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Madness: it's one big fight among pals

THERE'S nothing like messing up the first question in an interview to make you feel like a complete fool. And when Graham 'Suggs' McPherson lets out a chuckle before I've even finished, I know I'm in trouble.

"That was the second-longest question I've ever been asked," says the 51-year-old vocalist, "it's a good one, though!"

For the record, it was all to do with Madness acquiring the sort of critical acclaim that bands their age don't normally expect. At least not when releasing a new album. But then, the original nutty boys from Camden Town have officially entered a new phase in the Madness timeline -- one that kicked off with 2009's rapturously received The Liberty of Norton Folgate (a concept record!) and which continues with the joyous Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da (their 10th studio offering). Yep, they've rediscovered their groove.

Hardly an easy task, given that there are seven heads to please. "Yes, some of the band have developed brains," explains their wonderfully charismatic leader. "Which is a bit unfortunate. It was much easier when we had one brain between the lot of us."

Cover

I'm sure it was. Take a look at the cover of their new record (designed by artist Peter Blake -- the man responsible for the front cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), and you'll see a crossed-out list of working album titles. Suggs mentions something about a "democracy". Sounds chaotic.

"Well, you saw the crossed-out things," he answers. "You should have seen the teeth, and the clumps of hair and the black eyes that went with it. Because there were -- believe me, there were. I mean, we love each other, but we hate each other, too. Like any normal family, we have fights -- of course we do. But we've known each other -- a lot of us -- since we were like, 12, 13 years old, so they're normally settled quite quickly."

According to Suggs, being in Madness for too long can cause "a lot of psychological problems".

"It does what it says on the tin," he states. And that probably explains why they do things at their own pace. This year, however, has been one of their busiest. We could talk about the group's performance at the London 2012 closing ceremony, but that short rooftop gig at Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert takes some beating.

"Something to tell your grandchildren about, yeah," says Suggs. "It was a pretty amazing experience." And, unlike some of the other artists featured, Madness actually deserved to be there ("but not in a big-headed way"). So, did they have a word with Liz afterwards?

Surreal

"Well, she's coming along the line," he tells me, "and you know, what the f*** do you say to the Queen? So I just said that old Tommy Cooper thing: 'Excuse me, ma'am -- are you still into football?' And she said, 'No, not particularly'. I said, 'Well, can I have your Cup Final tickets?' And she said, "That's Tommy Cooper!" It was quite a nice, somewhat surreal moment."

That is, until he spilled his drink. "I actually dropped my glass" he laughs, "and Princess Beatrice said to me, 'You've just dropped something on my granny's carpet'."

That could be one for the book. Which, by the way, he hasn't yet finished. But hold on -- didn't I see it somewhere online? Apparently, you can pre-order the bloody thing already. "Well, it's like Flann O'Brien," he says, "you can order three-quarters of the book and you become the last quarter of it."

In all seriousness, Suggs' autobiography is nearly complete. Indeed, revisiting the past takes some time and there's an awful lot to talk about. Having originally formed in 1978, Madness would go on to record six studio albums before calling it a day in 1986.

Shortly after, Suggs and a few of the lads even became their own tribute band. It was in 1992 that the long journey back began with a couple of reunion concerts in London's Finsbury Park.

But after 34 years, you have to wonder... what would happen if Suggs left? "I remember, I didn't turn up for a couple of TV shows and they just had a ventriloquist's dummy," he says.

"Maybe that would be the answer. Or a hologram ... "

Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da is out now. Madness plays the O2 next Wednesday


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