Madness Review: Heritage Live Concerts at Kenwood House

Madness XL at Kenwood House picture by Daniel Alexander Harris

Madness XL at Kenwood House picture by Daniel Alexander Harris - Credit: Archant

The Nutty Boys enjoyed a rousing sell-out 40th anniversary homecoming gig on Hampstead Heath backed by a full orchestra and cheered on by north London family and friends

Madness XL at Kenwood House picture by Daniel Alexander Harris

Madness XL at Kenwood House picture by Daniel Alexander Harris - Credit: Archant

Rain didn't dampen the irrepressible spirits of 10,000 Madness fans who flocked to Hampstead Heath for their 40th anniversary celebrations on Saturday.

Backed by a full orchestra, it turned out to be a poignant home turf gig for the Nutty Boys, with hundreds of family and friends cheering them on in the crowd.

"Forty years ago we were playing to 45 skinheads at the Hope and Anchor in Islington," said frontman Suggs triumphantly.

"Just look at us now!"

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Although days of drizzle had rendered it sticky underfoot, the drizzle held off for a lively set that name-checked many of the band's local haunts around Camden Town and Kentish Town.

The Dublin Castle pub, where they first found fame, flashed up on screen during a joyous rendition of Our House.

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And the infectiously anarchic Baggy Trousers recalled Suggs' misspent schooldays at Quintin Kynaston.

He may have exhorted younger members of the crowd to 'get an education, not like us' but the line 'did it really turn out bad?' was a clear riposte to the tedium of conformity.

Released in October 1979, the band's debut album, One Step Beyond paid homage to their early Jamaican ska influences - The Prince namechecks Prince Buster who first recorded the title track.

While their Two Tone label mates retained a punkier, edgier sound, Madness' chart success rode upon cheerful upbeat poppiness with liberal dollops of Lee Thompson's sax and stories of youthful ducking and diving and working class north London life.

The likes of My Girl, Wings of a Dove or House of Fun were delivered with footstomping energy, while the quieter moments were underpinned by social comment, the sadness of dementia in the elegiaic NW5, or the melodic One Better Day which recalls the homeless residents of Camden Town's Arlington House hostel,

In mostly fine voice Suggs and co were clearly enjoying being backed by a barnstorming brass section.

It Must Be Love was an inevitable highlight that got the crowd singing and swaying, while Night Boat to Cairo - with orchestra and crowd sporting a bobbing array of Fezes sent us off into the night with a burst of fireworks.

The band's original fans must be in their 60s now, but although they clearly like a drink it was all good natured, boisterous fun.

As we left we spotted two of them laid out fast asleep. It had all been too much, but it was a rousing tribute to a very British band.

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