Brilliant Madness turn County Ground into a House Of Fun

Thousands of people packed into the County Ground in Northampton on Sunday night to watch legendary ska band Madness.

Suggs and the rest of the Nutty Boys treated a huge crowd at the home of Northants Cricket to a brilliant show.

Madness, The County Ground, Northampton, September 2013.

Madness, The County Ground, Northampton, September 2013.

The fun-packed Madness gig proved to be a great end to a great summer of live music in the town, following on from the Alive @ Delapre Festival in July, the Nnestival at Midsummer Meadow, the annual festival at the Market Square and more.

Here’s hoping the summer of 2014 is just as good.

The weather gods certainly shone on the promoters of the Madness gig, with the wind and rain of the previous weekend days giving way to a sunny late summer’s day and balmy night.

It was a great setting, with the stage and giant video screens set up in front of the stands at the Wantage Road end of the ground, and the crowd spread out across the playing surface.

The fans, 100s of them decked out in Madness-branded Fez hats, were up for a party, and so were the band, who were playing the final date of a summer of outdoor gigs up and down the country.

Madness had obviously done a little bit of homework as well, with a namecheck for the worldwide star that is the Northampton Clown, and also a reference to the Cobblers’ current losing plight.

The 90-minute 23-song set just seemed effortless, the band having polished up their act over more than 30 years at the top of their game.

The record sales may not always show it, but Madness still make top albums (I recommend current release Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate and Wonderful) and still write catchy, accessible pop songs.

They they aired one or two of these at the NCG, but to be honest this gig was all about the hits, all about stepping back in time.

From the moment Chas Smash reeled off the opening line ‘Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this...’ of first song One Step Beyond, we were off and running

Thousands of forty-something men and women that had been standing, chatting with mates suddenly jolted into action, transported back to 1979 or the early 1980s and their youth.

The whole crowd, who were mainly of a certain age it must be said, although there were plenty of young guns around as well, revelled in their chance to roll back the years.

There was jigging and jolting, with elbows and knees pumping as everybody got stuck into the Nutty Boys dance – a dance that is great, because everybody can do it. Even me.

I would imagine there are a few aching limbs (and heads!) around this morning, as muscles that haven’t been used for a few years were given a vigorous workout.

Classic track followed classic track as we were treated to Embarrassment, My Girl, The Prince, The Sun And The Rain, Grey Day, The Wings Of A Dove and Shut Up.

They were all great enough and were lapped up enthusiastically by the crowd, but the band, with Suggs and Smash in good form and voice and Lee Thompson brilliant on the saxophone, were just warming up for what was a storming finale.

After a somewhat bizarre solo rendition of New York New York from guitarist Chris Foreman as Suggs & Co had a breather, the band returned to the stage and finished things off in fantastic style.

Madness’s one and only UK number one House Of Fun set the tone, and it was followed up with the brilliant Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love, which sparked a mass sing-a-long.

There was still an encore to come, and the band took us right back to the beginning as, much to to crowd’s delight, they rattled off Madness and finished with a storming Night Boat To Cairo, both tracks from their 1979 debut LP Onee Step Beyond.

It was a great end to a great gig, at a venue that is made for such occasions.

The organisation of the event was excellent, and with the cricket club planning in a couple of these gigs every year, I am already looking forward to the next one.

And a final word on Madness, who have been a British musical treasure for 35 years now.

This is the first time I have seen them play live, and it was a great experience.

They are a band that just want to entertain, that just want to please their loyal fans, and they have a stack of great songs to play that enable them to do just that.

They certainly turned the County Ground into one big House Of Fun on Sunday, and they are welcome back here any time.

If this is what Madness is all about, then I am happy to be declared insane!

Setlist included: One Step Beyond, Embarrassment, The Prince, My Girl, My Girl 2, The Sun And The Rain, How Can I Tell You?, Grey Day, Wings Of A Dove, Never Knew Your Name, Shut Up, Bed & Breakfast Man, NW5, New York New York, House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House, It Must Be Love

Encore: Madness, Night Boat To Cairo