OnBlackheath returns this September with an even bigger celebration of music, food and the arts. Suggs tells us what to expect when Madness takes to the stage on Sunday 13 September 2015 as part of their Grandslam Tour
Words: Victoria Purcell
‘It’s a big shock to the system,’ says Suggs, when I asked what it would be like heading south of the river to play OnBlackheath with Madness this summer. Madness, after all, first found its baggy-trousered legs as a band called North London Invaders, based in Camden Town. ‘I don’t think we’ve ever played in south London before, certainly not on Blackheath. We’ll have to pack some sandwiches!
‘We were in Blackheath doing some promotional photos and Danny Baker – whose garden pretty much backs onto the festival site – said, “Get off my land you northerners!” But you’ve got to come across the waters for that lovely air now and again, you know, come and bathe in the refreshing streams and babbling brooks of south London! Blackheath is a beautiful part of the world and I’m very much looking forward to being there.’
Suggs does like to spin a yarn. And Danny Baker – who is indeed a Blackheath resident – seems to feature in a few of them: Madness are second only to Danny Baker in a list of Britain’s top 10 national treasures, apparently; the Queen was hoping that Danny Baker would ‘run up a flagpole’ as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but had to settle for Madness on the roof, it would seem; then we debated whether or not the name ‘Blackheath’ is linked to the Black Death (it’s not).
You could listen to his tales all day. I particularly enjoyed the one about his first trip to the area: ‘I had a job on Blackheath when I was a kid,’ he says. ‘A friend of my mum’s had this art installation with inflatable bubbles that you could walk through. I was taking the money on the door and a load of kids came along and stabbed holes in it and the whole thing deflated. There were all these flailing bodes inside, sort of suffocating, and I was desperately trying to get them out.
‘That’s my abiding memory of Blackheath. That was about 40 years ago. It was a long way to come when I was a kid, especially in those days – London was a much bigger place then. It was a collection of villages and you lived in your own little village. Our village was Camden Town, so venturing that far away for me was like going to Scotland. South London really was like a foreign land. I had to navigate Elephant & Castle and New Cross – they were very different places back then, I can tell you. Deptford – Christ Almighty – running for your life up Deptford High Street! That’s a Morrissey song, by the way.’
Fortunately times have changed, and Madness is due to return to the heath in September as headliners at OnBlackheath festival. Suggs was clearly born to be an entertainer, and he promises to deliver a show you won’t forget on 13 September.
‘Expect a lot of fun and frolics,’ he says. ‘We always enjoy ourselves [on stage] and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re still popular. It’s about performance as much as music. Since we started we’ve been seven extroverts fighting for the limelight and that’s still very much the case. If we enjoy ourselves then the crowd does and it kind of elevates the whole thing – the crowd gets more excited, you get more excited and up it goes.’
The gig is part of their Grandslam Madness tour, and as their only London date, Suggs promises that OnBlackheath will be ‘something very special’. The set will be a mix of new tracks and popular classics because, as Suggs says, nobody likes it if you go to see an artist and ‘they play their new “Jazz Odyssey” album’.
‘We’ll throw in a few new numbers and a few random cover versions,’ he adds. ‘We’re very fortunate, having had a lot of hits over 30 years, that we can mix it around every night [while touring] so it keeps it a bit different for us, but I would never play a set that didn’t involve most of our hits.’
Grandslam Madness – a 21-date tour that kicked off in May and runs until the end of September – takes in a variety of venues, from football stadiums and arenas to racecourses, but we all know there’s just something about festivals…
‘Festivals have changed so much,’ says Suggs. ‘When I was a kid they were pretty horrific experiences, they were just fields full of hairy men thumping about in the mud and throwing beer cans at each other. But they’ve changed enormously now with the food and the facilities – you can actually go in a toilet now, which was never the case until about 1989. A good festival is a mixture of good music and being with your mates, and when the sun comes out and you’re in a nice park and the beer’s flowing… I mean!
‘This year we’re doing a lot of festivals and outdoor concerts,’ he continues, ‘and you play to a lot of people who haven’t necessarily just come to see you, so we’ve kind of built a whole new following. You see some old darlings and you think, who are these people? Then I realise they’re the same age as me! And people bring their kids, I’m not sure if they’ve been invited or dragged along, but it’s quite amazing.’
Family is very much what OnBlackheath is all about. The festival, a celebration of music, food, the arts
and family fun, debuted last year with Massive Attack and Grace Jones headlining, alongside hula-hooping workshops, pulled pork and cookery workshops with Gizzi Erskine.
This year, Elbow headlines on Saturday 12 September (with Manic Street Preachers and Anna Calvi also playing) and Madness on Sunday 13 September (with Kelis and Laura Mvula). There’s also the Heavenly & Friends stage, curated by independent label Heavenly Recordings; Giles Peterson livens things up on the Worldwide Stage, and The Meantime Sessions Stage welcomes the likes of Chris Holland All Stars. World renowned illusionist Dynamo will be on the Heath too with some of his favourite magicians and illusionists at The House Of Mystery.
And because this is a thoroughly grown up festival, the Chef’s Club Banquet – a mini restaurant in the middle of the Food Village – offers diners the chance to enjoy a meal cooked by some of London’s hottest celebrity chefs, including Blackheath legend Andy McLeish, Hemsley + Hemsley, Duck and Waffle’s Daniel Doherty and even Kelis! Make mine a weekend ticket…
Saturday tickets are £54.50 (U16s, £35), Sunday tickets are £45 (U16s, £29) and weekend tickets are £89 (U16s, £49). U12s go free. Chefs Club Banquet tickets are an additional £29. To book see onblackheath.com