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Hailing from Camden Town, London, England, Madness are a ska band that formed in 1976. They are one of the most enduring and beloved English bands to ever come from the late seventies and early eighties and quite possibly the world’s biggest 2-Tone band.
I think it’s fair to say that people don’t take Madness quite as seriously as they probably should. To clarify, people love them like a family member and with very good reason, but the gloriously silly, “nutty boys” image that follows them around wherever they go doesn’t even tell half their story. This is a band that have had to struggle to get anywhere their entire career, that weathered a storm of abuse and attacks both from skinheads and people accusing them of being skinheads after they’d barely released their first single.
It’s a wonder they have a sense of humour at all, let alone one as broad as theirs, but thank God in heaven that they do. It was one of the things that made them one of the biggest names in British music at the time, that and their absolutely astonishing run of singles. The band began life as The North London Invaders, founded by keys player Mike Barson, guitarist Chris Foreman and saxophonist Lee Thompson, who remain with the band to this day. They recruited drummer John Hasler, bassist Cathal Smyth and singer Dikron Tulane a year later.
The group started performing in 1977 but ran into some serious line up troubles soon afterwards, with most members leaving the band and returning soon afterwards. Graham McPherson (AKA Suggs) took over lead vocals but was kicked out in short order after choosing his beloved Chelsea football club over rehearsing one too many times. Smyth left after an argument with Barson, and the same man’s criticism of Lee Thompson’s saxophone playing led to Thompson himself leaving before the year was up. However by the following year, Thompson and McPherson were back in the fold, Daniel Woodgate and Mark Bedford had become the bands full time drummer and bassist and in 1979, they changed their name to Madness and got Smyth, now going under the nickname Chas Smash, to join as a backing singer and dancer.
The stage was set, and after that much grief with the line-up, it must have been sweet relief to see their first single, a cover of Prince Buster’s “The Prince” become a surprise hit, reaching number 16 in the charts. A performance on the legendary British music TV show Top Of The Pops followed and from that stemmed a tour with The Specials and a record deal with Stiff Records. Their debut album, “One Step Beyond…” came out in October 1979, and that records success was the blue print for the band in the early 1980’s when they were basically unstoppable. The band released one album in each of that decades first three years, all of which top ten and released deathless hit singles like “Baggy Trousers”, “Our House”, “Embarrassment”, “Night Boat To Cairo” and their sole number one hit in the U.K “House Of Fun”.
Of course, that kind of creativity and success in such a short period of time leaves a band with one way to go. In 1984, Barson left the band and by 1985 they were struggling, their singles missing the top 40 altogether and the band not happy with how their albums were turning out, in 1986 they started work on a new record, but it was not to be. The friction between the band members was too much and they announced that they were splitting in September that year. However, after some quiet attempts at solo careers failed to take hold, their single “It Must be Love” was released in 1992. It was a top ten hit all over again, reaching number 6, only two places lower than its original release over a decade ago in 1981.
The demand was there, and the band reunited in the same year for two enormous concerts at Finsbury Park, which were called Madstock!. Both shows sold out, and 75’000 people attended over that weekend, and since then the band have reunited frequently to record albums and go on an annual arena tours of the U.K during the Christmas season. They remain one of the most beloved British bands of the past three decades. Each generation seems to love them just as much as the last, shown by the colossal crowd they pulled at the 2011 Reading and Leeds festivals while slotted in between Two Door Cinema Club and Jimmy Eat World. All hail The Nutty Boys, then. After everything they’ve conquered to get where they are today, they’ve earned the title of national treasures with aplomb, and are still a band to be seen as soon as possible.