Foreman and Suggs
“…if this is madness, than I know I’m filled with gladness.” – Prince Buster
If ever a name for a band fit the sum of its parts, then the name Madness certainly has done that.
With hit songs like “One Step Beyond”, “Baggy Trousers”, “House of Fun” and “Our House”, the Madness seven came on to the scene packed with dance-crazed tunes. The songs were musically zany and danceable, while the lyrics spoke of childhood reflection, love, crazy neighbors, and other interesting personalities that defined the northwest London district of Camden Town, they grew up in.
Since their humble early days, the self-titled Nutty Boys have grown up over the past 36 years. Back in the late 70s, they were the match that re-ignited the ska music flame of the 60s; they reigned as UK’s favored pop band throughout the 1980s; broke up, performed under an assumed side project name, and regrouped to once again be among UK’s most revered pop rock bands.
After 10 albums, 12 Top 10 UK Singles, England’s most recognizable septet songsters have persevered through all the trends of the past four decades. The Madness musical journey covered ska at its beginning, adult themes in its middle, and songs of social activism throughout.
Today, the band still consists of: vocalist Graham “Suggs” McPherson, vocalist and dancer Cathal Smyth better known as Chas Smash, lead guitarist Chris Foreman, piano-keyboard player Mike Barson, sax player Lee “Kix” Thompson, drummer Daniel “Woody” Woodgate. Longtime bass player Mark Bedford is on leave and substitute Graham Bush is filling in.
On hiatus from preparing their eleventh album, the nutty boys are performing a mini-tour of West Coast America before continuing their usual busy tour slate back home. They are one of the main attractions at this year’s Coachella at Indio, CA, April 13 and April 20, and in between the festival gigs, Madness will hit stages in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Buzzbin Magazine caught up with Madness co-founder Foreman, recently as he was gearing up for the US tour, and relaxing at home in Brighton, UK.
Madness took its name from a song penned and performed by legendary ska pioneer Cecil Bustamente Campbell, better known as Prince Buster. In fact, Madness paid tribute to the Blue Beat recording legend on its 1979 debut single “The Prince” written by Thompson and released it on Two Tone Records,
(the creation The Specials keyboard player Jerry Dammers).
A national tour with fellow ska bands, the Specials and The Selecter gave Madness even more exposure. Dammers wanted to do more work with Madness, but the band would have other plans.
“We had a hit “The Prince” (based on the Prince Buster), so everybody was after us,” recalls Foreman; “Every record label in London wanted us. They were offering us like $200,000 pounds. But they didn’t have any vision for us. With Stiff Records and Dave Robinson, we did.”
The album One Step Beyond would be produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who would go on to produce most of the group’s discography. The title song which garnered even more support was a cover of yet another Prince Buster song, which had been on the B-side to his hit “Al Capone.”
So prevalent was Buster’s influence, his classic hits “Whine and Grind” and sexually explicit “Rough Rider” were done on the The English Beat’s debut album and his songs, “Too Hot”, “Enjoy Yourself”, Stupid Marriage” were covered on The Specials’ debut album.
The release of a Madness’ second single, “My Girl” which went to No. 3 on the UK hit list, prompted Stiff’s David Robinson to push the band to produce another single despite the band’s lack of interest. What came of the compromise was an EP entitled Work, Rest and Play with the single “Night Boat to Cairo’ picked from the debut LP. It would go to No. 6 on the UK Singles chart.
The relationship with Robinson would be an important variable as to why Madness remained on steady path of success, where other ska bands struggled for mass appeal for more than a few years.
“He could see further than us being a flavor of the month,” notes Foreman. “He gave us something like $30,000 pounds. He gave us $10,000 right off and told us to give our jobs up. We knew then because we were cynical, Mike, Lee and myself, that if they gave you $200,000, which would have been great in
some ways, we would never see royalties. I mean any good band needs a lawyer and a good accountant, that’s what you need. It helped us.”
To further the unity of this crazed UK movement, American writer and British film director Joe Massot made a documentary, Dance Craze in 1980 on the Two-Tone movement with live footage of Madness, The Beat, The Specials, Bad Manners, The Selecter led by Pauline Black, and all girls ska band The
Bodysnatchers led by Rhoda Dakar. The footage was rough and not polished, but it gave a flavor of the rock steady, ska movement that was sweeping across London, and it became somewhat a cult favorite of alternative music/movie aficionados.
Over the course of the next three years, Madness would record: Absolutely which reached No. 2 on the UK albums charts and had singles, “Baggy Trousers, “Embarassment”, and “Return of the Los Palmas Seven” chart. The third album 7 which went to No. 5 and the band released “Grey Day” “Shut Up”
and “Cardiac Arrest” as hit singles.
The new albums also saw the band depart from its rock steady beat and ska origins to a more polished pop sound. It also found the band covering more serious subject matter, such as pregnancy, terminal illness and animal testing.
It was at this time the band recorded a cover of the 1971 hit song “It Must Be Love”, written and sung by British singer Labi Siffre. Madness, added Thompson’s saxy horns and Barson’s sweeping piano notes and carried the song to No. 4 in the UK and even to 33 in the US. This was soon followed in 1982, with what become the band’s first and only No 1 single, “House of Fun”.
Rise and Fall followed in the fall of 1982 and climbed to 10 and was the first their album not to be exported to the US. Instead, a Madness compilation hit the states with the band’s single most successful international hit “Our House” written by Foreman and Smash. It would go to No 5 in the UK and No 7 in the US, No. 1 in Sweden and No 4 in Switzerland and Norway.
Despite the success, the constant touring and studio work began to take its toll. Barson wanted a break. After the 1983 release of the band’s fifth album in just six years, Keep Moving, Barson announced he was leaving the band, and did so in 1984.
Madness moved on and recorded album No. 6, Mad, Not Mad on its own Zarjazz Records label. It did chart to 16 on the albums list but for the first time, no Madness singles would break the Top 20.
Suddenly, with Barson gone, and other members tiring of band politics, it was the beginning of the end. Musical and artistic difference began to envelope the band. After an unsuccessful attempt to get on track by recording 11 demos for a new album, Madness as it was known, disbanded.
Suggs, Smash, Thompson and Foreman would carry on as The Madness, and by 1988 released what would be the lowest charting album of the band’s collection. Simply titled The Madness, the album could only muster up a 66 ranking on the UK album charts.
Over the course of the next four years, not much came from the Madness camp. Then in 1991, with its fan base pining for signs of life from the Nutty Boys, “It Must Be Love” was re-released and reached No. 6 on the UK Singles chart by early 1992.
The success of this enduring single sparked the band to give a go at a reunion and in August of 1992 Madstock was founded. Over a two-night period in the UK’s equivalent to Central Park, Finsbury Park was not only the site of the band’s reunion but an event that would shake the world, literally.
The grounds of the London Borough of Haringey public park literally shook so hard to the dancing each night of the festival that nearby windows and balconies were cracking.
“It was 35,000 each night of rather overweight Madness fans jumping up and down in unison that caused a tremor,” remembers Foreman. “I don’t know if it was 3 on the Richter Scale, but it was quite big. In this block of flats nearby, they were all complaining, kind of ringing the police or whatever. The
next night someone came and measure it.”
According to the UK’s Health Protection Agency:
“One of the most bizarre investigations conducted by BGS (British Geological Survey) using its seismic network, was in connection with an earthquake reported to be felt strongly when three blocks of flats (8-9-storeys) were evacuated following minor damage that included cracked
windows and a cracked balcony. Our seismic network showed that there had not been an earthquake or an explosion, and we were able to deduce that the cause was resonance set up by dancers at a Madness rock concert in nearby Finsbury Park. The resonance frequency of such dancing, in harmony, is tuned to the natural frequency of apartment blocks of this height, so that the movement is amplified.”
Subsequent to the Finsbury Park comeback, a live album was released, and the associated single, “The Harder They Come” (a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s 1973 song) reached number 44 in the UK, with the album reaching number 22.
Known for its late year holiday performances and seemingly second wind of popularity, Madness also began to perform its Christmas season tours and from late 1992 into the summer of 1993. The band’s rekindled popularity even spawned a successful musical entitled, “Our House” which ran based loosely on the adapted theatrical play by English screenwriter and songwriter Tim Firth.
Despite a run of less than 10 months, the musical won the 2003 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Suggs played the lead’s father for a spell and other band members had executive production roles.
Yearning for its glory days of the 1980s and inspiration of its idols of the 60s, members of the band began performing low-key gigs under the name The Dangermen. From this side project an album of 13 cover songs were produced as The Dangermen Session, Volume 1 on the label Live and Intensified, a subsidiary of V2 Records owned by Universal Music Group.
The album, which made it to 11 on the UK charts and 17 on the French charts, covered a wide spectrum of covers. The Dangermen did versions of The Kinks “Lola” to Bob Marley’s “So Much Trouble in the World” and the classic Supremes hit “You Keep Me Hanging On” written by Holland-Dozier and Holland. The band even found its way back to its ska roots with Prince Buster’s “Girl Why Don’t You?” and Desmond Dekker’s classic “The Israelites”.
For Foreman, it was a one step more backwards, than beyond in terms of progress, and he quit the band, citing in a release before the summertime album release,” … the petty, time consuming bollocks that goes on in the band” in a statement announcing his departure.
Despite the album 11th ranking on the UK Album charts, no singles made much of a splash. Not to be undermined by the lack of album sales, the band forged ahead, and within a year things would begin to change for the better.
“What happened was, we were doing this covers thing, which I was never really in doing covers,” Foreman said admitted, but added, “It’s like a moth to a flame. Ok the truth was, the guys were writing some great songs [which became the Norton Folgate album] and I wanted to get involved again.”
“I went down to see them and they sounded pretty good. Clive (Langer) asked me if I wanted to play on them and I said yes.”
Shortly before his return, the band recorded the single “Sorry”, which featured UK hip hop artists Sway DaSafo and Baby Blue and was released on the band’s own new label Lucky 7 Records. Soon after its song “NW5” (reference to the postal code area for the north London district of Kentish Town) was
re-released as double-sided single with “It Must Be Loved” replacement guitarist Kevin Burdette was released in Germany.
Then, in 2008 Foreman came back and recorded a version with the band as a new single and it climbed to No. 24 on the UK charts.
“I am a bit cynical person. But the first gig I did when I came back. I had a little drink and I had a little tear in my eye, and I said, ‘I would like to thank the guys for having me back; and I meant it.”
Hoping to gauge the popularity and reception of new material, Madness performed 3 sold-out nights at the legendary Hackney Empire where everyone from W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, John Cleese and Ralph Fiennes had performed.
Furthering the piecemeal release of new songs, “Dust Devil” was released in 2009 and charted at No. 1 on the UK Independent chart. In May of 2009 , the long-awaited The Liberty of Norton Folgate album was released and not only did it climb Madness back up the charts, to No. 5, it received critical acclaim.
The Liberty of Norton Folgate was inspired by obscure references to a short street in London that before the turn of the 20th century was devoid of church and monarchy law. Its inhabitants were governed by private means. Madness wrote the lyrics in psychographic flavor in which the attitudes, values,
lifestyles, and opinions appear to exist still in the air today, metaphysically.
By 2010, the band won an Idol Award at the Q Awards, the UK’s version of the Grammys. The Q Award was actually the third one for Madness, as the band won an achievement award for song collections in 2000 and Foreman and Smash’s win for best song in 1983.
“I just put it up with my other award,” said Foreman, who explains, “Chas and I wrote “Our House” and in 1983 we won for Best Song at the May 1983 Ivor Novello awards. “We were rehearsing it, and we thought, ‘we won’t win. ‘We were nominated our manager went and we won. I really didn’t think we would. But no, it’s nice.”
The band continued its touring stints with its s annual Christmas holiday romp across Great Britain and even Dublin, Ireland all the while giving sneak previews of new material for it’s as of yet announced 11 th album release date.
The band has had opportunities to allow other producers to give a go at helping produce and compile the next release, but nothing has been set. Madness has worked with the likes of Stephen Street who worked with Blur, the Smiths and The Cranberries, and Owen Morris, known for his work with Oasis.
“He said I don’t know what I can do with these songs,” Foreman said of Morris. “So in the end we did three songs with him, five songs with Stephen Street. I want to go back with Charlie our (new) engineer and Clive. I want to do an album with a lot of songs on it.”
What has made finalizing the next release is the band members’ proximity to one another, says Foreman. “We don’t see a lot of each other, but what we do is with modern technology, we all do music on computers and send each other bloomin’ MP3s and what not. “
“Suggs is old school. We were rehearsing and he came in with a bloody cassette because it was a song he written ages ago and he had a really good version of it. When we started it was vinyl. You had 7” vinyl and 12” LP album. Then you had 12-inch singles and cassettes, and then CDs, and then that’s the end of that. Watching them make the vinyl is artistry, ok I am gonna start cryin’ now.”
“But I have to fight to get 14 songs on an album because people think it might be very boring. People listen to CDs and MP3s know, I mean? It’s the 21st century, isn’t it?”
For the time being as the band works out a new catalog of around 22 songs, nothing has been set as to how many will finally make the cut on the band’s next release or obviously when it will be done.
In the meantime, the band looks to perform more, and one of the events, key on the intinerary of the band is its upcoming second annual Fall Holiday House of Fun Weekender, which has a host of up-and- coming band, artists, and typical English fare. For Foreman, now 56, these festivals are fun to spend playing and enjoying with his wife, kids and now grandkids.
And despite the bygone days of partying like rock stars, foreman still enjoys playing live, but maybe from a different perspective.
“You have to approach it in a different way,” he starts.” I mean, myself, we do these UK tours, around Christmas in November and December; what I do is take the train. Off on my own. You get on the train, read a little newspaper Have a little walk and it’s really nice. You know you don’t go crazy after a gig. I mean I sometimes do.”
Besides playing and recording with Madness, Foreman also runs a blog on the band’s website called Chris’s Cupboard where he corresponds with fans, old and even young still.
“We get young fans, and you have your old Madness fans who have their shirts practically at the bursting point. But it really is their parents listened to us or they just discovered Madness.”
“It’s touching. People say, ‘I was really depressed and your music got me through it. It’s very touching, it always is. To know that you helped someone, that listened to Madness and it helped them out, it’s quite nice.”
And as far as the band’s place in the annuals of music history, Foreman says he wants Madness to be remembered as…“A good time, kick ass rock band. I don’t know.”
“The thing with Madness and America is, when we started, we were massive in England and in Europe. Once you go to Belgium a few times, it doesn’t compare to LA. People in American kind of speak English. We did a lot of tours in America but never got big bucks, but we had a lot of laughs.”
While they may not get laughs, Foreman and Madness will be surely humbled and honored to perform live will be this summer, for the queen. Yes, Madness has been invited to join among others, Paul McCartney, Elton John Annie Lennox and Tom Jones, to help to mark the Queen’s 60 years on the throne at the Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace on June 4.
Foreman, himself has met members of the Royal Family throughout his life, as a child with Queen Elizabeth, as a young construction worker and later, a rock star, with Prince Charles and other family members. “The Queen what can you say really, she is the Queen. I have her picture in my bathroom, er … ok, it’s a Jamie Reid one, but I like the Queen. Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Prince Phillip I don’t have the same degree of er..”admiration” for, shall I say, but as you can see Madness have had connection with Royalty over the years.”
Ah yes, Foreman and his fellow Nutty Boys are grown up and maybe a little more mellow at times; and while they still enjoy the trappings of being in the music biz, they still have opinions of his own about today’s music.
“Believe me in England, and I am sure America is the same, but there is a lot of crap for kids. A lot of it is mass produced pap,” he offers unapologetically. “I mean I complain about what is on the radio to my wife and she says, ‘You’re too old,’ and I say, ‘No, no, if I was a 15-year-old kid I’d be kicking the radio.’ I mean there’s loads of great bands, don’t get me wrong. If I was 15 I’d feel the same way.”
So while the band is still alive and well, its members have grown up, but one thing is for sure – you can take Madness away from this Nutty Boys, you can’t take this Nutty Boys away from Madness.