Belfast Telegraph

Madness review: Nutty boys take the night boat to nostalgia

By Chris Jones

They came in their thousands, Belfast’s greatest collection of Fred Perry polos, Doc Martens, shaved (and plenty of bald) heads — and the odd fez.

It’s a measure of the passion the Camden nutty boys still command that the uniform has changed so little, even if the hairlines have, on stage and off.

But then Madness always were a band to believe in, a furiously charismatic hit machine that sold cartloads of records to everyone from pop kids to die-hard punks.

It’s not hard to see why with the way they started last night.

Genuine pop classics Night Boat To Cairo, Embarrassment and My Girl all got an airing within the first 15 minutes and Suggs was on fine form, bantering with the crowd and strutting around while sax player Lee Thompson raced from side to side with his trademark madcap energy.

After that high-octane opening, there followed the inevitable lull, a series of album tracks and new numbers for the faithful, though The Last Rag And Bone Man continues the band’s fine tradition of writing poignant love songs to London.

Then it was back to the hits. 

The Prince — the band’s ode to ska hero Prince Buster and their first single in 1976 — featured a star turn from its writer Thompson, a honking sax solo set to the most unlikely use of strobe lights you’re ever likely to see.

The Prince Buster connection was continued with a cover of his Girl Why Don’t You, while You Said, a track from 1980, got a rare outing.

There was plenty of skanking to be done and the Odyssey crowd obliged, but there’s more to Madness than ska. One of the band’s best late-career singles — Lovestruck — was an oddly touching depiction of drunkenness, while Wings Of A Dove added a little calypso flavour to proceedings, and plenty of lusty singing along.

An hour in, Suggs wryly commented on “the calm before the proverbial storm”, and departed the stage, leaving guitarist Chris Foreman to sing a bizarre version of Shirley Bassey’s Big Spender.

Suggs was probably entitled to a breather before the race to the finish.

That was an ecstatic run of House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love, back to back.

And then the small matter of One Step Beyond, and Madness and for an encore. It’s hard to think of too many other bands with that kind of ammunition and the Belfast faithful lapped it up. How could they not?

Three stars

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