Back in 1979, when Madness first burst onto the scene and attracted an audience filled with bomber jackets, shaven heads and Dr Martens, you’d scarcely have imagined that they’d become established family favourites. Yet here we are, thirty five years later, watching them play a Matinee performance in front of an adoring audience aged from six to sixty. Perhaps the pantomime in nearby Worthing was sold out?
Many of the Nutty Boys in today’s crowd were undoubtedly the shaven headed youth of yesteryear; indeed, a number had dressed in what resembled their early 1980′s finery, though perhaps with wider-waisted trousers and heads that no longer require much help from a barber. It seemed that they were hell bent on embarrassing their accompanying teenage children in a clear demonstration that they were growing old disgracefully. A group of five were notably dressed in khaki shorts and pith helmets in an echo of the Night Boat To Cairo video. Sadly they were perhaps less David Livingstone and more Don Estelle, but Suggs was pointedly appreciative of their efforts. Lovely boys.
The band are also growing older, rather less disgracefully. Their music still resonates with their original fans yet also entertains their much younger offspring, which is testament to its quality- a quality which was often much maligned by a stuffy music press during their heyday. Furthermore, the fact that six of the original seven are still- seemingly happily- working together also speaks volumes for the strength of their relationships at a time when many of their contemporaries are touring with much altered line ups. The seventh- the artist formerly known as Chas Smash but now asking to be called Cathal Smyth- has just released his own solo offering and decided only last month that he didn’t want to be part of this tour. He appears on the front of the programme, but is missing from the list of band members printed two pages from the end. His energy was also missed on stage.
The band launched into Night Boat To Cairo accompanied by a video backdrop of Wilson, Keppel and Betty. Actually Betty was nowhere to be seen- perhaps she’s shacked up with Smash? They followed this with a spirited Embarrassment and had the audience in the palm of their hand, only to partially lose them again by playing a more recent song immediately afterwards. This set the pattern of the evening.
Between 1979 and 1985 Madness had nineteen consecutive top twenty hits. Ten of these reached the top five and, of course, House Of Fun reached number one. They made music that lifted your spirits and warmed your heart; songs of energy and good humour that spoke of their own life experiences and resonated with their audience. They are still making music today- their latest album, Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da came out in October 2012- but whilst their later output is both worthy and tuneful it fails to live up to their earlier material. They played twelve of those nineteen hits today, but every time they moved into a more recent track a large section of the audience lost interest. Sadly that happened regularly, and it made the entire show disjointed. There was also a moment where the rest of the band left the stage leaving guitarist ‘Chrissy Boy’ Foreman to sing a solo version of AC/DC’s seminal Highway To Hell. It was a classic Christmas moment of bad dad karaoke. During these interludes how we wished for Driving In My Car, Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) or even Yesterdays Men.
That said, once they moved away from “educating the youth” (Suggs) with tracks like The Last Rag And Bone Man and got back to actually delivering what the audience had come for, the resulting experience was magical. House Of Fun was followed by Wings Of A Dove, Baggy Trousers, Our House- with a guitar solo from “Mr Angus Young”- and It Must Be Love, which Suggs dedicated to his “Dear Old Mum” who was apparently “Out there somewhere,” with the advice “no spitting and gouging.”
An encore of One Step Beyond was followed by old favourite and band anthem Madness. During this last track the band were joined on stage by a crowd of hyperactive children, accompanied by a Pearly King and Queen, and for a moment you wondered whether you were watching a concert or the end of Dick Whittington. Madness have come a long way; from Camden Palace to Buckingham Palace, from The Prince to family entertainment royalty. When they remember what they do best and focus on that, they remain an absolute musical delight.
Just before we left the arena to the strains of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, Suggs delivered a reminder. “Remember, when you leave it will still be the afternoon. No peeing in doorways.” This was an unnecessary warning. There was probably more chance of long queues for the baby changing rooms. Madness have kept their old audience and cultivated a new one- but whatever their age, it’s still the old songs they hanker for.
Published on in Random Ramblings.