A Tale of Two U.S. Cities: “Before We Was We” Preview

Chris Foreman has recently claimed that when the band sat down to gather old stories for the Before We Was We book, he was the only one who could remember that they had toured America in 1979. Either Chrissy Boy was exaggerating his bandmates’ faulty memory or they’ve miraculously reversed their amnesia, because we’ve got new evidence of them recounting those early U.S. adventures on film.

The new documentary series inspired by that namesake autobiography, Before We Was We: Madness by Madness, is being released in the UK on demand on BT TV and exclusively on AMC from BT TV. Through the kindness of our friends at the Madness Information Service, SSM has taken an exclusive sneak peek at the third and final episode of the series, airing May 15 in the UK. In the snippets below, formatted in the style of the book, the band reminisce about those first visits to New York City and Los Angeles, and the distinctly contrasting and lasting impressions they formed there. 

Full episodes of Before We Was We are being posted on the BT YouTube channel, although it appears these will not be playable in the United States. Word has it that the series will make its way to digital services in the U.S. later this year. Count on Stateside Madness to keep you informed of any official announcements. But for now, here’s what the band had to say about their maiden voyage to the land of the free and the home of the brave…


MIKE: So we left the 2 Tone Tour early because Dave Robinson had this idea, he wanted us to get to America before The Specials. He thought whoever got to America first was going to be the one that they all remembered, the one they thought started the ska thing. He wanted it to be Madness.

MARK: They got hold of Seymour Stein, who had Sire Records. He said that he would sign us for just America. So it was obvious then that we would go to America at some point to promote the record. But it came very quickly.

The Mean Streets of Manhattan

MARK: Like a lot of people in bands, I think, it was a bit of a dream to go to America. And we got the chance. It was incredibly exciting. It’s that moment, you make that drive in from the airport in New York, and you see the Manhattan skyline. It really is just mind-blowing.

WOODY: It was a mad city.

LEE: Everything was big. Massive. Buzzing.

SUGGS: New York in 1979 was just like in the movies. Steam coming out the subway vents. Street lights not working. Potholes.

WOODY: It was one of the first places where I noticed immense wealth right up against the shoulder of poverty.

MARK: It was pretty depressed. There was rubbish everywhere. They’d almost gone bankrupt. They were having strikes.

WOODY: So you could just walk down one road and go “What the fuck? This is just horrendous!”

CATHAL: I remember walking down the street and the vibe was scary.

MARK: We wandered through some of the worst areas fearless. All around the Lower East Side and Alphabet City, where it was really dodgy. We played three or four clubs in New York in pretty quick succession. We’d sometimes play two sets a night as well, so sometimes we’d go on at 2:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning. Weird times.

CHRIS: The first two shows nearly sort of killed us, because we went on late, we were kind of jetlagged, and we were drunk. I really thought I was going to die.

CATHAL: The drink measures were more than we expected.

SUGGS: Of course the other problem was they didn’t go out until 10:00 at night, but we’d have been started by 7:00. So we’d be absolutely fucked by 3:00 in the morning.

CATHAL: Me and Suggs went out early, too early. And we came back drunk and out of our minds.

SUGGS: We were definitely fish out of water. It was kind of like the audiences were coming to see this funny novelty band. Our accents, and what we were singing about, and the music we were playing were so out of step with what was going on in New York. And it just wasn’t making any sense being there.

MARK: But California was just completely different. 

California Dreamin’

WOODY: We hit Los Angeles, and there were palm trees, sunshine. I just went “Ah, it’s just lovely.”

MARK: It was just sunny every day, and the people there had this sort of, not childlike but childish innocence to them. There was definitely a spillover from the hippie times there. Everyone was very laid back, nothing was a problem. Yeah, it was completely different.

MARK: We met the Go-Go’s, who were an all-girl group, and we did shows together with them. We got on very well with them. The great thing about that was that they took us around places, they showed us places to go. So we had a really nice time there.

CHRIS: So we hang out with the Go-Go’s, and Bedders is seeing the drummer, Gina. I thought, that guitarist Jane is very nice, so I sort of ended up with her. You know, we extended English hospitality.

LEE: My missus is convinced that I was knocking the lead singer off. Belinda Carlisle. But, ah… I was in her bedroom with Chrissy Boy, and I had a right old case of the wind. Yeah, she never invited me back in her bedroom again. The fucking bathroom tiles were sliding off the walls. (Laughs.) The wallpaper peeled.

SUGGS: We did two shows a night at the Whisky A Go-Go, wearing the same clothes that were still wet from the first show. The foolishness of youth.

MIKE: When you played in L.A. everyone was totally out of it. But does it matter? I don’t know. You got the feeling sometimes like it didn’t. You got the feeling you could do anything.

See Ya Later, Uncle Sam

WOODY: It was a brutal tour, really hard work. 

MIKE: I guess the performances were good, but touring America takes its toll.

WOODY: Yeah, I’d already been frazzled to fuck on the 2 Tone Tour, and then in America I really felt dreadful most of the time. Hanging on for dear life.

MIKE: The whole thing was all getting a bit chaotic, really. People kept disappearing, meeting Americans, going off in their different directions. So we all had this sense of belonging together, but then everybody was getting into these different situations. Which was exciting and everything, but a bit dispersing at the same time.

WOODY: Being in these amazing places… but we were missing home.


Special thanks to Jon Young of the MIS for setting up this SSM exclusive preview.

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