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Madness Open “House”

Ska band’s songs form the basis of new musical

With the London opening of Our House Monday night, New
Wave ska veterans Madness officially transformed themselves from
rockers to thespians. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Queen’s Brian May
— no strangers to the medium themselves — were among those on
hand for curtain.

According to Madness singer Graham McPherson — best known as
Suggs — the band has long wanted to put a production together.
“We’d been thinking of doing a musical for about five or six
years,” he says. “We started a few ideas, which are still somewhere
on the back of cigarette packets in North London pubs.”

But it wasn’t until the band connected with playwright and fan
Tim Firth that the project started rolling. Our House
follows the fortunes of Joe, a sixteen-year-old caught committing a
petty crime to impress his girlfriend; he then has to decide
whether to give himself up or run. After his split-second decision,
the plot explores two parallel lines of consequence, similar to the
Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors.

With the West End — London’s equivalent to Broadway — already
hosting “We Will Rock You” (featuring music by Queen), “Taboo”
(featuring music from the Eighties’ New Romantic scene) and “Mamma
Mia” (featuring the music of Abba) Madness worked hard to make
theirs a fresh and compelling story. “We didn’t want to do a
biographical thing or a tribute to ourselves,” explains Suggs. “Our
songs have always been quite narrative, and in videos we always
tried to inject some theatricality: ‘Baggy Trousers,’ being at
school; ‘My Girl,’ having your first girlfriend, ‘Our House,’ in
your house — there you’ve got the basis of a kid growing up.”

The band also wanted to avoid a simple greatest hits
compilation, cherry-picked from its twenty-one Top Twenty U.K.
hits. “It would have been easier to do a slap-and-tickle,
here-comes-the-circus, Madness Cockney knees-up,” Suggs says, “but
with Tim being a Madness fan, we’ve got songs in the show which I’d
even forgotten about.”

There are also two new songs written especially for the main
characters, something new for Suggs. “Having never written to
order,” he says, “that was a very enjoyable part of the process.
The songs really arrived as naturally as possible out of a really
good story, as opposed to the other way round.”

However, Suggs maintains that Our House does not mean a
full-fledged reunion of Madness, who broke up in 1986 but regrouped
for various shows and to record the 1999 album Wonderful.
“We fluttered with the idea of giving it a proper go again, but
it’s a strange vehicle, Madness,” he explains. “It comes and go
when it wants. The joy of playing and writing together is that we
don’t do it all the time. You get people like U2 who have five
years off between albums, and maybe that’s all we’ve really been
doing. We’ve always been around each other and we all speak to each
other all the time, so maybe we never really did split up and never
really got back together — who knows?”

Madness will tour England in December and they’re planning to
record another album. “It’s still the very early days,” Suggs says,
“but we’ve been talking to people at Trojan [Records] about doing a
pure ska-ish reggae album, a back-to-the-roots kind of thing.”

And, according to Suggs, if Our House is a hit, the
band may begin writing original material for another musical:
“We’ve certainly got enough ideas.”

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