AS the last notes of 80s pop classic It Must Be Love faded into the London night air, met with rapturous cheering from the red, white and blue bedecked hordes below, Madness lead singer Suggs stepped backstage at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and, when asked “what’s next?” by a TV presenter, simply replied “Doncaster.”
Just 24 days ago, the band were in a very different setting, perched high above The Mall, playing to a global audience and serving up one of the undoubted highlights of a glitzy show to mark The Queen’s 60 years on the throne.
This Saturday, they’ll be swapping all that pomp and pageantry to play their greatest hits for 20,000 adoring fans after racing at Town Moor - the culmination of a project lasting almost nine months to bring the band back to a venue they last rocked out four years ago.
Racecourse managing director Mark Spincer and his team have been working flat out around the clock to make sure everything is ready for Saturday’s show - everything from ordering in extra toilets, buffing up more than 10,000 knives and forks and even arranging for the delivery of special tea bags for the band.
“They are very particular about what kind of tea they want,” said Mark. “It promotes calmness and well being and that’s what they’ve asked for and that’s what they’ll get.”
It could well be that by 11pm on Saturday, Mark himself will be indulging in a cup of the brew - since October he’s been at the forefront of laying on such a huge show, meeting with agents, hospitality organisers, caterers and heading up regular meetings to make sure everything runs like clockwork.
“We have even ordered in 10,000 wet weather ponchos,” he said. “That’s the only thing we can’t control unfortunately - the weather.”
Talks to stage the musical extravaganza got under way last autumn and in January this year, when Madness themselves confirmed, it was all systems go for one of the biggest outdoor concerts South Yorkshire has ever seen.
“There have been surprisingly few headaches and we’ll be ready by the day. We are used to staging big events and this will be no different,” he added.
A team of 26 riggers were due to set to work on setting up the stage yesterday with work expected to be completed by the end of today in time for tomorrow’s Friday race meeting.
Then on Saturday itself, 80 chefs as well as 400 stewards, cleaners and scores more will be in from the early hours of the morning, preparing food, running through safety checks and ensuring everything is spick and span for when the band themselves arrive for their mid-morning soundcheck.
Events general manager Kieran Gallacher, who has previously worked for both Derby County and Coventry City football clubs, will oversee the itinerary, organising the distribution of 12,000 racecards, making sure the mountains of food and drink outlined below are ready to be served up to hungry punters and also looking after Madness during their stay.
“They are a great bunch of guys,” he said. “They are a very approachable bunch and they’ll be well looked after. When they arrive, they’ll have a private box to watch the racing, a full meal and space to relax before they take to the stage. Its a pleasure to have them.”
All hotels in the area have been booked up for weeks and more than 50 coaches are expected to descend on Town Moor for the six race card with visitors of all ages expected to attend. “The response has been phenomenal,” added Mark. “After the band appeared at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee the phones were red hot with people wanting to come. We are sure its going to be a fabulous evening.”
And with hits such as One Step Beyond, House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Night Boat To Cairo to get through before a strict 10.45pm curfew (with the noise no higher than 65 decibels, if you were wondering), Mark admits organising the huge summer show has caused him a few sleepless nights.
“Last time they played, they were three minutes away from having the plug pulled,” he said. “We have to stick to the rules and they aren’t allowed to go one second over their time but hopefully we’ll be OK.”
The night will be rounded off by a huge team of 80 cleaners descending on the course to clear away mountains of waste in four gigantic skips and working through the night to get the course back in shape once again. Stewards will also sweep the stands to make sure there are no stragglers and an army of car park attendants will endeavour to make sure thousands of cars slip away quietly.
Added Mark: “It is a marathon operation with so much to think about and do but we are here to make sure people have a good time and that’s what we’ll strive for. I’ll probably only end up listening to one or two songs myself on the night but once its all over, we’ll be able to sit down, relax and congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”
And that indeed, must be love!
* See next week’s Free Press pictures from the Madness spectacular