There is no one group more synonymous with the weird and wacky world of Ska than Madness. That is exactly the impression I got, as Suggs and co delivered one of their typically legendary performances at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park with the support of 90’s Scouse chart-toppers, The Farm.
If, like me, you grew up listening to your dad’s vast vinyl collection, you will stand by me in saying that Madness’ musical catalogue is a combination of explosive brass sound, dexterous dialogue and satiric attitude.
With the gloriously rare sight of the mid-May sun hung over the River Mersey and the slight sense of delirium amongst the thousands in attendance, Madness emerged on to the stage to the screams and cheers of the crowd. With true grace the band stood in front of their admiring fans and made their appreciation known with a bow. With a reference to Top of the Pops – which may, perhaps, have gone over the heads of one or two of the younger fans – Suggs signalled the start of an enthralling set, bustling with hits, to the tune of The Prince from their 1979 debut album ‘One Step Beyond’.
Almost 4 decades on from the release of that album, singles such as One Step Beyond, My Girl and Night Boat to Cairo certainly proved to be timeless as the crowd in its entirety belted the lyrics out and danced in pretty much any manner they chose – myself included.
Throughout the set, graphics displayed either side of the stage depicting scenes from Charlie Chaplin films, political activism, and perhaps most touching was a tribute to the late-great, Amy Winehouse. Coming from their 2016 album ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’, Blackbird tells the compelling story of Suggs’ first encounter of Winehouse, shortly before her sudden death in July 2011.
If ever Madness needed to prove their class, they did so in a short break from proceedings by engaging with a young boy sat on the front railings, dressed in a Fred Perry Polo and braces, almost typical of Ska fans of the 1980’s. They offered words of advice for the future, before later inviting him, along with several other children, to take to the stage and dance with the band as they signed off a memorable opening night on the Wirral.
I would go as far as to say that this performance was one of the greatest I have ever seen, and one I will never forget.