I very nearly didn’t go. I’d been looking forward to a Bank Holiday Monday spent happily on Clapham Common with Madness and their House Of Common festival.
But the day before, I’d been the victim of a random and unprovoked attack, punched and kicked to the ground as I walked around central London. My wallet was stolen and I was feeling bruised, battered and scuffed-up. The easiest thing to do would have been to stay in, to hide-away and to give in to the fear I was feeling. I can’t for one minute pretend that it was easy; I was more jumpy than I might typically be. But my fear was misplaced; this party in the park is a happy event; a community of friendly, exuberant fez-wearing fans getting together to celebrate their love of a band that seem to get better with age; they call them Madness.
There was a fine line-up to delight us before the main event. I arrive just as Ziggy Marley is wowing a healthily-sized crowd with a glossy mix of reggae classics and his own tunes. It’s incredibly hot on the Common today (35 degrees some have said) and boy, does it feel it. Some of the crowd are up and dancing but many are sitting in chairs or on rugs lapping up the rays whilst enjoying a smoke and a can of red stripe.
Those cans of red stripe or fruit cider are prized possessions. After scrupulous searches on the gate, it’s only alcohol we buy in here that can be consumed in here. £6 for a can feels excessive to me even with a London weighting. Thank goodness therefore that a Madness double-decker is selling the band’s own beer by the pint; Lovestruck, Gladness and Absolutely. It’s still £6 but feels better value even if the queues for the prized ale snake half-way around the site.
The festival is on the site of SW4, the dance music festival that’s taken place on the previous two days. There are marquees dotted around the common but only two in use here; one hosts a David Rodigan takeover and the other ‘Minor Madness’, activities for kids to kick and bounce on. There’s a decent array of food stalls as well selling a fair array of things to fill you up; most are meat-based but there are Buddha Bowls if that’s not your thing.
The main stage is really where it’s at; as the day progresses and a beautiful sunset descends over the city, people increasingly show signs of drunken dehydration. But it’s still all done in delightful spirits. Jimmy Cliff takes to the stage, a master in eliciting smiles from any crowd. His voice might not be as strong as it once was but it really doesn’t matter when your repertoire is as good as his is. If my jaw wasn’t so sore, my smile during his set of summery bliss would be wider than it is.
Craig Charles follows Jimmy on the main stage with an hour long set of his funk and soul favourites. He keeps the crowd smiling as the sun continues to glisten. And when he mixes Martin Luther King’s Freedom speeches into sound, things become especially poignant.
Over in the marquee, the atmosphere for David Rodigan is sweaty and electric. I daren’t go in the tent but from the smell and intensity just standing on the outside, he’s got a party started. Rodigan gives short bursts of tracks he’s been involved in, breaking it up before anything becomes too familiar. It’s a history lesson for urban music; the interludes of Drum N Bass that he’s produced over the years going down particularly well with the younger crowd. Hands get raised in the air; youngsters and their parents stand side by side. It’s a thing to behold.
Madness start ten minutes earlier than scheduled. It’s probably because they’ve got all of those hits to cram in. They walk on stage to a crescendo of noise; saxophones are unleashed whilst Suggs stands smartly dressed in the centre, conducting proceedings with his natural aplomb. He still looks the business; he’s mates with us all and charm personified. ‘One Step Beyond’ is their opener and a belter it is as well slightly slowed to maximise the impact.
They mix up the minor hits with the classics but this is a crowd of extreme fans so even the less well-known become mass singalongs. It’s getting dark and my anxiety about crossing the Common to make the tube home is rising. Typically such travels wouldn’t faze me but I have just had quite a shock.
I make a painful decision to leave the set early. I really wanted to stay, even more so when I hear when safely back home that Paul Weller had joined the Nutty Boys on stage as a special guest.
I leave with House Of Fun ringing across the park. Undoubtedly, this has been a day of much frivolity and the smiles are there for all to see. I’m glad I made the effort to go along. Madness and their day in the sun has helped begin my healing process and for that I really can’t thank them enough.
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