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This article by Stephen Dalton appeared in the September 1999 issue of Later magazine.

Suggs: I went to Quintin Kiniston on Finchley Road, about which I wrote Baggy Trousers. It was a very rough school, I’d been living in Wales and I arrived halfway through the first term. I had a uniform from the grammar school I’d been to in Haverford West and my mum said “It doesn’t look that different” - apart from the fact that it had red braiding and the one at Quentin Kiniston had green. So I went in the uniform of another school, just having come from Wales! As soon as I got off the tube two kids started attacking me. That’s just the way it was.”

Chris: And he went on to become the most popular boy in the school!

Suggs: I started fitting in yeah. If you follow my school career, the further I went downhill academically, the more integrated I became - to the point where I stopped going. I was really integrated then, I played in the school orchestra once, the double bass. I’d only had 2 lessons! What an orchestra that was. It was basically whoever turned up. The school was so chaotic that no one even cared if you went in the end.

Woody: It was the same with Haverstock. When I first went there a teacher had been stabbed to death with a woodwork chisel. Education was whatever lesson you decided to go to. So I chose art and music. I ended up doing a lot of drumming. In the latter years, my mate and I used to go to Steve Hillage concerts, take the music teacher and get him stoned.

Chris: I went to a grammar school in Islington - Dame Alice Owens. It’s been knocked down since but Alan Parker and Spandau Ballet went there. It was a crap school as well. I bunked off and went to Haverstock, Lee’s school! I went into the classroom and the teacher’s going “who are you?”. I said “I’ve come from Birmingham”, so I got expelled from Lee’s school.

Suggs: I used to bunk off Quentin Kiniston and hang around Hampstead school, where my best mate at the time was going, because it had girls and it was funkier. We had a teacher called Mr Pringle - he wasn’t called that, but the more he went on about the fact that he wasn’t the more we shouted it around the school. He eventually went mad and had to leave.

Woody: My favourite teacher was the Spanish teacher, Dave Provis. One day he told us to write some poetry about childhood, so I went home and found this obscure Elton John record, copied the words and gave it in. And all he did was write ‘Bernie Taupin’ at the bottom! He was really clued in.

Mark: I went to school at William Ellis up the Highgate Road. It was fine. The best thing about it was meeting such a mix of different people.

Woody: Kids are really cruel, they’ve no sense of political correctness. We had running battles with the “chinks”, the “pakis” and the “plugs”. Plugs were deaf kids! It was terrible, but this is the way kids were.

Mike: I went to Brookfield school between Kentish Town and Highgate. My favourite subject was science because we had a good teacher.

Lee: I was at Gospel Oak originally, then I moved from Highgate Road to Holly Lodge estate. I was never bullied, which was a problem for some kids. I use to turn up, get marked in and go straight down the arcade. I remember being stuck in the bin for putting a magnet on a tape recorder. It erased all the information. Miss Durham made me sit in a bin all lesson.

Carl: My dad travelled a lot so for me school was a bit erratic. I went to school predominantly in Muswell Hill, but I lived in Iraq for a bit, and Northern Ireland. That was in 1971 and it was pretty horrible the ... I was beaten up every day for 3 weeks so I stopped going to school and missed a years education. My dad was always away a lot and I think that’s one thing about the band, we’ve all got absentee or divorced parents. In my view Madness became a surrogate family.

Mark: There’s some truth in that. We were talking about a possible title for a book about us, which was “A Gang of Loners”.

Carl: The school I went to in Finchley was catholic and semi private. We had an alcoholic geography teacher who used to spend his summer holidays with just a crate of whiskey, tanked up. He would put you on his knee and give you three whacks with a leather strap. Definitely a perve. And the sports teacher would make you get changed and then make you do handstands to check if you had pants on. It was definitely perverted.


Suggs: There were gangs from certain areas, like Mornington Crescent, Sowers Town, Regents Park Estate. There was a gang down in Swiss Cottage, one up in Kentish Town, the older gangs who were really heavy in the Sixties. You were aware of them from school.

Carl: But we weren’t going out looking for trouble. We were dressing different, that’s all. We used to follow Bazooka Joe, Adam Ant’s first band, because Mike’s brother was in it. We were just skins, suedeheads, a real mixture. There was a fight in Belsize Town Hall and one of our friends got chained because he had a crop. Back then it seemed quite legendary. If you saw a load of bikers going to a party you’d kick all their bikes over.

Woody: Mark and I vividly remember graffiti around the Hampstead area. The one thing we always remember is seeing ‘Mr.B’ and ‘Kix’ written on railway arches, and we used to think, ‘How the hell did they get up there?’ This was Mike Barson and Lee. They were quite infamous, so to find out you’re in a band with them years later - Mark and I were in awe.

Lee: I’ve known Mr Barson since we were about three or four. I think we went to see ‘Bridge On The River Kwai’ together. There was a big gap up until the age of about 11 or 12 when I knocked around with a chap called Robbie Townsend, and we used to get into mischief. Then we got split and I went to a school out of London, which was fortunate, because it nipped things in the bud in that respect. I was going down a dodgy old path. Then I started hanging out with Chris and Mike.

Mike: Lee was quite well-known amongst all the parents, they knew he was a bit of a rascal. He would always have to wait around the corner because our mums and dads didn’t want us to hang around with him. He was a bit of an influence on us, but at the same time we had an influence on him too. He was heading towards a heavyweight life of crime because he was mixing with the wrong kind of people, then he started mixing with us and we got involved in a lightweight life of crime.

Carl: One of the guy’s fathers was a copper. He checked Lee’s record and banned him from the house. There were factions. There were people who were always going to be destined for a life of crime, and there was the crowd that became Madness, which was more arty.


Carl: Losing my virginity? Erm, it was in a garage in Hampstead. I was 17. I shouldn’t really tell you her name. She was a big girl. She said, ‘Is it in?’ I thought, ‘Oh f**k, I dunno, am I that small?’. I’d been at a single-sex Catholic school and girls were all a bit threatening. But once you’re in a band and you’ve had some success, you can be a complete brick wall and still pull girls.

Lee: It was just down from the Police Station. It was a big metal container which held smashed windscreens. Her arse the following day was like a trampoline, ripped to shreds, because I was on top.

Mark: It’s interesting because I too am a Catholic. I lost my virginity at a party, which sounds quite wild but it wasn’t, it was quite controlled. I was 16. So nothing spectacular to report, but it went quite well and I was very relieved. And yes, I still see the girl.

Woody: I didn’t have much of a teenage life as I joined this lot when I was so young. I only had a year or so after school before I joined.

Suggs: I had a couple of years of adolescence before the band took off. I was 17 when we started and it really was a whirlwind. I suppose the main transition was from being a hobby. The big change comes when you get a deal, then you have to commit to something. But I don’t think you can regret that because there’s nothing to regret, it was brilliant fun!

Chris: Regret what? Not hanging around bus shelters?

Woody: But the drugs were better then. I defy anyone to recreate the acid that was around in the early Seventies, just for the sheer strength of it. I don’t take acid any more but the last time I did it was pathetic.

Carl: Different drugs were prevalent then, like Blues. And acid - you still got microdots then rather than blotting paper. And dope! You could get Lebanese, Lebanese Gold. The hippies were much more discerning. Now it’s in the hands of criminals who just want volume and it’s all crap.

Suggs: Without being facetious, I still feel like I did then anyway. I still go out, I still get excited about records and meeting people, like I did when I was younger. Just maybe not as often, heh heh!

Carl: Being in a band actually keeps you young. I see friends that I used to go to school with and they seem 10, 15 years older than me.

Chris: They were your teachers, Carl.


Chris: Lee, Mike and myself started the band. Then people like Suggs joined through friends of friends.

Woody: I’d seen them at William Ellis school when they were called ‘The Invaders’. I think John Hasler was singing. Gary Dovey was on drums. But they were great. They were the worst band but they were the best band too.

Suggs: It’s pretty much the same today, the worst and the best band.

Woody: I’d only heard about Lee, the way he’d leapt on Gary Dovey and didn’t like drummers, so I was a bit nervous about meeting him. Especially as I knew him because he went to Haverstock school - or should I say he visited Haverstock occasionally and bunked over the wall.

Carl: When I first met Lee he was so cool. We were all going against the grain though, that was what was exciting. We did things like painting our boots before anyone else, wearing baseball jackets from America and mixing up different cultures. We were developing our own thing, not that we were conscious of it at the time. This was from 1975 onwards.

Suggs: Hardly any of us went to same schools but I remember seeing a lot of them at Hampstead Fair when I was younger. It was just before punk and everyone was dressed like Kevin Keegan or Status Quo, but I saw these blokes who were into wearing old clothes. They just seemed more interested in style than the average person.

Chris: Style over content, hurr hurr! I remember first meeting Suggs when he was a 16-year-old skinhead. I went to Mike Barson’s house and he came bursting through the door with a bottle of vodka and sang “See You Later Alligator”. And the rest is history.

Suggs: For some strange reason I drummed at the audition - the shittest drumming ever. Then, when I first got in the band, they sacked me shortly afterwards. I don’t know why but I was looking in the Melody Maker, and in the jobs vacant section it said, ‘Semi-professional band seeks lead singer.’ and it was Mike Barson’s phone number! I’d missed maybe one or two rehearsals and Mike was getting fed up.

Mike: The point was he kept going to football when we were supposed to be rehearsing, and obviously everyone got a bit pissed off. Not just me.

Carl: I left for a while too. For something really petty. I just wanted a lift home and Mike used to charge me 20 pence for petrol.

Mike: I was feeling quite used, you know? Everyone was like, ‘Drive me home,’ and I was just the mug driving them. These may be petty things but we didn’t communicate very well in those days.

Woody: When I joined it was a revolution in my musical taste. I’d heard of Bob Marley but I’d never really heard of Motown, Ian Dury...

Chris: And in three weeks he was a real skinhead, smoking 20 Number Six a day and mugging old ladies. Hurr hurr!

Mike: Punk meant nothing to me. All the other bands were getting on a bit. I remember going to The Rainbow and seeing these three guys who were supposed to be brilliant, but they were so dull I thought at the time, ‘We can’t miss.’ then suddenly the Pistols came along and stole our glory. Their attitude was good but I don’t think any of us liked their music.

Carl: I don’t know what it is about us but we didn’t really think it would last. Each time it was, “Cor blimey we’re on Top of The Pops!”. It always seemed too good to be true. I only really got used to it when we split up.

Mike: But I don’t think we could’ve done it any other way. We could have waited another couple of years - but then we wouldn’t have had any hits!


Chris: Camden was pretty rough back when we started out. We used to play the Electric Ballroom and Camden Palace and it was rough. A lot of the pubs have changed, socially. Every now and then you see somewhere that’s been turned into some really trendy bar and you think, “Why have they done that?” Then a week later it’s completely packed.

Carl: I find a lot has changed. When I was a kid you could play football in the street, there were virtually no cars. The culture was people out on the streets all day long. Even the dossers have changed in Camden. They’re more aggressive, whereas the old dossers then seemed to be failed philosophers. You could stop and have a chat. There were legendary tramps around here.

Woody: I moved into Camden in 1965, a little road called Stratford Villas, which is quite central. It used to be a real Greek and Irish community and the biggest shop in Camden Town was the Co-op on the High Street. There were about four down-and-outs that you used to know by name. But in the late Seventies, early Eighties it just seemed to explode. By 1983 I had moved out and I’d never live there again, because it’s an absolute khazi. I live in Peckham now and it’s got the most vibrant market in the world. It’s real, you get real people, real food. It’s fantastic.

Carl: Oh yeah, the last time I was down there blokes with baseball bats were smashing each other’s heads in. Lovely real people.

Woody: It used to happen round here, Carl .. Camden was like that.

Suggs: It’s changed for the worst, but I think London as a whole has changed in that way. The great change around Camden Town was when the market got completely out of control, all the rents went up and the small shops couldn’t survive. I still like it though. I drink round here. But I agree with Woody, the standard of living in Camden has got worse.

Chris: You go down there in your car and you can’t move. There are ten million shops all selling leather jackets now, but there used to be a really good shop for getting your Hoover fixed.

Mark: You can see how this area has played quite a large part in the development of the band. Even though we didn’t all know each other, we were interlinked in different ways.

Carl: It’s like one road, if you take a bus from Finchley down to Tottenham Court Road where Suggs lived. My life has been up and down that road. It hasn’t changed. I’m still going up and down that road.

- Contributed by Lee 'Loobyloo' Buckley

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