Winner of the ‘Worst Band’ award: The Hoosiers, kick-started the experience with their most well-known song: ‘Worried about Ray’, with lead-singer Irwin Sparkes promising the crowd the ‘best 30 minutes’ of their lives. His singing was exceptional with the trademark high notes that make this small band stand out. It was clear he felt as if he owned that stage as he passionately played alongside percussionist and drummer Alan Sharland. He also attempted to bond with the crowd by calling them ‘delicious’ and dedicating ‘Up to No Good’ to everyone queueing for the loos. The crowd began to move tentatively to the music but loosened up during a cover of ‘Backstreet’s Back’ which was more well-known than their new material ‘Monster’. Despite this, much of the atmosphere dissipated after the long changeover to the Liverpudlian band The Zutons, although it did give us a chance to have a loo break!
It felt like The Zutons were playing for even longer than Madness. However, they were exciting to watch, Abi Harding impressed with seemingly boundless energy as she danced and played the saxophone, displaying superb breath control. Unlike The Hoosiers, they saved their more well-known songs for the end of their set which meant that come 8 o’clock, the crowd was screaming for ‘Valerie’. People finally got their wish, and spirits soared as they cleverly finished off with ‘You Will You Won’t’ which was easy to sing along to- even for those who weren’t as familiar with the lyrics. I found the supporting groups well-chosen for the target audience as their music wasn’t dissimilar to the Madness-style rhythms on the offbeat.
During the next long changeover, we decided to make use of the free meal and drink tokens that came with the VIP tickets. Unfortunately, it seemed that we were limited for choice with the tokens as my friend and I were turned away from the fish and chips bar. But we couldn’t complain as we did get a good portion of delicious noodles on the house instead.
But oh my. As the sun began to set on the warm July evening, the eagerly awaited sextet took their rightful places on stage. We were still queuing for the noodles at this point but you didn’t need to be nearby to know that the time had come- the frenzied applause and cheering said it all. Madness had finally arrived.
All timidity was lost as the first note of ‘One Step Beyond’ electrified the atmosphere. The crowd went wild. During ‘Prince’ they paid homage to Prince Buster (who inspired their iconic name) with a meaningful compilation of photos and footage displayed on the huge screen behind them. It was literally ‘music to our ears’ when they played ‘Embarrassment’ and I danced so enthusiastically that I dropped a spring roll.
For a lot of the performance, there were artistic animations playing on the live screens. Rather than a simple background like the Zutons had opted for, there was sections of film playing on the screen behind them, for example during ‘Calm Down Mr. Apples’, they played the full music video. I felt that the atmosphere was so appreciative, that it didn’t need this- I found myself watching this rather than the live band themselves, even though they are still good performers! Thompson entertained by dressing up a few times for the theme of the songs, wearing a police helmet for ‘Shut Up’. Furthermore, Suggs seamlessly introduced each song with a short, clever anecdote which left the crowd excitedly guessing which song they would play next. A wonderful sense of unity and joy among fans was evident, especially during the final song ‘It must be Love’, which one lovely fan told me had been her wedding song.
Finally, disappointment was heavy in the air as the crowd were left desperate for more when the Kings of Camden exited. But, if there’s any advice I would give to those attending this concert, it would be to only leave when you’re sure it’s over… Let’s just say it was worth bringing along those fezzes! Without a doubt, it was a wonderful evening for the thousands of (mostly local) fans which ranged from enthusiastic pensioners; to 50th birthday parties; to families; and to groups of teens celebrating the end of school. When asked, many people were there to ‘catch up on fun’ after covid restrictions- some hadn’t even heard of the bands before tonight, but I am sure they were satisfied.
Entwining British Pop and ska music, the night was brimming with atmosphere and camaraderie amongst fans, from start to finish. Forty years on, the band haven’t lost their touch. Even for those who aren’t devoted Madness enthusiasts, 'The Ladykillers Tour' is a must-see.