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Why Madness are Common people

Suggs talks buses, beer and austerity - and reveals why Madness are spending their bank holiday Monday south of the river

25 August, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Madness frontman Suggs is preparing to perform with the iconic Camden band at Clapham Common on Monday. PHOTO: GRAHAM JOY

IT seems fitting that when we caught up with Suggs, he was hanging out in a Camden institution.

For a change, it’s not the Dublin Castle, the pub most associated with Madness’s explosion onto the music scene. Instead, it’s Ferreira’s, the Portuguese deli around the corner on Delancey Street.

“I’m in the Portuguese Café, one – they do very special coffee,” he says as he grabs a cup to keep him going before he ventures off to work.

“I did a one-man show a couple of years ago and I’m in the process of trying to write another one. So I’m off to meet my mate in Embankment.”

Suggs – aka Graham McPherson – is a busy man. Not only is he working on this second solo show, but he and the band are preparing for their second festival south of the river – at Clapham Common on Bank Holiday Monday (August 28). The family-friendly line-up, headlined by Madness, features a whole bunch of friends of the band and some newer faces, including Slaves, De La Soul, Soul II Soul, The Skatalites, The Aces ft Delroy Williams, Dawn Penn, David Rodigan – who is curating one marquee – Toddla T, Hackney Colliery Band, Craig Charles, Norman Jay, General Levy, Nadia Rose, Dennis Bovell, Sherwood & Pinch, Mungo’s HiFi, Venum Sound and Andy Holdstock.

So why so far from their familiar north London stomping ground?

“It seemed like a nice idea to do something south of the river,” says Suggs. “We’ve done quite a few in north London, like Madstock. We thought we haven’t done something south of river, we had been joking, ‘where’s Clapham?’, asking people in the street, there’s the old joke cab drivers won’t take you there.”

Suggs has high hopes. for this year.

He says: “It’s a really nice bank holiday day out. All the acts are bands you can dance and sing along with. Last year we got Toots and the Maytals, who hadn’t played for a good few years.

“It’s a great celebration of things we love. We’re hoping to have a few guests join us onstage. They haven’t quite agreed yet, so I can’t say who.”

One newer band that has been announced is Slaves, whose presence Suggs revealed by interrupting one of their recent live sets.

He says: “It was really good fun with Slaves. I like that a lot, I’ve got a reputation for being onstage with bands that don’t want me there, this desire to get attention. Even my cousin’s wedding, I managed to ruin that. I saw Slaves on Later with Jools and really liked them, they were great, I listened to some of their songs, the energy I could relate to.”


Madness have shown their philanthropic side with a generous gesture to public servants.

“We’re giving free tickets to public service workers,” says Suggs.

“We thought we should do something nice for people who are overworked and underpaid. We’re really bored of the austerity word and wanted to do a gesture. It won’t change the world, but maybe make people think about the people who look after us.”

Not for the first time, Madness have commandeered a double-decker bus. Previously, they used it to play all over Camden during the Camden Crawl. This time, the bus will be kitted out with a bar and strategically placed on the Common so friends and family of the band can watch the festival, while the band’s own branded beer will also be on sale.

“We’re selling our own beer,” says Suggs.

“Thirty to 40 years of hard research has gone into that beer. We did all our testing in The Dublin Castle with (landlord) Henry as our umpire. It’s a great feeling holding a bottle of your own beer. I was in a pub selling my own beer, Madness beer, knowing I would get at least two whole pence back. More importantly it’s what we’re drinking backstage, so we’re saving £30,000 a year – you can’t move for the stuff.”

As the band have matured, a natural split has developed on tour where the drinkers take one bus and the “good guys” take the other.

Suggs has revealed that the same now happens backstage.

“It’s the same principle with the buses as what happens with backstage area,” he says. “You have the quiet room and all the people get bored so they end up in the noisy room and, after a while, you say ‘why don’t you f*** off back to the quiet room’. It’s the same on tour. All the good people end up in the bad bus. At certain service stations there’s a signal and all the bad people get on the good bus and leave all the good people on the bad bus.”

He adds: “It’s all very well moralising about other people’s behaviour but… it’s that look, the sideways glance, shove off.”

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