Madness, Oasis, Swindon

Wainwright Family, Royal Albert Hall, London

4.00

Even after three decades, Madness can get everyone jumping to their greatest hits – while still coming out with great albums

Of all the bands I loved as a child, there's only one I abandoned when I put aside childish things. That band was
Madness. For years, as a grown-up, I looked back in bafflement at my obsession, wondering what I ever saw in them.

Oh, I was obsessed, all right. I joined the MIS (Madness Information Service) and collected all the Nutty Boys comics. My Harrington jacket clanked under the weight of Madness badges. I took piano lessons to be like keyboardist Mike Barson. I got a severe crew cut just to look like them. The Specials radicalised me, but Madness entertained me.



Thirty years since "The Prince" changed my life, I'm standing in what looks like a giant school gym looking at the bovine necks of shaven-headed blokes about my age with "England" tattooed above the nape, while seven middle-aged men in fezes, boaters and trilbies lark about on stage, trying to reconcile it all.



It comes at the end of a year when Madness have released the most acclaimed album of their career. The Liberty of Norton Folgate is something of a concept album, inspired by a tiny London parish which, for arcane reasons, enjoyed independence until 1900. It also blends social observation and melodic music-hall ska-pop with the effortlessness you'd expect after three decades. It's on records like this that Madness, more than anyone, remind you that music hall, when viewed through a certain lens, is to London what Weimar cabaret was to Berlin.



Inevitably, from the moment Chas Smash bellows the words "Hey you, don't watch that, watch this!", it's the singalong singles – "Embarrassment", "My Girl", "Sun and the Rain" – that dominate a festive December knees-up like this, much to the delight of the Cross of St George tattoo crew. When Suggs does announce a track from Norton Folgate – tonight we hear "NW5", "Idiot Child" and "Forever Young" – the bull-necks in front of me say, in unison, "To the bar..."



They go off script with a few old album tracks ("Bed and Breakfast Man", "In the Rain", "Ernie") and a rather fantastic reggae cover of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion", but when Chris Foreman announces an "all-killer, no filler" finale, he isn't kidding. The closing run – "House of Fun", "Wings of a Dove", "Baggy Trousers", "It Must Be Love" and an encore of "Madness" and "Night Boat to Cairo" – crushes all resistance. Yeah, I remember what I saw in them.



In my family, music at Christmas meant my mother playing "O Come All Ye Faithful" while my cousins and I yowled the descant. But then, most families don't have one thousandth of the musical talent of the Wainwrights.



Rufus and Martha, the singing siblings, have begun a tradition of sharing their seasonal singalong with the world, and this year it's the turn of the Royal Albert Hall to play host. The combination of Christmas, London and Victoriana has inspired irresistible Dickensian associations, and most of the extended family are costumed like urchins from Oliver Twist. The central pair, for example, are wearing tartan trews (Rufus) and a rag-doll dress (Martha). If you're already familiar with Rufus Wainwright, you'll know why it was necessary to specify.



The personnel include Québecoise folk legends Kate and Anna McGarrigle (the former being the mother of Martha and Rufus) who look like penurious match-sellers, Anna's daughter Lily, Linda Thompson and her daughters, Martha's and Rufus's respective partners, and a few star guests.



Guy Garvey, looking very Dickensian himself, croons Joni Mitchell's "thoroughly depressing" Christmas song "River". A frock-coated Ed Harcourt duets with Martha on The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York". Boy George, giving a reggaefied "White Christmas", defies the dress code with a rakish pink hat and diamanté suit.



The whole thing has the chaotic, ad-hoc feel of a lock-in at a Hebridean pub rather than a slick package show – which is perfect. The McGarrigles spontaneously debate whether angels have sex, and everyone chuckles as though we're party – to quote guests French and Saunders – to "a mulled-wine log-cabin Canadian vibe".



And everyone loves Rufus Wainwright. Women and gays, especially, adore him. Technically I'm neither, and even I find him likeable. He's the sort of host who has people chuckling before he's even said anything.



However, it's a mention of our own NHS that draws the biggest cheer. Martha gave birth prematurely to a son four weeks ago, lending extra poignancy to songs such as "Il est né le divin enfant". His life was saved by University College Hospital, and for no fee. "If I'd been in the States," the new mother shudders, "I'd have been up shit's creek."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions