‘It read, ‘’We missed you,” Between the lines, it said,
“We’ve waited for so long, But now it’s time to keep moving along.”
We were that close to missing the start of Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson’s Warrington show, but to quote Michael Caine at the end of the song bearing his name on 1984’s Keep Moving, eventually ‘I think we got it there, don’t you?’.
There was me travelling down the M6 and into town, slowly flanking Warrington Wolves’ Halliwell Jones Stadium in late rush-hour congestion, fellow attendee Richard heading in from Chorlton-cum-Hardly-Moving-in-Traffic, the two of us soon at that difficult juncture where one of us had to leave a ticket on the door and hope the other got in alright.
By then I was half-celebrating a moral victory of sorts, not only managing a negative lateral flow test result, but also working out how to pay online to park behind the venue. Ah, the dilemmas of 2022 gig-going. And to cut a long story shorter than Spandau Ballet would, Suggs was already on his throne in a Brian May wig (you’ll have to see the show for that to make sense) when I stumbled in the dark on to the wrong row, Richard arriving a couple of minutes later, texting to ask where the hell I was. His ‘I’m in the lobby’ and ‘It has started’ messages suggesting increasing panic.
As it is, I have past form with Warrington, where I worked for five very long weeks around this time in 1994, having just moved up from Surrey, wondering what the hell I was doing on half my old wage working in a building society (remember them?) admin job, my 50-mile/50-minute daily round-trips largely comprising of 25 minutes’ motorway sailing followed by 25 more of town centre bumper-to-bumper crawling. And it seems nothing much has changed since.
As it was, back then I was soon off and working closer to my new Lancashire base, within a year and a half jacking it in to re-train at uni for the sometimes murky world of journalism. But when I was working in Warrington, Madness were still five years off their Wonderful return, although I did catch Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman in their guise as The Nutty Boys (aka Crunch!) at Islington Powerhaus in North London in August ’91 and a year later the full Madnificent Seven at nearby Finsbury Park, the day an earthquake erupted during the first Madstock reunion weekend, Ian Dury and the Blockheads plus Flowered Up supporting. Strange days indeed.
Enough about then, more about now, and we were soon up and running, Suggs our driver on a double-decker bound for Camden, Wembley and all over, his stick of celery thankfully left at home, his mate Deano acting as clippie, providing piano and occasional banter to great effect. I saw the same show in March 2018 at Preston’s Charter Theatre (with my review here) and loved it then and did so again this time.
There was a little extra polish from time to time, but it was otherwise the same – nothing too slick, always entertaining, Mr McPherson happy to feed off occasional audience input and briefly step out of his cartoon role as enterprising chancer somehow coming good. The premise, if you’re wondering (there’s more about that in the above review) is Suggs telling the tale of his extraordinary, initially unlikely showbiz career, from the early days of The Invaders through to 2012’s landmark (in more ways than one) appearance with his bandmates on the roof of Buckingham Palace … which I find it hard to believe will be 10 years ago this summer.
And while his show is in places a caricature version of his amazing story, it’s a great way to tell those yarns, keeping the audience invested, not least when he ventures into that remarkable songbook en route, with Deano’s help, the highlights including a rendition of (and the story behind) his ‘One Better Day’ co-write with Mark Bedford, a song that never fails to leave me a little dewy-eyed, those emotions seemingly more readily tipping over after two years of lockdowns, pandemic sorrow, and a few family heartaches in recent years. We’re all growing up a bit, I guess.
Then there’s ‘That Close’, his co-write with Chris Foreman, a latter-day Madness classic tucked away on sublime 2009 long player, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, good enough for Suggs to borrow the title for the 2013 autobiography which seemingly provided the source for this second coming of his life story one-man, two-man (went to mow a meadow) show.
Incidentally, I’ve been hoping to lure Suggs into interview territory for some time, but can’t really blame him for not going down that road so far. He arguably said all he wanted in his autobiography and 2009’s splendid Suggs and the City, his literary tribute to London. But one day I might be able to cajole him into a bit of a natter, hopefully.
Similarly, we still wait on new recorded product from Madness, not long off the road after their Ladykillers tour in the company of ‘very fragrant guests’ Squeeze. But for now we can at least reminisce again with their singer fella, the audience coming away from Parr Hall with smiles on faces, in our case heading across Palmyra Square for a swift pint at The Post House, where we supped a rather apt and certainly welcome Camden Town Brewery guest ale. What were the chances, eh? And then Richard and I were off in different directions, in my case crawling back through roadworks, northbound, the stop-start traffic having at least eased, no doubt inspired by that McPherson/Smith/Foreman title song of Keep Moving on my CD player.
For this summer and autumn’s Madness dates in the UK – starting at Brockwell Park, South London, on June 2nd – and also in Ireland, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and Denmark, head to https://www.madness.co.uk/live/. And for the remaining 10 dates on this latest leg of Suggs’ What a King Cnut tour, check out the poster above.