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Madness’ criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds

Madness have shared a candid insight into their lawless pre-fame lives in an eye-opening new documentary.

Before the group hit the big time with a string of much-loved hits including Baggy Trousers and It Must Be Love, the lads clocked up multiple brushes with the law between them.

Lead singer Suggs has admitted the band would have almost certainly been jailbirds had they not made it in the music business, saying their success saved them from a ‘life of crime.’

Speaking in the band’s new documentary Before We Was Madness, the charismatic frontman explained: “Being in the band was like an extension of being in a gang — apart from the fact it wasn’t just us smashing up phone boxes and kicking traffic cones down the road together.

“It was at a crossroads. A lot of those people we knew at that time did get into serious crime.

Suggs says Madness saved its members from a life of crime

Madness' criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds
The core members speak about their troubled youths in new documentary Before We Was We: Madness by Madness

“We were all a little bit involved in that sort of thing and graffiti was the first thing. Music was a huge step in the right direction,” he admitted.

Suggs, whose real name is Grahame McPherson, was arrested for affray in his teens and chose his famous moniker after daubing it all over London in graffiti as a youth.

After following Madness around for a year, Suggs was invited to join the band in 1977.

Within two years of having Suggs on board, the group scored their first hit with infectious ska floor filler One Step Beyond.

Recalling life before the life-changing career breakthrough, saxophonist Lee ‘Thommo’ Thompson told how he wound up in court for burglary at the tender age of 11.

Madness' criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds
(L-R) Dan Woodgate, Carl Smyth, Lee Thompson, Mike Barson, Suggs, Chris Foreman, Mark Bedford of Madness

Madness' criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds
Saxophonist Lee ‘Thommo’ Thompson admitted to breaking into the home of singer Lynsey De Paul

Admitting to breaking into the home of singer Lynsey de Paul with a pal, Thommo said: “We sat down. Bob had Sugar Puffs, I had cornflakes. We put the plates in the sink and left. We didn’t take nothing.”

Thommo also revealed that he and guitarist Chris ‘Chrissy boy’ Foreman and keyboard player Mike ‘Barso’ Barson used to regularly steal vinyl from a record store in Camden.

The trio said they would pinch up to 12 at a time until they ended up with hundreds of freebies.

As things escalated the gang also admitted to pinching Lambretta scooters.

Madness' criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds
Mike Barson was sent to prison at the age of 18

Madness' criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds
Mike Barson speaks about life before Madness in a new documentary

Thommo said his desperate parents sent him to a reform school when he was a kid.

“Even my dad had given up sticking up for me. He probably thought, ‘You’ve got to wake up now,'” he mused.

While Barso was sent to prison at the age of 18.

“Me and my mate found a load of these long neon light bulbs and we were just smashing them. The police got called and we got caught.

“Because we’d been stopped by the police a lot of times, the judge decided he was going to make an example of us,” he explained.

The musician said the spell inside gave him a ‘short, sharp shock’ to the system as he described the experience as ‘pretty horrible.’

Madness' criminal pasts as Suggs admits band could have been jailbirds
Suggs joined the Camden based band a year after they formed in 1976

After various brushes with the law, the group also came together over their love of music.

Their mutual passion led to the men jamming together – despite Mike being the only one able to play the instruments properly – before forming their own band in the late 70s.

Madness went onto become one of the most prominent bands in the early 80s ska revival.

After 15 top ten singles, the core group continue to tour and write new music today.


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