Madness review – baggy bangers with a British pop institution

First Direct Arena, Leeds
Suggs and co shuffle their back catalogue to the delight of a loyal crowd as new songs document a changing Britain

Madness singer Suggs walks on and says just two words: “Hey you!” He doesn’t need to say anything else – the arena audience do it for him, yelling, “Don’t watch that, watch this! This is the heavy, heavy monster sound …” As soon as the crowd reach the words “one step beyond”, Lee Thompson’s sax tears into the intro of the Prince Buster cover of the same name, as it must have done thousands of times before.

That an arena full of people of all ages (many wearing a Madness fez) know every word of a spoken intro from a 1979 single says everything about the esteem with which the Camden Nutty Boys are held by the public. They’re a British pop institution, with a reputation – and the core of the setlist – still based on an incredible 1979-86 run of 21 Top 20 hits, and why not? Few bands have had such a Midas touch that such giants as Embarrassment, The Prince and a lovely reworked My Girl appear within the first six songs.

They can afford to constantly shuffle the setlist and leave several whoppers out. This time, Cardiac Arrest, Grey Day and Yesterday’s Men make way for Bed and Breakfast Man, a terrific Shut Up and Driving in My Car, a cheery homage to British motoring’s days of empty roads and old bangers.

Far more than a nostalgia act … Madness’s Lee Thompson.
Far more than a nostalgia act … Madness’s Lee Thompson. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns

Madness are far more than a nostalgia act, though. Suggs may joke that 2016’s Mr Apples, a darkly entertaining tale of an uptight citizen who secretly visits seedy clubs, was “No 1 in Lithuania”, but that and 2008 Kentish Town homage NW5 have become much-loved live favourites.

Old or new, the songs blend ska, pop, observations and British humour to document a changing Britain. In My Street – one of two tracks aired for the first time – seems to revisit the family home of Our House, to find it full of teenagers, “getting off their heads”. The 1982 smash itself appears in an epic six-song finale including It Must Be Love and an uproarious Baggy Trousers. “Are we still here?” jokes Suggs. Long may they remain.

• At Manchester Arena, 7 December. Then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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