The long hot summer of `76, Punk exploded onto the music scene with anger, spewing venom and trampling the repuation of many so called rock stars underfoot. But while the Sex Pistols are recording their first demos and preparing for the revolution, three lads from Camden Town make busy rehearsing to Fats Domino, the Coasters and other rock & roll favourites.
Mike Barson, Chris Foreman and Lee Thompson were old school friends who spent much of their free time spraying graffiti on any brick left unattended, unless they were off jumping freight trains that is! Mike had dropped out from Hornsey art college after a years study and had taken up the piano to quell his boredom, his brother Danny was singer with the band Bazooka Joe that also included one Adam Ant, while his other brother, Ben, was also a musician.
Lee Thompson, who was to be the bands Sax player, had a dubious reputation and a string of court appearances behind him. "It was a fortunate privilege to have met Chris and Mike, I mean prior to meeting them, I was knocking around with a chap called Bobby and we used to get into some pretty serious trouble," explains Lee. "I was sent away for a year and a day, and when I was sent back into the smoke that`s when I started hanging around with Mike and Chris who were not into the serious things that I was into, I think if I hadn`t have met them I would`ve gone down the pan!
The other member of the trio, Chrissy Boy Foreman, took to the guitar like a duck to fire, apparently his dad tried to teach him the instrument a few years earlier but the boy just wasn`t interested. He bought his first guitar with the 20 quid he recieved from a timely tax rebate and the boys started rehearsing in Mikes bedroom.
After a while the trio became a quartet with the addition of John Hasler on drums, but quarrels between Mike and Lee often ended with the Saxophonist walking out, only to return a week or two later.
The boys used to hang out around the Aldenham Boys Club and got involved with a local gang known as the Aldenham Glamour Boys, this was where the band first had contact with two future members, Carl 'Chas Smash' Smyth and Graham 'Suggs' McPherson.
Carl: "The way I got into the band was, my cousin was a bit of a hard nut in a school in North London, which other members of the band went to, so I was hanging around with a crowd in Hampstead when all these hard nuts came around and it was really frightening. One of them bashed one of my friends over the head with an acoustic guitar and it was like - wow, serious villains - and they seemed like a laugh so I started hanging around with them! Then through them I met the band, there was an extremely violent side and an extremely funny side, we were the funny side, the other lot ended up doing time for armed robbery and extortion, things like that."
The band had adopted the name of the Invaders and their first public performance came on the 30th June 1977, a friend by the name of Si Birdsall was throwing a party and the band were invited to play,in the garden! Some American called Dikron was asked to handle the vocals but wasn`t up to it and so the set finished with some quickly improvised instrumentals. Carl and Suggs were also at the party and were among only a handful who bothered to go out and listen to the Invaders.
Graham McPherson was born in Hastings but moved around the country a lot because his mum was a jazz singer. His nickname Suggs came from sticking a pin in a jazz book at, least that`s how the story goes. Suggs fancied a crack at singing with the band and ended up auditioning with a dodgy version of "See You Later Alligator", this was, however, just enough to land the job, due to the fact no one else applied.
Carl was recruited as bass player, although he had stickers on the frets to show where the notes were, he still had trouble finding them and before long was on his way. After another clash with Barso, Lee jumped ship too and was replaced by Lucinda Garland who was the sister of one of Chrissy Boy`s friends.
A chap called Gavin Rogers filled the bass players spot and the band got themselves their first "professional" engagment, a gig at the City And East, sometime in February 1978. The gig was the first and last for Lucinda who disappeared off to University leaving the door open for Lee to return...again!
The bands next gig was on the 5th April 1978 at The Nightingale off Park Road, after which Gavin Rogers decided enough was enough and quit the band. A rehearsal room was found somewhere around Finchley Road and the band at last could get down to some serious practice, the only trouble was Lee had wandered off once more and Suggs was booted out for being absent without leave. John Hasler dropped his drum sticks and picked up the mic, the fact he couldn`t sing to save his life seemed to fit in with the bands lack of organisation perfectly.
Hasler brought along a guy named Garry Dovey who was a decent drummer, so now all the band needed was another bass player, as luck would have it, Dovey knew one Mark 'Bedders' Bedford who happened to know his way around a bass and so an audition was arranged.
Bedders: "I got amazing blisters on my fingers because I had to borrow a bass for the day, and it was dreadful, the strings were so far off the neck they were almost impossible to hold down with two fingers let alone one! I remember dressing up especially for it as well, making a real effort, and had trouble playing Reggae, or like Ska, which they`d obviously learnt religiously from the records so they were very good at it, and even then they held down offbeat and musically it was pretty good."
Bedders was also responsible for securing the bands next gig, at the William Ellis Secondry School end of year dance on the 3rd of July 1978 and another gig soon followed at the 3Cs Club in Warren Street. Lee returned shortly after and immediatley made an impact on Dovey, with his fist! With Dovey promptly quitting ("I can`t work with this madman"), the word was spread that the Invaders needed a new drummer.
Daniel 'Woody' Woodgate had seen the band at the William Ellis gig and heard of the vacancy, he also happened to know Bedders and a quick phone call got him an invitation to the next rehearsal. Bedders hadn`t even considered asking Woody to join the band but fortunatley fate had dealt a kind blow.
Woody: "I was picked up by Mike Barson in his van, and Mike was like - 'Alright mate, get ya drums, is this it? Alright bung em in the back'. - So we bunged them in the back and it was like, oh my God, what a nice fellow! Mike`s not exactly the most... he doesn`t come up to you and go, 'Hello how are you? Nice to meet you'. He`s more like, 'Ur alright', so that was it. Anyway, we got to rehearsals and Chrissy Boy was outside, Chris just kind of like, looked at me, nodded and never spoke to me the whole session. I can`t remember if Lee was there, I think he turned up at one point and just stood in the corner and looked on.
"It was a real weird atmosphere, I was kind of, this was totally new to me and I thought, oh my God what have I let myself in for? And Mike kept going on about the fact that, he`d put an advert in the Melody Maker for a drummer, 'Well yeah, I dunno yet mate I dunno yet, we gotta wait and see, I`ve spent me money'... He was like going on about the money he`d spent on the Melody Maker advert for a drummer, and definately wanted to hear if there were other drummers first!
"They were like unsociable hard nuts, Mark, I knew Bedders because we both knew two... well Martin and Laurie their names were, and their house was the type of place you could set up amps and drum kits and make a right racket and fortunatley they didn`t have neighbours who complained, so that was one of the places we`d met up and Mark would play bass and I`d bash away on the drums. Mark came from a world that I understood. I think we were a bit more on the same wavelength, we weren`t kind of harderned skinheads with criminal records and things like that."
The Invaders next outing was also arranged by Bedders. He had been working at The Blind Alley, a roller blind factory, and his boss asked the band to play at a party he was having. Unfortunatley, or maybe fortunatley, John Hasler was on holiday and the band needed a vocalist, Suggs was the obvious choice and all his misdemeanours of the past were forgiven. After the gig Hasler was appointed manager and secured the band a date at the Acklam Hall for November the 10th 1978. After performing the band had to do a runner from a bunch of skinheads, talk about suffering for your art.
After a poor gig at the Middlesex Poly, 1978 came to an end. Another outing was arranged for New Years Day 1979, Lee, who hadn`t played the previous couple of gigs, was back in the band and the line up was at last complete. The band were fed up with the Invaders moniker and were racking their brains for ideas, by April they had decided on Madness. The name was suggested by Chris and came from the classic 1963 BlueBeat single by Prince Buster that the band included in their set. Their music had taken a different direction over the past few months, a more subtle blend of Ska evolved, mixed with the nutty sound the boys had developed from the influence of Kilburn & The Highroads.
One night Lee, Suggs and Carl went to a Rock Against Racism concert at the Hope And Anchor, a band from Coventry called The Special A.K.A. were on the bill. The Madness boys were amazed to hear the bands blend of Ska and Punk that was not a million miles away from their own sound. At the end of the evening Suggs got talking to Special A.K.A. keyboard player Jerry Dammers, Dammers had set up his own label, 2 Tone, and the band had a single released, "Gangsters", which was based around Prince Busters 1964 classic "Al Capone", the B side of which is where the original version of "One Step Beyond" first appeared.
Eventually Dammers asked Madness to support the Special A.K.A. at the Nashville on June the 8th, Suggs agreed to the date but the band already had an engagment at the Dublin Castle for that evening. No problem the boys would play both! After opening for Dammers group, Madness headed straight for North London and the Dublin Castle.
By this time Carl, who was by now almost exclusively known by his alter ego Chas Smash, had become the bands MC. The thing was he didn`t want to leave the stage when his job was done and so started jumping about and dancing and generally causing mayhem.
The show with the Special A.K.A. at the Nashville came as an eye opener to Woody, "...it was amazing, we walked in and every one was in all the suits and the whole gear, it was like, what is this? This is amazing, a massive great room full of Mikes and Suggs and Lees and what have you."
With Madness now gathering a strong following in North London, it was time the boys got a demo together. Clive Langer, an ex member of Deaf School, a band Madness used go and see, had heard the song "My Girl" and was only too willing to help. The band were booked into Pathway studios in Highbury, a small 8 track facility were many of Stiff Records early recordings were made. Unfortunatley Woody got lost on his way there and the session was aborted. Another date was set and Woody was escorted to the studio by the scruff of his neck, three tracks were laid, "The Prince", a song Lee had written in tribute to the great Prince Buster, "Madness" and "My Girl", which had vocals from Mike Barson.
Jerry Dammers had been highly impressed with Madness, his Special A.K.A. single "Gangsters" had crept into the national top forty and he felt 2 Tones next move should be for Madness. A deal was struck and "The Prince" was scheduled for release on August the 10th 1979. The 2 Tone invasion had begun.
Andy Clayden, 1999.