Madness: A Q&A with Suggs

In September this year, the legendary Madness will be travelling across the UK on a tour like no other. The band will be performing to thousands in some of the UK’s premier Sporting Grounds – football clubs, rugby grounds, cricket clubs and race courses.

After 25 years, Madness are as strong as ever. The Grandslam Madness tour will be taking the band, led by singer Suggs aka Graham McPherson, to perform at a selection of the nation’s leading sporting grounds. Gavin Martin caught up with Suggs to find out a bit more about their upcoming tour and the secret to surviving 25 years in the music biz.


What are the qualities that make Madness endure?

In England alone there are probably 20 more festivals than there were when we began. You are playing to audiences who are there not just to see you. So through that we have managed to accrue a whole new generation by playing 40 or 50 festivals over the past 5 years. It’s been very flattering and marvellous to see so many different age groups enjoying the band. We are looking forward to this on the tour – people of all ages.

I think the reason we endure is that we genuinely do enjoy ourselves. From the very beginning you could see the joy in the early videos we made and hear it in the records. The fact that we were friends before this band started is key. I genuinely think the whole spark or art of craft and creativity was a by-product of our friendship. I think that’s what people feel. It’s a genuine experience. It’s not manufactured. I can’t ever remember being onstage and feeling fed up with the people around me.

How do you keep the feeling of it being fresh?

Traditionally, we don’t tour for months and months - we gave up on America and they probably gave up on us. Touring for years on end is what drains the lifeblood out of a lot of acts that I see. Each tour we do we try and make unique – and special. This one’s special as no one has ever done something like this – as big as this – at sporting venues like this. It’s a Madness madcap idea and we know people will respond to it.

In Madness time you’ve seen a reversal of the music business model from making money on the albums and touring at a loss. Now it’s the tours that make money. New records may not sell as much but it must be important your two most recent albums (The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Oui, Oui, Si Si, Ja, Ja, Da Da) have been well received by critics and fans.

Yes indeed we were teetering on the cusp of the whirlpool of 80s nostalgia. We could have quite happily stopped flapping our flippers and slipped gently down into the hole with everybody else. But we flapped and flapped like mad and tried to write what we thought would be an album to stand with anything else we’ve done which I think we did.

That gave us the ability to get out of the black hole. These albums didn’t sell in their millions but were extremely well received in the intellectual music circles and that has an effect on how you are perceived generally. If we just knocked out some old crap then you wouldn’t be held in high regard. It all added to the pot of being perceived as a working band again, we aren’t just lolling on the lilo of novelty we’re actually sailing around a bit on our own steam.

The summer is pretty well mapped out for you. Grandslam Madness is an outdoor tour the like of which has never been seen in these islands. How will you keep yourself match fit?

It’s like preparing for war, a war of fun y’know? A war of fun and frolics but, unlike the Romans, we are going to unleash heaven. I have a suspicion that if I didn’t have a few tequila shots before I went onstage I wouldn’t be quite as lubricated in the joints. Tequila and orange juice is the secret of keeping those limbs loose! I suppose our rituals are now so ingrained that I don’t notice what the rest of the band are doing! We can change the setlist nightly if we wish. The main thing is to keep it exciting for yourself, that’s the way to ensure the audience is kept excited too.

How well have you got to know England and how has it changed over 25 years of touring?

Last year I did a One Man show, about 130 performances in towns I haven’t been to since the early days. I’ve been through a few recessions and a lot of things aren’t looking good in a lot of them satellite towns outside London. It’s a funny old cliche but Madness always seem to do better in times of recession, not that we ever wished upon anybody. Maybe during these periods people need a bit of cheering up and without being trite our raison d’etre has always been about livening up a dull day. That was the reason for calling our last album Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da - basically yes in several languages because there seems to be an awful lot of no, no, no at the minute and we could do with a lot more yes yes yes, particularly in the lower orders of society.

You play Rhyl on a venue right on the beach and Hove by the sea too - perfect seaside settings for Madness?

I’m really looking forward to that. We haven’t played Rhyl in ages, maybe back in the early 80s when we did a tour of specifically seaside towns. I have a soft spot for Wales going back to childhood when I lived there for a few years. I always liked the sea, kiss me quick hats, with the kids and the sandcastles, we love all that. In the olden days we used to go down to Brighton for football matches but we’d always get off at Hove because it was a quieter station. I remember there was a one legged ticket inspector at Brighton and he could catch you, he was like the bionic man. He didn’t work at Hove so that’s an abiding memory from when I was scrabbling around with a bunch of herberts.

You are playing Blackheath in South London even as a North London lad you must have been familiar with it in your youth?

I love Blackheath, it’s not actually a plague pit it just doesn’t have any trees on it. When I was kid I can’t remember the reason why, but mums used to have this thing you blew up like tent fabric and you could walk through them. I had a summer job taking the tickets for people to walk through this tunnel of coloured plastic on Blackheath.

Are you looking forward to this tour?

Of course! It’s great to do something new. Something not done before. And it really feels like a tour of the people in places where they can have fun – where we can have fun.

Tickets for the upcoming Madness tour are on sale now.

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