Jackie Butler talks to Chas Smash ahead of a Westcountry invasion by Madness.
It's all gone a bit crazy for Madness in 2012. It's a year when the North London ensemble have been unofficially crowned as national treasures with a spectacular rooftop performance at Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and a drive-in starring role at the Olympics closing ceremony.
There were flurries of summer festivals too, and now they are just about to embark on a sell-out Charge Of The Mad Brigade UK concert tour – with a date at Plymouth Pavilions on December 4 – preceded by two performances at the notoriously excellent House of Fun Weekender, the rocking reggae and ska-infused indoor extravaganza the band curate at Butlins, Minehead.
To top all that, fans and critics have just been voicing a resounding "Yes" in response to their tenth studio album Oui, Oui, Si, Si, Ja, Ja, Da, Da, its first single My Girl 2, and its striking artwork by legendary artist Sir Peter Blake. It's a life-affirming collection, rich in catchy pop sensibility but with a satisfying maturity, tenderness and depth.
It had a tough act to follow in the form of The Liberty of Norton Folgate, the 2009 LP that firmly planted Madness back on the credible contemporary music map, rather than harking back to their hit-packed glory days.
"The way I like to think about it is that it's our new first album, and we have just done our difficult second album," says singer, trumpet-player and dance maestro Cathal Smyth, aka Mr Chas Smash.
They decided to take a break from regular producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley and try out some new faces, hence its recording in several different studios.
"We are already talking about our next album, and that is incredible.
But for me it's really all about writing songs and live performance. The large part of Madness is honesty and audiences know at a subconscious level whether you believe in yourselves or not. People talk about getting burnt out, and you need a re-injection of passion. If you look for beauty and the interesting things in life and be kind to each other, then you are OK."
Cathal managed the band before he joined it as a musician and has always been instrumental in keeping the band trucking – and bringing them back together after periodic hiatuses since they first came together around Camden Town in 1976, enjoying their first chart success three years later with debut album One Step Beyond.
"We are more like a tribe than a family; there are all the children and grandchildren now," he adds.
There have been various incarnations, too. The current one includes six original members – Cathal, singer Suggs, guitarist Chris Foreman, keyboard player Mike Barson, saxophonist Lee Thompson and drummer Daniel "Woody" Woodgate. Original bassist Mark "Bedders" Bedford is currently taking a break from the band.
They all write songs and bring them to the mix and by arrangement they all become distinctively Madness. With Chris Foreman, Cathal won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song for the unforgettable international hit Our House back in 1983. His songwriting has continued to develop and blossom; for the new album he co-wrote How Can I Tell You with Suggs and three tunes on his own – Misery,Death of a Rude Boy and So Alive.
This last title is inspired by his experience of unexpectedly falling head over heels in love again, seven years after separating from his wife.
"It knocked me for six," confesses Cathal, 53, who moved to Ibiza five years ago after his marriage split up. The girl he fell for married someone else, but Cathal was pleased to be able to process his feelings "positively" in the song.
He's just about to move back to his home town of London.
"I've got so many projects on the go that it makes sense," he says. He is writing and recording a solo "relationship" album with folky Johnny Cash undertones, as well as penning a stage show with music called HMS Misery – a sort of Oliver Twist meets Cape Fear.
"And I like being near my kids," says Cathal, father to Caspar, 26, Milo, 23, and Eloise, 17, who recently shone in her first acting role in Ill Manors with Plan B aka Ben Drew. Cathal also co-wrote a song for the soundtrack and had a cameo role.
But for now Madness calls and he is ready to get the fun and frivolity started for fans at Minehead next weekend, alongside a host of bands and DJs including David Rodigan, Norman Jay, the Cuban Brothers, Don Letts and Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show.
Cathal admits that the band still argue over their tour setlist.
"It is difficult when you have such a strong back catalogue and everyone has their favourites," he says. "Where do you fit in the new stuff?"
Madness host their House of Fun Weekend at Butlins Minehead from November 23 to 26. Visit www.bigweekends.com. The Plymouth show on December 4 is sold out – check the box office for returns.