01 Feb Suggs on London
Many of the songs were written from images, memories and places that played a part of Madness’ life. Today London is still my main inspiration for song writing and much of the music I’m involved in. I’m endlessly fascinated by the people and the streets they live in. Those people and those streets are what I’d define as ‘the great landscape of London’. When I wrote a lot of the songs for our second album, I got a Red Bus Rover and used to go around in the afternoon and get those slightly different people – people with no place to go. I was lucky enough to grow up here and once you have lived here, you never really leave the place.
I’m sure that my view of people being the important factor in London’s landscape stems from my childhood. I grew up in and around Soho – it is hardly green rolling hills – it’s more a maze of tiny, narrow streets and alleys filled with some right old characters. Where better to observe this vaudeville show of street life? For me as an artist, being able to sit here and watch the world go by sparks your imagination. Maybe just a face will remind you of something that I’ll put into a song, or a snatch of conversation that I’ve just heard.
There were lots of interesting characters – jazz musicians, dancers, club owners – it can’t NOT have affected the songs I’ve written. All the songs I’ve written have been about people, about small things and everyday life. I don’t think I could live in the country … There’s a kind of spark to London – a speed to the way things happen that suits my mind.
I remember Mott the Hoople saying ‘How can you write a rock’n’roll song about Walthamstow?’ when they were writing ‘All the Way To Memphis’. Well, people like Ian Dury proved that you could. Our city is often described as a grey place but the two things that aren’t grey are the people and there is a lot of red in London – buses, telephone boxes, Chelsea pensioners, the guards outside Buckingham Palace. I see red amongst the largely grey background as the important detail in the landscape – the same tiny detail that I try to put in my song writing.
The sorting office in the Old Kent Road, Colney Hatch Lane, Arlington House – a Victorian, foreboding building for homeless men … we’ve even taken a journey deep in the night along the lamp posts of deepest, darkest Tottenham. Gentlemen of the road – dossers … somehow it’s easier to imagine their lives than ordinary people. Living on the streets must be one of the hardest things anyone has to endure. But these streets and the feet that walk them make London’s landscape what it is – sometimes grimy, sometimes hard, even unforgiving – but always colourful, vibrant and ever changing.