Theatre of Madness: Having formed in Camden Town, London, England, in 1976, there was a point during the early ‘80s when Madness was never far away from the top end of the UK singles charts. The likes of “One Step Beyond,” “My Girl” and “House of Fun” helped Madness make its name as arguably that nation’s finest party band. The blend of traditional ska tunes and cockney knees-up barnstormers made for a helluva good time from the off and made stars of Madness, not least (but not restricted to) frontman Suggs.

It’s massively impressive that Madness has remained intact. The lineup of Suggs, keyboardist Mike Barson, guitarist Chris Forman, drummer Dan Woodgate, bassist Mark Bedford and saxophonist/percussionist Lee Thompson has been together since 1978.

What’s perhaps more impressive still is that their new album, Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie, just became their first studio album to reach the number one spot in their native UK. That seems wild, but it’s true. They’ve had compilation albums reach number one, while their first two studio albums (One Step Beyond and Absolutely) reached number two. But it took Madness the best part of five decades to have a studio album reach the summit. Mike Barson puts that down to the climate in the record industry.

“It was a surprise,” he says. “A nice surprise. I think we have a lot of fans who buy albums as well.”

That’s Barson’s diplomatic way of saying that they might have an older fan base, but he’s being humble. There are lots of legacy bands with vinyl-buying fans, and they don’t all make it to number one. The fact is, Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie is a great album. It sees the band at its riotous best, but there is a dark edge. More on that later. 

One has to wonder what inspired Madness to get back into the studio after seven years (Can’t Touch Us Now came out in 2016), when we’re constantly told that there’s no money in recorded music anymore.

“We love doing it,” says Barson. “I mean, it’s obviously changed from back in the ‘80s. Everything was different. Obviously we were quite different as well. Everything was very exciting then. But the making of the music is just something we love. That’s our job.”

Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie was recorded in the unglamorous but utterly functional surroundings of their rehearsal space, and produced by Matt Glasbey.

“He has all his gear in our little rehearsal place, which is in an industrial estate,” Barson says. “There are removal places next door, there’s food delivery places. It’s quite a nice place. It’s got a lot of light in there. We’ve got windows, and luckily they don’t complain about the noise. I don’t know if they were desperate to get somebody in to rent the place. So we did it there, late in the afternoon when all the other businesses closed down. It’s great — you’re not in an expensive studio with some expensive producer.”

While in no way is it a concept record, Barson says that there are themes that overarch the album, which is where those aforementioned dark themes creep in.

“A few of the songs are kind of inspired by the lockdown,” Barson says. “Obviously, a lot of people were saying different things about it, as were we in the band. It was a bit crazy, all that stuff that went down. So we responded a bit. I grew up in the seventies, and we had a lot of freedom. And so it’s kind of strange seeing people losing their freedom and the different extents to which people responded to that. We in the band had different responses. So it forced a chisel down the middle of the band, and we were arguing as well.”

If the UK’s lockdown policies, which were very similar to those implemented here, split the band in two, Barson isn’t giving away which side of the divide he was on — the side of decency, caution and vaccinations, or the side of conspiracy theories and nonsense. Regardless, the songs came out of that chaos, and the title fits the theme.

Barson says that while it’s all still very fresh, the new songs fit neatly into the set alongside the classics, even if the audience naturally bay for the hits.

“I don’t know about when we come to the States,” he says. “We haven’t discussed it yet. I’d like to do a certain amount of new songs, but obviously people want to hear songs that they know. You have to balance it. And you want people to get into it. Usually by the end of the show, everybody’s up on their feet and dancing, which is how you like to see them.”

On May 26, Madness plays the YouTube Theater, the middle date of seven in the States. Barson is clearly thrilled.

“I’m looking forward to coming to America and have been for quite a while,” he says. “Even if we don’t get a lot of money out of it, it’s just good fun. The last time we came, we played with the Aggrolites. It was good fun. They were a proper ska band, not like us. But they had a great sound. It’s just great to travel around the States. Hopefully the shows will be good and we’ll have a good crowd and everything.”

When Madness completes the U.S. run, they’ll return to Blighty for some more shows, after which Barson appears determined to avoid Armageddon.

“When I was a kid, I remember when 1984 came around and everybody was talking about it,” he says. “Old Orwell got that wrong. These days though, we’re living in 1984 Armageddon.”

Oh well, at least Madness have provided the soundtrack for it.

Theatre of Madness: Madness’ Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie is out now. The band will perform at the YouTube Theater on May 26.


























































































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