Interview With Madness
Having recorded their first studio album in ten years, Madness are returning to Australian shores with some east London pride.
Just a stone’s throw from the heaving bohemia of London’s impossibly vibrant Brick Lane and the bustling chaos of Liverpool Street Station, Norton Folgate is easy to miss. The tiny, nondescript territory on the city’s fringe joins Shoreditch High Street and its hipsters with the slickly suited City boys’ tumbling out of the pubs that punctuate Bishopsgate.
It’s a place where the counter-culture collides head-on with the mainstream and where Eastern and Western convention simmers gleefully amongst a capitalist backdrop. The area has also provided the inspiration behind the first studio album from Madness - the legendary ska-pop band - since 1999’s ‘Wonderful’.
“It’s a story of the East End of London,” chugs Woody on the phone from his home in Kent. “Suggs had these pages and pages of lyrics all about the birth of London from right back when the Romans first came, right through to medieval [times] into the turn of the century where London welcomed immigrants and we got our multicultural society that we embrace,” he says.
Set for imminent release, ‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ is, at heart, a London concept album. That said, using the UK capital as inspiration isn’t new territory for the band. On their 1982 album, ‘The Rise & Fall’, Madness bounced through the theme of childhood with much of the material referencing not only the city itself, but also its quirky colloquialisms.
“We always did write about London, but the only way you can ever write a decent song is from your own experience. That’s why I think it works [‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’], because the best songs are born from honesty,” argues Woody.
“We started to really look at where we came from and do an album that was from right back at the beginning. We just had tons and tons of stuff and we thought blimey! Why did we waste time copying other people when we had this great stuff inside ourselves that we had to get out?” Woody asks, referring to the 2005 covers album, ‘The Dangermen Sessions: Volume 1’.
Of course Madness will forever be known for worldwide hits such as ‘House Of Fun’ (which became a number one single in the UK - their first and only - after a performance on cult British comedy ‘The Young Ones’), the brilliantly catchy ‘Baggy Trousers’ and the perennially-rewritten ‘Our House’. On top of that, there was also their fantastic cover of Labi Saffre’s ‘It Must Be Love’, the epoch defining ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ and the still-incredible ‘Wings Of a Dove’.
In recent years the band’s relevance has been reinforced by major international pop stars – and also by Suggs’ appearance as the frontman for Birdseye fish fingers in the UK. Still, it’s more to do with the big pop stars than crumbed, processed fish bits. Indeed, Gwen Stefani and Lily Allen have both name dropped Madness as key influences during interviews and in blogs.
“They’re big, big fans of Madness,” enthuses Woody. He explains that with old fans now bringing along their kids to performances like the semi-regular Madstock! festival and new ones picking up on the band via Stefani and Allen’s recommendation, Madness play for the crowds that come to see them.
“We never forget the fact that we’ve got this big raft of hits so that’s what we do. We do all the big hits,” he says in a message to fans heading to see the band performing on this year’s V Festival tour. “We’re going to come and experiment with just a couple of songs, not too many, we won’t bore you with the new ones too much.”