Over 35 years after they formed Madness are stronger than ever. To prove the point, this summer north London’s most famous and nuttiest pop institution embark on the biggest tour of their career, taking in Lincoln on Friday, May 29.
The Grandslam Madness itinerary takes the band, led by singer Suggs aka Graham McPherson to perform at a selection of the nation’s leading sporting grounds: football, rugby, cricket and racing stadiums.
In the process of bringing Madness to the masses the tour will be a trip down sporting memory lane for Suggs who first began exploring the UK as a (Chelsea) football fan before Madness first hit the road in 1979.
“It’ll be the greatest tour since Boudacia. We’ll be going across the countryside rampaging and pillaging. We have our people working on designing a chariot – even as we speak,” he laughs
“If you had told me this when I was a kid I’d have laughed so loudly my socks would have flown off. Of course it’s remarkable and a privilege to still be doing this funny old business that we do.”
What are the qualities that make Madness endure?
When I was running up and down with Chelsea fans I used to go to many football clubs like Lincoln all the time
In England alone there are probably 20 more festivals than there were when we began. You are playing to audiences who are there not just to see you. So through that we have managed to accrue a whole new generation by playing 40 or 50 festivals over the past five years. It’s been very flattering and marvellous to see so many different age groups enjoying the band. We are looking forward to this on the tour – people of all ages.
I think the reason we endure is that we genuinely do enjoy ourselves. From the very beginning you could see the joy in the early videos we made and hear it in the records.
The fact that we were friends before this band started is key. I genuinely think the whole spark or art of craft and creativity was a by-product of our friendship. I think that’s what people feel. It’s a genuine experience. It’s not manufactured. I can’t ever remember being onstage and feeling fed up with the people around me.
How do you keep the feeling of it being fresh?
Traditionally, we don’t tour for months and months - we gave up on America and they probably gave up on us. Touring for years on end is what drains the lifeblood out of a lot of acts that I see. Each tour we do we try and make unique – and special. This one’s special as no one has ever done something like this – as big as this – at sporting venues like this. It’s a Madness madcap idea and we know people will respond to it
In Madness’ time you’ve seen a reversal of the music business model from making money on the albums and touring at a loss to now its the tours that make money. New records may not sell as much but it must be important your two most recent albums (The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Oui, Oui, Si Si, Ja, Ja, Da Da) have been well received by critics and fans.
Yes indeed we were teetering on the cusp of the whirlpool of 80s nostalgia. We could have quite happily stopped flapping our flippers and slipped gently down into the hole with everybody else. But we flapped and flapped like mad and tried to write what we thought would be an album to stand with anything else we’ve done which I think we did.
That gave us the ability to get out of the black hole. These albums didn’t sell in their millions but were extremely well received in the intellectual music circles and that has an effect on how you are perceived generally. If we just knocked out some old crap then you wouldn’t be held in high regard. It all added to the pot of being perceived as a working band again, we aren’t just lolling on the lilo of novelty we’re actually sailing around a bit on our own steam.”
The summer is pretty well mapped out for you. Grandslam Madness is an outdoor tour the like of which has never been seen in these islands. How will you keep
yourself match fit?
It’s like preparing for war, a war of fun y’know? A war of fun and frolics but, unlike the Romans, we are going to unleash heaven. I have a suspicion that if I didn’t have a few tequila shots before I went onstage I wouldn’t be quite as lubricated in the joints. Tequila and orange juice is the secret of keeping those limbs loose! I suppose our rituals are now so ingrained that I don’t notice what the rest of the band are doing!
We can change the setlist nightly if we wish. The main thing is to keep it exciting for yourself, that’s the way to ensure the audience is kept excited too.
How well have you got to know England and how has it changed over 25 years of touring.
“Last year I did a One Man show, about 130 performances in towns I haven’t been to since the early days. I’ve been through a few recessions and a lot of things aren’t looking good in a lot of them satellite towns outside London. Its a funny old cliche but Madness always seem to do better in times of recession, not that we ever wished upon anybody.
Maybe during these periods people need a bit of cheering up and without being trite our raison d’etre has always been about livening up a dull day. That was the reason for calling our last album Qui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da - basically yes in several languages because there seems to be an awful lot of no, no, no at the minute and we could do witha lot more yes yes yes, particularly in the lower orders of society.
Lincoln Football Club, Sincil Bank is the first date of this 20 date tour. What memories does that hold?
When I was running up and down with Chelsea fans I used to go to many football clubs like Lincoln all the time. Happy days! You used to be able to get a platform ticket, turn up at some station and go on some far flung adventure to the outer reaches of these islands. Places like Lincoln! Carlisle! Hard for the current generation to believe but Chelsea were in the second division for a time during the 70s and we went to a lot of interesting places during that time for sure. Nowadays I occasionally go to football with the prawn sandwich brigade after my many years under the electric fences with thousands of people in the rain.
How does it feel to be now playing football stadiums in a band after years of attending as a fan?
Its always an odd thing, you keep expecting someone to tap you on the back and say, where’s your ticket son? It’s happened to me enough times in my life. It’s great we are playing places that aren’t just major capital cities, this is what we did for years in the early days. It will be nice to go back to places we haven’t been in a long time.
In Gloucester you play their rugby stadium. Do you have any personal experience of the sport they call a “hooligans game played by gentleman”?
“Yes I lived in Wales for a few years with my aunt when I was growing up and rugby was the thing. Gareth Edwards was like the George Best of rugby. The problem was that all the school teams wanted to play in red which was the colour of the national team. It was complete chaos on the rugby field because everybody wanted to play with the same kit on, pretty chaotic business playing rugby, running around and getting pushed over and pushing people over. I still have a fondness for the Welsh rugby team thinking back to those times. Really looking forward to Gloucester!
Racecourses make up quite a bit of your itinerary. Are you fond of a flutter or a day at the track?
“Racecourses are great we’ve played a few in the past where they have been a few races and then you get a bit of Madness. It’s an unbeatable combination.
I have a few flutters every now and then and have a bit of luck on the horses. I’m not a gambling man generally but I like it when you can see the steam coming out of the horses’ nostrils and that whole thing in front of you. I do like it but I’m terrible loser which has been my saving grace as far as gambling is concerned. It’s stopped me getting too involved.
I did wake up with a greyhound in my bed once. We had been to a charity auction at Walthamstow dog track and there was an auction for the greyhound and we won. I came home with a greyhound, which my wife was quite thrilled about. He did alright actually we called him Nutty Boy and he went on to win quite a few races.
That was quite a nice time and the nearest I ever got to be an Alex Fergusonesque race horse owner. Turning up at the track as a dog owner was quite an experience. I’m really looking forward to all the racecourse shows. Last time we played at Haydock we had a tremendous gig something like 20,000 people turned up and they were only expecting 10,000. Simply Red had held the record up to that point so I think we are the record holders for Haydock, returning as reigning champions.”
You will be playing several Cricket Grounds, including Canterbury. Will you look around?
It is a beautiful town, I played the Marlowe theatre there last year, one of the characters in Wolf Hall is buried there in the Cathedral, Thomas someone. I’m not a connoisseur but I’m fond of a nice bit of architecture and one of the nice things about travelling around is being introduced to some nice buildings. The Good Pub Guide is a very good organ to have at hand when driving through the backstreets of Great Britain, there are
lots of lovely pubs, I must say.
In Bristol you play the Gloucestershire County Cricket ground. What does Bristol evoke to you?
That was a very vibrant musical spot in the 80s with The Wild Bunch, Neneh Cherry, Massive Attack. I used to go there alot and go to a club there, forget the name, but the music was brilliant. I did some recording with Tricky but it never saw the light of day, I wonder what happened to it?
Portsmouth is part of the tour. Any fond memories of trips to the famous naval port?
“Oh my God yes. There’s a lot of great gigs there. And football trips! I remember onetime we went to Southampton and there was all these kids outside the station. I remember thinking these aren’t Chelsea fans they are Portsmouth fans. But they actually wanted to come with Chelsea as they hated Southampton so much and we were tucked in this terrifying mob of Portsmouth fans. I expect this show to be lively!
Perhaps Newmarket will offer a somewhat calmer welcome?
Definitely - we’ve played there before and it’s really lovely with the racing- that’s a good one. I think we even had the Queen’s box or something. Our dressing room was actually where the Queen hangs out when she’s watching the races, very charming.
I guess in the early days of travelling with Madness the greeting wasn’t always warm and as a band you must have felt rivalry familiar from your football days.
There was few incidents, it was a very tribal time. Because there was seven of us and few of our mates in a van you would turn up to a town, word go around and all the local chaps would turn up thinking you were like something from football. We had a few incidents being chased or indeed chasing other people up and down the road outside venues.
You play Rhyl on a venue right on the beach and Hove by the sea too - perfect seaside settings for Madness?
“I’m really looking forward to that. We haven’t played Rhyl in ages, maybe back in the early 80s when we did a tour of specifically seaside towns. I have a soft spot for Wales going back to childhood when I lived there for a few years. I always liked the sea, kiss me quick hats, with the kids and the sandcastles, we love all that.
In the olden days we used to go down to Brighton for football matches but we’d always get off at Hove because it was a quieter station. I remember there was a one legged ticket inspector at Brighton and he could catch you, he was like the bionic man. He didn’t work at Hove so that’s an abiding memory from when I was scrabbling around with a bunch of herberts.
You are playing Blackheath in South London even as a North London lad you must have been familiar with it in your youth?
I love Blackheath, its not actually a plague pit it just doesn’t have any trees on it. When I was a kid I can’t remember the reason why, but mums used to have this thing you blew up like tent fabric and you could walk through them. I had a summer job taking the tickets for people to walk through this tunnel of coloured plastic on Blackheath.
Are you looking forward to this tour?
Of course! It’s great to do something new. Something not done before. And it really feels like a tour of the people in places where they can have fun – where we can have fun.
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