In case you were in Cardiff on Monday night and saw the veritable cavalcade of fezzes wandering around town, you may be relieved to know that it wasn’t an invasion of the Ottoman Empire; rather, the Nutty Boys themselves, aka Madness, were in town at the Arena. Of course, you’d also be forgiven in thinking they’d long ago disappeared but Suggs and co are still plugging their wares to rooms full of people skanking away.
Bang on 8.45pm, the lights go down and a message flashes up on the screen hovering above the stage – “The Theatre Of The Absurd introduces… Madness C’est La Vie” – as Helen Mirren flashes up to introduce the band. This is followed by a boatload of film clips and the curtain opening to reveal the band lead by the theatre’s ringleader, Suggs himself, as they kick into the (near enough) title track from their new album, Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie.
Suggs, though, does let the room know that this evening, we will be going “on a journey from the past to the present to the Twilight Zone…” before the band’s first single, 1979’s The Prince, is received warmly. Introducing Beginners 101, Suggs introduces it as “a song from our new number one album” with a massive grin on his face as if he can’t quite believe it. It is long overdue, though – it’s somehow taken until 2023 for Madness to top the albums chart.
There’s not much room to breathe tonight for the well-oiled machine onstage, rolling through each number in a fashion a little bit akin to someone going through the motions, but it’s fun nonetheless. Whilst it lags a bit in the middle, the main set ends with an unbelievable run of One Step Beyond (which saw guitarist Chris Foreman delight the room with a burst of Delilah just before), House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House, and It Must Be Love – a run of absolutely colossal tunes that 99% of bands could only dream of.
The band returns for an encore, beginning with a special tribute to the late Terry Hall – a cover of The Specials’ Friday Night, Saturday Morning – before finishing the show with the rager that is Night Boat To Cairo. There is a slight air of old men yelling at clouds, with quips about things not being “woke” and “political correctness”, but it’s still a lovely bit of Monday night fun.
Madness, Utilita Arena Cardiff, Mon 4 Dec
words JOSHUA WILLIAMS photos SIMON AYRE