It’s Madness... cat death led to show charting the life of Suggs

Suggs, appearing in a one-man show at the Winding Wheel, Chesterfield
Suggs, appearing in a one-man show at the Winding Wheel, Chesterfield

The death of his cat on his 50th birthday was what led Madness lead singer Suggs to talk about his life and work on stage.

He said: “I got to 50 a little while ago. The kids had left home and the cat died on the morning of my 50th birthday. That got me thinking about fate and where I have been, from when I was a kid in what seems like before World War Two and what’s happened to me in those 50 years.

Madness - for Entertainer.

Madness - for Entertainer.

“It was an exercise in trying to work out where the hell I’ve been for the last 50 years. Then the show started to emerge.

“I was trying to think of a really imaginative title. I came up with My Life Story in Words and Music…”

His stage persona may be Cockney cheeky chappie but the frontman of the ska band that had hit after hit in the Two Tone trend of the early 1980s and beyond has a darker side.

He said: “I get as sad and depressed as anybody else. I do try and look at the positives in life. I’ve had a really positive life and for 30-odd years it’s been pretty remarkable.”

Suggs said that the show took months to write and he talks about his dad, who he never knew. William McPherson left when he was three and Suggs doesn’t remember him.

He knew that his dad was a heroin addict but he didn’t keep in contact with Suggs’ mum Edith, so had no idea what happened to him.

The singer, real name Graham McPherson, was finally pointed to the Wikipedia entry about himself.

That told him that his father had died in 1975, aged 40 in Birmingham. He had been treated for severe mental illness and had remarried but had no children.

“These people on Wikipedia know more about me than my whole family put together,” Suggs said.

“There was some feeling of a full stop on the whole thing rather than a question that was unanswerable.”

Suggs said that he never felt deprived growing up without a dad. “If you’ve never had a dad you don’t know what the alternative is. A huge proportion of kids at my school came from what we used to call broken homes. It wasn’t an unusual thing, just the way it was.

“Wondering about him never entered my head. It might have done if he’d left when I could remember him. He just wasn’t there.”

Part of the show tells about Suggs’ unusual upbringing. “My mum was a jazz singer around Soho. We went to some very interesting places indeed and saw some very interesting things.

“You have to remember that homosexuality and gambling were illegal for a long time. Pubs shut at 3pm. There were clubs in Soho where outsiders felt safe.

“It was all very new. You had to go by the values of take as you find. The people were nice to me. They were transvestites, ladies of the night, jazz singers or toffs. It was an experience that informed what I was going to become myself.”

Suggs says that the show is a “piece of theatre rather than just a monologue or an ‘audience with’. Once you learn it you can go off beam. You learn it, then you’ve got the freedom to ad lib. It’s been a real joy.”

He worked with a director who has put together lots of one-man shows.

Obviously Madness are a huge part of his story. He said: “I met the band when I was 13 or 14 and three or four were all from single parents. We became some kind of surrogate family.

“Our greatest achievement is that we are all still friends. That’s very unusual, if you take seven kids and put them together. We did have a few punch-ups along the way and ups and downs.”

He added: “When we started the band got going, we did some gigs in a pub and suddenly we were off.

“I was 18 and on Top of the Pops and it was all happening. We went on the Two Tone tour with The Specials, Dexy’s Midnight Runners all there together in 1979. It was exciting and had a big energy.”

Of course, it’s not all talking.

Suggs said: “I sing a few songs, like Baggy Trousers, and talk about why I wrote it. It’s anbout an important part of my life, going to school. The show is a mixture of laughter, stories, music and rubbish.”

I love Sheffield. got stuck there in the snow last time we played. Suggs – My Life Story in Words and Music is at the Winding Wheel, Chesterfield on Friday, April 26.

Suggs said that performing for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on top of Buckingham Palace was an unexpected pleasure.

He said: “Yeah, me and the Queen are like that! It was very, very bizarre. Who would have thought?

“Standing on the roof of Buckingham Palace for some reason was most memorable thing we’ve ever done.

“In some peculiar way getting some recognition for the band.”