Suggs: 'I love good food – and a proper greasy spoon

The Madness singer on royal canapés, being a butcher's boy and scoffing strawberries as a kid

I was born in Hastings and my earliest memory is of crawling about and eating pet food out of the cat's bowl, and being reprimanded for it, by the cat. At that age children pick up things inquisitively from the floor and chew them with no compunction. My second memory is of making a sugar sandwich.

I was an urban kid, eating mainly bacon, egg and chips, but then I was sent to live with my aunt Dora in Pembrokeshire for three years. Seriously tasty tomatoes there. There was nature spouting up all over the gaff. There was a strawberry producer near to my aunt's who had one of those long poly-tunnels and me and my cousins were warned, under pain of a terrible whooping, not to crawl through. If we did, the first thing is our clothes would be completely splattered with strawberry juice, so there'd be no denying the crime. Therefore, once implicated, it made no sense not to scoff as many as humanly possible.

When I moved back to London, Mum and I lived first in a one-bedroom flat in Clerkenwell where for a year and a half the milk was kept on the window ledge because we didn't have a fridge.

After leaving school I worked as a butcher's delivery boy. I can remember pedalling up the hill to St Mary's Convent near the Angel. When they wouldn't open the door, I had to poke my sausages through the nuns' hatch.

The eaterie I most associate with Madness is Goodfayre Cafe on Parkway in Camden. Their spaghetti Bolognese with chips was the thing. We used to call the place Stella's because there was an Italian waitress in there with an enormous black beehive whose mood was just as black. The places that have gone now and I miss are Hope Dining Rooms in Holloway Road, who did proper meat and two veg; and Tilly's in Camden, run by a nutcase called George who enjoyed 'having a knife-up', as he called it, and whose mum made brilliant pies.

The great tragedy today is caffs – I still want to go to them but they use shit produce and serve bad food. Like so much of working-class popular culture they've gone to the lowest common denominator, while meanwhile it's £14.50 for a fried breakfast at a "posh caff" in Notting Hill.

The innate joy of London is that you can get anything you want. At first for me it was the best trousers, cigarettes, music, girls, scooters, shoes, hats, coats clothes, and then film and theatre and finally food. In the culture of Madness there's the desire to go to Georges in Paris, but at the same time it doesn't mean I don't still love a greasy spoon.

I don't mind eating on someone's yacht and I don't mind eating in someone's caravan. All these things have their reason and time and purpose, and a boiled egg is just as good as truffles on … well, a boiled egg.

I have to say, having performed on its roof, that Buck House served the most delicious canapés. The royal vol-au-vents were fluffed within an inch of their lives.

I tell people that I make food about as often as Halley's comet comes around, but I can actually cook and I'm not a bad one. It's just that my wife is so much better than me. So when it comes to the starting lane, in the kitchen, I'm always prepared to let her run ahead and win. But, when required, my signature dish is a pheasant stew. It began when we were in Norfolk on holiday and I found a pheasant dead by the roadside and plucked it, stuck it in a pot on the Aga, bunged in mushrooms, carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips, garlic, a big dollop of quince jelly and a lot of red wine, and left it stewing for as long as a slow boat to China.

We eat as a family, of course we do. Proper meals with proper table manners. And then we dance on the table to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

When I was at Port Eliot Festival, I had a guided tour of the estate's kitchens and was told that when one Lord Eliot, for financial reasons, was advised to get rid of his pastry chefs, he went upstairs to think about it, then returned and said "Fuck that – does a man only deserve a biscuit in the afternoon?".

I chased a giant parmesan cheese down Farringdon Road. A neighbour bought an un-marked water-damaged container at a docks auction and asked for help (unsuccessfully) selling the yellow tractor-tyre-sized parmesans inside. One of them slipped from our hands outside an Italian church and then disappeared over the horizon.

Probably my most spectacular meal was the first time I had oysters on the beach in Whitstable, where my wife comes from. And the most disgusting was tripe in Mexico which had been dried out, then reconstituted with a saline solution. Despite being a London thing, I can't get on with tripe, or jellied-eels. (sings) I've tried and tried, but I just can't hide, my revulsion.

I think that eggs & bacon is one of the greatest combinations that God gave to us for breakfast, but I only have it once a fortnight, or week, nowadays. Some days it's sushi, some days an apple.

The worst job I had at the butcher's was washing and scraping impervious fat off meat trays under freezing cold water, out the back. When I got promoted I had to take all the bits of pig that has hair – the ears, the snout, the bollocks and the bum hole - and carefully putting them through the hand-driven mincer to create this new-fangled delicacy from America they were calling the ham burger. It was quite an education. And, boy oh boy, it had to be done under the cover of darkness.

Madness's Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da is out now. They play the House of Fun Weekender at Butlin's, Minehead from 23-26 November


Interview by John Hind

The GuardianTramp

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