After serving up a right royal fuss, Madness have their sights set on South Yorkshire, as David Dunn discovers
AS English as pie and mash, fish and chips and smashed up bus shelters, there was maybe no surprise Suggs and his merry musical men were summoned to be part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Monday.
But after 30 years faithful service to one of this island’s most successful export industries, did the cheeky chappie get to tap up Her Majesty for a knighthood in between performing at Buckingham Palace?
“This is what I said, ‘We’re playing with Sir Elton and Sir Paul’,” he tells us with a smile. “I know there’s a lot of us, there might not to be too many baubles to go round, so we’ll just take a collective one.
“Sir Madness will do us. That’ll be fine. We can all kneel as one for the sword on our collective heads. Maybe just one giant one that’ll fit around all our necks.”
Joking aside, Madness arguably deserve something for their infallible ability to enliven any rainy festival or bitter British night. And the Jubilee jamboree was merely the beginning of musical manoeuvres for the second part of 2012.
For starters they play Doncaster Racecourse on June 30 and they recently announced an arena tour that returns them to Sheffield on December 11.
The first of those fixtures, certainly, will be in stark contrast to their last South Yorkshire mission. Heavy snow meant the band had to pull an initial gig at Sheffield’s O2 Academy, a first in their entire career.
“The only concert we’ve ever had to cancel in 30 flipping years,” confirms Suggs. “The terrible thing was about 100 or so people had made it through this incredible blizzard, but we had to make the decision.
“If we played the concert we wouldn’t be able to play again, technical insurance purposes, blah blah blah, but we had this terrible feeling of having never blown a gig out before.
“But the police and local authorities were saying people shouldn’t get on the road and drive so we were stuck in Sheffield. We had a very nice time, actually. We went bowling, went to the pictures, saw a lovely little Christmas market which was a little odd because it seemed to have more Rastafarian memorabilia than Christmassy stuff. Well, that was my take on it.
“Some of the bands were ‘We’re gonna head back south’ but we stayed in Sheffield for a couple of days and we beat them back. They were still lost in snow drifts in Essex and wherever.”
The band didn’t face such inclement weather at their previous Donny racecourse fixture, however. “That was a fantastic night. We did that a couple of years a go and it was brilliant.
“I saw Yorkshire Terrier racing in the afternoon, which was something else.
“I don’t mind a punt but I’m one of those who hates losing. I’ll put a couple of hundred quid aside at the beginning and if I’ve lost that by the end of the evening I’m done, or you start chasing your losses.”
Other punters can expect to hear some new songs, bound for the follow up to The Liberty Of Norton Holgate, the 2009 album that provided worthy additions to the Madness setlist.
“We got to a point in the 1980s where we could have just gone on a greatest hits circle and I don’t see that would have ended in any way.
“But to write a new song that has to come between Our House and It Must Be Love, it has to be at least as good as that. We don’t always achieve that standard, but that’s what we aim for.
“With Liberty we tried to make an album that was a little different again. If you think the way The Beatles developed... we did something really dense, quite challenging lyrically, but still it’s pop. Ultimately we make pop music and we don’t want to get into a situation that a lot of old bands do where you become a bit indulgent and start messing about with your arrangements.
“We’re in the process of finishing another album which we think is gonna be maybe better than that. We’ve gone a bit more up tempo. We wrote My Girl about having a first relationship and now we write songs about getting divorced but with the same musical intent.
“It’s got to have some energy. The thing with great soul songs, and a big thing for us was Motown and Stax, you could write about sad things but could still get people going on the dance floor.
“That’s always been our raison d’etre, to hopefully say something.”
Certainly Madness can lay claim to a time-tested legacy of hits that people have grown up with.
“And while their stage persona is often a contagious party atmosphere, there’s no escaping Suggs has a way with words.
“We often have the reverse of sad music with funny words. It’s called pathos, Neil Tennant told me, and I’ve always been considered pathetic, certainly in my own family. That’s what my wife told me, I was pretty pathetic the other night, after the Chelsea game.
“I was talking to someone whose mum died and they played It Must Be Love at the funeral; talk about pathos. The fact that her family played that song at such an important point in their lives, I feel privileged about that, for sure.
“But pathos was something of a revelation to me, the fact you can get two feelings going at the same time – happiness and sadness – because that’s what life really is.
“One without the other isn’t right, like light and shade, darkness and daytime – you need a bit of one to understand the other.
“You certainly come away from a Madness concert having felt something.
“Joy is something we try to engender, joy that comes from really understanding what life is about.”