I was just 10 years old in 1979, just discovering music off my own back.... no older brothers or sisters to point me in the right direction.... I made all my musical mistakes entirely on my own!
One thing that sticks in the mind from that time is the appearance of monochrome check.... not only that but these strange anthropomorphic 'M's that were cropping up on walls, school bags and exercise books. This was the start of the Madness. And what was not to love about that sound, the energy, the excitement of it all. My Grandfather went into Rounder Records in Burgess Hill, West Sussex to get me 'One Step Beyond' bless him.... what with him being a Bing Crosby fan and all!
Here's a piece that appeared in the 24th November 1979 in Sounds, just a couple of weeks after returning from their first US tour (see The Whisky post).
Reading through this interview as I transcribed it, I have to say that of all the 2 Tone bands Madness appeared to have been the least vocal about the dodgy right wing following that were drawn to them all.
SOD THIS for a game of soldiers. Stuffed on Stiff's Freddie Freeman victuals I may be but if they think for one micro-second I'm standing here turning blue ... 8.45 last Monday eventide - when any sensible soul would be beside the TV side clocking 'Porridge' - and the portals of Edinburgh Tiffany's are chocabloc with chilly billies sardining it about in their scarves and winter weazels, bursting guts, toes and patience to get in out of the COLD and getting nowhere fast.
Edinburgh, it would seem, has been earmarked by some chinless Thatcherite wunderkind as guineapigsville in some fiendish mass freezing experiment (see Home Office form 2785 K, 'Ongoing Human Existence In Sub-Arctic Temperature Situations' and quite frankly brass monkies and mouldy taters don't come into it, pal. This frozzled lot make Adam Adamant on ice look like John Bindon on Mustique.
In front of me Stiff's tame scot Andy Murray attempts to clear a path by handing freebie Rachel Sweet singles to the old Bill and almost gets nicked for his pains. Time for a few porky pies: "Scuse me mate I'm the bassist," claims photographer Virulently Turbulent inexplicably, and suddenly the crowd makes like Moses and the Red Sea leaving us free to whistle past the Bill smack into the interior mass warmth of the assembled Edinburgh hoi-polloi, thawing out and marking time till . . .
Welcome to the 2- tone tour! The greatest show on earth (for the moment) bop until you drop to non-stop music from your current chart faves, tailormade for livelies! Multitudinous moments of the many magic kind as you move to the groove for a mere £1.75. M'dear we're robbing ourselves so roll-up, roll-up – if we get six months you won't wanna do three of 'em. Going once, going twice, going, uh uh, three times.
SPECIALS, Selecter and Madness are the name of tonight's game, the sound of '79 (with just a sprinkling of noticeable exceptions) in the skanking shape of the 2-Tone souped-up ska sparkle that's meriily moonstomping the charts and selling out the nation's Polys, Top Ranks and Tiffanys via thecurrent mammoth 'taking it to the people'tour.
My brief for today's roaming in the gloaming exclusively concerns Madness and a feature of the Big One variety. Tuesday morning's BRMB chart shows their first Stiff single 'One Step Beyond' skyrocketing up 29 places for a brief respite on the back of those two little ducks, all the 2' s, 22. This is their second Top Thirty hit this year, yet four months ago ago few people outside of their mums had even heard of them.
Tipped a wink by a Sham fan called Carol and cuddly Paul Cook, I caught them when July was just under starter's orders and I must admit they didn't impress me as much as either the Specials or the Selecter did first time round. They had some good numbers sure, but with lyrics lost et al, they did seem, in restrospect, maybe just a couple of steps beyond good pub rockers.
Similarly the debut 2-Tone single 'The Prince' was good but not as good as either its Special predecessor or Selecter successor, although the b-side cover of Prince Buster's golden oldie 'Madness', from which they took their name, hinted of greatness. Fact is it wasn't till the release of their debut album at the end of October that I was thoroughly convinced about the band.
'One Step Beyond . . :, the album, finally put them in a proper perspective, illustrating firmly their joint parentage - the sixties ska of Prince Buster and the Cockney vignettes of Ian Dury, whose abracadabra I'm particularly partial to.
The slower numbers in the set suddenly began to register. Like for example bassist Mark Bedford's 'Mummy's Boy' with its jokey, jerky foundation for excellent Duryesque lines like 'Once went out with a London girl/ Dirty weekend in a hotel/ Broke it off when she got shirty / She was 12/ He was 30 ..’
Even better was vocalist Suggsy and guitarist Chrissy Boy's 'In The Middle Of The Night' which in typical 'New Boots' style sketches the outlandish character of an underwear tealeaf called George: 'Nice man, George, newsagent on the corner/Not very rich but never any poorer/ Jaunty old George, a happy 63/ Not very tall but healthier than me/ He whistles timeless tunes as he saunters down the street! Springs in his legs and elastic in his feet/ But in the middle of the night he steals thru your garden / Gives your hosiery a fright but doesn 't say pardon/ As soft as a breeze with an armful of underwear/On his hands and knees , dreams about the knicker scare.’ George's double life finally comes intothe open however: 'Nice man George, newsagent on the corner/ He was closed today, maybe gone to mow the lawn /Had to go further down the road to get the Currant Bun / Hello isn't that George on page one? . . . But he has gone away, gone to stay with some mates/ He got the papers early and saw his own face . ..'
Saxophonist Lee Thompson's borstalbroaching tale 'Land Of Hope And Glory' has a similar Dury-esque flavour, leading our office cynic to the conclusion that "Dury wouldn't record another 'New Boots And Panties' so Stiff got some one who would."
The album is much more than that however, for me capturing the essence of teenage working class London: a bluebeat base from too many Saturday nights beneath plastic palm trees mixed with breezy love songs and Cockney character sketches, the whole lot embellished by their striving after the Nutty Sound (cue usual 'sounds of fairgrounds' allusion).
They haven't quite caught that yet musically, though they're breathing down its neck with the cheery wurlitzer bounce of their budding, yakety sax looney tune instrumentals, and visually Chas Smash sums up the whole concept with his nifty nutty dance and multiple shouts:
'HEY YOU! DON'T WATCH THAT WATCH THIS! CHIPMUNKS ARE GO! ONE STEP BEYOND! THAT HEAVY HEAVY MONSTER SOUND, THE NUTTIEST SOUND AROUND' et al.
Chas's kid sibling Brendan (Mickey sends his love), who's working on tour as product salesman and patience tester is also a keen supplier of nutty phrases, viz 'I've had a touch', 'Over and out', ' Kamikazi' , and 'On the case' . Brendan's joined on the band's travelling periphery by manager John 'Tintin' Hasler, roadies Chalky and Toks (Drummer Woody: "If Toks pushes you backwards you know that Chalky ‘ill be kneeling behind ya") and usually a fan away team - Totts and Whets, not to mention Lyndsay, Wandsworth Harry (who apparently still owes Chalky 12 Quid) and the fabled Prince Nutty. (At this point I'd like to mention my uncle Bern simply cos he's never had a namecheck in Sounds either.) THE BAND proper are Lee 'Kix' Thompson (saxes, some vocals, falling off chairs, walking socks, crew cut shades and 'burns); Chris 'Chrissy Boy' Foreman (guitar, Barry Sheene lookalike, family man); Mike 'Monsieur Barso' Barson (ivories, shades, infant moustache); Dan 'Woody Woods' Woodgate (drums, vegetarian, Mo dette); Mark ' Bedders' Bedford (bass, smiles, uh, bass) ; and Graham ' Suggsy' McPherson (vocals, vodkas, Leveller exposes) .
The band ,come from the Camden Town area of London, not that far a hike from St Mary-Ie-Bow's in Cheapside. Explaining the influences, one of their earliest musical activities was following the Kilburns in the wee years of this decade, Lee especially becoming great mates with the Grand Old Raspberry and 'is 'umper Fred 'Spider' Rowe. The bluebeat bite came via Lee, Suggsy, Chrissy and Chas's private collections. For Suggsy and Chas it was an important sideline to being skins which they were for years before the '78 skin explosion (Suggsy: "When Sham come along I grew me hair"). Chas developed his unusual dance routine while pissing about to 'liquidator' (never complete to my mind without the 'Skin'ead' chants as punctuation) .
What we're really talking about is a group of teenagers, some mates, some mates of mates getting into music and eventually putting their own band together. Mike Barson could play the joanna and he taught Chrissy guitar. In '76 they formed the first phase of the Invaders (aka North London Invaders) with , Lee on sax, Chas attempting to play bass, manager John Hasler then on drums and various people including Hasler as vocalist.
Their musical approach was similar then, if less successful, and they stabilised their line-up last year, changing the moniker at the Music Machine this January for the much more concise and definitive Madness. Progressing through pubs like the Dublin Castle and the Grop And Wanchor they were naturally intrigued by media reports about the Specials. Extended feelers on both sides resulted in valuable support dates and contacts at a time when hacks were hotting up on the whole affair.
Thenceforth: a feature in Sounds in July, 2-Tone one-off single in August, Stiff signing in September (three weeks after playing Stiff supremo Dave Robinson's gay 'n' hearty), debut album in October and the start of this titanic tour.
SEPTEMBER, October, No wonder I'm here, battling with barmaids who've never heard of light 'n' lagers and hiding my pens so I can forget about taking notes and just soak up the show. And no I ain't gonna get into the who outplayed who bit; suffice to say none of 'em are third class tickets, an Madness in particular have tightened up (reggae pun) almost beyond belief and are currently a more than fair investment for your LSD.
Ironically the most moving moment of the night was the final encore after the Specials' sparkling performance which featured all three bands and several fans on that 'Skinhead Moonstomp' - Chrissy tried to get me up for vocals but, sob, I lost me Aristotle. (Call yerself a man - Indignant Ed.)
Puritanical viragos will be pleased to learn that there was a noteable absence of both River Ouse and oedipus rex (booze and sex. - Ed's translation) back at the hotel so most people just hit the hay. Brekkers next morning was hectic what with Selecter Desmond hollering for bacon sarnies and Special Neville dishing out the insults ala 'BLOODCLAAT, MONKEYMAN'. Soon the hotel foyer was like Casey's Court too with poor old Andy Murray flying around like a blue-arsed fly, tugging lumps out of his barnet, trying to organise his troops for photos with Turbulent and then, ta ra, the serious interview ..
‘FUCK ART LET’S DANCE’ is the Madness slogan and the band themselves don’t put much store on the jaw and are keen to' leave out any socio-jamjar ramifications but any Madness feature would be incomplete without some discussion of their sometimes heavy skin following, including a hefty slab of BMers, who recently got out of order bottling Orchestral Manoeuvres off stage at the
Electric Ballroom. In return Madness fans got indescriminately attacked by tooled up 'anti-fascists' at Hatfield Poly on this tour .. .
"Now personally I hate all this BM business," says Suggsy, "but a lot of the kids get taken in by it. When I was 13 all the kids used to go down Brick Lane and it's easy to get pulled along by it which is why I don't turn round and say 'Kill 'em all' . They're just ordinary kids being like their mates, and the BM thing gives them a sense of identity. It don't mean a lot to most of them outside of that.
"The way I see it if they're all dancing to black music that means more than shouting at 'em or slicing 'up up. Personally I'm more worried about violence at our gigs . .. "
Chas: "If they fuck around at our gigs we don't wanna know. They're out."
Suggsy: "They fight all the time so we say just don't do it at the gigs ... better don't do it at all."
Chas: "There was these three kids who we'd banned 'cos they'd caused trouble at gigs and the other day they asked if it was alright if they came back and promised to behave. Cos they do care y'know."
Suggsy: "Yeah, like at Dingwalls it was the skins who went around stopping all the trouble."
Woodsy: "One thing you can never do is generalise about skinheads, and when the audience get dancing there's nothing else on their minds ‘cept enjoying themselves. But we get all kinds at our gigs, not just skins."
I MANAGED to extract plans out of 'em: a quick five dates in kharzies in the States this month, back to
rehearse new numbers - they've got four in the pipeline - then a headline UK tour, go into studios in March, and hopefully put out a second album in April. Busy boys, eh?
Then they said some nice things about Stiff, left another cryptic message for Mr Bentley ('We warned him but we still beat him to it - though he's probably still in with a bit of a chance . .. he better watch Spider though, he reckons he's gonna come with us. Says its more of a laugh') and were spirited away on the coach for Aberdeen .
I remember watching them nutty train through the revolving doors, sinking back on the bar stool and thinking how the perfect metaphor for Madness would be a couple of comprehensive kids bunking off school one May day and dodging fares down to Margate, spending the whole day pissing about in Dreamland, pulling birds, pigging down chips and getting legless….
That probably just about sums the nutty spirit up.