes. Well, obviously things do, but if you’re all working towards a similar aim and suddenly one of you goes, ‘Oh I don’t like this anymore I’m leaving’, it’s like, F**k what are we doing then? It makes you look at it in a very different way, makes you think about your own position.

Chas: We never had a leader but he was always the leader – if you know what I mean? We’d all discuss things, but when it came down to it, nine times out of ten we’d look at him and say, ‘What do you think then?’ And he’d give his idea. He always had … he always had! It’s so past tense it’s horrible … he always had a really black and white view on things. There was no compromise.

And I think everyone was really pleased in a way when he told us. It was a relief. Him bringing it right out into the open meant things were going to change. We had to find a new direction, and that’s good. I don’t think things were stale, but it meant that something had to change, and hopefully for the better. But it really felt weird because we wrote a whole new album under that atmosphere. It was very strange.

Suggs: And we played The Lyceum, which was sort of our last gig. But no one said anything or brought the subject up. I think you did Chas and you got a barrage of f**king abuse.

Chas: That’s what we’re like. It’s terrible. I got up in the dressing room and said, ‘I’d just like to say’ … and they all went, ‘Ah! Shut up you bastard’. We all knew what we felt anyway.

Did you ever think of jacking it in yourselves?

Suggs: We thought of everything. Sat around and thought, f**king hell, because it does undermine your confidence. You think, ‘why doesn’t he like it? Is it really that bad? That awful?’ Maybe it is!

Chas: His thing was that when he comes to the end of his life he doesn’t want to sit there and think, ‘My God I’ve wasted a whole ten years. I did all that and it’s so one dimensional’; because when you do look at it, ten years from now it is going to seem one dimensional.

Suggs: He just became more interested in his own life. In the last year he spent more time with his wife which is what he wanted to do, and in a way we were like kids who had never known poverty because we’ve been successful from the first record and we haven’t had any real struggles. So something like this really makes you re-evaluate everything.

He was our Dr. Spock!

Chas: He really made life easy. I’d come in and say to Mike, ‘I’ve got this idea and I can’t write music.’ But he knew exactly what you wanted. You’d click with him, which was brilliant. But now all that’s got to change. It’s not going to be easy from now on.

WHAT THE young people of Poland like in punk is the dog ends for us: The Anti-Nowhere League, UK Subs, Lords Of The New Church and all the rest of the third division coffin-bearers.

Record sales are dictated by a select few DJs who endlessly pump out a diet of heavy rock, and those with the suss to reject the likes of AC/DC either fling themselves into the Rasta culture, like I-Land the group who support Madness (and are generally treated with derision by their counterparts) or turn to the aforementioned no-hoper groups.

Only occasionally will a group like Culture Club breakthrough, and on the black market their LP can fetch as much as £40. Conversely, since the Government’s crackdown on Solidarity, more groups have visited the land than ever before. The authorities know a harmless pastime when they see one.

Madness meant little in Poland and to them Poland quickly became a drag: fascinating maybe, like watching a gruesome spectacle, but ultimately a terrible thing to be involved in. Walking the streets during the day and seeing the shortages didn’t help, nor did visiting clubs that only rich foreigners or the Red bourgeois could frequent, full of seedy pimps and their whores desperate to change their sloztys into dollars or pounds.

What pulled them through was their humour and the instinctive rapport they have with each other. Despite the conditions, when they were together they couldn’t take anything too seriously, their humour acting as a protection against the miserable scenes they encountered.

One night when they tried to go back to the hotel Black Cat club, the manager informed them that they were unwelcome, because exotic dancing to the tame cabaret band and stubbing out cigarettes on the floor was not wanted.

It was a reference to Chas, Chris and Suggsy who had taken to the floor and begun a “jolly up”. Chas informing all interested parties that Suggs was indeed the Prince of Luxembourg and that his Majesty desired a dance with everyone in the room. It didn’t go down too well. Nor did Lee standing on the streets with a banjo grinning inanely and busking for the passers-by with awful renditions of English songs.

It’s this humour that taints everything Madness do from songs to photo sessions, and it’s this humour that prevents them from escaping the blind alley they’ve now painted themselves into.

And, of course, they defend it to the last.

Chas: I think with Mike leaving we’ll do a lot more projects.

Why has it taken his departure to prompt these things?

Suggs: Because we’ve re-evaluated things a lot more now. The thoughts have gone right to the roots of the band. Because there’s so many of us in the band and there’s no one spokesman, you can drift along. Three are pulling four for a few weeks and then the other four pull them.

Chas: That’s what makes life good in the band. There’s no stress. Everyone’s writing so it takes a lot of the pressure off.

But can’t that lead to complacency?

Suggs: Sure, I agree. But we don’t have one person in the band who has the songs and does the talking. Your Kevin Rowlands and Paul Wellers and Jerry Dammers of this world can think, I’ve got it! This is what we’re going to do. And the direction of the band suddenly changes. But being in a band like this you don’t do that. We can’t suddenly sit down and say this is the direction we should be going in because we’re all writing as individuals. It can never get that extreme. The other thing is, is that certain members of the band will do the f**king opposite of what you say anyway!

It sounds like you plod along, oblivious to change.

Suggs: No, because I can change really extremely but the whole band is not going to swing in the same direction. I think we’ve changed direction. But not consciously.

When Madness first appeared you created your own impact as any new band does. Personally, I think you’ve lost that impact now. Is it impossible to recapture it?

Suggs: I know what you mean, like The Style Council sort of thing, it suddenly had an impact. Yeah, it is difficult to do that; and the thing you were saying about our videos, people being more interested in them than the songs … but what more can we do? What would be the opposite to the videos we make at the moment?

A black and white featuring only one member of the group.

Suggs: We have considered that. I thought of doing one where it’s just a test card made up of our heads. We’re just sitting there and at the end we all wink. But it’s relative to your surroundings. If every band in Great Britain was really going on about Margaret Thatcher then we’d be off, playing those organs and drum machines singing, ‘Oh the flowers and the trees!’ We’re trying to do the opposite.

You’re saying we should do really serious things for the sake of impact, and it’s something we have talked about: not letting Dave Robinson direct the next video, for instance. But there’s always that thing of having seven people in the band, all doing their own thing. And I still think humour is a really powerful thing.

Why do you place so much faith in it?

Chas: (Singing) Because … because, because, because, because of the wonderful things it does!

Suggs: That’s it!

Mark: Any emotional extremity will always have a big effect. Laughter is like crying if you think about it, it’s very close to crying.

Suggs: Also, I think we’re a really cynical band.

Chas: If we came out and tried to be really impactful and go, ‘Yeah! You’ve got to see the pain in this world … well, everyone knows this, everyone knows how you get let down. That you get optimistic when it’s a bit silly to be optimistic these days, that everyone is out of work and another Wall Street crash is coming. People know it from the minute they leave school. They go, hello, this is a very cold place.

I think humour is really strong and through it, I think we get to people because it’s easy, it doesn’t push people away from you, it draws them to you. You can get in there better. You’re drawing them in without them knowing it. Some of the songs that sound happy aren’t about happy things, and maybe after they’ve stopped smiling it’ll go click! And have a lot more power.

Suggs: Also you can’t generalise because some humour is a load of time wasting old cack and some serious music is also a load of old cack. I mean, seeing Sting on TV does nothing for me. But the things that I always remember and have real impact are the humorous things. Seeing Ian Dury …

Chas: You’ve only got to say who tried to push a piano up a set of stairs and it kept falling down?

Mark: Laurel and Hardy!

Chas: You see what I mean. There’s no way you’re going to forget it, whereas there’re a lot of serious things you’re going to forget really easily. What did he say? It was really deep and meaningful. But I can’t remember it.

Suggs: Did you see Billy Connolly on Breakfast TV arguing with some wally from the Tory party? The Tory bloke had all these facts and figures and these papers which were just falling on the floor and Connolly was just cracking jokes, and I couldn’t imagine anyone watching that programme who would side with this geezer with all his glasses steaming up. Connolly had far more impact because never a truer word said in jest. Not that it all should be a joke. Serious levity.

Do Madness wear serious levity well though?

Suggs: I think we do. In some of the songs in our set I don’t smile at all! (Laughs) ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, there’s no humour in that. Obviously humour is the most recognisable thing about Madness, so I’m defending that.

Are Madness an antidote to pop seriousness then?

Chas: When we first started I opened up magazines and every band in there was, I’m serious, I’m an individual, I dress in black and I’m very pale because I stay in thinking all the time …

Suggs: Taking yourself seriously is the worst crime in this business so we tend to take the piss out of it and ourselves. It’s like this afternoon with Pete Anderson doing those photos and saying ‘Can you walk across this bleak scene and be serious?’ What happens? In five seconds Lee is going backwards and goosestepping. I really don’t know what it is.

Chas: On the other hand when we went to France and found we were billed as a novelty act we were really sick. That really grated us because we’re not. But it’s our own fault really. Every time we do anything we just can’t keep a straight face … I think you establish a thing’s worth if you can really dig at it, and once you get down and you can’t dig at it anymore, it’s then you see it for what it really is.

Well someone once said to me that if you asked most people for their favourite songs, seven out of ten would be sad and depressing and carrying true emotional weight. Are you capable of creating such music?

Suggs: Actually I think we have on this album. ‘Arlington House’ is like that.

Mark: Well we’ve laid ourselves open a lot more, I think, and to write a song like that you really have to. Like Elvis Costello’s ‘Alison’, that is so painful.

Suggs: But what makes a song brilliant? It isn’t definable in terms of upness and downness. It’s a really hard thing to capture. The point is could we make one that’s melancholy?

Chas: I think ‘Up The Empty Stairs’ was heading that way…

But your impulsive humour stopped you?

Mark: Maybe we’re a bit scared.

Suggs: I think that’s what it is. Like ‘Tomorrow’s Just Another Day’. It wasn’t really depressing, but it was about the downness of life. Then we do the old video and WALLOP, off we go. F**k knows what happens. Lee will be swinging on the blinds. I’ll be going ha ha ha! And before you know it you’re enjoying yourself.

Mark: There’s a definite line between going all the way and just hitting that line and making it really, really good. It isn’t the hardest thing.

Suggs: I think that individually none of us are geniuses, but collectively we seem to be able to reach things.

Chas: It’s true that we are very similar. Like you’re sitting at home watching telly and something comes on and you think, Cor, this is brilliant! Then you get a phone call from Chrissy Boy. He says turn it on so and so and you’re going, it’s alright, I’m watching it. I’m watching it! Then you get a phone call from Lee: Yeah I’m watching it. And that’s what goes on between us. It’s very close.

Suggs: Also I think we’re terrified of being bored. Maybe that’s it because if you think about it, doing serious things is much more f**king boring than laughing!

Chris Foreman leant over, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You look like a million dollars today, Paolo. All green and wrinkled.”

THEY SAY that travel stretches the mind. In the case of Madness, with their heavily scarred passports, nothing could be truer. From naïve statements at the outset about the NF tendencies of their fans, they now align themselves with causes such as CND and Greenpeace.

“It’s seeing how other people live,” commented Suggs. “I’d hate to think how I would have turned out if I hadn’t seen so much. I mean, some of the people I know who haven’t been outside England. It’s frightening.”

When visiting a town like Warsaw, however briefly, it was inevitable that politics would crop up in so many of our conversations. On our first night there, during an elite restaurant meal paid for by the TV company, Suggs heatedly stopped the light table talk as he quarrelled out loudly against the merits of Thatcherism.

The next night we were up to six, arguing round in circles about inequality, class, wealth and power, never reaching any conclusions except our desire to put an end to the problems that Governments cause.

In fact, Madness are already thinking of starting their own imaginary country. They call it Madonia and are currently writing, to the tune of ‘Robin Hood’, its own national anthem. They plan to declare war on Thatcher and Reagan, send her declarations in the post and look upon their 20,000 fan club membership as its first citizens. They also refuse to pay taxes for nuclear weapons.

“Actually, we’ll all be put in jail if we carried on like we wanted to.” Said Chas ruefully.

Instead, bearing in mind the million sloztys they were receiving and its absolute worthlessness in the West’s market, Madness passed their money on to their interpreter who in turn promised to donate it to Solidarity.

As for the young Poles we spoke to, most of them, although hating the authority above them, showed equal disgust for the West.

“What have you got out there?” the kid with the young face and burning eyes demanded. “All you do is rush around trying to gain more and more material things. You must understand that Poles don’t want for much, only a roof over their head and enough to eat and clothe themselves with. They don’t want the limos and the mansions. And at least there is a common spirit between us, a belief in the politics of love and understanding that binds us together. In the West you have no unity, no love. You’re all too busy grabbing the goods.”

He might well have a point.

What’s brought about your increased political support for certain causes?

Chas: Accidents.


Chas: Accidents of conscience.

Suggs: For me, I left school and joined the band. I’d probably read The Sun twice and suddenly I was in the band and didn’t know anything about anything. What is it? Growing up in public? Obviously people grow up differently but I really wasn’t aware of anything.

Politically, you got off to a bad start: the NF connections.

Suggs: All the s**t we got from that was our own immaturity, not really understanding. It’s just growing up that’s made me aware. And travelling. Like you soon find out that every country has its own racial scapegoat. It’s not just England, it’s every country in the world.

Do you think your public support for CND and Greenpeace has any real effect?

Chas: When you see the futility of what you’re doing and what you’re up against it makes me think it’s not going to do that much. But you’ve got to do something. And why not? It’s like you go to your accountant and he says vote Conservative and you’ll get a better tax rate. But who wants to vote Conservative? You’d be better off voting for them but you’re not really not better off doing it. You’ve got to try, if only for your own conscience.

Then again we don’t want to be a political band. If we do Greenpeace we’re not going to stand up and say, Hey! You’re all here for Greenpeace, everyone go out and join it. It’s there and they can figure it out and that’s our way. We’re not going to put chairs onstage and have a debate. You can clutter up things and I think we’ve got enough on our plate already. But it is nice to make things happen.

You see a lot more youngsters wearing CND badges now, younger than we were before we realised. And that’s nice. For a kid to be thinking about good things at that age is great because I’m sure it’ll make him a better person in the end.

FEARING THE absurd possibility that Madness, once ensconsed inside their studios would attempt a take over bid, the TV company filmed them playing in the hotel’s huge banquetting room, setting up a special stage festooned with balloons, glitter and motorbikes supplied by the sponsors Wrangler.

Reflecting the inequality that seems to occur in every system, be it Communist or Capitalist, the audience were largely soberly dressed parents with no interest in Madness as such but lucky enough to be able to attend the week’s event.

At the front of the stage were the few dedicated fans who somehow had managed to wrangle tickets after they’d shot up in price by 800 percent. (Usually concert tickets are 100 slotzys. Tickets for Madness were 900 and on the black market about 4,500. The average worker’s wage in Warsaw is 7,000 slotzys a month.

Madness played to a backing tape with live vocals, stomping through seven of their best tunes and by the third number the few fans were crowding the stage front in a warm display of dancing and cheering.

It was them, with their innocent faces and unbridled enthusiasm, their energy and spirit, that made everything else seem irrelevant; that made our three day stay there worth every second.

After the show, Suggs sat in the hotel bar sipping his vodka and orange, listening to one Pole explain that the outbreak of dancing and cheering they’d inspired would probably never be shown on Polish TV, when a 40 year old white Polish Rasta approached him.

“I didn’t like your show!” he thundered.

Suggs looked at him calmly. “Why not?” he enquired.

“Because of the playback, the playback,” he said, referring to the backing tape. “The playback! The playback!”

He was tall with long, straggly hair and an enormous beard.

“It’s alright,” said Suggs. “I didn’t enjoy it either.” The Pole looked at him in amazement and then burst out laughing, pulling Suggs to his feet and hugging him.

After he’d gone, Chrissy Boy said, “That’s what we need! A few more hundred Maddy fans like him!”

Sometime this year Madness hope to release a single on their own label featuring themselves and Feargal Sharkey. They’d hoped to put out the debut single by the Inspirational Choir Of The Pentecostal First Born Church of the Living God (who they featured on ‘Wings Of A Dove’) as the label’s launch but Stiff beat them to the dotted line.

Now it’ll be Feargal who’ll start the label, followed by Bonsai Forest and whoever else they sign. Everything will operate from their own recording studio.

As for Madness it’s difficult to know how Barson’s departure will really affect them; whether they’ll just close ranks and continue along the same lines – the nutty videos and wacky image, the singles that could be their tenth record as much as it could be their eighteenth – or whether they’ll seize this opportunity to introduce different elements to their sound and vision, remains to be seen.

Certainly, as a group they’re talented enough (even without Barson) to keep themselves alive and floating, and in these days that’s no mean feat. But it’s how that talent is utilised, where they take it to that will remain the deciding factor for Madness now.

Suggs thinks that Madness’ best qualities are their sincerity and honesty, and in a time when pop merchants will do just about anything to gain success, it’s refreshing to see Madness put themselves behind sound political affairs such as CND to use the power they have however small to good effect.

On a human level, they care about the injustices of life but approach matters with the scales heavily balanced by their all encompassing humour. It’s when those scales tip the other way that things will get really interesting.

“It makes you think doesn’t it,” said Suggsy, “when you meet someone like that Pole who has nothing and then tells you he’s not interested in worldly goods.”

We were standing at Heathrow, waiting for our luggage – Chas, Suggs and I.

“What day is it?” asked Chas.

“Wednesday” said Suggs.

“What happens in England on a Wednesday?”

“Oh I don’t know,” came Suggs reply. “Football on the telly and duckfeeding. Everyone goes duckfeeding on a Wednesday.”

He paused. “Somehow it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea,” he said. And then walked away, Poland now nothing more than a memory.

Paolo Hewitt, New Musical Express, 21 January 1984