Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Return Of The Los Palmas 7: Madness in Mallorca

It's odd that a quintessentially English group like Madness should attract interest from the natives. But they do. Probably because they are a "name", a known act to the Spanish, unlike many of the British artists who have been playing Magalluf's Mallorca Rocks this summer. The Spanish will be out in force as much as the Brits.

The nutty boys are playing Mallorca Rocks on Tuesday, the penultimate gig of a season that at one point had looked as though it might have been scuppered by legal challenges to the Fiesta hotel venue. To the rescue, finally, came the tourism ministry which discovered that it could grant the necessary permissions where before it had said it couldn't. If there was something, how can one put it, convenient about the decision taken by new tourism minister Carlos Delgado who, as mayor of Calvia, had previously given the hotel the initial go-ahead, then let's be thankful for convenience.

The opposition to Mallorca Rocks was petty. Despite its having been led by the tourist businesses association Acotur, no one was in any doubt as to where the inspiration for the opposition was coming from. A bit of competition should have hurt no one. Indeed, the arrival of Mallorca Rocks should have been applauded by everyone, competitors included (even those who hadn't thought of doing something similar), in boosting Magalluf and Mallorca's reputation.

So much for the political background, and back to Madness. Their appearance, more so than Norman Cook earlier in the summer, gives the Mallorca Rocks season a seal of internationally recognised approval; hence the interest shown among the Spanish. It's good that they are playing, but I shan't be going. It's not that middle-aged men shouldn't still be performing, it's just that this is the same Madness of some thirty years ago, when they were mad.

Attending a Madness gig back in the day was not something you did without some thought and trepidation if you happened not to be a skinhead. The group's appearance and their embracing of ska and bluebeat made them the darlings of the boys with no hair and Dr. Martens. There was also a concern that the group themselves were politically far from correct, a reputation at the time that they initially did little to deflect and which also brought them into conflict with The Specials.

Though there was a commonality with the music, Madness's short involvement with The Specials' 2 Tone label seemed incongruous. The Specials, as with others on the label, The Selecter and The Beat, were fiercely anti-racist. With Madness, you weren't quite sure, and the National Front association they acquired, almost totally because of skins who were part of the NF and who turned up at their gigs, made you distinctly wary. It was only when they disassociated themselves from the skinhead movement and also moved away from the ska roots that they shook off the reputation.

The other incongruity between Madness and 2 Tone was that Madness, despite their tribute to Prince Buster which launched them on 2 Tone, were very "London". Their music, or rather their style, came to reflect this and it was, to some extent, a continuation of the London pub scene of the seventies, of Eddie And The Hot Rods, Dr. Feelgood and more obviously Kilburn And The High Roads (and later Ian Dury And The Blockheads).

The mainstays of 2 Tone were all Midlands-based, and even one group that wasn't part of 2 Tone but which formed at the same time and had its own reggae and multi-ethnic mix, UB40, was from Birmingham. And Madness weren't multi-ethnic. They were uniformly white, and their musical direction steered them towards a very white, very English sound and towards very English lyrics, when lyrics were actually used. One of their best "songs" was not a song at all, but the instrumental "Return Of The Los Palmas 7", a weirdly infectious ballroom-lounge tune that could just as easily have been put out some years before by The Bonzo Dog Band in one of their saner moments.

Madness were always a cracking band and a cracking live act. They churned out hit after hit and were permanently in the charts. They seemed as though they would go on and on, having found a commercial formula, as did UB40, that suggested a longevity that had eluded The Specials. It didn't happen, though, and by the mid-1980s they had split.

But they're back and they're playing Mallorca Rocks. Madness? It probably won't be. Not as it was. But if you're going, enjoy it. Waiter!

Any comments to please.

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