Mrs Chrisparkle and I were feeling rather sorry for the residents of Abington Avenue. Our walk up from the town centre had been uneventful; the Kettering Road was quiet, just a few people outside the Picturedrome as we turned left towards the Cricket Ground. A few more people started emerging, heading towards the ground, but even then it was remarkably relaxed – a typical Sunday evening I guess. Once we’d got past Lea Road, it was a different matter. “Is that a riot going on ahead?” asked Mrs C nervously as we continued walking towards a thronging mass of people. “Unlikely” I thought, although doubtless we both remembered that bizarre Christmas Eve in 1986 when we just avoided getting caught up in the “Shire Wars” riot in Aylesbury town centre. ‘Eee it were tuff in Buckinghamshire in them days.
Treading carefully over broken glass and weaving our way past the drunks outside the pub just before the cricket ground, we kind of wondered what the hell we had got ourselves into. Still, once we entered the ground, you felt an increased level of safety, secure in the knowledge that you were in the company of people out for a good night’s entertainment rather than those who simply wanted to get rat-arsed. Nevertheless, the lure of a spot of alcohol called, and, having been very good and not brought into the ground any “food/drink/alcohol/illegal substances” as it warned on the ticket, we headed towards the bar. Then we saw the queue. “How much do you need a drink?” asked Mrs C. “Not that much”, was my reply. So we pressed on, into the crowd, to see how near we could get to the stage without having to get too intimate with other onlookers.
We did rather well really, as we managed to get a spot that was more or less centre in front of the stage and only about – what – 50 rows or so from the front? Very difficult to estimate with so many people there, but it was a good location. As we arrived the final warm up band was performing their swansong, and we thought they were pretty good. Then we had an announcement from the producer, Liz Hobbs, who beefed us up with the news that they would be putting plenty more concerts on at the cricket ground in the future. I can just imagine the residents of Abington Avenue hanging out the bunting. With only a few minutes before Suggs and the Nutty Boys were due to come on, there was an influx of lads to our area of the pitch, all high on “emotion” and not afraid to express it. Why oh why did they sell Madness hats there? I understand the need for “merch”, but really? Encouraging people to wear something that makes them six inches taller standing right in front of you? Is that what you want when you want to see a stage? Thus our prime spot became slightly less than prime; still I am sure it’s a problem that everyone had, unless you arrived with hours and hours to spare, hurled yourself in a mad rush as soon as the gates opened and decamped in the front row. I’m afraid our time is more valuable than to spend it just hanging around for a concert to start.
I’m sounding like a right grump, aren’t I? Actually, the concert was really good. You can never tell if a group you liked 30 to 35 years ago will still cut the mustard, but Madness sure do. Suggs is a born showman, and his sub-robotic silly dance routines still amuse and entertain; and his voice is still as clear as a bell and full of knowing wit. Musically, they’re great, and their brass arrangements resonate across the crowd as raucously as ever. I was a bit concerned that they would just play (those dreaded words) stuff “from our latest album”, and whilst there was a bit of that, for the most part they simply wallowed in nostalgia, playing all their oldies and goldies. The only song of theirs that I like and they didn’t play, was “Driving in my car”. Apart from that, it was a set geared to please.
How could it fail to entrance the crowd when it opened with “One Step Beyond”, played with all the silliness and bravado the band could muster? “Embarrassment”, and the superb “My Girl” followed shortly after – and it’s great at such an event when simply everyone knows the words. They played for a good hour and a half, with just a brief break whilst one of the guys performed (if that’s the right word) “New York, New York” in his own, inimitable fashion. But when you end up with “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers”, “Our House”, and “It Must Be Love”, you realise quite what a contribution the group has made to the world of high octane fun pop music. Their encore was “Madness” (which personally I could have done without) and “Night Boat to Cairo” (a must).
At the end, everyone seemed to disperse in an extremely orderly way and the whole thing was clearly well organised and stewarded. I hope they continue to bring more top acts to Northampton – there’s definitely an audience for it. Terribly glad I don’t live near the cricket ground though.