The story of Madness... in their own words
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With the running order finally whittled down, fans wait expectantly for the band’s 13th studio album, supported by a summer of activity at home and across Europe

JANUARY: Further album progress is revealed

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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.’

Bedders at work in the studio

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?’

The film's stars at the relaunch

MARCH 27: Dance Craze reissued

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Lee was on form in Cannock

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

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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

Suggs and Chris at Delamere Forest

JUNE 16&17: The Piece Hall, Halifax

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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

Lee entertains at Piece Hall

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

press release

“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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.


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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

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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.

Suggs on Never Mind The Buzzcocks

OCTOBER 13-15: Modcast Weekender, St Leonards on Sea

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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

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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.

Launching the new album at KOKO

OCTOBER 18: KOKO, London

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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?”


For Madness and their legions of loyal fans, coming back to KOKO in Camden was a step back in time to when the group were just starting out in the late 1970s. As Suggs told the audience, the last time they played in the historic venue, it was known as the Music Machine and they were still known as The Invaders. In fact, it was actually in this hallowed hall that they came up with the idea of changing the band name, he told us. But for those dedicated devotees who braved the torrential downpour to make their way to KOKO, this special one-off show was thankfully no mere nostalgia trip. Madness were back on their old stomping ground to launch their new album, with its slightly long-winded title Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie. There was a real sense of anticipation about this gig. With no support act, a guy kitted out smartly in a Suggs-esque three-piece suit spun tunes to warm everyone up. Most of the people around me looked like they were around for the Madness 1980s heyday when they topped the charts with their poppy ska and much-cherished witty anthems. But there were certainly plenty of younger fans along too, many sporting souvenir fez hats bought at the merch stall in the theatre entrance. Before Madness came on, a film of Dame Helen Mirren speaking the lyrics to one of the new tunes appeared on the backdrop. All quite intriguing and slightly obtuse. Little has changed about the band’s appearance, but with the first half of the gig dedicated entirely to the new record the look was the only thing that was familiar. Hearing these songs for the first time, I was struck by some sharp, edgy lyrics, out of the Madness comfort zone. It was hard to concentrate completely though. It seemed that a substantial section of the audience only wanted to hear the classics. Suggs even had to berate one man during the gig, reminding him that they would be playing the hits afterwards. Another distraction was the impressive visuals behind the group, which worked well, but sometimes were so frenetic that I found myself concentrating more on what I was watching than the music. The songs seemed refreshing, containing the familiar elements of the Madness sound, but with some sonic experimentation too. Something was lacking though. Was it just the fact that no one was pogoing and singing along? I wondered whether the tempo has, not surprisingly, slowed down from the Madness we are used to. At times it felt like a 45rpm 7-inch was being played at 33. For the six stalwarts of the original Madness line-up on stage, it must be frustrating to know that no one will ever care as much about these new songs as much as they care about the ones you wrote 40 years earlier. They still attacked the greatest hits with real gusto, however, after a break of around 20 minutes, Suggs let the audience shout out the famous One Step Beyond. Listening to these classics in a setting like KOKO added something, and made them sound less like recycled relics dusted off from the back of the cupboard. Just before the flat-out zaniness of Night Boat to Cairo, which closed the set, Madness paid a tasteful tribute to their old 2-Tone ska revival peer Terry Hall with a cover of Friday Night, Saturday Morning. A thoughtful moment which underscored a host of memories for many of those jumping up and down in Fred Perry polo shirts around me.
Tom Parry,


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.
Daily Mail

OCTOBER 27: Baby Burglar made available for download

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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

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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.

Suggs appearing on The One Show

NOVEMBER 11: Later... with Jools Holland

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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.

Suggs with Jools Holland on the BBC2 show

NOVEMBER 17: BBC Breakfast

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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.

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Suggs and Mike on the BBC sofa

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

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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

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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

1. Prologue: 'Mr Beckett Sir'

CHRIS: 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, so Mike wrote some dialogue with music underneath.


LEE: Mike was certainly keen to have someone introduce the album in different parts, and I had Martin Freeman’s contact details as he’d done the introduction to my autobiography. So I asked him to do it and he said he’d be honoured.


MIKE: Martin’s a good sport and was really up for it.

2. Theatre of the Absurd

SUGGS: I wrote this during lockdown about all the craziness that was going on and all the sort of chaos in our lives. 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, so this was a sort of poetic vision of how we all felt during that strange old time.

3. If I Go Mad

SUGGS: This was another one that I wrote during that lockdown period and does what it says on the tin really. Primarily it was 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.’


4. Baby Burglar

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.

5. Act One: 'Surrounded On All Sides...'

MIKE: After a bit of to-and-froing via emails, we went round to Martin’s house to record his spoken word pieces.


LEE: We put the kettle on and Andy our sound man set up a nice little room in the corner.


MIKE: After a few cups of tea and a bit of a chit-chat, we got down to it. Martin said, ‘I don’t need any of the music or anything – just turn it on’ and just did it in one go – Boom! It sounded great; he was a real professional.

6. C'est La Vie

CHRIS: Mike wrote this one – it’s a great song


MIKE: This one is about the difficult times and difficult circumstances we’re living through and how I just want to stay on my boat and not be a part of it all. It’s kind of saying, ‘This isn’t my choice, it’s not how I would be running the world but c’est la vie, such is life; I didn’t plan it like this and I didn’t call it to be like this so I’m just going to keep on doing my thing.’ I mean, if I look at all our leaders I think, ‘Jesus Christ almighty, what the hell is going on?’


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…

7. What On Earth Is It (You Take Me For?)

CHRIS: This was originally called Pussy Galore and we first played it back in about 2018.


LEE: It’s about reality TV and what poor souls do for the riches of fame on that little thing in the corner of the room that the majority of the planet are drawn to. Fortunately I’m old enough to have a dog and go walkies at night, so I’m out that door at 9pm when that sort of programme starts.

8. Hour of Need

MIKE: I actually wrote this one a very long time ago with Suggs when I was living on a houseboat in Amsterdam. When he was singing it in my little back room, he got all emotional and I just remembered that there was something good about it. It’s about love and someone in need calling out for help; when you get that connection of human beings it makes you think differently and transforms your state of being.

9. Act Two: 'The Damsel in Distress...'

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.’

10. Round We Go

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.

11. Act Three: 'The Situation Deteriorates...'

MIKE: I think Martin’s voiceover was very evocative – there was a lot of character in what he did.

12. Lockdown and Frack Off

CHRIS: I’d written the music a long time ago, and during that period when everyone was unavailable, I started writing some lyrics. I’d never written many lyrics before, but once I started I couldn’t stop. As you’d expect, it’s 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.

13. Beginners 101

MIKE: This one came about after I decided to follow the old David Bowie way of doing things, so I thought, ‘I’ll just start writing some lyrics and see what happens.’ And it slowly started to get into this sort of crime thriller/bank job kind of thing and it was good fun to piece together a story about criminals arguing over cash and trying to stitch each other up. It was slightly based on the film Topkapi, which was about a heist in Istanbul that was quite glamorous for the time; I just remember them climbing about on the roof and stuff.


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.


MIKE: The first time I heard it after we recorded a rough mix I really liked it, so it’s one of my favourites.

14. Is There Anybody Out There?

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 was really good to finally get it out there and get it recorded.


LEE: It had certainly been laying about for a hell of a long time.


CHRIS: The problem with Lee is that it’s very hard to get him to do a good vocal on a demo, but once you do, suddenly people get interested. Luckily, this one has got a good lyric about some kind of Artful Dodger types.


LEE: This is another one about the criminal element. It’s about buying tat from the salesman who flogs stuff out a suitcase on Oxford Street – y’know, supposedly expensive perfume that turns out to be Fairy washing up liquid with a bit of Ajax sprinkled on top of it. I used to play cat-and-mouse with the police, street trading with my dad in the early 70s, but this is also 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.

15. The Law According to Dr. Kippah

MIKE: This is a very, very old tune that me and Lee put together.


LEE: As the lyrics changed over time, it became all about the summer of 1976; the fashions, the places we went, the friends we had and the clubs we went to.


MIKE: It’s just about the history of that year – the summer of love – and is very evocative of that period, so it’s quite meaningful. Plus there’s a bit of freight train influence on it because we used to jump on them for amusement when we were kids. It’s just the story of kids growing up, like on the plains of Africa when you see bulls locking horns, that whole growing-up process.


LEE: As well as loss, grief and unsolved crimes, it’s also about all my good friends, like Pat McAnn – ‘Father Kippah’ is a nod to him. He passed on a few years ago, so there’s a bit of a ‘I’ve seen the light’ moment when you realise you’re not Superman.

16. Epilogue: 'And So Ladies and Gentlemen...'

MIKE: Having Martin on the album was a nice experience and it was lovely that he wanted to be included; he likes the band and the band likes him.

17. Run for Your Life

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 write 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!

18. Set Me Free (Let Me Be)

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.

19. In My Street

SUGGS: I thought it would be nice to end the album with something slightly positive, so I wanted to write about community and how important it is to interact with people in your neighbourhood. I was also moving house and wanted to commemorate the street I’d lived on and the people I knew; I had a lot of memories about a lot of old friends who lived in the street where I was for 40-odd years, so it was a catalogue of all the funny faces and characters I’ve known down the years. 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.

20. Fin.: 'Ladies and Gentlemen...'

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


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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.
8/10, Uncut


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,


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


Such is life, indeed. Madness is inevitable. They crop up on New Year’s Day to play in the bells. Lead man Suggs pops around to Would I Lie To You for some cheery appearances. Gone are the days of their challenging and ska-based tomfoolery which would bring out the best in a counterculture now consumed and coughed up by the very spirit-crushing system which had birthed the genre. But Madness are now as compact and readily made as those who listen to their music, the people who brought out the most basic and primitive directions of the genre and use it for their Sainsbury’s adverts and mid-week meal-prep playlist. C’est La Vie, as they say. Whether this new work from Madness lands with those Our House listeners is yet to be seen. Whining orchestrals brings about first track Theatre of the Absurd – presenting London town with all the coughed-up hackney accent. Suggs notes “no real plot,” of the actors on stage yet no way of getting out. His and the rest of Madness’ decision to structure this in acts is a fascinating change of pace for a band who have stuck to their guns with how their albums are structured. It works well enough to warrant the wider changes made on C’est La Vie, an album which features theatrics as much as it can as though it were not confident enough of the material cementing it. Whether this is the “last known performance” and a farewell to Madness is yet to be seen, but what a way to bow out if it is. Speculation and nothing more, but the band would be hard-pressed to bring out anything better than this so late in the game. Whether C’est La Vie has the legs to last its hour-long length is up to those hardened fans who hope for unchanging, steady trickles of tunes. A sickly and twee state of affairs soon follows and knocks the wind out of Madness’ sails. Surrounded on All Sides does little to cement the confidence in this act structure. Title track C’est La Vie is at least a timely bit of doom for the nine to five experiences, but Madness cannot shake their beloved Brit status which has so far hindered them as the Carry On film equivalent of British music. Their act structure runs out of steam halfway through, the one track from its centre point, meant to be the climax, brings the middle-of-the-road track Round We Go. Breakup on the cards but staggering through over half a decade on from their previous album, Madness prove they are still more than Hardwick Live fodder. Lockdown and Frack Off is more a Madness attempted to stay relevant and up to date with the rumblings of politics. They forget they were once, like UB40, the cornerstone of a counterculture. Life comes at you fast when you’re lapping up the establishment, which Madness cannot shake off on Theatre of the Absurd. As cured and safe as can be, even their artistic changes of pace and criticisms of the powers that be fall flat. Toothless tries as the off-kilter titles of their songs match up with the vapid and inconsistent lyrics. This is not the theatre of the absurd, it is the showcase of the dullards.
Ewan Gleadow,

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

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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.

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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

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Suggs appears on the morning show with Patrick Kielty, discussing the album and upcoming tour.

NOVEMBER 19: Sunday Brunch

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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 keeps an eye on the monitor on Sunday Brunch

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

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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.

Suggs, Mike and Lee at the signing

NOVEMBER 19: Strictly Come Dancing

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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.

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Mez on drums for the Strictly performance

NOVEMBER 21: The Chris Evans Breakfast Show

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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.

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Suggs at Virgin in his classic coat

NOVEMBER 21: Pryzm, Kingston, London

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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

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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.’

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NOVEMBER 22: Rough Trade, East London

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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.

Mike with fan Nicky Young at Rough Trade

NOVEMBER 24: HMV, Oxford Street, Central London

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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).

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The chart-toppers show off their Number 1 award

NOVEMBER 24: The Robert Elms Show

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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

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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.

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Recording the Radio 2 session with an orchestra

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

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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.

DECEMBER 1: OVO Hydro, Glasgow

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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.


Madness’s new album Theatre Of The Absurd – a chart-topper, frontman Suggs announced with some pride and perhaps a little surprise – is delivered with a dramatic flourish, with voiceover from Martin Freeman (star of the BBC’s Sherlock and The Hobbit films, among other roles) and a thread of contemporary malaise running through it. It should be tailormade for performance. Yet somehow the unforgiving expanse of the Hydro was not friendly to this album’s ambiguous emotion, downbeat moods and nuanced arrangements. In short, your honour, the new songs fell rather flat – and all this despite acting royalty Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon appearing on the venue’s big screens to add to the drama. Arguably, on the first Friday in December, in the largest arena in Glasgow, Madness fans wanted an early Christmas party rather than the twilight zone being proffered. However, the band are (rightly) proud of their latest creation and much of the first half of the set was peppered with the credible likes of Run For Your Life, a hectic, fidgety spy theme affair embellished with the soul blast of a brass section, and In My Street, which is something of a glimpse at Our House 40 years on. Inevitably, the audience wanted to bop along to the original celebration of chaotic but contented domesticity, but there were other old favourites peppered throughout the set before they got to the final salvo of big hitters. This included their 1979 debut single The Prince; the pounding momentum, top tuneage and socio-political lyrics of Embarrassment, and the doomy dancehall sway and Latin coda of Grey Day – this latter being introduced by Suggs with the caveat that “80 per cent of the songs we write are about petty criminality”. Finally, the energy injection came with an unbeatable run of gleeful early Eighties pop classics, kicking off with the irresistible skank of One Step Beyond and culminating with the demented knees-up that is Night Boat To Cairo, after taking in a cover of The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning in tribute to the late Terry Hall.
Fiona Shepherd, The Scotsman, three stars

Suggs and Lee on the Christmas tour

DECEMBER 2: Utilita Arena, Newcastle

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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. Some fans report that Suggs seems distracted and in pain tonight, with a bad back and painkillers given as the explanation.


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.


Newcastle was a hive of activity on the evening of December 2nd. The Newcastle v Manchester United match coincided with Madness’ concert at the Utilita arena on Saturday night, bringing all Geordie fans into ‘toon’. The pints were flowing and the energy was high. As a 21-year-old, I was certainly an anomaly among the crowd and it’s safe to say that I brought the average age down. Madness acknowledged their usual demographic, noting the lack of young people at their concerts. Even though this is true, most Brits would recognise their big hits. Dedicated fans fashioned red fez hats in reference to Madness’ music video for their 2011 single, Night Boat To Cairo. The headwear has since become synonymous with the band, with fez hats flying off the shelves at merchandise stands. The support act were superb. I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Lightning Seeds before Saturday night. The 80s rock band are best known for their single Three Lions, a collaboration with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, which has become an anthem among English football fans. Their setlist had inflections of pop and rock, with effortless melodies, catchy choruses, and clean guitar riffs. Their bright and synthesised 80s sound was wonderfully received by the crowd, who clearly recognised the tunes. You Showed Me, Emily Smiles, and The Life of Riley were notably popular and for good reason. After securing the top spot in the UK charts for their new album, Theatre of the Absurd, Madness were welcomed on stage with rapturous cheers and applause. The sunglassed vocalist, Suggs, declared that the band would take the crowd on a journey from the past to the present, and into the future. The setlist interspersed hits from their formative years of ‘petty criminality’, with songs from their new album. The band were accompanied by Absurd and wacky graphics on screen, reflecting the exuberance of their music. Wings of a Dove, another cherished classic, characterised by its quirky rhythm and catchy melody, was also a fan favourite and involved adlibbed political commentary. The lyrics advocate for peace and universal happiness: “take the hand of another and sing for the wings of the dove.” Suggs took the opportunity to express his opinion on current affairs, exclaiming “f*ck the war” during the song. The 70s ska band certainly haven’t lost their spark. Lee Thompson’s flamboyant riffs on sax were extraordinary and the band’s lively stage presence was infectious. The setlist concluded with a rendition of It Must Be Love and an announcement of Newcastle’s win against Manchester United, to the joy of the many Newcastle fans in the arena. The concert was truly Madness!
Julia Miller, Palatinate

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 4: Cardiff International Arena


In case you were in Cardiff on Monday night and saw the veritable cavalcade of fezzes wandering around town, you may be relieved to know that it wasn’t an invasion of the Ottoman Empire; rather, the Nutty Boys themselves, aka Madness, were in town at the Arena. Of course, you’d also be forgiven in thinking they’d long ago disappeared but Suggs and co are still plugging their wares to rooms full of people skanking away. Bang on 8.45pm, the lights go down and a message flashes up on the screen hovering above the stage – “The Theatre Of The Absurd introduces… Madness C’est La Vie” – as Helen Mirren flashes up to introduce the band. This is followed by a boatload of film clips and the curtain opening to reveal the band lead by the theatre’s ringleader, Suggs himself, as they kick into the (near enough) title track from their new album, Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie. Suggs, though, does let the room know that this evening, we will be going “on a journey from the past to the present to the Twilight Zone…” before the band’s first single, 1979’s The Prince, is received warmly. Introducing Beginners 101, Suggs introduces it as “a song from our new number one album” with a massive grin on his face as if he can’t quite believe it. It is long overdue, though – it’s somehow taken until 2023 for Madness to top the albums chart. There’s not much room to breathe tonight for the well-oiled machine onstage, rolling through each number in a fashion a little bit akin to someone going through the motions, but it’s fun nonetheless. Whilst it lags a bit in the middle, the main set ends with an unbelievable run of One Step Beyond (which saw guitarist Chris Foreman delight the room with a burst of Delilah just before), House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House, and It Must Be Love – a run of absolutely colossal tunes that 99% of bands could only dream of. The band returns for an encore, beginning with a special tribute to the late Terry Hall – a cover of The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning – before finishing the show with the rager that is Night Boat To Cairo. There is a slight air of old men yelling at clouds, with quips about things not being “woke” and “political correctness”, but it’s still a lovely bit of Monday night fun.
Joshua Williams,, three stars

DECEMBER 5: Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham


Hailing from NW5, London’s iconic Madness turned up to Nottingham to show us all how ska can be done. With the Lightning Seeds in tow, it was a small line-up but full of large songs, big sounds, and of course some rather baggy trousers. The Motorpoint Arena was prepped for a slightly lower capacity than usual, but Madness managed to absolutely pack out every single seat and each iota of standing room was crammed with fez-wearing fans. As the clock struck half past seven, the Lightning Seeds walked out to start their set with their song Marvellous. Whilst their playing was technically excellent, unfortunately their energy was not, and their set felt a little uninspired. Having seen them earlier this year play a much more exciting set, I’ll chalk it up to most likely illness at this time of year, and hopefully they’ll be able to give Nottingham a much better impression when they return to headline Rock City next year! The set meandered through their originals, from Change to Sense, briefly hitting on a cover of The Byrds You Showed Me that even had some snippets of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love and Lennon’s Imagine, before they got to the highlight of their set; closer Three Lions. I have to admit, the sound of an entire arena singing that did bring me out in goosebumps, such was the volume and outpouring of passion and love. With a somewhat subpar support, our main event were far more than just a simple improvement for the proceedings. As a band that are pushing onwards in the age department, I was cautiously expecting a little bit of a lacklustre performance, and while the age of the band was demonstrated, it was through impressive restraint and ability rather than sloppiness or lack of energy. The setlist itself felt thought through, with barely any gaps longer than two songs between huge hits, and still managing to show off a very respectable amount of their latest album, the number one charting Theatre of the Absurd presents C’est La Vie. Opening with the prologue and first title track of the new album, it didn’t take long before we were then treated to a bona fide British classic in My Girl, which had the audience jumping and singing in joyful exuberance. Back into Hour Of Need off of that surprisingly strong new album and then straight into a personal favourite of NW5, which was emotionally impactful and excellently performed. The rest of the set was no less brilliant, and further highlights included more great songs like Embarrassment and Wings of a Dove before they reached a searingly strong end of the main set – a five song run that started with One Step Beyond going straight into House Of Fun, with first the topic of fun spilling over into Baggy Trousers and then the topic of houses was continued by the iconic Our House. Finally, Camden’s finest finished with a flourish and brought out their exquisite cover of It Must Be Love. Tears were rolling, voices were singing, pints were raised and drunk, and every single person seemed to be having the time of their lives. A quick encore of Friday Night, Saturday Morning by The Specials into Madness and Night Boat to Cairo rounded affairs off perfectly. I truly don’t think there’s a much greater compliment to a band than when every single attendee at a concert leaves with a beaming grin plastered to their face, and I couldn’t spot a single person who didn’t fit that description. Madness, I take my fedora off to you for putting on such a glorious spectacle. They truly do call it Madness.
Jake Longhurst,

Chris fires t-shirts into the crowd

DECEMBER 7: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool


Madness brought the M&S Bank Arena to life, turning it into a house of fun with an energetic and unforgettable performance that featured a perfect blend of timeless classics. The night kicked off with The Lightning Seeds, whose performance drew an impressive crowd that rivalled even the headline act. Hits like You Showed Me and anthems such as Three Lions had the audience on their feet, setting a thrilling tone for the night ahead. Taking to the stage with infectious energy, Madness began their set, and an early favourite quickly emerged in the form of NW5. The band showcased their versatility by transitioning between iconic classics and newer hits like Run For Your Life which the audience greatly enjoyed. After playing a few songs from their latest album, Wings of the Dove re-energised the crowd, highlighting Madness’s ability to command the stage and connect with their fans. The arena came alive as the band delved into their classic repertoire including House of Fun, One Step Beyond, Our House, and It Must Be Love, with the entire audience joining in a chorus of lyrics that electrified the atmosphere. Madness’s unique strength lies in their ability to craft lyrics that form a paradoxical masterpiece, intertwining serious and hard-hitting topics with melodic tunes. This not only underscores their musical talent but also resonates across generations, allowing audiences to recognise and relate to current societal and political issues through the compelling stories conveyed in their lyrics. A standout moment of the night belonged to Madness’s saxophonist, Lee Thompson, who was in top form, delivering brilliant musical interludes and unforgettable banter. His witty remarks had the Liverpool audience in stitches, especially when he took a moment to praise the Titanic Hotel. He said: “Oh Liverpool, it’s f****** great to be back. That Titanic Hotel, f****** hell, I’ll tell you what…” accompanied by an impressed facial expression. Thompson’s charisma added an extra layer of entertainment to an already brilliant night of musical celebration. For die-hard Madness fans, this gig will be an experience cherished for years to come but even for a casual fan like myself, it’s a concert that won’t be forgotten for a while.
Lottie Gibbons, Liverpool Echo


The M&S Arena in Liverpool was set ablaze with a vibrant mix of ska, pop, and sheer musical brilliance as two iconic bands, Madness and The Lightning Seeds, took the stage for a night that will be etched in the memories of the audience for years to come. As the crowd eagerly gathered, The Lightning Seeds graced the stage, setting the tone for an electrifying evening. The band, known for their catchy melodies and infectious energy, did not disappoint. Frontman Ian Broudie’s charismatic presence and the band’s tight performance kept the audience on their feet. Hits like Pure, Lucky You and The Life of Riley resonated through the arena, creating a wave of nostalgia that had fans singing along with every word, even more so when the band finished their set with their classic sing along football anthem Three Lions. The Lightning Seeds’ ability to effortlessly blend pop sensibilities with a rock edge was a perfect warm-up for the madness that was about to unfold. As the iconic Madness took the stage, the M&S Arena erupted with cheers. The band, with their distinct blend of ska, pop, and soul, proved why they are regarded as one of the greatest live acts of their generation. Looking and sounding ageless, Madness launched into a setlist that spanned their illustrious career. Kicking off with Theatre Of The Absurd, a track from their latest album C’est La Vie, Madness had the crowd in the palm of their hands from the first note. Suggs, the charismatic lead singer, engaged the audience with his witty banter and infectious energy. The brass section, led by the legendary Lee Thompson, added a dynamic layer to the performance that had the entire arena dancing. The band seamlessly transitioned between hits like Our House, It Must Be Love and tracks from C’est la Vie like Baby Burglar showcasing their versatility and timeless appeal. The M&S Arena transformed into a ska-filled dance floor, with fans of all ages revelling in the joyous atmosphere. Madness not only delivered musically but also visually, with a vibrant and dynamic stage production that complemented their performance. The lighting, visuals and stage design enhanced the overall experience, creating a visually stunning backdrop for the musical journey. The encore brought the house down, with Madness returning for an extended set that included fan favourite Madness. The sheer energy and camaraderie between the band members were palpable, creating a connection with the audience that transcended generations. Finishing their encore with Night Boat to Cairo the fez-wearing fans were by now ecstatically singing along even as they left the arena. The gig was a celebration of timeless music, boundless energy and an unbreakable connection between the bands and their devoted fans. From start to finish, the night was a rollercoaster of emotions, blending nostalgia with the thrill of a live musical experience. As the crowd dispersed into the Liverpool night, the echoes of Madness’s unforgettable performance lingered in the air, leaving everyone with a shared memory of a truly spectacular evening
Warren Millar,

DECEMBER 8: First Direct Arena, Leeds


It is not often you get to see two of your favourite bands at one venue on the same night but that was the case for me on Friday as the Lightning Seeds and Madness lit up the First Direct Arena. The evening was about Madness, of course it was, but take nothing away from the Lightning Seeds who were a brilliant support act and provided something of a soundtrack to my youth. Formed in Liverpool in 1989 by Ian Broudie, they are another group to have stood the test of time and can always rely on their amazing back catalogue of classics to get a crowd going. They certainly did in Leeds as they played nearly all of their best-known tracks before Madness took centre stage. It was noticeable how many fans had arrived in time to see the Lightning Seeds, who opened their set with Marvellous and played many more crowd-pleasers from two of their early to mid-1990s albums, Sense and Jollification. These included Change, Sense, Sugar Coated Iceberg, Lucky You, The Life of Riley and Pure – all brilliant tracks – before they finished with their famous football anthem Three Lions. This made for a rousing finale as Broudie had the entire singing along with him. It was then time for Suggs and his pals to emerge on stage and serve up a raucous performance to their adoring legions of baggy trouser resplendent, fez-wearing fans. The ska-pop group from Camden in north London played well over 20 tracks and overflowed with energy and conviction from start to finish. I have been a Madness fan for many years but this was the first time I had seen them live. It was a real treat to see them perform all their classics which, predictably, went down a storm with their followers, many of whom have been travelling far and wide for decades to watch them perform. They kicked off with Theatre of the Absurd and then played The Prince, and Beginners 101 before the brilliant My Girl. This really got the crowd dancing and singing along. The setlist felt about right, with Madness dropping in all their major hits and still managing to show off a very respectable amount of their latest album, the number one charting Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie. Regarded as one of the most loved bands in British culture, Madness have had 10 UK top-ten albums and 15 top-ten singles throughout their career and have won a multitude of awards including a prestigious Ivor Novello. Personal highlights included Embarrassment, Wings of a Dove, One Step Beyond, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love. There was a quick encore of Friday Night, Saturday Morning by The Specials before the band ended with Madness and Night Boat to Cairo. An evening well spent? They call it Madness. Amazing.
Ross Heppenstall, The Yorkshire Post

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 9: AO Arena, Manchester


Despite the weather warnings, the Manchester faithful had gathered early for the night. Fezzes were at the ready, positions taken, ready and waiting for the night to kick off. A near full AO Arena always plays great host no matter who is on stage, but when it’s a band that have built such a loyal and fantastic fanbase as Madness have over their lengthy career, it just makes things extra special. They’re one of those bands where everyone knows a handful of songs without even realising. The Lighting Seeds took to the stage around an hour after the doors and their around hour-long setlist was filled with killer tracks. Ten tracks is a good handful for a support slot, and gives opportunity for the odd back catalogue track, but also the perfect opportunity for some cracking tunes. Their set also included a cover of You Showed Me, and they put their own twist on it, with Love Me Do, Imagine and All You Need Is Love intertwined. Obviously, it had to be Three Lions to close out their incredible set. 9pm soon came around, and Madness took their positions behind the curtain which was hanging on the stage. A screen above lit up, and a reel of opening film played as the stage curtain swung open and Suggs began to belt out their opening number. I was positioned at the mixing desk for the first three tracks, and between myself and the stage was a sea of fezzes, bouncing away for every single track. Theatre of the Absurd, a track from their latest album which this tour is in support of, opened the evening to a great response from the crowd. Newer material can always be a risk at a live show as not everyone will be familiar with it, but the Madness faithful didn’t let the band down and got into the spirit of things straight away. Madness then harked back to their very first single, The Prince and the crowd went bezerk. The old tracks are always going to be a bigger hit, and will always be an integral part of a Madness set. After all, the 25-track setlist was majority older material, but a healthy nine tracks from their latest offering took their place in the set. The initial set was a good mixture of new and old, but the best was saved till last. They’d broken the set into three parts, a prologue, act one and act two, each distinguished by short films and over the speaker tracks. The latter of which was where the big hits were lying, the likes of One Step Beyond, House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Our House. The closing stages were nothing but pure singalong hits, the crowd were lapping it up, and somehow the fezzes were still placed on the heads, although a few had been lost along the way. The last hurrah was the encore, made up of three tracks, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, Madness and Night Boat to Cairo sent the incredible Manchester fanbase back into the cold and wet Manchester night. Madness have been a mainstay in the music scene since day one of their careers, their fanbase has always sworn an incredible loyalty to the band and followed them around the world. Suggs is an incredible frontman with fantastic charisma, their on-stage style has remained much the same and their music has never taken a dip.
Rhys Grover,

DECEMBER 11: Brighton Centre


Madness are very and volubly pleased that their latest album, their 13th, recently hit the UK No. 1 spot. Unbelievably, it’s their first studio album to do this. It even knocked Taylor Swift off the top spot. “I’m not saying, ‘Taylor Swift, fuck off! Drake, do one!’” says Suggs, early in their set, in his usual dryly genial manner, “but you gotta scratch your own back every now and then.” It will not be the last reference to their chart-topping status. And the album in question, the awkwardly titled but vital Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie, is the basis for much of tonight, with eight songs played from it. Rather than the usual Christmas merry-go-round jolly – which tonight also is, of course – Madness seem like a band with purpose, the album’s socio-political lyricism giving extra edge to proceedings. Supported by an additional percussionist and brass section, the six members of Madness are all clad almost completely in black. There’s a large screen overhead on which Helen Mirren introduces them, or rather the album, at the start, and on which collaged clips play, illustrating the songs, from Mad Max II to The Magic Roundabout, from Scarface to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The sound initially has a reverbed muddiness but this clears up within two songs. New cuts such as Lockdown and Frack Off and the scathing single C’est la Vie alternate with familiar gems such as My Girl and the band’s last chart hit, 2008’s NW5. Sax player Lee Thompson, initially wearing a stovepipe hat, is on bumptious form, sparring with Suggs, firing tee-shirts into the audience with guitarist Chris Foreman, and berating us for not giving it enough welly on the chorus to Bed and Breakfast Man. “What the hell do you call that?” he shouts, resulting in a post song sing-along that has to be abruptly halted before the next number. The first two thirds of the set are not manic. The new songs sometimes have a contemplative quality that not all the audience fully embrace. Most are in their fifties and sixties, looking exactly as you’d imagine, the guys in Fred Perrys, Harringtons, shaved heads, lots of pork pie hats and fezzes. The situation is summed up by – admittedly affable – grumbles I hear in the toilet. There’s a minority only really want to hear material from, I’d hazard, the band’s initial 1979-83 gold run. Not me. I love the new album and it’s a treat to hear so many of these songs live. Some of them are angry companion pieces to better-known numbers also played. For instance, Baby Burglar’s rage at poverty and petty crime riffs on the magnificent Shut Up single. Suggs snipes at the “real criminals” and delivers Shut Up’s closing line, “What you give is what you get”, with appropriate bitterness. In My Street, on the other hand, has a melancholic sense of being trapped somewhere broken, the antithesis of Our House’s euphoric nostalgia. I observe tears in some eyes during the latter. Other songs resonate in a different way, reminding how long ago the band formed. Embarrassment, about Thompson’s family’s negative reaction to his 17-year-old sister Tracy becoming pregnant by a black guy, is accompanied by what I think are images of that child, now grown up. In a much more frivolous way, leaping about to House of Fun is a joy but it’s odd to recall its inspiration was the excruciating awkwardness around purchasing condoms circa 1982. They do a great version of Grey Day, one of Madness’s bleakest hits, a perfectly worded snapshot of depression and the monotony of the daily grind. Foreman’s guitar comes into its own. And there’s a fabulously noisy sing-along to the gospel vocalising on Wings of a Dove. Finally, everyone gets what they want with a closing diamond spree of well-loved songs, including It Must Be Love and Baggy Trousers. The latter is accompanied by Suggs’ admonition that a younger audience member should “get an education or you’ll end up like him,” pointing at Thompson. In amongst the encore they play The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning by way of tribute to the late Terry Hall, then conclude, as always with the deathless sax romp of Night Boat to Cairo. The feeling, walking out to the drizzly night, is that we may grow old but Madness’s music does not.
Thomas H Green,

Mike salutes another sold-out festive show

DECEMBER 12: Bournemouth International Centre


Since their first visit to Dorset on the now famous Two Tone Tour with The Specials and The Selector at the The Stateside Club Bournemouth in October 1979, Madness have been frequent visitors to the area with a series of gigs at the Poole Arts Centre and the now annual trip to the Bournemouth International Centre. In recent weeks the TV has been full of appearances by the band, touting their brand new thirteenth studio album “Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie”. The sound of Madness has found its way onto BBC Breakfast, Later with Jools Holland, This Morning and even a performance on Stictly Come Dancing. The band’s hard work has clearly paid off as the album has triumphantly hit the top spot, which is not bad for a band that formed in in 1976. Tonight they return to Bournemouth part way through a tour of UK arenas. Before the headliners we have a little Christmas treat in store in the form of Scouse songwriting legend Ian Broudie’s band The Lightning Seeds. A band who over the years have scored plenty of chart hits themselves, with a host of great songs that chances are you would have heard on the radio quite a bit. The band open with Marvellous and the track grabs the attention of most of us in this large hall. Along with Ian’s son Riley on guitar, the Liverpudlians power their way through a fine set full of highlights that features some great tracks including Sense and Emily Smiles written with the late great Terry Hall. The six-piece band that feature additional saxophone and keyboards provide great backing. They play a notable cover of The Byrds’ You Showed Me that features a nod to the original fab four. Lucky You and The Life of Riley get plenty of positive reactions from the crowd before Ian and the band delight everyone with a crowd pleasing sing-a-long of Three Lions to end things on a high. The lights go down and Suggs’s South of France neighbour Dame Helen Mirren provides a well spoken intro via a video link. As the elaborate multi-screen and neon lit stage set is revealed, the Morecambe & Wise style showbiz curtain drops to the floor and the Nutty Boys once again take to the stage with the opening number Theatre of the Absurd. Suggs’s reassuring vocal serenades us with quite a different opening to the raucous one the band usually provides. The dimly lit shadowy corners of the theatre, the bizarre, the unsettlingly and mysteriously derived black comedy for our entertainment – it stops you in your tracks and just once again shows the ongoing diversity that these six national treasures are capable of. (I would say seven if the sorely missed Chas Smash was still in the band). “Buster; he sold the heat, with a rock-steady beat. An earthquake is erupting, but not in Orange street” brings us back to more familiar territory and the 6,500 crowd dutifully sing along, setting the momentum for the evening. The sextet are joined by a very capable four-piece brass section which bolsters their unique sound, to help fill these large style arenas. The band cleverly weave a mix of old and new tracks together with standout new tunes like C’est La Vie and the criminally palatable Baby Burglar. The ever present creative keys of Mike Barson, coupled with Lee Thompson’s unique saxophone skills and Chrissy Boy’s unstated guitar licks, Woody and Bedders’ faithful rhythms provide the reliable foot-tapping backdrops to the band’s world famous infectious sound. From the early days of the pubs and small theatres; to the wide open space of Finsbury Park’s Madstock, to the festival stages including Glastonbury and Isle of Wight the Madness legacy just keeps on giving and giving. Whether you are just a singles fan and enjoy a bit of Madness at a wedding reception or you faithfully hang on to every new release; devouring every bit of new material, this band have something for everyone and thankfully they like to evolve. Even older tracks like Grey Day and Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond get a live makeover to stop things going stale. With the original band members now in their 60’s it is fair to say there’s still plenty left in the tank and they can still muster one hell of a show. Favourites like House of Fun, Our House and the educational institution Baggy Trousers gets the fez/pork pie hat-wearing crowd moving at quite a pace. Some of us older ones will regret it in the morning and up the cod liver oil and Sanatogen doses. The band leave the stage and of course we want more, we paid for our ticket, and want value for ticket money in these financially difficult times. A fitting tribute to the late great Two Tone icon Terry Hall comes in the form of popular B-side Friday Night, Saturday Morning. A popular track that The Specials themselves regularly played in their live set, typifying the joys of a boozy night out through Terry Hall’s eyes. “Madness, they call it Madness” and another of Prince Buster’s finest is bestowed on the crowd before the band unleash the wonderfully vivid and picturesque journey along the River Nile, Night Boat To Cairo. This is backed with some stupendously creative graphics to end on nothing short of brilliant audio and visual experience. Though most of us are out of breath it’s hard not to move to this wonderfully rollicking classic. Make no bones about it, this show is beautifully crafted and it’s no fluke that the band’s new album is sitting at number one in the charts. I’m more than delighted to class myself as a fan of this contagiously compelling band and since my first Madness live experience in 1981, the journey continues at quite a pace.
David Chinery,


Madness exploded into a packed Bournemouth International Centre on a wintry Tuesday evening. The show contains the massive hits of course, but the new album Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie is featured throughout and proves that the boys have still got the hunger and talent to produce such a top quality set of songs. Ian Broudie and the Lightning Seeds were support act and provided us all with some juicy tasters from their career. Change, Sense, even a part of The Byrds’ You Showed Me, displayed their ability perfectly. However it was Three Lions that was wanted by the audience and it closed their set with a massive singalong from everyone in the arena. Madness came on after the interval to adoring applause and cheers. Straight into Theatre of the Absurd from the new album, which was greeted like an old classic hit. The audience was certainly abreast of the new music. Suggs cleverly interspersed new tracks with old classics to keep up the pace. Their first single, The Prince from 1979, was on second, followed by Beginners 101 from the new album. My Girl, NW5, and Embarrassment subsequently alternated with the new tracks. In My Street was the final new song, which led us into what was undoubtedly the best section of the evening for the crowd. A five-song session of the massive hits kept everyone singing their hearts out, while clapping and singing along. One Step Beyond had the entire intro sung by the crowd with Suggs visibly moved by the love of the crowd for a song from 1979 – 44 Years old! House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House, and the set closer It Must Be Love were sung along to with equal gusto. The whole show was of such quality, with older music played so enthusiastically and the new songs displaying the maturity of what are now very experienced musicians. The three encores came and went so quickly. Madness, a tribute to Terry Hall and The Specials preceded the show finale, Night Boat to Cairo. Suggs and the nine musicians took their final bow and sadly it was all over.
John Strange, Bournemouth Echo

DECEMBER 14: Utilita Arena, Sheffield


With their latest album Theatre of the Absurd presents C’est la Vie recently debuting at Number One on the album chart, Madness was in a celebratory mood as they arrived on stage at Sheffield Arena. The band, along with The Specials, were at the forefront of the ska movement in the early eighties that influenced a whole generation. Whilst many of those attended the Sheffield gig, the range of Madness’ music has helped them to appeal to a younger audience too. “Tonight, we are going to visit the past, present and future,” stated lead singer Graham McPherson, more commonly known as Suggs. The songs from the new album are darker and more contemplative than the usual upbeat fayre associated with the band. Wisely choosing to intersperse the old songs amongst the new was a good decision – the audience were always only two songs away from one of the group’s big hits. Whilst it might have seemed like a dilemma with their older fans only wanting to hear the big hits from the bands classic period, the newer songs, whilst less frantic still have an enduring appeal. Baby Burglar highlights petty crime whilst In My Street harks back to a time when life was far simpler. Guitarist Chris Foreman took the opportunity to entertain the audience with his version of the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me which proved why Suggs is the lead singer of the band and not Foreman! From then on, the hits arrived in quick succession and the party had begun: House of Fun retained the jolliness of the 1982 hit, Baggy Trousers took everyone back to their schooldays with Suggs wisely informing the younger members of the audience to “get an education, or you will end up like him” as he pointed to Thompson. Dedicating The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning to “an old friend”, namely the late Terry Hall, was a thoughtful moment in an otherwise mostly upbeat affair. As the fans lifted their fez hats in the air for Night Boat to Cairo the party drew to a close. You must take your hat off to Madness for continuing to provide their fans with a night as entertaining and exuberant as this. Long may the Madness continue.
Graham Clark,

DECEMBER 15: The O2, London


Who’d have thought that as we reached 2024, Madness would be back at the top of the charts? Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie gave Britain’s archetypical singles band their first ever number one album at the end of November. At the O2 Arena on Friday, suited and booted frontman Suggs, Madness’ ever-reliable mischievous ringleader, took the news with trademark tongue-in-cheek bravado. “Taylor Swift, you can do one! And Drake! You can get out the cab right now too”. It’s not bad going, he concluded, given “the fact we’re still alive is sort of a miracle”. The Nutty Boys’ now traditional December jaunt long ago became a not-to-be-missed festive knees-up and the rowdy crowd – dressed in mix of Santa hats and staple Madness uniform fedoras and fezzes – came expectantly for hits and hometown gig good cheer. There was plenty of the latter: stories of the old days; shout-outs to family (including keyboardist Mike Barson’s 97-year-old mum) and, in the encore, a warm cover of The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning in tribute to “an old pal of ours”, Terry Hall. An excellent hit-packed support slot from the Lightning Seeds and a well-judged pre-gig DJ set left Madness with an open goal, one they took advantage of after a slight detour through a first half that was heavy going on new songs of a darker hue. Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie was not exactly Madness at their most jubilant: a three-act song suite narrated by actor Martin Freeman, it took the key Madness components of ska and music hall into slower, opaquer territory, observing the bizarre nature of existence in the face of impending apocalypse: Run for Your Life took a very on-the-nose swipe at the elite for their part in the mess we find ourselves in. Not exactly House of Fun then, but Madness always slipped contentious social commentary into their on-the-surface joviality. As Suggs stated, 1980’s Embarrassment commented on the “consternation” caused by saxophonist Lee Thompson’s teenage sister Tracy having a mixed-race baby. As it happened, the daughter in question, Hayley, was in the crowd on her 43rd birthday. Madness replicated the album’s structure by splitting the show into three acts. After an introduction video from Dame Helen Mirren, the curtains came down to reveal a stage set like an old Victorian auditorium, a fitting stage for brooding opener Theatre of the Absurd, an excellent Samuel Beckett-esque musing on the “black comedy” of both life and performance. Eight other new tracks of varying quality followed, interspersed with hits – the young lovers’ tiff of My Girl, the calypso-tinged Wings of a Dove, with every “whoa whoa” bellowed back – and Suggs’ reliable presence. “I’ve come to the conclusion so many of our songs are about petty criminality” he said before new song Baby Burglar, a ghostly, catchy vignette about youthful thievery that ended with a sax flourish of the Batman theme. Eventually, One Step Beyond had everyone on their feet, the starting gun on a barrage of pure gold (House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House, singalong of the night It Must Be Love) that were dispatched by the eight-piece ensemble with such vim and vigour it was like no time had passed. Perhaps new song In My Street put it best: “Must be forty-odd years now/But don’t time fly/When you’re having fun”.
Shaun Curran,, four stars

Lee and Suggs mess about as the tour continues

DECEMBER 16: Utilita Arena, Birmingham


Madness spent the last night of their 2023 autumn tour turning Birmingham’s Utilita Arena into an oversized, festive House of Fun. Their loyal army of fans, sporting the customary red fezzes and pork pie hats, packed the venue to the rafters, if we’re honest as much for a trip down memory lane as to celebrate the band’s new album The Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie. “Did I mention we’ve got a No. 1 album?” irreverent lead singer Suggs asked several times, even suggesting Drake and Taylor Swift might, erm, take note. Or words to that effect. Remarkably, more than four decades since their first, One Step Beyond, reached No. 2, their 13th studio record became their first to top the charts.
The 62-year-old also promised, Charles Dickens-like, a view of the ‘past, present and future’, though the images were not Christmas ghosts but – sometimes haunting – tracks from the new disc and their anarchic back catalogue. Now, I got into Madness in the early 80s, drawn to their catchy beats, lingering melodies, Suggs’ accessible vocals and their social commentary, with anti-racist songs like Embarrassment marking their territory. But the advancing years and continued success have not dulled their edge. Madness still have plenty to say. They opened with Theatre of the Absurd and throughout the evening threaded new content, with some of their most famous classics. Next followed their debut song The Prince, then back to the latest album and Beginners 101 and then a return to My Girl. Was there an element of whiplash for an audience the large majority of whom probably wanted to wallow in the ‘early stuff’? Maybe. Have Madness earned the right to do what they want? Certainly. Is their latest music any good? Definitely. This social commentary comes with apocalyptical warnings. The images on the big screen point to our bleak environmental prospects and to deals being done behind closed doors. The juxtaposition of In My Street and Our House, four songs apart towards the end of the set, emphasises the country’s loss of innocence and troubled times. Our House was all about a stable, if busy and sometimes slightly fractious family home, which was a keystone of the local community. In My Street points to the loss of that community, increased inequality and has intimidating overtones of criminality. It was all relevant and pertinent. For all the warning about the future, the concert’s direction of travel was back to the past though, and the final five songs, One Step Beyond, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must be Love had everyone on their feet. It was bliss, an oasis of nostalgia. The band played three encores, a cover of The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning, the eponymous track Madness – with which, according to Suggs, they used to end the Two Tone tour and lastly the Nigh Boat to Cairo. All of which left us with something to think about, a spring in our step and a feeling that we had been given what we came for. An evening of madness. Keep going chaps, you’ve still got it.

Brian Dick, Birmingham Mail

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.