Cheesesteaks Meet Bacon Sarnies: Madness in Philadelphia, 1980

This vintage article from a 1980 edition of the Aquarian Weekly newspaper documents Madness’ visit to Philadelphia to kick off their second U.S. tour. It’s amusing to note how journalist Asia Locke caught Woody’s surname as “Woods,” which is understandable given how often we’ve seen Suggs or Carl playfully introduce him as “Woody Woods Woodgate.” The driving thrust behind the article is exploring the confusion over what kind of music it is that Madness was playing circa 1980, and it’s impressive to see a regional American publication grant the band such in-depth consideration three years before “Our House” hit the our charts.

Big thanks to Stateside Madness follower Keith Lyle for submitting the article, presented below in full.

BRITISH BAND MIXES OFFBEAT JAMAICAN RHYTHMS WITH ROCK ’N’ ROLL AND R & B

Madness Rebels Against “Revival-Band” Label

from Asia Locke’s Philadelphia Dreamin’
Aquarian Weekly, March 5-12, 1980

PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t just madness at the Hot Club on Feb. 21 – it was sheer insanity. Arriving from London the night before, the British band Madness made it to Philadelphia in fine time to open its second American tour. Unfortunately, the group’s equipment didn’t. It was well after the scheduled start of the first set that the doors of the Hot Club opened and the fans who had thronged the sidewalk on the mild winter night made it inside.

The wait didn’t seem to have bothered the crowd; the party had already begun during the wall outside. And if the delay had bothered Madness, it certainly didn’t show. The group drifted through the vacant club while it waited tor the truck to arrive, spending the time dancing and talking. When the equipment truck showed up, the members of the group wasted no time getting its system inside and set up.

Though two sets had been scheduled, the delay called for a change and Madness opened the show with a short set. The group was followed by scheduled opener Tina Peel, and then Madness returned to the stage to round out the rocking evening.

The show at the Hot Club proved that Madness, whose name has been linked with the Specials to a ska revival, was doing something a bit more original. The group combines the offbeat rhythms of Jamaican music with very raw rock ’n’ roll. The group’s music is infectious: what you hear on its self-titled album for Sire is, instrumentally, what you get live. But what’s missing from the record and what makes Madness come alive is its stage show.

Though there are six members of the band on the record, there are seven members onstage. Bassist Mark Bedford, rhythm guitarist Chris Forman [sic], organist Mike Barson, drummer Woody Woods [sic], sax player Lee Thompson and vocalist Suggs were joined by what must be the group’s most active member, Chaz [sic] Smash. Smash acted as the group’s cheerleader. urging it to push the limits of madness. He jumped around the stage, singing and clapping, and helped to create one of the craziest moments of the show. While the group played a bluebeat version of the theme from “Swan Lake.” Smash rhythmically butted skulls with Thompson; it lit right in to the manic feeling generated by Madness.

Madness’ appearance ranks very high on its list of priorities.

Punk. New wave. Reggae. Ska. Art bands. Rock ’n’ roll bands. Inspired by. Revival of.

With music being made faster than it can be labeled, groups are often lumped for the sake of convenience into categories that may not have a lot to do with their music.

“The first time around we were breaking new ground,” said drummer Woods, during an almost quiet moment between sets. “We were waking people up. The first time we were over, the influence was all punk. But things have been slowly changing.”

By now if everyone has not heard of ska, they have at least heard of its close relative, reggae. Though the sound is different – ska bands having a sparse, rock ’n’ roll sound and most reggae groups sticking closer to an easier, island-influenced sound – the distinctions can be confusing.

“The earliest ska groups came from reggae,” bassist Bedford explained, trying to clear things up. “What Madness is playing is a cross between reggae now and bluebeat with some jazz. All the music came from bluebeat, which is where playing the offbeat guitar started. Then they all picked up on the offbeat sound.

“We were all listening to Prince Buster; he had most of the hits in the ’60s. It was Jamaican music, but kind of rhythm & blues. The Mods in England were dancing to ska and bluebeat in ’64. “We can’t re-create that sound, even if we wanted to. That sound came out of the studio, out of a kind of technology that was in use.

“We’re not trying to re-create or revive ska. Of course. we were influenced by ska and the bluebeat sound. But what influenced us more came later on, in r & b.”

The revival-band tag has obviously frustrated Madness. The group realizes the limitations that such labeling imposes – limiting its audiences and not giving its music the benefit of an impartial listening.

“We’re not trying to copy anything,” said Bedford earnestly. “Over the years, listening to the music, we picked up on the sound. But it’s only one of the influences on our own material. And these influences come out in the material we write. Unfortunately,” he concluded, a look of resignation on his face, “it sounded to a lot of people like old-time music.”

Madness doesn’t deny its debt to ska; it just doesn’t want to be labeled as simply a revival band. And the group is very up front about its appreciation of Jamaica’s Prince Buster. The group does its own version of Prince Buster’s hit “One Step Beyond,” and a tribute Madness itself wrote, called “The Prince.”

Madness is well aware of its stage presentation, and the group’s appearance ranks very high on its list of priorities, second only to the group’s sound. Both Bedford and Woods laughed as they talked about the band’s “style” and its members’ proclivity for crew cuts.

“We get called ‘rude boys’ sometimes,” said Woods. “They were the Jamaican skinheads,” he explained, referring to a violent cult in England during the ’60s whose members were distinguished by their short hair and heavy boots.

Bedford broke in. “The rude boys were really villains, but they were slick. That doesn’t mean they weren’t sneaky, but they were a stylish set of villains.”

Continued Woods: “Madness has a lot of influence on style in London. The band always dressed smartly; we just liked the style of clothing. Now we find when the band wears something. It shows up on the streets.”

“When we started out,” Bedford elaborated, “we weren’t getting well known because of a revival of ska, but because people enjoyed dancing to our music. Then they started copying the fashion, and then they realized the look was part of ska. We’ve been looking like this for years.”

“We were always conscious of the style,” added Woods. “Now everyone looks like this. In London, we find we’re in the strange position of dictating fashion. The group itself is considered a fashion leader.”

“But don’t overemphasize the fashion,” intoned Bedford in a pleading tone, the same appeal in his voice as when he said “We’re not a revival band.” What should be emphasized? “It’s the beat,” he answered.

Old they have any words for their American audience? “Yes,” said Woods, right away. “Mohair is better than long hair.”

Not a bad motto for music with style. 

And as for the group’s plans? Woods again: “Shut up, listen, and dance.”

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