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!
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.
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.
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.
In his recent guest spot on the Stateside Madness Podcast, Chris Foreman mentioned how he has profited as co-writer of “Our House,” a staple of the advertising circuit. “I do quite well out of sync licenses, you know,” he said with a laugh. “People want to use it. So yeah, it’s done me well!” The past year has seen the tune become a pandemic anthem in a lovely Miracle-Gro ad as well as spots for midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee and UK retailer Very.
And now it’s Allstate putting more U.S. dollars in Chrissy Boy’s pocket, thanks to their new “Our House” ad that steps beyond the coronavirus era. Contrary to the whole home-lockdown angle, this one proposes taking your castle and your keep with you on the go, in a manner of speaking.
The whimsical ad features comedic actress Erin Alexis hauling a whole house (albeit of the tiny variety) down the road hitched to her modest mom-mobile, over the familiar strains of “Our House.” The dulcet baritone of Allstate pitchman Dennis Haysbert implores viewers to bundle their home insurance with their auto policy to save a bundle. “You already pay for car insurance. Why not take your home along for the ride?”
It’s nowhere near as magical as the Miracle-Gro commercial, but it’s a good ad. There are two interesting things to note about the sociocultural mechanics that make it work.
First, it’s not until halfway through the ad that the song lyrics kick in. I think most “Our House” ads jump into a chorus or verse straightaway, but this one demonstrates patience. Likewise, we don’t see the whole visual gag at first, just tight shots of the house’s rumbling interior, a window box planter and curtains in the breeze, set to the instrumental overture. This shows that Allstate was confident enough that most people in their target demo would recognize the song and get the joke even before hearing Suggs and Carl. Just like when we hear the distinct bassline and cha-chings of Pink Floyd’s “Money,” we know an ad’s going to be about finances, and “We Are Family” telegraphs blood relations even without the Sister Sledge vocals, the “Our House” melody alone is enough to make us anticipate a commercial about home.
The other noteworthy thing about the ad is how it hinges on a common American misinterpretation of the chorus. “Our house, in the middle of our street.” This phrasing strikes U.S. listeners oddly, evoking nonsense images of a house erected right in the road itself, blocking traffic on both sides and violating of all sorts of zoning ordinances.
Even as a 13-year-old kid, I managed to figure out this meant the house was situated centrally along the length of the street, rather than across its width. Go halfway down our street, turn left at our house. Ten years ago, the blog Separated by a Common Language offered a thorough analysis of the British English idioms in “Our House,” wherein author Lynne “Lynneguist” Murphy astutely notes the following:
To my young American ears, this sounded intentionally funny. The house is in the middle of the street! Like where the manholes should be! No, no, no. This is the British English equivalent of in American English in the middle of our block. … But even if it weren’t in the middle of the street, ‘our house’ would still be in our street, because in British English addresses can be in the street or road.
Indeed, let us not forget that the earthquake was erupting but not in Orange Street. If Lee Thompson had an American editor, it would have been not erupting on Orange Street. And then we have Suggs’s new composition “In My Street,” which puts the Yank-baffling choice of preposition front and centre. Although it is interesting that Suggs also wrote of passing Amy Winehouse on Dean Street, rather than “in Dean Street”… perhaps because the scene of a personal encounter is different from a fixed address?
As a side note, the “Our House” lyric that always tripped me up most was “the kids are playing up downstairs.” I recall one of my friends postulating that the children were on a lower floor above the sub-basement. Murphy’s blog post helpfully explains that “playing up” means “behaving irritatingly or erratically,” which we might express as kids “acting up” or “cutting up” downstairs.
But back to the Allstate ad. Even if it it requires being thickheaded to think the house in “Our House” was literally in the road, where the lines are painted, and where the chicken crosses, that peculiar pinch of British flavour is inherent to our experience of the song in America. So much so that an ad agency selling the benefits of combining car and home insurance was able to find a nostalgic pop hit that expresses this specific concept to us. And Allstate was confident enough to let the music speak for itself, free of exposition by way of lyrics or President David Palmer, for the exorbitantly expensive duration of 15 seconds. It’s pretty cool that Madness still occupies its minuscule niche of American pop culture enough to pull that off. “Our House” is in good hands with Allstate.
And honestly, it makes for a better insurance ad than “Driving in My Car” or “Mrs Hutchinson” ever could.
What is the best way to do a music livestream without an audience? During the pandemic, artists have come up with many different approaches to performing for distant fans. We’ve seen unplugged living room sessions. We’ve seen bands looking embarrassed in silent rehearsal spaces. We’ve seen lavish special effects, camerawork and choreography yielding something more akin to a spontaneous music video than a concert. We’ve seen singers holding microphones down below face shields. We’ve seen masked orchestras and string sections lending gravitas to pop and rock. We’ve seen artists reading fan tweets between songs, or worse yet, walls of Zoom video faces staring from behind the band like creepy digital surveillance juries.
It’s all been awkward and weird. Musicians want to play and earn their living, and fans are ready and yearning to hear them, so livestreams are a noble pursuit. Everyone wants them to work and turn out great. But it comes down to a philosophical riddle like the tree falling in a forest. If a band plays live, but no one is there to hear them, is it really live music? Or just a studio session?
Back in June 2020, Suggs and Mike Barson teamed up for their Two Mad Men and a String Quartet livestream. As delightful as it was, slaking Madness fans’ thirst with an intimate set of old favorites and a couple of new numbers, there’s no denying it came off a bit flat. When they turned their attentions to a major online event with the full band unit, Madness dug deeper. A lot deeper. Fueled by the creative energy of writer/co-star Charlie Higson, The Get Up! presented a musical-comedy-variety extravaganza from the London Palladium on May 14. The Get Up! wildly succeeded by reassessing the possibilities of putting on a concert without a live audience and doing something wholly different.
Higson and the band clearly realized that they should focus on doing a production that would be impossible in front of a live crowd, instead of apologizing for the shortcomings. Without an audience present, you can edit. You can mix scenes from interiors and exteriors. You can use movie magic to put band members in multiple places at the same time. You can set up elaborate scenarios and gags. You can tell a story.
The promotional materials for The Get Up! draw inspiration from the classic old Ealing Studios comedies, plagiarizing paying tribute to the posters for Passport to Pimlico, The Man in the White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob. Advance synopses revealed that Higson would be playing the ghost of the London Palladium. This led me to speculate that the plot might revolve around the band rehearsing in the empty concert hall, only to be plagued by ghostly interruptions and spooky Scooby-Doo hijinks. (And honestly, that sounds pretty good! Rut-roh, Thommo!) But it turns out the team cooked up something a lot more ambitious.
The Get Up! starts from the unspoken premise that “Madness live” does not compute without a live audience. It cleverly solves this conundrum by casting the band members as the audience at their own show, ushered by Charlie Higson’s grandiloquent compère Victor Marley. They’re all confused about what’s on for the evening’s bill of entertainment, and our first clue that all is not what it seems stems from Lee’s late arrival. Thommo is stuck outside hunting for the hall’s rear entrance, and yet there he is in the lobby, playing a catchy lounge arrangement of “The Return of the Los Palmas 7” with his bandmates in gold lamé suits. This “dramatic Madness” group turns up on stage, reenacting primordial rehearsals at Mike’s house, while the “real Madness” group fires off wisecracks at themselves from the fourth row.
This daft conceit results in a surprisingly multilayered dialectic. First off, it’s a celebration of the Madness mythology. All the old yarns about their Invaders days are thrown in there, the gospels fans have studied from music rag articles on down to the Before We Was We book and documentary. Mike bossing everyone around, Suggs being fired for missing practice in favor of football, Chris inadvertently coining the band’s name, everyone being crap at their instruments. And it’s all gleefully mashed together without regard to historical basis or chronology. Other names from the revolving-door band roster go ignored, and Chris, Bedders and Woody’s lines are mostly sitcom zingers on fabricated obsessions with rockabilly, disco and heavy metal. Most hilariously, the doorbell at the Barson house is the “Baggy Trousers” school bell! We feel the tension between “what really happened” and this cartoonish dramatization of the band’s legend, and for all practical purposes the legend wins.
The storied tale of Mike’s Melody Maker ad seeking to replace Suggs forms a natural pretense for bringing on the evening’s special guests. First there’s a welcome return for Roland Gift, who’s been far too scarce since the Fine Young Cannibals days. Then we get the Guvnor himself, Mr. Paul Weller, auditioning for the Nutty Boys prior to forming that marmalade-nicked group of his. As a total Weller fan, I nearly fell on the floor with delight. “I’ll let you know,” Paul sniffs on his way out the door. Perfect. Personal biases aside, I do appreciate how these two surprise guests were age-appropriate figures of that era, eschewing any upstart young bucks who weren’t even born when Madstock happened.
Being their own audience also gives Madness abundant opportunity to take the piss out of themselves. They observe how “the geezers playing us” are too old and untalented. Barbs fly about Suggs’s limited vocal skills. Yet the band laughs good-naturedly at this self-inflicted roast, not disputing their portrayal on stage but generally owning up to it. It’s a fair cop! Hats off to Mike Barson for overtaking Lee, Suggs and Higson as the comedy MVP of the show. From pounding clumsy proto-“Baggy Trousers” piano chords while belting out “My Girl,” to his star turn as HRH Queen Elizabeth II, Barso gamely puts himself out there and scores big laughs throughout.
And what are we to make of Lee’s side quest to get inside the Palladium? Ostensibly it references Thommo’s long history of not entering concert halls through the front door, choosing rear fire escapes and bathroom windows instead. At first I expected this to culminate in Lee swinging in from the ceiling on a wire or some such acrobatics. Instead the outcome was more suitably low-key, as Lee ends up unable to find the stage door, “Hello Cleveland” style. He banters with a smart-alec bartender (Higson again), a spoof of the ghostly Lloyd who serves Jack Nicholson in The Shining. When Lee asks how he can get to the stage, the bartender advises him to practice hard and follow his dream. That’s a perfectly fine Tommy Cooper sort of joke, but I think there’s more going on here. The problem is that Lee assumes he’s supposed to be performing on stage, but his mythical counterpart is already occupying that role. Lee doesn’t know his place for the evening is in the audience, and that’s the real reason why the bartender acts obtuse.
During a brief intermission, the real Lee finally takes his seat with his bandmates, more concerned with the overpriced drinks than having missed the first half. Victor Marley attempts to kick off Act II with a ponderous recitation of the band’s career achievements, but the guys impatiently boo him off. “Play some music!” Mike jeers. “Grandpa, we love you, but we want to hear something!” Here the band cannily serves as a surrogate for the punters watching from home, a certain segment of whom have surely grown weary of all the chatter and messing about up to this point. The boys happily undercut the whole premise and demand some real Madness music. Which they duly deliver. To themselves.
If the first half of The Get Up! sees the band being visited by the ghosts of Madness past, then the second gives us the ghosts of Madness present. Queen Barso issues a royal proclamation to start moving one’s feet to the rockingest rocksteady beat, and Madness erupts in their full showtime splendor. It’s striking how much you can hear without crowd noise. I’ve been irritated by yobbos at Madness shows shouting and scuffling and socializing amongst themselves, far more interested in drinking beer than drinking in the music. This format gives me the selfish opportunity to savor every unsullied note. Instrumentally the band’s sound is robust and in fine fettle despite the layoff, with Thommo in particular spewing forth a lusciously fat sax tone. Suggs, bless ’im, admittedly comes across a bit rusty. But he’s putting in the effort and seems more or less sober for a change. “House of Fun” gets a lovely church-organ coda that you’d never be able to discern at a Madness gig. On the other hand, you get to realize how much the “1-2-3” in “Shut Up” relies on audience participation.
It is a pity that “NW5” is the sole representation of the band’s rich recorded output post-1986. But I can easily forgive this in light of the three brand new tunes presented: “Baby Burglar,” “If I Go Mad” and “The Cruellest Comedy.” Completing the Dickensian trifecta, this is our glimpse at the ghosts of Madness future. For my money, “If I Go Mad” is the emotional high point and dramatic climax of The Get Up! It’s fresh and different, while making an immediately indelible impression as a great Madness song. Woody and the brass section dominate with a rollicking big-band jazz rhythm, as Suggs builds verses that fit his vocal range like a tailored suit. Then the chorus drops a call-and-response bomb destined go down a storm with live crowds: “If I go mad (if I go mad) / Without you (without you).” Just when it can’t get any better, Suggsy crams the middle eight with a double-time rendition of the “Here’s to everybody” toast from their cult favorite 1985 B-side, “Call Me.” Oh my God, I instantly love this song forever.
The band members in the audience mostly recede into the background during the dynamite second half, occasionally popping in for a Statler and Waldorf quip or two. To some extent they seem to swap roles with their onstage counterparts. Which Madness is more real, and which is the performance? In truth, both versions are equally theatrical and equally genuine, depending on your perspective. The band has attained the status of legends, and long after they are gone, it’s their works and their mythology that will live on.
One last important note. Even though The Get Up! hinges on Madness playing their own audience, this is not a solipsistic exercise that disregards us fans, who remain the audience that counts. Charlie Higson drives this point home in a poetic early exchange.
“I told you, Suggsy, this place is full of ghosts. Ghosts of all the audiences who ever came. And all the audiences who never came. All those people who should have been here during this time of pandemic. When this pernicious disease has closed all our theatres. Those people who should have been packed in those seats will be here with you tonight. A ghostly presence watching everything.”
In a program brimming with jokes and irony and outlandish tomfoolery, those are the most truthful lines spoken. The invisible spirits haunting the London Palladium were us.
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.
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.
Growing up in the ’80s, we didn’t have your fancy Spotify and Pandora and Deezer and whatnot, but we sure as hell knew how to share our music. And our social media platforms of choices were TDK, BASF and Maxell XLII-S. All y’all Gen-Xers know what I’m talking about. Blank cassette tapes were the bomb diggity.
In junior high and high school we swapped homemade tapes around like auditory STDs. These copyright violations amongst friends were way more influential on our musical tastes (and long-term musical spending) than what was popular on the radio and MTV. Thinking back to what I listened to as a teenager, the majority originated with traded cassettes. Trendsetting proto-goth Tim made me tapes of The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and early U2. From Robby I got INXS, from Chris I got Tears for Fears (before their big hits), from Regina I got R.E.M., from Amy I got The Beatles. My good friend Ruffin gave me cassettes of Talking Heads, The Police and The Waterboys, introduced me to jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and changed my life with tapes he brought back from a summer camp by a punk rock band called the Minutemen.
As much as I pride myself on being an independent-minded music connoisseur, the number of acts I discovered fully on my own is a fairly short list: Madness, The Specials, The English Beat, The Jam, Big Country, Modern English. Naturally these were the main artists I drew upon to inject my own influence into my friends’ collective music-swap canon. And Madness was the band I pushed the hardest, like a missionary spreading the nutty gospel. I racked up a respectable score of converts and contended with heretics through the course of my cassette crusade.
In my social circles we didn’t do a lot of trade in actual mixtapes. We were literally album-oriented rockers, capitalizing on the 90-minute cassette’s capacity to put one album on Side A and another album – almost always by the same artist – on Side B. I had a sweet dual cassette deck specifically made for copying tapes at optimum quality, with the priceless “high-speed dubbing” mode so you could seriously crank ’em out without real-time listening. The standard practice was to fill any leftover space at the end of each side with a bonus track or two, preferably a related non-album release or B-side you might have on hand.
Cherrypicking only the “good songs” and building party playlists was not the way we rolled. I think it was mainly because we respected the album as an artistic unit. If you were a fan of a band, it was incumbent on you to have their full albums, “bad songs” and all. On top of which, curating a various-artists mixtape was regarded as a more intimate gesture, reserved for teenage courtship rituals. Dubbing off a tape of Boy and October was not so apt to be interpreted as “he/she likes you.”
I distributed many a copy of One Step Beyond plus Absolutely, emulating the Sire 2-on-1 cassette release that blew my mind. Ready-made for tape sharing, that double dose of seminal Madness laid out a convincing case that this band had more to offer than that one “Our House” song. Quite a few of my friends were impressed. As you might guess, the lead track on One Step Beyond went down the biggest, though I managed to stir interest in some deep cuts as well. “Tarzan’s Nuts” was always an attention-getter, probably owing to the testicular double entendre as much as anything. I proudly recall one day in gym class while we were running laps, I led a small troop calling cadence with “Chipmunks Are Go!” I wonder what the P.E. coach thought about that crew of weirdos declaring themselves roaring chipmunks?
Of course, Madness didn’t win universal adulation from my peers. Chris and Ruffin ridiculed “In the Middle of the Night” for its trifling and pervy subject matter. “Better watch out, ’cause he steals your un-der-wear! Oh no!” they mockingly misquoted the tale of Nice Man George. I think “Baggy Trousers” didn’t land right, either. Since we didn’t share the frame of reference on British schooldays terminology, the bouncy tune came across more like kindergarten hijinks than juvenile delinquency.
Subsequent albums in the Madness catalog brought me diminishing returns on the tape-trading circuit. I learned from my own independent trials how right Geffen had been that 7 and The Rise and Fall did not appeal to general American tastes. No one else saw the relentless brilliance I found in Keep Moving, much to my discouragement, and Mad Not Mad met with “thanks no thanks.”
I cringe and howl with laughter to recall the most epic taping faux pas I ever committed. I was making a copy of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry for my friend Stephen, a coal-black-dyed goth and not much of a Madness fan. There was some blank tape left at the end, and I had just got the spiffy new 1985 Madness album, so why not? I stuck “I’ll Compete” on as a bonus track! Just imagine it: the segue from Robert Smith wailing “Can you help me? Can you… help me?” into an over-caffeinated technicolor lasershow of synths, horns and bongos. Inevitably, when I asked Stephen what he thought about “I’ll Compete,” he grumbled that he had to erase that shit. I felt offended at the time, but of course who could blame him? I had broken the unwritten covenant of bonus tracks – make it something by the same artist, or any least in the same tone and genre. Idiot moves like that could sure ruin your reputation on the tape-trader scene.
There remained a small core of friends who continued to like Madness: Robby, Nick, Alex. None of them ascended to my rank in the Madhead ministry, but they remain loyal apostles even to this day. I fondly recall once when we were discussing what music to play, and Alex enthused “Let’s listen to the MAD Men of NESS!” Such a goofy but endearing thing to say. At one point we were feeling jealous of friends who’d started a couple of garage bands, playing punk and goth stuff, and we decided by golly, we’d form our own band – a ska band! The fragmentary notion was that I would be on lead vocals (ha), and Robby, Nick and Alex would learn how to play… something. This bullshit idea never went anywhere. All we managed was to pick out a Madness song to name ourselves after, just as they had named themselves after a Price Buster tune. We settled on something from the new Madness record to call our imaginary band: White Heat. Wet Fart, more like.
Ironically enough, the biggest threat to Madness in our cassette-sharing ring was a predator that I myself introduced to the ecosystem: The Specials. The Jerry Dammers combo proved way more popular to my friends’ varied tastes, whether punk or ska or goth or jazz or rock. Having bought the debut The Specials album, I was quite astounded at what I’d found, though I didn’t like all the songs at first. When I shared a tape with Ruffin, I warned him not to be put off by the weird first song, which was so slow with plodding harmonica and trombone. “Don’t worry, it gets better with the fast songs,” I promised.
Later he came back with glowing praise. “And you know which song I like best?” Ruffin said. “‘A Message to You Rudy’!” As a jazz listener, he was quite at home with Rico’s lead trombone, and equipped to tune into the song’s vibe much more readily than I could. In time I would learn this track was the closest thing to genuine Jamaican ska I had ever heard up to that point. To bring things full circle, Ruffin would later share with me The Skatalites’ phenomenal Stretching Out reunion album, exclusively released on cassette in 1987, and finally things started to piece together. So that’s what ska really was.
As I spread more tapes around, everybody loved The Specials. Compared to Madness, they were angrier, more political, more serious, and oh so much cooler. Never mind that the band was long broken up by the time of our belated discovery. Contrary to the fighting sentiment of that goth-repellant bonus track, Madness could not compete. My friends basically decided The Specials were their British ska band of choice, which I feel is the most popular opinion among American music fans who know the genre.
And you know, that’s okay. I can look back with pride on my legacy of spreading awareness of 2 Tone music from both London and Coventry across Haywood County, NC, on traded cassettes back in the day. I wouldn’t rewind a thing.
It’s a big day in Madness news with official confirmation of the re-rescheduled U.S. tour, plus a major livestream event coming in May. First we have this new slate of 2022 dates in America, following some piecemeal announcements and contradictory information. We look forward to welcoming our Nutty Boys at the following gigs:
The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival, Las Vegas, NV
House of Blues, Boston, MA
Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, NY
Tickets previously booked for the 2020/2021 dates will be honored at the rescheduled shows. Contact your point of purchase with any questions.
In the more immediate future, Madness will be presenting a global livestream event on May 14 billed as “The Get Up!” Direct from the London Palladium and featuring comedian Charlie Higson, the show promises “live music, new and classic Madness songs, comedy, some incredibly special guests and even Mike Barson playing the part of HRH Queen Elizabeth II.” With promotional graphics in the vintage style of Ealing comedy movie posters, “The Get Up!” looks to be a right old knees-up chock full of pure entertainment.
Tickets go on sale April 23. The UK livestream is scheduled for 3:30 PM Eastern Time, and later livestreams for the U.S. audience are set for the east coast and west coast, at 8:30 PM Eastern or Pacific. The ticket sales site states “There are no restrictions on which stream you can watch so please choose the most convenient one for you.” It further specifies that “The Get Up” will not be available on-demand afterward, so no do-overs for those who miss out. Get up, get in, got it?