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February 2013

SUGGS never knew his father growing up. The man who left home when he was a small child was rarely spoken of although he knew a few, shocking details. “I knew he was a heroin addict and I knew he ended up in an asylum,” says the Madness frontman. “My mum was a jazz singer and she came down from Manchester.
“My dad was a big jazz fan and a photographer. They met in Soho.
“When they married she didn’t realise he was a heroin addict... not until she came home from work to find him with a needle sticking out of his hand. Then life started to get difficult and he became impossible to live with.
“So they went their separate ways.”
Heroin was rife in the jazz clubs of Soho during the 50s.
“I remember a chemist in Shaftesbury Avenue and one day a week they’d give out free heroin to registered addicts. There’d be queues of people.”
Suggs, who was born Graham McPherson, only discovered more about his dad when he turned 50.
“After he left my mum lost touch with him and we never really talked about him. It was one of those very British things; the elephant in the room.
“But when I turned 50 I started feeling retrospective. The kids had left home and my cat died. So I asked my ‘what did happen to dad?’ She started to fill in a bit more about who he was so I thought I’d find out what happened to him.”
He figured it would mean months of research in the local archives and visits to his family in Scotland.
“But then someone suggested I look on Wikipedia. And half of it was right there!”
His research also uncovered some shocking details of why he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
“There was a story that he’d injected himself with paraffin,” says the 52-year-old. “He’d started injecting himself with anything he could find. I think the authorities thought it was the safest place for him. But I don’t really know much more than that.”
Although his dad died in 1975 at 40, Suggs was still taken aback on finding his death certificate.
“It was like he’d just been a figment of my imagination until then.”
He adds: “It made me think twice about (using) heroin, I must admit.”
His dad’s story is the narrative thread in the show he brings to the Theatre Royal in May.
“The conclusion is that you can dwell on the past, especially when it’s something bad and you can keep dragging it around with you like a ball and chain or you can just get on with life now. The people around you now are the most important people.”
The show, called My Life Story, also includes tales of his upbringing, life with Madness at 18, his career in TV and radio, and his own family, which includes a wife of over 30 years and their two daughters.
“It’s not stand-up, it’s not An Audience With... and it’s not a monologue either. We ended up with a sort of tragi-comedy musical sad thing... which is uncategorisable,” he says.
“When I wrote it, it was about five hours long. But I’ve got a director who showed me how to condense it. And he showed me ways of theatrically jumping around in time. If you leap from side of the stage to the other and shout ‘It’s 1992’ and the lighting changes a bit, then people kind of believe you.
“The only problem was learning it. There was a bit on a train where I kept getting off in 1975 when I was supposed to be in 1992,” he laughs.
He has a guitar and piano accompaniment for a few songs during the show.
“They are songs that illustrate the story. Baggy Trousers explains quite a bit about my childhood.”
Most of the band have seen it, when he took it on the road last year.
“They’d shout out at certain points that I’d got the date wrong or that I’d made it up,” he laughs.
“But they were all very supportive.”

Suggs: My Life Story, Theatre Royal, Wednesday, May 8, £24.50,

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