On Thursday 23rd August, along with friends and my wife, I went to see Suggs perform his one-man show as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I arrived knowing very little about the background of the Madness front man other than he had a very Scottish name, Graham McPherson.
The show turns out to be a mixture of stand up, theatre and music.
It was a traumatic week in January 2011 that was the catalyst for the show. He had just celebrated his 50th birthday (a trauma in itself) and the following morning while lying in his bath, nursing the worst of all hangovers, he heard an almighty crash, looked out onto the bathroom floor to see his cat Mambo lying motionless.
Sadly, Mambo had passed away having crashed through a glass shelf.
A tale of a taxi ride to his mother’s home, where the driver was also in tears telling of how his own cat had passed away recently had the audience laughing loudly.
Suggs’ mother, we are told, was a jazz singer who sang in clubs in Manchester, Liverpool and Soho that where owned and run by mobsters. He illustrates the sights he experienced as youngster visiting these clubs, by singing The Kinks’ ‘Lola’.
When Suggs arrives at his mother’s flat, she explains, ‘that his dad was a very nice man, a musician’.
Suggs tells how he never knew his dad, all he knew was he was Scottish and his parents had married in Paddington, London and that he believed he had died when Suggs was 3 years old. He at this point decides it’s time he found out more about his father.
The act is then splits into two, one part telling of his journey of discovery to find out all about his father and the other telling of his life from childhood to music fame with Madness and beyond.
It jumps from each side of the story to the other.
He traveled to various Registrar offices in Manchester and Leicester, to discover what had happened to his father, William Rutherford McPherson.
He quickly found out he had remarried, which gave him some hope that he may have siblings from that marriage.
It was then discovered he had passed away much later than he had thought; he died in 1975, which was a shock. He also discovered that he was a heroin addict, who injected his own eyeballs with paraffin and was sectioned.
His wife also died from the ravages of a drug addiction. There were no long lost half-brothers or sisters.
Suggs found it very ironic that just as Madness were forming and he was about to find fame, his father died.
‘He literally passed away as my life was going in the other direction’.
On the other side of the story….
He explains, how he was sent to spend a summer holiday with relatives in Wales and ended up staying for several years. He claimed his mother never came back to collect him, he did all his schooling in Wales and was about to go to the local grammar school when his mother turned up to take him home to London.
So the young Graham McPherson went back to join a comprehensive school in North London with a Welsh accent and a Scottish name.
He was immediately targeted by the local thugs, who came up with original names for him like….. Welsh Haggis bastard!!
He decided to re-invent himself. He got an encyclopaedia of Jazz musicians and stuck a pin in it to choose himself a new name. It went through name PETER SUGGS. With much humour he declined Peter and stuck with Suggs.
Going to Quintin Kynaston comprehensive school and the scrapes he got into there was the inspiration for the Madness hit, ‘Baggy Trousers’.
Suggs explains how he first of all became the drummer in the band that would evolve into Madness. They became the resident band in the Dublin Castle, Irish pub in Camden Town.
They then signed to Jerry Dammers’ 2 tone label. Suggs explained how he found Dammers an engaging character who he never believed would manage to set up a record label far less release anything.
He also tells a great story of a time, when he traveled to Geneva with Dammers for some recording and Dammers talks him into going in a speedboat out onto the lake. With Jerry piloting the boat, he’s sees a water-ski jump and he’s makes an attempt to fly over it like James Bond….they get stuck half way up the ramp!!
It takes two hours before they are rescued.
After initial single success with 2 tone they sign for Dave Robinson on Stiff Records, part of the process of signing was playing as the ‘wedding band’ at Robinson’s own wedding. Although Robinson’s new bride wasn’t happy when they couldn’t and refused to play any Hot Chocolate hits.
Suggs goes on to tell the story of the rise and fall and then rise again of the Nutty Boys, his marriage to Bette Bright, his attempt at band management and producing tracks for The Farm and work as TV host of channel 5’s karaoke game show Night-fever.
It does amaze Suggs that Madness are having one of their most successful periods in their career, having performed at both the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.
The show was a wonderful evening full of pathos, humour and interesting stories.
In the closing line of the show, Suggs explains he’s happy with his lot and that his parents put the funk into the word dysfunctional.
mp3 : Madness - Baggy Trousers
mp3 : Madness - Grey Day
mp3 : Madness - NW5
Thnaks to Mr John Greer for penning today's post.