Madness and “Night Boat To Cairo” – The Nutty Boys, Forty Years On

Three years ago, back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a light-hearted post about the band Madness and the whole 2 Tone movement (link here). It coincided with Glastonbury (where they had just performed), and was supposed to form a bit of respite ahead of all the political upheaval about to come our way after the divisive disaster that was the EU Referendum result. I don’t even think the word Brexit had even been coined yet, and there is nothing I hate more than a stupid-sounding new word created from two other words. In linguistics it’s called a portmanteau, which ironically has a French etymology. Oh how the French must be loving us now!

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But here we are a full three years and more on from that post, and the political upheaval is still with us and has ramped up to a whole new level. Talking of new words, I have just discovered one that has apparently been around forever, but for good reason has never before entered our personal vernacular – Prorogation. Yep, that’s the latest trick up the government’s sleeve, so The Madness continues. Getting back to Madness the band, last Friday they came to our town, and down to a bit of luck I managed to see them.

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Madness – Promotional pic for the 2019 tour

I’ve now hosted 25 sets of guests since acquiring the holiday hideaway so it’s been a busy old summer, and the downside is I haven’t really been able to commit to much, as I’m either greeting people or getting ready for the next set of people. We did have a free evening last Friday however so I persuaded Mr WIAA to head into town with me for a bite to eat. On the way home we swung by our very central Highland Games stadium (yes, we have one), as I knew Madness were going to be playing there that very night. As luck would have it, there were tickets left, so it was a no-brainer we would join all the other locals of a certain age who fancied a trip down memory lane.

Night Boat To Cairo by Madness:

What a great night we had – It was dark, but warm and dry, and Suggs and the boys were in tip-top form, closing the show with a very rousing performance of Night Boat To Cairo (complete with tea towel). If you owned the album “One Step Beyond” back in the day, and played it on repeat as I did, you will always remember Night Boat as being the third track on Side One after the Title Track and My Girl. We just don’t consume our music in that way nowadays so Sides and Track Numbers are largely irrelevant. Bit of trivia, the term Night Boat has passed into cockney rhyming slang as a term for a giro, or unemployment benefit cheque but you’d have to be British to get that one I imagine.

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Last week I wrote nostalgically about the year 1978, but this week it’s all about 1979, as that was the year I discovered Madness. The thing I enjoyed most about the concert however was the comforting thought that despite the political upheaval, and all the changes to how we live over the last 40 years, one constant has been those Nutty Boys from Camden Town. They look older close up, but the songs are the same, the band members are the same (although they are now missing Chas Smash), the clothes are the same, and the saxophone solos are the same. Suggs, aka Graham McPherson, still has that very unique, staccato-style way of speaking, … and moving. Yes, somehow all very comforting, and at the moment I think I would rather have the Nutty Boys run the country than BoJo (another portmanteau?) and Walter from The Dandy.

Until next time….

Night Boat To Cairo Lyrics
(Song by Mike Barson/Graham McPherson)

It’s just gone noon
Half past monsoon
On the banks of the river Nile
Here comes the boat
Only half-afloat
Oarsman grins a toothless smile
Only just one more
To this desolate shore
Last boat along the river Nile
Doesn’t seem to care
No more wind in his hair
As he reaches his last half mile
The oar snaps in his hand
Before he reaches dry land
But the sound doesn’t deafen his smile
Just pokes at wet sand
With an oar in his hand
Floats off down the river Nile
Floats off down the river Nile

(All aboard, night boat to Cairo!)

(Night boat to Cairo!)

“The Prince”, Madness and The 2 Tone Label

A joyful evening in the midst of all the political upheaval, as the band Madness have just been performing at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and I am reminded of how much I enjoyed them in the late ’70s when the 2 Tone label suddenly flooded the charts with great ska music, updated for a new generation. In those pre-internet days, pretty much the first and only time you would ever see a band perform would be on Thursday night’s Top Of The Pops. If you liked pop music it was a must-watch show and even in the sterile atmosphere of that little studio at television centre, with an often-bored looking audience being marshalled from stage to stage, you could really tell that these young lads were just a little bit special. Of course I didn’t realise at the time that The Prince they were singing about was in fact an early sixties Jamaican ska artist called Prince Buster, and that they had taken their name from one of his songs from that period.

The Prince by Madness:

As was wont to happen in those days, a new cultural movement emerged overnight and suddenly the soft rock and disco records that we were used to listening to seemed ridiculous and irrelevant, especially to young urban males. The 2 Tone label was set up in Coventry by Jerry Dammers of the Specials and very quickly ska/reggae/punk influenced records were being released by The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selector. The artwork for  the record sleeves was of course two tone, featuring a black and white checkerboard and a man wearing the ska uniform of black suit, white shirt, black tie, white socks, black loafers and of course, the very necessary pork pie hat.

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As for me, I was a student at the time and when we discovered that the 2 Tone Tour (has a nice ring to it) of late 1979 was coming to our city it was a no-brainer that we should go and see all these great acts live. It was going to be held in one of the big night-clubs usually frequented by weekend John/Joan Travoltas and this is where I made my first mistake – Because of the venue, I wore one of my “disco-dancing” outfits (wasn’t called clubbing in those days) complete with footless tights and shocking pink sparkly accessories. I don’t know how they managed it, but 99 percent of the audience that night were dressed in full “rude-boy” uniform complete with pork pie hat. This was the North of Scotland for goodness sake but all the charity shops within a 50 mile radius must have been totally raided of vintage clothing, and who knew that so many pork-pie hats could still have been in circulation. Yes, the shocking pink accessories stood out amongst all the black and white so in order to feel less conspicuous we quickly moved up to one of the balcony areas, to witness the phenomenon that was 2 Tone, from there.

The night started off with The Selector and frontwoman Pauline Black turned in an energetic performance culminating with their hit record On My Radio. Next up was Madness and of course we were treated to The Prince but the difference here was that they had Chas Smash whose role in the band was pretty much solely, dancer. Looking back at the clip now, this is exactly how he performed right through the set. He and Suggs made a great double act, a couple of likely lads from Camden Town doing something that was totally different.

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I was sad to see that Chas Smash was not with the band at Glastonbury as he is “off doing solo projects” at the moment (they’ve had a falling out then). Something I have just got to the bottom of however is this – During the 1979 concert Chas at one point got down into the audience and it was hard to work out what he was doing. It looked as if he was in a fight, but then again the punches looked as if they were choreographed and part of his style of dancing. Turns out that it was commonplace for a skinhead element to come to the concerts somehow thinking that because of the style of clothing and haircuts, these bands had a similar mentality. Of course this could not have been further from the truth and if certain racist remarks were made, some of the band members got down into the audience to deal with it themselves – Young men and lots of testosterone.

The final band to perform that night were Coventry-based, 2 Tone founders, The Specials.  Not so much “nutty boys” but more politically informed which came through in their lyrics. Terry Hall, their lead singer, always had a bit of the Herman Munster look about him I felt which was probably intentional. Not possible to sing about the really serious issues of the day (Ghost Town) if you look like a teen-idol. We definitely witnessed something from music history that night however as the whole 2 Tone concept was short-lived and quickly morphed into something else.

As for Madness they are still out there doing their thing and although the dancing is no longer quite as energetic, they still make me smile. Aged only 18 in the clip, Suggs is now 55 and he got his grandchildren up on stage at Glastonbury at the end of their set to view the ocean of festival-goers. Could he have envisaged doing that back in 1979 when they were surreptitiously beating up unsavoury audience members? I doubt it very much, but I am very glad he did.

The Prince Lyrics
(Song by Lee Thompson)

Buster, he sold the heat with a rock-steady beat

An earthquake is erupting, but not in Orange street
A ghost-dance is preparing, You got to help us with your feet
If you’re not in the mood to dance, step back, grab yourself a seat
This may not be uptown Jamaica, but we promise you a treat

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange street

So I’ll say there’s nothin’ left to say, for the man who set the beat
So I’ll leave it up to you out there, to get him back on his feet

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I’ll keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange Street

Bring back the
Who is the
We want the
Bring back the Prince…aahh!