Support for this one comes from Paul Heaton. Former lead singer with The Housemartins and The Beautiful South, he’s now gone right back to basics and fronts a tight three-piece band. With a new album “Acid Country”, his sound is soulful and countrified but with the pop leanings that his songs always possessed. His voice is instantly recognisable and has lost none of it’s power and clarity. A man who wears his Al Green and Claude Jeter influences firmly on his sleeve, it’s also great to hear him play The Housemartins’ classics “Me and the farmer” and their cover version of the Isley Brothers’ “Caravan of Love”. The other three band members do the a cappella vocals justice and the cavernous Brighton Centre resonates with the audience singalong. He mentions that radio is not playing any of his new material but go cop his album as it’s well worth it. Top bloke and top set.
Thirty-one years into their career and a Madness gig is still a riotous blend of English pop, Jamaican ska, good humour and all around sing-along-a-Madness. As well as the seven original members, that nutty sound is bolstered by a four-piece female string section and a three-piece male brass section. They also have a huge screen behind them and a smaller screen embedded into Mike Barson’s keyboard, both showing clips from their current Gogglebox DVD collection. So all in all, with fourteen people and lots of visuals there’s plenty to look at on stage.
Bounding onto the stage, Chas Smash (Carl Smith) kicks the show off with the bellowed intro to “One Step Beyond” and from there we’re into a string of hits that everyone knows and which still sound fantastic. Like The Blockheads, they’re a band that has seen their audience grow up with them but judging from the younger faces in the crowd what they do appeals to all ages. There’s also plenty of middle-aged men complete with Fez as headgear of choice, so that one Madness song has got a lot to answer for. Also like The Blockheads their lyrics reflect their unique take on Englishness and it’s brilliant to hear their set as it’s just hit song after hit song.
So we get to dance, sing along and generally gurn to “Embarrasment”, “The Prince”, “Bed and Breakfast man”, “Wings of a Dove”, “It must be love”, “My girl”, “House of fun”, “Our house”, “The young and the old” etc etc. They’ve also got a new album “The liberty of Norton Folgate” which I haven’t got yet, but what they played off it sounds like typical Madness fayre.
Guitarist Chris Foreman mentions that he’s lived in Brighton for the last few years (I see him shopping in the local Waitrose every now and then) and how he was told that he would never amount to anything in school, which is a queue for the band to launch into “Baggy Trousers”. All in all, you can’t go wrong with that many well known songs and they encore with the eternally nutty “Tarzan’s nuts” then a storming version of “Nightboat to Cairo” that sees their various children, wives, and assorted relatives (including a pearly king and queen) on stage for the final sing song.
Always worth going to see live, Madness are a musical institution. This year I’ve seen The Beat, The Selecter and now Madness. With The Specials on tour again next year there’s never been a better time to see and hear these great bands live and experience the Two Tone thing all over again, especially now that the gigs aren’t as violent as they were back then too.
And just ‘cos I hadn’t heard it for ages, “The young and the old” off their 1980 “Work, rest and play” E.P.