Odd Event Reviews... Absolute Madness!
Andy Simpkins reviews the dread-locked, moon-stomping, Nutty Boy oddity that is Absolute Radio's 1st Birthday Party featuring Newton Faulkner and Madness. Live in Regent Street, London 27th September 2009
Question: What is the first sign of madness?
Answer: Suggs walking up your garden path!
Boom 'tish! I thangyew, ladeez and gennelmun. In all seriousness, this review would not have happened if I had not tuned into Absolute Radio one fateful morning. I am something of a Radio 2 listener. The dulcet Gaelic lilt of Terry Wogan and the soothing Caledonian tones of Ken Bruce always keep me entertained during my interminable hours at work, along with the nose and the accompanying body that is Steve Wright in the Afternoon. I used to listen to Virgin Radio from its very inception until it fell into the doldrums whilst languishing under the drunken tutelage of Chris Evans in the late '90s and early 2000's. It was only when a new radio station arose from the ashes, phoenix-like, to become Absolute Radio, did my interest become piqued again, with its blend of adult orientated rock and chart music.
It was one morning when I was idly flicking between stations and landed up on Absolute Radio. A contest was being announced where you had to text in the answer to a very simple question; namely how many members of Madness are there? 1200 tickets were being released for this special concert but even then I thought my chances of winning were somewhat akin to me being fellatio-ed by the Pope. I have never won anything in a contest in my life and I thought this would be no exception so I text-ed my answer in and promptly forgot all about it.
Could you imagine my surprise when a week or so later when I received a text saying: "Congratulations! You are invited to Absolute Radio's 1st Birthday party. Please go to www.AbsoluteRadio.co.uk/birthday and enter the following validation code......
After I picked myself up off the floor, I ran around in little circles gabbling to myself and telling all and sundry of my win. After I had calmed down somewhat, did I go home that night and get my 2 tickets from the Ticketmaster website.
There is a very hefty dose of irony attached to this story because a few weeks earlier, my fiancee; Jane, known to our podcast listeners as Fake Crumbly, and myself had taken ourselves off over to the Isle of Wight for the day. While we were sitting in a cafe in Ryde having a spot of breakfast, I told her that when I was on the Red Funnel, I repeat Red Funnel, website (quick bit of advertising there) booking the tickets for our crossing, I saw that they were doing a combined crossing and admittance to a Madness/Kid Creole and The Coconuts concert in the grounds of Carisbrooke Castle. It was too late to do anything about it and so I said resignedly to her:
"You know, I wouldn't have minded going to see them in concert..."
The gods do have a sense of humour......
For the uninitiated, Madness came to our attention in 1979 during the time when the abomination that was Punk Rock was in its welcome death throes and a host of bands like The Specials, The Beat, Bad Manners, The Belstars and others, with their combination of Reggae and Ska beats held sway over the charts. These bands, along with Madness, were collectively known as Two Tone.
I have and always will be a dyed-in-the-wool Heavy Metal and Hard Rock fan but while the Two Tone crowd were addressing weighty matters like race relations in the UK and such, Madness had a light-hearted and almost flippant side to their music. Numerous album and single successes are testimony to their enduring popularity.
A warm and sunny autumnal day saw myself and Jane, after dropping our bags off at our hotel and going for a spot of retail therapy, getting out the tube station and walking the short distance to Regent Street. We had been informed that part of Regent Street had been sealed of but we did not know the full extent of what was open to us.
Every year, the traders of Regent Street have a street fair where there are food stalls laid out for our inspection and drinks stands whose wares are to supped. Its not every day that you see a dirty great merry-go-round and a big wheel in the middle of one of London's busiest streets. Making our way through the Massed Ranks of Humanity, we made our way down Conduit Street to pick up our wrist bands to allow us admittance to the concert. Wristbands always bring back memories of my stays in hospital and I was half expecting to write my name, date of birth and ward on the thing.
I'm loathe to say it but I did take a small amount of malicious delight at the crowds of poor, benighted souls who were gathering around the large projection screens dotted around in order for non-ticket holders to see the events up on stage, while we, with wrist bands held high and prominently on display, made our way through the stewards and the barriers, to the concert area.
Once myself and Fake Crumbly had found a place next to the barrier where we could rest assured of not getting trampled by the crowds near the stage, we both noticed a sight peculiar to London wandering by. I am not too sure about the origins of Pearly Kings and Queens and I have never quite understood the fascination with sewing innumerable buttons and sequins to a perfectly good jacket and trousers. But as you can see by the photo, the Pearly Kings and Queens of Putney, South West London were having a right royal walkabout amongst the crowd. They were accompanied by a young Pearly Prince, shifting about uncomfortably in his regalia and looking for all the world like he was fervently wishing he was out with his mates vandalising bus shelters. And yes, they do speak with a 'Cor Blimey guv' accent that should have been consigned to the linguistic dustbin long ago.
Newton Faulkner is a name that made his way into the publics attention over the past couple of years. He has recently enjoyed chart success and to be greeted by the sight of a young man with ginger dreadlocks, a wispy beard and moustache and wearing a bowler hat strumming away on a guitar was a sight indeed. However, he warmed the crowd up admirably, up on stage sitting on a stool playing acoustic guitar. Each song he played was warmly received and one of his amusing ditties involving audience participation required various sections of the crowd to make suitable piratical 'Arrr' noises and to imagining a hoard of zombie mutant creatures was getting nearer and we had to fend them off with our 'Arrr, Jim lad...' utterances. This drew a lot a lot of laughter from the audience but all too soon, he was bidding us all a fond farewell and telling us to enjoy Madness.
The night was drawing in and the lights were coming on. A cheer went up when Christian O'Connell, who hosts the breakfast show on Absolute, and who was hosting tonights events, walked out on stage to inform us that his colleague; Geoff Lloyd would be out on stage shortly to warm us up and harangue us into giving Madness a loud cheer when they came out on stage. We were informed that the concert would be both filmed for Internet broadcast and would also be broadcast live on Absolute Radio. This was enough to have us all yelling when Geoff Lloyd walked out on stage to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Looking around at other members of the audience, there was quite a cross section of people attending the concert, the majority being fans who have supported the band since their earliest days, primarily Mods from the late 1970's and skinheads, no, not the meat-head BNP/British movement skinheads but the ones who followed the original Ska music in the UK back in the early 1970's. Quite a few fans were wearing the uniform of their devotion to Two Tone music, namely pork-pie hats, Fred Perry or Ben Sherman polo shirts and straight leg jeans. I could not complain at this display of youth tribal couture because back in the days of my misspent youth, a lot of my waking hours were spent wearing a biker leather jacket with a denim 'cut-down' over the top, heavily festooned with patches and badges of my favourite Heavy Rock bands, tatty old jeans and a well-scuffed pair of Doctor Martens boots. An acne-ridden visage and long unkempt hair completed the ensemble.
Merchandise has always played a major part in any concert I have been to. I own enough Status Quo T-shirts to stock a small shop but a lot of the concert go-er's were wearing red fez's by way of tribute to one of Madness' seminal classics: 'Night Boat To Cairo' which I shall dwell upon later.
All too soon, Geoff Lloyd was up on stage exhorting us to yell, scream and clap our hands to welcome the band out on stage and to let all the listeners at home know what a bloody good time we were having. There is always a small frisson of excitement that runs through me when a band first appears on stage and they go through the time-honoured ritual of tuning up......
"On behalf of the Great British Entertainment Company.....Hey you, don't watch that! Watch this! This is the heaviest, heaviest monster sound. The nuttiest sound around. So if you've come in off the street, and you're beginning to feel the heat, well listen Buster, you'd better start to move your feet to the rockinest, rock-steady beat....of Madness...ONE STEP BEYOND!!!"
Upon this well-known show opener, as delivered by band member Chas Smash, the crowd erupted and a small but very well-disciplined surge rolled towards the stage and the entire audience dissolved into a singing, arm-waving, moon-stomping melee. This song, originally recorded by Prince Buster, has been given the Madness treatment and got the crowd on its collective toes. I have included a few snippets of video footage in this review for your delectation and as you can see, Dear Reader, any camera work seen is rather shaky due to the jumping about by myself, Fake Crumbly and assorted concert goers, please forgive me.
Once 'One Step Beyond' had concluded, the band launched into 'Embarrassment'. The band, over the years, have written many songs that have a more serious nature. 'Waiting For The Ghost Train'. an apparently light-hearted ditty about train delays is actually a critique of Apartheid in South Africa, 'Mrs Hutchinson', a song chronicling the cock-ups and misdiagnoses that the NHS is sometimes prone to, resulting in a patient becoming terminally ill, and 'Embarrassment' is a family's reaction to a daughter bringing home a little black bun in the oven.
As is my wont with most concert reviews on this site, I will not list the songs in the order they were played. My memory is rather haphazard at the best of times and to have someone pulling me up about the play list order would be rather humiliating.
Let's just say that the concert in the main was a collection of their greatest hits plus a few newer songs. By way of introduction to the rock-steady beat rhythms of 'The Prince'; a tribute to Reggae and Ska artist; Prince Buster, Suggs had a light-hearted dig at the policemen and women who were keeping an eye on proceedings. Reminiscing fondly about how he and friends of his youth used to visit Regent Street stores and 'borrow' things from the shelves but conveniently forget to return them. The police squirmed uncomfortably but otherwise kept their council and did not beat anyone around the back of their legs with their riot batons.
Greatest hits aside, the band also included a couple of songs from their latest CD; ' The Liberty Of Norton Folgate'. Madness definitely have London running through their veins, and their trademark sound is as London as Pie, mash and liquor or jellied eels. Even though Suggs was born in Hastings, he and the band have an enduring fondness for the city that raised and nurtured them them, 'Camden Town', 'NW5' and 'Clerkenwell Waltz' are some of the songs that reflects this. 'Dust Devil' is one of those songs that has their trademark wry sense of humour in it and this was followed by Suggs dedicating the next song; 'Forever Young' to all the children of the band members. Just to prove a point, during the song, the saxophonist, feeling decidedly energetic and youthful, decided to climb the scaffolding inside the canopy covering the stage, much to the amusement of the audience.
Four of their most well-known songs were given a very welcome airing. The break ups and misunderstandings that are part and parcel of teenage relationships of 'My Girl', The bittersweet ballad; 'It Must Be Love', complete with its immediately recognisable piano opening courtesy of Mike 'Barso' Barson, followed by two songs which are redolent with memories of our misspent and anarchic schooldays and the barely controlled chaos that is home life; 'Baggy Trousers' and 'Our House'. Having my trusty digital camera with me, you will be able to see the audience and the ensuing uproar that greets these songs. another song, describing the sweet delirium that is love called 'Madness' was played as well.
By way of farewell to the audience, both in Regent Street and listening over the airwaves, a collective honking of ships foghorns, reaching to a crescendo, split the night as the band played their most well-known song; 'Night Boat To Cairo'
I remember seeing the video for this song in a bowling alley in Torquay a couple of years ago and I commented on how young the band all looked. No surprise seeing the song was recorded almost 30 years ago and yet, looking up Suggs on Wikipedia, I found out he is only a couple of years older than myself! If only I had paid more attention during music lessons.... Shot against a backdrop of a desert and the pyramids, the band were all dressed in pith helmets and desert shirts and shorts and having a merry old time miming away to the song.
And that was that. The concert finished amongst rapturous cheering, throwing of faux fez's into the air and a massive thank-you to the audience from the band. Looking at my watch, I was surprised to see that it was only 8:10 in the evening! An ungodly early hour to conclude a concert by anyones standards, I thought.
However, the though of a slow meander back to our hotel near Tower Bridge and a well-earned soak in the roof-top hot tub overlooking the city skyline made an early return very tempting indeed. So we made our way back to the tube station. Through the rapidly dispersing crowd of fellow concert goers and those unfortunates who were forced to watch the concerts on the big LED screens. Hawkers and vendors of illicit concert merchandise were creeping out of the shadows to spread examples of their wares out on the beer-stained pavements while Westminster City council employees wearily looked over the mass of litter and bottles strewn over the road for them to pick up.
A bloody good nights entertainment by anyones standards. Madness are one of those bands I got to see in concert through a random twist of fate. I hope I can see them again very soon.....