You know, they say that everything that falls out of style eventually comes back! In 2020, you can mark your calendar that a few things happened, some good; and some not so good. One of the positive things is a biggie, and it’s from the world of music. It’s the year the impending 4th wave of ska, the long-awaited revival took place. If you haven’t been keeping score, there’s a lot going on with new bands and the icons of this genre. However, the one band that remains at the top of the uber-ska totem pole is a band from Camden Town, North London called MADNESS.
BAGGY TROUSERS from the album titled, Absolutely
Ska has always been about good soulful music that promoted racial unity, equality and kinship of humanity. In today’s politically- charged world, no matter where you call home, we could all use a little ska. Leading the 4th wave ska-punk revival on one end of the spectrum are genre juggernauts, The Interrupters. Presently they’re being featured on this summer’s Hella Mega tour with Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy. Then, there’s the icons who saw a huge resurgence in the past year.
Bands like The Specials released their long-awaited album, “Encore.” It was one of their biggest commercial successes ever. Whereas Reel Big Fish, did very-very well with the latest album, “Life Sucks, Let’s Dance.” Their hits You Can’t Have All of Me and the Ska Show blew up beyond expectations. Both legends hit it big while genre Titans, Rancid, Bosstones and Voodoo are still killing it on tour.
SKA SHOW from the album titled, Life Sucks… Let’s Dance
As for the newer bands; from Essex, England there’s Death of Guitar Pop, they’re definitely making noise and people are taking notice. Especially with their monster hit Suburban Ska Club, which features Specials legend, Neville Staple.
Suburban Ska Club from the album titled, 69 Candy Street
While on the left coast, Orange County California to be exact, Bite Me Bambi may be the biggest import from the OC since No Doubt. They’re killing it with their hits Strippers on a Sunday and Crazy, new music is expected out in the next few weeks. Look out for this band, they could be the second band to breakout hard in 2020.
Crazy | Single
Despite all the big names, there’s one band that’s a legend among legends, MADNESS will be playing this year’s Punk Rock Bowling. So what is it about this band that’s driving everyone so batty? Don’t get me wrong, MADNESS has always been cool, no matter what decade you want to measure them by. The truth is, they’ve never lost their edge. That’s mostly in part to the resurgence of ska, people are now re-discovering the genre and the bands. Thankfully it’s cool to like ska again.
The question you have to be asking yourself is when did this all happen? When did ska become the next big thing? Well, it wasn’t overnight that’s for sure. It happened as a result, legends keeping the legacy of 1st Wave Kings of Ska like Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker alive.
New bands and especially the icons kept the music alive and in the public awareness. Bands that did it were Reel Big Fish, the Bosstones, English Beat, Selecter, Big D and the Kids Table, Mustard Plug, The Untouchables and Rancid just to name a few. The ska world owes these cats a debt for keeping the music going. For the locals, bands like Starpool, Suburban Legends and Codename: Rocky and Half Past Two are the glue that kept the scene together.
Oi DJ | Single
Despite those efforts, that wasn’t the cause of the seismic shift in the world of music. In my opinion, it was something small, a ripple effect if you will that started back in 2014. It was a warm slightly windy night; the Santa Ana’s were blowing and it was as-if the Music Gods took interest on this date and time. They descended upon a venue called the Slidebar in Fullerton, California. It was early August and I went down to see my pal Tazy Phillipz who had a show called the Ska Parade Lounge that he put on. Along with about 200 people, I got to see the first appearance of a band called, The Interrupters.
It was about 10 seconds into their first song, A Friend Like Me…. and I knew… this was the band. I just knew that band was special, and they were going to be huge. I felt it so much, I played that song the next week on the radio show I also work on. Immediately, our phone lines blew up. I turned around and immediately sent the song to a few big brother stations in SoCal. Sadly, most likely because they were technically a “ska” band the big brother stations didn’t jump on them as quickly as I hoped, nevertheless, music fans knew good music when they heard it.
A Friend Like Me from their self-titled album
Despite the lack of big-time radio play, a lot of the smaller broadcasting players embraced The Interrupters. Locally, well pretty local…. there was TNN RADIO (Laguna Beach | CA), Ska Parade (Irvine | CA) and Viva Ska Radio in good ole’ Las Vegas! Collectively, these Online Radio Streaming Pioneers had the suspicion this band might be “The One” that triggered the 4th wave. Luckily for all of us, these three broadcasters were right, and ska was on the path back to being in your face. With the help of big brother radio, who eventually caught on, the global push was inevitable (but that’s another story for another day).
A year later, I’m watching HBO and saw a preview for the next season of Shameless, and that’s when it happened. That’s the moment the music Gods let us know ska would be back! As a backdrop to the series preview, the music background was Take Back the Power by the Interrupters. That title was so appropriate for this genre, and the wings of a dove took off from there.
Since then, the Interrupters have been on a meteoric rise to stardom, while the rest of the world was just starting to see what has always been around. Great music by great bands followed by devoted fans. Fast forward to 2020, and we’re now on the brink of an explosion of the 4th wave ska-revival.
With all the kick-ass ska bands still around, and the icons still on tour, the band everyone still talks about is MADNESS. Without a doubt, they remain the quintessential band that we remember from our youth, and we still can’t get enough of them. We can’t wait to see them again or for the very first timers, they’re just about getting how special the genre and this band is.
DANCE CRAZE 1981 DOCUMENTARY
Here’s the skinny on MADNESS. The band was a six-piece line-up until part-way through 1977, when Graham McPherson (better known as Suggs) joined the band. They’re originally known as The Invaders, then Morris and the Minors before renaming themselves in 1979 as MADNESS. The band name was a way to pay homage to one of their favorite songs, Madness by the great Prince Buster. The band blew up in what’s best known as the two-tone ska revival era (or second wave of ska). What’s also notable about Madness is they were featured in a 1981 drama-documentary film entitled Take It or Leave It. The film featured band members playing themselves in a re-creation of their early days to the then-current period. They were also featured in the other 1981 documentary, that film propelled their notoriety in the US, that film was titled, Dance Craze.
So, what do we know or need to know about these Titans of music? The big news is they’re hitting the road again to celebrate more than 40-years after their releasee of their freshman album, One Step Beyond! As for the tour, this will be their first time to tour North America in 8 years. Remarkably, the core band remains mostly intact. Yes, like most bands with longevity, there’s been some movement among band-mates, but they have remained a solid force for some time now. Today’s lineup consists of front-man Graham “Suggs” McPherson, Mike Barson (keys), Mark Bedford (bass), Chris Foreman (guitar), Lee Thompson (sax), and Dan “Woody” Woodgate (drums). After all these years, the band sounds just as tight as ever, and they’re just as electric and entertaining.
Like in any good story about a great band or genre, you need to where ska is headed, to do that; you really need to know where it’s been. Ska originated in the 50’s in Jamaica. It was a precursor to reggae… yes, you got that right; ska came before reggae, not the other way around. The originators were artists like Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and The Skatalites, among countless others. That period was what’s known as the first wave of ska.
PRESSURE DROP from the album titled, Today’s Specials
The second wave took place in the 80’s, and that blew up in jolly ole’ England initially. Bands Like the Specials, Bad Manners, The Beat, and of course, MADNESS, led the way. There were early American ska bands too. We need to consider the contributions of bands like Operation Ivy, the Bosstones, and VooDoo Glow Skulls had on us all.
3 Generations of SKA
In the 90’s bands like Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Sublime and No Doubt blew up the music industry and put Orange County on the map, musically speaking of course. In all fairness to the OC, The Righteous Brothers, Social Distortion and The Offspring may have also had something to do with that. We all remember going to places like Fender’s Ballroom, Cloud 9 (Knott’s), Videopolis(Disney), El Paso Cantina and The Kingdom (that’s it is used to be before it was Medieval Times) to skank the night away to our favorite ska bands.
Call it what you want, but the winds blew in the right direction for MADNESS back in the day. They set records for hits like One Step Beyond, Madness, Niteboat to Cairo, Our House, Bed and Breakfast Man, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Shut Up, Wings of a Dove, My Girl, and It Must Be Love. These songs were played everywhere on radio and in clubs from coast-to-coast and around the world. There was anew medium that came into play as well, video. Some of these songs made the rounds regularly on the groundbreaking music shows like Mtvand VH-1.
One Step Beyond from the album titled, One Step Beyond!
In the end, call it what you will, what was so crucial to the genre’s fandom was simply the great music that came out of each of those ska time periods. Sadly, like everything in life, ska eventually fell by the wayside and to the wind. Needless to say, it fell out of style, out of coolness and out of favor with the Music Gods.
As for MADNESS, despite the lack of respect for the genre during those down time periods… they received mad respect and recognition from the people that matter the last two decades, and their fans, let’s not forget that fans. Back in In 2000, they deservedly received the Ivor Novello Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors for Outstanding Song Collection. That’s a very prestigious and serious award no matter who you are.
In 2005, they were awarded the MOJO “Hall of Fame” Award, notably for being “an artist’s artist.” In 2007, a campaign took place by fans of Madness for the band to be awarded a Brit Award. In July 2009, they were awarded the “Silver Clef’ Icon Award.” In September 2010, they received the “Idol Award” at the 2010 Q Awards in London. No matter where you were on the planet, this band didn’t need any awards, if you were a fan of music… you knew just how important and vital they are to the genre and overall world of music. You don’t need a list of awards to know that.
Before we circle back to 2020, this is what the band has been up to. Throughout 2017, the band played at a number of festivals and concerts worldwide including mainland Europe and Asia. In 2018, they embarked on a summer tour of stately homes in the UK before a Christmas arena tour in December. They performed on New Year’s Eve through to New Year’s Day at Madness Rocks Big Ben Live. The band celebrated 40-years since their first LP release with a number of special live appearances throughout 2019. In December they released a new single “Bullingdon Boys (don’t get bullied by the bully boys).” Now, circle back to the beginning of the Interrupters 2020 outline, and you’re all caught up.
PUNK ROCK BOWLING 2020
As for the 2020 North American Tour, MADNESS will be playing a few shows this side of the pond. They play House of Blues | Boston on May 21st, then the Manhattan Center in New York, May 22nd. Then, they come into town to play Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival on May 25th. Then they’ll play The Greek here in Los Angles May 24th. After that, they’ll fly up to The Fox Theatre in Oakland, California on May 27th and the 28th. The thing about bands like MADNESS, it’s one thing to read about history, it’s another thing to see it take place in front of your own eyes. Even for SoCal, this may be a show everyone may want to check out.
If you can’t make it to any of the MADNESS shows and want to see where ska is today, check out Pick-It Up! Ska in the 90’s. it’s the follow-up to Dance Craze, it brings you up to speed.