Madness at Edinburgh's Hogmanay - Suggs interview
Mad for it
This article is from 2009.
The original ‘Nutty Boys’, Madness will be bringing the heavy, heavy monster sound to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year. Henry Northmore speaks to an excited Suggs about the prospect of rousing the Scots
The trick for Hogmanay is finding a band everyone loves; an act that crosses over generational and cultural divides and that gets a crowd – any crowd – jumping. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay has excelled in the task this year by booking Madness to headline the main New Year’s Eve night concert in Princes Street Garden. Madness formed back in 1976 and quickly perfected their blend of infectious beats and irresistibly catchy ska hooks. The formula dominated the 80s charts spending 214 weeks on the UK singles charts over the decade with hits such as ‘Our House’, ‘One Step Beyond’, ‘My Girl’, ‘Slow Boat to Cairo’ and the immortal ‘Baggy Trousers’.
They split in 1986, but reformed in 1992 for their own Madstock! festival dates in Finsbury Park, inspired a musical (Our House which starred lead singer Suggs as the father of the main character for a number of months in 2003) and while they could have so easily rested on their laurels, surprisingly 2009 has been Madness’ best year for ages.
‘The last time ska was big there was a recession. I don’t know if ska has something to do with recessions, it’s not our fault,’ laughs Suggs. ‘But maybe in times of trouble people want to have a good time. And I think you realise when you play this kind of music live it just cheers people up.’
Helped also by the reformed Specials, ska has helped soundtrack the summer, with Madness playing Glastonbury, the Camden Crawl and various other festivals across the globe. They’ve already been named as headliners for 2010’s Camp Bestival. But perhaps the most important element in their new return to glory was their new album The Liberty of Norton Folgate which came out in May of this year. A concept album detailing the social history of a small corner of their native London, it hit number five in the album charts and was a critical smash. ‘We write what we see, it’s observational,’ adds Suggs. ‘It was a lot more like when we started out, when we spent a lot more time rehearsing and arranging than we did recording. We were in a very low-tech studio but with really complicated arrangements, we really tried to capture the sound of all of us playing together in a room.’
Their trademark ‘nutty sound’ often accommodates darker subject matter if you dig a little deeper and examine their lyrics. ‘We tried to write a pop album, but a pop album written by men, rather than kids,’ says Suggs. ‘It’s as much about entertaining people on a Friday night as expressing the poor, sad loss you feel in your heart.’
Of course Suggs and crew are justifiably excited about headlining the biggest party of the year. ‘I’m half-Scots myself, on my father’s side, and the other half’s Welsh, so I’ve got Celtic blood running through my veins,’ explains Suggs (who’s real name is the appropriately Scottish Graham McPherson). ‘Madness are a band who like to have a good time, and in the context of that combination – Madness and Scotland and Hogmanay - “it’s gonna go off like a packet of crackers,” as my mother-in-law used to say.’
Madness headline the Concert in the Gardens with support from Noisettes and Codeine Velvet Club, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Thu 31 Dec.