On March 24, 2022, Madness performed at the Royal Albert Hall supported by very special guest Paul Weller, as part of a concert series to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust. Man, what a dream show that would have been for me personally. My two all-time favorite British acts together on one bill, at the magnificent venue where I was lucky enough to see Caro Emerald from the front row in 2017. It’s a lovely thing when your top music heroes happen to be friends who enjoy one another’s company.
There was plenty of fan carping about exorbitant ticket prices for the gig, which was after all a charity fundraiser. But if I’d had the wherewithal to fly back to London at this juncture, I would have gladly emptied my wallet. It doesn’t get much better than Madness and Weller at the Albert Hall.
Weller and his band played the unfamiliar role of opening act, serving up an acoustic set of 10 numbers spanning the whole of his 45-year career. Madness followed with a reported barnburner of a show, as per usual. I was hoping Paul might might join Madness for a rousing Motown classic encore as he’s done on occasion in recent years, but alas, it was not in the cards this time.
So let’s take a look at the longstanding history between the Modfather and the Nutty Boys, who seem to always have been good mates. I can’t find any evidence of The Jam and Madness ever performing on the same bill together, but surely they did at some point, at least on Top of the Pops or somewhere. Please let me know any details about any shared gigs I’m missing. In his memoir Growing Out of It, Lee Thompson relates an anecdote about seeing Jam-era Weller swimming naked at a Hollywood pool party, so the two young bands were running in the same sordid circles in those early days.
One interesting artifact where Madness and The Jam intersected, however indirectly, was the 1981 compilation LP Life in the European Theatre, a fundraiser to benefit the anti-nuclear peace movement. The stellar track list included “Little Boy Soldiers” from The Jam and “Grey Day” from Madness, alongside the likes of The Clash, The Beat, The Specials, Peter Gabriel, Ian Dury, and Echo & The Bunnymen.
After Weller moved on to The Style Council, he interacted with Madness with more regularity. The two acts teamed up at a number of benefit concerts promoting political causes, including a 1984 Liverpool concert supporting a miners’ strike where Suggs and Paul duetted on Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Shop Around.”
Madness later took part in the controversial 1986 Red Wedge tour, in support of the pro-Labour group organized by Weller, Billy Bragg, Jimmy Somerville and Rhoda Dakar. Chas was apparently the member of Madness most engaged with Red Wedge, and as it happened, he would later be instrumental in signing Weller to the Go! Discs label as a newly solo artist in the early ’90s.
In 2019, Weller guested on Suggs’ BBC Radio 4 series, Love Letters to London. The two discussed their shared fondness for Soho, then joined their voices in a Kinks song, “Nobody’s Fool,” known as the theme song from 1970s TV series Budgie.
Later that year Weller joined Madness at House of Common for another rendition of “Shop Around” along with Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heatwave.” Reportedly, the camaraderie at this gig led to Thommo appearing on Weller’s 2020 album On Sunset with a featured sax solo.
The mad/mod chumminess continued with Weller turning up as a surprise guest vocalist on Madness’s triumphant 2021 streaming event, The Get-Up! Along with Roland Gift, Paul gave a mock audition in Barso’s bedroom to replace Suggs (or were Madness auditioning for him?) with a knockout cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come.”
In their handful of musical collaborations to date, Madness and Weller have stuck to covers of classics from their mutual influences. As far as I know they’ve never tackled one of their own hits together. Weller has often mentioned his admiration for “Embarrassment,” which actually influenced the sound of The Jam’s “Town Called Malice.” I’m still holding out hope that Paul will cover “Embarrassment” one of these days, preferably live on stage with Madness in front of a raging crowd. Failing that, my runner-up nomination for Weller to sing would have to be “NW5.”
Conversely, Madness is superbly well-suited to take on any number of Weller’s songs. Mark Bedford’s expressive bass style is a lot like Bruce Foxton’s to begin with, and the late-period Jam hits with the horns and keyboards inch into the Madness instrumentation range. Just imagine Bedders and Woody barreling through “Start!”, Bedders and Barso owning “Town Called Malice,” or all members of the band getting a major workout on “Precious.” I can practically hear it.
But something even more enticing than those hypothetical Jam sessions is in the works. For the past couple of years, scuttlebutt regarding a new Weller/Suggs composition has been making the rounds. In a June 2020 “Chris’s Covid Cupboard” Zoom call (which I myself was honored to attend live), Chris Foreman related the following on the topic of songwriting in lockdown: “I actually sent one song that I’d thought up to Suggs because I thought he’d like it, and he forwarded it to Paul Weller, who added some lyrics and it’s sounding really good. So we’ll see what happens with that – I could have a new career writing songs for Paul Weller.”
In a Mojo interview in May 2021, Suggs spoke further on this intriguing collaboration. “I’vе written a song with Paul Weller called ‘Who Do You Think You Are, Sunshine?’ [Whether this is the same song that Chris originated remains to be seen.] You know those people who say they had one teacher who turned their life around? I didn’t. I’m trying to couch that fact, not too negatively, that one makes one’s own path. We haven’t recorded it yet, no. But it’s there.”
Weller confirmed the story in a radio interview around the same time. “We’re still in the process of writing this song together, which is going to be great, but it’s just getting us both together in the studio. So I think we’re going to try and do it this summer anyway, and then whatever happens to it I’ve no idea. And I did that livestream gig, I did a song on that with them a couple of weeks ago at the Palladium as well. But they’re just great fellas, aren’t they? … I’ve always had a soft spot for all of them, for all the fellas in that band, and they’re just great characters.”
Asked about the vibe of the co-written tune, Weller offered, “It’s great. It’s called ‘Who Do You Think You Are, Sunshine?’ so the title alone… [laughs] But the concept, I can’t tell you the concept. But the idea is good anyway, so yeah, we just gotta get in there and finish it.”
On a December 2021 installment of Dan Jennings’ The Paul Weller Fan Podcast, Weller’s tour manager Kenny Wheeler approvingly mentioned a demo recorded by his boss and Suggsy. So progress has continued. Sooner or later we can expect to hear “Who Do You Think You Are, Sunshine?” at last. Will it be a Weller guest spot on the next Madness album? Or a Weller track with vocals by Suggs? Or a Record Store Day single, or part of a fabulous Suggs & Paul Weller originals EP?
Whichever way they may choose, I would give these blokes anything, for just the smile they bring, for just a song to sing, stuck together for all time.
Update: “Ooh Do U Fink U R?” was released as a single by Suggs & Paul Weller about five weeks after this article was published.