Officially disbanded in July, 1986, Madness had been without founder member and musical guru, Mike 'Barso' Barson, since 1984. For a band to lose a principal songwriter after an astonishing run of 17 consecutive Top 20 hits was a bit of a blow. But they carried on, in a familiar graceful fashion, to record a further six singles (only two of which failed to make the 20) and one album to add to their previous five studio sets, and a couple of collections to boot. An impressive catalogue for a band who started out as brave adolescent chancers of a new ska sound in the wake of punk rock.Barson, who swapped Madness' "Nutty" train for the trams of Holland, has barely been back since. But the carefully considered return of Madness for two shows in their originally local Finsbury Park is down, more than anybody else, to him. If he hadn't agreed, none of them would. But he did. And so did they. And here we are.
Walking in on their very first day of rehearsal beggared a certain amount of disbelief. Wouldn't they be a touch apprehensive, a tad defensive even? Nothing of the kind. The atmosphere is excited, of course, but unusually relaxed. Business as usual even. It is a tribute to the band's enduring spirit of fellowship, which goes back to their school days, that the word tension never underlies let alone enters the conversation. But then there's no time for tension, nor the threat of panic that might terrorise lesser groups.