Suggs – circa 1982
“This may not be uptown Jamaica / But we promise you a treat” – ’The Prince’ (Lee Thompson)
“Hey you!” bawls Chas Smash, the master of ceremonies for British ska band Madness. “Don’t watch that! Watch this! This is the heavy, heavy monster sound! The nuttiest sound around! So if you’ve come in off the street, and you’re beginning to feel the heat…Well, listen buster, you better start to move your feet to the rockingest rocksteady beat of Madness! One…step…beyond!” With that, the group launches into the wildly eccentric ‘One Step Beyond’. They pull faces, bounce around like hyperactive jumping beans and generally behave like lunatics. In short, it’s madness!
Madness is a fairly democratic outfit, but the best starting point for their story may be keyboardist Mike Barson.
Michael Barson (a.k.a. ‘Mr B’, ‘Monsieur Barso’ or ‘Barzo’) is born 21 April 1958 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He grows up in North London with his two brothers, Dan and Ben. By the mid-1970s he is friends with Lee Thompson.
Lee Jay Thompson (a.k.a. ‘Kix’ or ‘El Thommo’) is born 5 October 1957 in St Pancras, London. He has a difficult youth, spending some time in Borstal, a type of detention centre in the U.K. for delinquent young people.
Mike Barson and Lee Thompson get up to some mischief in the mid-1970s as graffiti artists. Putting their ‘tags’ – ‘Mr B’ and ‘Kix’, respectively – on various walls, or anything else that stays still long enough. Their minds turn in a different direction when they meet Chris Foreman.
Christopher John Foreman (a.k.a. ‘Chrissy Boy’) is born 8 August 1956 in St Pancras, London – which is also Lee Thompson’s birthplace. Chris buys his first guitar when he is 17. By 1976, Chris Foreman is married to Susan, his childhood sweetheart, and they have a son, Matthew (born 1976).
In 1976 Mike Barson, Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman decide to form a band. The group is named The Invaders – or The North London Invaders. The founding line-up is: Dikron Tulane (lead vocals), Chris Foreman (guitar), Mike Barson (keyboards), Lee Thompson (saxophone), Chas Smash (bass) and John Hasler (drums).
Chas Smash (a.k.a. ‘Carl’) is born Cathyl Joseph Smyth on 14 January 1959 in Marleybone, London. ‘Cathyl’ is Gaelic for Charles – meaning ‘a great warrior.’ This seems the most likely explanation for why Chas is sometimes later referred to as ‘Carl’ – meaning ‘strong’, a similar meaning to Charles. Cathyl Smith’s father works overseas for long periods so the boy doesn’t see a lot of his father. From his teens, Cathyl is with Jo, the girl who becomes his partner in life. Cathyl Smith explains his more familiar name this way: “Chas Smash came from the days before Madness was a band…We used to spray our names on walls…Chas Smash was my tag.”
“We called ourselves The North London Invaders at first,” recalls keyboardist Mike Barson. “We started off rehearsing in my mum’s house.”
1977 is a tumultuous year for the band. There are a number of line-up changes. Bassist Chas Smash leaves after an argument with keyboardist Mike Barson. His replacement, Gavin Rodgers (bass), is the brother of Mike Barson’s girlfriend at the time, Kerstin Rodgers. Saxophone player Lee Thompson leaves the group…but by 1978 Thompson is rehired. Drummer John Hasler is replaced by Garry Dovey (drums). Lead vocalist Dikron Tulane also exits, turning his hand to acting instead. The band’s new vocalist is Suggs.
Suggs is born Graham McPherson on 13 January 1961 [Friday the 13th] in Hastings, Sussex, England. He is the only child of William Rutherford McPherson and Edith Gower, a couple who are married in the previous year, 1960. William McPherson leaves by the time his son is 3. “I don’t know [what happened to him],” says Suggs, “but what I’ve heard hasn’t been good; [being addicted to] heroin, injecting his eyeballs with paraffin, [and] being sectioned [to a mental hospital]. He must be dead now, I mean, he would have got in touch if he was alive, wouldn’t he? Yeah, he must be dead, poor b*gger.” Suggs later discovers that his father remarried before passing away in 1975. “I only lived with my mum, so we were free agents,” Suggs recalls. “She was a [jazz] singer in the pubs and clubs. We moved to Liverpool, then London. I lived with relations in Wales for a while, and came back to London. Because I was an only child I was pretty insular and stubborn. All the upheaval made me lazy academically, so by the time I got to Quinton Kynaston School in St Johns Wood, I didn’t bother much.” His school chums call Graham McPherson ‘Grey’ or ‘Mac’, but he worries about being singled out due to his Scottish surname. When he is around 15, this prompts the lad to seek a new identity. “So I got hold of my mum’s book about jazz musicians, stuck a pin into a page and it landed on Peter Suggs, the drummer in an obscure jazz band in Kentucky. The name resonated with me and I’ve been Suggs ever since.” Suggs leaves school when he is 15 and works at a butcher’s for eight months, making sausages and scraping lard off metal trays. Suggs attends his first rock concert in 1976, a show by The Who, supported by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. It seems that Suggs returns to school, for he claims, “I stayed on to the sixth form for social security reasons, and got two o-levels and a CSE on the way [‘o-levels’ are ‘ordinary levels’ – passing marks, part of the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE)]. I met Mike Barson hanging around Hampstead School.” Suggs adds, “I hadn’t any intentions to become a singer.” He muses, “We grew up together through all that really weird period from teenage into adulthood…We were all kinds of leaders of our own little gangs of people in and around the same area of Kentish Town and Hampstead. And by some natural filtering, we all ended up in this room together, playing instruments.” Suggs admits in conclusion that, “I certainly didn’t do much at school. Most of the band didn’t.”
Suggs’ stint as lead vocalist for the band is nearly over before it begins. In 1977 he is temporarily dismissed. “I was sacked,” he says ruefully. “We used to rehearse on Saturdays and the band started to get annoyed that I was away every other weekend. I was watching Chelsea [Football Club]!” Presumably, Suggs either curbs his soccer mania or the band accommodates his absences in their rehearsal schedule. In 1978 he is back in the group.
More line-up changes await the group in 1978. The rhythm section of bassist Gavin Rodgers and drummer Garry Dovey is replaced by, respectively, Mark Bedford and Daniel Woodgate.
Mark William Bedford (a.k.a. ‘Bedders’) is born 24 August 1961 in Islington, London, England. Mark starts to buy records when he is 11 or 12 and takes up the bass when he is 13. He knows drummer Garry Dovey so when The North London Invaders get a gig at the William Ellis School in Kentish Town – the school Mark attends – he is invited to a band rehearsal. When bassist Gavin Rodgers departs, Mark Bedford joins the band. This proves opportune. Saxophone player Lee Thompson subsequently has a ‘scuffle’ with drummer Garry Dovey and the latter quits. Mark Bedford knowns another drummer and recommends Daniel Woodgate.
Daniel Mark Woodgate (a.k.a. ‘Woody’) is born 19 October 1960 in Kensington, London, England. He and his younger brother, Nick, are raised by their divorced father. Woody gets his first drumkit when he is 12. After leaving school, Daniel Woodgate works as a sign writer / printer and then becomes a labourer on a building site. Parallel to this, Daniel and his brother Nick (on guitar) form a band called Steel Erection and play some gigs. (Nick Woodgate is later diagnosed with schizophrenia so Daniel Woodgate uses his fame to act as an advocate for mental health causes.) From Steel Erection, Daniel Woodgate is invited to join The North London Invaders in 1978.
The band changes its name in 1979. Keyboardist Mike Barson explains that, “We had to change the name because there was already another band called [The North London Invaders].” The group is briefly known as Morris And The Minors before settling on their familiar name. Drummer Daniel Woodgate explains how the name is chosen: “There they stood with names flying from all sides of the room…A small voice from somewhere in the room suggested the band should select a name from the songs played in the set. The set list was inspected and [guitarist] Chrissy Boy said: – Madness. [The band performs a cover of Prince Buster’s ‘Madness’.] The band said yes, but Chris said, ‘Oh no’ – but ‘Madness’ it was.” They play their first gig as Madness at the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington on 3 May 1979.
Chas Smash, the former bass player with The North London Invaders in 1976, is still a ‘friend of the band who dances onstage at concerts.’ ‘One Step Beyond’, another cover of a Prince Buster tune, is part of the repertoire of Madness. “[Saxophone player] Lee [Thompson] asked me to introduce The Mads [on stage],” recalls Chas Smash. “So I made up the intro and because I could shout loudest, they let me shout, ‘One Step Beyond’, a few times before they’d kick me off. After a while I got well p***ed off being kicked off so I started moving about, avoiding them. Everyone thought, ‘Wow! A new dance!’ Ha ha. I haven’t stopped moving yet.” In this way, Chas Smash comes to (re) join Madness.
The definitive seven piece line-up of Madness is now assembled. The members of the group are: Suggs (lead vocals), Chas Smash (vocals, trumpet, dancing), Chris Foreman (guitar), Mike Barson (keyboards), Lee Thompson (saxophone), Mark Bedford (bass) and Daniel Woodgate (drums). “We were seven extroverts,” notes Suggs. The group is also sometimes referred to as The Nutty Boys. Mike Barson explains where that name comes from: “Lee Thompson, on sax, had the concept of The Nutty Boys. He came in one day with ‘that nutty sound’ sprayed on his jacket and talked about our music being a mixture of pop and circus.”
Madness secures a deal with the 2 Tone label and their recording career begins.
The band’s vocalist, Suggs, helpfully describes Madness’ sound as “a mixture of blue beat, ska and pop.” ‘Blue beat’ is a term meaning ‘any of various styles of Jamaican music, popular in the United Kingdom in the 1960s.’ More directly, Blue Beat Records is an English record label that releases Jamaican rhythm and blues and ska music from 1960 to 1967. Ska is a direct precursor of the better known reggae music. Both styles have a loping rhythm with the accent on the ‘wrong’ beat – to the ears of white British audiences anyway. The differences between ska and reggae are: ska is from the 1960s, is apolitical and fast-paced; reggae is from the 1970s, has a distinct religious/political agenda and is slower. Madness is a band that grows up in and around Kentish Town, the NW5 district of London, where there is a large population of Jamaican immigrants. So although the members of Madness are all white English boys, they are more familiar with Jamaican music than average British youngsters.
The pop element in the sound of Madness has a distinctly British flavour. Saxophone player Lee Thompson notes that, “Along came Ian Dury celebrating real life in England. That was a huge inspiration.” Dury’s career spans pub rock, punk rock and new wave. Suggs adds to the list of influences: “[Dury] and Ray Davies [of 1960s U.K. rock group The Kinks] writing about the inconsequential bits of ordinary working life and making them poetic.” Both Ian Dury and Ray Davies evoke an even older British tradition, the music hall. Roughly analogous to American vaudeville, the British music hall was the domain of singers and dancers, storytellers and comedians, all round entertainers. This sort of chummy, knock-about humour is a part of the musical D.N.A. of Madness.
Many Madness songs are intentionally humorous. Coupled with the band’s on stage clowning, it is easy to perceive Madness as a light comedy act. This is, however, not entirely correct. In poring over the minutia of daily life in England it is almost inevitable that an element of social commentary – perhaps even outright social criticism – creeps into the Madness songbook. As vocalist Suggs puts it, the band is both “farcical and serious.” Most of the band members were raised by single parents so the group also becomes a surrogate family for the boys. “It has a lot to do with absentee parents,” admits Chas Smash. It also provides the group with a sense of balance. “We always kept our feet on the ground,” concludes Lee Thompson.
Although Madness record some cover versions, the bulk of their output consists of original material. All the band members contribute to the songwriting, but to varying degrees. If there is a dominant figure in the songwriting department, it is probably Mike Barson. Guitarist Chris Foreman acknowledges that, “Mike Barson – our genius keyboard player – he’ll go, ‘I’ve got this riff,’ and suddenly it’ll be really good.” Though as Suggs adds, “No matter what it started out as, it ends up as a Madness song because of the way we all play it.” Here, not all the songwriting credits will be noted, but most will be provided, particularly for the most famous Madness songs, so the contributions of the various members may be taken into consideration.
The fact that Madness start out signed to the 2 Tone label is significant. Ska music, even in its 1960s heyday, was enjoyed by a cult following in Britain rather than a major audience. The revival of ska in the late 1970s-early 1980s is possibly more high profile. The main driver is another U.K. band, The Specials. 2 Tone is the label created by The Specials. The label name is not only a nod to its black-and-white graphics but the racially integrated membership of 2 Tone acts like The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat. Although Madness obviously shares their love for ska – a music originated by black people in Jamaica – they are all white boys with not a single person of colour in their line-up. Early in their career, Madness is linked to skinhead fans. Chas Smash makes matters worse in an interview when he says, “We don’t care if people are in the National Front as long as they’re having a good time.” The National Front is an ultra-right wing organisation notorious for racial bigotry against anyone who is not white. Madness quickly has to deny that they are racists and they disown skinheads and such extremists.
Madness’ first single, ‘The Prince’ (UK no. 16), is released in September 1979. Written by saxophone player Lee Thompson, ‘The Prince’ is a tribute to one of the leaders of Jamaica’s 1960s ska scene, Prince Buster (real name Cecil Bustamente Campbell). The track is a lively slice of hard ska.
Madness goes on a U.K. tour with 2 Tone label mates The Specials and The Selecter. After the tour, Madness parts ways with 2 Tone and sign up with Stiff Records instead, the home of Ian Dury, one of the band’s biggest influences.
‘One Step Beyond’ (1979) (UK no. 2, US no. 128) is Madness’ debut album. It is released by Stiff Records in October. The band works with the production duo of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. This pair produces all of Madness’ albums except where otherwise noted. ‘One Step Beyond’ is Madness’ best album. Their pop skills may improve on later releases, but their debut has the strongest ska flavour. Madness is a good pop group, but one of many. As a British ska act, their only real rivals are The Specials. Therefore, ‘One Step Beyond’ is their most distinctive release and their most artistically satisfying album. Vocalist Suggs points out that ‘One Step Beyond’ is also “still our best-selling album.” He also nods to the competition between Madness and The Specials: “Although it was friendly, we were trying to make an album that was better than theirs.” Whether leaving the 2 Tone label of their sponsors is perceived as betrayal or growing into maturity, their debut on Stiff Records adds an edge to the contest. The distinctive album cover shows the members of Madness taking the literal ‘One Step Beyond’ in close unison. According to Suggs, the move is inspired by the squatting hop known as ‘the duck walk’ originated in the 1950s by Chuck Berry, though Suggs has a more recent antecedent in mind: “Ian Dury’s old band, Kilburn And The High Roads, did the duck walk on the back of their album, so we did the same for a laugh – and it became iconic.” The title track, ‘One Step Beyond’ (UK no. 7), is a cover version of a Prince Buster song from 1965. It was originally the B side to Prince Buster’s most famous tune, ‘Al Capone’. In 1967, ‘Al Capone’ became a U.K. hit (no. 18). Virtually an instrumental, ‘One Step Beyond’ lets Lee Thompson’s berserk saxophone off the leash. “Chas Smash came up with the [vocal] intro [to ‘One Step Beyond’],” says Suggs. “It was inspired by the shouty, slightly preposterous…intros you got on Jamaican records.” ‘Madness’, the revved-up happy ska number which gives the group its name, is also present on this album. Another Prince Buster cover version, the original was released in Jamaica in 1963. The most successful of the original compositions is Mike Barson’s ‘My Girl’ (UK no. 3). “This song is about a phone call [from Kerstin Rodgers] I had while I was trying to write a song,” says the keyboardist. “It’s my favourite song off ‘One Step Beyond’.” “My girl’s mad at me, been on the telephone for an hour / We hardly said a word, I tried and tried, but I could not be heard,” runs the lyric to this slyly arranged, topsy-turvy piece, before it blooms into a sweet chorus. Another Barson composition is ‘Bed And Breakfast Man’, which has a nicely shuffling rhythm. “Well, this song was in fact started off by Chrissy Boy [guitarist Chris Foreman] who made up the first line, ‘There’s a man I know.’ So anyway after he got stuck I took over. It’s about John Hasler who used to be our drummer and also used to go round Chris’ house round about dinner time.” The album contains at least one more noteworthy piece…but more on that momentarily. ‘One Step Beyond’ remains the definitive Madness album.
The EP ‘Work, Rest And Play’ (UK no. 6) is released in March 1980. This little disc is spearheaded by a track from the debut album, ‘One Step Beyond’, a track called ‘Night Boat To Cairo’. This is a bonkers travelogue co-written by vocalist Suggs and keyboardist Mike Barson. “Mike had written a very Eastern sounding tune,” explains Suggs, “which inspired me…to tosh-out a verse…in a similar vein. The Nile, Cairo, an old barge and a toothless oarsman…A few mysterious images.”
‘Absolutely’ (1980) (UK no. 2, US no. 146), the second album by Madness, is released in September. This is a slicker product than the debut album. ‘Absolutely’ contains Madness’ best song, ‘Baggy Trousers’ (UK no. 3, AUS no. 30). It is co-written by vocalist Suggs and guitarist Chris Foreman. “A song about school,” explains Suggs. “I wrote a list of everything I could remember about the one I went to…I then thought about how boring it must have been from a teacher’s point of view.” And so the lyric runs, “Baggy trousers, dirty shirt / Pulling hair and eating dirt / Teacher comes to break it up / Back of the head with a plastic cup.” Here is the band’s beloved English life in miniature but it is married to an intoxicating fairground melody whose chorus rightly celebrates, “Oh what fun we had.” Mike Barson’s piano can barely keep up with the frantic rhythm. To seal the deal, the video for the song has saxophonist Lee Thompson suspended on wires, floating through the air like a demented angel. ‘Baggy Trousers’ encapsulates the charm of Madness. ‘Embarrassment’ (UK no. 4) is Madness’ first hit to contain a measure of social commentary. Lee Thompson, who co-writes the song with Mike Barson, explains, “I thought I’d write a song on the reactions I got from some folk towards young girls having half caste babies.” By castigating the bigots who consider such girls an ‘embarrassment’, Madness lay to rest any early misconceptions about them being racists. The song’s arrangement is bold and brassy. Mike Barson and Lee Thompson also co-write ‘Take It Or Leave It’. The trilling organ and twirly music seem at odds with the serious theme: “You’re in one way traffic, can’t you see? / Before a head on crash, try to steer free / When (if) it’s too late, don’t come cry to me.” The instrumental ‘Return Of The Los Palmas 7’ (UK no. 7) is seasick lounge music. Authorship on the track is shared by Mike Barson and Madness’ rhythm section, bassist Mark Bedford and drummer Daniel Woodgate.
The Nutty Boys is not just another name for Madness; it’s the name of a side-project for two members of Madness: Lee Thompson (saxophone) and Chris Foreman (guitar). Actually the act was meant to be called Crunch! but the publicity mixes up the album name (which is meant to be the same as the act’s name). In any case, the album ‘Crunch’ (1980) is attributed to The Nutty Boys.
In 1980 Madness’ drummer Daniel Woodgate marries Jane Crockford. Woody’s bride is the bass player in all-girl punk band The Mo-Dettes (1979-1982). The marriage lasts fifteen years, from 1980 to 1995.
In October 1981 comes Madness’ motion picture debut, ‘Take it or Leave it’ (1981). It is financed by Stiff Records. The film does well on video.
‘7’ (1981) (UK no. 5) is the title of Madness’ third album – because the group has seven members. It is released in October, the same month as the film ‘Take it or Leave it’. The chiming ‘Grey Day’ (UK no. 4, AUS no. 82) paints a dreary picture: “The sky outside is wet and grey / So begins another weary day-ay-ay.” Keyboardist Mike Barson is the author of ‘Grey Day’. ‘Shut Up’ (UK no. 7) appears to be narrated by a burglar. The song is co-written by vocalist Suggs and guitarist Chris Foreman. The track has a honking sax and dramatic piano. The title is a curiosity since it never shows up in the lyric. Chrissy Boy offers this explanation: “When Suggs originally wrote the lyrics, it was a ten minute opus and it had the words ‘shut up’ in the chorus. [The song was cut down to] three minutes…but [‘Shut Up’ was] kept as a title for sentimental reasons, O.K.?” Foreman co-writes ‘Cardiac Arrest’ (UK no. 14) with vocalist / dancer Chas Smash. A precision pressed tune, ‘Cardiac Arrest’ has difficulty getting radio airplay…perhaps because this fable about a work obsessed drone suffering a heart attack is a bit too confronting. Its more modest success spoils the group’s run of top ten singles. The notable flipside to ‘Cardiac Arrest’ is the madcap bustle of ‘In The City’ (a track that is added to ‘7’ in some territories).
‘It Must Be Love’ (UK no. 4, US no. 33, AUS no. 6) is a one-off single by Madness released on 25 November 1981 (before ‘Cardiac Arrest’ from ‘7’). This is a cover version of a song released by Labi Siffre in 1971. This is a polished piece of pop from Madness, a song that is both accessible and huggable. As bassist Mark Bedford says, “It must be one of the most widely liked Madness singles.”
In 1981 Suggs marries Bette Bright (born Anne Martin). She is the vocalist for U.K. band Deaf School. The couple go on to have two daughters, Scarlett (born 1984) and Viva (born 1986).
Released on 30 April 1982, the rollicking ‘House Of Fun’ (UK no. 1, AUS no. 5) is a one-off single and Madness’ only song to top the singles chart. It features twirling sax and skeletal keyboards are overlaid. The topic is pure sexed-up vaudeville. A boy has just turned 16 and goes to buy prophylactics. Trying to use euphemisms to procure his purchase, he is turned away by the chemist who advises him to try a joke shop instead, the titular ‘House Of Fun’. “I think it’s about coming of age,” is the innocuous description from guitarist Chris Foreman. The song is co-written by keyboardist Mike Barson and saxophone player Lee Thompson.
The compilation album ‘Complete Madness’ (1982) (UK no. 1) is released in April and seems to cap off the group’s impressive success rate.
‘Driving In My Car’ (UK no. 4, AUS no. 20) is a one-off single released by Madness on 24 July 1982. Written by keyboardist Mike Barson, this is a staccato, choppy-sounding piece of whimsy. “I like driving in my care, it’s not quite a Jaguar / I like driving in my car, I’m satisfied I’ve got this far,” runs the playful lyric.
‘The Rise & Fall’ (1982) (UK no. 10) is released in October. The album’s most famous song is ‘Our House’ (UK no. 5, US no. 7, AUS no. 17), a charming – and very British – pop song composed by guitarist Chris Foreman and master of ceremonies Chas Smash. The chorus chants, “Our house / In the middle of our street,” while the verses pore over such details as these: “Our house it has a crowd / There’s always something happening / And it’s usually quite loud.” The disc is also home to ‘Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day)’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 98), a track Chas Smash co-writes with keyboardist Mike Barson. The song’s mood is grim but it has a skipping rhythm and is infused with a bluesy harmonica (played by Chas). Another track from the album, ‘Madness (It’s All In The Mind)’, forms the other half of a double A side single with ‘Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day)’. Chris Foreman is the songwriter for ‘Madness (is All In The Mind)’, a downbeat, jazzy turn with Chas Smash on lead vocals.
The first two Madness albums were released in the U.S. on Sire Records. Geffen Records tries to give the band a U.S. breakthrough with the American market compilation ‘Madness’ (1983) (US no. 41), released in January. However, despite the odd success here and there, Madness remains largely a British phenomenon.
Madness release two one-off singles in 1983. ‘Wings Of A Dove’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 72) is co-written by vocalists Suggs and Chas Smash with Chas singing lead on the song. It’s a Caribbean sing-along with steel drums lending it a sunny sound. More weather is invoked for ‘The Sun And The Rain’ (UK no. 5, US no. 72), a Mike Barson song notable for a jaunty piano. Although in the U.K. they are stand-alone singles, ‘Wings Of A Dove’ and ‘The Sun And The Rain’ are both included on some overseas versions of Madness’ next album.
In 1983 Mike Barson marries his Dutch girlfriend, Sandra, and moves to Amsterdam. Mike and Sandra have three sons: Jamie (born 1989), Timothy (born 1991) and Joey (born 1996). By 2008 the marriage is over.
Mike Barson advises the group in October 1983 that he will be leaving but agrees to stay on until the next album is completed.
‘Keep Moving’ (1984) (UK no. 6, US no. 109) is released in February. Chas Smash provides the lead vocal on ‘Michael Caine’ (UK no. 11), a song he co-writes with drummer Daniel Woodgate. This song is, of course, a tribute to the British actor Michael Caine. ‘(My Name Is) Michael Caine’ also features a distinctively hard bass line from Mark Bedford. Bedders co-writes ‘One Better Day’ (UK no. 17) with Suggs, Madness’ more familiar lead singer. ‘One Better Day’ is lyrically bleak, but musically it resembles jazz-inflected lounge music. The album is also home to the hard-edged ‘Victoria Gardens’, co-written by Chas Smash and keyboardist Mike Barson. This is Madness’ last album for Stiff Records.
Steve Nieve (keyboards) takes over Mike Barson’s role in the band’s line-up. “Mike left, the records got darker and darker lyrically and the fun started to go out of it,” admits Suggs. ‘The band’s fortunes begin to decline over the course of 1984.’
By 1984 saxophone player Lee Thompson is married to Debbie Fordham. They have three children: Tuesday (born 1984), Daley (born 1986) and Kai (born 1995).
1985 brings a Madness side-project called The Fink Brothers. Suggs and Chas Smash take the roles of Angel Fink and Ratty Fink. The Fink Brothers’ one and only single is ‘Mutants In Mega-City One’ (UK no. 50), released in 1985. The Fink Brothers take their name from a pair of villainous characters in ‘Judge Dredd’, a feature in the IPC Publications U.K. comic ‘2000 A.D.’ Similarly, Mega-City One is the futuristic fictional locale in which the ‘Judge Dredd’ series is set.
‘Mad Not Mad’ (1985) (UK no. 16), released in September, is Madness’ first release on their own Zarjazz label, a subsidiary of Virgin Records. ‘Zarjaz’ (with one ‘z’) is a word meaning ‘great’ or ‘very good.’ It is part of the (fictional) language of Betelgeuse employed by Tharg The Mighty, the fictional editor of the ‘2000 A.D.’ comic. ‘Mad Not Mad’ is Madness’ first album without Mike Barson and is Steve Nieve’s debut with the group. ‘Yesterday’s Men’ (UK no. 18, AUS no. 34) is a blindly hopeful song set to a swaying rhythm. It is co-written by guitarist Chris Foreman and vocalist Suggs. Chrissy Boy co-writes ‘Uncle Sam’ (UK no. 21) with saxophone player Lee Thompson. This Caribbean tune is probably about America, but it remains ambiguous since it just refers to “Sailing across the sea to see my Uncle Sam.” Steve Nieve provides a reedy organ to Madness’ cover version of ‘Sweetest Girl’ (UK no. 35), a song originally recorded by Scritti Politti in 1981.
Madness decides to call it a day. Their final single, ‘Waiting For The Ghost Train’ (UK no. 18), is released on 27 October 1986, shortly after their disbandment is announced. ‘Waiting For The Ghost Train’ is written by vocalist Suggs and is about South Africa’s apartheid policy of racial discrimination at the time. The song is a haunting, cacophonous clatter with long-time keyboardist Mike Barson returning for a final guest appearance with the band. ‘Waiting For The Ghost Train’ is included on ‘Utter Madness’ (1986) (UK no. 29), released in November, a compilation of hits that appears to put a full stop to the band’s story. “If we’d had a break, possibly we wouldn’t have split up,” theorises Suggs. Nevertheless, Madness is dormant for eighteen months from mid-1986 through 1987.
Chas Smash and his partner Jo become parents for the first time with the arrival of Caspar (born 1986). Chas and Jo go on to have another two children, Milo (born 1991) and Eloise (born 1995). The relationship between Chas and Jo lasts up until they separate in 2005.
In 1987 bass player Mark Bedford begins a relationship with Cress, his long-term partner. Bedders and Cress have two daughters, Alice (born 1993) and Olivia (born 1997).
“I was lost for six months,” admits vocalist Suggs. “The band broke up, I broke down.”
Eventually, some of the group drift back together. Suggs (vocals), Chas Smash (vocals), Lee Thompson (saxophone) and Chris Foreman (guitar) bill themselves as The Madness, rather than Madness.
‘The Madness’ (1988) (UK no. 65) is the sole album attributed to this configuration of the group. It is released on Virgin Records, the Zarjazz imprint having been consigned to history. The production on the disc is credited to ‘The Three Eyes.’ Although never officially confirmed, it is thought that this is a pseudonym for The Madness. In other words, the album is probably self-produced. The singles from The Madness are ‘I Pronounce You’ (UK no. 44) and ‘What’s That’ (UK no. 92).
Given the fairly muted reception awarded ‘The Madness’, the group disbands again in 1988.
The Nutty Boys – Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman – release an EP in 1992 titled ‘It’s OK, I’m A Policeman.’
In summer 1992 Madness reunite for two concerts in London’s Finsbury Park. This brings together the seven members of the classic Madness line-up: Suggs, Chas Smash, Chris Foreman, Mike Barson, Lee Thompson, Mark Bedford and Daniel Woodgate. The group labels the shows ‘Madstock’, a pun on probably history’s most famous rock festival, 1969’s Woodstock. The shows spawn a live album, ‘Madstock’ (1992) (UK no. 22), and a cover version of Jimmy Cliff’s 1972 reggae classic, ‘The Harder They Come’ (UK no. 44). The experience is positive enough for Madness to continue to hold a ‘Madstock’ festival each year up to 1996.
Although Madness is reuniting each summer, the group does not return to the recording studio yet.
By 1993 the first marriage of guitarist Chris Foreman is over and he is married to his second wife, Lauren. Chris and Lauren have a son, Felix (born 1993).
Drummer Daniel Woodgate and his girlfriend Siobhan have a daughter, Iona (born 1994). Siobhan becomes Woody’s second wife in 1997 and they have a second daughter, Mary (born 1997).
In 1995 Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman issue a single. No longer The Nutty Boys, they go with the name they originally intended, Crunch, to release ‘Magic Carpet’.
Madness vocalist Suggs begins a solo career with the album ‘The Lone Ranger’ (1995) (UK no. 14), released in October. This album includes a cover version of the 1966 Beatles’ song ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ (UK no. 7) as well as original material such as ‘Camden Town’ (UK no. 14) and ‘The Tune’ (UK no. 33). There is also a cover of the 1970 Simon And Garfunkel song ‘Cecilia’ (UK no. 4) as well as the original ‘No More Alcohol’ (UK no. 24) (revised from the album track ‘Alcohol’). At the end of 1995 Suggs issues ‘The Christmas EP’ which includes ‘The Tune’ again. In 1997 Suggs records the one-off single ‘Blue Day’ (UK no. 97) which becomes the official song of his beloved Chelsea Football Club. Suggs’ second album, ‘The Three Pyramids Club’ (1998) (UK no. 82), includes ‘I Am’ (UK no. 38).
Madness finally returns to the recording studio for ‘Wonderful’ (1999) (UK no. 17). The disc is released on Virgin and produced by the familiar long-time production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. ‘Wonderful’ includes Madness’ biggest latter-day hit, ‘Lovestruck’ (UK no. 10). In this tinkly pop song, the inebriated narrator croons, “Oh lovestruck, I’ve fallen for a lamppost / Given her my utmost, spilling out my deepest feelings.” ‘Lovestruck’ is co-written by Mike Barson and Lee Thompson. The same team also pens ‘Drip Fed Fred’ (UK no. 55), while Chas Smash authors ‘Johnny The Horse’ (UK no. 44).
By 2002 guitarist Chris Foreman’s second marriage is over and he has wed for a third time. Chrissy Boy and third wife, Melissa, have a son, Frankie (born 2002).
‘Our House’, a musical based on the songs of Madness, premieres at the Cambridge Theatre in 2002. “We’d got a great writer, Tim Firth,” says Suggs, Madness’ lead singer. “We didn’t want it to be a biographical thing about Madness, but it tells…of split families, which most of us came from.”
‘The Dangerman Sessions Vol. 1’ (2005) (UK no. 11) is released on the V2 label. The disc boasts a host of producers. This is partly due to the nature of the album. The content is entirely cover versions of songs by other artists so it employs different producers to enhance the variety. The most successful piece from the album is ‘Shame And Scandal’ (UK no. 38), a track originally recorded in 1963 by Sir Lancelot as ‘Shame And Scandal In The Family’.
When Chas Smash and his partner Jo separate in 2005, it heralds a tumultuous time for Chas. He starts doing transcendental meditation, spends time in a rehab facility, and – in 2008 – relocates to Ibiza, Spain.
The ska throwback ‘Sorry’ (UK no. 23) is a one-off Madness single released in 2007.
‘The Liberty Of Norton Folgate’ (2009) (UK no. 5) is perhaps the best received of the latter-day Madness albums. It is issued on the Lucky Seven label and reunites the band with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Suggs describes this as “a really dense British pop album.” The best track on the album may be ‘NW5’ (UK no. 24), co-written by saxophonist Lee Thompson and keyboardist Mike Barson. A doom-haunted number, it features a string section and a menacing piano sound. Lee Thompson combines with drummer Daniel Woodgate to write ‘Dust Devil’ (UK no. 64), while vocalist Suggs provides ‘Forever Young’ (UK no. 199).
In May 2012 Madness’ keyboardist Mike Barson marries his ‘long-term girlfriend’, but her name seems to be kept out of public knowledge.
‘Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja’ (2012) (UK no. 10) is released in October. The album title is ‘yes yes’ repeated in French, Spanish and German. Multiple producers are employed on this album – including the familiar Clive Langer – but the bulk of the most effective tracks are produced by Stephen Street. These include Mike Barson’s ‘Never Know Your Name’ (UK no. 88).
In October 2014 Chas Smash announces he is leaving Madness. He is not replaced. The group carries on as a six-piece.
‘Can’t Touch Us Now’ (2016) (UK no. 5) is released in October. This is an accessible album full of jaunty pop tunes. ‘Mr Apples’ (written by vocalist Suggs) is a jangly satire of an upright citizen who is really a degenerate. The title track, ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’, is stylised pop with a tinkling piano and tooting sax. ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’ (the song) is co-written by guitarist Chris Foreman and saxophonist Lee Thompson. Also released as singles are ‘Herbert’ (co-written by keyboardist Mike Barson and Suggs) and ‘Another Version Of Me’ (co-written by drummer Dan Woodgate and his younger brother, Nick). Despite being appealing, none of these singles make the chart.
‘Full House: The Very Best Of Madness’ (2017) (UK no. 23) is a new compilation of the group’s past glories. It is released on 17 November.
Due to their ‘Nutty Boys’ image, Madness was easily mistaken for a novelty act. Their longevity provided a convincing counter argument. The group – particularly keyboardist Mike Barson – had a flair for timeless pop. Their music was rarely purely pop; it was normally shaded by some tropical Caribbean sounds. The most satisfying of these was ska – though that thread was largely excised from the group’s sound by the mid-1980s. The band provided “the nuttiest sound around…[the] rocksteady beat of Madness.” An ‘appealing mixture of ska, music hall, pop, rhythm and blues, visual humour and biting yet amusing social comment [made] Madness [the] most consistent U.K. hit makers of the 1980s.’ Madness was ‘one of the leading bands of the ska revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s.’
- ‘Complete Madness’ – Sleeve notes by Madness (Union Square Music Ltd, 2009 reissue) p. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12
- wikipedia.org as at 16 June 2015, 1 January 2018
- Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 19 June 2015
- ‘The Sun’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Where’d Madness Go?’ by Sue Evison (18 October 2002) (reproduced on robomod.net/pipermail/madness/2002.October/000148.html)
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Suggs and Mike Barson of Madness: How we made One Step Beyond’ by Dave Simpson (25 November 2014) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- facebook.com – Chas Smash (16 August 2013)
- facebook.com – Chas Smash – posting by Jackie Gibbons (16 August 2013)
- ‘The Daily Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Madness: Suggs on 30 Years as Music’s Most Dysfunctional Family’ by Sheryl Garratt (22 October 2012) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
- msmarmitelover.com – blog by Kerstin Rodgers (26 May 2008)
- ‘Something for the Weekend’ (U.K. television program, Channel 4) – Suggs interview conducted by Tim Lovejoy, Louise Redknapp (8 January 2012)
- ‘The Daily Mail’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘My Madness Life: How the Bizarre Death of Suggs’s Cat set him on a Personal Odyssey to Retrace his Chaotic Childhood – and Launch an Emotional One-Man Show’ by Richard Barber (21 November 2011) (reproduced on dailymail.co.uk)
- anglomanagement.co.uk – Madness (2012)
- ‘New Musical Express’ (U.K. music newspaper) (1979) (via (2) above)
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 135, 136
- allmusic.com, ‘Madness’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 17 June 2015
- ‘The Daily Express’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘My Favourite Photograph: Suggs of Madness’ by Simon Button (22 June 2014) (reproduced on express.co.uk)
- lyricsfreak.com as at 20 June 2015
- ‘The Sun’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Suggs: I Almost Went Mad’ by Sue Evison (18 October 2002) (reproduced on robomod.net/pipermail/madness/2002.October/000148.html)
Song lyrics copyright EMI Music Publishing Ltd. with the exceptions of ‘House Of Fun’, ‘Driving In My Car’ and ‘Our House’ (all Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
Last revised 7 January 2018