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The Last Word: Suggs

The pop icon on meeting George Clinton and forging an eternal place in the British pop pantheon

By Nick Reilly

Suggs (Picture: PR)

This is The Last Word. It’s our final section of the magazine where we take a bonafide music legend and ask them about life, navigating the tricky waters of the music biz and how far they’d go to prove their legendary credentials. Up next, it’s Suggs. The original Nutty Boy, national treasure and leader of Madness

The Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’Est La Vie is your 13th album. What keeps you coming back to the studio when you’ve been doing it for so long?

Well, the whole thing has been great. It’s been a very bizarre few years, to say the least. When Covid happened, we did nothing for about two and a half years, so just getting back in the room together was pure joy. It was fantastic.

What’s the one thing that keeps bringing you together as a band? 

It’s what we’ve done all our lives, you know what I mean? Certainly, for me since I was 18 years old. I like to think of myself as a working-class person deep down, but really, I’ve been a pop star for 40-odd years. That’s why it hit me so hard during Covid. I was singing at bus stops, and my wife thought I’d lost my mind. 

But when we’re all in the room together, it’s easy because they’re all friends of mine. It means that the music is a byproduct of our friendship and that’s what has always made it, I think.

You’ve said that the latest record reflects the times we’re living in and — please excuse the pun — the madness of that. 

Yeah, because it became quite clear that as a society, we didn’t agree on everything. Vaccination and lockdown and all that. But in this band, we’ve always had a tolerance for each other, and everyone gets to have their say because we all write songs. When we get together and make music, that transcends everything else because music is such an amazing thing and a privilege to be involved with.

What’s your take on our polarised times? What’s the reason for this?

Funnily enough, I was reading a rather interesting [article by] Caitlin Moran, and she said that what’s really sad is that the middle ground has been burnt to ashes. You know, you have to be on one side or the other, and gone is the idea that you can understand two points of view. With my band, we didn’t always agree, but even when we were opposites, we could understand the other person’s point of view. I think that’s the worst thing. People don’t seem to be able to do that anymore. You look and just think, ‘Well, surely someone’s got to be in the middle?’

You’ve lived through this before. Madness were at their peak in the 80s when the Falklands was happening and Thatcher was in charge… 

Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times! But it does always seem to come back. You mentioned the Falklands, and I remember when you’d get beaten up in a pub if you said you thought that going to war with the Falklands was a stupid idea. 

Madness are such prolific live performers, and you’re heading out on the road again this Christmas. What keeps you getting up on stage?

Money! Thank you, next question. No, I honestly enjoy it, and I think now when I see what Madness create, it’s a great thing. My mate called it unbridled joy. You know, when you see people digging what you’re doing, you can’t not want to do it. It’s such a privilege. 

It must also be nice to know your songs have forged an eternal place in the pop pantheon of British music. Your cover of ‘It Must Be Love’ always ranks as one of the most-played songs at UK weddings

You know, I remember very clearly when Mike [Barson, Madness multi-instrumentalist] played ‘It Must Be Love’ on the piano for the first time, and our record boss said we had to record it. I just said, “‘Nothing more, nothing less’? Who’s gonna fucking wanna hear that?” Now we’ve taken over from ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston at weddings and funerals! When I see fat bald blokes all crying to that song, it’s a great thing. But the other thing about pop music is that it’s so ephemeral. One song could remind you of the first time you snogged a bird. It’s three minutes of your life that relates to a very important part of it. Those songs you listened to as a teenager will remain in your heart forever, whatever they might be. 

And finally, who’s the maddest person you’ve ever met?

George Clinton! We were performing at Coachella, and he was there wearing a golden nappy with his beer belly hanging out and a gold Stetson hat. He just said to me “’Ere, son, there’s only three steps up onto that stage, but not everyone can walk them.” I’ll leave you with that!