B-side Myself with “The Business”

I’ve previously detailed my herculean labors to acquire the albums 7 and The Rise and Fall on imported vinyl, but tracking down the singles and B-sides was another magnitude of difficulty for us American fans. Mail-order catalogues and record shops seldom had anything on offer from Madness aside from the albums. I was only vaguely aware that the B-sides even existed.

I’d seen the occasional discography listing somewhere, peppered with exotic titles like Work, Rest and Play, “Nutty Theme,” “Stepping into Line,” and “That’s the Way to Do It.” No one ever talked about these phantom tracks in magazine interviews. Over here we had no idea what they might sound like. Or how good they were. In the best sour grapes tradition, I figured they must be inferior scraps and rejects, or else they wouldn’t have been B-sides, right?

But the nagging curiosity lingered in my mind. In 1986, when my cousin Regina went on a trip to London, I asked her to bring me back a couple of Madness singles so I could finally hear some B-sides. With the band’s career running down, I must have reasoned it was time to start rounding up the last bits of Madness I would ever get. Regina returned with a whole treasure trove of 12” singles snagged at the Oxford Street HMV.

  • “Wings of a Dove”
    b/w “Behind the Eight Ball” and “One’s Second Thoughtlessness”
  • “The Sun and the Rain”
    b/w “Fireball XL5”
  • “Michael Caine”
    b/w “If You Think There’s Something”
  • “Sweetest Girl”
    b/w “Jennie (A Portrait Of)”

She also brought me Furniture’s “Brilliant Mind,” a Stiff single in the UK charts at the time, because she thought it sounded like something I might like. Eh, it was okay, but almost entirely irrelevant next to real Madness B-sides! What an opulent collection of gemstones Cousin Regina had gathered for me, with the earthy musk of Lee Thompson sprayed all over them. “Fireball XL5” is surely the cult favorite of the bunch, and rightly so. But I was even more partial to “One’s Second Thoughtlessness,” where Thommo’s linguistic somersaults twist the concept of “one second’s thoughtlessness,” punctuated by his ominous gasps and whispers. (I recall gamely trying to convince my goth friends that this song had a vibe kinda like The Cure, circa “The Walk” and “Let’s Go to Bed,” but they weren’t having it.) And “Jennie” is a dazzling little pop nugget that totally should have been included on Mad Not Mad. You can tell Woody cowrote it, because the rhythm owns this song. So much good stuff.

As much as I cherished discovering this sampling of B-sides, you’d think I would have made it my mission to track down every Madness single. But I didn’t. Life got in the way as I left home and went to UNC in 1987. I didn’t own a turntable and it was a big hassle to get friends to copy vinyl records to tape. Besides, after getting my first CD player during freshman year, digital was where it was at. And honestly, I came to regard Madness as the sound of my high school days gone by. I still loved them, but the band was now over and it was time to move on. I was more into fIREHOSE and Screaming Trees, bands that were active and regularly came to play in Chapel Hill. Madness was receding into the nostalgia category, and while you’re a college student you don’t have much need for nostalgia. 

Of course, relics of the good old days do inevitably turn up. One afternoon when I was browsing at Schoolkids Records in my junior year, a zippy tune about getting caught shoplifting struck my ears. I’d never heard it before, but I knew it must be Madness. I went up to the counter to ask what they were playing, and the clerk pointed to a CD with a colorful sleeve: It’s… Madness. A brand-new 1990 Virgin import compilation of eight singles interspersed with eight B-sides “never previously available on CD.”

  1. “House of Fun”
  2. “Don’t Look Back”
  3. “Wings of a Dove”
  4. “The Young and the Old”
  5. “My Girl”
  6. “Stepping into Line”
  7. “Baggy Trousers”
  8. “The Business”
  9. “Embarrassment”
  10. “One’s Second Thoughtlessness”
  11. “Grey Day”
  12. “Memories”
  13. “It Must Be Love”
  14. “Deceives the Eye”
  15. “Driving in My Car”
  16. “Animal Farm”

Man, what a crazy surprise. “One’s Second Thoughtlessness” was the only B-side I already knew, so this purchase scored me seven “new” Madness songs in one fell swoop, all in sweet digital clarity. I have a strong memory of first hearing “Deceives the Eye” in the store followed by “Stepping into Line,” so Schoolkids must have been playing it on shuffle. Those turned out to be my favorite B-sides on the disc, along with “The Young and the Old.” For the collectors out there, my copy is the original pressing that incorrectly lists track 10 as “Behind the Eight Ball.”

It’s… Madness made a huge restorative impact on me. Madness on CD was still hard to come by in 1990, and probably about all I had at that point was One Step Beyond, Absolutely and Complete Madness, and maybe Keep Moving in the wrong order. Listening to It’s… Madness reminded me of how great Madness was, and of their mystery lost tunes I had yet to discover. Undoubtedly the Nutty Boys notched back up in my listening rotation, getting me primed for their incipient reunion.

I got the 1992 Madstock album from a mail order outfit called Worldwide CD, and not long after that I got a catalog from them with a typed listing for a 3-disc box set called The Business: The Definitive Singles Collection. All the B-sides collected on CD. My patience and/or procrastination had finally paid off.

I ordered that sucker and it had to be my biggest mind-blow Madness purchase since my seminal One Step Beyond/Absolutely 2-on-1 cassette. Even though I had acquired a fair number of B-sides before The Business, the sheer volume of unheard, career-spanning Madness corkers put me flat on my ass. The highlights being:

  • “Mistakes”
  • “Nutty Theme”
  • “Don’t Quote Me on That”
  • “Crying Shame”
  • “That’s the Way to Do It (Odd Job Man)”
  • “A Town with No Name”
  • “Never Ask Twice (Airplane)”
  • “Shadow on the House”
  • “Walking with Mr Wheeze”
  • “Guns”
  • “Sarah”
  • “All I Knew”
  • “Inanity Over Christmas”
  • “Please Don’t Go”
  • “Call Me”
  • “Maybe in Another Life”

It’s all eggs, bacon, beans and a friiiiied slice! You’ve got the early genius of the band’s first B-sides, any of which would be right at home on One Step Beyond, if the album wasn’t already transcendently perfect. You’ve got atmospheric, film-credits-worthy instrumentals. You’ve got a take on American gun culture with enough meat to write a whole blog post on. You’ve got thoughtful post-Barson compositions reflecting the band’s restless state of mind, including the “Here’s to everybody” toast reinvented to magical effect in the newly minted “If I Go Mad.”

As much as I dearly loved The Business, this definitive compilation simultaneously made me angry as hell, for two reasons. First, and most significantly, because of the godawful interview clips.

I get it, the producers wanted to add a little something extra for the fans who own all the singles and have friends of the band offer their personal commentary. But jeez Louise, what an ugly disruption. I don’t need to hear ruminations on Mike and Carl both being bullies every time I listen to these precious jewels. Most of the chats are terrible recordings with ear-splitting distortion, and some are even faded into the songs. WTF. Definitely not considerate for those of us without the full library of 45s. A few years later, when I learned how to edit audio files, I trimmed out all the interviews and compiled a 26-track set of just the B-sides, which is the only format in which I ever listen to The Business anymore. The very end of “Please Don’t Go” still has “What is your name?” croaking over the fading notes. As far as I know, there has never been a digital release of this track unsullied. It would be a blessing to see the recent I Do Like to Be B-Side the A-Side Record Store Day LPs arrive on CD.

The other thing the riled me up about The Business was defective discs. My set of CDs came down with some kind of bad disc rot within a year, sprouting spiderwebs of oxidation or delamination across the play surfaces. Playback became choppy and unlistenable. Replacing a costly import box set was no easy feat on my meager retail salary at that time, but of course I did. My second copy of The Business is still in fine shape today.

Of course, these are the quibbliest of quibbles in the Mad scheme of things. The major lesson this American fan learned – over the course of three installments – is that Madness did not put throwaway junk on their B-sides. Sure, there are a few pieces of dross on The Business like fan club flexi-disc ephemera and disc jockey jingles, but those are fun extras (one of which, “Inanity Over Christmas,” is a full-fledged delight). The proper B-sides comprise enough great material for a whole double album, and to me this was the seventh Madness album before Wonderful happened. 

Every track is finely crafted with pride and respect for their record-buying public. Each one is different and creative and utterly worthwhile. Madness has never done the same job twice. Listen to me, take my advice. They double the work for a single’s price. The finished job will sound… real nice.


More of Trull’s Mad Memories

Madness 2022 U.S. Tour Canceled

Will Madness ever come sailing across the sea to be with their Uncle Sam? Not in 2022.

The U.S. tour first slated for 2020 has now been scuttled for a third time. In contrast to the previous postponements, this time the dire word “cancel” is invoked and ticket refunds are being issued outright, despite a loose assertion of 2023 plans.

The official announcement:

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.”

SSM at House of Fun 2021: Watch Poly’s Travelogue!

And so we face the final curtain – one year late. Yes, the tenth and concluding House of Fun Weekender is finally upon us, November 19-22, 2021. For a landmark Madness event this monumental and epoch-defining, Stateside Madness has dispatched a U.S. ambassador to Minehead: our very own Poly Collins, SSM managing director and beloved podcast co-host!

Poly’s getting up to loads of HOF mischief, mingling with fellow Madheads and making a general nuisance of himself. He’s even going to record a live on-location session for our popular podcast, as well as filing intrepid video reports from London to Minehead on the SSM YouTube channel. Those attending can catch Poly’s travelogue playlist below and get a good look at his ruggedly handsome face, so you can recognize our boy at Butlins. Walk right up to him for a hearty Maine-style greeting and see how long it takes for him to use the word “Absolutely!”

Go have a beer, Britside Poly!

Zombies (Are All into Brains)

Grrr-buhdurrr…
Hurr-buhdurrrr…

I’ve never had much cause for worry
And I’ve not got a home or bed.
You’ll never find me in a hurry
Because I live my life walking dead.

People say that I’m creepy,
But I crave human remains.
I know what I know from George A. Romero,
That zombies are all into brains.

Fresh cerebrums are all that I care for,
I believe I’ll crack open a head.
Fresh cerebrums are all that is needed,
Because I live my life walking dead.

People say that I’m creepy,
But I crave human remains.
I know what Return of the Living Dead told,
That zombies are all into brains.

Grrr-buhdurrr…
Hurr-buhdurrrr…

I’m happy the way that I do things,
Continually dealing bloodshed.
I’ve no worries on what tomorrow brings,
Because I live my life walking dead.

People say that I’m creepy,
But I crave human remains.
I know what I know, even on Game of Thrones,
That zombies are all into brains.

Well some men shoot at us with rifles,
Surviving in apocalypse days.
But I don’t have much indigestion.
Zombies are all into brains… 
Zombies are all into brains…
Zombies are all into brains… 
Scraps of brain washing down the dah-rain…

Hurrrrrrrrrrrr

Inspired by the sleeve artwork for the 1983 “Madness (Is All in the Mind) single, which was mysterious and spooky and altogether ooky, for some reason!

Book Review: Lee Thompson’s “Growing Out of It”

I got my copy of Lee Thompson’s memoir upon its release in April 2021, the limited edition autographed hardcover. Growing Out of It: Machinations Before Madness looks very smart alongside the other Madness and Suggs volumes on my bookshelf, where I must confess the book sat untouched for months. The timing of publication wasn’t ideal, certainly, coming right on the heels of the Before We Was We book and three-part documentary, then being swiftly overtaken by the flashback-fueled The Get Up! streaming extravaganza in May. Even a big fan like me felt a bit satiated with the spate of Madness nostalgia trips. What more could Lee fill a book with that we haven’t just run through several time already?

What finally got me to get into Growing Out of It was actually the September release of the audiobook edition (about which more later). These days I can get through any book faster by listening on my walks and in the car that I can by sitting down to flip pages. I can now report it’s a fine book indeed, with Lee sharing memories of his early life and how Madness started in ways that stand apart from the band’s recent mutual retrospectives.

In his introduction, Lee’s co-author Ian “Snowy” Snowball relates that the genesis of the book dates back to 2017, so I’m guessing this was in the works well before Before We Was We. I can imagine how chastened Snowy must have been to learn the band was putting together a coinciding book very much like his project with Thommo. The two autobiographies even share the same designated historical span, covering childhood through the first Madness recordings of 1979, and ending there. In the case of Growing Out of It, the stated concept is “only going up to the release of ‘The Prince’.”

(Photo credit: Darren Dixon. Used with permission.)

Of course, this being of product of the unruly mind of Lee Thompson, the subject matter discussed is not so rigorously contained. Lee’s observations skip across the decades, occasionally mentioning the band’s later hits and fame, the Crunch days, the Madstock reunion, the Buckingham Palace gig, and a number of quite recent anecdotes. There’s one corker about Thommo just the other day confusing his reading glasses with a pair of Suggsy’s to the point of shouting, so we get a dash of old geezer comedy mixed in with this portrait of the artist as a young man.

Growing Out of It dutifully checks off the legends that have been told and retold since Take It or Leave It: Lee’s early life of petty crime, his fascination with old ska and rock steady records (mostly shoplifted), his saxophone with the serial number scratched out, not knowing how to tune a sax through their first album, the 2 Tone Tour, anti-authority hijinks at Top of the Pops, etc. Some of these old canards are fleshed out with new insights from Lee… if he is to be believed. Take the familiar tale of Thommo climbing in through the bathroom window to get into a Kilburn and the High Roads show, only to be confronted by Ian Dury himself. Here Lee claims there was actually no cover charge for entry that night, and he was only breaking in the back way out of habit. I mean, really? Another yarn I had a hard time swallowing was when Lee claims he once ran into Omar Sharif and did a Jake Blues “How much for your women?” routine – which sounds more like a showbiz gag Buddy Hackett would have told Johnny Carson than our lad Kix.

The odd potential fib aside, the book is loaded with choice morsels that were new to me, if indeed they’ve ever been shared heretofore. I howled at the story of Lee’s first time meeting Paul Weller, which involves a ritzy Los Angeles rock & roll party and the leader of The Jam going for a swim fully naked. Then there’s an indelicate summary of Chrissy Boy advising Lee of a peculiar home remedy for easing venereal disease pain, which leads to disastrous results. We get a full-on diatribe wherein Lee denounces the vile sartorial pestilence of white socks. “I just never like that look of white socks on display beneath a pair of Sta-Prest, or poking out from a nice pair of brogues or loafers,” Lee seethes. “It was so common at the end of the 1970s, but I detested it.”

Toward the end of the book, Lee drops a significant gem in the form of an old unfinished lyric he penned in the band’s formative days. “Jump in the Back of the Jag” has the makings of a cracking gangster ballad in the mold of “Drip Fed Fred” and “Herbert.” “Suggs knows it and keeps pushing me to complete it, so that Madness can record it,” Lee notes. “Maybe we’ll get around to finishing it one day.”

Lee speaks about his bandmates in turn, sharing his admiration and fondness for each of them at length. We fans tend to have the impression that Thommo’s biggest friends in Madness are Chris and Mike, since they are the original founding trio, and Lee has such a history of fruitful collaborations with those two. So it comes as some surprise when Lee reserves the warmest regards for Carl Smyth, since I’d heard the two of them didn’t always get along so well. Lee refutes rumors that he had been opposed to Carl becoming the seventh member of the band. “We idolised each other,” Lee confides. “He was my Clark Gable and I was his… well, Hilda Ogden.” (Google tells me Hilda was a character on the Coronation Street soap, who pretty much looked like Lee in drag in the “Our House” video.)

The book’s meandering narrative gathers a potent dramatic arc through its telling of the story of “The Prince.” I didn’t realize Lee expressly wrote the song for the purpose of being the band’s single for 2 Tone, since the band felt none of their small body of original tunes fit the aesthetic of Jerry Dammers’ label. Thommo rose to the challenge, listening to dozens of Prince Buster albums to craft a suitably ska-seeped tribute number. I love how Lee waxes poetic about holding that checkered 7-inch disc in his hands for the first time. Most artists are either too modest or too jaded to dwell on such moments of first accomplishment, but after the adversities Lee had gone through in his young life, he entirely earned that burst of pride. “Just having ‘The Prince’ committed to vinyl was enough,” Lee recalls. “It didn’t matter if it was a hit or not.”

The audiobook of Growing Out of It is not narrated by Lee, and celebrity memoirs not read by their familiar voices are typically a chore to sit through. Not so in the case. Although Matthew Lloyd Davies exhibits a posh BBC accent on his other audiobooks, here he puts on an extremely commendable Lee Thompson impression, capturing not only his North London accent but also his speech cadence, like the distinctive way Thommo draws out… his worrrds… to underscore a wry or bitter remark. Kudos to the audio producer who cast Davies, who makes this such an enjoyable listen. The only downside is when Davies reads the many footnotes and side comments from Lee’s wife Debbie, sister Tracy, Mike Barson, Chrissy Boy and other assorted friends. It can be difficult to know when the aside is finished and we’re back to Lee talking again.

That leaves just one observation about the book. Why does the autobiography of such a vibrant, colorful and creative individual have such a drab and boring title? Growing Out of It is weak sauce for a fellow who’s graced his works with titles like “March of the Gherkins” and The Benevolence of Sister Mary Ignatius. Given the heavy thematic focus on “The Prince,” I think the book should have taken its title drawn from those lyrics, like Shuffle Me Off My Feet, or Even If I Kept on Running. But then again, considering the sideways genius of Lee Thompson, Growing Out of It probably carries ironic layers of meaning that I won’t grasp until 15 years later.

Victorious! Madness Returns to the Stage!

Madness is back. The audience is back. The magic is back.

For their first proper live show since the COVID-19 pandemic, Madness took to the main stage at the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth on August 27. Although Woody missed the show for personal reasons, the rest of the band made a spectacular return before a jubilant crowd. Here are a couple of great audience videos that give some sense of the electrifying experience of witnessing the moment. Welcome back, boys!

Setlist (with incorrect date)

M.I.S. Interview on the SSM Podcast’s 1st Anniversary

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Stateside Madness Podcast, our British cousins at the Madness Information Service published this interview with hosts Laurie and Poly in the weekly M.I.S. Online newsletter. Read on as our podcasters share their thoughts on this occasion, which just so happens to coincide with hitting the milestone of 5,000 downloads!

M.I.S.: How did the Stateside Madness Podcast come about?

Laurie: The initial idea came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Madness’ American tour dates were all postponed until 2022, so we needed something to keep ourselves occupied. We wanted to come up with something that would help us battle our COVID isolation and connect with other Madness fans. I had just started regularly listening to a weekly music podcast about another band, and the idea hit me: why not a podcast devoted to Madness?

Poly: Laurie came up with the idea for the podcast and wanted a co-host. Like all things originating in the 21st century I had no idea what a podcast was. I was thinking “radio show,” like “wacky morning DJ.” So, being a pompous windbag, I said yes. While I knew it would be about Madness, I didn’t know a podcast would rely so heavily on talking about things you know and/or being a bit of an expert. Being from Maine, I find expert pontificating abhorrent. I called my mother panicked. “Mum, I’m gonna have to talk a lot about Madness, people are gonna slay me!” 

Laurie: But that hasn’t happened, has it? There have been no slayings. I think we have a good balance in our podcast. Poly knows a lot about 2Tone and the Jamaican ska scene, whereas I’m more into 80s pop culture. And that really seems to work! It would be boring as hell if we both approached music from the exact same perspective. 

M.I.S.: Why a podcast? What was your goal?

Laurie: There are tons of Madness web sites and online communities, but no one seemed to be creating original media content, or very little. It was important to us that we were content creators. Early on, Poly and I decided that we were not merely going to regurgitate Wikipedia entries. Instead, we wanted to do something completely original with a uniquely American spin. An audio podcast seemed like a natural fit since it allowed us to play snippets of the songs we were discussing.

Poly: We knew there would be song snippets and talking. “Do you like that song?” “Yup, I like that song.” That’s kinda how we started. Early on I came up with phrases like “strong melody” and “upbeat tempo” to describe songs I liked. Stupidly, I might add. Very nearly every good Madness song has a strong melody and upbeat tempo. What the f*** was I supposed to say about the subsequent two hundred songs? Idiot.

M.I.S.: What has been your favourite thing about recording the podcast this past year?

Poly: Special guests are definitely the best part of doing the podcasts. All the guests we’ve had were eager to talk. Less research to do, less carrying the load; it’s like a little vacation for me and Laurie. 

Laurie: The guests have been terrific! We interviewed Chris Foreman for episode 15, which was arranged by our friends at M.I.S. That was absolutely a dream come true for me! But I think our real strength has been in getting interviews from other people whose stories haven’t been heard before. We interviewed Nick Woodgate, Woody’s brother, in episode 12, and our listeners really enjoyed that one. More recently we’ve chatted with Hector Walker (episode 16) and tour manager Steve Martin (episode 22). Those episodes were both fantastic! We have had listeners messaging us on social media to let us know that, although they are long-time fans who thought they knew all that there was to know about Madness, they were delighted to hear new stories from our guests. 

Poly: I’ve been ecstatic to hear from fellow Madness fans who like the podcast. The Madness fan community has surprised me. Unlike other fan communities, they’re not a vicious bunch of trolls out to get each other. Friendly jabs, sure, but mostly supportive. I’m touched to hear how many take a drink when I say “absolutely” as a filler word or go get a beer when I say “Go get a beer, Stateside Madness.” Glad to know I’m enabling.

Laurie: Yeah, I think there may be a Stateside Madness Podcast drinking game out there now. Speaking of our fellow Maddies, the two fan engagement episodes which we’ve done so far have been an absolute blast (episode 8 and episode 21). Over the past year, I’ve become acutely aware of how many Madness fans there are here in the United States. We’re all about building the American fan community—through the podcast, through our Facebook group and Twitter, and through some planned meetups next year to coincide with the American tour dates.

M.I.S.: What can your listeners look forward to in the future?

Laurie: Well, in the immediate future we’re working on an episode all about Prince Buster, similar to the one we did on Ian Dury (episode 19). We’ve been talking about doing an episode about American bands who have cited Madness as a musical influence, like No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And Poly really wants us to do an episode about the more adult side of Madness that he wants to call “Sexy Time for Madness.” That should be a good one, with lots of blushing involved. 

Poly: We’ve got some more special guests in the works. Details are not hammered out, so it’s still secret. Other than that, I’d say we’re working on making the leap to video podcasts. Maybe not entirely but for special occasions, like The House of Fun Weekender; I’m gonna be there this year doing a podcast. Again, details are still being hammered out, but we’re gonna make it awesome.

M.I.S.: Anything else you’d like to say, either to the band or to the fans?

Poly: The podcast and Stateside Madness in general have been really fun and I’d say really good for me. The previous year has been challenging for everyone, and for me to have a project, scheduled meetings—and fun ones at that—was really helpful. I was never one to reach out to or chat up strangers, but SSM, M.I.S., Seven Ragged Men, and All Things Madness have forced me to be better about it. Odds are, I’ll make a lame reply to one of your posts sooner or later.

Laurie: It’s been so gratifying to me that people have taken the time to reach out and tell us, “I learned something new from your podcast,” and that people are listening and care what we have to say. We appreciate all the support we’ve received from M.I.S., Chris Foreman, Steve Martin, and others affiliated with the band. And thank you to our listeners! Without you, there would be no podcast.

Behold the Chriscoiffian Calendar

In honor of Chris Foreman’s 65th birthday, Stateside Madness managing director Poly Collins has compiled an incisive retrospective on Chrissy Boy’s evolving haircuts. Sit back and have a beer (or six) with Poly as he tracks the course of civilization as reckoned by the Chriscoiffian Calendar! It’s SHOWTIME!

After that, tune in to the newest Chris Foreman episode of the Stateside Madness Podcast to hear Poly and co-host Laurie discuss Chrissy’s life and times, and Chris himself offers a few short remarks on the subject of birthdays. For more from Chris, don’t miss our full-length Chris Foreman interview podcast from March 2021.

Dance Craze and My Higher Education

The year 1986 was a tumultuous time of transition for all of us old-school Madness fans. And for myself even more so, since I was in my senior year of high school and facing big decisions about my future. It was a pivotal moment when I had more consequential matters to worry about than my favorite pop band breaking up. And yet somehow my pursuit of college admission got intermingled with my love of Madness, as I shall relate forthwith. 

During my junior year, I entered a short story in a scholarship competition called the North Carolina Writing Award. It was a lark and I expected nothing from it, but I ended up winning first place in the county. So I was invited to the state finals at Duke University, where I squared off against the other finalists in writing an extemporaneous essay in a big intimidating auditorium. I won second place in the state, which scored me major scholarship funds to put me through either UNC or Duke, and cemented my confidence in writing as the skill I wanted to build a career around. 

But that’s not why we’re here. The incident of musical interest took place on the night before the Duke finals. It was my first visit to Durham, which now has been my home for some 25+ years. That evening my Mom and I stopped at a big mall called South Square, long since demolished, and I browsed a Record Bar music store. In this prize wonderland I found a rare and amazing discovery: the Dance Craze soundtrack. I had read about the elusive 1981 concert film, but here was the music on vinyl LP in my hands for the first time. At the checkout I remember telling the cashier I was super impressed with Record Bar’s selection. I’m sure I sounded like a pimply little dork, but I meant it. I thought this city of Durham must be a happenin’ place. Maybe I did want to live there and go to Duke instead of Chapel Hill.

I spent that night in the hotel admiring the kick-ass album sleeve, glad of something to divert the stress of tomorrow morning’s writerly showdown. The triumvirate I knew as the giants of 2 Tone – Madness, The Specials and The (English) Beat – all together on one live album. It was a crossover team-up event like the Avengers of ska. I also knew Bad Manners, but I’d never heard The Selecter or The Bodysnatchers. How cool, how exciting!

Dance Craze was a real watershed in my development as a music fan. Most fans think of Dance Craze foremost in terms of the movie, but for me the soundtrack is forever more memorable and important. I’ve only seen the movie in crappy VHS bootlegs and on YouTube, since legal entanglements have prevented official home video releases. On the last night of a 2017 visit to London, I had a ticket to see a screening of a high-quality print at a club in Islington, with Rhoda Dakar doing a live set afterward. But I came down with pink eye on the trip and decided to stay in. Later came to find out the projector had broken and there was no show that night.

But anyway, what was so significant about the Dance Craze soundtrack? Unbelievably, it was the first opportunity I really got to hear how Madness sounded live. Think of that. Just as the band was packing it in, I finally learned how flippin’ amazing they were on stage, when it was too late for me to ever experience the nutty sound in person. (Or so it seemed.) But let’s set that thought aside for the moment, so I can first give the rest of the artists on the Dance Craze soundtrack their due.

The Specials dominate the album, taking the opening and closing tracks, and rightfully so given their status as the progenitors of 2 Tone. Terry Hall sings lead on “Concrete Jungle,” which songwriter Roddy Radiation sang on the album. I’d have to say Roddy sings it best with that rockabilly swagger, but Terry ain’t half bad. I first heard “Man At C&A” on Dance Craze, since I didn’t yet have More Specials at that point. I definitely prefer the live version without the Mickey Mouse voice. “Nite Klub” makes for a storming finale, with a merry Terry offering a more generous appraisal of the klub scene than usual: “All the girls are very nice and all the boys are pissed!” And his band introductions during the extended bridge have long been my mnemonic device for knowing my Specials members. “On drums, Brad! On bass guitar, Horace!”

The Beat is in fine form on their three tracks. My first album of theirs, the What Is Beat? compilation, contained bonus live versions of “Ranking Full Stop” and “Mirror in the Bathroom,” so I very much knew what to expect here. The band’s inclusion in Dance Craze left my younger self with the vague impression that The Beat had been on the legendary 2 Tone Tour, but of course they weren’t.

I was familiar with Bad Manners thanks to their minor novelty hit, “My Girl Lollipop.” The 1982 Forging Ahead is the only album I’ve ever had by Buster Bloodvessel and co., and only on a cassette I gave away long ago. It was interesting to find this “lesser” act elevated onto the same level as the big boys, and their “Inner London Violence” had a harder edge compared to their laddish goofball tunes I knew.

And then there’s the two girl-singer groups, The Selecter and The Bodysnatchers. Both of them blew me away. I pored over the little photos on the back of the album sleeve trying to figure out which one was Pauline Black and which one was Rhoda Dakar. For a while I guessed wrong and had them reversed. The Bodysnatchers made a huge impression in their one number, “Easy Life,” but it would be many years before I got access to any more of Rhoda’s music. I was more taken with The Selecter, especially Pauline’s shimmering vocals on “Missing Words” and the cute way she went “hey!” in the chorus of “Three Minute Hero.” After Dance Craze, I got my hands on Celebrate the Bullet and totally ate it up. I remember thinking it was like music from the future, despite the album being about six years old by then. My Stateside Madness cohort Poly Collins has proclaimed his longtime crush on Rhoda Dakar, but I’d have to say I’m a Pauline Black guy… even though Pauline shares the same name as my dear departed grandmother, which is kinda weird for one’s sexy pop idol.

And now back to the feature attraction of the Dance Craze soundtrack: Madness live. It seems hard to believe, but in those early years I had no exposure to what Madness really sounded like on stage. Like most U.S. fans, I lacked the means to attend their concerts, and TV appearances were nearly always mimed. Their live act, so renowned across the U.K., Europe and east Asia, had been systemically withheld from America. In 1984 Madness made a landmark live performance on Saturday Night Live, and as I detailed in my Where’s the Band? post, I found it lacking. I actually decided Madness must be a studio band not really suited for the stage, like Steely Dan or something. Boy howdy, did I have that wrong.

Listening to Dance Craze was the first time I ever got to hear a legitimate high-fidelity recording of Madness doing their thing wide-open. It was a revelation. Three top tracks from the One Step Beyond album that I so cherished, executed with dazzling energy and verve. Barson and Bedders dueling like fencing masters in the mind-blowing bridge of “Razor Blade Alley.” Chas screaming his head off in “One Step Beyond” (“Soul to soul, nation to nation! Madness is musical appreciation!”) as the band lays siege like an unstable nuclear reactor threatening to implode. Suggs making the most of “Night Boat to Cairo,” his one brief spotlight on the whole soundtrack, while Chris goes extra twangy, Woody goes extra bangy, and Thommo goes extra cranky. Every song a show-stopper.

When the Dance Craze soundtrack was first released on CD in 1990, it was a crushing disappointment to find the Madness tracks omitted because of legal issues. A first pressing with Madness included was immediately recalled, but a few copies that slipped out sold for astronomical prices on the collector market. When the three missing songs turned up on a 2009 anniversary deluxe CD of One Step Beyond, I tried to playlist them together with the rest of Dance Craze, but with the different sound mix and fade-outs, they would not blend seamlessly together. Ultimately this mess got resolved with the 2 Tone: The Albums box set in 2020, which includes the soundtrack in all its original unexpurgated glory at last.

I can’t overstate how much that Dance Craze album taught me. But not just the illumination of Madness’s full talents. Not just the introduction to The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar. Not just the beauty and harmony of these six quirky British bands all woven together at a singular moment in pop culture history. More than that, Dance Craze was a harbinger of the key role that live music was going to assume in my life going forward.

Back in 1986, live music was basically an abstract concept for me. The only shows I’d ever been to were country music stars like Alabama and the Statler Brothers. Late in my senior year I ventured to take a first “grown-up” night out with friends, going to see a local reggae band on an Asheville college campus. It was like touching a live electrical wire. I never knew music could have such visceral presence, hitting you in the chest and lighting up your whole nervous system. This was a whole new experience, and I liked it. A lot. I began to see that records and tapes were only like pictures of music, a second-hand accounting of music. As Mike Watt puts it, everything is either a gig or a flyer. Records are nothing but flyers to get people to the next gig. Live music is what matters.

I ended up choosing to attend UNC over Duke, thank goodness. My top extracurricular activity was seeing live music at Chapel Hill clubs and other area venues. Arguably that was more educational than all my English and sociology and poli-sci classes put together. In my freshman year alone, I got to see R.E.M., Echo and the Bunnymen, 10,000 Maniacs, Sting, U2, fIREHOSE, and many fine local bands like the Pressure Boys and Billy Warden and the Floatin’ Children. My college years fell within the dark hiatus without Madness, but there was no shortage of live music for me to absorb and savor and learn from.

Looking back, I consider the Dance Craze soundtrack to have been my first college course in both Madness and music in general. As Chas Smash aptly noted, “Madness is musical appreciation!” Everything before that was grade school, me with my little cassette tapes and pop music magazines. Many years later, following the band’s triumphant return, I would embark on my graduate studies by seeing Madness live for the first time at Madstock 2009. I think I finally earned my master’s degree at the Kenwood House Madness XL orchestral concert in 2019. 

And this Stateside Madness blog you’re reading right now? It’s my ongoing doctoral thesis.


More of Trull’s Mad Memories