Happy 56th birthday to Graham McPherson — also known as Suggs, the lead singer of British ska/pop group Madness, famous in the 1980s for its bouncy songs and “Nutty Boys” persona. Madness’s hit debut album, One Step Beyond …, came out in 1979 when Suggs was still a teenager.
MTV launched two years later in the U.S. until 1981, and the couple-years-old video for the title track of the Madness album got so much airplay that it’s been stuck in my mind ever since. Especially the intro!
In 1982, “Our House” was an even bigger hit in the U.S.
“Baggy Trousers” — a song co-written by Suggs about his school days — came out in between, in 1980. The video has an impressive bit with saxophone player Lee Thompson flying through the air, but I don’t recall this one from back in the day. Maybe it never really crossed over to the U.S.?
The group first broke up in 1986. Since then, they’ve gotten back together, gone on hiatus again, returned again… and the seven guys are still hanging in there. In fact, Madness is now such a classic that they performed on the roof of Buckingham Palace in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Their first big reunion for a live show was for “Madstock,” held in London’s Finsbury Park in 1992. Tens of thousands of fans Madness fans jumping up and down in unison at the Madstock performance on top of an underground lake in Finsbury Park caused nearby residents to report an earthquake. According to a number of reports, the concert registered a 4.5 on the Richter scale.
Suggs gives GREAT interviews. Here are a few of my favorites:
- This Telegraph story from 2012 celebrates 30 years of Madness’s dysfunctional family-like behavior. It also recalls how a very young Suggs once told a pop journalist that, “There is no way I will still be jumping about onstage when I’m an old man of 30!” That journalist was named Neil Tennant, who gave up his writing gig to focus on his band, the Pet Shop Boys. The Pet Shop Boys released their 13th album last year. Neil Tennant is now in his 60s. Never stop, y’all!
- In 2014, he spoke to the Telegraph about personal finance, joking (or not!) that “Baggy Trousers” is his pension.
- In 2015, Suggs spoke to the Telegraph about his fund-raising efforts to fight cancer after his sister-in-law Alannah’s swift death from pancreatic cancer. (Suggs’s wife, the singer Bette Bright — real name Anne Martin — had already survived breast cancer.
- Last year, speaking with the Guardian, Suggs and band member Thompson remembered unintentionally attracting Nazi fans; getting banned from Top of the Pops for bad behavior; and the time they got cops’ uniforms and “raided” the Clash. (The Clash didn’t speak to them for five years after that.) Why did Madness first break up? Suggs had the answer for that: ““Medical reasons. We were sick of each other.”
- A few years ago, Suggs put on a one-man show that dealt with his dysfunctional upbringing as the only child of a struggling, jazz-singing mother and a heroin-addict father who disappeared from his son’s life when Suggs was three years old. (The father died of drug-related complications without ever seeing his son again.) The show was followed up by a book. And the whole project was triggered by a cat. Suggs had been lying in the bath, recovering from a hangover induced by his 50th birthday celebrations, when he heard a great crash and jumped up to find his cat Mamba died in a freakish accident after a glass shelf had collapsed from under him. So, he had just turned 50, his two daughters with Anne had recently moved out of their home, and now his cat had died. Not a good day, but one that had him contemplating his mortality and then his past. And then, generously, he shared that story with everyone. I wish I could have seen the show!
- Several times, Suggs has reminisced about how Madness fans were always the lads. Madness never got the groupies. Well, the band did have hope one time. They’d gotten off a plane at Heathrow from their first American business and were excited to be greeted by hordes of screaming girls … who then stampeded over the Nutty Boys to get to Duran Duran, who were arriving on the next flight.
Having done plenty of shrieking for Duran Duran in the 1980s, I can imagine how that last experience went. Anyway, congrats to Suggs on 56 high-achieving years — and please lock down all your pets!