The Nutty Boys bowl into Yorkshire

The Grandslam Madness tour, consisting of outdoor venues, comes to Headingley in Leeds on September 18.
The Grandslam Madness tour, consisting of outdoor venues, comes to Headingley in Leeds on September 18.
  • As Madness head to Leeds, frontman Suggs talks to Chris Bond about life in the band and why he never tires of performing.
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A CRICKET ground, especially one as revered as Headingley, might seem an unlikely choice of venue for a pop concert.

But it’s far from the strangest place that Madness have played over the years.

“We’ve played at racecourses and football grounds and we once did a tour of circus tents around Britain, so we’ve played in some really obscure places,” explains Suggs.

The band’s charismatic frontman is talking during a break from their summer Grandslam tour that is wending its merry way around some of the UK’s best known sporting arenas, including Chepstow racecourse, Silverstone and, next month, the home of Yorkshire cricket.

Suggs, a big sports fan himself, says the idea was to do something different. “Each tour we do we try and make unique. This one’s special as no one has ever done something like this – as big as this – at sporting venues like this.

“There’s also something different about doing a gig outdoors, there’s a different atmosphere and you get to see people’s faces, which I like.”

Madness are bona fide pop stars in an industry littered with one-hit wonders and plaster saints.

From the very beginning there was something different about them, for as well as being resolutely British their songs were tinged with brilliance – finding poetry in the seemingly mundane.

The band have been going now, give or take a few break-ups and walk-outs, for almost 40 years, during which time they have never really gone out of fashion.

Their music still retains the wit and warmth that made them so popular in the first place and like The Beatles and The Kinks before them they have left an indelible mark on British pop culture.

The band’s influence can be seen in the music of everyone from Blur to Lily Allen and in recent years their performances at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, have brought them to the attention of a whole new generation of fans, cementing their status as one of the nation’s favourite bands.

Their story, though, dates back to another era. Madness began life in 1976, just as the Punk movement was about to irrevocably shake up the British music scene. “Punk really opened the door for us,” says Suggs, “because it meant that bands like us, who couldn’t play that well but had a lot of energy, could get gigs.”

They formed amid the politically-charged Two Tone movement, with their first gig, at the Hope & Anchor pub in North London, coming on May 3, 1979 – the day of the general election that saw Margaret Thatcher sweep to power.

The home-made posters for the gig, which cost 50 pence to watch, carried the tagline “Cast your vote and then down to the Hope.”

If this sounds like humble beginnings their rise to pop stardom was meteoric.

My Girl reached number three in the charts in 1979, and they went on to become one of Britain’s most popular bands with a string of top 10 hits including House of Fun, Night Boat to Cairo, It Must Be Love (an earlier hit for Labi Siffre) and the ever-popular Our House.

Suggs puts their initial success down to a number of factors. “We wrote some good songs and we had youth on our side.

“We were also a band of mates who had known one another from the age of about 13.”

They were big fans of reggae and ska but their influences were many and manifest taking in everything from Motown to prog rock, with a sprinkling of Cockney humour thrown in for good measure.

Success came at a very young age and by the time they reached 20 they already had a couple of world tours under their belt.

Suggs has fond memories of those early days.

“We were really just ordinary people who happened to become pop stars, but we didn’t set out to do this,” he says.

“It was like going on tour with your best mates, it was great. By the time I was 18 I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone.”

After more than three decades in the entertainment business the band are still very much in demand. “I think the reason we endure is that we genuinely do enjoy ourselves. From the very beginning you could see the joy in the early videos we made and hear it in the records.

“The fact that we were friends before this band started is key. It’s a genuine experience.

“It’s not manufactured. I can’t ever remember being on stage and feeling fed up with the people around me.”

It’s a feeling that time hasn’t withered.

“When Madness get in a room together something just happens, we all feel it,” he says.

The band has always had an air of playful irreverence, playing the music they want rather than being enslaved to the latest fads and fashions.

“We wrote songs that say something about ourselves and how we feel and today when I see the unbridled joy of an audience that means a lot.

“When we’re on stage performing It Must Be Love and you have young and old people singing along to it, that’s a real privilege.”

But he insists they’ve never been the kind of band obsessed with churning out hit singles.

“We didn’t write songs and then say ‘O, let’s write another hit.’

“It’s always been about fulfilling our souls and if along the way we’ve helped fulfil the souls of some other people, then that’s got to be good.”

Madness play Headingley Cricket Ground on September 18. For tickets call 0843 504 3099.