MADNESS: Suggs and Mike Barson – how we made One Step Beyond

Interview by Dave Simpson:

Suggs, singer and songwriter
I got sacked from Madness just before we recorded One Step Beyond, still our bestselling album. We used to rehearse on Saturdays, and the band started to get annoyed that I was away every other weekend. I was watching Chelsea! So one day, I was looking through Melody Maker and saw an advert saying: “Semi-professional north London band seeks professionally minded singer.” When I recognised the phone number, I knew I’d been sacked.

They got a different singer and I went along to see them play. Then it dawned on me how stupid I’d been. But when he left, I was the only one who knew the songs, so they had me back. After that, I became much more focused, but it was really hard for us. We were playing a mixture of blue beat, ska and pop – right in the middle of the punk and disco era. It was too slow for the punks, not groovy enough for the disco chaps. At one gig, our drummer got knocked out by a Party Seven – that’s seven pints of beer in a giant tin. It must have weighed about a stone.

When we met with record labels, they thought what we were doing was really odd. They had more potted plants than A&R men. Things started to change when we saw the Specials play live. They were like us, but turbocharged. We were still diesel at that point. After the gig, Jerry Dammers, their frontman, was talking about his new label, 2 Tone, which he said was going to be the new Motown. Then he told us he didn’t have anywhere to stay, so he kipped at my mum’s flat. He was talking about his new label, 2 Tone, which would be the new Motown. We made The Prince for 2 Tone, not thinking for a minute we’d ever do another song after it. Then it got to No 16 and suddenly record companies were excited about Madness.

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