Preview: My Life Story in Words and Music

Suggs tells Steve Lee why the death of his favourite cat inspired him to hit the road with songs and stories about his life and career

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The career of Suggs, dynamic Madness frontman, sometime television presenter and all round cheeky chappy, has taken many twists and turns since his band sprang to prominence back in the late 1970s. His latest endeavour, however, was catalysed in the oddest of circumstances.

“I turned 50 last year,” he recalls from a quiet room in a London pub, “and on that very day my favourite cat died, right in front of me, and it really got me thinking.”

The result of said contemplation is the stage show Suggs: My Life Story in Words and Music.

“When your kids are around you don’t really have time to sit thinking and staring at your navel, but they moved out last year and I felt like there were a few loose ends to tie up. So in the show I talk about how I found out about my dad, who I never knew, how I became Suggs and add all the amazing and funny and unfortunate things that have happened to me. Oh, and throw in a few songs.”

Hitting the nation’s theatres as a solo performer with only piano playing sidekick Deano there for moral and musical support means it’s been a challenge he’s currently relishing. That said, not having six band members to back him up and bounce off is taking a little getting used to.

“It does get a little bit lonely,” he explains between sips from his pint. “But at the moment it’s all too scary and I don’t have time to worry much. If I’d done 200 performances and it was all polished I might get a bit bored, but now I’m learning so much every night. The audience can go from a row of smiling grannies to drunken Madness fans all shouting and falling over.”

So does this theatrical undertaking, one that appears rooted in the age-old tradition of vaudeville, bear much relation to the musical exploits of Madness?

“Absolutely,” he says without hesistation. “Because Ian Dury and Ray Davies influenced us so much and they were influenced by Max Miller and all that music hall stuff so it all ties in.
“We’re all such extroverts so messing around in our videos and wearing daft costumes – bumble bees, coppers, exploding traffic wardens, sailors, soldiers, our Egyptian phase, plenty of cross-dressing – was like a dream come true.”

Presumably having no band mates to answer to offers a refreshing artistic liberty.

“I can definitely ad lib, even change something mid-song if I like, and that’s what makes it exciting. That said, one time I completely cocked it up,” he recalls with a cautionary chuckle.
“I went off on a wild tangent and came back in 1975 and not 1972 – I felt like I’d got out of the bloody lift at the wrong floor. But even then the audience goes with you.”

Chatty, witty and positively brimming with bonhomie, Suggs is clearly a performer who approaches each step of his career and every challenge with genuine passion.

A long-overdue autobiography is in the pipeline – “that’s been helpful for this show as the research I’ve done for the book has helped me remember what the hell I’ve done with my life!”

Plus, he’s currently working on a new Madness album with an extensive winter tour already pencilled in. All things considered it’s tempting to view the man as a genuine national treasure, albeit a national treasure with a hint of Tommy Cooper thrown in. How does that combination sit?

“The Tommy Cooper comparison is great. When you’re talking about the mystery of great performers you just look at him – so in the moment. It’s just mesmerising and the audience isn’t really able to work out whether he himself knew where he was going next – those nuances you can only get when you’re away with the fairies. That,” Suggs concludes, “is what I’m aiming for.”

Suggs: My Life Story in Words and Music, 6 Feb, Buxton Opera House; 16 Feb, City Varieties, Leeds; 17 Feb, Burnley Mechanics; 18 Feb, Hull New Theatre

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