Suggs’ life of pure Madness

Enduring music legends Madness will be getting the crowds stomping to Baggy Trousers, Our House and The House of Fun at Blickling Park on Sunday, July 22. Anthony Carroll spoke to lead singer Suggs about the nutty boys’ 30-year continuing success and how the ska/2tone-inspired group came to dominate the charts during 1980s.

Popping down your local for a quick pint with your old school friends turned out to be life-changing experience for Graham McPherson.

But that journey to a London boozer in the 1970s proved to a recipe for success for the 46-year-old who is now known around the world as Madness frontman Suggs.

The ska-loving singer joined a group of musician friends in 1978, then known as the North London Invaders, who performed in working class pubs across the capital.

Little did Suggs and Mike Barson, Chris Foreman, Chas Smash, Lee Thompson, Mark Bedford and Daniel Woodgate realise then that they would release 21 top 20 hits and create some of the most memorable tunes in British music history.

Known as the nutty boys, Madness soon became one of the most energetic bands on the live circuit, with songs such as Night Boat to Cairo and My Girl bound to whip up crowds into a frantic frenzy.

Although the band shared a love of West Indian ska and 2 tone music, the reasons why they got together are probably the same as most bands in music history.

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Suggs said: “It was really all about meeting up every Friday and Saturday to try and get some extra dosh and get some interest from the girls.

“None of us ever thought back then that we would still be playing today and making a fantastic living from music.”

In 1979 Madness released their first single, the Prince, and for the next six years they were a regular feature in the UK chart, as their music caught the imagination of youngsters who were disaffected with main stream music.

Madness were named after a song by Jamaican ska musician Prince Buster.

The group also attracted fans with their fun and innovative videos, such as flying saxophonists in Baggy Trousers, and their adult lyrics, including buying condoms in the song House of Fun and child abuse in Embarrassment.

Suggs, whose favourite song is frantic show opener One Step Beyond, said: “I suppose some of our music can be seen as quite a bit adult in nature.

“But I see our music as a rich mixture of jolly tunes, which go off like a bomb, with dark lyrics about everyday life.

“In fact the way I describe our sound is to say we are continuing the folk music tradition of the real London.”

Madness made six studio albums, with their only number one single being House of Fun. The band had limited success in America, with only Our House and It Must Be Love breaking into the top 40 across the pond.

Madness also made two memorable appearances on the anarchic BBC2 comedy the Young Ones in 1982 and 1984.

After the release of the 1986 single (Waiting for) the Ghost Train, Madness decided to call it a day - a move which caused mass anguish for their thousands of dedicated fans.

Suggs and three members of the band went on to form The Madness, releasing an eponymous album in 1986, which failed to take the charts by storm.

However in 1992, much to the delight of eager fans, the original line-up reformed following the success of their greatest hits Divine Madness album which entered the UK charts at number one.

The enduring popularity of Madness was further confirmed at the Madstock festival in Finsbury Park, London where more than 75,000 nutty boy fans turned up to see their idols take to the stage.

In 1999 Madness released their first original album in 14 years, Wonderful, and the group's story was turned into the hit musical Our House in 2002.

And Suggs breaks out in a broad smile when he explains that the main reason he is delighted that Madness are still playing to packed audiences is seeing the different ages of people in the crowd.

He said: “At many of our gigs you can see grandfathers with their grandchildren sitting on their shoulders. It is just a sheer delight to see that.

“I am looking forward to playing at Blickling Hall because I hear it is a natural outdoor amphitheatre which should suit our style of nutty boy tunes.”

In 2005 Madness visited Norfolk to play in front of five thousand people at High Lodge in Thetford Forest.

And 2007 is already proving to be bumper year for Madness with new songs Sorry and NW5 receiving critical acclaim and with rumours abounding of a new album in the pipeline.

The band is very keen to not suffer any burn-out when they go out on tour by limiting the number of gigs that they play each year to about 10.

Suggs said: “It is very easy to get jaded when you go on a long tour and I think that is totally unfair on fans who pay a lot of money to see us.

“It also means we can have more fun on stage as we feel fresher and rediscover our love of playing to a live audience again.”

Suggs and his friends will be playing several new tracks at Blickling Hall, including a 10-minute song, which the front man describes as “totally crazy”.

The singer is keen to point out his musical influences have not been changed by the plethora of modern bands which battle with each other in the charts every week.

He said: “I don't think it is very edifying for us to spend time listening to the charts, when basically we know our formula for success - which is the same as it was back in the 1970s.”

Suggs' eccentric character proved to be an integral apart of the success of Madness and his quirky behaviour has seen the singing star branch out into television and film.

He has acted in films the Tall Guy, Don't Go Breaking My Heart and The Final Frame and he took to the stage in 2003 to appear in Madness musical Our House.

Suggs has become a frequent guest on BBC2's Never Mind the Buzzcocks music comedy quiz and he has hosted several popular shows including Night Fever, Salvage Squad and Disappearing London.

Recently he has filmed two programmes about the history of Wembley Stadium and London's Soho.

An ever-cheerful Suggs said: “I have been incredibly lucky and privileged to get involved in television. So far I have had enormous fun and as long as people like me I hope to keep appearing on the small screen.”

Suggs has also become a well-respected figure in the music world after working with Morrissey, producing the Farm's Spartacus album, recording two hit solo albums and becoming a DJ on Virgin Radio.

In 1997 the Chelsea supporter fulfilled a life long ambition when he made the single Blue Day in honour of his favourite team's appearance in the FA Cup final.

And his version of Simon and Garfunkel's classic hit Cecilia, which he released in 1996, sold more than 500,000 copies.

Suggs knows his enduring popularity is down to his close links with his six friends in Madness, who still enjoy the odd drink together when they are not touring.

“First and foremost we are a group of great friends who just enjoy working together.

“If you told us back in the 1970s that we would be about to pay in front of thousands of people at Blickling Hall we would have laughed in your face. In fact I still pinch myself some days to make sure it is all not a dream.

“The other day I saw an 80-year-old Cuban singer and although I hope I won't be performing until that age I want to be in Madness for as long as the fans want me to,” he added.

t Madness play Blickling Hall on Sunday, July 22. Gates open at 6.30pm with music from 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £37.50. For more information contact 0870 010 4900 or visit blickling@nationaltrust.org.uk

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