Madness and Dublin? It must be love!
Question: What's the first sign of Madness? Answer: Suggs walking up your front garden. The subject of one of my favourite jokes – and frontman of one of my favourite bands – is due to walk up the front yard of our capital city when the Nutty Boys play the official New Year's Eve concert in Dublin this December. I can't think of a better way to ring in 2014 than Suggs, Chas Smash, Bedders et al getting the party started.
"Can you imagine it? Madness on New Year's Eve in Dublin? Even Flann O'Brien would baulk at that one!" laughs Suggs in an interview with the Irish Independent. "I don't know what it is about Dublin. I remember we played the Olympic Ballroom in 1979 and people were throwing themselves from the balcony. The people of Dublin seem to get it right when they come to see us. There's a mutual understanding of what life's all about."
The last time I saw Madness on stage was when they headlined Electric Picnic in 2009 – it was easily one of the best performances in that festival's 10-year history.
Clearly, the gang still revel in each other's company, as opposed to some old-timers who can't stand the sight of each other. What's the secret of their happy 35-year marriage?
"We seem to get stronger as the years go by," muses Suggs. "I believe one of the greatest achievements of the band is that we're all still friends and still enjoy each other's company – and still enjoy making music together. Those three things, considering what's happened to my contemporaries, is pretty remarkable.
"I've just finished writing a book. Most books are about the profession and the craft and the success. My book's just about us being friends and laughing about the most stupid things.
"Also, I think we were never in fashion – we were always on the other side of the road: New Romanticism was coming one way; some other genre was coming the other. We just kept going along the wrong side of the pavement, just me and eight or so of my mates.
"We had our own little bubble and within that bubble our crazy little world carried on, and for some peculiar reason still resonates. But I think we'd all still be friends even if we weren't in a band. "
Pioneers of the music video in the neolithic age before MTV, Madness made some of the most memorable promotional films of the past 35 years. I ask Suggs were they as much fun to make as they appeared?
"We made our first record on 2 Tone and we went on the 2 Tone tour with The Specials and Selecter. I was 18. This whole phenomenon kicked off across the country. Then we were sought by all these big record companies.
"But we wanted to sign for Dave Robinson – an Irishman – who founded Stiff Records. His label had Ian Dury and Wreckless Eric and Nick Lowe and all sorts of odd bods. They had this idea that we should start making videos. But there was no place to show videos then – there was no MTV or any of that. But Dave directed them himself!
"And so we had to go around in a van with half a dozen half-baked ideas and jump out at traffic lights and muck about in policemen's uniforms. He realised our attention span was very short, so if we weren't enjoying it we wouldn't do another take – we'd just jump in the van go off somewhere else.
"We were just laughing our bollocks off and taking the piss out of each other and having a great time."
Where did they get all the crazy costumes?
"There was this film company that let us borrow their costumes – they took a shine to us and let us take anything we wanted. They had worked on Lawrence Of Arabia. We'd go in there and come out dressed as flowers, ballet dancers, traffic wardens . . . then we'd start running up and down the high street. We still do! That's the terrible thing!"
Madness are still the go-to gang to book if you need to enliven a high-profile formal shindig. Just last year they played the closing ceremony of the Olympics, and for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth they played 'Our House' on the roof of Buckingham Palace.
"Even the most republican of my mates texted me saying that was effing amazing," says Suggs.
"Considering where we came from – from our house in the middle of our street to the top of Buckingham Palace, it has some resonance. It's one of those moments where everybody seemed to take a different meaning from it. I wasn't sure what the fucking meaning was.
"Back stage was Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John and the queen.
"Our keyboard player, Mike, started having a bit of a breakdown. I said, 'Mike, hang on in there'. It was all too much. And now we're playing Dublin on New Year's Eve – these things don't get offered to everyone."
Madness play the special New Year's Eve concert in Dublin city on December 31.