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Graham “Suggs" McPherson

Interview: Madness on playing the Hong Kong Sevens

The ska legends discuss what makes a good live song and reveal why going corporate isn’t all that bad

Written by
Douglas Parkes

While certain nostalgia acts tour the world raking in a living off of past glories, there are those still working hard at their craft putting out quality new material. Madness are certainly the later. 2 Tone pioneers back in the late 70s and early 80s, the band released their 12th album last year, the well received Can’t Touch Us Now. The succees of their first album in four years led UK national newspaper The Daily Mirror to conclude, “Few succeed in creating their own pop world hardly any have kept it flourishing for so long [as Madness].”

The band behind timeless classics like Our House and It Must Be Love, Madness are in town for the weekend to provide entertainment during the Hong Kong Sevens tournament. We sit down with band members Graham Suggs McPherson and Mike Barson to discuss the London and Hong Kong music scenes and what they think of Hong Kong as a city...

Have you ever played Hong Kong before?
Suggs: I came with Virgin Radio once, about 10 years ago for the Sevens. That gave me a flavour for it. I’ve experienced that it’s a big exciting deal here.

What are your impressions of the city?
Suggs: It’s an interesting. It always gives me this feeling of Blade Runner. And it’s still got some of the old Victorian architecture down certain streets…
Barson: When we were driving from the airport you all these huge flat blocks really, really high and hundreds of them together. It looks really otherworldly.

What are your expectations for the Sevens?
Suggs: To have a really great time. A lot of people are coming here to have a good time. And we like having a good time, when we’re performing as much as anything else. We’ve done a few events over the years, like for the NFL a few years ago, so we’re kinda used to it. You get a premonition that you’re going to get into it, the crowd’s going to get into it and everyone’s going to have a good time.

You started out in pubs in London. Was it weird transitioning to bigger venues as you became more popular?
Barson: I suppose in the beginning. A few years back, when we did a tour called The Danger Men, we specifically did smaller venues. We played one of the first places we ever performed at, The Dublin Castle, and we arranged it all ourselves under that name, The Danger Men. The idea was to go back to something small and more intimate. We’ve kind of been there, seen it, done it... It’s funny, you get used to things. We do a lot of corporate shows now and we used to find them very difficult [to perform at]. It’s funny, you get middle-aged business men with their wives and they get really into it… If you’re not biased, if you think they’re just the same as you and I, you get into it and they get into it. Sometimes it’s brilliant.
Suggs: It’s your attitude. If you come with a negative attitude, it’s not going to help the atmosphere.

Hong Kong has trouble with music venues staying open and it’s the same in London where construction projects like CrossRail have demolished venues like The Astoria. Is it harder for bands to get started these days?
Barson: It’s all about money. You almost have to pay to breathe these days. Music venues, if they’re not profitable it’s difficult. Back in the 70s when we first started it was half collapsed and open and free. You could do almost anything.
Suggs: Nobody seems to notice how important the music industry is to the UK, what it’s contributed. You’re just left with this X Factor business, which seems a pretty shallow puddle to be left with after all those other great artists. I think the same thing is happening in great cities across the world.

You’re here for the Sevens and live shows are the more lucrative part of the music industry these days, so does the importance of gigs influence how you make an album nowadays?
Barson: It’s a big of a mixture. You don’t necessarily know what’ll make a great live track. We have a certain type of fan and they want a certain type of music served up.
Suggs: Interesting question. First, you come up with a couple of lines, well I do, and you think maybe they’re not bad. Then you need to fill it out and you find a piece of paper with another amazing line on it and you think maybe that’ll fit, maybe there’s a story in there. And what you’re really thinking about is is this going anywhere, is it any good? It’s only when you’re in a rehearsal room that you think it’s going well and you might have to play it live one day and how will it go down?

So what can fans expect at the Sevens then?
Suggs: A great time. They get madness. It’s a very strange unfamiliar feeling. You go in as one person and you come out as another – much happier, jollier, optimistic person.

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