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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Taking Suggs’ trip down memory lane

Image: Cathy Simpson

Saturday night at the White Rock could be the title of a lesser-known, latter-day Madness B-side and if you are old enough to remember those, there’s a fair chance you were part of the capacity house for this special event, which saw the children of the late 1970s/ early 1980s generation reunite, for one night only, many togged up in their well-worn tribal two-tone costumes, to revel in the good natured ramblings of one Graham McPherson, musician, TV presenter, raconteur, entertainer on the royal roof and all-round good egg. Better known as Suggs, frontman for the legendary pop combo Madness. Chris Connelly was there.

This was comfort food for the mind; or more accurately, the middle-aged memory, as Suggs evoked a long-gone world of boho Soho, independent record labels, teds, rockers and their long-forgotten ‘yoof’ battles, reminding us too of a lost live pub music circuit and those dim, grim old boozers of yore, where adolescent drinking apprenticeships were served and good times sought in an era whose accent colours were beige and nicotine.

The full house lapped it up, acknowledging the landmark cultural references, like the nod to obligatory Thursday night viewing, Top of The Pops, with loud applause, clapping amiably along to the well-chosen snippets of song that interspersed Suggs’ tragi-comic monologue.

Weaving a convoluted tale cleverly connecting a dead cat to his efforts to find out about his absentee dad, the enduring narrative thread for the two-hour show, we discover the great man is in fact a son of our town, having been born here in Hastings in 1961, helpfully serving us up another popular local ambassador for our current City of Culture bid.

We also got to hear about his roots in London and Wales, his rude awakening in a tough London comprehensive and his route into the 1970s music scene, as part of the reaction against the big hair and extended prog-rock guitar solos that defined the sounds of the time. He also covered the rise, fall and rebirth of what many still argue is the nation’s most successful singles band.

Those expecting a glorified musical, simply reprising some of the band’s greatest hits, will have been challenged and, hopefully, pleasantly surprised, as this was unashamedly an evening of irreverent, nostalgic, often ribald, conversation. Boiled down to its essential elements, what we got was a nattily suited man with the gift of the gab, telling stories, occasionally accompanied by sidekick Deano on piano, and with just an armchair for a prop. It may have looked easy, but is without doubt one of the hardest formats to make work, especially over the extended time Suggs had to fill.

That he did it so well, with such panache and without assistance, is a tribute to his comic timing, charm and chutzpah. Throughout the evening, he managed to tread a fine line between pathos and sentimentality, before successfully bringing together the various strands and storylines, on time and note-perfect, for a typically rousing and optimistic finale that saw him earn a well-deserved standing ovation.

In a nutshell, it was an evening of lo-fi, feel-good pleasure from an emerging national treasure, leaving us feeling happy and, for a moment, young(er) again as we exited into the elements, heading back to our hatchbacks with a spring in our steps and that special tune in our heads.

Thanks for the memories, Suggs.

 

Suggs told his life-story at the White Rock Theatre on Saturday 13 April.

 

Posted 16:02 Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013 In: Performance

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