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Madness were one of the most successful British pop bands of the 1980s. They notched up over 20 consecutive Top 20 hits in the UK charts between 1979 and 1986, when they split up. Their style of music - they were among the pioneers of ska in Britain - was unusual, and their lyrical style spoke typically for the underdogs, the ordinary people and non-money-makers, of the 1980s. They were not only a popular band, but helped to shape British culture during that period, and their influence can still be felt at the beginning of the 21st Century.
They were formed in 1979 by Mike Barson, who played piano, and Chris Foreman, who played saxophone. These two were school friends, and they decided to form a band in their spare time, which seemed to be the thing to do among young people at the time. Mike, who was also known as Barso, wanted it to be a six-piece, and they got a mate to come along and play saxophone for them. He was called Lee (Kix) Thompson, and was in and out of the band because he lived a long way from where they used to rehearse - Mike's house in Camden1. Another friend of theirs, John Hasler, was also brought in, as he claimed to be able to play the drums. In fact without John, they may not have had the success they did.
Things went along until they got their first gig, which was at another friend's party. Upon arrival, they were relegated to playing in the garden, as the friend (Si) whose party it was, had got in a disco. Not many people came down to see them, but one person who did was Suggs, an old friend of John Hasler. John suggested that he come along to rehearsals, as their current singer couldn't sing very well, and couldn't remember the words most of the time, either. Also at the party was another friend of Mike's, Cathal Smyth (or Chas Smash) who lived with Si. He asked if he could join the band on bass guitar. So Mike had his five-piece, which was frequented occasionally by Lee. However, Suggs didn't stay for long; with the arrival of the football season, he left the band to watch his beloved Chelsea play.
A new singer had to be found. John Hasler stepped up to sing, as he wrote all the songs, and he had a friend who could play drums, Gary Dovey. Cathal left the band, after a rehearsal where Mike promised to take him home and then left him at the bus-stop miles from home and well after the last bus had gone. A friend of Gary's, Mark Bedford (Bedders), was brought in on bass. After a few rehearsals, Gary Dovey quit the band, after a punch up with Lee, who claimed Gary was mucking about when he couldn't get a bit of a song right. After that Lee became almost a permanent member of the band, and Suggs came back in on vocals. John was elevated to the position of manager, and his task was to find some gigs. They were left with the problem of having no drummer, so Mark suggested they bring in an old school friend of his, called Daniel (Woody) Woodgate.
Things started going well, and even without a recording contract the band started to gain a large following who turned up to their gigs in Camden's Dublin Castle and The Hope and Anchor. Cathal, who had remained close to the band, became a full time member and was a bit like a mascot for the band who would provide dancing, occasional shouts and later on some trumpet too. It was then that a man called Clive Langer saw them, and he contacted a friend of his who worked for Warner music, and put up some money so they could record some of their songs. They were also starting to get some interest from record companies, and they signed to the 2-Tone label set up by Gerry Dammers of The Specials.
'The Prince' was their first single and was released on August 10, 1979. It reached number 16 in the charts. This was seen as a formidable success and a whole crowd of other record companies raced to sign them, as they had only signed a one-song deal with 2-Tone. They eventually chose Stiff over companies such as Virgin, as Stiff had Elvis Costello and Ian Dury2 on its books. Before the end of 1979 they had their first album out, One Step Beyond. This was also a great success, and more albums followed, and even more singles. Over the next few years Madness released the following albums:
- Absolutely (1980)
- Seven (1981)
- The Rise And Fall (1982)
- Complete Madness (1982)
- Keep Moving (1984)
- Mad Not Mad (1985)
- Utter Madness (1986)
Just before Christmas 1983, Mike announced he was leaving the band. He told the rest of them that he'd stay on to record the next album, Keep Moving, and then he'd be off to spend more time with his wife and children in Holland. His leaving is recorded in a song from the last album they recorded together. The song is called Victoria Gardens, and the lyrics go:
He said something I couldn't mention here
And we laughed with him again.
The rest continued without him, releasing Mad Not Mad, but it wasn't the same, and their change in musical style wasn't working. They felt they were no longer doing it for fun, as they had done when they first began, and they decided to call it a day. Their final single, released in 1986, was called 'Waiting for the Ghost Train' and Mike even returned to join them for their final release. They left the band with no money, as they had started their own label and recording studios, which had been financial disasters; effectively they all went bust.
More awaited the band's members, however. Suggs, Cathal, Woody and Chris formed The Madness, who released the single 'I Pronounce You' and the album The Madness, but both failed to chart. Woody then left and joined the band Voice Of The Beehive. Bedders joined a band called The Butterfield 8 and also started at college studying something similar to design3. Suggs started to manage a band called The Farm and Lee and Chris, who had both been down since leaving Madness, formed an outfit called The Nutty Boys, and released an album, Crunch!, and a single 'It's OK, I'm A Policeman'. Suggs also went on to have a solo career, and released two albums, The Lone Ranger and The Three Pyramids Club.
In 1991 Virgin, who had bought the rights to Madness music, released a greatest hits album called Divine Madness. They also re-released a couple of singles. This was more successful than they had hoped, and so the band re-formed for two gigs in Finsbury Park, in north London, in August 1992. Both were sell outs, and they claimed they would never do it again. They lied.
Though they now assert that they never actually split up (they'd simply stopped working together), they 'reformed' in 1994, 19964, and again in 1998. Rumours started to surface about a proper reunion with new Madness material being recorded. These turned out to be true, and in late 1999 they released their first new material for 15 years with the original line-up. Their first single, 'Lovestruck', peaked at number ten but their second single, 'Johnny the Horse', failed to chart. They also released an album - Wonderful - which reached number 17 in the album chart.
In 1999, Doc Marten - the manufacturer of the boots that the band had been wearing since before they were famous - made a limited edition 1460 boot with the Madness logo embossed on it. The band also received a mention in the book that celebrated the 40th birthday of the Doc Marten boot, as Madness and the Doc Marten were both a sign of the times in the 1980s.
In October 2002, the same month that a DVD compilation of their video promos was released, the 'Nutty Sound' took a new direction in the form of Our House, a musical that used the songs of the band to tell 'a A London Love Story'. Though it opened to enthusiasic reviews, it closed less than a year later. But that hasn't hindered the progress of the band as they continue to tour and play many of the top festivals across the UK.