Music: Soundbites

Jennifer Rodger
Thursday 04 June 1998 23:02

Suggs from Madness

Twenty years, reformed for the fourth time. Will the fat lady sing?

The band didn't break up, we just fizzled out one by one, arms and legs fell off and so we never had a final concert. There was of course a "last" one. Eight years later, after not doing anything during that time as Madness, Virgin released Divine Madness, and it did much better than anyone expected. Then Mean Fiddler was doing a party at Finsbury Park, had a spare day and asked us whether we fancied having a go. We were really amazed, because we hadn't played together for so long, that it still appealed to so many people. We were very worried, in the nicest possible sense. But it sold out and we ended up doing two days. Quite a phenomenon, though I do say so myself.

A good idea?

We were the first to make our own festival. A lot of bands, like Stereophonics and the Verve are doing it now. You can squeeze all the platitudes for yourself. But if people want to spend that amount of money and hang around in a field, it's good to have other bands as well.

A regular event?

We have done three concerts already, so they may last into perpetuity. Sinatra kept on saying it was his last concert for 30 years. Whenever we have said that, the momentum has gathered and off we go again.

Does Madness decide who will perform?

To a greater or lesser extent. We make sure that they are compatible. This year for instance we have Desmond Dekker and Toots & the Maytals, both bands who have really influenced Madness.

Madness will perform..?

All the hits, and we might play a couple of new songs.

So Madness could reform?

We still talk about doing another record. We write a song a year. Recently we went to America where they have this ska thing and we were seen as the grandfathers of ska. Since our demise, everyone has scattered so it's a bit haphazard, especially with seven people in the band. I am doing a solo record which will be out in August. It will be a bit rougher and readier, a mix of styles that has the same Madness touch with a hint of magic.

What else?

The most tasteful televisual experience in the firmament of television - I present Saturday Night Fever, on Channel 5. It is not a work of art, but it was never intended to be. It is taking on it's own entity as well, somewhere between kitsch and real.

Are you the Mad geezer?

I suppose you are required to be happier than the average person. But I am, so it's lucky. People who really listen to the albums know that there are enough other elements to be space for other things. What is important is that you are happy with where your head is at. Madness changed. At first we jumped up and down and shouted. But bit by bit it became more musical. Now we have come back as a mixture of both. At the end of the first incarnation, we weren't doing the more showman songs, like "One Step Beyond". We were fed up with being one dimensional.

Madstock is like?

You get coach loads from Leeds who are wearing their 1978 Madness T-shirt with stomachs sticking out. We are not the latest thing, but at the same time it has its own entity. People identify Madness with important parts of their lives, so are genuinely moved. We don't do it often so it has a certain reality. I find it exhilarating, humbling.

Madstock IV starring Madness, with special guest Finley Quaye, and featuring Space, Catatonia, Toots & The Maytals, Alabama 3, Desmond Dekker, Jazz Jamaica and many more at Finsbury Park, London on Sunday .

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