Still nutty after all these years, Madness hit the road

They've been going for 35 years, but Madness frontman Suggs tells Andy Welch why he still loves working in a dysfunctional House of Fun.

Few bands can get away with calling themselves The Nutty Boys, look cool while running on the spot and manage to keep the spirit of Ska music alive among teenagers.

But then, few bands are anything like Madness. After almost 35 years together, give or take a few break-ups and walk-outs, Madness now find themselves in a coveted professional position, the sort of place where there is no pressure to release new material. Yet last year, while they could have been resting on their laurels, they finished a new album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate.

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Earning positive reviews, some even praised it as Madness's best work and it went in at number five in the album chart. Now it's back to business as usual, with the boys taking their inimitable brand of immature mayhem on the road for a 15-date tour. In addition to the main shows, Suggs and the rest of the band are also throwing open the doors of a handful of venues for four matinee performances, especially for the under-18s.

"We last did this about 25 years ago," begins Suggs, looking very much at home in a central London pub.

"I remember when we released Baggy Trousers back in 1980, we got a big kid demographic following us after that, but they couldn't get into the venues because they were under-age. We've always had a great response from kids, and even though I'm nearly 50, I feel I've kept in contact with my childish side."

To get rid of that immature streak would be to take away one of Madness's defining characteristics. And it's very easy to see why children would see something special in the band, despite the fact they formed amid the politically-charged Two Tone movement of the late 70s.

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"I remember seeing Buena Vista Social Club when they first toured over here and I thought that was a great way you could carry on into old age with some dignity," says Suggs. "They were in their eighties. That's the thing, you have to have dignity. That comes from not trying to be something you're not.

"Chris, our guitarist, didn't want to do our latest album, and our bassist left, so we started without them.

No problem. Then they wanted to join in again. And that's fine too."

Since the album's release, the band have enjoyed the kind of return to relevancy many of their generation would give their favourite pork-pie hats for.

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"Norton Folgate was our first record in 10 years or so, so we spent a lot of time on it, and it was quite an intellectual concept in parts, but it's on the live circuit where the band have really found their home: we play so many festivals – we always have done – but 10 years ago most rock festivals were terrible. Now they're great. Granny's there with the grandchildren while mum and dad go and see their bands, and we have carved ourselves a perfect spot.

"It's as though the organisers say, 'There's a lull in the conversation, let's get those old mad nutters on and let's have a fun afternoon'."

Suggs turns 50 next year, although he looks much younger, and the band have recently been busy compiling the contents of the Gogglebox – a collection of CDs and DVDs of previously unseen TV footage, bonus songs etc. "The only time I get all reflective is on a Saturday morning if I've had a few the night before," he jokes.

"Raiding through the archives has been a lot of fun. We've always had popular videos that everyone knows, and that's something in itself, but we thought it would be great to do something for this tour that was truly original, and different.

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"We got all these clips of us messing around on foreign TV shows, there's plenty of stuff you won't see anywhere else. It's been fantastic and I'm fully aware of the privileged position we're in.

"I've had a fulfilled existence, experienced lots of things and made some amazing friends – people I met at school that I'm still making music with and having fun doing it.

"It's had all the ups and down of a dysfunctional family. The important thing is that we are still a family."

Madness, Sheffield O2 Academy, December 1, 0844 477 2000; Hull Arena, December 3, 0844 811 0051. Leeds O2 Academy, December 5, (including matinee show) 0844 477 2000.

Suggs – The life and times of a nutty boy

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Suggs was born Graham McPherson in Hastings, East Sussex, on January 13, 1961.

He got his nickname after sticking a pin in a jazz encyclopaedia and settling on the first name he saw. He famously only answered to that name in school, even writing graffiti such as "Suggs Is Our Leader" on the wall to create a myth around the name.

Aside from Madness, he has also released a number of successful solo singles, and presented numerous TV shows, including Disappearing London, for which he won a Royal Television Society award for Best Presenter.

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