JANUARY: Further album progress is revealed
Chris posts a number of video snippets on Instagram, showing the band at work in the studio. One features Bedders on bass, with Chris commenting ‘Back in the game!’ Others show Joe Auckland and his fellow Brass Monkeys adding their backing tracks. When a fan asks when the album will be out, Chris replies: ‘Hopefully within the next five months.’
CHRIS : The new album came about because we’d got this new rehearsal space in Cricklewood, where all our stuff was stored and set up ready. We’re scattered across the country these days, with Woody living up in Scotland, so we really needed a place we could call home and where all our equipment was. This was a place where we could meet up and get new songs together, so we started going there BC – Before Covid – and straight away started writing new material, cos if we’re in a room together, we’ll always start writing some songs. And then when lockdown happened, we were all writing songs at home too. And then after lockdown, there was some money floating around – not millions, but not bad – so I said, ‘Well, why don’t we go in the rehearsal room with an engineer and record some of these songs?’ A lot of the band had been watching that Beatles documentary, Get Back, which was brilliant because it showed them writing songs from scratch, but not necessarily in the recording studio, so I said, ‘We could do the same thing and write and record the album in the rehearsal space too – we just need a good engineer/producer.’ So around November 2022 we went in this young guy, Matt Glasbey, who’s represented by our manager, Hugh, and is only 30 but has a good CV and knows what he’s doing. We’d all done these demos at home using various technology, so the standard was pretty good, apart from Suggs and Lee, because me, Woody and Barso are quite technical and turn up with quite polished demos, whereas Suggs will come in with something he’s recorded on his phone. And Thommo is EXTREMELY frustrating, because I’ll be writing a song with him and then he’ll turn up with a demo and it sounds terrible – like he’s frying some eggs in the background or something. So anyway, we sat down in a circle, played each other all our demos and wrote the titles in Sharpie on a whiteboard so we could start whittling them down because we had loads – around 30 in all.
SUGGS: We don’t judge each other’s songs, so we had to learn to be tolerant and share ideas, even if we didn’t agree with them.
CHRIS: Mike said we should vote for which ones to record, but getting this band to vote is a nightmare, so we said Matt should pick them, which he did. At first we said, ‘Let’s just do three songs and see how they turn out.’ So we did Theatre of the Absurd, Baby Burglar and If I Go Mad because we’d been playing them live anyway, and things just went from there.
SUGGS: It kind of happened organically and like osmosis really; we just thought, ‘Let’s turn on the mics and see what happens’. It was just a great feeling to be back in the studio, doing music.
MIKE: We chose the best few songs and did them first… then another few… and another few…
CHRIS: Everybody loved Matt because he was so fast. He’d play the demo and we’d start playing along and then gradually he’d start taking the demo away, a bit like stabilisers on a bike, and it was like, ‘Oh look, we’re playing the song.’ The secret is getting really good bass and drums, but luckily Mark and Woody are really flippin’ solid, which made it a lot easier. So we got them down first and then we were away and were really knocking these songs out.
LEE: It was our best recording session since One Step Beyond – everyone was there, properly in the zone.
SUGGS: It was very rewarding. And because we didn’t have to be chucked out at 10 o’clock every night, we could just fiddle about for as long as we liked.
MIKE: It got a bit messy at the end as there was a bit of scrabble, with people coming in after hours and working on their songs, but that’s par for the course really. And some songs got left out so some of us were a bit sour, i.e. me, but we don’t have punch-ups, we just have people throwing their toys out of the pram and getting sulky and moody.
CHRIS: The only thing was, it was FREEZING in this place – we’d had it soundproofed a bit, but not cold-proofed, It was like Ice Station Zebra – in fact, that’s what I called it. Then it turned out that Lee’s house had got flooded so he’d taken all the industrial heaters out, so I asked him to bring them back and he got all arsey!
FEBRUARY: More teasers on the new album
Chris posts another brief rehearsal clip on Instagram, commenting: ‘Back on the tools.’ When asked by fan Vince Carden if they’ve recorded all 20 songs revealed previously, Chris replies: ‘I think we’ve peaked at about 18. This is the last batch, about five songs. Aiming for a 16-track album like the last one.’
CHRIS: After the initial work, we stopped recording in December and then in January I was like, ‘C’mon we need to get started again.’ By then I think we had around 15 songs that we were working on, and as we went along Matt was mixing them, rather than sit at the end with 90 tracks and try and do them all one by one. It was great because I could have an idea, do a guitar thing at home and send it to him, and he’d put it through an amp, get it in time and slot it in. And then, just after we came back, Mike suddenly said, ‘I’m going to India for a month to do a Buddhism thing.’ So off he went, but during that period we still did five songs because we had all this stuff already laid down. We had two that I’d written, including one called Run for Your Life, so we ended up recording 19 songs.
SUGGS: Before we knew it we had a whole album and we hadn’t even thought about how and where it was going to be produced because we’d done it all ourselves as we went along.
MIKE: The last couple of albums, we’ve taped our rehearsals and then hired a producer for the final recordings, but this time we just ploughed on, with Matt making it sound as good as it can be.
SUGGS: Not to slag anybody who’s produced our records because they’ve always been good, but it does tend to be more fun when we’re being ourselves.
MIKE: Because we were working in a new way with a new producer, there were times when I was thinking, ‘Is this gonna be any good?’ I don’t know if he did it deliberately but Matt made it all sound dull and naff at the beginning, and then slowly made it sound better and better for the final mixes. Instead of some producer coming in and saying, ‘Oh, we’re gonna do it my way’ we did it our way and kept true to our original ideas. Everyone was going in and working with Matt and saying ‘These are my babies and I’m gonna make sure they come out good’ and that’s what happened.
CHRIS: I then met this guy from the record company for coffee and said, ‘We want to put them all on one CD.’ And he said, ‘Well, I think you should just do these 12.’ And of course he picked all the ones that were poppy, and missed out the edgy ones, some of which I wrote. So I said to the band, ‘We can’t record all these songs and then let someone else make the decision which ones actually go out.’ So we were quite resolute that we were going to put as many songs as possible on it.
MIKE: I just remember going to bed one night, putting on my headphones and listening to all the new tracks and coming round to Chris’s view – there wasn’t one song that I didn’t like; they were all great.
FEBRUARY 24: The Liberty of Norton Folgate re-issued
Madness’s ninth studio album from 2009 gets the re-release treatment as an extended heavyweight double LP, featuring seven bonus tracks previously unavailable on vinyl. The gatefold packaging features liner notes from Suggs, Lee, Chris, Woody and Mike, plus an exclusive poem by Carl.
FEBRUARY 25: Robyn Hitchcock, Alexandra Palace
Bedders is among the guest musicians joining the singer/songwriter for a special performance at the famous venue. Sax virtuoso and long-time Madness collaborator Terry Edwards is also on the bill.
MARCH 20: Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast
Suggs is the special guest for this live show, which sees comedian Richard interview personalities in front of a live audience. They chat about the 80s, Before We Was We, the band’s first appearance on Top of the Pops, the Two Tone tour, being on The Young Ones and the Madness sitcom that never was. Suggs also trots out a few well-worn anecdotes from his one-man show, including the alleged drugs bust on The Clash while filming the video for Shut Up. Listen to the podcast here.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): We have a few gigs coming up in the summer and will be doing a big tour in December-time, and we also have a new album coming out, which at the moment could be called The Theatre of the Absurd. We’ve all been through a slightly absurd few years and we’re trying not to be too depressing about it, but it’s very hard to ignore isn’t it?
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): Suggs does want to call the album The Theatre of the Absurd, which no one else really seems to like. But we’ve got this other song called C’est La Vie, so I’ve suggested that too. And we will be calling the Christmas tour the C’est La Vie tour, so who knows?
MARCH 22: Dance Craze relaunch screening, BFI IMAX, Waterloo, London
Ahead of the CD, DVD and Blu-Ray release the following week, a special screening of the newly-restored 1980 classic is held in London. Woody and Lee join fellow big-screen stars Pauline Black, Jerry Dammers, Neville Staple, Rhoda Dakar and Buster Bloodvessel at the event, with other celebrities in attendance including film director Edgar Wright and actor Martin Freeman.
PAULINE BLACK (The Selecter, speaking in 2023): The film evokes a real period of history. Usually watching bands on screen is pretty damn boring – rarely do you get that feeling that you’re there. We were all as mad as hatters and they were just crazy performances, as this film shows.
HORACE PANTER (The Specials, speaking in 2023): Playing those gigs was such a buzz and the sheer adrenaline of the performances was amazing. This was in the days before barriers and health and safety, so the audience were right in your face.
RHODA DAKAR (The Bodysnatchers, speaking in 2023): At the time, the film didn’t really mean anything. But in retrospect we’ve come to realise how it kickstarted the third wave of ska/punk in the USA, which basically kept 2-Tone alive. The Bodysnatchers were low down on the list of great influences of 2-Tone, but after Dance Craze suddenly our importance was magnified massively. It’s incredible how much it has been watched, and how far reaching the effect was. It was career-defining. I only saw the film for the first time this year and we were much better than I thought – I don’t remember us being that good.
PAULINE BLACK (The Selecter, speaking in 2023): To have something preserved and out there means a lot because we’re losing people – Terry Hall, Ranking Roger, Everett Morton and Lionel Martin [from The Beat] have all died. Someone took the trouble to make a movie of something which has stood the test of time – both the ethos surrounding 2-Tone and also the bands. People might find it in 100 years’ time and think, ‘Wow! What was this?’
MARCH 27: Dance Craze reissued
A deluxe triple-vinyl edition of the classic 1980 soundtrack is released, along with a three-CD box set. Joe Massot’s acclaimed concert film featuring the best of British 2-Tone is also remastered and available on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time. Offering a perfect snapshot of the 2-Tone era, each format features live performances by Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers. Newly restored by the BFI from original film materials, the DVD and Blu-ray release also features a new Dolby Atmos sound mix supervised by Jerry Dammers.
APRIL 1: AFAS Live, Amsterdam
Madness kick off their 2023 live campaign in the Netherlands with a 20-song set. Return of the Los Palmas 7 and Lovestruck are restored to the setlist, with new songs represented by Baby Burglar and If I Go Mad.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / NW5 / My Girl / The Sun and the Rain / Baby Burglar / Wings of a Dove / Los Palmas 7 / Lovestruck / If I go Mad / Shut Up / Bed and Breakfast Man / Mr Apples / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love / ENCORE: Madness / Night Boat to Cairo
APRIL 2: Amager Bio, Copenhagen
APRIL 22: I Do Like To Be B-Side The A-Side Volume 3 released
The third collection of Madness and Dangermen flip sides is released for Record Store Day. Pressed on heavyweight vinyl, the track listing is: Round And Round (B-side of Lovestruck) / We Are Love (Lovestruck) / You’re Wonderful Remix (Johnny The Horse) / I Was The One (Johnny The Horse) / Dreaming Man (Johnny The Horse) / Elysium (Drip Fed Fred) / Light Of The Way (Drip Fed Fred) / Skylarking (Shame & Scandal) / Dreader Than Dread (Shame & Scandal) / Girl Why Don’t You? (Dub) (Girl Why Don’t You?) / Bittersweet (NW5) / The Roadette Song (Dust Devil)
APRIL 22: Ooh do U Fink U R special edition released
Record Store Day also sees a limited edition release of the Suggs and Paul Weller single, with 4,000 copies issued as a special seven-inch picture disc.
MAY 11: Rock N Roll Book Club, Dublin Castle
Bedders is the special guest at this Q&A event, discussing the band’s book, Before We Was We, and its tales of ducking and diving by day and zipping around London by night in Morris Minor vans. He also hints at a North American tour in early 2024. The bassist is joined by long-time Madness collaborator Terry Edwards, who also discusses his excellent 33 1/3 book on the band’s first album, One Step Beyond. The evening also features book signings and a DJ.
MAY 15: Tracks of My Years, BBC Radio 2
Suggs is the special guest on Vernon Kay’s morning show, discussing his favourite songs over the course of the week. The singer’s choices celebrate the city of his birth and include London Calling by The Clash and the rather tenuous Cry Me a River by Julie London. As well as unsurprising choices by The Specials, The Kinks, Ian Dury and Baggy Trousers by Madness themselves, other songs include Song 2 by Blur, Voulez-Vous by ABBA, A Foggy Day by Frank Sinatra and You Haven’t Done Nothin’ by Stevie Wonder. Vernon and Suggs also discuss the Nutty Train and plug the 2023 Christmas tour.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): The Christmas tour will have all the usual hits and we’ll also be livening it up with a few songs off the new album, but at the same time we don’t want to drear people by playing our new LP of fancy acoustic jazz.
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): We’ll spend around five days rehearsing before the tour, although five days for us is like three days for everyone else, to get everyone to turn up and get everything working etc.
JUNE 8: Cannock Chase Forest, Cannock
Madness kick off their summer shows in the Midlands, with Baby Burglar and If I Go Mad added to the usual greatest hits setlist, and Suggs confirming that they are both on the new album. There is a hiccup during tonight’s gig, with a false start on Wings of a Dove when Mike’s keyboard fails. Despite using his usual teleprompter, sharp-eared regulars also notice that Suggs flubs the lyrics to a number of songs, including NW5, My Girl, Our House, Lovestruck and Bed & Breakfast Man. The traditional opener also has a rather hesitant start, with Suggs announcing: “This is the heavy, heavy Madness sound…Madness…” followed by an awkward silence before the band finally start up.
It was a house of fun for wearers of baggy trousers with no embarrassment from those enjoying the rocksteady beat. Thousands of fans clad in two-tone inspired clothing, fezzes and Doctor Martin boots descended on Birches Valley in Cannock Chase Forest to dance the night away to the sounds of Madness. I even bought a fez myself ahead of seeing one of my favourite bands for the sixth time, with each time featuring Suggs, Lee Thompson, Daniel Woodgate, Mark Bedford, Chris Foreman, Mike Barson and the Violin Monkeys a joy to see. The legendary Ska band were in the woods to officially open the four nights of fun at Forest Live, which also sees Paul Weller, Tom Grennan and Jack Savoretti take to the stage. The natural bowl makes it a perfect setting for such a show, with the rising ground meaning it was difficult to have an obscured view as people could stand higher up. Before the main event, there were excellent sets from the Hawkmen, a four-piece group with a jazzy, rhythm and blues and rockabilly sensibility who got a few people up and dancing and played a set full of fun songs, with singer Cinta enjoying a dance amid a raucous cover of The Wanderer. They were followed by Hollie Cook, who provided a trippier, more reggae-based sound, with her band playing a very tight and tuneful accompaniment to her strong voice and echoey effects. It has been 44 years since Madness first hit the big time with the Prince, but the six original members haven’t lost a step and seemed as full of energy as possible in a set which treated fans to a mixture of classics and more recent fare. Starting with a raucous version of One Step Beyond, which got people up and dancing, the hits kept on flowing, with frontman Suggs keeping up a steady flow of quips and jokes throughout the show and engaging with the crowd like an old pro. This included joking that the organisers thought they’d booked a Spice Girls reunion, then saying it was the biggest county fair the band had ever played, while saxophonist Lee Thompson elicited laughs when he tried to climb the stage structure. The audience carried a real contrast as well, from older fans who might have followed the band since the first show in 1979, to younger fans who had heard one of the hits and fallen in love with the band. As well as 1980s fare such as Shut Up, My Girl and The Sun and the Rain, the set also included Lovestruck from the 1999 comeback album Wonderful and the brilliant NW5, a favourite of the 2009 Liberty of Norton Folgate album. The band are a working band as well, not just content to play the hits, but also writing new material for an album, and this was demonstrated with two new songs, the theatrical-sounding Baby Burglar and the thumping stomper If I Go Mad. Even a momentary stall in proceedings when Wings of a Dove had to stop after the backing track stopped playing didn’t detract from the show, which had the audience bouncing and dancing throughout. The hits section of House of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Our House was a good example of this, with people all over the field bopping along and having fun, while you’d never have guessed that band members were in their late 50s and early to mid-60s, such was their energy on the night. After It Must Be Love was sung by all in attendance, the band returned for the encore fare of Madness and the one-last-dance of Night Boat to Cairo, ending a night of tremendous fun and great music for all those in attendance. To Paul Weller, Tom Grennan and Jack Savoretti, the message is this: Follow that!
James Vukmirovic, Express and Star
JUNE 9: Albert Park, Middlesbrough
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): When I play gigs these days I DO feel like I’m 18 again, and I think it’s because joy and happiness, and what Madness has tried to do, is not something that takes away – it adds to who you are and helps keep you young.
JUNE 10: Hello Festival, Emmen, Netherlands
Hopping across the channel for a one-off gig in the Netherlands, Suggs again suffers a lyrical misfunction, this time fluffing the words to House of Fun.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): We’ve always had a penchant for the theatrical and we’re all quite big-headed show-offs, so playing live really is our thing. I think a lot of festivals need a bit of livening up so they put the old Mad sign up in the sky and we get called to rescue it with a bit of fun. So we do enjoy ourselves and to see the joy that we create is a real privilege.
JUNE 15: Delamere Forest, Cheshire
“Happy Christmas,” extols singer Suggs as he looks out across a sun-baked crowd relishing the kind of heat wave scientifically constructed to make the vintage reggae that ushers in Madness’ entrance sound that much better. It’s typical of the band’s frontman, who only needs to raise an eyebrow, adjust his sunglasses or deliver the odd bon mot, to have the audience in the palm of his hand during a special evening at Delamere Forest’s stunning surroundings. Suggs revels in his and the band’s status as national treasures throughout the night and armed with a back catalogue with few equals in British pop music why shouldn’t they be allowed an annual victory lap of the country’s most beautiful venues as part of Forestry England’s ‘Forest Live’ concert series? From the opening clarion call of One Step Beyond to a welcome run through of debut single The Prince via the kitchen sink drama of Embarrassment, the show opens with a triple whammy that’s hard to beat and one lapped up by the ‘refreshed’ lads in the crowd many of whom have donned a fez for the occasion. Despite their reputation as a hit machine happy to play the nostalgia circuit, Madness don’t entirely rest on their 80s laurels: newer songs like NW5 and Baby Burglar (concerning the band’s days as juvenile delinquents) fit into the setlist seamlessly with no let it up in pace or enjoyment for the rude boys and girls down the front. As the sun sets across the forest, these gritty tales of London lives and loves could sound incongruous given the backdrop but songs like My Girl, Bed and Breakfast Man and Lovestruck are everyman anthems that have become part of the texture and timbre of the many adoring fans, young and old who sing every word. They’re tunes that run through the very fabric of English music from skiffle to grime. The home stretch sees them pull out the unstoppable hat-trick of House of Fun, Baggy Trousers and It Must Be Love with the latter provoking a moving singalong that enables Suggs to take a step back and swallow it all in. He and his band deserve it.
Jamie Bowman, Wirral Globe
JUNE 16&17: The Piece Hall, Halifax
Speaking to the masses on the first night of this double-header at The Piece Hall, Suggs describes Halifax as a “beautiful town”, adding: “I remember I came here 20-odd years ago when I did a film with a friend of mine. There used to be a Motown disco on a Friday night – it was 50p to get in.”
You likely know the old joke which asks ‘what’s the first sign of Madness?’ with the hilarious punchline being ‘Suggs walking up your driveway’. Whereas, in fact, the first sign of Suggs heralds something rather different where Yorkshire is concerned. That is, of course, in a rather shoehorned segue, the start of the 2023 summer concert season at The Piece Hall in Halifax. Suggs, 62, and his fellow London lads kicked off the first night of the beautiful venue’s impressive roster of shows. Such was the demand for music legends that Friday’s series opener was the first of two gigs from the band this weekend. And, those heading for Saturday’s outdoor festivities at the grand Grade I listed town centrepiece are certainly in for a fun night. On Friday, 5,500 people crammed into the sold out venue, many wearing the trademark Madness headwear of either a trilby or fez. A hit-packed set, kicked off with Suggs, in his sharp suit and sunglasses, addressing the crowd. He received great affection when he howled: ‘You better start to move your feet. To the rockingest, rocksteady beat, Of Madness!’ Right on cue, his touring ensemble’s trumpets and saxophones kicked into One Step Beyond. There were then lots and lots of fist bumps from the masses. The fans were there for the hits and that’s what Madness delivered with a sprinkle of new material thrown in for good measure. There was sing-song after sing-song, in the rather welcome West Yorkshire sun, to famous numbers Embarrassment and My Girl which enjoyed early airings. Suggs, who engaged the crowd throughout, holding things together in his charming-yet-ramshackle way, spoke of his time hitting the clubs of Halifax – many moons ago. It was apparent the frontman, much like his audience, were having a blast with the latter delighted to have Madness in town on Friday evening. The party reached headier heights as Madness, earlier supported by Stone Foundation, zipped through House of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Our House. Unsurprisingly, the tenderest moment of the set came in the shape of It Must Be Love. A cover but the Labi Siffre song has undoubtedly been a Madness staple for many decades. The song’s lyrics carried gently in the air by the thousands in the historic Georgian venue as the night’s sky finally darkened. Suggs and his well-dressed posse took their bow but they were always coming back for an encore which concluded with Night Boat To Cairo. It is quite likely there might be a few at Halifax’s Piece Hall on Saturday evening returning for a second dose of Madness.
Craig Jones, Yorkshire Live
JUNE 30: King John’s Castle, Limerick
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): We don’t tour for months on end and I don’t think we could, but we DO do it with the same energy as when we were younger. It does take its toll but an hour and a half is about right, as long as the knees hold out. Our dressing room after a gig these days is like a rugby team’s, with liniments and linseed oil and God knows what else.
JULY 1: Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): When I walk out on stage, I kind of feel like the captain of a football team; I know we’re all gonna go and do this thing and I feel a kind of responsibility to be, not the leader, but the focal point of it all. I also hope I can remember the words to Embarrassment because I’ve been singing it for more than 40 years but it’s very unusual because it doesn’t have a chorus and I always get a bit tangled up in the middle. But mostly I just hope that I can have a good time, which I do most of the time.
JULY 14: The Blockheads, Bush Hall, London
Lee is among the special guest at tonight’s show, taking to the mic to sing three songs – My Old Man, Razzle In My Pocket and Clever Trevor.
JULY 21: Singleton Park, Swansea
JULY 22: Splendour Festival, Wollaton Park, Nottingham
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): We’re still like a dysfunctional family, but the good outweighs the bad. Although I don’t travel with the rest of the band any more because I can’t listen to that moaning load of old minnies; I have to go on my own.
SEPTEMBER 17: Singapore Grand Prix
Madness fly east to provide the entertainment at the Formula 1 night race at Marina Bay Street Circuit, playing a 12-track Greatest Hits set in which Mr Apples is the only ‘new’ song. Also on the bill are Robbie Williams, Kings of Leon, The Kooks, Groove Armada, Post Malone and Culture Club.
One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / My Girl / House of Fun / Wings of a Dove / Baggy Trousers / Bed and Breakfast Man / Mr Apples / Our House / It Must Be Love / Night Boat To Cairo / Madness
SEPTEMBER 23: My Dream Dinner Party
Suggs is the special guest on this Radio 4 show, in which he reveals his ideal dinner guests from beyond the grave. The singer’s choices are poet and broadcaster Sir John Betjeman, reggae legend Bob Marley, politician Tony Benn and singer-songwriters Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin.
SEPTEMBER 28: New album announced
Madness officially announce that their new album will be released on November 17. Entitled Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, the band’s 13th studio LP will be available in multiple formats – double vinyl, CD and limited edition pink cassette – and will feature 14 tracks, interspersed with spoken segments. The artwork features the six band members standing amidst a chaotic scene, with hand sanitiser, toilet roll and an upturned shopping trolley representing the lost pandemic years. Other visual props include a discarded gas mask, spy drones, explosive weapons, a burning newspaper, stolen gold, a crime scene marker and an armed military attack dog, with lightning, floods and an incoming meteorite all adding to the chaos. A snake also curls round behind Chris’s leg, while a rat runs up Lee’s trousers. The final touch is a pile of paperback copies of George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, 1984.
“After a disparate couple of years which saw the band at their most polarised and fragmented, Madness reunited in an industrial unit in Cricklewood at the beginning of the year, where Suggs, Mark, Chrissy Boy, Mike, Lee and Woody realised that what united them was always bigger than what divided them. Emerging re-energised and reinvigorated with a fresh bounce in their nutty step, the result was their most harmonious recording experience to date. For the first time ever, a brand-new album came into the world that they were all completely agreed on. Theatre of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie is the band’s inaugural foray into self-producing, working alongside engineer and mixer Matt Glasbey (Ed Sheeran, Maisie Peters, Rag’N’Bone Man). The governing principle behind Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, is: “Let Madness be Madness”. The result is an album of typically timeless brilliance that also reflects the wonky years of its creation, these 14 songs representing the cream of the bumper crop of tunes the group cooked up, whittled down this punchy, focused set.”
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): Unlike other albums, this one hasn’t cost a fortune as we haven’t had to pay for a recording studio and things like that. I mean, these days you can record an album anywhere and Matt Glaseby has been brilliant.
MIKE (speaking in 2023): You CAN do a lot of it on computers these days but, for me, that doesn’t work. When you’re not putting something human into it then you’re not going to get something human out of it.
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): Some of the songs are old and some have been written recently; the inspirations are the usual things – life’s rich tapestry and the state of the world today. I’ve written two songs with Lee’s lyrics; they’re both pretty old so it was good to get them out of my system. I’ve also written lyrics to some of my own songs, which I don’t usually do but they’re a bit edgy – a bit out there. Mike has written with Lee too, plus Woody and Suggs have also written some great songs, so everybody’s chipped in again which is part of the reason for our longevity really – it isn’t just one person writing everything, like Oasis or whoever. And it’s always been like that. It means the songs are quite diverse too, so I think people will have a nice surprise when it comes out. There are some quite contemporary styles on it but we really have no conscious idea of what things should sound like; the same old influences still carry some resonance.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): There’s definitely the usual dark side to everything. Not that many songs we’ve written are out-and-out jolly-ups, they often have some undercurrent. Pathos is the best word, happiness and sadness running alongside each other and things falling apart at the edges. There’s also definitely a thread of music hall running through it, which is something we often indulge one way or other; the faded grandeur of the theatre, with glamour on the outside. I love the geography of those theatres where the balconies are almost closer to the stage than the stalls. They are very intimate.
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): We’ve got some guests on the album too, including Spider Johnson from Potato 5 and Crunch! who’s done some fantastic backing vocals. Woody’s wife Grace also sung on one of his songs, called Round We Go. The only thing is, the whole album could have come out three months earlier but we were still arguing over the running order and deciding what to do because the record company didn’t want to put out all 19 tracks. While we were in Ireland at the end of June I just thought, ‘We’ve got to get this resolved.’ Woody said he’d written three songs and didn’t mind dropping them all, but I said, ‘Round We Go is really good, we’ve GOT to keep that one.’ So I suggested that he could drop two of his, I drop one of mine, Suggs could drop one of his and Barso and Thommo drop one of theirs, so that’s what we did, so we ended up with a 14-track album and five really good ones in the bag for whatever.
SEPTEMBER 28: The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show
Suggs pops in to the early-morning Radio 2 programme to plug the new album and Christmas tour and introduce the world-first air play of the new single, C’est La Vie.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie is a pretty good description of the band; it’s four album titles in one because in the band we’ve got four different opinions on every subject. It’s been recorded in our industrial unit in Cricklewood but although it’s home-made I hope it sounds professional.
SEPTEMBER 28: Dame Helen Mirren helps with promotion
To help drum up interest in the new album, the award-winning actress – who is a neighbour of Suggs in Italy – is filmed reading the lyrics to C’est La Vie in a short video that is widely shared on social media.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): Helen was getting on my nerves to be honest; she kept bothering and calling me – she was practically chasing me down the street.
MIKE (speaking in 2023): She was saying, ‘How can I be a part of it?’ so we had to think up something she could do. But seriously, we were very honoured and she did a fantastic job.
HELEN MIRREN (actress, speaking in 2023): As well as being a wonderful writer, Suggs is a great friend of mine. So he asked if I would read the lyrics of one of the songs that’s on the new album and put it out, which I did. For a very unmusical person, I was very lucky.
SEPTEMBER 28: C’est La Vie single released
A three-track EP is made available to download, featuring three tracks from the new album – C’est La Vie, If I Go Mad and What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?), with the latter featuring Lee on vocals. A limited edition physical CD single version featuring an extra album track – Is There Anybody Out There? – is also available and quickly sells out.
OCTOBER 2: ITV News
Suggs and Mike are interviewed as part of a three-minute segment that includes a preview of the new album and discussion about the Christmas tour.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): I think we all feel quite privileged to still be here as a lot of our contemporaries have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another.
MIKE (speaking in 2023): To still be able to have your ideas and present them on such a large scale is brilliant.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): The only thing is, before we start touring, the first thing I’ll need to do is visit the doctor and have some injections in my knees and get that out of the way.
OCTOBER 4: Never Mind The Buzzcocks
Suggs appears as a guest on the Sky Max comedy quiz, hosted by Greg Davis. Other guests include Katherine Ryan and Talia Mar, along with regulars Noel Fielding, Daisy May Cooper and Jamali Maddix.
OCTOBER 13-15: Modcast Weekender, St Leonards on Sea
Suggs is the special guest at this three-day convention, appearing in conversation to relate some anecdotes and answer questions.
OCTOBER 17: Greatest Hits Radio
As part of ongoing promotion for the new album, Suggs chats to Mark Goodier about the band’s early days, their upcoming tour, his friendship with Helen Mirren and Jerry Dammers and how he was inspired by Prince Buster, Ian Dury and Ray Davies.
OCTOBER 18: KOKO, London
The band play a special one-off show in Camden to preview the new album, Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie. The performance is split into two parts, with the first half consisting of 12 tracks off the upcoming release, and the second a Greatest Hits run-through. The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning also makes a surprise appearance in the encore as a tribute to the late Terry Hall.
ACT I: Theatre of the Absurd / If I Go Mad / Baby Burglar / C’est La Vie / What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?) / Hour of Need / Round We Go / Lockdown and Frack Off / Beginners 101 / Run For Your Life / The Law According to Dr Kippah / In My Street
ACT II: One Step Beyond / Embarrassment / The Prince / My Girl / Bed and Breakfast Man / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love
ENCORE: Friday Night Saturday Morning / Night Boat to Cairo.
Memories keep coming back to Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson, stood on the stage at KOKO under the glow of that giant gold disco ball. “My mate got kicked in the bollocks, just over there,” he says, pointing towards the far left of the room. “For the rest of his life, he had one bollock bigger than the other.” He sighs, pauses. “Just memories, flooding back…” Madness have quite a history with Camden. The ska-pop group first began to gain prominence in the live scene thanks to regular gigs at the Dublin Castle, a sweetly symbiotic relationship that helped the venue to gain notoriety as much as it did the band. Over four decades later, and Madness are still a riotous pub band. More refined, more in control, completely unflappable – but still a rowdy group of mates exchanging quips onstage and having fun with their audience. “Baggy Trousers!” roars one particularly enthusiastic crowd member during the show’s first half, several times. “Yeah, alright, mate. We’re going to do it in about 20 minutes,” fires back Suggs. “We’re playing the new album. You knew we were doing that.” Admittedly, it does shatter the pub band illusion somewhat when said “new album” contains a pre-recorded intro from Dame Helen Mirren reciting your lyrics like she’s delivering a Shakespearean monologue. Madness deal with this contradiction beautifully by dividing the evening into two halves. The first feels a little more highbrow, maybe representative of the fact that the group and their audience have matured over the last few decades. Classic film footage plays behind the band throughout as new record, Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, is sung through in full. There’s plenty that feels excitingly unfamiliar about the album, with the darkly political current that runs through it and a sound more experimental than we’ve heard from the group before. Still, direct lyricism and a stellar brass section keep it decidedly Madness. There is a short interval, and then the clock winds back. “Hey, you!” calls Suggs, and the crowd respond with the entire spoken ‘One Step Beyond’ intro, recited faithfully word for word. Adults who were likely teenagers when Madness first rose to prominence are doing the ‘One Step Beyond’ dance everywhere from the aisles of KOKO to the centre of the mosh pit (and mosh they do, when ‘Baggy Trousers’ starts to play). Red fezzes fly through the air. They close out with ‘Night Boat To Cairo’, Lee Thompson (‘Kix’ or ‘El Thommo’, whichever you prefer) wailing away on the saxophone. As the lights come up, my 58-year-old father, happiest at home with his dog and the TV remote, leans over the banister and asks hopefully: “Do you think they’ll do one more?”
Being in my early 20s and a woman, I’m in the minority at the show, but nobody asks me to name five songs, and I end up talking to a lot of people who seem thrilled someone younger is into Madness. For anyone thinking of seeing them without much clue what they’re about, my advice is to position yourself next to a middle-aged man and the teenage daughter he’s dragged along. I overheard one dad explain the entire significance of the gig at length: “Right, so they used to be called The Invaders, and they came here years ago when pints were still less than a quid and changed their name.” It’s these men I find the most endearing. They’re decked out to the nines, many in fezzes. They take terrible pictures using only their forefingers and are absurdly polite. The crowd absolutely made the gig, which, by all accounts, was a high-quality production I wasn’t expecting. We open with a clip of Helen Mirren reading out the lyrics to ‘C’est La Vie’, and the entire night the screen flashes with sci-fi and film clips. The show’s first half is dedicated to their new material, and the crowd starts to clamour for the old hits. “Some people are so desperate to hear the old stuff,” tuts one man next to me, and I nod like I wasn’t counting down the minutes to ‘Embarrassment.’ After a brief interval (why don’t more shows do that?), they wheel out hit after hit, and it feels like Christmas – in two senses. One, they’ve been building to this moment all night, so it’s almost euphoric when ‘One Step Beyond’ starts, but two – Madness are an inherently festive band to me. Drunk family parties always result in a good old march around to ‘House of Fun’, and that’s the energy that fills the KOKO, enthusiastic uncles on a few beers, enjoying the tunes and high on nostalgia.
Poppy Burton, Far Out magazine
Madness put on an electric performance at Camden’s KOKO on Wednesday night to promote their new album, Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie. Having not played at the venue since Madness were known as The Invaders and KOKO was The Music Machine, the performance allowed just 1,400 fans the opportunity to catch them playing songs from the new album, along with some familiar favourites for the very first time. While fans were loving the new material, one heckler couldn’t wait to hear some of their old material and started calling out the names of his favourite songs. Frontman Suggs, 62, hit back: ‘Yeah we’re going to get to that. We’re performing new songs from the new album that’s kind of how it works. You’ve got to wait about 20 minutes and then we’ll do them. Alright?’ to much laughter from the crowd. Suggs was clad in a smart black suit and was sporting his trademark black sunglasses for his performance. They performed cult hits such as Our House, One Step Beyond, House Of Fun and Baggy Trousers. And they also delighted the crowds with single C’est La Vie, which has an eerie space-ska fee and the song reflects on the perils of everyday life.
OCTOBER 27: Baby Burglar made available for download
The build-up to the new album continues with the digital release of the Barson-Thompson song, inspired by a break-in at Lee’s home during lockdown.
NOVEMBER: In an interview with Record Collecter magazine, the band reveal they weren't on the best of terms when they started recording the new album.
CHRIS: Every band talks about making their Sgt Pepper’s but I thought this one was our Rumours because we all hated each other when we made it. The whole period was awful. COVID-19 had polarised the band and we were split down the middle, with varying extremes of pro- and anti-vaccination sentiment.
SUGGS: We were all confused, lost and isolated, with different ideas about what was wrong with the planet, so we were all flying off in completely conspiratorial directions and everyone was arguing on email, which never works because everything gets blown out of all proportion.
CHRIS: There was a lot of back and forth via email and it wasn’t good – we needed to be in a room together, talking to each other. But the minute we were back together in Cricklewood it all just became banter and then we got to work and started on the music.
SUGGS: It made for a creative explosion when we finally got together; a tsunami of creativity.
CHRIS: Absolutely. Once everyone gets in the room, we do what we do – make music.
MIKE: It was just us, in our space, playing together. And Madness is whatever happens when I sit at the piano, Lee picks up his sax, Chris plays the guitar, Woody and Bedders lay down the rhythm section and Suggs begins to sing. It’s a subtle thing about the personalities of the band members, who you are, all the things you’ve gone through and all the music you’ve ever loved. That’s what makes it what it is.
SUGGS: The thing is, the band is a democracy and democracy is difficult, especially these days because we’re just older and grumpier and more stuck in our ways. But fortunately we love each other enough not to let our differences divide us.
WOODY: Bands split up because of their inability to compromise. Look at The Specials – their characters were strong, they each wanted it their way or the highway, and that never works. In this band, people bend because we know it’s for the betterment of all of us.
MIKE: We’re all getting quite old now and we don’t know how long we’ve got left. But we’re trying to communicate better and we’re trying to make the relationships within the band better. Slowly, we’re trying to make everything better. And that’s a meaningful position to take in life.
CHRIS: We were a band before we were a band and that’s been the reason for our longevity. I’ve been onstage with these guys for most of my life. We’ve had disagreements but we’ve gone on this journey and we’re still on this journey. It all works and we get there eventually. We may be dysfunctional, but still, it functions.
NOVEMBER 9: The One Show
Suggs appear on the sofa on the prime-time BBC1 show to promote the new album and tour. During his five-minute chat with Alex Jones and Roman Kemp, he discusses singing in French and collaborating with Helen Mirren and also tells the old chestnut about being booted out of the band after going to see Chelsea.
NOVEMBER 11: Later... with Jools Holland
Suggs appears with his old pal on the popular live music show, discussing the new album and tour, the involvement of Helen Mirren and the influence of the Windrush generation and ska on his early musical tastes. Jools also lets slip that the band will be embarking on their “biggest-ever UK tour” in 2024. Mike was originally due to join the frontman but cancels at the last minute, with Suggs quipping: “You know what these keyboard players are like – you can trust ’em about as far as you can throw ’em.” Other guests on the programme include singer Róisín Murphy, producer and songwriter Nitin Sawhney and singer-songwriter Tom Walker.
NOVEMBER 17: BBC Breakfast
Suggs and Mike are guests on the sofa as promotional activity continues, discussing the involvement of Martin Freeman and Helen Mirren and the ‘performative’ nature of the album.
MIKE (speaking in 2023): When I was growing up, back in the day, I always used to like concept albums like Tommy by The Who and Selling England by the Pound by Genesis as they had an extra layer, so it was interesting to have the opportunity to do something like that on this album. Plus we’ve always had a bit of the theatrical about us anyway.
NOVEMBER 17: Night & Day Cafe, Manchester
Suggs, Mike and Woody take part in a Q&A and signing session to mark the new album’s launch day, during which Mike discusses the song selection and self-production recording process.
NOVEMBER 17: Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie is launched
The band’s 13th studio album is finally released. Available in multiple formats, the running order includes spoken interludes by actor and friend of the band Martin Freeman, with the liner notes dedicating the album to the late Terry Hall.
TRACK-BY-TRACK: Click on song title
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): Back, when it was going to be a 19-track album, I’d suggested at one point that we present it like a play in four acts, with a prologue and epilogue. Mike then wrote some dialogue with music underneath. We know Martin Freeman and he’s a great actor, so he recorded the dialogue, which was great.
SUGGS : I’d been reading about the theatre of the absurd, surrealness, Beckett and these French plays that were just gobbledygook, about how nobody could communicate with each other any more. That felt familiar and hit a note about what was going on around us. The whole process of lockdown had been theatrical, like some mad play. We were trapped in these dark corners of our lives while Boris Johnson and his mates weren’t; it’s a simple fucking thing you can’t ignore.
SUGGS: This one was primarily written as a love song to my wife, but it’s also a pure expression of lockdown madness because not seeing anybody for a year meant I was going slightly mad. As a performer, without an audience you shrivel up to almost nothing. My wife actually said I was starting to get performer’s Tourette’s – I was singing at people at the bus stop, old grannies running away, muttering, ‘Not ’im again.’
MIKE: This song came about in the middle of COVID when Lee was sadly in hospital and I was feeling a bit sentimental about him. They weren’t letting anyone in his room so he was all on his own and I was feeling kind of sorry for him. We were texting a bit on WhatsApp and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve written a song.’ So I said, ‘Well why don’t you send me the lyrics over here.’ So he did that and it all went effortlessly from there.
LEE: It’s a true story, inspired by a burglary that was committed at my house during lockdown in November 2020; nobody was hurt but if I’d seen them I’d have been straight at ’em with a baseball bat. It was also inspired by the policeman who was dragged off under a car when a theft went tits-up. It’s another Barson-penned tune and he really really inspires me no end; the man with six fingers on each hand.
MIKE: Martin Freeman is actually a friend of Lee’s, who got in touch with him because he knew he was a fan of the band. Martin’s a good sport and was up for it, so we went round to his house and after a few cups of tea and a bit of a chit-chat he got the mike out. He said, ‘I don’t need any of the music or anything’ and just did it – Boom! – in one go and it sounded great; he was a real professional.
CHRIS: Mike wrote this one – it’s a great song
MIKE: It’s about these crazy times we’re living in, and how I just want to stay on my boat and not be a part of all this madness, but of course, I’m a member of a group called Madness. Perhaps we should have called ourselves Sanity instead?
SUGGS: I’d like to tell you what the French lyrics mean but I really don’t know. I sang the chorus the best I could, knowing that ‘c’est la vie’ means ‘this is life’ but I didn’t know what the other two lines were about – I had to trust Barso that I wasn’t singing anything insulting about French people.
MIKE: There was only one mistake in his pronunciation, but we won’t go into that…
CHRIS: This was originally called Pussy Galore and we first played it back in about 2018.
MIKE: I’d originally done the spoken parts, and when Martin came to record them he said, ‘They don’t sound bad – perhaps I don’t need to do anything after all.’
WOODY: This is about a narcissist son and the love of a mother who knows that the only thing that will teach him is life itself; a painful process watching life go round and round. The band’s version is true to the demo that I recorded years ago with my wife Grace, but the backing vocals that she recorded later transported the song to another level. The song originally didn’t have BVs and there was something missing, then Grace came up with the parts and it all fell into place. I love what she’s done and it’s a truly soulful performance. Grace is a truly inspirational and talented musician and the track wouldn’t be the same without her amazing vocals – it makes it complete.
CHRIS: Funnily enough, this one is partly about fracking and partly about lockdowns and how everything got a bit Mad Max, except we weren’t fighting over petrol, it was toilet rolls. Again, with all the media attention going on, it’s where my head was. Some of the band said, ‘Well, that’s just the same as Run for Your Life’ but I pointed out that Run for Your Life is about conspiracy theories and things that aren’t real, but this is about the reality of what actually happened, like being locked down and grassing on your neighbours. I was then running out of ideas half way through, which is why I started writing about fracking.
MIKE: This one is about criminals arguing over cash and trying to stitch each other up.
CHRIS: It was originally called The Bullionaires, but then Suggs said, ‘You’ve got to call it Beginners 101′ after one of the lyrics. He’s pretty good at standing back and spotting things like that.
CHRIS: I wrote this one with Lee. Like What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?) it’s a really, really old song so it’s really good to finally get them out there and get them recorded.
LEE: This is another one about the criminal element. I used to play cat-and-mouse with the police, street trading with my dad in the early 70s, but this is more about the online fraud that you hear so much about – conning the vulnerable and elderly in society and the like. I had it once with Roo, the Ska Orchestra drummer, and Steve Broughton from The Silencerz, both apparently messaging me from South Africa where they’d allegedly broken down and were desperate for funds for a sick friend. It was totally out of character for them. ‘A line of guacamole to the holy in drag’ is also code for buying ketamine online, yet when you receive the merchandise it’s a crushed-up pip.
LEE: This one is about loss, grief and unsolved crimes.
MIKE: It’s about kids growing up, like on the plains of Africa when you see bulls locking horns – that whole growing-up process.
CHRIS: I wrote the lyrics to this one in January 2023, inspired by the media’s constant barrage of scare stories and focus on ‘Project Fear’: Russia are gonna nuke us! Monkeypox! Here comes Covid variant number 999! We’re all gonna die from chemtrails! I was using this programme called Logic and found a drum beat which I really liked, then came up with a guitar riff and little brass thing and started thinking, ‘This is really good.’ It hadn’t got a proper title, just a code name – Burundi – but when I played it when we were first sharing our demos everyone kinda liked it. It still wasn’t really anything but I thought maybe someone could wrote some lyrics, then started playing around with it at home and suddenly thought, ‘Run for your life.’ So I thought of the chorus and then the rest of the words came pretty easy, which has never happened before. It also has a bit about AI – artificial intelligence – but of course when Suggs read it, he said, ‘Here comes the robot A1’. Hah!
CHRIS: Funnily enough, this one is about being locked down too. You can really see where my inspiration came from on this album! It’s about someone who’s locked down and can’t see his girlfriend. In some way there’s a logic to lockdowns, but you can’t lock EVERYONE in their houses, especially those that aren’t ill; if you’re ill just stay at home. The idea of locking everyone down harmed relationships and marriages and everything.
SUGGS: I was moving house and wanted to commemorate the street I’d lived on and the people I knew. You’ve always got this sentimental connection to the place where you grew up and the people you grew up around, so it was very much influenced by Ray Davies’ Dead End Street. In the end, I was actually kind of pleased that I’d moved out because I slagged a few people off in the song.
SUGGS: I first met Martin when he was with his mum and dad – they were waiting in the corridor for this meet-and-greet so we said, ‘You can come in the dressing room, you know.’ It’s sweet that he’s such a humble person and he’s a real music fan; he’s got thousands and thousands of records. I sometimes go for lunch with him and and Paul Weller – we’re all friends
When Madness were growing up in north London, Camden Palace was a somewhat forlorn reminder of London’s once grand music halls, those proletariat venues that combined music, social commentary, satire and broad comedy. By the1970s, Camden Palace was a live music venue – Suggs and Lee Thompson used to see shows by breaking in through the dome at the top of the building ¬– but that original spirit of London music hall has always been present in the carnivalesque, slapstick, oversized songs of Madness, a debt made clear on their new record. Fittingly, Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie will receive its premiere at the Camden Palace ¬– now known as Koko. The desolate air of an empty music hall reflects another aspect of the Madness universe. There has always been a lot of melancholy In their music – although Suggs prefers to call it pathos – and these two elements, music hall and melancholy, combine to form a semi-concept album that, structurally, mirrors a Victorian melodrama. Between 14 songs, Martin Freeman delivers short snippets of spoken word – ‘Prologue’, ’Act One’ etc – to provide a sense of theatrical progression. It starts with Freeman referencing “Mr Beckete’”, before Suggs takes over for his opening song, ‘Theatre Of The Absurd’, about the “cruellest comedy” in which “actors stumble on with masks but no real plot”. The fusion of music hall and Samuel Beckett – Waiting For (Fred) Karno? – is the thread that holds together an album rife with unease and anxiety and occasionally feverish tomfoolery, a reflection of the fact many of the songs were written during lockdown. It was recorded in a lock-up in Cricklewood, originally a rehearsal space where they developed the material into a coherent album and then converted it into a studio. Although the songs are written from multiple perspectives, they share a common mood – essentially life and its general absurdity. Some are intensely personal, such as Barson’s ‘Hour Of Need’, which could be about insomnia, death or just general despair, or the more celebratory ‘In My Street’, on which Suggs lists some of the characters you can find in his neighbourhood – “a boxer, footballer, black cab driver, a gangster, a fraudster, a cheating conniver” like an updated ‘Our House’ – although the musical reference to ‘Grey Day’ hints at the darker undercurrent. That’s a very London song, as one would expect from a band that have always embraced their native city. In many ways, Theatre Of The Absurd… resembles 2009’s The Liberty Of Norton Folgate and the capital is never far from the surface, whether it’s the reference to “some dark theatre in London” on ‘Theatre Of The Absurd’ or the mention of Hampstead Heath, Highgate Road and Highbury on Barson and Thompson’s synch-pop epic ‘The Law According To Dr Kippah’. There’s deadpan humour too, of course. On Foreman’s ‘Lockdown And Frack Off’, Suggs has a little chuckle at the line, “curtain twitch get ready to snitch” as he recalls the lunacy of lockdown. Later, Foreman offers a double bill of ‘Run For Your Life’ and ‘Set Me Free (Let Me Be)’, again digging into a sense of collective insanity and taking on all sides willy-nilly. Musically, the most distinctive Madness traits are all present. ‘Lockdown And Frack Off’ begins with a spidery sinister vibe that soon gives way to a steady skank, while Barson’s ‘C’est La Vie’ has a classic Lee Thompson sax and ska-based rhythm, with hint of steel drums in the percussion. Suggs’s ‘If I Go Mad’ has splendid Hammond from Barson, with a Suggs rap and relentless staccato rhythm from Dan ‘Woody’ Woodgate. ‘Round We Go’, written by Woody, is sunny pop with a prominent piano and a great Suggs lead vocal that would fit neatly on to 1980’s Absolutely. Comedy sound effects are present and correct, most notably on ‘If I Go Mad’, one of many Madness songs about sanity, where a member of the gang does a bad impression of a train. The woozy ‘What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For)?’, by Thompson and Foreman, allows Thompson to deliver languid lead vocals. The six members of the band are supported by backing singers, strings and a barking dog, and there are other musical innovations, such as the Grandmaster Flash references on the paranoid ‘What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?)’, and the nods to Curtis Mayfield on apocalyptic stomper ‘Run For Your Life’. But the biggest spiritual influence is The Kinks, another band adept at exploring London’s darker undercurrents. On Theatre Of The Absurd…, Madness gleefully peer through the net curtains of life, revealing the moth-eaten carpets and peeling wallpaper obscured by the elaborate facades we all hide behind.
Life seems to have been troubled for Madness in the seven years since previous album Can’t Touch Us Now, with even their new press biography admitting recent times “saw the band at their most polarised and fragmented.” It appears Madness needed to get back to basics to reignite their songwriting spark, recording together as a six-piece, rather than going in separately in their siloed writing partnerships. Doing so – on an industrial estate in Cricklewood – proved so fruitful that they’ve dispensed with outside producers for the first time since 1988’s The Madness. Where that album largely sounded like knock-off Langer & Winstanley, Madness’ 13th LP has plenty of fresh ideas while remembering to bring the big choruses along. It’s probably their most-up for it all-out pop album since reforming for Wonderful 24 years ago. Linked by six brief monologues narrated by uberfan Martin Freeman, it rumbles rather than explodes into life, the Prologue’s songs – including established live favourites Theatre Of The Absurd and Baby Burglar – imbued with the melancholy of Mad Not Mad. Five songs in, What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?) kickstarts a fine run of ebullient bouncers, resembling Wings Of A Dove even as Woody’s Round We Go hints at the band’s troubles under the fairground mood. Chris Foreman’s defiant twangy guitar introducing Lockdown And Frack Off begins an even more hectic section, as Madness suddenly turn into a surf-rock band for three minutes before Beginners 101’s piano goes full It Must Be Love bittersweet wonder. There’s still room for Foreman offering up a Night Boat To Cairo-style near instrumental pile-on before Suggs’ In My Street ends the album with a call for togetherness that’s anything but sentimental. You try getting in Suggs’ way when his chorus is this steely. Working together again for the first time in years has ironically made for one of Madness’ most varied albums. Whatever caused their polarisation, they sound reinvigorated and up for mischief again. Rotten album title, mind.
4 stars, Classic Pop
In the wake of Robin Williams’ 2014 suicide, the well-worn fable of a desperate man being advised to cheer himself up by seeing the great clown Pagliacci made the internet rounds. ‘But doctor,’ answers the suffering patient, ‘I AM Pagliacci.’ As followers of warped British humourists including Max Wall, Spike Milligan and Tommy Cooper, it’s a tragicomic scenario Madness could sympathise with. They’ve been a mirth-bringing, all-ages part of the pop furniture since 1979, but they’ve also long acknowledged the less cuddly connotations of their name, with depression, awry family dynamics, alcohol abuse and other traumas present in their lorryload of hits. It’s in this mordant thematic zone that the floridly titled, slow burning Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie alights. More akin to 2009’s concept-opus The Liberty Of Norton Folgate than 2016’s looser Can’t Touch Us Now, it opens with a Martin Freeman-narrated intro which namechecks Samuel Beckett before the string-adorned title track brings visions of an audience trapped forever in a darkened theatre watching, sings a haggard Suggs, “the last and only performance of the cruellest cabaret.” Baggy Trousers this is not. Freeman duly sets up a three-acts-and- an-epilogue suite filled with dread, angst, peril and regret, to brassy, thum-and-lope ska and soul which broadly recalls the nervous break- down skanking of 1981’s hit Grey Day. The LP’s live debut in October at Camden’s Koko made explicit the various fractures that run through it – political mistrust, Covid, selling off the country, fast-eroding trust in institutions among them – with easily-read screen projections (these also included a big brick wall, proof if it were needed that several members were once concept LP-absorbing prog rock fans). On record alone, there’s plenty to intrigue. A Madness song called In My Street, you’d suspect, might cross over into poignant yet warming Our House territory. Instead, it ghoulishly depicts a populace that’s drugged, drunk, surrounded by trash and looking for an exit sign, with a final psychic breakthrough/collapse (“then you’re free!”) before looking haplessly for God to sort it all out on Judgement Day. Things are clearly not as they once were. Baby Burglar’s ghost dance ska is a grimly powerful descendant of Lee Thompson’s 1979 borstal memoir Land Of Hope & Glory, with a haunted ex-con reflecting on teenage murderers. Bizarrely, alienated groover If I Go Mad suddenly quotes 1986 B-side Call Me, co-written by estranged nutty avatar Cathal Smyth: it’s enough to make you wonder if the humanoid robot in the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker that sits beside the current six-man formation on the cover is somehow meant to be him too. At Koko, some in the crowd seemed to want One Step Beyond and My Girl instead. Don’t be fooled. The necessary and sustaining art-yin to their live knees-ups’ yang, with Theatre Of The Absurd… Madness have made an album that is among their absolute best.
4 stars, MOJO
Madness are an English institution due to deathless, jolly hits such as “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers” and “One Step Beyond”, but there’s always been another side to them. The London band are often at their best when bittersweet. Lesser-known songs such as “Grey Day”, “Madness (is All in the Mind)” and “One Better Day” showcased a downbeat poignance. Their new album, their 13th, is a case in point. It’s a response to the disturbing times we live in, and to “a disparate couple of years which saw the band at their most polarised and fragmented”. I can’t stop playing it. Ignore the iffy photoshop cover art, which does the contents a disservice. Dive straight to the music. On it, Madness seem free from expectation, loosed from their “nutty boys” straitjacket. The production is unafraid to rock on songs such as the pounding paranoia of “Run For Your Life”, the funk-riffed, percussive “If I Go Mad”, and the twangy melancholy of “Set Me Free”. Some vocals are (I think) even taken by others than Suggs. But it’s the standard of the songs that really makes C’Est La Vie shine. Vaguely structured as a music hall show, with short spoken interludes by the actor Martin Freeman, the music’s literate, witty theatricality portrays a Britain frayed and battered. To name but three songs, “In My Street” is a clear-eyed antidote to the cosiness of “Our House”, “Baby Burglar” emanates autobiographical frustration at dismally stacked social circumstance, and the title number, a great song, has a dynamically bleak desperation (“It’s every man now on his own/It’s all for one, you’d better run”). From Insta celeb banality to visions of free market Armageddon, Madness tilt at the bad guys, the overall impression one of a country fighting to survive as the lights are turned out, one by one. It’s as near as they’ve ever been to actual rage, but all channelled into vibrant, catchy, bouncy songwriting and, of course, laced with love, humour and glimpses of hope. It is, without a doubt, Madness’s best and most consistent album since the 1980s. Time and more prolonged listening will tell whether it might be one of their best of all.
I recall watching an interview with Madness frontman Suggs in 2009 as he discussed their 9th studio album (10th if you count The Madness), The Liberty of Norton Folgate. He remarked how if you had told him back in 1979 when they had their first hit single, ‘The Prince’, they would create a concept album 30 years later, he’d have laughed quite loudly in your face. He may have even uttered a coarse word or three. Fourteen years later, here is the second Madness concept album, Theatre of the Absurd present C’est La Vie. This is quite a gamble as Norton Folgate was an excellent album, the favourite of some Madness devotees. It looked as if it might never happen. After a disparate couple of years, which saw the band at their most polarised and fragmented. You can’t expect a group of friends to be together for over forty years without having the odd falling out, can you? The band reunited in an industrial unit in Cricklewood at the beginning of 2023, where they found that what unified them was always bigger than what divided them. So, what is the concept behind this album? Norton Folgate looked at where they all grew up and spun various stories about their lives and the other residents around them, both past and present. C’est La Vie delves into aspects such as the pandemic, social justice, love and paranoia, all ensconced in an overriding theme of the purposelessness of life and presented as a theatrical production. The boys are getting older, and it feels as if there’s a gentle prod at the meaning of life as an undercurrent. The album weighs in at a smidge under 57 minutes and boasts twenty tracks, although six of these are short-spoken pieces which weave the fabric of the album together. For the first time, Madness have produced their own album, with support from engineer and mixer Matt Galsbey. Does this album make them out to be Yesterday’s Men, or have they stayed Forever Young? The album opens with the dulcet tones of the award-winning actor Martin Freeman (a fan of the band), who pops up to provide the spoken word inserts, welcoming ‘Mr Beckett Sir…’ as the opening of the prologue. This would seem to be a nod to Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and his famed work Waiting for Godot, a work that touches upon never fulfilling your supposed purpose in life. ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ kicks off the musical contribution and would not sound out of place on Sgt—Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. “The actors stumble on with masks but no real plot”, Suggs warbles, which seems to be focused on the recent coronavirus pandemic. Some believe the pandemic was a work of fiction. Some thought lockdown was an error of judgment that left everyone cast adrift, and others who feel those in charge were clueless. Many bought into everything that came along in the interest of public safety. This song could be interpreted in all ways, reflecting the band’s differing views about this subject. But what exactly is Theatre of the Absurd? They are usually performances that focus not on a traditional play format (character development, realistic storylines, etc.) but instead on human beings confined in an unfathomable world subject to any event, no matter how illogical. You can see how it fuses into their theme for this long player. The thumping, driving drums from Daniel ‘Woody’ Woodgate, backed up with a lovely bassline from Mark’ Bedders’ Bedford, pummels you throughout ‘If I Go Mad’. It is the sort of song you’ll find yourself singing and dancing to when making some toast in the same way you might with ‘Wings of a Dove’. ‘Baby Burglar’ brings the prologue to a close, looking at the life of a young person living outside of the law. It also poses an interesting question as Suggs asks, “Going equipped into the night/If I was to turn this weapon upon you, who would be wrong? Who would be right?”. It sends my mind scuttling back to the story of Tony Martin in 1999. Chris’ Chrissy Boy’ Foreman is in fine form with his guitar here, which sounds a little like his efforts on the 1981 single, ‘Shut Up’. It seems fitting as both songs point to criminality, though ‘Baby Burglar’ has a darker feel. Mr. Freeman takes us to Act One and the album’s title track. Suggs treats us to his finest French as he croons, “C’est La Vie – Je ne le fais pas, c’est la vie (I am not doing it, that’s life)/C’est comme ça que, ça va être (Thats how it’s going to be)”. We will all die of something at some point, so why not let the virus do its thing instead of keeping us all locked up. It is a brutal viewpoint but one shared by many people throughout the pandemic, especially the longer it went on. The track has a real Madness vibe throughout – you’d spot it as one of theirs from 800 yards away. When I heard ‘What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?)’, I thought I was listening to Crunch! – the 1992 duo of Lee’ Kix’ Thompson and Chris Foreman (also erroneously known as The Nutty Boys). “Abigail and Brittney perform the truffle shuffle/They are having a go in all the kerfuffle/Now don’t squirm in your chair/You are the sole director/So just pull the fucking plug out from its connector”, Thompson spits out with a mix of venom and despair, sharing his thoughts on the utter garbage shared online passing as entertainment. Thompson’s vocals bring this track to life; it is nicely aggressive as it grabs you by the gonads. He’s not given the credit he deserves for his singing talents. This is a punked-up and funked-up Madness at your service. ‘Hour Of Need’ closes out Act One with its plucked violins akin to ‘It Must Be Love’. Proclaiming the need we have for human contact, love, and support this was a challenge many felt during periods of pandemic-enforced separation. We all remember those pieces about people not being allowed into care homes or into hospital ICU wards to sit with their loved ones as they fought for their lives. The short Act Two consists of ‘Round We Go’, a song that sounds very much like it was lifted from the band’s Keep Moving period. Written by Woodgate, who penned the excellent ‘Michael Caine’ which was on that album, it is a splash of likeable pop. As the song ends, it develops into a forceful wall of sound. On to Act Three (did you get a King Cone in the interval?). ‘Lockdown and Frack Off’ sees Suggs growling throughout, like a Doberman in need of a Hall’s Soother. “Come on down, tonight’s the night/Results are in, the price is right/Satisfy the common need, gratify a common greed”, he gruffly pronounces. Some people did get rich from the pandemic – VIP Lane for PPE contracts, anyone? The production seems a little confused on this track and left me feeling a bit frustrated. I wasn’t sure what it was trying to be.’Beginners 101′ comes and goes with little notice, with a nice bit of sax thrown in for good measure. ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’, continuing the greed concept with modern-day spivs selling you a loo roll for a fiver, also feels a little lost in the greater scheme of things. The third act is saved by Thompson and ‘The Law According to Dr. Kippah’. Thompson exhibits his vocal abilities once more as his words rat-a-tat-tat at you throughout. Thankfully, Act Three is not the end of the story. This performance comes complete with an epilogue, beginning with the excellent disco-funk of ‘Run for Your Life’. With a slightly apocalyptic feel to it, Foreman tells a tale of people being kept scared and paranoid. It’s a great way to control the masses, don’t you know? Whilst this references coronavirus, it also looks further afield, such as reigniting the Cold War fear of the Russians after their invasion of Ukraine. Sadly, it also fits with the current issues in the Middle East. Some people craved freedom during the periods of national lockdown, caged animals desperate to run wild. ‘Set Me Free (Let Me Be)’ sees someone crying out to be let loose from their concrete jail whilst arguing the efficacy of lockdown; “Been locked down in this same ghost town/I’m sure by now it’s doing more harm than good”. You can picture someone prowling around their home knowing that Tomorrow Is Just Another Day, just like the one before. As the curtain is getting ready to fall, the final song, ‘In My Street’, sends us off into the night with a slice of vintage Madness. Containing a wonderful, jangly piano by Mike’ Barso’ Barson (think cockney pub knees-up), this begins to complete the circle with the album’s opener. Suggs spotlights the locals who all talk about a better life but find reasons not to pursue it, choosing to stand still. Freeman closes out the album and sends us around again as he states this is just the end of the beginning. Overall, this is a good album. It is the sort of LP you want to listen to a few times to get the feel of it. There are a few tracks that initially jump out at you and a few that slowly grow on you. The inclusion of Freeman’s dialogue helps to bring a different dimension to the proceedings. For me, it doesn’t reach the heights that Norton Folgate achieved. It was always going to be a tough target to hit. C’est La Vie employs a more restricted palate of subject matter, which has impacted the final product. Take a couple of tracks out of the running order, and you have a tighter album that would keep your attention from start to finish. As it stands, you get a breather before the grand finale. This will be an album that will split opinion amongst the Madness fan base. For example, those who prefer their early work will likely enjoy a few tracks but not necessarily the whole album. Some will enjoy the concept nature of this album, whilst others might prefer a traditional album construction instead. We will wait and see whether it will attract new fans, but it offers a lot to the listener. The fact that Madness has been recording for over forty years but still wants to push their boundaries is a commendable trait. Waiting until album number thirteen to attempt self-production is to be applauded when it would have been easier to pass the responsibility onto someone else as per the norm. This may well be the last-ever studio album by Madness. They have not intimated this, but they are not getting any younger. The Rolling Stones are still at it, so there may well be plenty more life in these nutty boys yet. They can still make great songs and continue to be a great live band. I believe there is at least one more album in Messrs. McPherson, Thompson, Barson, Bedford, Foreman and Woodgate based on this offering… but Don’t Quote Me On That.
4 stars, xsnoize.com
In ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, Madness frontman Suggs sings: “The orchestra strike up a song that no ones heard of, a storyline that no one knows to sing”. It reminds me of being at the album launch for their latest record, Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, where the band boldly debuted a slew of completely unheard songs in the first half of their set. They readied the crowd for another hit nobody had heard of, and it became immediately apparent that recognising the lyrics wasn’t necessary; such is the power of a Madness beat. Under Suggs’ watchful, eternally sunglass-covered eyes, the crowd was caught up by the end of each song, clinging onto random sentences and the band’s drive. ‘If I Go Mad’ was rattling around my head long before I’d got a chance to listen to the album in full. Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie being their 13th LP, Madness has mastered the art of crafting a catchy ska tune down to a fine science. But on this album, that skill is coupled with striking social commentary and an unexpected theatricality. Like a fully formed live performance, we have a prologue and a three-act structure, read by resident Madness superfan Martin Freeman. The band’s manager had found Freeman in a meet-and-greet queue, and later, a friendship was formed with Suggs. Freeman is not the only recognisable face involved with the album either; Suggs also roped Helen Mirren into reading out the lyrics to its lead single on a promotional video, which speaks to their cachet as one of Britain’s most continually relevant bands, even all these years later. Part of the mythology of Madness seems to be that they’re an omnipresent musical force. You’d be hard-pressed to find a year they were not gigging constantly, but that also means they’re considered something of a nostalgia act by many, happy to stick on the suits and trot out the hits come festival season. This album is enduring proof that Madness is far more than that. Ska is often called a “souped-up” sound simply because it is just that – the acerbic bite of punk coupled with Jamaican rhythms. Madness drive that sound to more eclectic heights on the record, introducing brief flashes of electro-funk, spoken word, and orchestral drama. Every song arrives as a classic Madness track, staying true to their unmistakable rattle. But the subject matter is a slight departure from the infectious joy of ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘Must Be Love’. On this album, the cabaret is cold, and the cupboards are bare. The writing is sharp, using the idea of the grand human theatre to examine the chaos and cruelty of the times we’re living in. Ska rose to prominence during a period of great social upheaval in the ’70s, and that Madness can make an album that feels politically relevant in 2023 is less of an endorsement of ska’s longevity and more an indictment of the times we’re living in – times which Madness skewer with flair and humour. The wit of the Jerry Dammers can be felt across the entire album, particularly on ‘C’est La Vie’, which touches upon the same resigned annoyance as ‘Ghost Town’. Likewise, the dry humour of the late Terry Hall is echoed in ‘Lockdown and Frack Off’, and a lot of the songs chime with the likes of ‘Rat Race’ or The Clash’s ‘Magnificent Seven’. But there’s no sense of nihilism; you round off the 14-track-offering feeling like someone’s just told you, in plain terms, how fucked everything is – but you feel marginally better for their honesty. Their unflinching anger at the powers that be might dominate, but so do the glimmers of hope. One of the album’s standouts is ‘In My Street’, the revamped answer to ‘Our House’. Its syncopated beat and wailing saxophone give it a quiet sense of urgency, which jars with the celebration of community Suggs sets out with. It feels like the perfect reflection of a uniquely British malaise – “Everybody’s talking about getting away” – but they all stay. With dire social circumstances in our midst, a country divided and poorer than ever, we all just stay put, waiting for something to change while daydreaming about being somewhere sunnier. But Madness dash just enough rays of light through the album, the likes of ‘Baby Burglar’ and ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, to stop you from ruminating on the sad state of affairs too much. It’s always onto the next song, and the next act. On the album and in life, as Suggs instructs: “This cabaret must never end”.
4.5/5, Poppy Burton, faroutmagazine
SUGGS: We all felt that we’d been through a very absurd period, so we made a record of that absurdity. We’re not the sort of band who want to go on about it and make you feel worse, but at the same time, it definitely informed a lot of the record. It just all seems so surreal now.
LEE: It’s a ghostly album, with hints of hope on it.
SUGGS: We tried to divide it into different acts but there’s not a plot as such. There’s a vague thread but you can project your own ideas onto it. We didn’t want to be in a situation where there was an overall philosophical thought, it’s a lot of different ideas politically and socially, the harmony being that they are all personal observations of what we were feeling at that time.
MIKE: What you’re hearing on this album is the band’s ideas, pure, not filtered through some producer This is what we want you to hear. And if It doesn’t work out, well. We didn’t have a bad run, did we?
CHRIS: For the cover, the idea is that the whole world is going to crap but we’re oblivious to everything that’s going on behind us, although some elements got changed along the way. The things Barso and I originally came up with were pretty hard core, like a sewage pipe with PPE coming out of it and so on, but that got toned down. The guy who does the artwork isn’t really someone to be compromised, so I imagine the record label got involved at some point. The only thing is, the title is a bit of a cop-out. But Suggs became obsessed with his song Theatre of the Absurd and it became this all-defining thing. I didn’t like it and said, ‘Suggs, it’s totally brilliant, but this whole album isn’t all about that song.’ I mean, there have been loads of albums called Theatre of the Absurd, all Goth stuff etc, but Suggs still wanted it to be the name of the album. I had this sneaking suspicion that no one else liked it either, so I suggested we call it C’est La Vie. And then, to keep Suggs happy, we called it Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, which doesn’t really roll off the tongue doesn’t it? But it is what it is – this band is so crap at making decisions that it’s like getting blood out of a stone.
NOVEMBER 17: Promotional video unveiled
As well as the album itself, launch day also sees the release of a special three-part promo video, with short clips of the band performing Round We Go, C’est La Vie and Baby Burglar.
CHRIS: Before we made the videos, I went to a marketing meeting at the record company – it’s the first marketing meeting I’ve been to in my life. They started talking about what to do for Round We Go and I just sat there thinking, ‘I haven’t got a clue what to do.’ Then they said, ‘We actually want to do a video with three songs.’ And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I thought that Suggs could be walking down the street in the suburbs and the camera could be on a pole, then he goes to a shop, opens a door and we’re in this room playing the song, and so on. So we got our miniscule budget and that’s how it started. For the C’est La Vie section, they made these wooden podiums for us to stand on, but they were about 4ft tall – how am I meant to stand on that with a guitar and not fall off? So there was a bit of arguing back and forth and we had to rejig everything. In the end Suggs had the biggest one, but claimed he had vertigo so he just sat on it – he doesn’t have vertigo and probably just had a hangover. The third section we filmed was for Baby Burglar and I thought, ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ So that was the look we went for. I had these prison bars on wheels made, which we pushed round to make it look as if Suggs was in prison. Woody hates doing videos, but when someone fell over even he started laughing, so it came out really well.
NOVEMBER 18: Radio 5 Live
Suggs appears on the morning show with Patrick Kielty, discussing the album and upcoming tour.
NOVEMBER 19: Sunday Brunch
Suggs dons his black bomber jacket to appear on the Channel 4 show, looking at himself in the monitor as he chats with Tim Lovejoy about the new album and tour and their shared love of Chelsea.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): Although I’ve done lots of other things, Madness has always been the mothership of my career, whether I like it or not. So it’s good to be back with a new album and it seems to have been very well received so far.
NOVEMBER 19: Camden Market
Suggs, Mike and Lee head down to Camden Market to take part in a special signing session for fans. Taking charge of a pop-up stall, they spend a couple of hours autographing various items, including albums, t-shirts, signs and Dr Martens.
NOVEMBER 19: Strictly Come Dancing
As their round of promotional appearances continues, Madness play back C’est La Vie at the top of the Blackpool Tower as part of the prime-time results show. Recorded the day before, Mez deputises for Woody on drums, with Lee playing a miniature sax.
NOVEMBER 21: The Chris Evans Breakfast Show
Suggs and Mike make another early-morning promo appearance, this time joining DJ Chris on his Virgin Radio show. In a change from other appearances this week, Suggs swaps his black bomber jacket for the distinctive patterned coat from The Sun and the Rain video. The duo perform My Girl and C’est La Vie and also discuss the new album and tour, plus their weekend appearance on Strictly.
NOVEMBER 21: Pryzm, Kingston, London
All six band members assemble for a special Q&A and signing session as new album activity continues. Hosted by Stevie Chick, tonight’s appearance sees the sextet discussing a variety of topics, with plenty of bickering and mickey-taking. At one point Lee pretends to attack the other members, with Chris in turn hitting him with a mic after the saxophonist forgets to speak into the one provided. The band also nominate their favourite David Bowie songs and say they are “talking to Butlins” about the return of the House of Fun weekender in 2025.
NOVEMBER 22: This Morning
Suggs and Mike take to the comfy sofas once again, this time speaking to Dermott O’Leary and Rochelle Humes on the ITV1 daytime show. The duo joke about the embarrassment of their families finding them watching themselves in their old videos, with Suggs admitting, ‘It’s almost worse than being caught watching porn.’
NOVEMBER 22: Rough Trade, East London
Woody, Suggs, Mike, Bedders and Lee attend another in-store signing, scribbling on merchandise for an hour. Woody’s wife Grace is also in attendance and shares her ice cream birthday cake before Suggs leads the crowd in a rendition of Happy Birthday.
NOVEMBER 24: HMV, Oxford Street, Central London
A large crowd assembles as all six members attend the reopening of the famous flagship store at 363 Oxford Street, which closed in 2019. After they cut the ribbon and the shutters go up, the band conduct a brief signing downstairs, with fans only allowed down in small batches to prevent overcrowding. The band then make a sharp exit to collect their Number 1 award from the Official Charts company and record a short video message after it is confirmed that the new album is top of the charts – their first studio LP of new material to do so in 44 years. Madness had previously only topped the UK charts with their single House of Fun in 1982 and with greatest hits albums Complete Madness (1982) and Divine Madness (1992).
NOVEMBER 24: The Robert Elms Show
Suggs drops into the Radio London studio to chat with the veteran presenter, discussing the gestation of the new album and the early days of the band. Mike arrives half way through and also chips in with some insights about recording at Cricklewood.
MIKE (speaking in 2023): Lockdown gave us some breathing space from each other and a chance to really concentrate and write, which was no bad thing. It’s a bit like farming when you leave the ground fallow for a bit and the plants come back bigger and fruitier than ever.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): That’s us! We’re fruitier than ever!
NOVEMBER 30: Radio 2's Piano Room
The band appear on the live show presented by Vernon Kaye, performing Our House, C’est La Vie and Friday Night, Saturday Morning with the BBC Concert Orchestra in a special session that was recorded on October 20.
CHRIS : We were told, ‘You can do one new song, one old song and a cover.’ For the new one, I said, ‘Why don’t we do Theatre of the Absurd?’ because it’s got all strings and stuff and we had an orchestra in there with us. For the old one, Barso said we should do It Must Be Love, although I wanted Our House. The cover was more of a problem because Barso said we should do Oh My Love, but we recorded that about 20 years ago when we were doing that crap Dangermen thing and it got lost on the cutting room floor, so I said, ‘Mike that’s long gone.’ So then he suggested an Al Green song and I said what about Everybody Hurts by REM, but then we thought perhaps we should give Suggs a say in it as he’s got to sing the bloody thing. So we were at the airport in Singapore after doing the Grand Prix and I told Suggs I had a ‘kill list’ of who I wanted to get rid of in the band, and he was pretty high up. And he said he had an idea that would get him off the list and it was to do Friday Night, Saturday Morning by The Specials. And I said, ‘Suggs, that’s genius.’ And I got my pen out and put him lower down on the list. Everybody in the band was like, ‘Yes! That’s a great idea.’ But when our team went to the BBC they said, ‘Oh no, you have to do a well known Specials song like Gangsters’ – totally missing the point of why we wanted to do it. So it went back and forth a bit, and then they objected to the lyrics about spew and ‘piss stains on my shoes’. We then had a Zoom meeting with the BBC and Barso put his foot down and told them we wanted to do it, so we did and it turned out really well – the women who did the strings was especially good. They also said they wanted to do an interview about the story behind Our House, so I said I should do it as I wrote it, instead of Suggs and Mike as it normally is. So me and Suggs did that one.
NOVEMBER 30: P&J Live, Aberdeen
Madness kick off their ‘Cest La Vie’ Christmas tour north of the border, supported by The Lightning Seeds. As hinted at by Chris and others, the setlist draws heavily from the new album, with nine of the 14 tracks from Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie given an airing and the running order split into two acts plus an encore.
ACT ONE: Theatre of the Absurd / The Prince / Beginners 101 / My Girl / Lockdown and Frack Off / NW5 / C’est La Vie / Embarrassment / Baby Burglar / Grey Day / Run For Your Life / Shut Up / Round We Go / Bed and Breakfast Man / What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?) / Friday Night, Saturday Morning. ACT TWO (AKA SHOWTIME): One Step Beyond / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love. ENCORE: In My Street / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo.
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): We called this tour the C’est La Vie tour because it means ‘this is it, this is life’, not ‘this is death’ or ‘this is the end’, so isn’t a farewell tour or anything like that, because God knows we’ve done enough of those in the past.
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): Choosing what to play for the tour was a bit annoying, because we’ve got a really good album out, probably the best we’ve done for years, but when I suggested putting a lot of new songs on the setlist, Suggs and Woody said, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that many.’ But I said, ‘Well when ARE we going to do them? Never?’ So I’ve had a long battle and we ARE doing quite a lot of them.
DECEMBER 1: OVO Hydro, Glasgow
There are a couple of setlist changes for the second show of the tour, with Hour of Need replacing Lockdown and Frack Off and Lee singing The Law According to Dr Kippah instead of What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?). The encore is also changed, with In My Street now becoming the last song before Act Two and Friday Night, Saturday Morning moving further back. Suggs sings the new songs well but badly mangles the lyrics to My Girl. During the lead-up to Night Boat to Cairo, he also takes a dig at the increasing number of Middle Eastern Premier League owners, putting a towel on his head and asking, ‘Can I buy your football club?’
ACT ONE: Theatre of the Absurd / The Prince / Beginners 101 / My Girl / Hour of Need / NW5 / C’est La Vie / Embarrassment / Baby Burglar / Grey Day / Run For Your Life / Shut Up / Round We Go / Bed and Breakfast Man / The Law According to Dr Kippah / In My Street. ACT TWO (AKA SHOWTIME): One Step Beyond / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love. ENCORE: Friday Night, Saturday Morning / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo.
DECEMBER 2: Utilita Arena, Newcastle
Tonight’s setlist is much the same as Aberdeen, with In My Street and Friday Night, Saturday Morning now seemingly swapped for good. One surprise addition is Wings of a Dove, which appears as a bonus track towards the end of the first half of the set.
ACT ONE: Theatre of the Absurd / The Prince / Beginners 101 / My Girl / Lockdown and Frack Off / NW5 / C’est La Vie / Embarrassment / Baby Burglar / Grey Day / Run For Your Life / Shut Up / Round We Go / Bed and Breakfast Man / What On Earth Is It (you Take Me For?) / Wings of a Dove / In My Street. ACT TWO (AKA SHOWTIME): One Step Beyond / House of Fun / Baggy Trousers / Our House / It Must Be Love. ENCORE: Friday Night, Saturday Morning / Madness / Night Boat to Cairo.
CHRIS (speaking in 2023): These days, we’re at that kind of stadium-level size of gigs, which we never really wanted to do back in the day. In the 80s we’d do two UK tours a year, of 20 shows each, going up and down here, there and everywhere. We’d be on at Hammersmith Odeon for a week because we didn’t want to do Wembley Arena – we thought that was for the likes of Duran Duran and all that. So we liked the smaller venues, but when we came back after ’92 we were suddenly at arena level which is great and we really are blessed that people like us enough to still come and fill those kind of places. One year after our comeback we DID do a tour of smaller venues and I remember thinking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ even though it was me who’d wanted to do it in the first place!
DECEMBER 4: Cardiff International Arena
DECEMBER 5: Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham
DECEMBER 7: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool
DECEMBER 8: First Direct Arena, Leeds
DECEMBER 9: AO Arena, Manchester
DECEMBER 11: Brighton Centre
DECEMBER 12: Bournemouth International Arena
DECEMBER 14: Utilita Arena, Sheffield
DECEMBER 15: The O2, London
DECEMBER 16: Utilita Arena, Birmingham
SUGGS (speaking in 2023): I keep waiting for the tap on the shoulder and someone to say, ‘Come on mate, pack it up. We’ve had enough of you lot.’ But it never comes, so here we are again. We’ll keep on keeping on until we can’t do it any more.