Madness, Oasis, Swindon

Wainwright Family, Royal Albert Hall, London


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."

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor