Suggs: My Life Story in Words and Music, Orchard Theatre, Dartford
Olly Murs, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

The Madness singer has made his life story into a great night out; as for Olly, he’s an embarrassment

Two nights, and two generations of Estuarine geezers known for their pop-reggae hits and services to the trilby trade. If a comparison between Suggs and Olly Murs feels a little crowbarred, there's more to it than you might expect. But more of that later.

A dead cat and a dead dad are the twin catalysts driving Graham McPherson's autobiographical one- man show, which takes the Madness singer's 50th birthday as its starting point and zigzags back and forth through a life in which becoming a pop star at 18 and a retired one at 27 is only a small part.

Strolling the stage like a music-hall MC, Suggs is an effortlessly engaging raconteur, using self-consciously fogeyish humour (he speaks of “The YouTubes”) and unafraid of kaboom-tish asides, his story is as funny and occasionally moving as Madness at their best.

We hear about his family background: a mum who was a jazz singer in Manchester, Liverpool and Soho working in clubs run my mobsters, a dad he never knew who was a heroin addict. We hear about his childhood, including a spell in Haverfordwest which, when he returned to London, earned him the epithet “flea-bitten Jock-Welsh bastard”, and the schooldays (sample punchline, “ ... me and the other four-thirds of the maths class”) which inspired “Baggy Trousers”. We hear about his misspent youth, running the gauntlet of London's teenage tribes and football hooligans, hanging out with the punks at the Roxy and covering Clerkenwell in self-aggrandising graffiti. And we hear about his first job as a butcher's boy, affording him the pretext to deliver an innuendo about “delivering meat to the nuns” and the line, “fat is impervious to cold water: that's why ducks wear it”.

But it's the behind-the-scenes tales of the Madness years which are the most interesting, from sparking a Teddy Boy riot during an early gig in a florist's, through the fateful meeting with The Specials at the Hope & Anchor and the subsequent chaos of the 2 Tone tour, to a priceless anecdote about Madness hiring authentic police uniforms for a video shoot, hearing that The Clash were rehearsing nearby and deciding to make a pretend drugs raid on the studio. Cue much slamming of doors, flushing of toilets, and Strummer and Jones not speaking to Madness for years.

Then there are the songs. Accompanied by a young whippersnapper on piano, he gives us Madness classics like “Shut Up” and a semi-spoken “Baggy Trousers”, plus a smattering of covers: The Kinks's “Lola”, Ian Dury's “What a Waste”, Elvis's “Jailhouse Rock” and a certain Simon and Garfunkel song which, he tells us, caused guest ToTP presenter Chris Eubank consternation when the autocue obliged him to announce: “The sensational Suggs at Six with 'Cecilia'!”

His later years – managing The Farm, hosting a BSB chat show with four viewers, becoming a DJ for Virgin Radio – are intertwined with his attempts at amateur genealogy, in which he finds that his father died in Birmingham in 1975. And, of course, the Madness reunion, including the famous Madstock earthquake of 1992, when dancers in Finsbury Park caused tremors of five on the Richter scale and the evacuation of nearby tower blocks. The moral – or, let's be honest, the excuse for a singalong finale – is that only one thing matters, and it must be love, love, love.

Funnily enough, the first video I see on the big screen, walking into the Motorpoint Arena for Olly Murs, is “A Message To You Rudy” by The Specials. Like Suggs, Murs has got where he is by trading on his likeability, from his very first X-Factor audition, singing Stevie Wonder's “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and shuffling around with a length of hosepipe apparently sewn into his chinos.

Rising through a trapdoor which had to be widened to accommodate his jaw, wearing a shiny brown suit and shoes as white as his teeth, he tells Cardiff “It's the first night of the tour, and I can't think of a better place to be than right here in Waows.” The people of Waows laps up the flattery.

Murs is essentially a variety act. A song-and-dance man and sometime TV presenter, he's a merely competent singer and does the kind of dancing you do in the pub to make your mates laugh, that rubber-legged sideways moonwalk, throwing in a silly walk for the kiddies and a pelvic thrust for the mums, mugging like Lee Evans all the way.

His own songs, including the one with that dreadful line “remember when that crab came up and pinched your feet” and the half-decent Rizzle Kicks collaboration “Heart Skips a Beat”, are padded out with covers. “Change Is Gonna Come” segues into “We Will Rock You”, “On My Cloud” into “I Need a Dollar”, and there's a James Brown medley including a faked collapse. He fluffs his cue at one point, and jokes, “You can't get the staff these days”.

Wholesome, clean and a bit cheeky in a U-certificate sort of way, Murs directs the entire show at “the ladies”, showing a teasing film of himself having a bath and brushing those dazzling teeth in a Superman dressing gown, and ascending an overhead walkway to announce “I haven't found the right girl – Mrs Murs could be right here tonight”. He's cheesier than a pizza, and the archetypal representative of his birthplace: The Olly Way Is Essex.

Suddenly, the review starts to write itself, as he too covers “It Must Be Love”, making exactly the same “Bless the bees and the birds ... especially the birds!” gag his more illustrious elder had made the previous night, then breaking into “One Step Beyond” complete with the “nutty dance”, underneath a 2 Tone-style chequered tour poster. He's equal parts pseudo-Suggs and tribute David Essex, and the Waowsh have a wow of a time. But what stories will Olly Murs have to tell when he's 50?

Next week

Simon Price sees rising soul star Azealia Banks and Akron blues-rockers The Black Keys

Music Choice

It's Metal vs Indie as Kerrang! takes New Found Glory, While She Sleeps, The Blackout and Letlive to Southampton Guildhall (Tue); UEA, Norwich (Wed); Bristol Great Hall (Sat). The NME takes Two Door Cinema Club, Metronomy, Tribes and Azealia Banks to Academy venues in Glasgow (Wed), Newcastle (Thu), and Manchester (Fri/Sat).

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform