Nutty as ever, Ska icons Madness rock Guildhall Square!


(Photographs by Kyeprestonnphotos)

Madness took to the stage in Guildhall Square on a sunny Father’s Day, bringing the nuttiest sound around to the city’s heart. 

The event was hosted by Summer Sessions, which has included Southampton in its lineup of summer day festivals for the first time this year. The string of shows, opening with Tom Jones and closing in a fortnight with Kaiser Chiefs, has been designed to bring the biggest names in British music to Southampton’s city centre. Madness headlined the bill for the second night- supported by Hastings rock outfit Kid Kapichi.

Opening with a triple threat of certified classics, the band smashed their way through ‘One Step Beyond’, ‘Embarrassment’ and ‘The Prince’- they certainly did not leave it long before treating the fans to the hits. Right from the start, the crowd was hooked by that infectious ska sound, a sonic plate that Madness has come to embrace and embody ever since they stepped onto the scene in 1979.  In recent years, since the passing of The Specials’ Terry Hall, Madness seem to be carrying the torch of ska in a way they never did before- still holding up and able to deliver a 90-minute set with little signs of slowing. A mural of Jamaican Ska musician Prince Buster appears as they swing through ‘The Prince’, showing respect to their influences even still.

The set is a sure testament to the hit factory of Madness over the years- ‘NW5’ and ‘My Girl’- released 30 years apart- evoke the same reaction from the crowd, who sing every word emphatically. “I’d like to dedicate this song to the great weather we’ve been having” Suggs jibes in his heavy cockney accent before throwing himself into ‘The Sun And The Rain’, nailing another hat-trick of classics only 7 songs in.

New material was weaved between the familiar, as the band crooned their way through songs from their chart-topping latest project ‘Theatre Of The Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, including the latest single ‘No Reason’. These songs were slower- owing to the bands’ age- but did little in the way of impacting the crowd’s energy. All it did was showcase that Madness, 4 decades on from their debut- still has a knack for good songwriting. Songs like the quasi-title track ‘C’est La Vie’ and ‘Run For Your Life’ demonstrated that there is still an appetite for new music in 2024- the songs drew similar reactions to the hits they were pulling from their back catalogue, such as ‘Bed And Breakfast Man’. ‘It should have been a single back then, but there’s still time’. The irony of giving a 45-year-old song the single treatment right after having just put ‘No Reason’ out is a perfect illustration of the continuity present in this band- old or new, these songs are bound to provoke the audience regardless.

A bizarre interlude of ‘Living On A Prayer’ was an unexpected but welcome addition, whilst the band composed themselves stageside. Straight off the back of their latest classic ‘Mr Apples’, it jarred the coherence of the set slightly. But, form and order is the last thing anyone at a Madness show expects. The unpredictability of it is arguably what made it so brilliant, even if it confused some of the crowd. But they’re forgiven- they threw themselves straight into a double trouble back-to-back of ‘House Of Fun’ and ‘Baggy Trousers’, with saxophonist Lee Thompson bellowing ‘It’s showtime!’ over his colleague’s instruments.

It’s the people at the back as I weave my way through the crowd that caught my attention most. The power this band has to unite people is totally incomprehensible. Strangers grab one another by the waist and dance feet-over-feet, launching their pints above their heads, probably too high for the liking of the people directly below them. But no one seemed to care- the euphoria in Guildhall Square was enough to override any sense of impending pint-drenching. Looking out over a crowd dominated by the red fez- on sale at the merch booth for a generous eight pounds- you get the sense that a Madness crowd feels more like a family than a room of strangers. Almost everyone was in uniform- polished Doc Martens, Harrington jackets and unquantifiable numbers of Fred Perry logos. A woman grabs a member of the security and dances with them, linking up arm in arm and spinning in circles, much to the amusement of the staff who weren’t targeted.

A Madness setlist these days feels very nailed on- you know what to expect when you arrive, but you still leave happy. Although the odd b-side or rarity wouldn’t hurt the set- the crowd would almost certainly still know every word- it didn’t feel as if they were missing. The band returned to the stage for an encore consisting of ‘Madness’ and ‘Night Boat To Cairo’- bookending the set with more ‘One Step Beyond staples, but not before closing out the show with perhaps their most loved tune. “I’d like to leave you all with one final message. Well, not that we want to leave at all but it has to end eventually” is the perfect way to sum this evening up in an aptly put phrase from Suggs before drawing the night to a close with ‘It Must Be Love’.

Nothing more, nothing less.


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words and photos. Find me at Kyeprestonnphotos on Instagram!

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