Nice geezers one and all, Madness occupy a unique place in the rich tapestry of British popular culture, somewhere between The Kinks' brand of whimsy and melancholy and Tommy Cooper's magician manqu act, to whom they paid homage in the video for "Night Boat to Cairo".
Indeed, the sweaty, jam-packed Astoria has a fine complement of fez-wearers along with quite a few punters sporting legionnaires' helmets, too. Originally called the North London Invaders, the ska band put Camden on the map 15 years before Britpop and split up in 1987 after an unbroken run of 23 consecutive Top 40 singles. Since regrouping in 1992, they have become festival and festive regulars.
Their entrance is in keeping with their reputation and the season. Always the joker in the mad pack, saxophonist Lee Thompson bursts out of a huge prize package with a plastic bobby hat on as the whole Astoria joins Chas Smash and shouts the intro to "One Step Beyond".
Thompson may be paunchier and is occasionally not just pretending to be out of breath after sparring with shaven-headed guitarist Chris Foreman, but Daniel "Woody" Woodgate, their impossibly young-looking drummer, bassist Mark "Bedders" Bedford, keyboard-player Mike Barson and singer Graham "Suggs" McPherson they do like a nickname are looking surprisingly like their late Seventies selves as they romp through "The Prince", their debut for the 2-Tone label, and early Stiff single "My Girl".
Madness take us from the teenage pregnancy of "Embarrassment", via the schooldays of "Baggy Trousers", to the "final curtain" sentiment of the forthcoming single "NW5 (I Will Give You Everything)". Madness simply relish the minutiae of everyday life.
Slightly ring-rusty on the first night, they restart "The Return of the Los Palmas 7" and get it spot on second time round. Tunes such as the 1982 chart-topper "House of Fun" have the dizzying feel of a fairground ride going out of control.
Suggs remains a most engaging frontman. His trademark stagger matches the infectious bounce of "Shut Up" and singalong gem "Bed and Breakfast Man". He teases the front row with snatches of "Help" and "D.I.S.C.O", and leads everyone into their hit cover of Labi Siffre's "It Must Be Love". The encore even features bluebeat legend Prince Buster, their original inspiration, on "Madness", the tune they named themselves after.
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