Madness: Falkirk Stadium, 4 August 2017

As a music-obsessed child growing up in the forgotten town of Falkirk, halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, I hated the fact that my favourite bands never played there and going to a gig always involved a journey to one or other city. (Okay, Fish from Marillion played there in 1994, but that hardly counts.) Now that I’m grown up and living nearer to Edinburgh, suddenly Falkirk gets itself a proper football stadium and bands start playing there. I wasn’t going to turn down a chance to see Madness though, and nor were thousands of others who had dragged their kids along for a slice of Nutty Boy action. Falkirk has never seen so many fezzes.

First of all, though, we were obliged to spend forty minutes in the company of Suggs’s former charges The Farm. Musically, little has changed in The Farm’s world since their heyday in 1990; we were treated to reasonable facsimiles of Groovy Train and All Together Now, plus lesser hits like Stepping Stone and Love See No Colour, a faithful cover of The Clash’s Bankrobber and – gasp – two new songs, introduced almost apologetically by Peter Hooton. He needn’t have worried as the new songs blended in well with the older material and the band’s set was well received by the crowd, especially one gentleman at the back whose energetic dancing suggested he’d taken something unwise while listening to Groovy Train in 1990 and had never been the same since.

Finally the crowd erupted as the Nutty Boys took to the stage, still depleted to the tune of one due to Cathal “Chas Smash” Smyth’s ongoing sabbatical. In fact they were very nearly down to a quintet at one stage as drummer Woody broke his back in a bizarre quad biking accident a couple of months ago, but thankfully he was back to full strength as the band launched into Embarrassment. This heralded a set rich in classic hits, seasoned with a handful of tracks from last year’s Can’t Touch Us Now album. Almost a year since his death, the video screens paid tribute to Prince Buster during The Prince and provided visual accompaniment to less familiar tracks like Mr Apples and Herbert.

The impression that Madness give nowadays is of a group of old friends playing music simply for the sheer joy of doing so. There are no muso pretensions and it doesn’t matter if Mike Barson hits the odd bum note (he always has) or Suggs muddles up some of the lyrics (he always does). Even when he comes in a full four bars early on House of Fun, causing the song to collapse after about thirty seconds, there are no complaints from the benevolent crowd; where other bands would have attempted to cover it up, or erupted in violent recriminations, Suggs just deadpans “We’ve only been singing it forty years,” and they simply start again. Undeniably, Smyth’s stage presence is missed, especially during his original showpiece One Step Beyond, but his absence allows saxophonist Lee Thompson to step further into the spotlight, providing a comic foil for Suggs and even taking on some vocal duties. He didn’t fly over the crowd tonight, but you can’t have everything.

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If forced to pick fault with the show, some acknowledgement of the band’s more recent history would have been welcome; aside from 2008 hit NW5 and I Chase The Devil from 2005’s The Dangermen Sessions, the entire setlist was comprised of pre-1984 hits and tracks from Can’t Touch Us Now, a selection targeted at the casual fan with “Please buy our new album” tagged on. The addition of My Girl 2 or Never Knew Your Name from 2012’s Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da, or Lovestruck and Johnny The Horse from 1999’s comeback album Wonderful would have provided a little more balance across almost forty years’ worth of back catalogue. Still, it seems ungracious to complain about a set stuffed to the gills with classic hits: even after Baggy Trousers, Our House and It Must Be Love we still bayed for the inevitable encore of Madness and Night Boat to Cairo. May the nutty train never hit the buffers.