Mad, Still Mad

Chris Winter skanks into Christmas with the help of Madness and friends.

One of the great staples of the music scene is the December office party tour. Put a national treasure topping the bill, one of their not as well known but still with a few tunes you recognise contemporaries supporting, and off around the arenas of the land you go to play to audiences full of Christmas spirit and prosecco. It’s a role fulfilled in the past by Status Quo and, er, Gary Glitter, so who better to carry on this most British of traditions than the most British band of the past forty years, Madness?

The Nutty Boys first came to prominence in the grey days of the late seventies, but whereas their skanking contemporaries sang of Ghost Towns and Gangsters, Madness were always about having a laugh and a good time. And boy, do we need a laugh now.

Most of the audience were already in place when the support band came on stage, and little wonder because Squeeze are the sort of outfit who could have carried this tour off themselves. If Madness are the quintessential English band then Difford, Tilbrook & co can’t be far behind and they showed yet again that they have a back catalogue to rival any other. As someone said many years ago, Squeeze could pack a TV drama series into a three minute pop song and in a shortened set they turned the clock back ready for tonight’s main attraction.

The NIA was comfortably full rather than packed for the arrival of the Nutty Boys, with a lot of tickets reputedly up for resale as the ‘c’ word starts to rear its ugly head again. But those of us who had braved both the elements and the German Market crowds soon cast our worries away as Suggs appeared from a phone box stage left, where like the good London boy he is, he’d been on the dog & bone to his old mum.

He got as far as “Hey you, don’t w….” before the rest of the intro was drowned out by a fez-wearing, merry-making audience who sang along with the ones they knew and listened politely, if not a little impatiently, to the rest. You needn’t worry if the hits had been put aside for a moment in favour of the band’s newer stuff, there’ll be another one along in a minute. Anyway, you had to be seriously miserable not to be impressed by the newest kids on the block, the as yet unreleased Burglar Bill with its memorable samba hook and If I Go Mad, catchy as the virus that dare not speak its name.

A version of the standard Wully Bully got the crowd back into community singing mood and the home run was vintage Madness – House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love, every one of them belted out word-perfect by a crowd who had these tunes as the background to a misspent youth.

The encore was, as ever, the anthemic Madness and a quick count up of what had been played already meant that the final song of the evening had to be Night Boat to Cairo, appropriate given much of the crowd’s headgear.

Almost inevitably Always Look on the Bright Side of Life was playing over the PA as we left the arena, and with Madness around to put a smile on even the most jaundiced of faces, you just have to. See you next year.