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July 2009

Daniel 'Woody' Woodgate is sitting at home, a five-bed townhouse in Beckenham, Kent, looking out on a fine day of sunshine but is concerned about the dismal forecast for the weekend ahead. Madness have three shows, back to back, starting tonight in London with their annual Madstock bash and ending on Sunday in Nottingham topping the Splendour bill.
Not many bands can command such big audiences after 30 years. And it's not just in the UK.
In the past two months the seven strong Nutty Boys have played Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Serbia, Portugal, France, Holland and Spain.
"They react very much like the rest of the world," he says.
"Jumping up and down and having a jolly good time."

The latest album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate is your first new album in a decade. Were you nervous about doing it?
Not at all. Rather the opposite. We were itching to get on with it in fact. We had loads of new material that we needed to get off our chests.
We booked ourselves into a tiny little studio in north London and started the process of recording on an eight-track machine with old cranky equipment. And it was really good fun. That was just Suggs, Mike (Barson), myself and a bass player called Graham Bush. Lee Thompson used to come in. Then when the rest of the band got to hear what we were up to one by one they all came back.

It doesn't sound like a rough recording. It's quite polished.
It is. We took a lot of those ideas and recordings into a more upstream studio.
But by starting off with basic equipment there was more emphasis on getting the song right in terms of melody.
And the vibe. It was recording tracks like we used to. Memorising them, playing them a lot. Because these days you can literally play a couple of bars then paste them together on a computer. That just hasn't got the same feeling.

It's had both great reviews and chart success.
It's very nice that people have said that this is the masterpiece. It's wonderful but to be honest we just do what we do.

How much of the new album will you be playing at Splendour?
Well, instead of presenting the thing in one big dollop which I think would put people off, we've slowly integrated the new songs into the set. At the moment we have up to about four songs. So when we come up north, like...

We're not that far north.
North of the river (Thames) is north to me. You should get at least four new songs. Probably Dust Devil, Forever Young, Clarkenwell Polka and NW5.

Madness are well-versed in playing the festival circuit. Have you any advice for other bands on how to fill the stage? A lot of running around perhaps?
There is a bit of that. But there is a danger of what we call ego-ramps where the singer will disappear for a good five minutes as he goes and basks in the splendour of the audience. Suggs is very good. He's very much a man who is part of the band. Lee Thompson, our sax player, loves to run around. He likes to climb lighting rigs and fly in the air. He needs a lot of attention.

When you played Rock City in 2005 he dived off a speaker stack and flattened a few members of the audience.
Yes, he recently broke his ribs by some antics where he was on a human pyramid at Glastonbury and fell off. Or they collapsed under his weight. I don't know which one is true (laughs). He landed on a bottle and has broken a rib.

Do you miss the opportunity to mess about like that, having to stay behind your kit?
I never miss any of that. I like being behind my kit. I'm happy to stay there, thank you very much.

Have you worked with any other Splendour bands before?
We've come across Kid British. They're a nice bunch of lads. Bless them they do come from Manchester but that's not their fault. Suggs and I met them on Soccer:AM. They did a cover of Our House. It's nice to have such young fans. The Pogues are brilliant. I don't think we've ever been on the same bill. They're old favourites of ours. They have the ability to get a crowd going which is the idea of it all.

What memories have you of gigs in Nottingham?
We've always gone down very well in Nottingham. Rock City was always fantastic. I remember once playing the Royal Concert Hall and not being allowed to leave the stage because we had to do about four or five encores. So we've always gone down very well in Nottingham. It's fantastic. I do like it. I'm not just saying that.

You are just saying that.
No. I'm quite fond of Sheffield as well. Nottingham and Sheffield. They're two cracking places up north.

Do you all still live in the London area?
We do apart from Carl - Chas Smash. He now lives in Ibiza. He's in the hills, not where all the banging raves happen.

Suggs has said his favourite Madness song to still perform is Embarrassment. Which is yours?
I'm enjoying the new ones. We do a really cracking version of I Chase The Devil aka Ironshirt which is an old reggae song we did on The Dangermen Sessions album. People think that we're covering Prodigy's version but we took it from the original. I know it's a cover but It Must Be Love is a cover as well and I love doing that one.

How different are you to say 20 years ago on tour? Do you still travel together?
We do. There is a slight split in the band between people who smoke and people who don't. The people who smoke are getting fewer and fewer. So Suggs and Carl are on their own quite a lot (laughs). I gave up cigarettes 17 years ago. I'm one of the worst type of ex-smokers. I'm a pain in the a***. I'm unbearable. I snub people who smoke. We have a good bus and a naughty bus. And I can't even tell you what goes on in the naughty bus.

At what point has it felt like a job being in Madness?
When you begin to repeat the same things over and over again. When you've done the same set night after night. When the crowd start looking the same. This year is the 30th year of the band and we've done more gigs than ever before. There has been times when you go 'I'm not feeling it now'. Because it's just repetition. If you do the same thing, no matter how wonderful it is, night after night, you do begin to lose it a bit. But we are very aware of that so we tend to not overdo it. We try and maintain a freshness by simply not playing that much and it seems to work.

What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
We go to Moscow in August, then Ireland and we're doing a gig in Paris. I'm sure there will be something at Christmas as well. But we don't want to spread ourselves too thinly. People can think 'oh Madness, they're always around, we can catch them later.' Well, there might not be a later. We might just knock it on the head.

Everyone knows you as Woody but who still calls you Daniel?
Only my ex-wife. And that's why she's my ex-wife.

Madness play Splendour July 19 2009.

July 2010 Interview with Suggs

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