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Suggs interview ahead of Grandslam Madness concert in Canterbury

Wednesday 25th March 2015

Madness will play The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence on Friday 11 September as part of a 20-date UK outdoor tour.

Grandslam Madness is the largest UK outdoor tour to be staged by any artist in the UK. It takes in some of the UK’s premier sporting grounds – football clubs, rugby grounds, cricket clubs and racecourses.

Gavin Martin caught up with Suggs who says he and the band are very excited about the forthcoming tour including a date at the home of Kent Cricket.

Over 25 years after they formed Madness are stronger than ever. To prove the point, this summer North London’s most famous and nuttiest pop institution embark on the biggest tour of their career.

In the process of bringing Madness to the masses, the Grandslam Madness tour will be a trip down sporting memory lane for Suggs, aka Graham McPherson, who first began exploring the UK as a football fan before Madness first hit the road in 1979.

The frontman said: “It’ll be the greatest tour since Boudicca. We’ll be going across the countryside rampaging and pillaging. We have our people working on designing a chariot – even as we speak.

“If you had told me this when I was a kid I’d have laughed so loudly my socks would have flown off. Of course it’s remarkable and a privilege to still be doing this funny old business that we do.”

What are the qualities that make Madness endure?

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. We are looking forward to this on the tour – people of all ages.

I think the reason we endure is that we genuinely do enjoy ourselves. From the very beginning you could see the joy in the early videos we made and hear it in the records.

The fact that we were friends before this band started is key. I genuinely think the whole spark or art of craft and creativity was a by-product of our friendship. I think that’s what people feel. It’s a genuine experience. It’s not manufactured. I can’t ever remember being onstage and feeling fed up with the people around me."

How do you keep the feeling of it being fresh?

“Traditionally, we don’t tour for months and months – we gave up on America and they probably gave up on us. Touring for years on end is what drains the lifeblood out of a lot of acts that I see. Each tour we do we try and make unique – and special.

“This one’s special as no one has ever done something like this – as big as this – at sporting venues like this. It’s a Madness madcap idea and we know people will respond to it.

“In Madness time you’ve seen a reversal of the music business model from making money on the albums and touring at a loss to now it’s the tours that make money. New records may not sell as much but it must be important your two most recent albums (The Liberty of Norton Folgate and Oui, Oui, Si Si, Ja, Ja, Da Da) have been well received by critics and fans.

“Yes indeed we were teetering on the cusp of the whirlpool of 80s nostalgia. We could have quite happily stopped flapping our flippers and slipped gently down into the hole with everybody else. But we flapped and flapped like mad and tried to write what we thought would be an album to stand with anything else we’ve done which I think we did. That gave us the ability to get out of the black hole.

“These albums didn’t sell in their millions but were extremely well received in the intellectual music circles and that has an effect on how you are perceived generally. If we just knocked out some old crap then you wouldn’t be held in high regard. It all added to the pot of being perceived as a working band again, we aren’t just lolling on the lilo of novelty we’re actually sailing around a bit on our own steam.”

The summer is pretty well mapped out for you. Grandslam Madness is an outdoor tour the like of which has never been seen in these islands. How will you keep yourself match fit?

“It’s like preparing for war, a war of fun y’know? A war of fun and frolics but, unlike the Romans, we are going to unleash heaven. I have a suspicion that if I didn’t have a few tequila shots before I went onstage I wouldn’t be quite as lubricated in the joints. Tequila and orange juice is the secret of keeping those limbs loose! I suppose our rituals are now so ingrained that I don’t notice what the rest of the band are doing!

“We can change the setlist nightly if we wish. The main thing is to keep it exciting for yourself, that’s the way to ensure the audience is kept excited too.

How well have you got to know England and how has it changed over 25 years of touring?

“Last year I did a One Man show, about 130 performances in towns I haven’t been to since the early days. I’ve been through a few recessions and a lot of things aren’t looking good in a lot of them satellite towns outside London. It’s a funny old cliché but Madness always seem to do better in times of recession, not that we ever wished upon anybody.

“Maybe during these periods people need a bit of cheering up and without being trite our raison d’être has always been about livening up a dull day. That was the reason for calling our last album Qui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da – basically yes in several languages.”

You will be playing several Cricket Grounds, including The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence in Canterbury. Will you look around?

“It is a beautiful city, I played the Marlowe Theatre there last year, one of the characters in Wolf Hall is buried there in the Cathedral, Thomas someone.

“I’m not a connoisseur but I’m fond of a nice bit of architecture and one of the nice things about travelling around is being introduced to some nice buildings.

“The Good Pub Guide is a very good organ to have at hand when driving through the backstreets of Great Britain, there are lots of lovely pubs, I must say.”

Are you looking forward to this tour?

"Of course! It’s great to do something new. Something not done before. And it really feels like a tour of the people in places where they can have fun – where we can have fun."

Click here to order tickets for Grandslam Madness at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence in Canterbury