Madness @ Arena Birmingham, 15 December 2018

Formed in 1976 Madness have survived a break up, a change of direction and a Margaret Thatcher inspired sitcom written by Ben Elton. But the rock steadiest question around was would they be nutty enough to perform at the Birmingham Arena? Judging by the flurry of Fez hats and sea of parkas we must all be barking mad! As Suggs peddled past the spaghetti junction straight into town, no one can touch Madness now especially the Political establishment. 

It’s a sign of the times that Madness, the 7 piece social commentary band from Camden, North London are still going. Nicely into their 2018 “Sound Of Madness” Tour, they certainly still have a lot to say with their new album “Can’t Touch Us Now.” They even had their own line of adverts tonight and after their previous performances at Wembley and Buckingham Palace, DJ Darren was right to “Predict A Riot.”

After a rather brief intermittance Suggs appeared in his trench coat and went straight into the fan favourite “One Step Beyond.” Once quoted in an interview saying “he wouldn’t be jumping around on stage in his 30s” Graeme McPherson did a good job of disguising that as he bounced up and down to “Embarrassment.” In the we’re a disgrace to the human race section Brexit got a mention along with the Norway plus deal. 

“NW5” a song written by the extremely talented Monsieur Barso turned into a festival sing along and even ended up with a verse of Oliver’s I’d Do Anything.”  Michael Barson’s piano playing really enhanced the night with his off beat syncopation and stirring arpeggios. Its not an easy feat to play the piano in front of nearly 15000 people and as I learnt on the way back, not too easy to get the train home on a Saturday either.

If you were expecting a set full of songs that triggered Madness into the charts then I think “Total Madness” is for you. As Suggs played one of Madness’s only Christmas songs “The Sun And The Rain.” A song so British that it’s celebrates the joys of rain. The Gene Kelly scene worked well and I was swept away by the ambivalence of it all.

“Shut up” and “Wings Of A Dove” might be a bit archaic but they certainly ended the back catalogue in style. The latter rejuvenated the set with its steel drum melodies and very catchy  chorus. “Johnny The Horse” has real mournful lugubrious lyrics but somehow managed to incorporate a happy theme prompted a ding-a-ling from the audience.

Saxophonist Lee Jay Thomas or Kix or Else Thommo’s mother was in the audience and apparently she wanted to hear “Rat In Me Kitchen.” “Wrong kitchen love” was the shout by an exuberant fan. “Baggy Trousers” “Our House” and “Must Be Love” all came in quick succession ending with a raucous applause for one more song.

At this point if “Night Boat To Cairo” wasn’t played then anyone who brought a Fez would expect a full refund as the blaring saxophone welcomed the wise and wondrous Suggs back to the stage. Wonderfully jolly stage show, what a joy it is to be happy! 

Reviewer: John Kirby

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