Review – Madness, Northamptonshire County Cricket Ground, 22nd September 2013

MadnessMrs 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.

the crowdsTreading 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.

Warm-up groupWe 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.

Madness entertainI’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.

more MadnessHow 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.

Northamptonshire Cricket Club v. India, County Ground Northampton, 6th August 2011

Northants v IndiaWhat do I know about the noble art of cricket? Which is the best guard? Seamers and spinners? Mid off or mid on? L B or W? Not much. But I thought it was high time I learned a bit, and it occurred to me that I had never been to a “proper” cricket match. And living a mere 30 minutes stroll from Northamptonshire’s Cricket Ground, where better to start than with their match against the touring India side, as yet not showing that much star form in their series against England.

Final scoreWell, they didn’t show much star form against Northants either. Their 1st innings total was 352 for 9. After contending with an unwelcome shower or two, Northants were left with 84 overs to beat that score. And they ended up at 355 for 7. That was with three balls to spare. Somehow, apparently, this score equates to a draw between the two sides because it was a two-innings match. Don’t quite get that, but it’s undeniably true that India didn’t win, as I had surely expected.

Happy crowdsSo what can I tell you of my day at the cricket? It was a sell-out, and the crowd were extremely friendly. As the day progressed, the Indian drums started, the flags started getting waved, and for the last two hours the cricket was almost secondary to the mini-parade of Indian fans dancing their way around the entire ground. Twice. A big local ginger lad, sporting a Northampton Saints Rugby shirt, seemed to take the Indians to heart and he headed the flag waving and dancing processions, much to the delight of the Indians in the crowd.

Will you marry my sister?We were seated in the midst of some Indian brothers, sisters and cousins, who were all very entertaining company and not afraid to make lively and frequently hilarious comments about the proceedings. I’m afraid I couldn’t identify any of the players, but when an Indian fielder came near the boundary where we were sitting (the County Stand as I now know) this guy behind us would shout out the cricketer’s name and things like “Hey! India’s Next Captain!” or “Hey! Will you marry my sister?” of “Hey! Give us a wave!” To a man the Indian cricketers in question ignored his calls, despite the fact that he had bigger lungs and better vocal projection than Pavarotti.

Andrew HallWhen Andrew Hall, the Northants Captain – not playing that day – was seen walking around the stands, this guy called out “Hey! Andrew Hall! Give us a wave!” To which Mr Hall duly gave a little wave, like the one Rowan Atkinson did on Not The Nine O’Clock News before he walked into a lamppost. Later on Andrew Hall, this time accompanied by an attractive young lady selling tickets, walked around again, now with the raffle prize, a framed bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar. It was drawing a lot of attention. The man on the tannoy called out: “People are asking what the raffle prize is and when it will be on sale. I’m not sure what the prize is but I can confirm tickets will be on sale after lunch.” Andrew Hall and his ticket lady looked at us in disbelief. “He’s making my job much harder” she complained. Mrs C and I went in for the raffle. I spent the entire afternoon fantasising about where we could put the bat if I won. Mrs C thought that Ebay would be the best location for it. In any case some other chap won it. Sigh.

Jilted fielderAs India performed worse and worse throughout the afternoon, the Indian supporters started to get a bit restless with their team. The fielder, who had earlier been considered marriage material for the girl next to me, returned to our section of the boundary. “The marriage is off – you’re useless!” she cried out.

Cricketers love giving autographs, notI hadn’t quite comprehended how the majority of youngsters attending the match spent the entire time running up and down the boundary trying to get the fielders to sign their mini-cricket bats. It’s a complete subculture. They must hardly get to see any of the real match, because they’re always leaning over the barrier waving their mini bats at these guys; who, let me tell you, look every inch as though they loathed every second of the attention. When they did sign the bats, they did it with the most scowly face imaginable.

Serious cricket fans, weI am pleased to tell you though that Mrs Chrisparkle and I had a splendid time. We sat down about 10.30am. At around 11, we had our first corned beef roll. Then at 12 we had a big bag of crisps. At 12.30 we had some stuffed vine leaves and a cheese roll. At 1.15 we broke open the Semillon Chardonnay. More rolls followed, and at about 3.30, in time for tea, we had some almond slices. Isn’t sport wonderful? It rained a little occasionally but for the most part the sun shone; being a woman, Mrs C was able to multitask watching the cricket and reading The Independent at the same time. It all finished at about 6.20pm. Incredibly good value we thought at £15 per person. We’re both keen to go again.