‘Madness aren’t just lolling on the lilo of novelty...’

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More than 25 years after they formed, Madness are stronger than ever and now on the biggest tour of their career. Suggs tells GAVIN MARTIN why he’s still laughing his socks off

This summer, North London’s most famous and nuttiest pop institution embark on the biggest tour of their career.

The Grandslam Madness itinerary takes the band, led by singer Suggs aka Graham McPherson, to a selection of the nation’s leading sporting grounds including tomorrow’s ‘Evening At The Races’ at Haydock Park.

“It’ll be the greatest tour since Boudacia. We’ll be going across the countryside rampaging and pillaging.

“We have our people working on designing a chariot, even as we speak,” he laughs.

“If you had told me this when I was a kid I’d have laughed so loudly my socks would have flown off.

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

“Of course it’s remarkable and a privilege to still be doing this funny old business that we do.”

What are the qualities that make Madness endure?

“In England alone there are probably 20 more festivals than when we began. You are playing to audiences who are there not just to see you.

“So through that we have managed to accrue a whole new generation by playing 40 or 50 festivals over the past five years. It’s been flattering and marvellous to see so many different age groups enjoying the band. We are looking forward to this on the tour – people of all ages.

“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. I think the whole spark or art of craft and creativity was a by-product of our friendship. I think that’s what people feel. It’s a genuine experience. It’s not manufactured. I can’t ever remember being onstage and feeling fed up with the people around me.”

How do you keep the feeling of it being fresh?

“Traditionally, we don’t tour for months and months – we gave up on America and they probably gave up on us.

“Touring for years on end is what drains the lifeblood out of a lot of acts that I see. Each tour we do we try and make unique – and special.

“This one’s special as no one has ever done something like this – as big as this – at sporting venues like this. It’s a Madness madcap idea and we know people will respond to it.”

Since Madness began there has been a reversal of the music business model, from making money on albums and touring at a loss to now it being the tours that make money.

New records might not sell as much but it must be important your two most recent albums (The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Oui, Oui, Si Si, Ja, Ja, Da Da) have been well-received by critics and fans.

“We were teetering on the cusp of the whirlpool of 80s nostalgia. We could happily have stopped flapping our flippers and slipped gently into the hole with everybody else. But we flapped and flapped and tried to write what we thought would be albums to stand with anything else we’ve done, and I think we did.

“That gave us the ability to get out of the black hole. They didn’t sell in their millions but were extremely well received in ‘intellectual’ music circles and that has an effect on how you are perceived generally.

“If we just knocked out old crap then you wouldn’t be held in regard. It all added to the pot of being perceived as a working band again.

“We aren’t just lolling on the lilo of novelty we’re actually sailing around a bit on our own steam.”

Grandslam Madness is an outdoor tour the like of which has never been seen in these islands. How will you keep yourself match fit?

“It’s like preparing for war, a war of fun y’know? A war of fun and frolics but, unlike the Romans, we are going to unleash heaven.

“I have a suspicion that if I didn’t have a few tequila shots before I went onstage I wouldn’t be quite as lubricated in the joints. Tequila and orange juice is the secret of keeping those limbs loose! I suppose our rituals are now so ingrained that I don’t notice what the rest of the band are doing! We can change the setlist nightly if we wish. The main thing is to keep it exciting for yourself, that’s the way to ensure the audience is kept excited, too.”

Racecourses make up quite a bit of your itinerary, are you fond of a flutter or a day at the track?

“Racecourses are great. We’ve played a few in the past where there have been a few races and then you get a bit of Madness. It’s an unbeatable combination.

“I have a few flutters every now and then and have a bit of luck on the horses. I’m not a gambling man generally but I like it when you can see the steam coming out of the horses’ nostrils and that whole thing in front of you.

“I did wake up with a greyhound in my bed once. We had been to a charity auction at Walthamstow dog track and there was an auction for the greyhound and we won.

“He did alright actually we called him Nutty Boy and he went on to win quite a few races.

“Last time we played at Haydock we had a tremendous gig, something like 20,000 people turned up and they were only expecting 10,000.

“Simply Red had held the record up to that point so I think we are the record holders for Haydock, returning as reigning champions!”

• Madness play Haydock tomorrow night and some tickets are still available. See haydock.thejockeyclub.co.uk/events-tickets/whats-on/live-music-at-the-races-3Jul for more details or to buy.