Step three of Madness' revival is staged in a holiday camp in an off-season Somerset resort town.
Their loyal army of fans sink laughing into giant deck-chairs, stroll along the seafront in pork-pie hats, and blast Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” from chalets. The first of two sets by their favourite band is, though, the weekend’s crux: a daring “open rehearsal” of songs being considered for Madness’s as yet untitled tenth album. Following their reunion then creative rebirth with The Liberty of Norton Folegate, this is their return to full pop active service.
Madness stroll on in comically casual gear, as if out for a morning jog. But their collective confidence, epitomised by Suggs’s air of ringmasterly amusement, soon builds a head of steam. The songs are uniformly strong, closer to their 1980s pop style than Norton Folegate’s murky London noir. “Black and Blue” has that pomp’s bittersweet bounce, and like “This Time Sister”’s intimations of lonely divorce, suits the middle-aged incarnation of the most darkly realistic chart craftsmen since The Kinks. Suggs’s “La Luna” - a “rum” response to The Beatles’ “In My Life” - and “Into the Powder Blue” share this melancholy. What are we to make, though, of “Doolally”, the true-life adventures of shady hero of the Malayan Emergency Tom Darling, and his fatal sideline in Russian Roulette? Mike Barson’s sequel “some fifty decades later” to one of their biggest hits, “My Girl No. 2”, is the surest indication they’re on the right track: pure Motown, with rapid left-field hooks and an organ solo which would have been a 1966 Mod floor-filler. It does a similar job here. That’s one in the bag.
Madness have filled this holiday camp with influences and like minds, including Paul Heaton and Baxter Dury. They pop on-stage with punk’s great reggae DJ Don Letts, and The Specials’ leader Jerry Dammers DJs too, complete with pith-helmeted brass section. Less likely foils such as Northern electro-rockers The Whip make the crowd dance in weary slow-motion.
Madness are black-suited and booted for a second, all-hits set, a floor-shaking triumph, of course. It comes in the knowledge that they have stayed true to themselves, and so to their fans. “Our House” is the pick, a kitchen-sink scenario full of communicated feeling, a simple message of shared pride. We’re all happy campers in the end.