“We were from working class backgrounds but had aspirations to do something other than steal and run around the streets causing trouble, so we started the band, just for something to do...” said Suggs as he reflected on the beginnings of one of Britain’s best-loved groups, Madness.
Originally formed in London in 1976, somehow the band has managed to last through the decades, landing huge gigs such as last year playing on top of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Jubilee, and becoming one of the star acts in the closing ceremony of the Olympics.
They also found time in 2012 to release their 10th studio album, Oui, Oui, Si, Si, Ja, Ja, Da, Da, and will shortly be taking their tour to the Northants County Cricket Ground on September 22. So what can the audience expect?
Suggs said: “It will be a mix. For the last five or six years we have been aware of the fact that we were being drawn into a sort of hole of ‘80s nostalgia which is great as all those songs are great but about 80 per cent of what we play is our old songs and then about 10 or 20 per cent is new songs sprinkled throughout the set to make it more interesting for everyone concerned. I’m always aware that, if I go to see Stevie Wonder I want to see Superstition, I want to see the big hits. Then you have people who have seen Madness before and want to see some of the more obscure songs. We just try to make sure it is an entertaining afternoon.”
It is a fair bet that the cricket ground concert will not be as nerve-racking for the band as their Jubilee and Olympics gigs. Suggs said: “Singing for the Jubilee was amazing, no-one could have imagined it would have such an impact and at the time we were doing it we didn’t even realise, it was only in the following couple of days that so many people wanted to talk to me about it and it was obviously something about us, singing ‘our house, in the middle of our street’, standing on the roof of Buckingham Palace, considering where we come from, that had a considerable impact and it was one of those things that people seemed to interpret in their own way and got something out of it.
“It wasn’t too nerve-racking, I was more nerve-racked when we did the closing ceremony of the Olympics. We were hanging around for a long time on that occasion and I suddenly forgot the first line to Our House, having sung it for 30 years. Unfortunately, off camera, I had to ask one of the other band members what the first line was, which, of course, is ‘Father wears his Sunday best’. We were also on the back of a lorry and I wasn’t attached to anything and I thought ‘there is every chance I could fall off here,’ but both of those occasions were huge moments in the history of Madness.”
It is hard now to remember that, in 1986, the band split, only reuniting in 1992.
“We had tired ourselves out,” Suggs reflected. “We had so much success and had worked so hard in the first four or five years of our career we were tired out and then we split up when really we should have just taken a break. In those days no-one ever talked about taking a break, they just split up. The good thing for me was that I went off and did a lot of other things. But when the opportunity came up to come back in 1992, it felt like the right time and since then we have got more and more into the idea of time running out and giving it the best we can.”
When the band finally did reunite, the reaction from fans literally caused an earthquake reaction.
Suggs said: “We did a festival in Finsbury Park, which is a park near where we were all brought up and 35,000 people turned up and started jumping up and down to One Step Beyond and a tower block had to be evacuated opposite the park. And it recorded five or so on the Richter scale. The police didn’t believe the woman who found that out and then the next night exactly the same thing happened and they had to believe her, an earthquake had indeed erupted.”
But what does the future hold? Suggs said: “We have no plans to retire, it must be somewhere on the horizon but I can’t see it just yet. As long as we are still enjoying ourselves and the knees hold up we will keep going.”
Tickets for the Northants concert are £38.50. Gates open at 5pm and the show starts at 8.45pm. Call 0844 2491000 or visit www.eventim.co.uk.