AHEAD of the Nutty Boys’ concert at the Sussex County Ground in the summer, Suggs talks to entertainment reporter Duncan Hall about the past, present and future of Madness

“BRIGHTON to a Londoner is an important place. It’s where you went for the bank holiday weekend.”

Suggs, frontman of chart-topping ska-pop band Madness, was a regular visitor to Brighton and Hove as a teenager.

He will make the journey once more this summer for the band’s biggest city show to date, at the Sussex County Ground in Hove.

“In the olden days, we used to go down to Brighton for football matches.

“I remember there was a one-legged ticket inspector at Brighton and he could catch you, he was like the bionic man.”

Lifelong Chelsea fan Suggs, real name Graham McPherson, will spend this summer playing football stadiums he previously only visited as a punter, as well as cricket grounds, racecourses and city parks across the country.

The Grandslam Madness tour is the biggest of its kind – taking in 20 huge outdoor venues across the country, ranging from Portsmouth Football Club’s Fratton Park to Haydock Park and London’s Blackheath.

Each stop on the tour will almost be like its own mini festival, topped by one of the biggest hit-making bands this country has ever produced.

“Pacing yourself is a complicated process,” he said.

“We will be working on an almost daily basis – we might have got the hang of it by the time we get to Hove but I can’t promise anything.

“It is a long tour – we have never played more than 12 dates in a row in the last ten years.”

Pedigree The tour takes in a lot of out-of-the-way locations which rarely see live shows, let alone a band of Madness’s pedigree.

“We are playing places like Lincoln and Rhyl – we’re getting a marvellous reaction when people hear we’re coming to their town,” he said.

“It will be the greatest tour since Boudica – we’ll be going across the countryside rampaging and pillaging.

“We have our people designing a chariot as we speak.”

Madness may have started out playing pubs and intimate venues around London, but it was an open air show in 1992, eight years after the original band split, which brought them back to the public eye.

“When we did our first comeback, Madstock, in 1992 it resonated with us,” he said of the Finsbury Park show – which is reported to have caused an earthquake of 4.5 on the Richter scale as fans bounced to One Step Beyond.

“It was going to be our last show – we had never done a proper goodbye to the fans, but we realised we still wanted to make music.

“In England alone there are probably 20 more festivals than there were 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 very flattering and marvellous to see so many different age groups enjoying the band.

“There are so many festivals, we thought we would do our own.

“It’s a lovely, joyful experience.”

The travelling festival idea came from a former Small Face.

“When I was a kid I remember Ronnie Lane did a tour with a circus tent,” he said.

“He would put it up wherever he fancied.

“I always liked the idea of doing that – being like wandering troubadours, playing places we haven’t been to for a very long time, where anyone and everyone can come.”

It’s not the first time the band has tried to perform a family show in the city – adding a matinee show to their 2014 All For The M.A.D.H.E.A.D. tour when it came to the Brighton Centre last December.

“Tickets for the evening show sold out so quickly we had to add a matinee.

“People were supposed to come with their children, but a lot of fans just turned up anyway.

“It was a beautiful occasion – it proved we have still got it in us to do two shows in one day.”

With an unbroken run of 20 top 20 hits between 1979 and 1985 – including the number one House Of Fun and favourites One Step Beyond, My Girl, Baggy Trousers, Shut Up, Our House and It Must Be Love – it would have been easy for the Nutty Boys to join the 1980s revival treadmill, appearing at annual retro jukebox events such as the Rewind Festival.

For the seven-piece the idea was anathema.

“We were in danger of being dragged into the 1980s vacuum.

“Surrounded by people you only vaguely remember – we didn’t want to end up on that circuit.”

The solution was to make more music, and continue as a working band.

After the 1999 reunion album Wonderful – home to the brilliant Lovestruck single – and covers album The Dangermen Sessions, it was 2009’s The Liberty Of Norton Folgate which achieved the dream.

“That album was a real life- changing moment for us.

“We were trying to make an album that would stand up to the great hits we already had.

“That album propelled us into being a working band again as opposed to being a museum piece.

“We worked really hard on that album – the title track itself is up there with some of the best songs we ever wrote.

“The single NW5 goes down as well as some of our biggest hits.”

It was followed up in 2012 with the ultra-positive album Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da.

“It’s a funny old cliche but Madness always seem to do better in times of recession.

“Not that we ever wished that upon anybody.

“Maybe during these periods people need a bit of cheering up and without being trite, our raison d’etre has always been about livening up a dull day.

“That was the reason for calling our last album ‘yes’ in several languages – because there seems to be an awful lot of ‘no, no, no’ at the minute.”

The album cover by Peter Blake – listing all the alternative titles for the album from The Ten Commandments to The Rake’s Progress – underlines the dynamic of the band.

With seven people all throwing ideas into the pot it isn’t always easy to get a consensus.

“I’ve never thought about that before. I thought it was just me.

“It is a strange thing, but that is the beauty of it – it makes it so vibrant.

“If it was like one person bossing a lot of people around it wouldn’t have the same potency.

“It’s why we showed all those different album titles. With the process that goes on a daily basis it’s hard to get things finished.”

That could also explain why the band has gained and lost members over the years – although, as Suggs has previously stated, like the Hotel California you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Trumpeter Cathal Smith, aka Chas Smash, probably best describes the experience of being in Madness: “It’s a ground for evolution, it’s a nightmare, it’s conflict, it’s fights, it’s arguments, it’s inordinate hours of rehearsing.

“It’s fighting to go and do gigs where there’s no money involved but you’re doing it for the future, it’s keeping crew together with you for a crazy amount of years.

“It’s really like being in a family but also it carries the insanity of being in a family and dysfunctionality. It’s mad as hatters and that’s a fact.

“We get the best out of each other. What we share together is an amazing thing. And for all our cranky and obdurate ways, that’s what makes us who we are.”

Bassist Mark Bedford was missing from the last album, but rejoined the fold in 2013 around the time the band helped close BBC Television Centre.

“I didn’t notice Mark had gone for two years,” Suggs said.

“There was another bald bloke lurking around.

“The bus will leave The Roundhouse at Chalk Farm at 8.30am and he will either be on the bus or off the bus.”

Having turned 50 in 2011, Hastings-born Suggs looked back over his life with an autobiography That Close and a one-man show, which premiered at Theatre Royal Brighton.

“I did learn a little bit about stagecraft doing that but I can’t remember what it was.

“It made me talk less and do a bit less on stage. I used to get overexcited. Now I’m just excited.”

As for the future the band is on the long haul of writing material for a new album.

“We need a kick up the arse. I think by this time next year we will have a new album.

“There’s some good stuff on the horizon. When you get to my age you don’t want to be mouthing about being a gloomy older man, you have to remind yourself what is exciting.

“The next album will be entitled A Vision Of Vitality. Get that down with additional material by Gavin Martin.

Madness bring their Grandslam tour to the Sussex County Ground in Eaton Road, Hove, on Sunday, June 28. Tickets start at £35, available from 0844 264 0206.

1976 and all that...

1976 The North London Invaders form around pianist Mike Barson, guitarist Chris Foreman and saxophonist Lee Thompson. Vocalist, dancer and trumpeter Cathal Smyth (aka Chas Smash) initially joins as bassist. Suggs arrives a year later, is fired and returns in 1978 alongside the rhythm section of drummer Daniel ‘Woody’ Woodgate and bassist Mark Bedford.

May 3, 1979 The newly renamed Madness play their first gig at the Hope And Anchor in Islington, the day Margaret Thatcher comes to power.

September 1979 First single The Prince, a cover of a Prince Buster song, is released on the Coventry-based 2Tone label. It reaches number 16 in the UK charts.

November 1979 The largely instrumental One Step Beyond, title track of their debut studio album, is released on Stiff Records. It becomes Madness’s first top ten hit. On Top Of The Pops the band does the Nutty Walk through the crowd.

January 1980 My Girl, written by Barson, becomes the band’s first self-penned song to break the top three.

1981 Release of the semi-documentary film Take It Or Leave It, which recreates the band’s early days on the London music scene.

May 1982 After a run of ten top 20 singles – nine of which broke into the top ten – Madness have their first and so far only number one single with House Of Fun – the tale of a 16-year-old trying to buy contraceptives from his local chemists.

November 1982 Madness release arguably their greatest album The Rise And Fall – home to the single Our House.

December 1983 Barson leaves the band after recording the Keep Moving album – signalling the beginning of the end of the band’s first incarnation.

October 1985 After an unbroken run of 20 top 20 hits, the single Uncle Sam stalls at number 21.

September 1986 Madness record farewell single (Waiting For) The Ghost Train. Suggs, Chas Smash, Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman continue under the name The Madness but split after one album.

February 1992 A re-released It Must Be Love breaks the top ten, and is followed by the chart-topping greatest hits compilation Divine.

August 1992 The first Madstock is held in Finsbury Park, with 75,000 fans watching the fully reunited band. Three more Madstock festivals are held between 1994 and 1998.

November 1999 Madness release their first post-reunion album Wonderful, which reaches number 17 in the album charts. It is home to their hero Ian Dury’s last studio performance as guest vocalist on Drip Fed Fred.

October 2002 The musical Our House, penned by Calendar Girls writer Tim Firth and based around Madness hits, premieres at the Cambridge Theatre. It wins an Olivier Award for best musical the following year. After a ten-month run in the West End, it goes out on tour.

May 2009 Ninth album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate is released. Critically acclaimed, the album is the first Madness album since 1984’s Keep Moving to break the top 10.

Summer 2012 Madness play the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace and the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.

October 2012 Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da follows the band’s previous album into the top ten.

February 2015 Madness announce the Grandslam tour – taking in 20 outdoor locations over the summer including the County Ground.