Madness unveils a plaque marking their first gig at Camden’s Dublin Castle

Madness at the Dublin Castle pub. Picture: Jennifer McCord

Madness at the Dublin Castle pub. Picture: Jennifer McCord - Credit: Archant

Madness have returned to their old haunt to unveil a plaque commemorating their first gig at the Dublin Castle in January 1979

Madness at the Dublin Castle pub. Picture: Jennifer McCord

Madness at the Dublin Castle pub. Picture: Jennifer McCord - Credit: Archant

Madness have returned to their old haunt to unveil a plaque commemorating their first gig at the Dublin Castle in January 1979.

The PRS for Music Heritage Award was handed to the Parkway pub to recognise venues that have played a crucial role in music history by giving famous acts their first break.

After several sweatily successful gigs at the pub, landlord Alo Conlon gave the band a year-long residency during which they made their successful first album One Step Beyond.

Later other bands were helped by the famous music venue with Britpop icons Blur and Amy Winehouse playing early gigs there.

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“I am very fond of this place, without it we wouldn’t be standing here today,” said lead singer Suggs.

“We found our mojo in here,” adds bandmate Mike Barson.

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“It’s funny how things happen. If they had said ‘bugger off’ other bands wouldn’t have come and it wouldn’t have become a famous music venue.”

The seven-strong Ska band included Marylebone boy Chas Smash, former Quintin Kynaston pupil Suggs and Barson, who went to Hampstead School. Initially known as the North London Invaders they pretended to be a country band to get the Dublin Castle booking.

PRS plaque at the Dublin Castle. Picture: Polly Hancock

PRS plaque at the Dublin Castle. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Barson says: “We were looking for gigs and Chris came in here and asked behind the bar can we play in the back room. They said ‘we only book people singing country music’ so we said fair enough country music it is.

“We came and played reggae and they didn’t know what was going on but we got a bit of a crowd going, they started sinking the beers and it was all alright.”

Suggs adds: “All the pubs around here were pretty Irish with function rooms for family gatherings. Folk and country music were big in the Irish community so we just kept knocking on pub doors asking if they had a night when there was nothing on. They gave us a residency because we have a thirsty demographic.”

Madness got their first ever review for a Dublin Castle gig which described the mayhem of joyful, dancing, beery fans.

“They said by the third encore half the crowd was standing on the tables and the other half was rolling on the floor, but it ended up with a queue round the block which meant record companies were interested. All bands start with a little acorn like this.”

Madness never forgot their Camden Town origins and filmed the video for one of their 15 top ten hits My Girl at the pub. They later made Take It Or Leave It there, a film recreating one of their early gigs.

“Pretty much the same people came along and created the same chaotic anarchy with pints of beer flying everywhere,” says Suggs. “You look back and it was just at the end of punk rock, which had a slightly aggressive energy just on the edge of collapse, ours was the same kind of energy but more euphoric.”

They named themselves after a song by their Reggae idol Prince Buster but Barson remarks that it was apt: “There certainly was madness taking place in here when we played, it got to the point where you couldn’t get another person in here it was pretty maniacal with sweat pouring off the ceiling and people collapsing and climbing on top of each other. It was a wild time.”

The plaque was unveiled during Independent Venue Week and Suggs points out that as well as being “an important part of our culture” venues like the Dublin Castle should be protected because the resulting live acts like Coldplay and Oasis bring in millions of pounds in revenue.”

Barson agrees: “It doesn’t look like much if Margaret Thatcher had come down to a gig in the early days she’d have thought ‘this looks subversive’ but with hindsight when she saw the income streams she might have been happier.”

After scoring a top five album last year and playing the main stage at Glastonbury, Madness have no plans to retire.

“We honed our craft here playing live and that’s what’s carried us through,” says Suggs. “We are still seen as a good live band and with the demise of record sales we still get a lot of work playing live.”

Barson adds: “Live music that’s our thing, there’s nothing like live music, to see a live band playing actual instruments is somehow expressing something primal.”

Suggs agrees: “You aren’t going to get a better feeling of live music where you can almost touch the artist, to see a good young band starting out in a place like this you will remember it for the rest of your life.” Paul Clements of PRS For Music which protects the rights of more than 118,000 songwriters and composers by making sure they are paid when their music is played, said:”Independent venues play such a vital role in the development and growth of so many artists. From a first live gig, to a secret performance from a music legend, these independent venues are the creative spaces that help the UK music industry to flourish.”

Alo Conlon, son of the late Dublin Castle landlord, said: “We feel very much part of the fabric of Madness’s history so it’s an honour to receive this award. We pride ourselves on investing in emerging talent.”

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