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The Liberty of Norton Folgate 

By Andrew Vaughan  

 

The Specials were great the other week. We had a few beers in town, or the Northern Quarter as it is now known, got wet, got a cab, had a few beers, danced around got wet, got a cab and train and headed back to our own little Ghost Town.  

We enjoyed ourselves and it was later than we thought. The grim urban reality of those songs from almost 30 years ago might resonate true in these troubled times. There might even be a new Specials album – yet without Dammers that looks distant and as enjoyable as they were you can see a “Pogues at Christmas”-type of annual occurring.  

Well, everybody’s got to earn a dollar and there will always be people like myself that didn’t catch them first time around so good luck to them.  

One band I caught numerous times was Madness. They were the yang to the yin of The Specials, the white in those two-tone days. And they were great fun. The boys following that old pub tradition of singing around a piano. Good tunes, good times all wrapped up in a north London postcode.  

Madness had a couple of decent albums, a string of fantastic hit singles and sort of hung around in the background. Suggs appeared on telly a bit and the singles would be put on a jukey when you were going the football and that was about it.  

Yet, during that time they recorded something like eight albums – of varying quality I assume. But now… Now in these darkening days they have come up - seemingly out of nowhere with - The Liberty of Norton Folgate. It’s being billed as a concept album about London – like when has a Madness album not been. And you know what it is absolutely fucking brilliant. 

It’s The Good, The Bad and The Queen with proper tunes. Peter Ackroyd meets Ian Dury. Ray Davies’ grown-up nephews saying farewell to Muswell Hill and Southend. Bangle Town clashes with Kentish Town. Whilst all along Lionel Bart directs Fagin in and out the alleys of that dirty, smoky, beautiful city. Polkas and McCartneyesque melodies drift out of a garden flat in Kilburn before finding a vaudeville home in the artistic East End with the ten minutes of panoramic magnificence that is the title track. Beautifully arranged and driven by Mike Barson’s keyboards and assorted brass and strings this is Madness’ masterpiece.  

A truly gorgeous album. God Bless ‘em.  

The Liberty of Norton Folgate is out now on Lucky Seven Records 

    

 

 

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