JANUARY 1: Top Of The Pops
The band appear on a special highlights show with Baggy Trousers. Issue No1 of The Nutty Boys Comic is also released.
WOODY: It was exciting back then. But it’s funny, it’s only in retrospect when you look back, you often see it for what it was. Because it was a roller coaster ride that kind of whooshed by at incredible speed, and most of the time you’re absolutely knackered, not knowing what had hit you.
CARL: When you become a working band and start grafting, the glamour shit does wear a bit thin.
WOODY: We didn’t go home for years, lived out of suitcases on tour. It was bloody hard work, and very tiring, and sometimes we wondered what it all meant, because it wasn’t the dream that we thought it was. This image of glamour, and stardom and stuff – it was hard to grasp.
CHRIS: We toured incessantly for two years which didn’t do us much good. We jumped around on stage a lot, which the audience enjoyed, but we thought we sounded awful.
BEDDERS: We were away for 18 months of the band’s first two years. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into tours. From Ayr to Arizona and Hanley via Hong Kong the touring coach rolled on. It was a constant merry-go-round of touring, with lots of recording thrown in.
SUGGS: As soon as you have any success you have to pound it into the ground because it’s such a short-lived thing for you and everyone around you. It gets to a certain point where you’re playing pubs, then you’re told you can play the Lyceum, then it’s Wembley arena, then it’s all the stadiums in its the world then it’s the moon… a tour of the galaxy…
CARL (speaking in 1981): There’s no way you can go out every night and do it and believe in it. I feel sorry for a lot of the people who came along to our last tour because we were sometimes doing two shows a night. I know it can’t have been as good as it should have been.
MIKE (speaking in 1981): The main thing you don’t realise is all you do is tour. It’s all we’ve done anyway. What you think of is going down the pub in a Rolls Royce and you don’t think of the work involved.
BEDDERS: A lot of musicians say, ‘Oh everyone thinks it’s so glamorous’ but when you’re on a label like Stiff it really was ‘bring your own sandwiches on tour with you’. Even though we were looked after, you had to be pretty hardy really.
CHRIS: You’d come back from Europe and there’d be a godawful little Transit van waiting that would break down and you’d have to push it. I mean, we loved Stiff, but we shared hotel rooms for years, long after we needed to.
CARL: For the first few years you’ve got so much enthusiasm you don’t mind doing it. But you suddenly realise you’re missing out on a lot of things and maybe it would be good to stop and think about what you’re doing.
DAVE ROBINSON: They were all very Camden Town. They didn’t like long tours because it took them away. It was remarkable really. I mean Lee was very good with his words but it was all to do with his family in the flats around Camden – local happenings.
SUGGS: Those first few years were really intense. Robbo had all these master plans for us which involved us going all round the world. The music and money was all a by-word of our friendship, but to tour all the time kills that. We’d all had such a hectic time for so many years, we started forgetting whether it was enjoyable or not.
CARL: A lot of the time we weren’t even here for our successes. We’d be out of the country when the records were charting, then get back and find we’d missed all the atmosphere and excitement.
DAVE ROBINSON: They definitely weren’t keen to tour like other bands. They didn’t like travelling, didn’t like leaving Camden Town and didn’t like foreign food. Even when they toured in England they didn’t like to be away for more than 10 days. They had to be back and refill their Camden requirement.
CARL: That is a crock. For Dave, it all boiled down to money, markets and a viable product.
BEDDERS: Dave’s crude comments portrayed us as typical tourists who only eat egg and chips, which was completely wrong. I’m not sure where all that came from. Dave is like all those great people in the music business who are fantastic at creating their own headlines. But it was plainly wrong and we told him that.
SUGGS: The stuff about staying in Rome and trying curry had got nothing to do with it. It’s always the same with a record company – what you want to do isn’t always what they think will sell the most.
DAVE ROBINSON: I still maintain they could have had a more international career, but it was very hard to get them to do what was needed. I mean, their first album was No1 in France and No2 in Germany, but still they didn’t want to tour. You have to be prepared to do it. Fifty per cent of the work is writing it and getting it together, the other fifty per cent is selling it, promoting it and attracting the media. I think they discovered that later, but they didn’t really realise it back then.
JANUARY 23: TopPop, Dutch TV
With Suggs arriving at the last minute after missing two flights, Madness playback Embarrassment on this Dutch TV show. Along with Baggy Trousers, it’s been their biggest hit in the Low Countries, reaching No2 in the charts. Absolutely has also become Holland’s best-selling album.
SUGGS: There was still this hangover from the 60s that said bands played continuously live, made absolutely no money and released a single every 20 minutes. We never had time to think or enjoy what was going on.
BEDDERS: Stiff were releasing single after single – there was no gap. As soon as we finished one single, another would be out, we’d make the video again and go round and round and round.
SUGGS: Robbo was really driven and was of the opinion you had to keep going to keep the momentum going. Sometimes we’d put out a single and it was going so fast by the time people got home and played it we had another one out – that’s why we could get away with a duff one every now and again. But somehow that whole momentum thing worked; we’d just do it, do it, do it. And if we hadn’t liked the songs they wouldn’t have been on the album to be singles anyway, so we never put out a single we didn’t like.
BEDDERS: Robbo was a one-off and very much of his time. He swept us along in the early days from single to single, album to album. He was dogged – if he felt that something had to be a single then it had to be one. His strength was that not only did he convince you with words, he backed it up with actions.
MIKE: Dave was pretty conniving, which was good. You’d say no to things and he’d do them anyway.
SUGGS: When you’re young and you’re being pushed by the record company so hard, you never have a day off in about five years. It takes away all the reason you started doing it.
CHRIS: It just didn’t stop for a couple of years – we were at it all the time.
BEDDERS: I worked out that in those first two years, I was only at home for about four or five months in total. We were just rushed along on this wave
SUGGS: We were making three singles a year, three videos a year, one album a year, and in between we’d trek up and down small European countries in a van, shouting through a loudhailer, ‘Like us! Love us!’
MIKE: You have one hit, you have two hits, and in the beginning it’s really exciting. But after a while it’s not so much you take it for granted, but you don’t even bother to look in the paper.
SUGGS: It became a bit of a treadmill. We were like a hit machine. It was great fun to start with, but then it did start to get a bit wearing.
WOODY: We were too busy to think about it and analyse it.
SUGGS: We drank more, we played more… but we never really talked about it. You’d just be dumped on the pavement with your exploding suitcase at 4am. Home for two days and then off again.
DAVE ROBINSON: Bands who are working don’t argue. It’s only when they’re off the road that girlfriends and other people interfere that people start to get irritated about things they wouldn’t normally bother about. ‘A tired band is a happy band’ is still one of my slogans. The other one is, ‘You don’t increase your IQ by selling a lot of records’. The job was to play and write and perform and that was something I gradually got them to understand. Not every young band wants to do that work. It’s exciting at the beginning to have your music on the radio and to play on TV, but after a few singles it wears off and your enthusiasm for it can be difficult. It would be nice to think you could stop and start, but stopping means it can be difficult starting again.
MIKE: It was only fear of going downhill that stopped us taking longer breaks earlier. For our own sanity, we would have liked a few more breaks. We used to say, ‘Well Dave, after so long in the game, maybe we won’t go downhill.’ And he tried to assure us that we would.
SUGGS: There did come a point, even that early on, where it became obvious that Dave was absolutely pushing us one way and trying to manipulate things so we appealed to the lowest common denominator. It was a bit demoralising and undermined our reasons for wanting to be in a group in the first place. We weren’t in a group to sell ourselves, like a packet of crisps, we were in it to enjoy it. We wanted to write songs for ourselves and our immediate friends, not for any specific market.
CHRIS: The only good bit of travelling the world was that we absorbed various styles, for example Hawaiian shirts. We were also the first people to wear black combat jackets in the UK. We got them in LA. Before that everyone wore green ones – they were all you could get.
JANUARY 24: Return Of The Los Palmas 7/That's The Way To Do It released
Despite the band’s hesitancy, the album instrumental (BUY 108) eventually reaches No7 in the UK charts. It’s a respectable position for a track originally dubbed Los Banditos due to its more Spanish feel and crazy improvised lyrics, both of which were later dropped.
WOODY: I remember being on the tour bus and Dave Robinson saying, ‘I think Los Palmas 7 would be very attractive as a single.’ I thought it was a right weird choice, but I was over the moon as I had the credit on it!
BEDDERS: It certainly wouldn’t have been the single that I would have picked.
WOODY: Dave had this theory about Europeans liking instrumentals, or sax solos…
BEDDERS: …I think he just thought it would have mass appeal, from grannies to kiddies.
DAVE ROBINSON: I just remember they used to do it in their live set as a sort of final encore to get people to go home, and I really liked it. They couldn’t see it all, but I thought if we put a few trumpets on it, we could broaden the band’s appeal. Plus getting an instrumental track as a single really appealed to me and I just thought they had the following to deliver it. We then shot a kind of fun interesting worldwide consciousness video using a cafe they used to frequent.
CARL: I did enjoy making the video – it was a lot of fun…
MIKE: …and we had a nice bit of chicken lunch thrown in.
CHRIS: We were right stumped for visual ideas so decided to use a montage of various 70s and early 80s film clips featuring Star Wars, George Best etc. I don’t know who came up with the idea. We suggested a few of the images to use and when it was being edited, I suggested ‘more cuts than Friday the 13th’. So the speed of cutting between the clips gets faster and faster. Great video and quite groundbreaking, as that technique was used in a lot of other films and videos. All we had to do then was walk round Kenwood Park looking moody in cowboy outfits, then eat a meal in the Venus Cafe on Golborne Road, which was actually our production meeting. This was followed up by an afternoon banquet scene somewhere else. The easiest video ever made.
DAVE ROBINSON: It was a respectable hit despite everybody’s attitude that it couldn’t be because that kind of track generally didn’t really breach the charts. It didn’t go quite as I’d hoped, but it’s still one of my favourites, even though I still get digs for declaring, ‘This could be a really big MOR record.’
JANUARY 25: Appear at British Rock & Pop Awards, London
Wearing tuxedos, Madness mime to Baggy Trousers, with Lee flying through the air in an echo of the video.
MIKE (speaking in 1981): When we started I was out to have a hit record and didn’t really plan much further than that. You get on the cover of a music paper and you think you’ve made it, but you haven’t. A lot of groups do that and it doesn’t mean much.
JANUARY: Palais des Festival, Cannes. Madness perform at the annual MIDEM music convention.
NIGEL DICK (Madness press officer): It quickly became clear that the press wanted to speak to Suggs and the band were fairly happy with that. There’d be the occasional moment when Chas would want to chime in. The minute they’d figured out there was no drink or birds involved in talking to the press, the rest of the guys would let Suggs get on with it: ‘We can go down the bar and have a drink while he’s yakking to the journalist!’
BEDDERS: Suggs naturally gets a lot of attention because he’s the singer. But he isn’t always in the spotlight and that’s a policy that we’ve always wanted to keep. We have a strong group identity and always worked off the fact that there are seven of us. Suggs especially agreed, as the pressure is usually on him to all the interviews and to be the public face of the band.
WOODY: It does take a lot of pressure off Suggs as he is immediately associated with being the front man, which is nobody’s fault, it just happens that he sings the words. If all the attention was on me I’d think the world was mad.
FEBRUARY 4: Le Luron, France
With everyone wearing berets, Madness perform a semi-playback version of Embarrassment. Instead of singing ‘You’re an embarrassment’ at the end, Suggs makes a fart noise.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): We’re a lot quieter now than we used to be. It’s a bit more sophisticated but not consciously so. We’ve never been overly political. We don’t write particularly political songs. We do write things that are social comments as such. We’re a bit more subtle. We’ve never liked that pose of being caring.
MIKE (speaking in 1981): The songs we are writing are more about what we feel and with more messages that we want to put across.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): Actually, the things we’re trying to say now are the same as when we started, really. We’ve just got better at saying them, more succinct. I think there’s only four or five things that you ever write about – love, hate, war, sex, religion – and you just work them round different subjects! I’m getting more and more serious about writing the words. I think I’m getting slightly poetical – whatever that means. And the music, I’m finding I can sing along to any chord sequence, and it’ll sound ok. I’m not saying I’m the new Mozart, but I’m not trying to be the new Mozart, because Mozart didn’t write words! Ha ha! Couldn’t write them, could he? W*nker!
FEBRUARY: Matthew Sztumpf takes over as the band's live manager
KELLOGGS: We’d had almost two years where the hits just kept on coming relentlessly. It had been an intense experience for all, which involved much recording, making all those cracking videos, heaps of TV work everywhere, wanting America, mortgages, marriages, money and tons and tons of touring, which was rapidly losing its lustre for some. I was drained and needed help because I was stretched and floundering, so I brought in Matthew as my assistant because we got on so well.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF: I’d been working at the Bron Agency in 1979 when someone recommended The Specials, saying, ‘You should check these guys out and take them on’ – which I did. That naturally became the 2-Tone Tour, so I also picked up Madness and The Selecter, who stayed on with me afterwards. That was my ‘in’ to Madness.
KELLOGGS: I perceived Matthew as being quietly solid and balanced and a counterpoint to my own often volatile relations with the artist, which proved to be so. He went out on the road with the band a lot, took up the slack and then held the reins while maintaining that air of quiet confidence which was such an attractive aspect of the man.
FEBRUARY: After touring with a variety of sound engineers, the band settle on the experienced Ian ‘Dad’ Horne
IAN ‘DAD’ HORNE (sound engineer): They wanted to use my experience and get what they needed, and I gave it willingly. At first, they were very naïve as to where to put things on stage and what to do and how to hold the microphone. I was teaching them all as quickly as possible really. You can’t work with something if the legs are falling off – you’ve got to stop and fix it. I got my nickname because, out clubbing one night, I got drunk and was waiting outside to go home. I wanted to go back to the hotel and was saying, ‘You’ve got to grow up and go through the changes of life.’ They decided I was like a dad and the name stuck.
FEBRUARY 14: Mike gets married
Mike marries Sandra Wilson at Finsbury Park Register Office. They then splash out on a wedding breakfast at George’s Cafe, Holloway.
MIKE: I married a Dutch girl because they’re more easy-going and less image-obsessed than their British peers. The Dutchies don’t take things that seriously, and are more emancipated. I later went to live on a houseboat in the north of Amsterdam, away from the city where it was all peace and quiet.
CHRIS: Mike changed when he got married – he had the male menopause a bit early. I used to be married and Mike was always asking me what it was like. He was dying to do it and settle down because he hated touring.
FEBRUARY 15: Dance Craze released in cinemas
The 2-Tone movie makes its premiere in Sheffield. Plans to support The Specials on their US tour don’t materialise and Jerry Dammers takes a few weeks off after two years of non-stop work. Instead Madness visit the US as part of their forthcoming tour.
JERRY DAMMERS (speaking in 1981): This film isn’t pretentious, it hasn’t got any deep meaning. It’s a sort of documentary of the ska phenomena… the kind of film that you could show your grandchildren, to let them see what all the fuss was about.
SUGGS: We didn’t have any say in that film, but Jerry did. That made us all a bit sick. Yet when we were watching the premiere, he walked out and said he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. And he’d been up to the editing every day! They should have taken one number from each band and given it to the groups to do something with. We’d have gone out and talked to a few people and had a bit about the history of the band. We could have done something a bit more varied than a live show.
FEBRUARY 17: Arts Centre, Poole, Dorset
Supported by Pearl Harbour, Madness play the first of four shows, dubbed ‘The Magic Whirlwind’ tour. It marks the beginning of a new phase that will lead to their third album.
The first night of a four-gig mini tour is a showcase for new material while old numbers are thrown in to keep the crowd amused. Excellent new songs Grey Day and Shut Up, among others, have so much more depth and feel to them. There also seems to be less horseplay as usual as, for once, the music takes the upper hand. The set, kicking off with Los Palmas 7, gave over an hour of pure pop for the skinheads and associates. It ended with two encores – you don’t think they’d leave without catching the Night Boat To Cairo do you?
Cliff Moore, Record Mirror
FEBRUARY 18: Rock City, Nottingham. The concert is recorded by the BBC and broadcast by BBC Radio Nottingham.
FEBRUARY 19: Corn Exchange, Cambridge
DAVE ROBINSON: I thought Suggs was going to become the sex symbol of the era. I remember going to gigs and seeing these young girls looking at Suggs in a certain way and I thought, ‘We’ve got a pop phenomenon here!’
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): I don’t see myself as a sex symbol but I think other people tend to. Obviously it’s nice when the audience call out ‘Suggsy’, it gives you a feeling of being wanted, but I get a lot of criticism from the rest of the band for something that isn’t my fault. I try to convince people that you don’t need to idolise people… but you can keep saying it and it won’t change because people will always find the one to scream at, [they’ll] always find an idol.
FEBRUARY 20: University of East Anglia, Norwich
Supported, as in Cambridge, by Team 23, the crowd cheer when Suggs introduces The Prince as the first of the new songs, before adding, ‘No it’s not, it’s an old song instead, a real chestnut.’ As usual at the closing shows, he thanks everyone who’s dancing before the band launches into Madness.
FEBRUARY 24: Bananas TV show
Madness playback Embarrassment for German TV, surrounded by topless women holding bananas. Suggs uses his finger as a microphone at one point, making little effort to mime properly.
WOODY: Describing our music as the Nutty Sound had started to lock us in our own little jail.
LEE (speaking in 1981): You go to places and people expect certain things from you, and some of the group act nutty – it’s just what they want. There’s seven of us, so there’s always a chance that one of us will be a bit mad that day. We never put on an act for people though.
SUGGS: Sometimes when you’re doing TV programmes, people say, ‘Can you do something really amusing?’ It’s impossible, obviously, when you’re not feeling amused. Madness aren’t crazy all the time.
CARL: It got boring when people said, ‘Be wacky’.
SUGGS: You’re sort of in your sixth week of a tour of Europe in Belgium and there’s some television programme called Ploptop and they want you to dress up as bananas and it’s six o’clock in the morning. And we’d go, ‘Look, we’re fun, but we’re not idiots.’ We took having fun seriously, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. But we were also very serious about our music, which maybe people didn’t realise and recognise until much later. We were kind of written off as this novelty band by the so-called serious papers.
MIKE: As time went by, we had more of a problem with it. We wanted to be taken more seriously, yet people insisted we were just ha-ha-trousers-down and nothing else.
LEE: It did get annoying, them wanting us to do pranks the whole time. It was okay when I’d done it off my own volition, if you weren’t forced to do it. We got labelled as ‘wacky’. That got a bit tiresome, when everyone expected it from you. So we’d do the opposite. We’d go against the grain.
SUGGS: We spent so much time promoting ourselves around Europe, y’know, ‘It’s the Nutty Boys from London’ and they’ll go, ‘Can you put that foot in that bucket and put that purple mackintosh on cos that’s what you do isn’t it, Madness?’ Then you just got fed up with it, and you get fed up with it and everything’s spontaneous fun, but it was always this contrived fun. People just expected us to behave like fools.
CHRIS: Unfortunately, when you have your initial success, people conceive this idea of what you are – which is what you are. And that stays with you forever. We don’t want to be a serious, cheeks-sucked-in arty farty band, but the subject matter of a lot of our songs has always been serious. Look at Embarrassment – I don’t know if anyone even noticed what it was about.
DAVE ROBINSON: They complained about it afterwards and got a bit bored of being nutty boys but it was certainly part of the charm and people got used to that kind of guise. Their attitude was the cheeky chappies. When they wanted anything, they kind of got into that type of pose.
WOODY: Some of that early Madness wackiness – I couldn’t cope with it. People like Lee helped me along the way. He was so outrageous and told me, ‘You’ve got to let go. You’ve not got to care. Because people think of themselves. They’re not worried about you, so even if you make a complete tit of yourself, they’ll simply be entertained.’ As well as a great talent, he was an inspiration.
FEBRUARY 26: Appear on Top Of The Pops with Los Palmas 7. Set amid tropical palm, Suggs acts as conductor.
KIM WILDE: If you watch my performance on that show it looks like I’m snarling at the camera – that I’m meaning to do it – but actually, it was because I was terrified cos Madness were on the stage opposite. They were a young, overwhelming group of lads and a bit rough around the edges. So I just sort of stood there swaying a little bit because I was scared.
CHRIS: You would often meet people from other bands at TV studios and the like but we never met Duran Duran, which is a shame as I personally really liked them. I’m not joking – great pop songs and the videos just got better and better. I met Simon Le Bon once at an awards thing and they had just done Wild Boys. I was in awe at the sheer scale of it all. I would have loved to have the sort of video budgets and locations that they had.
MARCH 9: Start filming Take It Or Leave It
Stiff and Madness share the £400,000 cost of this autobiographical flick, with each group member putting in around £20,000. Dave Robinson tapes interviews with them to form a narrative that is then used as ‘a basis for improvisation on remembered incidents’. The movie has a shooting schedule of 15 days and features pals John Hasler, Andrew Chalk, Ian Tokins and Si Birdsall.
WOODY: It was only three years into our career and we thought, ‘Well, we’ve done it all now, let’s make a film of our story.’
SUGGS: The money came from the first big royalty cheque we ever received, so we thought that the best thing would be to invest it in something like a film, rather than just blow it all. It was a great opportunity to show the way we were in the early days and how we’d changed.
DAVE ROBINSON: We’d talked about a film a couple of times in the past but the band’s schedule had always been so tight that it had seemed out of the question. Then March came loose by itself, so we sat down and discussed it in mid-February and decided very quickly to go ahead.
SUGGS: The great thing was, we were trying to make a serious record of starting the band, but it was only about two years after we’d started! We just thought a film was a natural step as our early years were so dependent on our visual stuff, which is almost as important as the music. We’d made two albums of music, so we thought it would be a good idea to do a visual thing.
DAVE ROBINSON: The videos were getting a lot of attention and they’d already proved how good they were in front of the camera. We also thought they had a good story to tell that you couldn’t get over in a three- or four-minute video clip.
SUGGS: One of the main reasons we did it was because no one else had done it. Most rock films are about how you’re on the road and it’s all success, success, success…
BEDDERS: …so we just decided to show people what it was like before we had any records out at all.
SUGGS: It was meant to be about a bunch of ordinary people who form a band and eventually make a record and shows that anyone can do it. It was about us as people more than us as part of the music industry.
WOODY: The idea was to make it as realistic as possible, to take some of the shine off the music industry. There was a tendency to be up one’s own bottom with the notion of being a rock star, and I think most of us saw that whole thing as rubbish. We were normal people and wanted to be seen on screen as normal people.
JOHN HASLER: I had no reservations about coming back to act in it. We were all still good mates and I needed the money because I’d recently become a father.
BEDDERS: We checked the old photographs and had the right haircuts, then went digging through scrapbooks and all things like that to try and bring back the mood.
CARL: I made a real effort to be as honest to the past as possible. I shaved my head to look more like I had a few years earlier and wore a cheap Harrington and monkey boots. I reckon some of the others spent a bit more on their clothes because they wanted to look cool.
WOODY: My clothes are very embarrassing. I was into woolly hats and tatty trousers at the time. Still, that’s the way I was, there’s no point trying to falsify the past or cover it up.
CHRIS: Before we started filming we watched Mean Streets and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Then Mike turned up with that kind of Mean Streets-style hat, which he never really used to wear.
DAVE ROBINSON: We were going to try something fancy in the beginning but eventually decided on something realistic. I taped interviews with all the boys in which we talked about everybody’s lives and build a script up from there.
CHRIS: A guy came round with a tape recorder asking us about the last six years and someone had the job of writing it out, then we chose the best bits of what happened. It showed us in our day jobs as decorators and things – all things we’d done together so none of us really had to act. We actually did some scenes in Mike’s house with the same stuff on the walls as before.
SUGGS: Although we had the idea, Robbo said he was directing it. He was quite dictatorial – he didn’t want eight people following him round re-directing it. And obviously we were all aiming toward the same end, to make a reasonably good film.
DAVE ROBINSON: I would never have set myself up as the film’s director had it not previously worked out on the band’s videos. But saying that, I was against the one-sided thinking that is generally the rule when a director makes a film. It should be a mutual undertaking with me kind of latching myself on to the side of the band and helping them to make it happen.
CARL: We were used to cameras because we’d done videos, but being comfortable in front of them when you’re trying to put across an accurate depiction of your younger self is another thing.
CHRIS: I was always looking at the camera.
DAVE ROBINSON: I had to keep telling him, ‘Stop looking at the camera Chris.’
CHRIS: It was hard not to because we’d done all those videos.
WOODY: Some of the acting is hysterical. Mike and Lee look relaxed, like they belong in front of a camera, but acting was never something I particularly wanted to do. I’m a drummer, that’s all I ever wanted to be.
CHRIS: Mike and Lee were good natural actors and were very charismatic.
LEE: I’d always enjoyed a little bit of acting. At school I played this headmistress, which was my first experience of dressing up and going on stage and performing. There were several times when the audience laughed out loud, which was pretty infectious.
SUGGS: If Mike and Lee were in any dialogue together, they’d try and argue, try and out-do each other. Like Mike says to Lee – and it’s nothing to do with anything, he just made it up on the spot – ‘Where’s that money you owe me, Lee?’ Just trying to put Lee down and then Lee would try and put Mike down.
CHRIS: Most of the dialogue we made up, although we had a rough idea of what we wanted to say in each scene.
WOODY: Not having a proper script made it worse for me. Dave would just say, ‘Imagine you’re walking down the road, what would you say in that situation?’ Well half the time I wouldn’t say anything! When someone tells you to act naturally you just as quickly end up doing or saying something that looks very unnatural. It’s not always easy to pretend to be yourself.
DAVE ROBINSON: Lee was always trying to do his own script; he would never stick to what we’d agreed he was meant to say.
CHRIS: It also seemed to be quite easy for him to act shifty.
CARL: I wouldn’t describe what any of us is doing as acting, but it does a good job of portraying us how we were back then. Suggs has always enjoyed being in the spotlight and that certainly comes across. And the camera loves Lee; he’s an interesting and enigmatic figure.
DAVE ROBINSON: One thing was, we couldn’t get used to doing it out of synch, like a proper movie. And I don’t think we had enough budget for a Steadicam, so we had a guy on a trolley, which moved round quite a bit. Also, I could never say, ‘Action’ because it sounded so pompous. Instead I would say ‘Go’ or ‘Shoot’ and the crew never used to be ready because they couldn’t relate to those kind of words; they thought we were just having a run-through.
LEE: Making it was hard work but we enjoyed every moment, even though it did get quite tedious. For example, one particular scene we had to take eight times – we must have spent an hour at it – but in the film, it only lasts two minutes.
DAVE ROBINSON: We also had to get everyone to play very badly at the beginning.
CHRIS: That wasn’t very hard for me.
BEDDERS: There’s a scene off the Portobello Road where a big gang fight broke out during one of our gigs. It was quite eerie going through that again, in the same places they originally happened. We started remembering what it was like and started getting all those feelings again.
WOODY: It was an uncanny experience. I walked onto the set and there was Mike and Chris as the old band and I felt completely out of character. I felt like I was traveller from the future stepping into the past. It was really weird.
SUGGS: It reminded me that we did have a really good time – but then I also realised it wasn’t really great playing the Nashville or the DC on the same night, or being chased by a load of skins at Acklam Hall.
MIKE: When we did the rerun of the early gig at the Dublin Castle, when everyone was pissed and we came in late, we had a lot of the same people who were at the original gig but I swear some of them thought it was a real show. Everyone was really drunk this time round too and shouting for us to come on. We actually did it again – rushed in with all the gear and started playing.
LEE: The actress who played Mike’s mum did it quite well – she was just like her. In one scene that was cut she goes, ‘Hello Mikey how are you? What have you been doing?’ and he said, ‘I’ve just been practising with Chris and Lee.’ And she says, ‘You haven’t let that awful Lee in the room again? You know what he’s like don’t you?’ He says, ‘He ain’t like that any more mum’ because I had sort of changed by then.
CHRIS: We borrowed a trick from Top of the Pops and used a slightly wide-angle lens to make the Dublin Castle look bigger.
CARL: There was another scene in a pub where they put the sound of the jukebox on later. We had to shout as though there was a lot of noise. That felt really weird.
CHRIS: We didn’t want all that stuff about girlfriends in. It wasn’t important, and the unions wouldn’t let us have our mums and dads in either.
MIKE: Saying that, my wife of the time is in it, and there’s a bit of romance between us. It was more fun than getting an actress to play her. We did want the real people to be in it as much as possible.
LEE: We all put our ideas in and it was 99 per cent true to life, although we did dramatise bits of it.
CHRIS: Lee certainly enjoyed the bits with him in.
LEE: I just acted naturally really and ignored the cameras. When I’m acting I’m really confident in myself. I say to myself, ‘Today we are going to do this one in one take.’ One day, for some reason, I just burst out laughing with Suggs. It was a bit of a comical scene where we were doing this plastering job. I was trying to teach him how to do it and I was desperately trying to get this plaster on the wall but it kept falling. We did those jobs in real life because we needed the money. We were penniless at the time.
DAVE ROBINSON: Lee’s scenes were great. I always thought he’d go on to great movie glory. His role as himself was phenomenal.
LEE: I was given a few offers and did a few bits and pieces but I never pursued it or did anything professional. I preferred the instant stuff on stage.
DAVE ROBINSON: Because we were using a 29-man film crew, it was difficult to find the boys amongst them when we wanted to shoot – although Carl could usually be found near the catering bus.
MARCH 20: Filming continues
With Acklam Hall unavailable after a fire, Madness re-enact the November 1978 show at the Keskidee Centre, playing Swan Lake. There are problems when the laboratory over-exposes the film, ruining the first few days’ shooting.
DAVE ROBINSON: The first three or four days were very productive and we got a huge amount of stuff done. We shot it all in black and white because it was meant to represent the early days.
CHRIS: It was all going really well – then we sent the film to a lab in Sweden to be processed.
DAVE ROBINSON: Usually in the morning you see the shots you did the day before so it gives you an idea of how well you’re doing. But in this instance, because the first four days were in black and white, the lab wanted to do them all at once, rather than every day. So they decided they would put on a special kind of developing bath. And we all sat down after two days of great shooting and it came back completely burnt out. Turns out he’d made the bath too hot and overexposed the film so everything went down the drain. Everyone looked at me like I had done it on purpose – it was like a snow scene with black lines moving around in it. The guy told me he was sorry but I couldn’t believe it; isn’t there a bigger word than sorry? This was the film business. There were huge sums of money being spent.
CHRIS: We were insured so it wasn’t a problem, but we it meant we had to re-shoot two days worth of material. However, this was a bonus as it meant we’d all got a bit of a practice in the film game. Another bonus was that for the early scenes in Camden, it was raining which gave just that drizzly dreary effect that would cost a fortune these days.
DAVE ROBINSON: Nah, it wasn’t as good the second time round; it was magic the first time. I think everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong at one stage or another. There were difficulties on the set. I wanted to create a situation and put Madness in it. I knew within five minutes they’d do some blinding thing. But the crew has to be ready or it’s lost. You’d find that on the first take – the inspirational one – the guy didn’t have his focus together or the sound man had his machine off. A lot of the real spirit of Madness was probably lost by them not capturing the first take. That’s why English films are so boring, what you’re seeing is the eighth or ninth take. The fact is the crew weren’t interested in what we were doing. Between shots they’d pull out the Daily Mirror and start reading it. They weren’t focused on us. That was the English workman at work. They didn’t care, even though they were earning £600 or more a week. Then as I was directing a particularly tricky shot, I slipped and fell off a camera support on a gantry in a tube station and broke my ankle. What’s worse, I didn’t even get the shot I wanted! So I spent the last few days of the movie (a) in extreme pain and (b) with a cast on, in a wheelchair, trying to control Madness. Not easy at the best of times.
CARL: The film shows exactly what the people in the band are like. It really is honest. Obviously there’s no sex and violence, though. You can’t be that honest.
CHRIS: That was the thing – we weren’t allowed to swear as we had to keep it PG.
DAVE ROBINSON: We had a concept that a lot of very young kids would be watching it, so we didn’t want to drive them into the wrong area.
LEE: There is a bit of how naughty I was in the film but it was petty. There is a sequence where I walk into the shop and I take a few things out of it but it wasn’t included in the film as such because if it did it would have to have a AA certificate.
CARL: I wanted there to be a scene where I was on acid, but Robbo wouldn’t allow us to do it. Record companies always want to go for the kiddie market, which means you have to censor yourself to a certain extent. Otherwise, it is totally accurate. There’s no glossy dramatisation or anything. It’s just us.
DAVE ROBINSON: It shows how ridiculous it is. These guys, most went to comprehensive schools and learned nothing. Now they’ve done very well. They’ve made more money in a year and a half than their parents have done in a lifetime. But it was chancy. It has nothing to do with any real talent per se, but with chance and circumstance, having hit records. Madness understand that, which is why I don’t think they’ve changed at all.
SUGGS: What I really liked about it is the honesty of it. Like Bedders’ Mum says, ‘You dressin’ up to go to rehearsals?’ And he says. ‘Yeah, I want to look the part’.
BEDDERS: I like the rehearsal scene too. It was nice because it was a really sentimental memory, so I enjoyed doing it. Everybody got into the right mood and it wasn’t really acting, it felt exactly the same as it had before.
LEE: The scene showing my only saxophone lesson brought it all back. I can still remember exactly how I felt, how my cheeks were burning up in front of all those other students. He made me feel embarrassed and stupid.
CHRIS: Gerard Kelly had a hard job playing Dikran at Si Birdsall’s party; he couldn’t hear himself singing and strangely enough didn’t know Jailhouse Rock which actually added to the charm of the performance. It’s the sort of thing some directors and actors do via ‘the method’ but – hey! – we were doing it for real.
SUGGS: The whole film is very honest. It shows that a lot of the group could have been criminals but had something else, were interested in art, and music particularly. There were loads of other kids hanging around the group at that time. And we were really in the middle, not being real hooligans and not being completely artistic.
Mike’s Take It Or Leave It diary
MIKE: Well the first day, we simply must not be late – at £1,000 an hour we can’t afford to be! Alarm call at 6.00, out of bed get dressed, no time for food, straight downstairs to awaiting taxi rushed down to Take It Or Leave It HQ in a back street somewhere in Camden Town. Meet Johnny the master of the wardrobe lorry where we each leave about seven different sets of our old clothes for the authentic 1976 feel. Lee is the first to start work, strolling down Parkway towards Camden Town tube looking as moody as possible. First time, second times it starts to rain, 3, 4, 5, 6 times. I’m waiting for my first scene where I meet Lee in a record shop. After one hour I head for a cafe and have a dodgy plate of egg, chips and beans. They’re still filming Lee walking down the street – why so many times? So I go off to buy two identical hats from Dunn & Co to improve my appearance. Half an hour after my return they are ready to film. There are about 30 people in the film crew, directors, assistant directors, assistant to assistant director, everyone, the sound man, the lighting man, the prop man, the catering man – and everyone has at least two or three assistants. So there we are walking along the street with 30 people in front of us. It sounds like a joke but it’s true. All we have to do is walk along the street for 15 yards and into the record shop. ’NO THAT BUS WAS IN THE WAY, DO IT AGAIN. NO THAT AEROPLANE DROWNED OUT THE SOUND. DO IT AGAIN. NO I’M AFRAID THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE LOOKING AT YOU. DO IT AGAIN. NO YOU CAN’T CRACK JOKES ABOUT MASSAGE PARLOURS, WE’RE GOIN’ FOR AN ‘A’ CERTIFICATE… DO IT AGAIN’. You never realiae how much work goes into one little shot in a film, just getting out of a car can take hours to do, ’cause if one little thing is wrong you have to do it all again. In fact the opening shot we did of Lee walking down Parkway had a reflection of the VW van with a camera on top in all the shop windows and you don’t want to keep going back to places at £1,000 an hour when you barely have enough money to finish the film in four weeks. We finally got the five-second walk into the record shop scene (in the can) so time for tea. There’s a special lorry for the tea, which comes round in the morning and at lunch. I wish one of the assistants could have told me about the tea lorry, as I’m not too hungry after my raw chip breakfast. A sausage, bacon and black pudding sandwich washed down with tea must be lovely. Anyway, back to work. INTERIOR RECORD SHOP: SCENE 3 TAKE 1. This is our first serious bit of acting where we talk, well we sort of mumble to each other. I have to help Lee to er, look at some records. We are filming the first part of the film in black and white – I reckon it must look pretty good I just hope our acting is okay. We have to sort of make things up on the spot. It’s a bit nervous at first with all these people watching but as you get to know some of them and get more used to it, it gets more enjoyable. Well after going through a lot of rehearsals, early gigs driving around in a Morris van, recording a single and turning up late we finished the film, which we haven’t seen yet. Whether I am the new Robert de Niro or the new David Hunter remains to be seen.
LEE: The film shows the innocence and naivety of Mark and Woody when they first joined the group; the frustrations of Carl when he wasn’t a full member; the humpiness of me; the paranoia of Mike; the kindness and thoughtfulness of Suggsy and the wit and sharpness of Chris. It gets us all down to a tee.
CHRIS: It’s about as close as it gets to what it was like, although they did take a bit of artistic licence.
MIKE: I think it gave people the impression I was being stroppy when all I wanted was to get things done.
CHRIS: I think Mike is misunderstood in the film and does come across as too unpleasant; he wasn’t that bad, just single-minded.
DAVE ROBINSON: He just had a standard he was trying to get people up to.
CHRIS: The thing was, Mike had the van and he had the place to rehearse, so he had the power.
MIKE: We wanted it to be quite realistic and every group has arguments and shit like that. The only thing is, I think when you know too much about a group it sort of spoils it. If I think I know everything about a group and there’s nothing I don’t know, it’s a bit boring. But I don’t think people would know everything about us from seeing the film.
CHRIS: It was difficult to come across as yourself. Some of it looks awkward as it was hard to say things as though you meant them – especially if you’re going through it for the eighth time for a different camera.
LEE: When I first saw myself I seemed to be too grumpy – I am a bit of a moaner but not that bad. I didn’t find the serious bits too difficult but I found it really hard to laugh in front of the cameras, though once they filmed us without us knowing and I never seemed to stop laughing.
BEDDERS: The film had no script, its stars had never acted and its producer/ director had never masterminded a film before. It sounds like the makings of a complete disaster but it turned out as we’d all hoped it would – just a down-to-earth story of how some honest guys from north London got out of a rut and made the big time.
SUGGS: It shows that absolutely anyone can be in a group. It’s about a group of ordinary people who join a band and make a record. Anyone can do it and we just get on with it. If you start analysing it all, you’ll end up crawling up your own bum. The real thrill was being so popular when we’re really just a bunch of absolute knobs.
WOODY: We just wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll film like it had never been done before to show the reality; that it’s not all so wonderful.
DAVE ROBINSON: It’s a very authentic film; everything you see really happened. It’s all done in the same locations and in the same suits.
JOHN HASLER: It’s an entertaining film and reasonably honest, although I think all of us might have different memories about how certain things happened. But I guess it’s hard to get the 100 per cent truth when the people involved have varying recollections.
CARL: The fight scene at Acklam Hall is far removed from the reality of what actually happened – it was a lot more violent in real life. It was like back in the day at youth clubs, someone would say ‘What are you looking at?’ and it would all kick off. I remember as a kid walking down the street in this Christmas outfit and this geezer who was twice my age punched me in the face for no reason. So I would have liked the film to have reflected those times and aimed high. It should have appealed to a more mature viewer.
CHRIS: For the ending, I originally wanted us to walk onto an empty stage, with no one there; y’know, every artist’s nightmare. We filmed it, but I reckon Robbo never had any flippin’ film in the camera. Although the ending we ended up with was great.
DAVE ROBINSON (speaking in 1981): It was certainly eventful. The way I feel right now, I wouldn’t make another film for all the money in China. Plus my ankle’s never been the same… it twinges every time I hear a Madness track.
APRIL 1: Nutty Boys comic Issue 2 is released.
APRIL: Invite-only show
Madness play a private show as part of the work on Take It Or Leave It. Re-enacting their first show, they playback songs off One Step Beyond. The title track and Bed & Breakfast Man make it to the final cut.
APRIL 17: Grey Day/Memories released
The band’s eighth single (BUY 112) goes straight into UK charts at No4. The track was originally played during their days as The North London Invaders.
CHRIS: We had first done Grey Day three years before, a ’60s psychedelic thing with no structure and only a few lyrics.
MIKE: We used to do it when we first started but it was a lot different then – a bit like Roxy Music’s Bogus Man. It had a really steady bassline and loads of echo on the saxophone and was really just a lot of doomy stuff strung together. We had this echo machine that Lee bought quite cheap and he was doing a lot of heavy breathing and percussion in it and it sounded really good. We only did it live once, at a gig in Notting Hill. But Bedders didn’t like it because he thought the bassline was too simple. And then somewhere someone forgot something so after a bit of discussion it was dropped.
SUGGS: It was something that we had knocking around for years but never properly finished. And then we sort of revamped it at rehearsals one day and it sounded quite effervescent.
MIKE: We tried doing it again in a different way and it sounded really good straight away so we completely re-did it and recorded it. Luckily I still had the lyrics on a scrap of paper or you would never have heard it.
WOODY: It was reworked from the early days with the new version more influenced by the Linton Kwesi Johnson album Dread Beat An’ Blood. It was our attempt at dub reggae. Madness were not great reggae artists, but we played it in our own style.
BEDDERS: Grey Day is very important because it’s the first change really, away from the early success – it’s something completely different. I don’t know if matured is the right word, matured always makes me think of cheese, but it was a really good point along the way. We made a breakthrough and it just had a denser, heavier sound to it, which was good.
SUGGS: It was a definite step on for Madness. I remember going to a club with a copy of it and Joe Strummer was DJ’ing. I asked him to put this on, because I thought I’d finally done something that he could dig, not just jumping up and down, but he wouldn’t play it.
CHRIS: For the video, we stood playing in a shop window in Bowmans in Camden High Street, while a bemused crowd gathered outside. (Bowmans used to occupy the whole block, but due to economics it’s now much smaller). Bedders looks well pissed off because we’re wearing grey make-up, which he didn’t want to wear. It never really showed up on the finished film anyway. But it did show up that he was sorely miffed. Ha ha!
MIKE: Robbo was also worried it was all looking a bit doomy, so we had to have a little bit of sunshine in there too.
CHRIS: He was also trying to build Suggs up as some sort of sex symbol, so he put him in a bed. Suggs wanted to wear pyjamas but Dave was like, ‘No no…’
DAVE ROBINSON: This video was a little more serious and a less slapstick, and also nearly a minute longer than the others. It had a slightly sombre feel but I enjoyed it a lot – we had to do a lot of setups in the shop window. There was a lot more to do and it was probably one of our more professional videos.
SUGGS: Never Ask Twice was on the B-side of the 12-inch. Thommo didn’t like it when I wrote it. He said, ‘It sounds a bit too much like The Specials.’ Then about six years later he said, ‘Yeah I quite like that now, I could put a good solo on it.’
APRIL: Far East tour begins
Madness begins the Absolutely Madness One Step Beyond Far East Tour of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Japan. In Australia, the band receive gold discs for One Step Beyond.
SUGGS: This was the tour where we nearly split up under five weeks of intensive hell. It was probably the closest we ever got, with people at each other’s throats.
CHRIS: Thommo ended up throwing a wobbler in New York. There were so many people in the dressing room he stood on the table and started chucking chairs around.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF (live manager): Kelloggs said, ‘You can tour manage them because you’ve booked it and the you know the promoters and the dates.’ It was interesting; a baptism of fire when you’ve got seven guys and as soon as you’ve got six in one place and go off looking for the seventh, the other six disappear. They had fun winding me up although they probably didn’t mean it – they were just young lads. I just about managed it.
BEDDERS (speaking in 1981): We’re off to Japan and Australia and it’s a 14-hour flight – which isn’t much fun for those of us who don’t like flying. Lee and Chris openly have the jitters and Mike does not like taking to the air either, although he stays very quiet about it. We have little rituals when we have to go on an aircraft – Mike and I always sit next to each other and always in the central aisle so we don’t have to look out of the window. Everybody takes a cassette player with headphones so they can close their eyes and listen to the music. It’s really weird.
SUGGS: Travelling does make you more enlightened. When you travel all over the world you see everyone’s scapegoats, whether it’s the Mexicans in Los Angeles or the Aborigines in Australia. People are often just narrow-minded simply because they’ve no experience of anywhere else.
APRIL 22: Concert Hall, Perth
APRIL 24: Barton Town Hall, Adelaide
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): I think we’re more real than most of the people about today who say they’ve got something to say, things to do and purpose. It does worry me about whether I’ve got any purpose in life. We all worry but I think we (Madness) do have a purpose. The fact that we don’t pose all the time or take ourselves too seriously… I don’t think we’re trying to rip anyone off or just do it for the money… us, much more so than people who say they are meaningful and relevant. We’re just entertainers and whatever meaning we have is… exactly that.
APRIL 25: Festival Hall, Melbourne
APRIL 27: Capitol Theatre, Sydney. While swimming at Bondi Beach earlier in the day, Lee nearly drowns and has to be rescued by lifeguards
LEE: Madness were meant to be doing a press conference but as I was up the earliest, I thought, ‘Well, I might as well go swimming.’ On the beach were two poles that you’re meant to swim between, but I didn’t know that, so I went outside them. So I swam out and was trying to glide back in on these waves, but they were dragging me further out. The faster I tried to swim, the more it pulled me out. My arms went numb and I started thinking, ‘This is it.’ Then I saw this bloke beside me, about 10 feet away and shouted, ‘Help!’ So I got back on the beach, went to the press conference and said, ‘Sorry I’m late – I nearly drowned on Bondi Beach.’ But of course, because I’m always late, they just thought I was mucking about.
MAY 2: Cloudland Ballroom, Brisbane
MAY 5: Auckland, New Zealand
SUGGS: New Zealand – that’s the bit that stops you flying into the sea when you miss the runway at Australia.
MAY 6: Wellington, New Zealand
MAY 7: Singapore
MAY 8: Tokyo, Japan. The Madness/2-Tone impact is obvious by merchandise including 2-Tone cigarettes and Madness v The Specials martial arts comics
LEE: The first time we were in Japan we found it strange that the crowd didn’t applaud until after the show. But their reservedness was only the calm before the storm as they went wild after the last song. Rarely did we face such an enthusiastic crowd. We did three encores, but that wasn’t enough.
SUGGS: Japan was an amazing place – each of us had about five people following us around at all times. We were also about a foot taller than everyone we met, so I’d walk down the crowded streets looking onto a sea of little black heads bobbing below me. The fans were great there – very gentle and great ones for having fun. They had discos in the middle of the street but they were dead organised – the police closed the road, the music started up and everyone got bopping.
CARL: It was great there. Unlike here, if you shouted in the street in Japan you’d feel an ill-mannered lout.
SUGGS: Everyone being all humble and deferential was a bit of a culture shock and everything did seem so ordered and structured. Even the businessmen in the bar would head off to bed at exactly the same time, all wearing their blue suits.
MAY 10: In The City recorded
The band go into a local studio to record In The City for Honda City commercial. It is a small car, but one that will play a big part in Madness’ Japanese popularity.
LEE: Back then, if you wanted to get anywhere in Japan, you had to do an advert. We said no to tobacco and alcohol and did ones for Honda cars instead.
CARL: We wanted to be popular out there and that was a way of doing it. It opened up doors for us.
SUGGS: Some other company used The Stray Cats and Honda must have decided they had to have a group, so they asked us. I don’t know why – we weren’t very well known in Japan at that time.
BEDDERS: In The City was born round a piano in Tokyo. The original versions were 15, 30 and 60 seconds long to fit the commercial.
CHRIS: When we got there we found that Japan’s leading jingle writers [Crutchfield and Inoue] had written a song for the advert which turned out to be pastiche of a mockery of a sham of a Madness song; stuff like, ‘She is a lady in the night.’ Ahem. So we got a song Mike had written, which I think was coincidentally written for another advert and never got used, then came up with some new lyrics, mainly written I think by Chas and Suggs.
CARL: It was frantic because we had to knock something out in ten minutes. But Barso got us round the piano and we did it.
CHRIS: Part of the lyrics were based on people we had seen in Tokyo, quite a busy city to say the least, and all the workers that fly around, from business men to road sweepers.
BEDDERS: We went into the studio in the daylight and came out into the Tokyo rush hour the next morning. I felt ten years older, I mean how can you say, ‘Can I have more treble on the bass drum’ in Japanese?
CHRIS: We had to give Crutchfield and Inoue some songwriting credits but we also decided to credit the entire band to ensure we all got a percentage of the publishing – after all, everyone in the band had worked pretty hard on it, and it was really a Madness song by the time we’d finished with it.
BEDDERS: It was later released as a single in Japan, and Honda went on to sell 10,000 City cars every week. Perhaps we should have made people buy a single with every car?
MAY 16: San Francisco
The Nuts In May tour starts in the US. All five shows sell out.
MAY 17: Los Angeles Country Club
With their California fanbase increased since the March 1980 shows, Madness move into the big arena in front of 6,000 fans. Supported by The Unknowns, the show gets mixed reviews.
What you might call a moving performance – the whole place bubbling and shimmying, offstage dancers becoming onstage dancers before getting chucked back onto the dance floor by bouncers. All the old favourites and a bunch of new ones that the crowd loved. Jesus, they’d be massive in the Deep South where hairless mutants with wide and crazy grins and just-can’t-help-myself twitches are just like the guy next door.
Sylvie Simmons, Sounds
They’re okay, if all you want is a band to dance to.
CHRIS: America wasn’t as good as Japan and Australia, but mind you, you could have a laugh there. They didn’t know what ‘bollocks’ meant so we always got the girl at the hotel or airport to put out a call for Mr Harry Bollocks to come to reception. With the accent is sounded like Mr Hairy Bollocks and we’d be on the floor with laughter.
SUGGS: I was in this club, I think it was the Mudd Club. You went up in a lift and there was about 2ft of sand all over the floor. Madonna was there, although she wasn’t really anything at that time. So she came up to me and said, ‘Hi, you’re the guy from Madness. Do you wanna come back to my place and fuck?’ I remember dropping my beer, my jaw fell – the only joy was the beer landed in the sand so I didn’t spill any. Anyway, I passed up the opportunity. Later I was telling Seymour and he said, ‘You think you’re the only guy in the club she’s said that to?’
MAY 23: New York
Three NY shows are printed on the official tour t-shirts, but only two take place – both at The Peppermint Lounge. Fellow British rock stars in attendance include Pete Townshend, David Bowie and Rick Butler and Bruce Foxton from The Jam, who come to Japan as Madness left for California. David Bowie goes backstage to ask for Suggs’ autograph for his son Zowie. During their stay in New York the band look for a new record company to distribute their albums in the USA. Absolutely sold too few copies to continue with Sire. The search remains fruitless but Geffen executive John Kalodner shows enough interest to follow further developments in their career.
MIKE: I don’t know why Sire signed us up in the first place. We didn’t hear or see anything of them once we signed the deal.
CHRIS: Both times we went there they didn’t want us to come. They said the time wasn’t right. The thing was they had the Pretenders under their reins, and obviously they were just worried about them and the Ramones and Talking Heads. I don’t particularly hate them but we signed with them because Seymour [Stein, head of Sire] used to come and see us a lot; he used to take quite an interest in us. Then when we signed, he suddenly didn’t take an interest any more.
SUGGS: There was some awards dinner in New York and we’d been invited to the top table. We were all sitting down, going, ‘Wow, here we are, we’ve made it.’ Suddenly there was a tap on the shoulder and Seymour said, ‘I’m really sorry guys but The Pretenders have just turned up. Would you mind vacating the table?’
CARL: So they got our table and we sat in the bar. Seymour just said, ‘Hey, that’s showbiz.’
SUGGS: I think that might have been the turning point.
BEDDERS: Zilch response and non-shifting of units is how the record company put it. We did loads and loads of small clubs but when you play somewhere like Portland it’s all pointless. During our set everyone was playing pool and the songs got lost against the sinking eight balls. We just jumped off the stage in the end.
CARL: We also got a bit weirded out by everyone saying, ‘Have a nice day.’ So we loved America for about a week, and then we came home and decided to never go away again.
AUDREY STRAHL (Sire publicity spokeswoman): Basically I think they didn’t happen over here because they’re not an American-sounding band. They’re a lot of fun, but their music comes from the English music hall tradition that has never been big here and never will be. Madness is fun dance music, but there are a lot of things about it that are just not geared to an AOR [album-oriented radio] format. The success that has eluded Madness [in the US] has also eluded the other ska bands. I think record companies may be a bit unsure how to position that kind of music in the marketplace, because America is into Styx and REO Speedwagon.
JUNE 8: Pinkpop Festival, Holland
Although 2,000 tickets remain unsold, Pinkpop draws Madness’ largest crowd in the Low Countries so far as 48,000 flock to SportPark in Geleen to see The Nutty Boys, plus U2, UB40 and Ian Dury & The Blockheads. Suggs dedicates Disappear to two Dutch fans, Eddie and Peer, and says thanks for the flags. Pac a Mac and When Dawn Arrives are received positively as welcome tasters of the third album. The Prince is dedicated to sound engineer Ian Horne and by the time of Madness the rain starts to pour down. Grey Day is dedicated to the weather and is extended by a dub-intermezzo climaxing in solos by Carl and Lee. Later, a few members of Madness and UB40 join The Blockheads to close the festival with Sex And Drugs And Rock ‘N Roll. Fifteen songs are broadcast on FM radio while a TV documentary of Pinkpop is aired on November 22.
One Step Beyond / Disappear / Not Home Today / Pac A Mac / My Girl / Bed & Breakfast Man / When Dawn Arrives / Los Palmas 7 / Close Escape / The Prince / On The Beat Pete / Take It Or Leave It / Embarrassment / Rockin’ in Ab / Baggy Trousers / Madness / Grey Day
CHRIS: We never really met Ian Dury until that day. Lee and I had decided not to fly, so we got the ferry and Ian was on the coach. I was sitting next to him, he was my hero but he was threatening me all the way. ‘You young pups are trying to steal my thunder!’ When we got to know him better, he became ‘Uncle Ian’, like a relative of us all. At the gig itself, we were all watching Ian from the front. When he asked us up on stage, I was miles away by the mixing desk. So none of us could get to the stage in time, except Mike. It wasn’t anything personal!
JUNE 13: Crystal Palace Garden Party, London
Other acts on the bill at Crystal Palace in front of 7,000 fans include Our Daughters Wedding, Tenpole Tudor, The Polecats, Newton Neurotics and Ultravox. Bad reviews appear after the event and Madness spend the next few weeks writing new songs and supervising the edit of Take It Or Leave It before flying to Nassau to record their third album at the Compass Point Studios.
SUGGS: There were a number of reasons for going to Nassau. Obviously for the tax advantages. And we’d recorded everywhere in London we wanted to and didn’t want to go somewhere like Manchester or Coventry. It was actually cheaper to record there than in London. Plus it was a bit of a holiday – all the girlfriends went.
CHRIS: Our accountant said we should record in Nassau for tax reasons. At the time, if you recorded an album abroad you were only taxed on the first 25% of profit, or some such wheeze the Inland Revenue soon caught on to. Also, we thought it would be nice to work somewhere hot. But it wasn’t the same gang – people brought their wives and I brought my five-year-old son Matthew along. We had our own little apartments, which I shared with Carl and Bedders. Carl did a lot of cooking, which was very wholesome and nutritious. Robert Palmer would come by and hang out with us and the Tom Tom Club were there recording Wordy Rappinghood for what seemed like forever. It was very boring, unless you had a car, but we had a nice time.
SUGGS: We did think it would be good for the feeling of the album as well.
BEDDERS: We drove straight to Compass Point Studios. The night was very hot and humid and was alive with the sound of hundreds of insects and birds. The air smelt of damp earth and plants. The roads were pitch black and were only lit up by cars coming the other way. It felt like we were in the jungle. Our houses, where we were going to stay for the next month, were built on a small beach. So everyone went to sleep with the sound of the sea in their ears. The first day, like all the other days, was spent swimming and sunbathing and Chas saying, ‘This is nothing like Blackpool.’ The sea was so clear, you could make out all sorts of plants and coral on the sea bed and also spot passing manta rays and blow fish. Everyone immediately wrote postcards home saying how Nassau looked exactly like their postcard.
SUGGS: It was a good setting – very easy. No one had any distractions so we could just concentrate on the album. Just swimming, sunbathing and working, that was about all there was to do there. It was good in that respect. But it depends on what your dreams of a desert island are.
BEDDERS: It gave everyone the chance to sit back and think about what had gone before. Suggs, I believe, decided to change the way he sang for this album. At the time, it caused a stir but, in hindsight, it was another step forward. Other memories include the constant power cuts, the smell of the heavy, humid night air, and being offered a tumbler full of grass next to the Weetabix in the local supermarket. And, yes, The Tom Tom Club working on their two hits for days on end.
CHRIS: For the first time, some songs were written in the studio. I had a lively song that became Benny Bullfrog after Lee had seen a tropical frog climbing up his window.
BEDDERS: The first week passed very quickly. Everyone had now got into the easy pace of the island; we’d been without TV and newspapers for the first few days; so we felt cut off from the outside world. Lee, Woody and John Wynne had arrived on the second day and Chris had come over from London after getting over a bout of flu. In the studio, Mike, Woody and me had nearly finished the backing tracks but were not as brown as everyone else who had been out in the sun every day.
JUNE: Recording continues in Nassau
The Tom Tom Club are next door making Genius Of Love and Robert Palmer occasionally drops by. There is a failed attempt to tape some cicadas for The Opium Eaters, but the noise eventually come off a BBC sound effects LP instead.
SUGGS: We thought we might get a bit of a calypso sort of an album out of it but we didn’t at all. There, they all listen to West Coast soul. You don’t see a load of merry minstrels wandering down the street with steel drums. It’s like a bloody American sort of tourist place.
BEDDERS (speaking in 1981): Carl is getting a lot better on the trumpet, Lee’s still there on sax and now me and Mike have started playing horns too. With a bit of luck, there’ll soon be a four-piece horn section in Madness. There is talk of an extra percussionist and maybe some girl back-up singers. That would be really exciting.
CARL (speaking in 1981): When we’re recording we’ve got to stop Barso going over the top – he’s got so many tunes and melodies running through his head and he tries to get them all in.
CLIVE LANGER: Bedders and Woody were great to work with because they didn’t interfere with the finished product.
MIKE: I often underestimated what Clive did. He often forced me to alter and improve things I hadn’t got round to sorting out on my own.
JUNE: Telex from Nassau
In response to allegations of racism that continue to dog the band, the following message is read out by Joan Bakewell on the BBC Top Ten: ‘Madness do not support any political group which has racist politics. The career of Madness has been inspired by many people. Their first hit, The Prince, was dedicated to a Jamaican. So consequently it’s very upsetting that it could be assumed by anybody that Madness could support any racist group.’
BEDDERS: The second week in Nassau brought along The Royal Wedding. We had to stay up and watch it at 4am and it made us feel a little bit homesick. Suggs and Lee had brought underwater masks and were turning into Captain Nemos, bringing back coral and starfish from the sea. We were cooking our own food so we made frequent trips to the supermarket and Chas would make us his famous tuna fish salad.
LEE: Clive Langer got me to do overdubs and harmonies which I don’t really like because you don’t get the real true sound of the saxophone. I like to keep things basic, even if it means that I’m out of tune. I don’t like tarting things up. I prefer a Sixties’ reggae feel, more straightforward.
BEDDERS: By the end of the second week me and Woody had finished recording, so it was our turn for the suntan – or sunburn if you stayed out too long. Days drifted into days and keeping track of time was very hard. Everyone looked very tanned and the album rolled on. The last week was spent getting ready to go home, the staple diet of sun and surf was wearing thin and everyone was pining for London. We thought that we’d never get home, what with the American air traffic controllers’ strike and Hurricane Dennis, which threatened to flatten the island. But the day came when it was time to pack our bags and as usual it was one mad Madness rush. We only just made the plane with suitcases flying everywhere. The long flight gave us time to think about the work completed and work commencing.
CHRIS: I remember Alan Winstanley and I brought the album tapes back through customs. I couldn’t help laughing at the sticker: ‘These tapes have absolutely no commercial value.’
CARL: In the end, we found we didn’t feel good doing it abroad.
JULY 7: Appear on Razzamatazz
The band perform Grey Day and Shut Up on the ITV kids’ show, in front of an audience of suitably attired young nutty boys (and girls).
JULY 28: Appear on Razzamatazz
Recorded during their previous appearance, the band are shown playing new album track, When Dawn Arrives. A young Carl lookalike, complete with tartan suit and dance moves, replaces the real thing for this performance.
SEPTEMBER: Honda advert
Madness tape the Honda ad for which they recorded In The City during the Japanese leg of the tour. With the song released as a Japan-only single, they make a TV appearance to promote it dressed in kilts, which remains the case while promotional activities for the next week last. The single becomes a huge hit from which both Madness and Honda will benefit. The B-side is Shut Up.
CHRIS: They had a sort of basic idea of what we were about from watching our videos, so they got us doing the Nutty Train etc.
SEPTEMBER 11: Shut Up/A Town With No Name released
The single (BUY 126) eventually reaches UK No7.
CHRIS: Many people say, ‘Why Shut Up when ‘shut up’ is not in the verse or anywhere else?’ Well, when Suggs originally wrote the lyrics it was a ten-minute opus and it had the words ‘shut up’ in the chorus, These were surgically removed to give the song three-minute classic value but kept as a title for sentimental reasons. We must have played the full version live or something but we never recorded it with the extra verse as far as I know.
SUGGS: The song is about inexperienced burglars being caught and trying to waffle their way out of it. Petty crime was a vaguely glamorous thing to be involved with as a kid, then you thought of all the lives it affected and the coppers themselves, chasing after criminals. The original song went on for a few more verses; I think they were about the policeman and his family and him running around after these burglars and then at the end they both meet up in the courtroom with this copper saying, ‘Shut up’. Unfortunately these bits ended up on the rehearsal room floor.
BEDDERS: There’s an Abba influence in it definitely; that kind of ba-dum-de-dum-dum piano-led melody that keeps things moving. It’s like Waterloo or Dancing Queen, but done in Mike’s own way.
CLIVE LANGER: I remember being really involved in the writing of the chorus, and encouraging the ‘One! Two! Three!’ part. It’s just great to go to a gig and see the whole audience doing it.
CHRIS: There’s a solo section in the middle which is from another song – it’s a bit twangy, a bit Duane Eddy. I had Slade in mind. Then Clive Langer said, ‘Why don’t you write a whole song like that?’ So I did, and it became the B-side, A Town With No Name. I wrote some of it on the piano.
SUGGS: You can easily imagine Mike’s songs like Shut Up and My Girl being sung on the stage of a music hall. Imagine some old comedian croaking out the vocals, accompanied only by a pianist, and it would work perfectly.
DAVE ROBINSON: For the video, the idea was that at the start, a piano would hit the ground just a few inches away from Mike. There was, however, a slim chance the crane driver lowering it would misjudge things and flatten Barson, so we had a couple of guys standing by, ready to whisk him out of the way pronto if things went wrong.
CHRIS: The video was inspired by Fred Astaire walking on the ceiling plus Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops – it was a kitchen sink production. Because I had kids, I had to say the line, ‘I’ve got a wife and three kids you know.’ and I also wanted a guitar I’d seen in a shop that was shaped like a gun (the guitar not the shop). I asked someone to hire it but it was unavailable, so I was a bit pissed off when the ‘Super Yob’ guitar turned up instead. It had one careful previous owner, only 2,000 riffs on the clock… come on down Dave Hill of Slade. The video was later seen by Marco from Adam And The Ants and he eventually bought the guitar.
SUGGS: It’s a favourite video, if not a favourite song. The images are good like the piano dropping out of the sky, me dressed as the burglar, policemen hitting each other over the head; it’s slapstick. Without meaning to do so at the time, we were portraying Englishness a bit like the silent films – say the Keystone Cops… things that are indigenous to the time
LEE: For the shoot, we got our hands on authentic coppers’ uniforms. Now, can you imagine the fun we had out on the streets in them, truncheons and everything?
SUGGS: We had to go around in a van with half a dozen half-baked ideas and jump out at traffic lights and muck about as policemen. Robbo realised our attention span was very short, so if we weren’t enjoying it we wouldn’t do another take – we’d just jump in the van go off somewhere else. We were just laughing our bollocks off and taking the piss out of each other and having a great time.
LEE: We discovered The Clash were rehearsing in a half-derelict place right around the corner from Wessex Studios, where Clive and Alan had a studio and where Stiff had picked the location for us to run about. So we were all in these police uniforms and I particularly remember Carl bursting the door open: ‘Nobody move! It’s the police!’ I was behind him and can’t remember who else was there, but they definitely weren’t on the ground floor because I had these big clown shoes on that wouldn’t allow me to go up these steps. I think Topper fell from his drum kit and went straight into the Gents. All you could hear was the sound of doors slamming and toilets flushing.
CARL: They were gutted; they lost all their stash.
LEE: They never spoke to us for five years. It must have been good gear, eh? The fun we had.
CHRIS: I don’t know if that story is actually true – it’s a bit like one of Thommo’s tall tales. Yes, we did have policemen’s outfits on when we did the video, but we were filming all day, until about 4am, so I can’t verify it because I certainly wasn’t there. As the song itself says: ‘Pass the blame but don’t blame me.’ I’ll have to ask Suggs exactly when it happened.
BEDDERS: Right from the start, Dave had seen the potential for making videos and got behind it very quickly. Cheaply of course – they were made on such a small budget. I mean, Duran Duran were on a yacht somewhere in the Pacific; we were in a garage in Camden Town.
DAVE ROBINSON: I loved it because you just looked through the viewfinder of the camera and you knew you were going to have something that would be really good. They were so quick and had such a natural comic routine – all of them. That was the remarkable thing; they were all so similar in terms of talent and ability. Very funny, very natural, very witty. And they would do anything, which was what made the videos so exciting. Their lyrics and music lent itself to storytelling. Everything they did was kind of interesting. There was a good kind of plot to it, as well as funny bits.
SUGGS: Whether it was the records, the videos or the TV shows, everything we did was infused with the genuine fun we were having; there was no side to it.
DAVE ROBINSON: Lee was always the secretive one. He would always spend a bit of time thinking about it and doing a bit of research, and would have some obscure thing he wanted to do.
LEE: Our inspirations for the videos as well as the songs were Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, Tommy Cooper, a bit of Ian Dury, Alex Harvey, a bit of Benny Hill and Alice Cooper – anything that was interesting and intricate. I didn’t mind dressing up.
DAVE ROBINSON: The only thing was, they had a low attention span so you had to be very quick. So if you didn’t get it in the first or second take, you were done for. They’d go to the pub or disappear or someone would sell Lee a scooter out the back. Lee would always have some plan and vanish. None of them were early risers either, so I had to go to tremendous lengths to make sure they were ready for work by mid-morning. They were very loose like that. They never liked too much organisation so they fitted in very well with Stiff.
BEDDERS: Often the records and videos were two different things. The videos were often loosely related to the records, they were just fun and we bunged in every wild idea we could think of.
LEE: We were like kids in a sweet shop, doing stuff we thoroughly enjoyed. Often, the moves were made up on the spot. We’d discuss it briefly – ‘Arms go up there, then down there’ – do two rehearsals and then a take in one normally. If we hadn’t got it by the third take, we knew we weren’t gonna get it at all.
DAVE ROBINSON: The other thing was, there was always a piano on the video shoot. Mike would be playing and I’d regularly find the next single by listening to what he was doing. I’d have it in my head there and then about what the next single was going to be.
SEPTEMBER 24: Appear on Top Of The Pops with Shut Up
SEPTEMBER 27: Richard Skinner session
Madness showcase three new songs – Missing You, Sign Of The Times and Tiptoes – on the show, which is aired on October 1. Carl also plays congas on Missing You as he will do on the forthcoming live shows. The third song, Tiptoes, about a suicide attempt in dreamland, was written after the return from the Bahamas and is far from finished. The band also plan to do a cover version of Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love but are too short of time.
DALE GRIFFIN (producer): Madness were more like dullness and don’t-give-a-shitness. Maybe they just get tired of being Nutty Boys day and night? Plus they were doing just fine – they didn’t need to do any half-baked BBC sessions.
SEPTEMBER 28: TopPop, Dutch TV
Madness fly to the Low Countries for some TV appearances. In Holland they receive platinum discs for One Step Beyond and Absolutely, after which they appear on TopPop to playback Shut Up, dressed in various Scottish garb. The set features a broken TV set with an arm dangling from it.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): I think the main object of the band is just to stay the same as we are and stick to our original aims. Which is why Adam And The Ants and the New Romantic thing worries me sometimes, though I do have a lot of respect for Adam. It’s just that it’s all getting so mega-star-ish again… losing touch with reality. All I’ve got to say is – hopefully, we will never be ‘popstars’ and Madness will always be normal people.
CARL (speaking in 1981): When you’re starting out you’re the bollocks and you do it, play it, prove it to people, show them what you can do. You’ve got the buzz, there’s no one else like you. But now it’s harder, the buzz is different – you’ve done it for a couple of years.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): Word soon gets around, you know, ‘Madness aren’t as interesting as they were, they used to be nuttier and funnier.’
MIKE (speaking in 1981): I used to get right sick about it, really worry about it. I used to think, ‘We’re all washed up, we’re past it’, but I don’t really worry any more – we’ve passed that point now.
CARL (speaking in 1981): I’d be a bit upset if I didn’t manage to come out of this with something – certainly my parents would.
SEPTEMBER 29: Belgian TV
Madness playback Shut Up in a room full of stuffed animals, with the chore of being nutty 24/7 beginning to tell.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): It can be a bit of a strain trying to be mad all the time. Specially in foreign countries where they expect you to be nutty and stuff at eight in the morning.
CARL (speaking in 1981): Yeah, all these French idiots saying, ‘Now please put on your ska suits and be nutty’. To be quite honest, there are times when they demand the doo-dah and want you to act like a plum when you get to feel it’s all too oppressive. Oppressive. It’s not something that you can just turn on so it turns out that there are only two sorts of Madness show – either brilliant or just shit. The only kinds.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): Remember that photo session the other day? When we were just drained of nutty ideas for things to do? Then you get a lot of people saying it’s all just a joke. Reviews of our album that half-way apologise for liking it. We don’t actually have any point, except we can really entertain.
BEDDERS: People remember us for the whole overplayed nutty image, but we were never particularly nutty in real life. It was just an image foisted on us – we were just like everybody else.
MIKE: The only regret I have is that some people saw us as this gross cartoon band. You can appreciate why people may have thought that, but I think that’s missing the subtelty of what we did.
SUGGS: We spent so many years with people saying we were a joke. I remember in the 80s they’d be taking New Romantics seriously because they brought in a bit of Caravaggio or whatever, or they’ve spent 20 grand on a video.
OCTOBER 2: The 7 album is released
The band’s third studio album (SEEZ 39) will eventually peak at No7 in the UK charts.
TRACK-BY-TRACK: Click on song title
CARL: Before the band got a record deal I was working in a petrochemical company in Paddington – CJB in Eastbourne Terrace. Every morning I joined the rush hour tube commotion, and journeyed for an hour from Muswell Hill by bus to Highgate tube, to Paddington Station via a change from the Northern Line to the Circle line – y’know, everyone avoiding eye contact etc. One morning a guy in a suit like mine, I guess in his late 40s or early 50s, was dragged off the train with what was obviously a heart attack. He was lying on the platform while two staff members of the underground station endeavoured to give him mouth-to-mouth. I stayed watching, saying some prayers ‘til it was apparent that he was dead. Most people were just walking past him and avoiding looking at the situation. At this time in my life – I think I was 16 – I had also seen my father have a heart attack. It was only a mild one, but a heart attack nonetheless. It occurred when I was 13 and his job had taken us to Iran. It was pretty frightening for a teenager. So years later, when Chrissy Boy came up with the music, I knew that I should write a song about a heart attack victim; it seemed the right subject for the feel of the song. It’s a hard subject to cover and the moral of the story is to slow down, what’s important work or health?
CHRIS: I had loads of feedback on Shut Up, but because we had so much on our records, things would get lost. In fact, I used a sitar – that was the thing that was feeding back.
SUGGS: Touring, touring and then a bit more touring. What started out as great fun was starting to make me miss loved ones. We realised we were being wrung dry. You think you’re doing it for yourself, but all you have are your marbles scattered all over Europe and America. I felt like I’d been going mad for a year and a half. They’d say, ‘You’ve gotta go to Germany! You’ve gotta go to Sweden! You’re No1 in Sweden!’ Big bloody deal, you’ve only got to sell 10 records! So we said, ‘We’re not going 3,000 miles to promote anything.’
CARL: We found ourselves in Italy and we suddenly thought, ‘album-tour-video-album-tour-video – when’s it going to stop? We thought, we’ve got to work this out, or our brains are going to fry.
SUGGS: We were on the treadmill for three years and we didn’t realise it.
CARL: It was the rock ‘n’ roll mentality: ‘Keep the band hungry, keep them busy, don’t tell them anything, keep them doing press, put out those wacky cacky clocks with ‘maddy boys’ on!’ You’d drive through Camden Town going ‘Alright, this is our manor! Hello my cocker! Alright my son! Hello darling!’ – believing all your own press and image. We had to put our collective feet down. We didn’t fancy becoming divorced from reality – falling into that ‘rock star’ trip. It’s just not us.
LEE: I was with Mike one day and he was just really depressed. I asked him what was wrong and he spits, ‘It’s me Mum… she’s got cancer.’ The hospital had told her they were just running a few tests, they told him she had a week to live. In the end, it turns out they made a complete mistake and all she had was gallstones. Meanwhile Mike had been wandering round for weeks thinking his Mum was going to drop dead any minute.
MIKE: I wrote this as I was pretty pissed off with doctors and the National Health. It’s about doctors who always tell you that there is nothing wrong when there is. ‘Just take a couple of aspirins’ they always say. Some of them are really irresponsible . That happened to my mum. This doctor pulled me and my brother into a room and said, ‘Your mum’s not going to make it.’ Then he went to my mum, ‘Ooh, hello Mrs. Barson, it’s going to be fine,’ while he’s saying to us she’s going to kick it. It was completely wrong. She had something else in the end. Talking about death was a taboo then. I wrote the song quite a bit later, once my mum got the green light. I didn’t have a plan to write on that subject, it just came.
CARL: This was about animal testing and cutting monkeys’ brains out and all that stuff.
LEE: I’m a big lover of animals, so this was a subject close to my heart. It was all about the experimentation which ‘has’ to be done to move science and technology forward. I was very much against all that, even though I didn’t go around blowing up laboratories or anything.
CARL: I always liked the shouting and raging in it as there seemed to be a double meaning in the lyrics… not only animal testing but also being a band member on tour.
WOODY: Tomorrow’s Dream was really hard to play. In fact it was a nightmare because Mike had to teach me how to play the beat which, if you listen, is the same as Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day). If you’re left-handed you’ve got to start with your right hand, and it’s really complicated. Clive Langer said the beat was originally played by the Bay City Rollers’ Bye Bye Baby which is a bit of an interesting one. Those off-the-wall beats really did my head in and I’d absolutely dread doing some of them live again now.
SUGGS: With songs like Grey Day, we were definitely starting to change musically and lyrically. But it was ironic, cos we’d always had those elements of darkness, it just started becoming more prevalent.
WOODY: We did have a lot more depth than just the y’know, the polished turd as it were – us jumping around. We were more than just a boy band.
CARL: We stuck to our guns. We always tried to tell people that we weren’t ska. If no one had ever heard our stuff, we’d probably have been stuck with the ska tag but luckily, we’re popular so people did get a chance to listen to our records and they could see for themselves that we had lots of different influences.
LEE: It’s a rushed lyric on the old contraception trail again.
CHRIS: Lee wrote the lyrics but basically there used to be these disposable raincoats in the UK called pac-a-macs. He was using the term pac-a-mac as a euphemism for condoms, as usual.
LEE: It’s about the kind of pledges that are made at the start of a marriage and how they often go astray. It was also about the broken promises made by Margaret Thatcher when she came to power. I’m not hugely aware politically, but I was getting the horrors around that time.
SUGGS: The Opium Eaters is the sound of Nassau – it’s even got the crickets on it.
MIKE: I seem to remember it being connected to Tarzan’s Nuts. I think we had to come up an instrumental really quickly, so we took it and changed it. Once everyone starts playing it changes quite a lot anyway – that’s the wonder of music innit?
SUGGS: I learnt about songwriting through writing songs like Day On The Town. It’s about travelling around London in the summer. We were still living a normal enough life to be able to write about bunking the fare on the buses and going to the park. It’s the story of a mundane teenage day. Idle hands do the devil’s work, or so they say. Then, at the end, there’s a twist where there are riots in London. We were never political in the way that The Specials were. We could not have written Ghost Town. But we tackled the riots in a subtle way. We were aware of what was going on and reflected it on our own style. Anyway, for Day On The Town, I tried to make the vocals sound really twee, but with very depressing undertones, and I’m particularly fond of the middle eight. When I wrote the lyrics, I just wrote all about when you bunk off school and that… the emptiness, you know? The main objective of the day is to not pay the fare and anything else that happens is a bonus… you get on buses, you go to Hyde Park, the West End. It was just meant to be empty, just memories of me going round Hyde Park and Oxford Street, getting on buses, getting off buses, walking up and down, people nicking things, tourists that’s it. Memories of myself and what I used to do. Then it progressed on when I realised how many other people must do the same thing. We used to bunk off school, and go down Oxford Street where we’d spend all day wandering around doing fuck-all. I never used to really nick much – other people in the group were better at it. I was never very good at nicking – I was a bit of a coward.
I suppose that the proof that Madness have handled the precarious business of being a teeny-bopper band with a measurable degree of humor, aplomb and commitment is that they were Britain’s top selling singles act of 1980. But I’ve always found them underwhelming. There’s been a shallowness to their resolutely mindless persona, a lack of sensuality and tension in their songs, a gnawing presumptuousness to their “here we are love us” concert stance. Compared to other ska revivalists (the Beat, the Specials), their refusal to get tangled in the (inherent) roots of the genre they’d chosen stank of opportunism.Except bands do change, and 7 finds the nutty boys changing from a child’s delight to serious contenders, shelving their schoolkids-in-disgrace wackiness while developing a very real ability to write witty, insightful vignettes with catchy melodies. What great timing. People listen to Madness; they aren’t worried it’ll be another buncha armchair philosophers sprouting socialist polemics.
Musically, 7 is textured by the band’s love of ska, given flesh by rhythms that slip through other genres — rock, reggae, jazz — whilst remaining a grandchild to Prince Buster. It’s full of twisting tempos, soul blusters, derailed guitar, with a passion for care and surprises. Lee Thompson and Chas Smash ignite the trumpets and horns, giving a Goodmanish Swing feel to ‘Missing You’, skipping round the rest of the band. Mike Barson shifts from solemn melody to boogie-woogie rave-up with a minimum of fuss, or plays a quasi-classical downscale on ‘Shut Up’ followed by C.J. Foreman’s guitar. Suggsy is Suggsy, he of the crisp, penetrating accent, always professional, an able singer, better on the up-tempo numbers.
Lyrically, this is way and above their best work to date. Calling these songs “political” might give them a Clash-like “don’t start the revolution without me” connotation, so I won’t. Madness write about what they know about — working class life in the UK — and they often write about it (‘Grey Day’, ‘Cardiac Arrest’) with an eye to detail comparable only to Chris Difford. There’s also awittiness here, something usually missing from songs about serious subjects these days. Suggs takes on different parts: observer, welfare doctor, small-time hood, making the lyrics point of view through example rather than dogma. ‘Promises Promises’ finds Suggs proposing marriage: “I’ll promise you a world of making amends/and on our anniversary I’ll drive you round the bend.” ‘Shut Up’ has Suggs as a thief: “I’m as honest as the day is long/the longer the day the less I do wrong.” ‘A Day On The Town’ about London: “Seeing the tourists step in your traps/taking their money, the shirts off their backs.”
I’ve always preferred my pop with an underlining point of view, a moral backbone (call it my 60’s hangover). 7 is a triumph, it isn’t all great by any means, but when Madness are at the peak of their power, the songs have immediacy, bright intelligence, complete faith in themselves. From out of the blue they’ve become social commentators, and still fulfilled their obligations as teenyboppers and fun-filled clowns. This has come as a surprise to me, but I’m willing to change my opinion and so should you.
Madness? Politics? Important? It’s a sign of the times.
Iman Lababedi, Creem
MIKE: With 7, like our other albums, there were certain principles that we would adhere to. People like Michael Jackson would have a couple of singles at the front, then the rest would be pure tosh and unlistenable. But we would always try to do good tracks and make sure that all the songs we did, we did well.
SUGGS: We didn’t make a conscious effort to be more serious, but 7 is very natural. I’m glad it was a bit less nutty and more musical. We didn’t have the best feeling when we recorded it in Nassau; I think we were pressin’ down there, which was very strange. It started feeling very professional. That side of things was becoming more prevalent than with the previous two albums, where it was pure luck we were there at all.
CLIVE LANGER: By this time, I was thinking, ‘Blimey, I’m a record producer.’ I’d always wanted to be a record producer but I didn’t think that’s what I was; I thought I was in a band helping somebody make a record.
CHRIS: The surroundings didn’t really affect the album – it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s go to India and put some sitars down, man’.
MIKE: It’s not like,’Yeah, Palm trees. Let’s get some coconut shells sounds.’ That’s what people were saying it was going to be like but don’t think it was particularly. Maybe if we lived out there for live years an influence would show up, but we were only there for a month or so. I mean why should we say it was recorded in Nassau? It doesn’t make any difference. A studio is a studio. You don’t suddenly say, ‘I don’t want to record. I want to spend all my time on the beach.’
LEE: It’s funny, we were asked to make a very sunny, laid back album that was a bit American-ifed and a bit west coast. So they sent us out to Nassau, full of bunny girls, gambling, casinos and champagne and all that, and we came back with a very dark London album, full of grey songs like Grey Day and Opium Eaters. It just shows you can take London out of the man but you can’t take the man out of London.
SUGGS: I was satisfied with the album, but the others weren’t, and Clive and Alan became scapegoats since they were in control of the proceedings.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: It’s a good example of the period when we got too comfortable. We weren’t strict enough and should’ve said, ‘Go back and work on the songs a bit more.’ I think some of the guys maybe lounged around by the pool too much in Nassau, so when we got back to London we recorded a lot of it again.
SUGGS: After we got back to London we were thinking of trying other producers. We met Trevor Horn, whom no one got along with. It made us realise how good Clive and Alan are as communicators, apart from everything else. It brought us closer together again.
CHRIS: The album was called 7 because Carl, in his wisdom, had decreed that the number seven was pretty mystical. For the cover, we came up with a pose called The Rising Sun, which was really hard to hold in photo sessions because Mike would fall over. It also features in the video for Shut Up. By the way, The Return of The Los Palmas 7 had been our seventh single and in its seventh week it got to number… six! Well, seven actually. So maybe there was something in Carl’s theory after all.
SUGGS: When the album was about to come out we thought of going down the sidings at Golders Green station one night and painting all the tube trains there like they do in New York. But you suddenly realise that there are some things you’re never going to do any more.
OCTOBER: Personnel changes behind the scenes
An exhausted John ‘Kelloggs’ Kalinowski resigns as Madness manager. His place is take by the band’s live manager, Matthew Sztumpf. Also arriving in the Nutty camp is Suggs’s 17-year-old cousin, Hector Walker, who becomes the band’s new assistant.
KELLOGGS: I was at the end of my tether. Individually, each one of those guys was lovely. But en masse, as seven of them, it was difficult to handle. The number one and cardinal rule that they wanted and I totally agreed with was for them to be a democracy. No decision – and there were a lot of decisions to make, concerning everything – was allowed without everyone agreeing to it. I would call regular meetings to hopefully discuss a variety of issues. Inevitably, one or two people wouldn’t arrive on time. After an hour or so, the four or five that were there would get pissed off and probably go away. But we needed everyone to carry the vote so we could never really have a proper meeting. After a while, it became very wearing. I was trying to keep this democratic principle alive but nobody was really in charge. I resigned in the heat of the moment, which wasn’t an astute career move, but by that time the balance of my mind was disturbed. Looking back, it was dumb.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF: After Kelloggs quit, Lee said to me, ‘We think it might be a good idea if you manage us’, without talking to the rest of the band. Eventually, the conversation happened with everyone and I took over.
HECTOR WALKER: I joined the group after my mum phoned Suggs and said, ‘Are there any jobs going with the band?’ By lucky coincidence, there was a vacancy. I became their gofer, the runner. If they wanted a packet of fags, I’d nip out. Make sure all their drinks were onstage, the towels were ready, the dressing room was tidy. For my first week’s work with them, they were doing a production rehearsal at a theatre in Kilburn. Carl was funny, witty and charming. Lee was friendly – ‘Oh, is this the geezer you were talking about?’ Dave Robinson appeared, a bit abrupt and abrasive with a pencil behind his ear, his pointy shoes and tight jeans, barking orders at people. For my first task, I was volunteered to make tea for everybody and I managed to unplug Mike’s equipment to plug the kettle in. That was when I first encountered Mike: ‘Who’s turned my piano off?’ It was terribly embarrassing.
MATTHEW SZTUMPF: I soon realised that Mike was the musical brains behind it – the engine room. Lee was always a wheeler-dealer. He was also the court jester and Chrissy Boy came up with the gags: they were a little team, the pranksters. Woody went along with the flow. Mark was the quiet, artistic one. Carl’s role had already increased. He was always a handful, in your face. He had a million ideas and wanted you to act on them all at once. Suggs and Mike were the two driving forces. The difference was with Mike, everything was black and white, whereas you could persuade Suggs that, for business reasons, this might be a better thing to do than that. Mike was certainly the most difficult. Probably and quite rightly, he thought everyone was in it for their own personal gain and he wouldn’t necessarily believe Dave Robinson at face value. He’d think there was some ulterior motive.
HECTOR WALKER: Matthew always was kind, supportive and helpful. And he was always up for a good night’s razzling which was always welcome as the work – touring, making videos, TV shows and running the fan club – was fairly relentless in those days.
OCTOBER 3: Issue No3 of the Nutty Boys comic is released
OCTOBER 8: Appear on Top Of The Pops with Shut Up
The band playback Shut Up dressed in the same clothes as on the 7 album sleeve and accompanied by dancing policewomen.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): We try not to take ourselves too seriously, I don’t know – maybe that’s the problem. If you don’t take yourself seriously people underestimate you, even though you might have a lot to say. People think ‘Oh here they come, a load of idiots,’ and we play right into their hands. We never control ourselves, we just piddle around amusing ourselves but ultimately doing nothing constructive. We can’t help fooling around, I mean there are times when we don’t need to be stupid… we just are!
DAVE ROBINSON: Madness are probably the least inclined towards superstardom of any band I’ve worked with. Their attitude hasn’t changed particularly from when they had nothing to now, when they’ve got a bit of money and fame. I find that pretty unusual.
BEDDERS: The fame never really affected or hindered me; I was very good at hiding in plain sight so I could just get on with things like I always did.
WOODY: We always used to quote Andy Warhol: ‘15 minutes of fame.’ For us, we thought it was going to be five minutes. That’s good, because every hit single we ever had was a bonus, every album that did all right was a bonus, every gig was a bonus.
SUGGS: Each time we had a hit we thought, ‘Well if that’s it, that’s it. We’ve had a great run.’ I never felt like a pop star, either then or now.
CARL: We were in a constant state of shock and surprise that these singles we kept writing kept selling. It was a constant surprise that people turned up.
DAVE ROBINSON: A very broad spectrum of people liked them for all kinds of reasons. You had young kids who loved the dances, older people liked some of the music hall elements… their music encapsulated a lot of English music.
SUGGS: Success is a big thing to deal with, especially if you come from a lowly background. When it happens that meteorically, it is a strange process to be in and I briefly fought it. We were on tour 10 months of the year and in the studio for the other two and I just wondered where my friends and my life had gone. I thought I might want to pack it up and went through bits of thinking, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ I can remember saying to the record company, ‘I don’t want any more money.’ Can you imagine that? What an idiot!
OCTOBER 8: St George’s Hall, Bradford
Madness’ Autumn UK tour – The Seven Tour – begins, supported by The Belle Stars. Initially 33 shows are planned for Madness’s longest-ever domestic tour, which uses a portable marquee, but due to ticket demand three extra dates are added in London. Apart from 7, the tour promotes Take It Or Leave It, which has had a Press-only premiere two weeks earlier. The Belle Stars – made up of ex-members of The Bodysnatchers – are later signed to Stiff. Mike arrives in Bradford with a plastered foot due to injuries the night before. The Opium Eaters is used as the PA track for all shows, which opens tonight with Embarrassment. It Must Be Love features in the encore and proves a successful addition. The Belle Stars’ lead singer, Jenny Matthias, will go on to be Chris’s girlfriend for seven years.
LEE: This first gig of the tour was nothing unusual, unless you hadn’t seen us before. It was bit on the loose side, but that was expected. Chrissy Boy stormed off because his guitar was out of tune throughout, which in my case was nothing new.
JENNY MATTIAS (Belle Stars singer):Dave Robinson was looking for a female act that might possibly be a bit like Madness. We were seen as the female equivalent because the other girls were originally from The Bodysnatchers, we were on the same Stiff label and we were seven women – but that’s where it stopped. Touring with them was yet another memorable experience, they were loads of fun and it was easy for us all because we were both from the same area and on the same label.
BEDDERS: We knew them very well, they lived around the same area and some of us were dating them at the time. Miranda Joyce, who I went out with for quite a long while, actually went to the school over the road from me and I knew her and her brothers. So it didn’t feel like a Stiff thing, as such. It was another local band with us and we went out on the road.
JENNY MATTIAS: It was easy being on tour with them and it was fun times for us. The gigs were large and the audiences really lovely. Madness were such a laugh and really lovely. Most of them were approachable gentlemen and just normal away from the camera.
OCTOBER 9: Playhouse, Edinburgh
Dressed in kilts, part of the stage show sees a massive polystyrene caber thrown in to the audience during the encore. Chris, Lee and Mark have brought a video camera and plan to make a documentary on Edinburgh. It Must Be Love is dedicated to The Specials, who have just announced their split after Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple decide to go full time with Fun Boy Three.
As ever, Madness touch the truth too much to be just a perpetual laugh. They are clowns of subversion, setting out a sitcom we are all in.
Bob Flynn, Record Mirror
LEE: Edinburgh was the best gig we’d done in ages. Everyone was on form and the audiences were with us all the way we tossed the caber and putted the shot. A lot of us crept away the next night in some club but I went home early because I was shattered after the gig.
JENNY MATTHIAS: I remember being late for the gig and only just making it. The Bellies were furious and Suggs dedicated a song for me – Disappear. Cheeky old devil!
OCTOBER 10: Apollo, Glasgow
Madness opened their new British tour in Scotch mist (well a smoke machine) and charmed the 90 per cent full Apollo into its full frenzy. Most of the new songs were there, and many of the old ones too. Apart from a mysterious preoccupation with monkeys in Suggsy’s between-numbers chit-chat it was a good straightforward gig – good music, good reaction. Most of the audience were 12-year-olds and their dads. A slick performance from lighting and sound effects crew made sure that even if it wasn’t the most inspired gig they’ll ever do on the tour, it’ll stick in our memory as one that went smoothly and well.
Elly Sale, Melody Maker
OCTOBER 11: Capitol, Aberdeen
An inspired show for a hot-blooded crowd. After the show, the coach turns out to have been burgled, with the video camera taken, containing footage of Edinburgh.
LEE: The first eight rows of seats were demolished because of the bopping about. Couldn’t toss the caber though as we lost the urge. When we got back to the coach we found it had been broken into with our tour suits, Chris’s tape recorder and that nicked, and a leather jacket of mine.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): The reality of it all… the getting up early, the ten-hour drives, the dodgy equipment that you hire and have to get on time, having a sore throat and having to suck throat lozenges while you’re singing, how to write an album in two months. When we got back from the last tour, for example, Lee got his place screwed over and we had to go for a photo session, he just wanted to stay at home and sort out his place. We’re people, just like everyone else… and we’ve got as much going on. Like you’re thinking about your mum and dad, and your girlfriend, and your home, mortgages, taxes, bills, albums. There’s a lot that goes on and it’s hard to put it in order sometimes. But we try and stay happy and we’re really real. Anyone who thinks this is all to make money or just a false front to get into pockets – this is just how we are. When we go to Top of the Pops or whatever we don’t want to arrive in a limo and stand round and be bored. We have a laugh. We don’t have any embarrassment about doing stupid things.
OCTOBER 12: Caird Hall, Dundee
The weather is bitterly cold but the reception is warm. Chris lifts his kilt to reveal a pair of Lonsdale boxer shorts.
OCTOBER 13: City Hall, Sheffield
The venue’s house rules prevent Madness using the marquee and after-show effects. Bad acoustics also contribute to the negative vibes. Dave Robinson is watching and afterwards he persuades them to record It Must Be Love as the next single, betting his Stiff directorship that it’ll be a Top 5 hit.
LEE: Mike originally came up with the idea of covering It Must Be Love.
MIKE: It was a really good live number, so I thought it would be good to record it – I knew it would suit Suggs’s voice.
WOODY: Mike came in and said, ‘I really think this would be a good song to do.’ He seemed to think a lot of the band members knew it, which they did, but I’d never heard it in my life.
SUGGS: He said he’d heard the Labi Siffre version on the radio so we spent some time trying to learn it.
LEE: We had a go and it worked well in rehearsals, so Robbo said, ‘You’ve got to do it; it has to be a single.’
DAVE ROBINSON: Mike had come up with in rehearsals and they’d played it a bit, and then they did it as an encore at a couple of gigs. I went up to the gig in Sheffield and heard it and thought, ‘What’s this? It’s fantastic – it’s a smash record.’
SUGGS: At first we couldn’t quite believe it was for us, as we were so sarcastic, but it ended up with a Madness vibe.
DAVE ROBINSON: Because it wasn’t by a ska artist, they hadn’t really considered doing it. It took a slightly different type of argument to convince them it would be a good idea.
WOODY: I’m glad I hadn’t heard the original when we played it as it might have influenced me and I might have changed my style. As it was, I played it with a completely open mind and it became one of ‘ours’.
BEDDERS: Originally we were going to record it for a Richard Skinner Show session but we didn’t have time to work it out. So we decided to play the song on the British tour and it became a firm favourite.
LEE: Some of the boys were against doing it because it was someone else’s song but Robbo said, ‘Look, if it doesn’t go to Number One you can have me record company.’ So we shook on it. And we’re still waiting.
SUGGS: There’s a debate about whether he said, if it doesn’t get to number one, I’ll give you Stiff Records, or whether he said, if it doesn’t get in the top five.
DAVE ROBINSON: The truth is that I said to Mike, ‘We must record it – it’s a potential Top 5 song.’ And, of course, he said, ‘Well, we’re just taking your word for that aren’t we? What happens if we record something we don’t like and put it out as a single, just on your say-so? I don’t think it’s gonna be Top 5 at all.’ So I said, ‘Well, if it’s not Top 5, you can have Stiff.’ And he said, ‘Right. It’s a firm bet. We’ll shake hands on it.’ And of course it got to No4.
OCTOBER 14: Take It Or Leave It premiere
The Gate Cinema in Camden is a fitting setting for the premiere of the band’s autobiographical full-length film.
MIKE: I think it is maybe a bit short on entertainment. But I liked it, even though I was in it. It was promoted the wrong way, so it didn’t do very well: at the moment it seems we just made it for our personal video machines.
DAVE ROBINSON: There wasn’t any real film industry muscle behind it. A couple of distributors showed an interest but they got cold feet. Consequently not many people got to see it and it didn’t exactly make its way into multiplexes all over the country.
WOODY: It could have been made more commercial – I think the concept worked fine for us, I just don’t know if it was the best idea.
DAVE ROBINSON: It would have been nice to have had a chance to let the buzz grow by rolling it out gradually, attracting word of mouth. It could have ended up as being one of those midnight movie things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where it’s on in the same cinemas in the wee small hours of a weekend for months at a time. I think the film and the band deserved something like that.
LEE: I haven’t seen the film in years but I remember it being ‘straight up’; it nestles somewhere between Spinal Tap and the Clash’s Rude Boy.
SUGGS: The only regret I have is that you’ve got the Madness compilation video and you’ve got that film and it should have been a mixture of both really. There was none of the humor and the kind of theatrical elements we like in the film. We shot it straight and then we were going to have foam rubber streets with the lamp-posts bending, like when you’re drunk. But it never really happened.
MIKE: The only thing I sort of regretted was that that it was done on such a budget that Robbo was directing it, producing it and washing up the tea cups afterwards. Usually on films you do three or four takes, but we’d do one and that was it and we’d be packing the cameras up straight away. I felt like Robbo was so focused on trying to get it to work on a very basic level that he didn’t spend a lot of time on getting a bit of a good vibe. We didn’t get a lot of time or help – it was all a bit rough. I thought it was a bit of a shame because what’s good about Madness is you get a nice feeling and repertoire between people that didn’t really come through. Plus it was quite hard work – I wasn’t used to getting up so early.
DAVE ROBINSON: The fact we had such a short time to shoot it and no one had much opportunity to over-think what we were doing was the essence of its naturalism. Looking back, it was a bit long, but it was our first attempt to do a movie. If I was to make a director’s cut today I might take 20 minutes out of it, just so some scenes are a little tighter, but other than that it’s a faithful telling of the band’s story.
MIKE: If anything, I felt it was too factual; most of the stuff in it you could have read on a Stiff handout. I would have preferred it to have captured more of the actual atmosphere. It wasn’t about who met who on what day and where. Plus everyone was a bit tense and nervous, and it didn’t look like anyone particularly enjoyed themselves. None of the characters were particularly developed, so it was all a bit shallow. For example, there’s one bit where we’re all sitting in the car and we’re supposed to be driving along from a practice, and John Hasler’s just been sacked, and Chris says, ‘What are we gonna do now? We don’t have a drummer.’ And Bedders says, ‘I know a drummer. I’ll bring him around next week.’ And that was it – we just explained it in one quick line.
CHRIS: The only saving grace was that it was all done at exactly the right time – just enough for us to be enthusiastic. If we’d waited another couple of years, we’d never have got it done.
OCTOBER 15: Colston Hall, Bristol
Upon their arrival, Madness are welcomed by a group of skinheads, who Lee sneaks into the venue. The show gets positive reviews in the international music press.
Out of all the spectators, only an approximate 200 are older than 15, It’s Madness the kids want, and Madness only, judging by the chants that greet The Belle Stars’ otherwise impressive set. As precise as a Swiss watch, Madness play their way through all three albums with songs off 7 getting the same response as crowd-pleasers Baggy Trousers, Night Boat To Cairo and My Girl. The tight harmonies and pure slapstick tunes create a further diversion from the quite loose phrase ‘ska band’. Madness are a fun-loving pop group who know how to have a good time. And this certainly doesn’t bypass the kids when they leave the Madness party after braving three encores.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): It gets harder to write songs. I used to write a song about anything that came into my mind. Now I feel I should be aiming in some direction. I feel the lyrics should be subtler or more socially aware Of course, the reason I’m in the group is because I really enjoy it and I make money at it and it’s what I want to do. But I do feel more socially aware, I read a newspaper now the Daily Express and am more affected by what happens in the world I’m writing songs about, nuclear disarmament. The trouble is, the more you know, the more difficult it is. And the more confused you get.
OCTOBER 16: Gloucester Leisure Centre
OCTOBER 17: Afon Lido, Port Talbot, Wales
CARL (speaking in 1981): When we started I’d call meself Chas and wear the shades and hat because I was after the attention Suggs was getting. But now I get all the attention and I don’t particularly want it. The nuttiness is done for meself as much as anything. Money matters to me now. I never could understand all these people saying they were never in it for the money. What’s that all about? We’re working right?
OCTOBER 18: Tiffany's, Leeds
OCTOBER 19: Chippenham Goldiggers
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): Being in a group or having money doesn’t change you really – I’m excited by pretty much the same things as anyone else. The most exciting thing is looking at the charts, the competition with other groups. Not particularly the fact that you’re making more money but the fact that you’re doing better than other people. And love I find exciting. It’s something I’ve only experienced in the last year. I’d never found it before. You’re lucky if you get it once. That I find very exciting.
OCTOBER 20: Apollo, Manchester
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): We all do much the same things as we did before we had money. We try hard to be as normal as possible as people, we try not to get pompous about it, we are the same as everyone else, nothing special.
CARL (speaking in 1981): We’re mates, we’ve all got our pet names for each other, if it’s anyone’s birthday he gets the bumps onstage, that kind of thing. There’s a strength there. We’re on the tour bus a lot of the time but we go out if we’re in the mood. When you first start the tour there’s excessive beano, you’re out all night for three or four nights, but then it starts getting a bit much and you slow down a bit. You’ve got to remember that you’ve got to do the show first and you can’t be ill and you can’t bunk off.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): There’s absolutely no reason for us to want to do other things, no reason for us to want to do anything else apart from work with this band. If we keep ourselves interested, then we’ll keep people interested in us.
OCTOBER 21: Preston Guildhall
OCTOBER 22: Royal Court, Liverpool
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): Some nights you’re up there in yer silly suit and going nutty and the crowd just stare and you think, ‘Fuucckk mee’.
CARL (speaking in 1981): The worst is when the crowd is a bunch of plugs. I’ll look up to Suggs half way through and go, ‘We’re half-way there, we’re half-way through’.
OCTOBER 23: Nottingham University
Madness take to the stage – but not everyone is ready. Despite the hiccup, they play a truly inspired show.
LEE: Nottingham was good. The tape music faded, the lights on the stage were on, the curtains opened, the smog filled the bowl-like stage… looked good… just one thing: there were only four or five members of the band on stage ready. So we waited, had a cup of tea, and waited. The students loved it – a bit of chaos. Great gig though.
OCTOBER 24: Spa Pavilion, Bridlington
A brawl erupts at an otherwise good show. The next day Madness travel to Durham to start recording It Must Be Love.
LEE: This was a show to remember. The audience were in good trim and the band were also in top mood. Into Embarrassment, the crowd surged forward, straight into Sign Of The Times. The joint’s now rockin’, the walls were moving, then comes Close Escape and a little show of its own (as Carl puts it) starts down the front. We put a spotlight on them and the ringleader was sifted out by bouncers, dancing all the way to the exits. Bit of a shame.
OCTOBER 25: It Must Be Love recording starts
Backing tracks for the upcoming single are laid down at a small recording studio outside Bridlington. The finishing touches will be added a couple of weeks later in London.
BEDDERS: On a very cold Sunday, the Madness Touring Party, fresh from a gig in Bridlington, pulled up outside a very small terraced house in the back streets of Durham. We met Clive Langer and Alan Winstantly standing outside and expecting the unexpected we ventured in. We found a tiny living room with some microphones scattered around the floor… my God! It was a recording studio!
SUGGS: Robbo was so eager to release the song that he’d booked us into a studio mid-tour to record it.
BEDDERS: Nine hours later the backing tracks were finished. Clive sorted the pizzicato strings and Woody and I did most of the arrangement, working out the whole song between us to give it some dynamics and shape. Our style was so well developed by then that it just fell into place.
SUGGS: We finished the rest of it off in London later.
CLIVE LANGER: We had the strings play pizzicato, ‘plink, plink, plink’ which at that time required real musicians. It was quite an experiment and you took a lot of responsibility because you had to pay the bill. Now you can just use a sample.
ALAN WINSTANLEY: A few years later Trevor Horn told me that he nicked the pizzicato strings idea from us for the first ABC record – that was quite flattering really.
WOODY: It’s a great little song, but the original was a little too wishy-washy for my liking. No disrespect to Labi Siffre, it’s a fantastic song, but if you listen to our version and then his, they’re worlds apart. His is very light and skippy – we gave it a bit more weight. When I listened to the production years later I thought, ‘Wow. Did we really sound that good?’ It was stunning stuff for its time.
OCTOBER 26: City Hall, Newcastle
CARL (speaking in 1981): We’ve been boozing and clubbing for three years solid, but now we’ve all stopped. We thought we were pretty close as a band but we discovered we weren’t really.
OCTOBER 27: Granby Hall, Leicester
OCTOBER 28: Gaumont, Ipswich
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): All the people in the group are completely different. Me and Carl tend to be together a lot… Chris and Lee… Bedders and Woody. Mike is a bit of a loner, but he’s really friendly and easy to get on with. But there are changing factions all the time. Yet there definitely is something that gels between everyone. Suddenly everyone comes together and it really becomes… Madness.
OCTOBER 29: Pavilion, West Runton
OCTOBER 30: University of East Anglia, Norwich
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): I think a lot of the gigs in England you go along and get told, ‘The world is going to blow up, this is serious’. People earn money to go out and enjoy themselves and come out laughing… I don’t think it has to be miserable all the time, it can be fun too.
NOVEMBER 1: St Austell Coliseum, Cornwall
Barbara and Vicky, the sole staff writers of The Nutty Boys fanzine, visit Madness at the soundcheck to discuss the flexidisc that will accompany the Xmas issue. After the soundcheck the band record Carols On 45 for the disc, which will become a much sought after collectors’ item. Barbara and Vicky stay with the tour until Portsmouth.
DAVE ROBINSON (speaking in 1981): Right now, television is moving so quickly that it is going to burn out a lot of groups very quickly. There is a massive audience of people under 20 years of age who buy records because of what they see on the television. The papers and the live work still have an effect but television makes the biggest impact. Take Adam And The Ants. When Antmusic came out, it looked fantastic on television. But now the Ants have just put out their third single, they just look the same on the box and I don’t think the kids will be quite as keen this time. You have to adapt, and I think that is what Madness have done.
NOVEMBER 2: Gaumont, Southampton
NOVEMBER 3: Gaumont, Southampton
CARL (speaking in 1981): I don’t want to waste my time, ever, so I’m learning to trumpet and sax. Christ knows we get enough time out on the road to learn. You’ve got to be constructive. I should be good enough to play onstage in about eight months.
NOVEMBER 4: Conference Centre, Brighton
NOVEMBER 5: Guildhall, Portsmouth
NOVEMBER 7: Oxford Polytechnic
The band are joined by Humphrey Ocean, former bass player with Kilburn And the High Roads and now a painter. Their song together later appears on Madness Live.
SUGGS (speaking in 1981): The group’s playing often is really out of time, and there are loads of notes missed. Also, in my singing I never get a smooth tone. All that’s probably part of our popularity: if everything was really slick, it would be a lot less easy to identify with. When things are a bit dodgy-sounding you can imagine people recording and writing them.
NOVEMBER 8: Pavilion, Hemel Hempstead
NOVEMBER 9: Friars, Aylesbury
In the afternoon Suggs and Carl travel to Streatly to record vocals and bass for It Must Be Love. Madness play a total of five songs during that night’s encore. Carl tells the Nutty Boys ‘zine, ‘We might come back next year’ but they never do. After listening to a recording of the studio take of It Must Be Love, Mike persuades and then joins Carl and Lee to add some extra brass.
CARL: I just loved to perform and get out on that stage. We were a bunch of mates who loved to play our songs and give the audience what they want to hear. We didn’t dress it up.
NOVEMBER 10 : Bingley Hall, Birmingham
NOVEMBER 11: Arts Centre, Poole
PAUL CONROY (Stiff general manager): There was rivalry within the band in terms of who was going to come up with the next single. Dave would be like, ‘Come on, where’s the next one?’ He would break them up and make sure they went off and wrote. The greed of writing kept them going. You’d say to Barson, ‘You’ve only got two tracks on this next album, you better write another’. They all realised that if they were the writers, they were going to make more money.
NOVEMBER 13: Winter Gardens, Malvern
NOVEMBER 15: Pavilion, Bath
DAVE ROBINSON: Madness were phenomenal. They could be difficult but they were charming and enthusiastic and motivated. There were a few glitches from time to time but nothing compared to other artists. Artists can be difficult because they have other people in their ear telling them they are better than they are or the record company’s not doing as much work as it should. People get attached to celebrity. I’d certainly rate them in the Top 5. They were a pleasure to work with. I can’t say that about everybody.
NOVEMBER 16, 17 & 18: Dominion Theatre, London
For the first time, Madness play four single homecoming shows in a row in front of sellout crowds of 2,500 fans. For the finale, Carl wears a soldier’s uniform with a CND badge on the helmet – but his image and antics are ridiculed in NME.
NOVEMBER 19: Hammersmith Palais
Because the Dominion can’t be booked for four nights, the closing show takes place at the more intimate Palais. Neo-Nazis attempt to spoil the evening with chants of ‘Seig Heil’. A Record Mirror review attacks the Belle Stars while suggesting that Madness are tolerating Nazism because they ignore the chants.
HECTOR WALKER: The skinhead thing was still there and it was scary. They appeared mostly in the provincial towns and cities; you’d get factions from surrounding towns and villages and the gig was a centralised point for those local rivalries to be played out. If groups of skinheads were fighting, the band couldn’t carry on because the majority of the crowd were younger fans there for the music. So they’d stop if a fight erupted, get the spotlight put on the people in the middle of the fight and have them ushered out.
CARL: It’s really obvious that wasn’t what we were into. We weren’t an Oi! band, we were happy, it was up, we were kids enjoying ourselves. We were naive and just thought, ‘Wow, loads of people!’ Not thinking, ‘Wow, there’s loads of right-wing skinheads.’ But when it was pointed out to us that ‘you sanctioned this sort of behaviour, these kind of people,’ we had to draw the line and say, ‘no we’re not’. But how could we differentiate between a good guy and a bad guy? It’s not really our job, we’re a band. So we did become aware of it. And that’s the thing with right-wing organisations, they latch on. If there had been a couple of black people in our band, then maybe they wouldn’t have. They couldn’t latch onto The Specials, but they could latch onto us, cause we were white.
SUGGS: All the shit we got from that was our own immaturity, not really understanding. It’s just growing up that’s made me aware. 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. 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.
CARL: We used to have kids coming up to us with the National Front magazine to autograph that week, assuming we were saying we weren’t, but we were really. There were all these rumours that we funded by right-wing organizations. And it created a load of friggin’ trouble. We weren’t, we really weren’t. We thought if we didn’t comment, then we thought people would understand and go away. We thought, ‘Why assume we’re fascists? Why?’ It was a difficult time, but when you’re young, you’re young. And then the audience changed and it was all over the place – all kinds of people.
NOVEMBER 27: Rainbow, London
Madness play a free festival staged by the Jobs For Youth campaign, which aims at encouraging adolescents to find a job rather than forcing them to do so. Line-up (first day): Chris Thompson & The Islands, Clint Eastwood & General Saint, Madness.
CHRIS: We’ve met some kids on tour who’d left school a year and a half ago and they’ve been on the dole ever since, and they thought it was really normal.
SUGGS: It’s more the norm now – nearly everybody has some experience of having no work. Most of the people I know are like that.
NOVEMBER 29: The Markethalle, Hamburg, Germany
Madness travel to Germany to play a few shows. The concert in Hamburg in front of a sellout crowd of 400 people will be taped for the acclaimed rock programme Rockpalast and takes place at the intimate Markthalle. The Opium Eaters, an instrumental track off 7 is played over the PA, which remains the case till summer 1982. ‘Guten abend and hello,’ Suggs greets the crowd before kicking off with a rapid version of Embarrassment. Throughout the show he makes various unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the nailed-down crowd while his shoelaces keep coming undone. My Girl is played in a slowed-down arrangement with the opening verse only performed on piano before the others come in. This remains till the 1984 shows. Carl is well in shape during the speech that introduces Take it or Leave It and in Shut Up he counts in German. His shouts in Tomorrow’s Dream serve as reminders of the hell that animals, held captive for vivisection, are going through. ‘This is another song for any of you who is romantically inclined,’ Suggs introduces Missing You. ‘I play trombone in this one,’ Carl quips when he takes his place behind the congas. ‘I don’t,’ the towel-snatching singer responds. Some fans at the front finally get off their feet when the band play Madness and clamour for more after Grey Day closes the main set. Carl introduces It Must be Love in his clumsiest German as he dedicates it to everyone, setting the trend for future versions. For One Step Beyond, he jumps off stage to let those at the front shout along. Only one girl resists and pulls her dirtiest face. ‘See you all, take care of yourselves. Goodnight.’ Various credits are made for international exposure, while the whole show is aired on WDR TV on February 6 1982.
Embarrassment / Sign of The Times / Close Escape / A Day on The Town / Bed & Breakfast Man / Disappear / Pac-a-Mac / When Dawn Arrives / My Girl / Cardiac Arrest / Promises Promises / Take it or Leave it / Shut Up / Tomorrow’s Dream / Mrs. Hutchinson / Baggy Trousers / Missing You / Madness / Grey Day / ENCORE 1: Rockin’ in Ab / It Must be Love / ENCORE 2: The Prince / One Step Beyond
DECEMBER 1: Issue 4 of the Nutty Boys Comic is released
DECEMBER 5: It Must Be Love/Shadow On The House released
After receiving a rapturous reception on the recent tour, this slowed-down cover version of Labi Siffre’s 1971 original (BUY 134) will eventually reach No4.
WOODY: It’s still my favourite Madness song because of what it does to people – it transcends a lot of things. It’s the one song that always gets everyone going and that will melt even the biggest hardest skinhead into a puddle. I mean, when you see big old fat skinheads saying ‘I love you’ and half-crying, hugging people… that’s worthwhile. There’s a lot of love in the room when that song is being done; it just kinda dissipates all the aggression. It’s always pathetic but lovely really.
SUGGS: Even though we didn’t even write it, it’s turned out to be a bit of a theme song and a snapshot of people’s lives. I have very distinct memories of playing in London and seeing huge, quite intimidating blokes with tears in their eyes mouthing it word for word. It is such a simple sentiment and yet so often the best pop music is. It’s so simple, really, so stupid. But if it was that stupid, it wouldn’t work. I see big fat blokes in T-shirts that don’t come down to their belly buttons, crying, with their kids on their shoulders. That’s what matters. It’s a pretty naive view of things, but when you get a bit older like me, you do realise that love is indeed the best, and that’s what the song says, and people really love it. It’s been played at weddings, funerals, birthday parties. Especially when we play live, it might be the first record they met their girlfriend to, so it has memories people and it always goes down really well. To see bald, fat 50-year-old skinheads crying with their kids… there’s something charming about it.
LEE: I came up with the idea of a funeral setting for the video. Whenever there was a black comedy movie on at your independent cinema, I was along to see it; Arsenic And Old Lace, Entertaining Mr Sloane and The Anniversary – films like that. Maybe that’s why.
BEDDERS: The video also saw an appearance from Labi Siffre himself, who gave his blessing on our version, and was heard to say he’d like to do one of our songs. Oh, and Lee played the bee and Woody played the bird.
LEE: That was the final straw altogether. Dave Robinson was wandering around giving people costumes, and I was just thinking, ‘What am I in for now?’ Then he says, ‘And you’re the bumble bee Lee’. I just thought, ‘Right, that’s it! This is the last time I’m getting suckered as the idiot’. Of course the video was great – it was the business – but Christ, a bumble bee?
CHRIS: Originally, I wasn’t going to play guitar in the swimming pool. Lee wanted to be underwater, so he tried jumping in this pond, but it didn’t look very good. So we went to this hotel and I was just going to stand on the side while he went under. Then I thought, ‘I’ll go in with him.’ The only problem was, the guitar kept pulling me up as it was wooden, so I put two lead diving weights in my back pockets – but they nearly dragged me under. It was touch-and-go whether I’d get out – I thought I was gonna die.
NIGEL DICK (Stiff press officer): When the guitar came back from the shoot there was still water inside. We were horrified because we’d rented it.
CHRIS: Dave Robinson desperately tried to dry it with a hair dryer but the neck was really bent – it was ruined. We sent it back but the rental house said, ‘The neck’s like a banana’, so Stiff had to buy it. It subsequently appeared in a lot of Stiff videos with other acts and also on Top of The Pops
NIGEL DICK: It lingered in a cupboard for months if not years. I eventually plucked up the courage to ask if I could use it and was told I could keep it.
LEE: In the end, the video was one of my favourites because of the basic storyline and the simpleness of ideas coming over strong on film.
CARL: I like Lee in the grave scene. And I like myself running in front of hearse, which I thought was quite funny.
SUGGS: The image that sticks in the mind is when we’re all dressed in black in the white studio.
CHRIS: We’d got some black turtle neck jumpers to go on the Little & Large Show, and I thought they were quite good, so we wore them for the video too. It’s what you call ‘styling’ these days, which costs a fortune.
DECEMBER 8: TopPop
For the third time in a year, Madness appear on the Dutch TV show. They play back Mrs Hutchinson, which is accidentally released as a Holland-only single.
DECEMBER 10: Top Of The Pops
Before showing the video for Must Be Love, presenter Jimmy Savile warns kids not to copy Chris and play the electric guitar underwater.
CHRIS: They said, ‘This is dangerous.’ As if some kid is going to buy an electric guitar, plug it in and jump in his bath. On the same show, Shakin’ Stevens is singing This Ole House and jumps off a flipping roof! Now I ask you, what’s a kid more likely to do?
DECEMBER: Solid Gold, UK TV
The band playback It Must Be Love as the single continues to climb the UK charts.
DECEMBER 22: Suggs marries Bette Bright
Suggs weds the Deaf School singer at St Luke’s Church. Bette – who is seven years his senior – will revert to her original name, Anne Martin, after retiring from music. The reception is held in Highgate. Best man Carl joins the couple for an unaccompanied version of See You Later Alligator, the song Suggs sang when he auditioned for The Invaders.
SUGGS: We got married at St Luke’s Church in Kentish Town, north London. It was such a great day, with all our friends and the rest of the band there – Anne had the idea to have an Anna Karenina theme, hence the outfits. My suit was hired from Moss Bros but Anne had friends who worked at Saint Martins College of Fashion, so they helped make some of the clothes. It had snowed the night before, so that was just perfect and we had the whitest of weddings. The only problem was discovering on the morning of the wedding that I had holes in my shoes. I had to swap with my best man, Andrew, but his were a bit too small for me, so if I look a bit pained it’s because it was really cold and my toes were squashed. We had a party afterwards, just up the road in Highgate and, like all great weddings, it was an excuse for people to get drunk and fall about. We had a band called Pooky Snackenburg who were these buskers I saw in Covent Garden, who actually went on to become quite a big act in a show called Stomp and we had a DJ who played mostly sixties Soul/Motown – the stuff that I like. Anne and I sang a few songs as well. Our first dance was Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Andy Williams. Because I was in the middle of a tour we couldn’t have a proper honeymoon so we went to the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly for two nights instead, which was lovely. On the first morning, after ‘whatever had been occurring’ a member of the hotel staff arrived with a big table full of grub for the two of us. I jumped out of bed wearing no clothes and sat down to eat. The door opened and in came four guys with another table of food for my wife. I had to do the old tablecloth trick rather quickly and wrap it round to hide my embarrassment. I also wasn’t allowed in the bar because I didn’t have a tie on. I had to borrow one to wear with my polo shirt, which wasn’t the best look.
DECEMBER: It Must Be Love reaches No5 in the UK charts, just as Dave Robinson had predicted in Sheffield way back in October.
SUGGS: Anne really wanted to have kids. And although I was quite young – in my 20s – there maybe was some hankering for myself to have a family that I’d never been involved in. For that reason, when we married, I was determined it would last. My parents were practically divorced the minute they set eyes on each other and nobody in my family has been together for more than two minutes. I was desperate for things to be different for me.
EDDI (Suggs’s mum): I was devastated when he got married and moved out. I didn’t realise the effect it would have on me. I loved him to bits, more than anyone else in the world. We’d been together, just the two of us, for all those years and now he was gone.
SUGGS: I knew Anne was the right person – there was a sort of chemical balance that seemed right where neither of us is too strong or too weak; we just fitted together. We’ve both put a lot into our marriage and staying married, but we also had trust in our relationship which made things easier. We toured a lot in the early days and after about 18 months on the road, I’d had enough. I used to get homesick. I just wanted to be at home with Anne and Scarlett. Being married with a kid was more important. I wanted to lead an ordinary life and didn’t feel the need to go chasing after all that other stuff. Being married was my real life. Being in the band was just messing around with a load of people who can’t grow up. I wasn’t really concerned about whether I was or wasn’t going to be any good as a father. I was much more concerned in my wife and my children as separate entities and I tried to do my best for them. But it was nothing to do with my past. I was just taking every day as it came and fortunately it went well for us as a family. It just worked out differently than it did for me and my mum.
DECEMBER: For the second year running, Madness are voted Singles Artist Of The Year by the NME.
BEDDERS (speaking in 1981): In the past few years I’ve been everywhere with the band – America, Japan, Australia. It’s all good fun but nothing beats the feeling of coming home. Well, one thing maybe: I once beat Elvis Costello at pool twice in the same day. That felt pretty good.