- Live Review
- 07 Aug 22
House Of Fun
You can’t beat a decent double-header. I have to admit that on many, if not most, occasions I am wont to give the ‘support band’ a swerve as the important business of getting a few jars in takes precedence. You all know how it is, you see an unfamiliar name on the bill and think, “there’s time for another one or two here yet!” It’s a shocking lack of professionalism I know, but there it is. No such dawdling tonight. I alighted from the tram, nipped into The Gibson, found Danny and facepalmed the barkeep altogether. “Bad news,” says Mac. “Chris Difford is out sick.” A bit of a blow there, Difford is one half of the Squeeze song writing partnership with Glenn Tilbrook, as fine a tune-penning pair as you could name, but we hurried in nevertheless.
Taking our seats, we were immediately accosted on all sides. To Danny’s left were a pair of inebriated sorts who declared they were gonna “talk the ear off us all night” – and they gave it a good go – and to my right sat a giant of a man, a behemoth who likely just escaped from a fairy tale, as wide as he was tall. The dimensions of his seat were laughably insufficient, meaning his left leg, which you could have played handball against, commandeered the space where my leg was probably meant to be. I would have remonstrated with him but I feared he might casually pick me up and throw me into the river. Never mind, here come Squeeze. And no, the irony of their name did not escape me, given my sardine status beside the lad from Game Of Thrones.
Tilbrook’s looking well in a lime green suit. “Good evening, great to be here.” Straight into ‘Take Me I’m Yours’, their debut single from 1978, with a brief a cappella break and a Hammond swell at its finish. They – drums, separate percussionist, keyboards, Tilbrook’s battered Telecaster, and Melvin Duffy on a bit of everything – sound great, maybe they're working harder to cover for their missing man, maybe they’re just very good anyway. “I never thought that it would happen, with the girl from Clapham.” That’s how you write an opening line and it was songs of the calibre of ‘Up The Junction’ that established the band as a sort of new wave Kinks, Tilbrook and Difford documenting London as Davies had before them. There’s some pedal steel in the background from Duffy and Steve Smith on percussion gives it a bit of Ray Cooper. There’s a novel in that song or at least a gritty BBC 2 drama.
Is drummer Simon Harrison wearing some sort of tartan onesie? He looks a bit tasty with his mohawk so let me just compliment his fashion choice if he is. He helps out with the vocal start to 1987 hit ‘Hourglass’ wherein Tilbrook shows off his guitar and vocal chops, Difford having never made it easy for him, shoehorning in more syllables in one song than you’ll find on most albums. Look at Stephen Large during ‘Slap And Tickle’ – another one from 1979’s Cool For Cats album. He karate chops the keyboard like a human sequencer with a loose wrist action that suggests his teenage years were very lonely. Here’s another great opening couplet. “She was frigid like a bible, when she met her boyfriend Michael, He took her in his Zephyr, They sat like salt and pepper.” Is it any wonder Elvis Costello would come on board later? Tilbrook drops in a bit of Hendrix Wah-wahing, just because he can.
The title track from 2015’s Cradle To The Grave is their only song tonight from anywhere this side of the 1980s but it fits in very nicely indeed. In the critic’s section, as we were served foie gras and champers, I pontificated to my mate that they probably had a few Chas & Dave records alongside those Kinks and Small Faces platters and I meant that as a compliment as there’s a pleasing knees-up mother brown vibe going on in the chorus. Want a bit more London? The Mac tells me that the backdrop, which looks a bit like an old school desk with various band names biroed into it is taken from the BBC adaptation of one of Danny Baker’s biographies for which Squeeze provided the music, and Tilbrook punctuates the set with “Cheers, Lovelies” looking a bit like Ray Winstone’s less scary younger brother.
‘Is That Love?’ even goes a bit The Who just before the finish. Then a huge cheer greets the opening bars of the brilliant ‘Labelled With Love’, the slice of Nashville that they took into the top five back in 1981, from high-water mark, East Side Story. It’s the perfect combination of Difford’s lyrics – ‘During the wartime, an American pilot made every air raid a time of excitement’ or “He, like a cowboy, died drunk in a slumber, Out on the porch in the middle of summer” – and Tilbrook’s melodic and arranging gifts, and the crowd all have their phones out to capture it, and sing along with gusto. Tilbrook seems delighted, as well he should. Owen Biddle – an American? In Squeeze?? – provides appropriately tasty bass behind the solo in ‘Pulling Mussels (From A Shell) before there’s a bit of cockney piano to remind him where his bosses are from, the chiming guitar is present and correct in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ and ‘Tempted’ starts with a chorus so we can all join in. When the band come in about halfway through, it’s marvellously effective and it’s around this time that you think the lads in the Madness dressing room might be regretting asking this lot along to open up, and may be plotting some sort of pulling out the plug ‘accident’.
‘Goodbye Girl’, ‘Another Nail In My Heart’, the hits keep coming. Hanson Motowns up a superb closing ‘Black Coffee In Bed’ which is stretched out to allow each band member a turn in the spotlight, breaks to sing happy birthday to Smith and then to wish Difford a speedy recovery from his hospital bed. They might be elongating this one to make up for the absence of Difford’s usual ‘Cool For Cats’ but when a set is this good, crammed with classic after classic, it would be just mean to complain. They go off to a huge roar, after giving a lesson in how to deliver a support slot – don’t arse around with B-Sides and such messing, give the people what they want. Fantastic. Madness have their work cut out for them.
A nostalgic bit of Pearl And Dean on the screen before The Nutty ‘Boys’ stroll nonchalantly on, all splendidly turned out, with Suggs clad in an especially dapper grey feint check suit - handkerchief in breast pocket, naturally - and black shirt/glasses rig-out. The crowd go berserk before they play a note and then lose it altogether for the rockingest rocksteady beat of Prince Buster’s ‘One Step Beyond’, sax man Lee Thompson already working hard over on the left, convincing many that he’s the real front man. Knowing what they’re at, they then barrel into ‘Embarrassment’, the floor taking a bruising from a couple of thousand dancing feet, watching a band togged out like an old firm who’ve come back from their homes on the Costa Del Sol to pull off one last bank job, with the addition of three man-horn section – also suited and booted – who appear to be taking a night off from their bouncer work outside the local boxing club.
Suggs declares how lovely it is to see us all and respectfully reckons that there are more than a couple of us present who might remember when ‘The Prince’ – another cap doff to Prince Buster - first came out back in 1979. The horns parp, the chequered organ bubbles, the Blue Beat singles flash by on the screen behind them, and a couple of hundred branded red fezzes – a genius bit of work from the merchandising people – bounce up and down. This is what we want.
There’s an always welcome crack at Westlife – “aren’t they your national heroes?” – before the declaration that “We are Madness!” and then a very welcome ‘NW5’ from 2009’s marvellous The Liberty Of Norton Folgate album – is it, perhaps, the finest long-player from one of the greatest ‘singles’ bands ever? The song itself has a chorus – “I would give you everything” – that any other songwriter would cut their good arm off for.
Suggs: I was in a bar in Newcastle – this is true – and I saw Johnny Depp down the bar. I asked him, “are you okay, mate?” “No,” he replied. “My Girl’s Mad At Me”. That’ll do nicely, with Mike Barson doing the heavy lifting behind the piano, bouncing all over the eighty-eights like a two-tone Jerry Lee. “We were hoping the majority of you would still be alive since you bought the tickets!” adds Suggs, referring to the COVID postponements before ‘The Sun And The Rain’ with Gene Kelly dancing through the precipitation on the big screen and that life-affirming key change in the middle. Ok, I wasn’t bananas about new song ‘Baby Burglar’ – “is that a Truffaut movie in the back ground? It certainly looks like one,” said Danny. I nodded, sagely, not wanting to appear like an idiot – but that doesn’t matter because they follow it with ‘Wings Of A Dove’ which makes me grin now as much as it did back when it was an Irish number one around my twelfth birthday. I bought an awful lot of shite records when I was a young fella – Spandau Ballet for fuck’s sake – but at least my mates and I got it right with Madness, and name me another band whose video clips children would act out in the back garden? That can’t have been just me, right?
‘The Return Of The Los Palmas 7’ allows Suggs to nip off for a quick cup of tea as a giant mirror ball comes up on the screen and a bit of xylophone is added, and when the frontman ambles back on, he does a quick Liam Gallagher impression before musing about the next one, how it’s about getting drunk but also about God, who invented lots of things, like lampposts. If you can reach the first one when you’re pissed – I know this to be true – you can probably make it home. ‘Lovestruck’ is another song blessed with a chorus that they should be force fed to lesser bands with the demand that they try harder. The horn section casually walk back on towards its end – they were doubtless off handing out a drubbing to some fool who tried to pull an unauthorised caper on their manor – and bring the song home.
There was another new one here, I didn’t catch the name of it, with a bit of Bo Diddley beat from the drums and piano. It didn’t really register, but maybe I just need to hear it again. Chrissy ‘Boy’ Foreman – dressed like he just come back from Tommy Gunning the lads in Chicago’s North Side Gang on Valentine’s Day – delivered a slightly wonky guitar solo but he more than made up for it during the following ‘Shut Up’ – “I’m not saying our early lives were littered with petty criminality. I’m not saying that.” Lee has a Bobbies’ hat on, the piano in the intro sounds like it's falling out the window of a Buster Keaton movie, and we all shout out the “1, 2, 3!” bit.
‘Bed And Breakfast Man’ and ‘Mr. Apples’ probably aren’t many people’s favourite Madness cuts, although the crowd stay with them, but once they’re dealt with they go back to shooting fish in a barrel. First, there’s a few dedications. Then drummer Woody Woodgate, who didn’t get the memo about the suits, goes missing for a few minutes. Most likely he nipped off to quaff from the fountain of youth he keeps in his dressing room. Once he returns, Foreman essays a fairly convincing Irish accent with a ‘How’s the Craic?” inquiry. The craic is pretty good, in fairness. A 5,4,3,2,1 countdown goes arseways but then we’re into ‘House Of Fun’. People are up on other’s shoulders down on the floor and the balcony is shaking like a particularly unstable mound of jelly. We certainly didn’t know it was about condoms when we were horsing around in that back garden.
Suggs spots an actual young person in the audience and tells them to get an education unless they end up like those who wrought ‘Baggy Trousers’. The cameras are turned on the front section of the crowd where the naughty boys and girls are celebrating like their horses have just come in. Oh, what fun we had. Sensibly, Lee doesn’t hoist himself over the crowd. No need anyway. You’ll all have your favourite, but I reckon “Our House’ is their finest few minutes; when Bedders' bass comes in, the chorus – Chas and Dave’s influence is a lot more widespread than the cool kids would have you believe - and the guitar and sax break. It strikes me around this point that I’m in the middle of one of the most enjoyable live music medleys I’ve been fortunate enough to witness since I lost it altogether to Rod Stewart following ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy? With ‘Baby Jane’ in this same building a few years back. A few rows ahead of me, at the balcony’s edge, punters are risking the staff’s ire by dancing where they’re not supposed to. The ushers play a thankless game of whack-a-mole – they get one person to sit down only for another to bounce up beside them. You can’t blame these errant fruggers really, it’s impossible not to.
As if things weren’t great enough, there’s a dedication to their kids and all our families before a glorious ‘It Must Be Love’ – “bless the bees and the birds – especially the birds!” We were all feeling pretty good but then the masterstroke. A picture of a couple comes up on the screen with the message, “Lyndsey, will you marry me? Gary”. Several thousand people cheer through their grins. Unless he’s an awful man altogether, there’s no way Lyndsey’s turning that down, surely? You can have all the message songs in the world, decrying the state of things, but it’s hard to beat a love song, and this is a particularly fine one. “Love is the best,” Suggs states, before asking, “Did Lyndsey say yes?” He hopes we have a great Christmas – a possible reference to when we should have been here the first time - and then they head off into the wings, job done.
All bands do this, waiting to be called back on, but tonight the roar for their return is positively biblical, a huge noise, a fucking howl. “Are you still here?” they casually inquire. No one’s going anywhere. What have they got left? Danny was hoping for ‘Michael Caine’ although that seemed as likely as my own wished-for ‘We Are London’. Instead, they go back again to the source. Hard to believe, but I once met a person who didn’t like Ska. Unsurprisingly, he turned out to be bastard who broke my telly and pissed in the fridge. For everyone else, Jamaica’s gift to the world is one of the great reasons to stay alive. Prince Buster’s ‘Madness’ has the throng skanking like their lives depend on it, and ‘Night Boat To Cairo’ is the perfect way to send us out looking for the LUAS back to town. The celebration continues in the carriages with loud caterwauling that even a mother would have trouble loving. It’s nearly a blessing when a fire at Wynn’s Hotel means we all have to get out and walk.
Not only did Madness provide a party that attendees will be grinning about for days, dipping into a songbook that has few equals – fifteen, that’s fifteen, top ten singles, sure those are Beatle and Quo numbers – they also had the balls to invite the mighty Squeeze along, who played a headline worthy set of their own. Let’s have some more bills like this, music as it’s supposed to be, a joyous celebration. Chequered, pork pie hats off, all round.
- Live Review
- 15 Mar 23
- Live Review
- 16 Nov 22