Live Review: Madness @ Motorpoint Arena

Checking into Nottingham on the home stretch of their latest greatest hits tour, Madness make it clear that they have no plans for an early retirement. The Mic’s Dominic Allum and Maddie Craig were in attendance as they entered into an arena of fun, flamboyancy and fezzes.

As we make our way through the crowds of people taking in the festivities of Nottingham Christmas market, we wonder further on past several pop-up stalls specialising exclusively in red fezzes. A far from usual Hockley accessory, it quickly becomes apparent this is in anticipation of a certain band arriving in town…Madness.

A staple in the music industry for the past 45 years, the mischievous, energetic ska band have retained to this day an extremely high reputation as a must-see live act, amassing a devoted fanbase that cover every corner of the country. With such a long and rich history, it is therefore no surprise that they have amounted some traditions over the years. One such tradition is the aforementioned fez. The definitive origin of the headwear remains unclear – a tribute to Tommy Cooper? A reference to hit Night Boat to Cairo? Or just the personal style of saxophonist Lee Thompson? However, it is one that Madness fans have latched onto, perhaps if nothing else due to its practical function as a head covering for the large bald proportion of the fanbase.

Walking into the foyer, we choose to pass on the opportunity of an overpriced, weak-tasting lager, and take our seats in the arena. Positioned high up left of the stage, we make the most of our glorious view, assessing the crowd that slowly begins to fill the 10,000-capacity venue. Easily the youngest in attendance, the sea of red fezzes below are mostly made up of those who lived through Madness’ ascension to fame in the early 80’s. But as the DJ spins one crowd-pleaser after another, plastic cups begin to get drained, and as soon as House of Pain’s Jump Around hits the speakers, a party atmosphere truly begins to take hold. Who knew a middle-aged man could bounce so high?

''Dressed in suits and waistcoats, they race through a lively set''

Taking to the stage first are fellow musical veterans Squeeze. Not lacking in spirit, they retain a youthful energy, yet still give off an air of school teachers performing at their students prom. Dressed in suits and waistcoats, they race through a lively set, lead singer Glenn Tilbrook’s note-perfect wistful voice echoing out the soft, melancholic melodies the band are known for. Despite stagnating in places, the set does a fine job of warming up the crowd, fan favourites Up the Junction and the Chris Difford led Cool for Cats receiving the best responses. Finishing by giving each member of the band a moment in the spotlight, a particularly enjoyable solo takes place on the bongos.

As the crew rush on in preparation of Madness’ arrival, a big curtain is pulled back to reveal the rest of the stage. Taking inspiration from the classic 1955 Ealing Studios comedy The Ladykillers, the set couldn’t be more quintessentially Londonian, a boarding house backdrop accompanying a host of props ranging from post-boxes and street lamps, to a London Underground sign. Fittingly, the show then begins with Madness frontman Suggs emerging from a red telephone box. Putting down a fake phone call to his mum, he greets the Nottingham crowd with his trademark wit and cheeky grin. Dressed in black shades and suit to match, he remains the epitome of charisma, oozing all the essence and stage presence of a classic ska rudeboy.

Joined on stage by the rest of the band – including a full live horn section – the first notes of One Step Beyond echo across the arena to a rapturous response. Dancing like a gangster at his daughter’s wedding, Suggs orchestrates from the front as his disciples move in waves towards him in the stalls below. Rattling through timeless classics such as Embarrassment, My Girl and The Sun and the Rain, the band ensure the party remains in full swing. With no new album in 5 years, the audience are treated to two new tracks in the form of If I Go Mad and tongue-in-cheek Baby Burglar. However, there is no pretension that this is anything other than a greatest hits tour; a joyous celebration that is very much needed in the covid landscape.

Unlike many other bands from their era still touring today, Madness still perform with 6 out of the 7 original line-up, and it is clear that the bond between them remains as strong today as when they first began. Whether in the call-and-response Wo-oh’s of Wings of a Dove or the anthemic Lovestruck, fun is the main mission, with Thompson and Suggs bouncing around the stage like schoolboys.

''It is clear that the bond between them remains as strong today as when they first began''

Consumed by this Two-tone pantomime, we remain standing for the entirety of the set, only to turn around and find we are practically alone in this endeavour, the fans around us being of the generation that clearly has to rest its legs from time to time. However, as the band begins the intro of Bed and Breakfast Man, the masses soon clamber back to their feet, and, in one of the greatest sights ever witnessed at a concert, a man behind us balances a practically full pint on his head, throwing both arms in the air as he sings along to the chorus.

Ending the set with 4 of the most iconic tracks in music –House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House & It Must Be Love – the crowd is whipped into a frenzy as friends and strangers alike embrace each other in choral unity. Leaving the stage briefly, the band return for an encore of Madness and Night Boat to Cairo, Suggs dedicating the evening to the former’s original composer and Jamaican legend Prince Buster. As an attempted mosh pit ensues, and carefree dancing fills the aisles, the true philosophy of Madness here emerges. Tapping into the emotions and struggles of daily human existence, over the years the band have always found a way to find joy and fun in the little things. Life is too short to take yourself too seriously. Join the party.

Dominic Allum


Edited by: Amrit Virdi

Featured image and in-article images and videos courtesy of Madness via Facebook and YouTube.