Madness December 2009

Madness – Glasgow Academy – 13/12/09

For one reason or another I’d never seen Madness before. Just too young to get into the licensed venue for the first 2-Tone tour, wrong place wrong time for others, no desire to see them in the enormodomes of recent tours. Whatever, I’d initially baulked at the price tag for this and decided to give it a miss again. However, Mrs New York Johnny had said she fancied it, and as I like the Academy as a venue, I shelled out almost £80 for a pair of tickets and bit my lip. In these days of falling record sales, illegal downloads killing the music industry etc etc, it’s often said that a band’s best source of income nowadays is through their live gigs. With this price tag, I’d have said that Madness were definite believers in that. On arriving at the Academy after a freezing, foggy walk across to the south side of Glasgow, a quick perusal of the merchandise stall confirmed this. They had every possible angle covered. Aside from the myriad t-shirt deigns that you come to expect, we had Madness mugs, keyrings, fezzes, pork-pie hats, badges, baby-gros, chef’s aprons – even a signature Harrington jacket (clocking in at £110, I wonder how many they sold). Something for the nutty-boy who has everything then. But I digress.

Like the streets outside, the slowly filling Academy was chilly as we took up a spot to the left side, quite near the front, handy for both the bar and the Ladies for Mrs NYJ. There was vintage rocksteady & bluebeat playing in the background. We asked a nearby security man who the support band was and he replied that there was none. A DJ would be on at 7.30 and Madness at 8.45. Sure enough, the volume went up bang on 7.30 and Desmond Decker’s Israelites cut through the air, followed by a mix of such ska and mod revival tunes from the likes of The Beat, The Jam, The Lambrettas etc. This was accompanied by a film showing on the big screen to the rear of the stage. I can’t recall the title but this was basically the Take It Or Leave It film edited down into the “steps” involved in forming a successful band. Pretty pointless really. Also, it’s interspersed with regular adverts for the memory sticks they’re selling up the back with a recording of tonight’s performance. Me? I’d have much preferred a proper support band but I guess that would have eaten into the profit margins too much. But I digress. Again.

Just after 8.45, a cheer goes up as the band appears. There’s no pizzazz, no big entrance, they just wander unassumingly onstage and take their places. The familiar “Don’t watch that, watch this!” intro booms out of the PA and they’re off into One Step Beyond and there’s scenes of bedlam stage-front as the hard core devotees start their skanking. The sound is initially bass-heavy with the guitars and keys buried deep but it’s sorted by the end of the song and stays pretty much perfect for the rest of the set. The instrumental is quickly followed up with Embarrassment, and I note that although Suggs is in fine voice, he’s backed almost all the time by Chas on second vocal. Unbelievably, they follow this with The Prince, keeping everyone skanking and singing along – that’s three of their big-hitters despatched before they’ve even said hello.

There’s a pause for breath as Suggs introduces NW5, the first of the songs from their current Norton Folgate opus to be aired tonight. It sits neatly alongside the older material illustrating that, while their sound has evolved over the years, they still write distinctly Madness songs. Suggs talks a little about Mike Barson and his first couple of attempts at song writing as they jump back again for a poignant run through My Girl. An this pattern follows throughout the set, with a couple of oldies interspersed with something more recent, mixing it up nicely and showing what a great range of songs they’ve produced over the years. The fabulous Dust Devil makes an appearance much to my delight followed by The Sun & The Rain. We get Take It Or Leave It followed by Norton’s Mk II, the only point where I thought they dropped the pace a little bit too much. They soon pull it back though with a rare appearance for In The Rain which goes down well with the old guard.

I’m a little shocked as they produce a slinky cover of Max Romeo’s Iron Shirt. I never saw that coming but they carry it off brilliantly. They also surprise me with the welcome inclusion of E.R.N.I.E. and the often overlooked Johnny The Horse, both executed with precision. That’s something that really comes across, just how cleverly these songs are arranged, the interplay between the musicians a joy to watch. Chas Smash may not be doing much nutty dancing these days but, as well as his vocal duties, he plays trumpet and acoustic guitar by turns and he, of all people, seems to really be enjoying himself up there. I get a wee jolt as I recognise the intro to Bed & Breakfast Man, the song I’d most been wanting to hear them play. Unfortunately Suggs & Chas have a blonde moment and end up singing the wrong words, repeating one of the middle verses, but it doesn’t detract from the song too much.

The fabulous Forever Young is the last newie to be aired before they hit us with the big (and I mean BIG!) finish. Starting with House Of Fun they then proceed to run through a selection of the hit records that sees them often cited as one of the great British singles bands. Wings Of A Dove – one that I always considered as a “lesser” song – takes on a life of it’s own in the live arena with everyone taking on the Woah-oh-Oh-oh backing vocals. The rear screen shows a mass of red and smiling faces as the camera pans over the crowd. Baggy Trousers is next. No flying sax player this time out but simply one of the quirkiest, cleverest pop singles ever made. Our House is played out to a backdrop of Glasgow landmarks and street signs obviously snapped earlier in the day. The piano intro to It Must Be Love chimes out as the band launch into yet another cover song they truly made their own. It proves to be the last song of the set as the band waves and makes their exit.

After the usual clamour for an encore, Woody takes the mic and makes a wee appeal for Cancer Research, the charity he has been supporting through his recent Marathon runs. Then the others join him on stage as sax man Lee Thomson takes the mic and they tear through first album instrumental, Tarzan’s Nuts. Another brilliant surprise. Suggs and Chas come onstage again for their signature tune, their take on Prince Buster’s Madness. I’m wondering what they could possibly play next as the ship’s horn blast echoes around the Academy signalling the start of Night Boat To Cairo. Despite being footsore, Mrs NYJ and I are compelled to drag our aching feet through one last bout of moonstomping, ensuring that the walk home afterwards would be a long and painful one. The band waves their goodbyes and leaves the stage. I’m surprised at how quickly the cheering dies down and people start to leave, despite there being a delay in the incidental music starting up again. However, I honestly can’t think what else I’d have had them play. It was a great set covering all periods of their 30 year career.

If forced to choose, I’d have said that the Specials gig earlier in the year just shaded this in terms of full-on intensity. But then they weren’t playing any new material. The current Madness stuff is as good as anything else on offer tonight – in fact I’d have had a few more off Norton Folgate if I’d had the choice (no We Are London or Idiot Child tonight – surely a couple of the best from the album). And moreover blends in so well with their classic material. I’d heard comments beforehand about the band just going through the motions these days but it certainly wasn’t the case tonight. At ages somewhere around 50, Madness may not be Nutty Boys any more but they’ve matured into something that’s equally special. Long may they continue.     New York Johnny

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