Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK ska/pop group formed late '76 as North London Invaders by Mike Barson, keyboards (b 21 April '58) and Lee Thompson, sax (b 5 Oct. '57); personnel fluctuated around a core of Chris Foreman (b 8 Aug. '58; took up guitar, yielding drum chair to Gary Dovey), Chas Smash (b Carl Smyth, 14 Jan. '59; played bass briefly), replaced by Mark Bedford (b 24 Aug. '61). John Hasler drummed, then Daniel 'Woody' Woodgate (b 19 Oct. '60); Graham 'Suggs' McPherson (b 13 Jan. '61, Hastings) were recruited by Barson, who heard him singing on a bus. First gig '78 saw return of Smash, who jumped onstage to dance and remained as second vocalist. Music was bluebeat/reggae similar to Coventry's Specials but with more humour, in style of Ian Dury. Changed name to Morris and the Minors, then Madness (after title of Prince Buster hit); invited to record for Specials' 2-Tone label '79 they cut Buster tribute 'The Prince', a top 20 hit after a year of being ignored by the punk generation. Played at wedding of Stiff boss Dave Robinson late '79, signed to Stiff (not wanting to be taken for second-rate Specials, and partly filling gap left by departure from Stiff of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe): it was an inspired match, Robinson's skill with video giving them an important tool expressing visuals (i.e. the 'Train' dance on cover of first LP One Step Beyond '79). Tour with Specials marred by right-wing extremist fans disowned by the band (song 'Don't Quote Me On That' from Work Rest And Play EP '80). They quit the tour for the USA, but did not break there until '83 with no. 7 single 'Our House'. Amazing run of 15 top ten UK hits '79--83 helped by zany humour and distinctive slapstick on video, incl. 'My Girl', 'Baggy Trousers', 'Embarrassment', 'Return Of The Los Palmos Seven', others; run broken early '82 by 'Cardiac Arrest', denied airplay because of its title, but followed by 'House Of Fun' at no. 1. Absolutely '80 also in goodtime mood; Seven '81 (numbering band, not albums) showed an introverted side to Barson that led to his departure after The Rise And Fall '82 and Keep Moving '84. By this time they were producing quality pop no longer restricted to the 'yoof' market (they had played matinee gigs for under-16s in early years): 'House Of Fun' '82 proved it; The Rise And Fall incl. 'Tomorrow's Just Another Day' (top ten UK, one of their best-crafted tracks) and 'Our House' (top ten both UK/USA). On Barson's departure the rest of the band got in on songwriting; Smash took up trumpet, while backing vocals by Afrodisiak (ex-Costello) broadened sound still further. They left Stiff to form own label Zarjazz (through Virgin); famine aid disc 'Starvation' '85 incl. various reggae/2-Tone musicians; they backed former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey on 'Listen To Your Father'. Long-awaited sixth LP Mad Not Mad '85 added to hits tally, incl. cover of Scritty Politty's 'The Sweetest Girl'. They were increasingly involved in politics, playing benefits opposing nuclear power; five members took part in the Red Wedge tour for the Labour Party '86; they split up '86: farewell single was 'Ghost Train'. Their development from skinhead ska to maturity while humour remained intact was one of the rewarding developments in UK pop of the era; with Squeeze they kept alive the tradition of the Beatles and the Kinks. Video/vinyl compilation Complete Madness '82 was no. 1 UK, followed by Utter Madness '86; the band and Robinson clashed when he did TV ads in a pastiche of their style. McPherson presented a TV music show, managed Liverpool band the Farm and prod. their album, re-formed Madness for special gigs and albums The Madness '88, Madstock '92; Divine Madness '92 was another compilation. Thompson and Foreman formed the Nutty Boys for album Crunch! '90; McPherson released his own The Lone Ranger '95.